Laddie got a JAM in his first qual when he was three, just after he completed his SH and two years before his first Master pass. A few weeks later, in his third qual, one of the judges told me he would have had a placement, possibly a high placement, if he hadn't broken in the honor after running the last of the six series, the entire time without handling on a mark.
In those days, based on what little I knew of other dogs' careers, it seemed that Laddie would be QAA soon, and would spend the rest of his career running all-age, possibly running Master in later years.
But here it is nearly five years later, and Laddie has still never placed in a qual, much less won one. Yesterday, for example, he was in great shape coming into the last series, but a mediocre fourth series led to yet another JAM, his eighth (including two Reserved JAMs in previous trials).
I don't want to make excuses, because it's always something, and in the end, it's my responsibility. I just have to be careful not to have him standing near the judging area for long periods before his turn, listening to guns go off for one dog after another and getting more and more excited, and in this case, also badly overheated. This is the third time in his career I've let a marshal put him in that situation, this time with temps in the high 70s and 80s, and somehow I need not to let it happen again.
I also don't want to make projections. Despite our seeming plateau, Laddie actually is continuing to develop. He often runs great blinds, with better sits than ever and often his outstanding initial lines. He's better behaved at the line than he used to be, now that I've learned some people care about that and I've worked with him on it. We've worked a ton on difficult entries and re-entries, and maybe we'll be ready next time we encounter one in a trial. And he's more comfortable being handled over points, though he still occasionally vocalizes.
By the way, I saw two Labs vocalizing when cast on land blinds yesterday. I hadn't noticed that in other dogs much in the past. Maybe it was happening and I just didn't notice it. Laddie vocalized all his life on water handling and I never noticed it until fairly recently. Then I saw in old videos that he had always done it.
Anyway, Lumi and Laddie both ran a number of Junior tests before their first pass, and after their JHs, the same thing happened with Senior tests. Laddie also needed several tries before he passed his WCX, and failed several Master tests before he began passing them on the way to his MH. I don't think this says anything about my dogs or my training methods. I think it goes instead to my inexperience, both in understanding what skills need to be trained and in being able to gauge whether a dog is ready to compete at a certain level.
And I'm hoping something similar is happening here, though over a more prolonged time line and now with the pressure of Laddie's age becoming a factor. It has never been unusual for Laddie to run at least one series in a trial that is clearly the best of the day; in yesterday's trial, that happened in the second series, a land blind. And I believe he also had one of the top performances in the first and third series. If he'd had one of his signature makes-it-look-easy triples in the fourth series, I think he would have won the trial. And I think one of these days, that's exactly what's going to happen.
So I'm disappointed, even a bit depressed. But I'm not throwing in the towel yet.