This just in from Lindsay Ridgeway, whose goal is to train his Golden Retriever, Laddie, with positive reinforcement methods in the sport of field trialing – just to show it can be done! For more you can join the Positive Gun Dogs list (hosted by yours truly) at email@example.com.
Yesterday, Laddie competed in the Owner/Handler Qualifying stake at the Western New York Retriever Club July 2012 Hunt Test.
For his third Qualification in a row, Laddie completed the trial, and was awarded a JAM (Judges Award of Merit). The first of the three was a Reserve JAM, and Laddie also had a JAM in his first trial, which was last year.
So Laddie now has four AKC field trial ribbons, as far as I know the first dog in history to get one of those after being trained entirely without physical aversives.
Laddie still has a long way to go in this sport. However, in the context of the other dogs we compete with:
* Some dogs compete in Quals for years without ever getting to the end of a trial
* Laddie is my first field trial dog, whereas many of these dogs' owners and trainers are more experienced
* I train Laddie myself, rather than turning him over to a professional trainer as is fairly common for FT dogs
* I run Laddie myself in competition, rather than having him run by an experienced FT handler (which is huge, because it's my handling that more often than not gets us knocked out of trials)
* Most field trials contain only dogs that have been trained with ecollars
* Even those rare dogs not trained with ecollars are still trained with physical aversives such as heeling sticks, choke collars, and ear pinches, Laddie being the sole exception as far as I know
* All teams in a field trial are affected by luck to a certain extent, but three ribbons in a row suggests that luck is becoming less of a factor for Laddie