In derbies, the dog cannot be restrained while waiting to retrieve but must sit obediently by the handler's side until the judges call his number. Derby dogs are tested in land-and-water retrieving, and training a dog to hold steady and not break after he sees the first pheasant can be a task, especially since a good prospect is just about ready to explode with excitement when he spots any kind of a bird—even a starling on the lawn. Angus showed promise in derbies, accumulating seven licensed points. He was not among the leaders of the national derby championship but, adding the unofficial points he won in sanctioned trials, he was the top-scoring derby dog for 1969 owned by a member of the Westchester retriever club, and the Bandlers left the organization's annual dinner with a pewter cup.
After graduating from the derby stake at age two, Angus began running in amateur and open stakes. In these stakes a dog must—among other things—be able to work blinds. A blind is a bird hidden, say, 135 yards away, across the third channel in the marsh just to the left of that little bush. No, not that little bush, the other one. The handlers are told all this, but the dogs, back in their crates, are blissfully unaware of where the bird is planted. When a dog is brought up for the blind the handler must "line" him toward the bird. If the dog starts to veer off course, pulled, say, by a tempting swerve of a channel to the right, the handler blows his whistle, extends his left arm and shouts, "Over!" Not all dogs, especially young dogs, take heed. Many get sudden notions of independence or feign deafness to the whistle when 50 yards away, and in training a handler has to run out and correct the dog on the spot. Too much correcting, however, and a dog may start to "pop"—that is, turn around every 10 yards or so as if to ask, "Where now?"
In four years of competing in championship stakes, Angus has won 13� amateur points. He would be a champion now except for the fact that Bandler committed a couple of memorable goofs. The worst occurred when he cost Angus a sure win: out of sheer nervousness he spoke to the dog on line before his number was called. Bandler didn't realize what he had done until Angus was out retrieving a bird and a judge quietly told Bandler his dog was eliminated.
Last year Bandler began a new training technique with Angus, making him wait between double or triple retrieves. "Logic would tell you that you should send the dog out quickly before he forgets where the birds have fallen," Bandler says, "but I think he has a mind like a Polaroid camera, and so I just wait a little longer between birds and let the picture develop more."
Last May in Maryland, Angus had his biggest day when he earned five points for a first-place finish in an open, and he now has, by the arithmetic of the sport, 8� points toward a 10-point open championship and 13� points toward a 15-point amateur field championship. Angus did not score at the Long Island trials, but if he manages to earn only 1� more open points by November, he will not only win his field championship but be one of 70 to 80 dogs eligible to run in the National Retriever Championship later that month. For almost anyone, but particularly for a latecomer like Bandler, running in the National Open is like a weekend golfer being invited to play in the Masters. Says Bandler, "Why, that would be the opportunity of a lifetime."