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May 20 early afternoon yard work with Gigi.....duck in mouth OB. continues to be a slow process...the Harrison Road RTA training session at 4 pm did not go well for Pounce. With no primer loads in the remote wingers and hidden wingers made it difficult for me to see if the ducks were being launched. After not seeing the first and second, I picked her up. This was bit discouraging since she (we) are entered to run our first AKC Master test in a week. After sulking a bit, Pounce came back out and I focused more. With vision in only one eye and with a the hearing issue...more focus seemed to help. Pounce ran the marks as singles and did really well. Then we ran two blinds and those went well, too. Gigi was next. To the line was and will be an ongoing issue for "us". The effort today was much improve mostly because there was only one holding blind. Once at the line she was very steady, no rush, hand down not holding on to collar until released is excellent. Then Gigi stepped right on each of the three singles....like a laser and fast. She is not exactly dainty with her hold and that is another one of our
regular yard work efforts.
May 21 Friday with another AKC Junior test for Gigi tomorrow.....long drive up in to Wisconsin to Valders. This morning, Gigi did another extended yard work OB session with duck in mouth practice (hold, here, sit and out).
This afternoon, the practice will continue with a brief session using the water of Thorson Pond.

May 25 Tuesday - the Tuesday group session is being held about an hours drive away plus rain is very probable. Therefore, a 5 minute drive to Thorson Pond will provide some water handling skills with a split casting drill. Pounce was sharp and Gigi remains a work in progress. Gigi's retrieves to hand were good.
May 26 Wednesday - pro Corey Zandonai ran his monthly, evening  training training session sponsored by
the Madison Retriever Club. There marks (mallards) and two blinds presented choices for each trainer. Pounce was very good with a triple and two blinds. Gigi was just the opposite. Her single marks were good but duck handling was messy. Corey pointed out a couple of reasons for the mishandling. Corrections were not effective because the e-collar was not high enough behind the ears and not tight enough. 

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May 23 Sunday..I need a day off..spent some time working on a plan to modify Gigi's/our interactions. The challenge will be to get rid of two fairly entrenched, conditioned responses. Working through holding blinds excitement vs. control and wet, soggy ducks at the line. Bringing her back from the twilight zone is the best description and simple being measured by eye contact. Saturday, the process began with two focused sessions per day. Measurable progress has been made rather quickly. There are three large group training sessions this week which will be perfect for what we need to work on (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - evenings).  Did the eye contact drill twice today
May 24 Monday - did the eye contact drill twice today with noticeable improvement. Early evening, training was done Thorson Pond - water with mallard marks.....Gigi did three singles and Pounce did an in-line triple with a blind. The running line was moved 20+ yards from the water to modify the hold issues with Gigi when exiting water. This produced an immediate improvement....no drops...and shakes came after delivery on all three. Hooray for our side!   note: Gigi is a much faster swimmer than Pounce.

May 7 Friday - This morning, I went out to the storage area and eventually found four, dirty, small, orange Avery Hexa-bumpers. They were scrubbed clean with soapy water in the kitchen sink (wife not thrilled with that). Later, Gigi and I went out into the front yard (mowed short just yesterday). Gigi was placed on a sit 15 yards away and I tossed them in the air and they landed between Gigi and I. Walking back to line, Gigi was rearing to go and fired on "back". She flew right over the four bumpers and into the neighbor's yard and pulled up with a perplexed body language. So we continued until there was enough of Gigi's saliva on the bumpers to indicate what she was after. Fortunately, there won't be any orange bumpers in tests. The orange stakes on blinds are not much "help" either. Fast forward to this evening and we were at the Riverside Park DTA to run a set of four blinds. Two used  black stakes and the other two were orange all  with Dokkens. Pounce ran first and required just a few handles. She was consistently dealing well with each blind (efficient and accurate). Gigi was up next. She needed a couple of whistles on the first and second, none on the third (lined it) and one one on the last. Gigi's issue from yesterday was a small blip on the radar. She was actually taking better lines than Pounce (today). Hooray for our side!

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note: On May 12th we were doing singles across the pond as appose to this setup working the length.


May 9 Sunday - no rain in the morning, only 58°F for a high...Very windy and a Mother Day's gathering on Thorson Pond resulted in a solid yard OB session with Gigi and four mallards. Pounce had the day off.
                    note: one week until Gigi's first hunt test
May 10 Monday - picked up several live mallards for training. On the way home we stopped at the nearest field trial property to shoot some "flyers". Gigi had three and Pounce had one. The rest are in the freezer.
May 11 Tuesday - Gigi did two sessions of duck in mouth OB and several short retrieves (in the yard). In the late afternoon, we attended the large Thursday group training session. There was a walk-up and then
four singles with blinds. Pounce ran the five mallards and did the last single as a poison bird. She was very good! (ready for Master tests). Last Thursday, Gigi marked lights out and has been consistently doing so all spring. After, the walk-up....this Tuesday's singles all resembled retired guns. Gunner stepped out, shot "boom" gas gun, threw duck (not very far) and RETIRED. Gigi was totally confused and ran all over the place to no avail. Gunner finally began to walk out and help......too late to make any difference. I talked to a field trial friend and received this opinion...."retired guns can be very confusing unless done correctly". I have decided to simply continue throwing ducks where there is clearly a hunt test setup.....hidden guns.
May 12 - Wednesday....decided to take the morning off. At about 5 pm, Gigi and Pounce were trained at the Thorson Pond DTA. Three mallards were used to do a set of "stand alone/send back" water singes. Each mark moved to the east down the north shoreline (one land and the next in water close to shore). Gigi did a total of nine retrieves using the (by design) some "nasty" ducks. The "send back" line was on the south shoreline toward the west end. Pounce did her nine retrieves after Gigi's. A rough calculation of the total swimming distance per retriever was close to 6-7 hundred yards. It was cool and they were wet. So as to avoid coming into the house and do a slow dry-off, we stopped at the Rockton Road DTA and each ran seven singles using the alternating "stand alone/send back" mode. They will sleep solidly this evening.

May 14 Friday - Pounce...Vet appointment at 8 am and the income tax must be mailed. After arriving much earlier than planned, a calf-high grassy field adjacent to the Vet's office was used to run Gigi and then Pounce on a pin-point, "stand-alone/send back" singles session. Gigi ran about a dozen (flat, angle-in and angle backs). Pounce then did the same marking drill with about ten Dokken retrieves in a different part of the large grassy area (to avoid Dokken scent from Gigi's set). After arriving home from the Vet, I noticed something was missing. I had one live mallard left and was planning a "life flyer" for Gigi. My son let it free in our residential neighborhood. After putting things in perspective, there is not that much to be upset about with more important things to do.

The weather was perfect for some water work, but there was not much time. Therefore, Thorson Pond being only a five minute drive was in play. I did not want to do just "busy work", therefore an idea was visualized that tied a bunch of things together. Using a white stickman and a "placeboard", a remote line was located. Gigi would be left at the line ("stand alone") and retrieve five Dokkens tossed in increasing distances down the middle of Thorson Pond. After retrieving each Dokken, Gigi was discipline cast (bumper in mouth)  back to the remote line. With a cast in that direction, the suction of the bank (which encourages cheating) is greatly reduced. Being comfortable near the shoreline is a work in progress. 


Once at the line, Gigi was sitting on the placeboard looking back at me. She has the Dokken and I  am not there. However, the Dokken is mine. Therefore, this concept (Dokken being mine) is best dealt with using previous conditioned responses developed when teaching the remote drop. This skill (remote drop) took several weeks to teach and it was a persistent, methodical, inch by inch process. Therefore, the first single had me fairly close (more influence). We did one "drop" right at the line to "prime the pump". Then five singles increasing in distance were completed with no issues. This was a test. WE passed....easily with zero issues. The plan is to gradually move the single falls closer to the shoreline (creating parallel swims). The focus on a remote line tends to reduce the attraction of shoreline shortcuts (cheating).

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May 1 Saturday - high of 83°F....cool at 7:30 am....However, Gigi was up early and at 7:30 am we were doing the first day of her water split casting drill introducing the two piles identified by white stakes. It was a brief session (Gigi lined the left pile one twice and then the right twice). 
                    note: This was about two hundred yards of swimming. 
From previous experience, Pounce was not an "easy do" on water honesty. Her training provides an approach that will be a perfect fit for Gigi and she is a more driven cheater than Pounce. Therefore, a review of the "down the middle first" approach with Pounce will be revisited with Gigi.

May 15 - Saturday - rain most of the day and Gigi did an OB session in the yard with "mallard in mouth"
May 16 -
Sunday - low 70's partly cloudy with a good breeze....one of the best weather days ever for a hunt at Bong Recreational Area in Wisconsin. Pounce had a day off and Gigi ran two Junior tests. Gigi was excellent in the field in both tests. Line manners in the first were not good and the second even worse. However, two AKC Junior ribbons came home because she was steady at the line and her marking was excellent.  She was steady on both of the live flyers. Today, clearly demonstrated that going to the line needs more work.
May 17 - Monday.....there are two group training session this week...Tuesday and Thursday. The lawn needs mowing before the rain coming soon. Therefore, both dogs got the day off. The focus every day for the rest of this week will be on creating better balance. Gigi's focus and control are weak. The two Junior hunt tests were physically a challenge for me.  I think I can fix Gigi....not so much for me.


The first series began with #1 land and they used only one holding blind (which I realized later was a huge help). Gigi was just manageable in the blind and to the line. The flyer (second single) was thrown/shot into very tall, heavy cover. However, when the marks went down she was very steady before being sent. Gigi looked very good! Then we went to do the other two series #2 land and #1 water. There was only one holding blind for the land (which we did first). In the blind she was (charged up) with another flyer right after one in the previous series. She she was rock solid as the ducks were throw (live flyer two series in a row - Junior).


 Well, we stayed right there to run the water. This time there were three holding blinds adjacent to shore line where the splash of each single and the lunging water runs of each Lab that was before us. By then Gigi was in "Rhino mode" which is not good when you are 80 years old. I was pulled to the line and Gigi sat solidly and waited for the release. Good thing too because I was running on empty. Ducks were picked up (easy short singles) and then I was glad to be back in the truck. We loaded up and headed down the gravel Bong "runway" to run another water series. It was wonderful to discover they were using only one holding blind with a short walk to the line. Both singles were easily picked up and again Gigi was like a rock before being sent. By then the ducks were very water logged and she dropped the last for a moment (or two). Then picked it back up....not in particularly rapid fashion....but within an easy reach (more like a Junior grab). 
May 18 - Tuesday....rain coming later in the day with a group training session (in the rain). Pro trainer Corey Zandonai is running the session and noted in his Facebook page that they will be training (in the rain). This morning Pounce and Gigi did an extended yard training session with holding blinds, Dogtra electronics, a remote winger and several Dokkens scattered around. Walk-ups were done, Hillmann's Helter Skelter Drill, and a lot of OB were all stitched together in a challenging manner (NOT wearing an e-collar....with no rain).  
        note: Here is my excuse for not going...rain and mud plus a Transit Van are a poor match. I will
                  run a test in the rain. However, when you are 80 there are lots of things you do not have to do.  
May 19 - Wednesday - trained in the afternoon at The Thorson Pond DTA...The setup was done to practice  Junior hunt test expectations with Gigi. The preliminaries were done Friday the 14th based on returning to a "placeboard". The focus was on 1) return to a sit, 2) hold, 3) drop into hand control and THEN 4) shake. Then heel to the van. This went well with several repetitions that became more precise as we progressed. She was NOT wearing an e-collar. Pounce and Gigi then ran the known, 195 yard point blind (just for fun).

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May 13 Thursday - Harrison Road group training (late afternoon) with "Gigi" doing yard work" in the morning. Gigi's morning sessions were enhanced by including a holding blind and Dogtra electronic sounds (quacks/beeps) in the background. The first segment focused on Gigi's orange bumper issue (not seeing them well). Three piles of seven orange bumpers (each one done at a greater distance) provided twenty-one encounters with orange bumpers and the orange blind marker. In addition, a small orange stake was used. After the orange work, Gigi went back into the holding blind to do the routines leading up to field retrieves. Once again, the Dogtra electronics enhanced the excitement. However (in this segment), the use of a mallard for up close duck handling with precise, under control and more relaxed deliveries was the focus. Given the five factors for a balanced retriever (focus, control, responsiveness, retrieving and "birdiness"), training setups are presently designed to enhance focus and control. By designing setups and interactions that force me to develop these two factors (focus and control), responsiveness will increase and "glue" everything into a homogeneous, balanced mix....in theory.


Gigi and Pounce trained with a group later in the day. Pounce ran a poison bird single/blind first. Up next were three remote winger singles from behind large pine trees....and last was a long blind. Gigi ran the three singles. All marks were winger launched mallards. Pounce was solid. Gigi has improved (including her holding blind manners). She is AKC Junior steady, waits to be released and her marking was excellent today. The "retired gunner" and "boom gun" presentations presented in Tuesday's group was a stark contrast to her marking today (no confusion or distractions).

May 28 Friday...forecast was sketchy...dressed for rain and wind....The east wind was steady and a light,  persistent mist. The plan was more of the same for Gigi and Pounce (see yesterday's journal notes).  With Thorson Pond close by, we were soon setup using two remoter wingers, primer loads and mallards behind holding blinds. It did not take much time. Gigi ran first and the setup was mostly about correctly retrieving soft, soggy mallards. When they splashed down there was not much above water. Gigi was quick to retrieve each one, relaxed and solid at the line (held, turned, sat and delivered cleanly).

Gigi was put up and Pounce came out for a quick review/practice of a gunner with a fake gun swinging from one station to another "wide one" working on her paying attention (push & pull). I was focused on and practicing my foot work. Then Pounce did two walk-ups (mallards) and went back to the van. 

Gigi then came back out (off lead, wearing an e-collar) to the holding blind and was very good going to the line (second time - again). We ran the two mallard loaded wingers as a schooled double. The now even more very soggy mallards were calmly and precisely handled. Good Dog!

Both wingers were reloaded. Pounce went to the line (off lead, no e-collar) to run an easy double with two longer blinds.

Photos of the  "Out-Side In" Approach

May 27 Thursday - rain soon in the forecast...up early, before any rain and trained Gigi in the yard with a thawed out mallard (soggy, used before, but not ugly). Corrections were made, message very clear with consistent retrieves to a good sit and delivery. This afternoon, the rain clouds provided a pocket of no rain. Therefore, training at Thorson Pond with the same mallard was completed without any rain. Two remote wingers were situated 25 yards apart along the south shoreline of Thorson Pond. Gigi has worked with soggy mallards before....far from good. This morning corrections were effective and we had a good number of precise repetitions. The first session was three sets of two very "soggy singles" with Gigi (six retrieves).  Each was delivered precisely to hand (no anxiety and solid). Pounce then did two walk-up singles with mallards. Lastly, the wingers were loaded two more times so that I could practice footwork cues in a manner to have Pounce move slightly with me so as to be able to see the next mark (left swing first then right.....doubles). Orange bumpers were used with Pounce.

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 Gigi's Intro To Water "Split Casting Drill"

May 29 Saturday cool, sunny day - up early with a two hour drive to Horicon, Wisconsin. Gigi was to run an AKC Junior test and Pounce a Master. Gigi was retriever #3 this morning. I soon realized that being 80 years old was more difficult than I thought. We managed to get her fourth Junior pass, but the physical demands of a high dog were almost too much. Pounce was in a Master test and crept a bit too much on the walk-up. In doing so, the long flyer was not marked very well. She picked up the go bird OK and then failed to drive to the long flyer. I could have handled her to it, but told the judge that we were finished. I put the leash on her and we withdrew from the test. I was physically gassed. Reality came suddenly. There will be a brief time making sure this is the right thing to do. Also, there was still some time to scratch Pounce from the next Master test. Gigi will not run anymore this summer.
May 30, 31 Sunday & Monday....two days of rest for all (probably many more)....Looking back at all my  AKC Junior titled retrievers starting with Taffey then Kooly, Daisy, Gunny, Pounce and Gigi....there is no question that Gigi was the most difficult.....and my last.       

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May 6 Thursday - Gigi did a three pile lining and handling drill in the grassy area of the Thorson Pond DTA. Her casting was good, but the loopy sit needs additional work. In the afternoon, the Harrison Road group training was attended for the first time in quite awhile. Pounce ran two singles and then a poison bird blind plus another blind. She is ready to run AKC Master tests. Gigi ran three singles and did those well (marking was excellent, mallard handling was good, at the line OK for AKC Junior not Senior). Gigi was sent for the longer blind, lined it and then did not pick up the bumper. Looking for another duck? not sure..did not come back in....asked.....often.          grrrr!

With a warm afternoon (80's), Pounce and Gigi trained in Thorson Pond late in the day. Nearly the same setup that Gigi did this morning was repeated again. However, the piles/stakes were moved farther apart. For Pounce, it was mostly for the exercise. The afternoon session was different in that there was a 17 mph cross wind out of the west. Pounce and Gigi did well at keeping on line.      
                                  note: About ten geese were not enthused with our intrusion.

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At noon, the plan was to have some flyers shot for Pounce and Gigi. The first flyer with Pounce came to the ground (not killed) and ran around in plain sight. Pounce acted as if she were brain dead. It was not a pretty sight and totally out of character for Pounce?????...I called it day...maybe too quickly. However, Pounce (and Gigi) will have encounters with a few "not able to fly", very live mallards in the near future.
May 5 Wednesday....high of 63°F - live training mallards will be available Monday...the first traing setup was at the Thorsom Pond DTA. Gigi continued her "swim straight"  training by doing a remote sit (from place) with a retrieve back to the "place" position. Her return to the line is similar to disciplined casting. After several reps, the geese at the othed end of the pond were glad that we left. The next session was three remote winger, Dokken singles at the nearby Rockton Road DTA. The sessions was begun with an extended "walk to the line" practice. Pounce was excellent. The contrast between Gigi's "walk at heel" to the line vs. Pounce's is stark. Gigi's is not excellent...yet.

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May 4Tuesday...up early so that Gigi would have time to work the "down the middle" water concept
There were four geese on the pond making it easy to place the three bumpers. Gigi picked them up in order and stayed on line (not sucking to the shorelines) and was given and a lot of "atta-girl", good dog rewards (and she liked it.....me too). Not much wind provided stationary bumpers.

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May 8 Saturday warmer, nice day to train, but a lot of other "stuff" going on.....did manage to squeeze in a marking/blind session in the middle of the afternoon - three remote winger mallards and a blind at the Riverside Park DTA. Some delays were inevitable as people walking their dogs around the road to the north where the winger stations were located. Using the wait time we worked on her holding blind skills. It was a good session. Gigi and Pounce marked lights out and ran the blind with very few whistles.

Placing the white stakes on the other side of Thorson Pond provides markers for two 40 yard piles.
The pond is 25 yards across. The grass on the other side is ankle high making the bumpers not visible until right on top of them. However, they are right in front of the white stakes. Today's focus was three actions 1) go off the line with a purpose, 2) stop, turn and tread water on the whistle and 3) take the back cast turning the correct way (and not spinning). By removing tempting shoreline issues, Gigi's focus was simplified. After "doing" the left pile of two bumpers, the pile to the right went smoother. Therefore, progress was made and more "reps" will be done the next several days.

Once the two piles are run with no issues, then handling from one line (taking a cast) to the other pile will be introduced (split casting). Eventually, the square end of the pond (to the right and east) will come into play as the piles are moved gradually in that direction. Also, singles will be thrown down the middle of the pond (a lot) and perpendicular to the lines run this morning. Then (VERY gradually) the lines to marks will be moved closer to the shorelines. Gigi has a great memory for where she has been. This complicates other setups that are in the same vicinity. We need to get the point where her responses to the handler are more significant than her surroundings.

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May 2 - Sunday...forecast high of 83°F and windy - trained later in the day....wind had calmed down quite a bit. A similar setup to this morning was run with Gigi and Pounce. The white stakes were moved a bit farther apart. Gigi and Pounce then lined each pile twice. Next up....each was "asked" to change their initial line and take a cast/line to the other pile. Pounce consistently took better changes in direction casts than Gigi. This was expected because Pounce has more experience.

Gigi slowly realized that she needed to work with me and struggled at first....taking several whistles and casts. Each time she was slightly better....and with the last few began to pay more attention. It was a good learning session for Gigi. Her responsiveness improved. Before we left, the decision to work on the cheating penchant of Gigi took another turn by using an approach I used only once several year ago. Taffey was going through transition using Dobbs. She was very quick at learning whatever was thrown at her. This was a good thing because I was just beginning. The concept is "tell" the dog when they are doing the right thing vs. making the wrong thing not very rewarding.

There is an old de-cheating itechnique based on the dog reaching a decision that "this is good and that is bad". Essentially, the choices are 1) dog gets nicked with the e-collar when running the bank...enough to be unpleasant and simply annoying. In addition, the trainer says nothing (no rewards). Then the trainer throws a bumper out so that coming straight back in is obviously going to happen. When coming in straight to the trainer, the trainer becomes animated and provides a lot excited praise for the dog as he comes right back in straight. It is important to make a dramatic difference in the two choices. The two tosses are perpendicular to the shoreline vs. an angled toss where the dog is most likely to swim to the bank and then run along it back to the trainer.

It is important to make the two presentations distinctly different (obvious). Having the dog swim straight back to you is a conditioned response. A quick thinking retriever (or a lazy one) will more often than not choose the easiest and/or quickest way to do something. This is not an easy presentation for a trainer to apply and it is only the second retriever (out of seven retrievers) that I have need to try this on in the last twenty years.

When preparing this for a May '21 journal entry, I recalled a friend from the past that said his Lab was a very persistent bank runner and was failing most of the Finished HRCH tests because of it. To make this a bit briefer, he wanted me to help. So we met and setup a training session. The first step was to have him demonstrate how he was attempting to "decheat" his dog. As the dog began to cheat it was obvious that there was an issue. The dog was barking (more like screaming) all the way around the corner. I said, "Stop!....what are you doing?" He replied, "I am trying to de-cheat him. But he will not pay any attention". The dog knew the faster he ran....the sooner the collar corrections would stop.       
                                     Finesse is a fine art and not for the heavy handed.

It was in the 80's when we finished and both dogs were very wet and hot. Therefore, we stopped at the Rockton Road DTA. The plan was to take advantage of the cloud cover and high winds to do a few, short "stand alone/send back" singles with Pounce and Gigi. This would accomplish two things. The first was they would dry off some and the second a few exciting retrieves would balance the handling session on the pond.
May 3 - Monday - warm with a chance of rain in the afternoon...arrived at the Four Lakes DTA and waited for a few dogs to finish training. Gigi then did a review of lining and handling in the east section of the technical pond. As the session progressed, swimming toward the shorelines on the way back got better (some). Gigi is fast off the line with no signs of letting up. Her desire to "beach" early is not going to be an easy penchant to overcome. A seven bumper, down the shore setup for Pounce was next. I did not see the longest, seventh bumper which turned it into a six bumper lining drill (counting after finished revealed the missing bumper). It began to rain on the way home.

May 22 Saturday - After a long drive up into Wisconsin, Gigi ran her third AKC Junior hunt test. Her marking is solid (usually). Going to the line and handling ducks (especially water logged Mallards) are not. I am almost too old to deal with her strength. We need to channel that QUITE A BIT. The first series did not help. We got a no duck on the first mark (a flyer) and had to go back to the first holding blind and then to the line AGAIN. I am getting too old for this. You'd think maybe that should have been taken care of in training? Both singles were marked well. Then in the second series, going to the line was again not easy. The first single was an in plain sight swim into a very stiff wind. The second was up on to a narrow peninsula with knee deep, lush cover AND decoys on the other side. In her previous test, the mark was over a peninsula. She flew right over this one without much thought, got sucked into the decoys and swam off to the land (not far away) and went into a long, wild hunt and she is fast. Looking down I realized I had forgotten my whistle.       The judge tossed me one and it took awhile to get her back to the AOF. I am a fairly certain (after getting a ribbon for passing) that we (me) probably I got a 5 on that last single. The plan for running any Senior tests for awhile has been extended......quite a bit. Late August/September seems about right.