It’s always the details that escape. Russ had given me very specific instructions about how to heel Cooper out to a hunt test site. Command presence, firm tone of voice, expectation of obedience, no leash.
And it worked. At the practice test today, Cooper and I were doing great, with him trotting along at my left side. We were both eager to get started with my very first time at handling Cooper in a hunt test situation.
We got about half way out to the first holding blind when Russ said, “Where’s your whistle?” Damn! I’d forgotten to put on the orange lanyard that held the whistle. I’d need that whistle to call Cooper back into me after he’d picked up a duck, or to tell him to sit while out in the field, or to go farther back out. Without the whistle, I had no voice.
So we heeled back to the car, got the lanyard, and heeled back out. Fortunately, that was almost the worst thing that happened all morning. I made a few mistakes, but I did quite a lot pretty well. And Cooper got all six ducks.
Cooper and Trice -- first time at the line together
Cooper’s next set of tests will be the Irish Water Spaniel WC and WCX (Working Certificate and Working Certificate Excellent). In the WC, the dog can wear a collar, and the handler can hold onto it. Since we are planning that I will handle Cooper in the WC, I elected to take advantage of that rule, and do my first practice with Cooper’s collar on him.
Cooper retrieves the 1st duck -- a land mark
The first duck was a land mark, about 80 yards from the line. Here Cooper is coming back dry, with his still blown-out show-coat legs nicely parting in the wind. If this weren’t so close to the IWSCOPS Regional Specialty later this month, we’d have cut his coat way down. A show coat can’t be short, but we could put his show-length topknot up in a band so he could see.
Cooper splashes toward the first water mark
The next duck landed about 60 yards away, on some land across a pond. Upon being sent, Cooper leapt into the water with his usual panache. The judge said, “I never get tired of watching water entries like that.” I don’t either. Cooper loves it, and I love to watch him. (That’s why the masthead of this blog shows Cooper leaping into water.)
We finished that 2nd bird just fine, and the 3rd bird as well, which landed in a part of the pond that was over and past a rise in the bank. I heard the duck splash, sent Cooper out, and then I heard Cooper splash, too. But I couldn’t see him over the rise. I didn’t want to whistle him back in before he’d actually fetched the bird, but I couldn’t see over the rise to know whether he’d gotten it, so I just stood there, wondering what to do. But Cooper knew what he was doing, and just as I was finally deciding that I should whistle, I saw his head and the duck crest over the rise. He delivered the duck to hand, and we heeled back out of the first half of the practice test.
Then we rested before moving on to the 2nd series of three birds.
The next two pictures happened at almost exactly the same time.
Trice and a wet Cooper wait for their next turn
In the first one, there we are, waiting behind a holding blind for our turn at the 1st bird of the second series. Cooper is “smiling,” while trying to get a peek around the edge of the blind to see what’s up.
As we were waiting, someone flew over in their ultralight plane. They didn’t come down close enough to make us all want to duck, but they certainly did grab almost everyone’s attention. I looked up, too, but not Cooper. He was still intent on trying to see around the edge of the blind.
A "diversion bird" flies right over the test
The first duck of the 2nd series was tough. It was about 200 yards away on land. To get to it, the dog had to cross a bit of land, some water, more land, and then more water. Cooper got to the middle peninsula of land, but then decided to hunt there instead of going on across the 2nd section of water. Russ stepped over to give me a bit of instruction on handling.
First, a “whistle sit” (a single long blast of the whistle at which the dog is supposed to stop, sit, and look at the handler). Cooper sat. Then an “over” (an arm signal that directs the dog to go left or right). Cooper doesn’t really know “over” yet, so he tried just hunting around the area. But I wanted him to go over to the right a little, and then back.
So I waited until he was directly between me and the duck, and blew another whistle sit. He sat. I raised my right arm straight up, palm forward, and said loudly, “Back!” And he did it! He went back, over the land, through the pond, and over more land to fetch the duck.
The next two birds were shorter distances, maybe 100 and 120 yards. And on these, I made a mistake that would have gotten me disqualified if this had been a real AKC hunt test.
The handler is supposed to wait to send the dog until the judge says so. Just by accident, up till these last two birds, I’d been doing exactly that, but for the wrong reason. Russ had told me not to send Cooper until I felt no pressure on Cooper’s collar. If I felt no pressure, that meant that Cooper was sitting and waiting for me to release him, and no longer straining at the collar. And with the previous four birds, the judge had just happened to say “Send your dog” before Cooper stopped straining.
With these last two birds, though, Cooper stopped straining, I sent him, and then the judge said, “Send your dog.” I didn’t even realize I’d done this until some other handler told me, very matter of factly, that I will probably want to wait until the judge says so before I send my dog. D’oh!
A wet Cooper delivers a duck to hand
But even so, Cooper fetched and delivered every bird, I learned a lot, and Russ was proud of us both. With good results like this, I’m excited to run Cooper in the WC at Monroe, Washington in September.
A satisfied Cooper with a dry topknot
Thanks very much to the Oregon Hunting Retriever Club for a great picnic test on Sauvie Island.
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