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Portland Labrador

Porter's Master Hunter Tests

Rose City Labrador Retriever Club - July 2008 Test

Only two weeks ago we ran our first Master test and went out in the second series.  Now in our second test, I wanted to finish (and hopefully qualify).  The weather was hot, but there was enough water around to keep the dogs cool.

The first and second series were both triples.  The first on land, the second on water.  Since the test was over a year ago I don't remember a lot of the specifics (which kind of surprises me.  i guess I've run enough tests now that they're starting to blur together).  I do know that Porter ran his first and second series clean.  He had no handles and no big searching hunts.  We were moving on to the third series cleanly.

(and that's where the wheels fell off, that much I remember all too well)

The third series was a land triple, with an out of order flyer.
The flyer was the first and second bird were kind of like a flowerpot, but not from the same blind.  The first bird was slightly farther out, going right to left.  The second bird was the left to right, and then at 45 degrees to the right, was the shorter third mark.
Coming through the holding blinds, Porter was really amped.  Much more so than the first and second series the day before.  The birds went off and he seemed to mark them okay.  I sent him for the go bird on the right first.  He overran the bird and showed no indication of coming back to it so I hit the whistle and burned a handle to get him to the bird.  After waiting too long to handle two weeks ago, I didn't want to repeat that again (as much as I didn't want to burn the handle on the first mark of the triple).
Then Porter came back to the line and I lined him up on the middle bird.  A couple people had tried to run it outside-outside-inside and pick up the right bird, left bird, then center bird; but there hadn't been much success doing this.  If the dog pushed right at all on the left mark it showed a tendency to switch to the middle bird.  The other thing was that the center bird fell behind a mound, so the dog couldn't clearly mark exactly where it was.
I was a little apprehensive as I sent him on the middle mark (where most people had handled), but he did a good job and went right to the bird.  It was on the way back with the bird that things started to go wrong.
Porter was about two thirds of the way back and going through a large puddle (about 30 feet long and 10 feet wide) when he dropped the bird and started drinking from the puddle!  I could have swallowed my whistle!  After telling him a few times to fetch it up, he started coming in without the bird.  I gave him a back, to the bird, and he went back to the bird and started messing around again.  At that point I knew we were toast, and despite how clean he was in the first two series, I didn't want him to continue to implode.  I handed the handler gun to the judge, thanked them for their time, and walked out to reclaim my knuckleheaded dog.  I stomped out into the mud puddle, put the lead on him, picked up the bird and walked him out of there. 
So close, yet so far.
I took an important lesson away from this test.  It was a remark I'd heard before but never really FELT until this weekend.  There are no dog issues, only training issues.  If you fail the test, it isn't the dog's fault, there's a fault in your training and you need to find it and fix it.  Even though I picked him up in the third series, Porter failed (or should I say, we failed) because I didn't recognize the signs of what was happening in training and correct it and stop it, which allowed it to go from a small problem to a big pain in the...well...you know.

I had seen the issue once before where he became distracted on the return.  I had written it off to the heat and blamed myself for not getting him enough water.  After seeing it a second time, it was now an issue.
I think there were two items contributing to the issue.  One issue was I needed to focus more on his return and when he started lagging, give a come-in whistle and a nick (in training, of course).  I actually had this happen in training a few months later and got excellent timing on a correction.  It helped a lot.  I'm vigilant for it, and try to catch it at the first sign.
The second issue contributing to it was control, but I didn't realize that until our test in May 2009 (guess you have to read that one now to find out what happened, assuming I've written it...which I haven't quite gotten to yet...)


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