Tooey had a great Spaniel Hunt Test on Friday, a terrible one on Saturday, and a somewhat improved one on Sunday. By the time Sunday evening rolled around, we were all exhausted, and decided to leave early and skip today’s test in favor of going home and sleeping in our own bed. But I digress.
All the Spaniel Hunt Tests this weekend were held at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area near Rochester, Washington. The upland portion of the Junior tests were held in reasonably tall grass cover all three days, with some sections in which the dog disappeared into the grass and other sections where the grass what shorter and greener. Friday’s course also had patches of tall Scotch broom. All three days. the bird planters planted the courses with pigeons and chukars.
Friday was Tooey’s best day. In the test put on by the Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Association, she successfully quartered the field, found and flushed one pigeon and two chukars, and retrieved the birds that were shot, one chukar and one pigeon. For the flushed pigeon, she actually sat to the flush, something dogs aren’t expected to do until they are at the Master level. So she passed the upland part of the test. And on the water, she watched the bird go down, leapt out to retrieve it, swam to it and grabbed it up, brought it back to the land by the tippy-tip of one wing, and spit it out at Russ’s feet.
The spit-to-feet is not ideal. What we want her to do is deliver the bird to hand. In other words, put the bird in Russ’s hand. That’s what we’ve been training her to do, and that’s what she needs to do with ducks in retriever hunt tests, so, like I said, the spit-to-feet is not ideal. But at the Junior level Spaniel Hunt Tests, getting it to within two steps of the handler is acceptable, so Tooey passed.
Saturday was terrible. She found a bird soon into the course, but just stood there and looked at it for a moment before going on to see if she could find a different bird. That’s called blinking the bird. Then she flushed up a second bird, it was shot, and she ran over to where it fell. She found it, sniffed it, and then declined to pick it up, even with Russ encouraging her to fetch it up. She kind of wandered around and accidentally flushed a third bird, but because she wouldn’t retrieve the second bird, the gunners let that third bird fly away. Finally, the judges told Russ to leash her up and walk her off the course. Argh!
Sunday was better. She actually hunted the course instead of wandering around on it. When she found the first bird, she started her “stand around and blink the bird” routine, so right away, Russ started to encourage her to “get it!” After a long moment, she stuck her nose down and flushed the chukar, it was shot, and Tooey retrieved and delivered it to hand. Soon thereafter, she located another bird, and Russ encouraged her to get it. This time, it was a pigeon she flushed, it was shot, and she delivered that to hand.
While Russ took Tooey off the field, I remained in the gallery behind the judges and marshal to see if I could learn anything from the judges’ discussion. They liked her bird finding ability and her retrieves, but a spaniel should not need encouragement to flush a bird — that’s supposed to be natural behavior. The concluded that they would have to discuss it.
Since Tooey “made call-backs” (i.e., was invited to complete the water portion of the test), they must have decided to give her another chance. Going into it, it looked good. Tooey was eager. In fact, Russ had to restrain her by the collar so she wouldn’t leap into the water before the bird landed. When Russ released her, she swam straight to the bird, grabbed it up, swam back to land, and spit it out right at the shoreline. All of Russ’s encouragement didn’t persuade her to pick it up and even spit it close to Russ’s feet. Instead, she stood at the waterline, looking for another bird to land. Finally, the judges told Russ to leash her up.
So, an improvement in flushing and retrieving on land, but still not up to standard for retrieving a bird out of the water.
We’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do. We suspect that she doesn’t like pigeons, especially wet pigeons, so when it’s a pigeon she finds, she’s reluctant to flush it or deliver it. We could spend the time until the spring tests training her to pick up pigeons, or we could start training her for Senior tests, where they don’t use pigeons. When we hunt, we don’t hunt pigeons, so there’s no practical value in training her to pick up pigeons. We’ll take a break, and then decide.