Carlin’s been in only a few conformation dog shows. I showed him when he was quite a young puppy, and again several months later. He has 1 point, won when Marty showed him up in Seattle a couple of months after that. But other than these, I haven’t shown him for two reasons: his skin/coat and his attitude.

The skin/coat issues started early. Carlin had no coat on his tail or throat when we got him, and then he suffered a series of skin infections that made his coat even worse. At one point, he had no coat at all on the back of his thighs, chest, stomach, throat and tail.

Now his chest and stomach coat, as well on his tail, is starting to come in. He still has little coat on his throat, and big bare patches on the backs of this thighs. Judges at three different shows have asked me about his coat, while today’s judge opined that Carlin must be bare on his thighs because “he’s been doing a little self grooming.” (The dog who won Winner’s Dog today, as well as Best of Breed, has a beautiful coat and was well handled by a pro.)

So. Coat not great.

But his attitude was good. He showed well, was friendly to the judge, didn’t do any hopping and leaping, and basically ignored the other dogs while they were in the ring. I was so pleased.


Carlin says hi to the judge


Carlin gaiting beautifully, nice reach and drive


Carlin showing off his butt


Coming back on the up and back

We made some smart moves that helped him, I think, and chance did us a favor as well.

Our show time was 8 AM, which is usually killer for Irish Water Spaniels. There is a lot of grooming to do, fluffing up the legs, doing last minute trimming, wiping down any unsavory accidents that may have occurred, etc. But 8 AM also means that the venue won’t be at it’s most crowded, so it’s more likely you can maneuver around enough to get in and out without having to come face to face with any other dogs.

Carlin has never loved that, coming face to face with another dog while he’s leashed. That was made much worse when, while Carlin was leashed and walking on a city sidewalk, he was ambushed by a Malamute twice Carlin’s size. The Malamute charged down a driveway and attacked Carlin, wounding him and scaring him half out his mind. With that, being leashed in the presence of other dogs became unbearable, and Carlin would lunge and growl at almost any oncoming dog. We sent Carlin off the the Academy of Canine Behavior last January to see if they could help him. While there, he improved quite a lot, and our management of situations while he’s leashed has also improved.

One trick we tried this weekend was giving Carlin a stuffed toy to hold while he’s leashed. I got that idea from a neighbor whose dog (named Chowder, god help us) carried around a stuffed animal on their walks. So today (and yesterday at the dog wash), Carlin held on to his own stuffed hedgehog until he went into the ring.


Carlin with his hedgehog

Once in there, he seemed to know just what to do (thank you, Marty and Kay), and he behaved himself beautifully. He won his class, but then didn’t get the point. That’s OK. I’ll take my successes where I can get them.

The Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club hosted a “fun trial” today. Patrice entered Carlin and so off we went, anticipating a morning of low key training and tune up for our next hunt test.

Surprise! This club is a group of competitive field trialers and today’s event was exclusively a practice field trial and not a practice hunt test. (If we had read between the lines, we would have noticed that entry form said “trial,” not “test”.) This meant if we were to run, we had to run in a brace, or parallel with another working dog, and Carlin not only had to be steady to wing and shot for our birds, but he was going to have to be steady to wing and shot for the other dog’s birds as well. In addition, he couldn’t stray off his half of the course and poach any birds from the other dog’s side.

Irish Water Spaniels cannot compete in AKC spaniel field trials, but since we paid our entry and this was unofficial event, we just smiled and said, “Why not?”

Carlin was dog #3 and so we followed the first two dogs onto the coarse and watched as they ran in a brace. This way, he got twice the opportunity to see other dogs put up birds and get amped up before he was called up for his first run.

Standing by to run in a brace with an English Springer Spaniel

Standing by to run in a brace with an English Springer Spaniel

And when it was our turn, Carlin was ready to run (REALLY ready to run).

"hunt 'em up" and off he goes

“Hunt ’em up” and off he goes

On the first series, Carlin put up a pheasant, was steady to the flush and shot, as well as made a nice delivery to hand. Just as planned.


Carlin is the brown spot in the grass in the lower left corner, having just flushed a pheasant while he sits as intended

When the Springer next to us put up a bird, Carlin’s butt went down. When the Springer was released for a retrieve, Carlin needed a better view of the action and so he moved about 20 feet to an area of shorter grass to watch. No attempt at poaching on his part, but moving was against the rules and so we were finished with the first series. Oh well.

On the second series under the other judge, the boy quartered nicely between the gunners, running a bit wide only once into the other course. He put up a bird which flew overhead and behind us before the gunner could get off a safe shot and bring it down. Because I was standing between the Carlin and his bird, he calmly waited until the judge tapped me on the shoulder, and I, in turn, verbally released him for the retrieve. He marked the fall, picked it up, and delivered it to hand. On to the next bird.

Carlin brings back his second bird

Carlin brings back his second bird

As he moved out and quartered, he flushed his third bird, sat with the flush (and whistle). He sat, but he seems to have a count down clock in his head. If I don’t release him for the retrieve by the count of (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) he self-releases (another rule violation).

Carlin, counting down or waiting for a release, which ever comes first.

Carlin, counting down or waiting for a release, which ever comes first.

So just as the judge was about to give us the signal to release, off Carlin went. This simple mark and retrieve took a while, because when the bird hit the ground, not being dead, it took off on foot. Carlin eventually found the errant pheasant and delivered the live bird to hand.

Carlin delivers his third bird as the Jan, the judge, stands by

Carlin delivers his third bird as the Jan, the judge, stands by

Because Carlin is not a Springer or Cocker spaniel, we will never have the opportunity to run a real spaniel field trial, but this fun trial was a great training opportunity to work in a brace. He held to his course, didn’t poach on the other dog, and found, flushed, and delivered three pheasants to hand. Other than breaking once and stepping out for a better view of the action, he did very well.

The benefit of this kind of practice, is that it makes him better at real world hunting scenarios, especially when hunting with another dog.

I am really pleased that he did as well as he did, because in some circles, Carlin’s breed is often considered a sub-standard spaniel and not a real hunting dog. Had we totally screwed up, it would have reinforced that perception, but he did the breed proud.

Carlin is getting familiar with the Interstate system. So far he has been to LA on I-5 for hunt tests. He has been to Montana twice (I-90) for hunting. And he just completed his second trip to Colorado on I-84.

Both trips to Colorado were for family events (humans). He got in a day of upland bird hunting last November, but this time he was mostly a tourist who got to supervise me doing some home maintenance on my late father’s house in Silverton, Colorado. While there, he got to hang out with some new dog buddies, but it was mostly just the two of us doing a road trip while the girls stayed home in Oregon.

Some photos from Carlin’s summer vacation to Colorado.

Our first stop was in Burley, Idaho, just as a passing thunder shower crossed a field of sugar beets.

Our first stop was in Burley, Idaho, just as a passing thunder shower crossed a field of sugar beets.


The second stop was in Grand Junction, Colorado and a romp in the desert

The second stop was in Grand Junction, Colorado and a romp in the desert


120 miles south of Grand Junction and 10 miles north of Silverton, we crossed Red Mountain Pass at over 11,000 ft elevation

120 miles south of Grand Junction and 10 miles north of Silverton, we crossed Red Mountain Pass at over 11,000 ft elevation


Car camping and road food still require a snood

Car camping and road food still require a snood


Our host (Russ's cousin Lou) included hanging out with a new 3 month puppy, Blue.

Staying with our host (Russ’s cousin Lou) included hanging out with a new 3-month puppy, Blue.


Carlin also to spend time with Olly, the resident dog at my dad's old house.

Carlin also got to spend time with Olly, the resident dog at my dad’s old house.


Once the fence was repaired and a few other real estate issues resolved, it was time to head back to Oregon

Once the fence was repaired and painted, plus a few other real estate issues resolved, it was time to head back to Oregon


FullSizeRender 18

Carlin toughed it out for a 14 hour drive from Silverton, Colorado to Boise, Idaho. It was another 7 hours to Portland. As soon as we got into Oregon the next day, we stepped out at the edge of the Blue Mountains for this view across the wheat fields near Pendleton.


Portland Oregon to Silverton, Colorado (1200 miles one way). Red stars are where the photos where taken.

Portland Oregon to Silverton, Colorado (1200 miles one way). Red stars are where the photos where taken.

Tooey RATN

As I was driving home from the NW Barn Dogs barn hunt trial today, it hit me. Barn hunt is the only dog sport in which Tooey pays no attention whatever to all the people in and outside of the testing area.

In Obedience and Rally, she was always a bit wary of that person who kept following us everywhere (aka, the Judge). In one Obedience trial, for example, she sort of did the heeling pattern, but she did it such that I was always between her and the judge. That meant that sometimes Tooey was on my left, as required, but sometimes she was on my right or behind me.

In retriever hunt tests, she would mark the fall of the bird just fine, but once she got out there in the field to retrieve it, she would eye the gunners and bird boys, hiding nearby in blinds, with a great deal of suspicion. At one test, she found the bird, but then, catching sight of the bird boy, she sat and looked back at Russ. You could see the thought bubble over her head: ‘Who are these guys, and what the heck are they doing out here?” Similarly, in many spaniel tests, she would make a point of staying away from the gunners, who walk either side of the course with the dog and handler, or she would study them carefully before going off looking for birds.

I think, maybe, Barn Hunt must be Tooey’s sport.


We qualified in two Novice barn hunt trials today, earning Tooey her RATN title. But even better than the title was her performance.


Tooey and I in the start box — photo by Joan Walker

The first trial she needed only about 1 minute 7 seconds. She found her her rat (which was held out of harm’s reach in an aerated tube) almost right away, pawing and digging at it — no way could I miss that find. I called “Rat!”, and then all I had to do was get Tooey to pass through the required tunnel and climb up on a bale. She didn’t really want to do either; she was intent on hunting for more rats. But finally, after my third request, she hopped up onto a bale and ran through the tunnel, almost all in one move. The whole time, I don’t think she even noticed the judge or the rat wrangler. This was her third pass, that that earned us her title.

Today’s second trial (her fourth “bonus” pass) took her only just over 39 seconds. She knew her job, and executed all three required elements, pretty much in the same order as the first time: rat, bale, tunnel.

It was a fun day, and I am so proud of my Irish Water Spaniel girl, who in her past life, must have been some kind of earthdog.


NE Dunkley

About this time of year, just a few days after the Summer Solstice, the sun sets into the northwest here in Portland. The city is just above the 45th latitude line (halfway between the equator and the north pole). And in our neighborhood in North East Portland, there are few streets that do not follow the north-south grid so common in modern cities.


The developer of the Alameda neighborhood (circa 1900) decided to throw a few streets off that axis by about 26 degrees. That is just the right amount, such that when the sun sets in late June, shadows go absolutely straight down the street. And if it is not raining, then the shadows are fun to watch as we walk our pups in the evening.

More than you probably wanted to know, but sometimes science and geography trivia mixed with dogs is what makes life fun. This is how we mark the beginning of summer without a calendar; when we can see Carlin’s shadow in the center of the sidewalk on NE Dunkley. The Druids and Stonehenge started this with rocks because the Irish Water Spaniel was still a few centuries away in the British Isles.

Previous topics on this mix of science and Irish Water Spaniels includes:


On a lark (or maybe a chukar?), Russ and I decided to enter Carlin into the Lower Columbia HRC’s Upland test today. He’s been doing well with most of his training, so we read the rules last night, and thought, Well, why not? He probably won’t pass, but if nothing else, this would be an opportunity to train in a new place, among new people and dogs, and with a new agenda. And if he failed early enough in the day, we could just come home for lunch since the test was held only about an hour away from home.

Most folks enter Hunting Retriever Club’s hunt tests to test their retriever skills. Similar to the AKC’s hunt tests, the HRC has three levels of retriever work: Started, Seasoned, and Finished. But they also offer an additional hunt test called Upland. It’s not an easy test.

It consists of a quartering test with two flushes with steady to wing and shot, a walk-up and retrieve, an honor, and sometimes a tracking section.

  • The quartering we figured he do OK at. He works a field well, but sometimes goes larger (and potentially out of shotgun range) from time to time.
  • His flushing was likely to be good — he usually finds and either traps or flushes his birds.
  • The steady to wing and shot could go okay, or not — he’s been mostly good at this lately, but not always.
  • He’s never done a walk-up retrieve in his life — that’s where you walk forward with your dog at heel, and at some point, a bird flies (usually be mechanical means). At that moment, you stop, your dog stops and ideally sits, you aim your shotgun loaded with a popper and shoot basically a blank, and then you send your dog for the retrieve to hand. Carlin has never been asked to walk at heel off-leash with birds flying, and his retrieve to hand has been iffy for several months now.
  • He’s also never honored. That’s where the dog has to sit and stay quietly at heel off-leash and watch another dog retrieve birds.
  • He’s only done the most rudimentary tracking. (Fortunately, today there was no tracking compontent.)

Today’s test was held on the east side of Sauvie Island (area indicated by an orange box).

Sauvie Island

And here was today’s course. It was pretty low cover, about 8 inch grasses, interspersed with tall bushes and scotch broom. And the weather was nice, sunny in the low 70’s F and a light breeze.

HRC UH 2016-06-25 blog

Carlin started the course in the holding blind point A. He was antsy in there, pulled on the leash, bounced around, and basically behaved like a beginning retriever puppy. Not a good omen.

But as soon as Russ removed the slip lead, Carlin calmed down and heeled nicely off-leash with Russ to point B. There he sat quietly at heel, while the previous dog did his walk up retrieve from points F through I, H being where the dog left the line for the retrieve, picked up the bird at I, and then returned to his handler at H. Then that dog was leashed up and walked down the road past Carlin, while Carlin still sat quietly waiting at heel. It was an honor of at least 2.25 minutes. At that point, I didn’t care how Carlin did after that — I was just so gobsmacked by the fact that he quietly honored another dog.

Then Russ and Carlin took off toward the first bird, which was at C, with Carlin quartering back and forth across the course. There was a gunner at each side, and Carlin quartered between them cleanly. He found the bird at C, and the bird took off west, where the gunner brought him down to fall at D. Carlin ran straight out and straight back, and the delivered the bird gently to hand back at C, where Russ was waiting.

The course then curved a bit, and Carlin flushed up his second bird at E. It took off toward the gallery of watchers along the road, so the judges instructed the gunners to let the bird go, but fire a shot anyway in the opposite direction from the gallery. Carlin sat at the flush and stayed sitting for the shot. At that point, the judges instructed Russ to have Carlin quarter some more until he got to point F, and the walk-up began.

Like I said, Carlin has never done a walk-up, and he was pretty sure he was supposed to be quartering, so Russ’s insisting that he heel was just confusing. He’d take off ahead a few feet to go out, but Russ would call him back, and he came back, but then would try leaving again. By the third repetition of this, Carlin must have figured that Russ had lost his mind, so he’d better stay close. So he did. He did a nice quiet heel from point G to H, where all of a sudden, a bird quietly flew out of nowhere (actually a cold chukar launched from a winger in the trees just south of point I).

Russ stopped, and Carlin sat. Russ raised his shotgun and fired another blank toward the flying chukar, and Carlin still kept sitting. And then Russ sent Carlin, and Carlin took off. Unfortunately, Carlin didn’t know he was supposed to have been looking where Russ was pointing the shotgun (this is new for Carlin), and no sound had come from the winger like it does in an AKC retriever test, so Carlin didn’t mark the fall very well. But he hunted around, Russ gave him some direction (which he amazingly followed), and he finally located the bird, snatched it up, and returned it directly to hand.

Then, just like the dog before him, Carlin was leashed up and walked down the road past the dog sitting quietly at heel at point B. Just as they were leaving the course, one of the judges said, “Nice pass.” The other judge commented that it was a pleasure watching Carlin run. And I agree — it was.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Carlin, his coming into our lives, about another choice I could have made, and what I might do next time (assuming I am blessed with a next time).

Cooper and Tooey were companions and friends. Together they were our two hunting dogs with different styles and different strengths (Cooper, the retriever; Tooey, the flushing spaniel).

Then we got Carlin. We weren’t really ready or looking for another dog. That’s a key point. We weren’t looking. We had two wonderful dogs who gave us what we wanted, and around whom we had constructed our lives. We didn’t need another.

But Carlin had a pedigree that I’d been hoping for — he came as close to being what a breeding between Cooper and Tooey would give us, I really like Harry (Carlin’s sire), and most of Carlin’s immediate ancestors have hunting test titles. So, even though we weren’t looking, we took Carlin on.

It was trouble from the start. Cooper hated Carlin, so we had to keep them separated. The whole situation was very stressful. And plus, having three large, active dogs was just a lot of work and coordination for two adults who still work full time and live in a tiny inner-city house.

And then Cooper died. “The mighty Coop,” as Russ calls him. We miss him every day, and remember how great he was. And that’s the second key point. As the days go by, we tend to forget how difficult he was in the beginning, how we wanted to trade him back into his breeder, how we sent him off for behavior training for six weeks to experienced trainers who also found him difficult, how it took YEARS to get him to do a nice heel, how we could never get him to be reliably steady to wing or shot, how impulsive he always was until the last weeks before his death. We remember what a great retriever he came to be, how he would bring Russ a matched pair of his shoes when it was time to go for a walk, how he was our hunting, performance, and photographic companion, and how he always brought back his birds no matter what.

Carlin has his own strengths. He’s very affectionate, he actually likes Obedience, and he’s willing to consider alternatives to his own plans. Before the age of 2, he completed both his junior and senior titles in Spaniel hunting tests, well before the age Cooper even started training, and almost a couple of years before Cooper entered those same tests. But he’s not Cooper or Tooey. Unlike Cooper, he’s not a dog who lives to retrieve. Unlike Tooey, he would prefer to just run around in the field rather than hunt (though once he gets his running-around jollies out, he does hunt pretty well). Unlike both, his delivery to hand has regressed, so now he’s dropping birds, and we haven’t figured out a solution.


Now I am thinking we should have waited to get a dog until Cooper had passed and we had finished grieving. Three dogs just doesn’t fit our life. And I suspect that we should not have gotten another Irish Water Spaniel. Comparing one dog to another dog is inevitable, but by getting another IWS, we made it too easy to compare Carlin to Cooper, too easy to expect Carlin to be like Cooper, and that’s just not fair to Carlin. No dog can be a replacement for another dog, the hole Cooper left is just too big, and darkness in that hole still obscures the light of Carlin’s unique self.

A friend of mine had a wonderful Standard Poodle named Trip. Trip was a very impressive hunting Poodle. He had a talent for hunting and did very advanced work. Then Trip died, and my friend got another Standard Poodle from working lines. But that dog is not Trip. It’s taken him longer to get not as far as Trip did in hunting. No doubt the dog has other fine talents and qualities, but he’s not Trip, and my friend said it took her years to get past that and just accept the new dog for who he is.

So if we do have a next time, this is what I’m thinking now (assuming our situation hasn’t changed significantly): Wait for a while after Carlin or Tooey dies before getting another dog. Get a different breed, probably a Sporting/Gundog dog breed, but maybe a pointer or flushing spaniel. Maybe branch into some different activity, something that Cooper never did, but something that the new dog loves.

Of course, if we do that, I’ll have to change the tagline on the blog. But I think I can deal with that.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 95 other followers

%d bloggers like this: