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Day 2: same club and same location as yesterday, but different judges. Saturday’s judges knew Carlin, as we often practice together at Scatter Creek, Washington. Having a personal relationship didn’t hurt his cause. But the judges on Day 2 were relative strangers. They were known to have sharp pencils and had lots of experience running and judging accomplished dogs. So we were not expecting to be given any slack.

On Sunday, it was a good 10° cooler and since we now running as the 4th dog of the day, we got a cool start. Carlin put up his first bird at mid-course, and then sat while the gunner dropped it down further down the course.

Carllin quarters at full speed through tall grass

Carlin quarters at full speed through tall grass

The judges tapped my shoulder for a release, and upon my release to Carlin, he zoomed straight out and straight back with the bird delivered to my hand. Text book awesome.

Carlin heads out to pick up a pheasant

Carlin heads out to pick up a pheasant

We continued up the course where Carlin caught the scent of a bird near the edge of huge cluster of Scotch broom and blackberry brambles. He circled the cluster and then dove in to root out a bird.

The brown spot in the center is Carlin forcing out a pheasant from heavy cover

The brown spot in the center with a pink tongue is Carlin forcing out a pheasant from heavy cover

It flushed, the gunners missed, and I had no idea where Carlin was because I was on the other side of the cover. So were the judges. Was he steady? Apparently so. I called him in back, and as soon as I pulled broken-off pieces of blackberry vine out of his topknot, we were done with the land series.

Carlin takes a break while the judges record their scores for his last flush

Carlin takes a break while the judges record their scores for his last flush

For Sunday’s hunt dead test, we were the second dog to run. Only 4 out of 9 dogs running masters qualified on the land series and made it this far. (We were dumb struck by our good fortune.) A cross breeze had come up, and so I lined Carlin up downwind for this 5 minute test and he nailed the bird in under a minute. On to the water . . . .

Same scenario as yesterday, but now Carlin knew that there was not a bird across the river next to the bird handlers. I got him to focus on the bank directly across from us and I sent him with a “Back” command. He immediately cut left and ran the near bank and refused to enter the water.

WTF? I pleaded with my whistle, hands, and because I was under the observation of 3 judges, I limited my verbal commands to skip the traditional 4 letter words. After about 3 minutes of running up and down bank ignoring my commands (a very bad thing), he jumped into the river, swam across, grabbed the bird, swam back, and handed it off like nothing unusual had taken place.

I leashed him up while the judges conferred, gesticulated, shrugged, etc. for several long moments. Finally, they said they would let me try for the water retrieve to see if he altered their opinion. No pressure. Carlin sat at my side, the bird went up, the shot report came across the river, the bird hit with a splash while Carlin calmly sat and watched. The judge tapped for a release, I sent Carlin, and off he went, straight out, straight back, bird to hand. More judges conferring, scribbling on their score sheets, gesturing. To be determined.

Well, once again, his stellar land work and marked water retrieve saved our asses and Carlin passed another Master test. Other than this water blind debacle, his scores were mostly 9s. We looked at the score sheets later, and noticed that the Trainability score for the water blind had been scribbled out and changed. Perhaps that change put his Trainability score just enough so we did not NQ.

To celebrate, three of us decided it was time to go swimming in the Luckiamute River. Both Tooey and Patrice were troopers in the heat and fully enjoyed Carlin’s Master passes from the cool of the water.

Back into the Luckiamute river for the love of water

Back into the Luckiamute river for the love of water

Patrice and Tooey washing away the tension of watching Carlin's first Master passes.

Patrice and Tooey washing away the tension of watching Carlin’s second Master pass

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Two Master ribbons

Life is good. And we do it all again in two weeks.

We can’t say we were really looking forward to this last weekend. Carlin was entered in his first Master level spaniel hunt tests, but the weather forecast had the temperature soaring past 100° F for both days. And our training sessions leading up to this weekend were revealing a few possible gaps in our performance. Carlin (we) have improved in some areas, but are still sketchy in others. That combined with the fact that Carlin is a hot blooded dog who easily overheats, we were not primed for a successful weekend.

On the other hand, the hunt test grounds near Monmouth, Oregon are very familiar. The first time I was there was in December 2013 with the Mighty Coop. The high that day was only 9° F. In the photo below is a toasty Cooper and his birds, but with me bundled up with layers of long underwear, and topped with insulated overalls. Notice that I was wearing two hats, one with ear flaps.

The might Coop chillin' with his birds

The mighty Coop chillin’ with his birds

But back to Carlin and a hot hunt test put on by the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club.

We started the morning with the field work. We were running last in the Masters, and so we got to start around 9:30 a.m. and in the mid 70°s F. Watching and waiting behind the 8 dogs ahead of us got on Carlin’s nerves, especially when he saw a bird fall and he was not called for the retrieve. And it got on my nerves with basic performance anxiety, as this was my first attempt at handling a dog at the Master level.

Carlin stays focused while we wait our turn to run

Carlin stays focused while we wait our turn to run

The field was thigh-high grass interspersed with tall groves of Scotch broom and blackberries. And it was uphill. Carlin put up his first bird within seconds, but the gunner missed it with both shots. As the bird flew away over the trees, I was so happy to see Carlin sitting and watching intently (steady to flush and shot). A fly-away is often a weak link for a dog, but Carlin did me proud.

I called him back to continue our run. Unfortunately, I did not cast him off in the opposite direction, so he immediately took off in the direction of the fly-away that he had watched and carefully tracked. Oops. A few whistles and a verbal comment got him back on course and hunting again. As Carlin and I rounded a large clump of Scotch broom, he put up another bird. The right hand gunner knocked it down as it glided downhill into a another clump off the course.

Carlin stayed steady, but the judges, who had still been behind the Scotch broom, could not see if the bird had been hit or was down. I made another mistake by saying that Carlin could find it rather than taking a pass on the retrieve. He just sat there while I chatted with the judges.

After a bit, they said go for it. So with the release command, off Carlin went. But it wasn’t a slam dunk. He took a good line but cut left about 80 yards away. I was thinking I really screwed this up by being over-confident in his ability. But he cut back right into the clump and after a long 30 seconds of my heart in my throat, he came trotting back with the bird and delivered smack into my hand. The gamble paid off, and we were onto the next series after the Seniors and Juniors finished their land series.

It was 1:30 p.m. by the time we ready to run our turn at the “hunt dead” series, and the temperature was now a balmy 103° F. We waited for our turn in the shade of some big maple trees, but when we came out to run we were hit with a blast furnace of sun and dead air. We had 5 minutes to find a dead planted pheasant about 65 yards out, and with me directing Carlin with hand signals and whistles from the line. He did it in just over 3 minutes. I immediately threw this hot dog into a stock tank full of water, where he relaxed and drank his fill.

So we qualified to run the water series. For the water work, the order was reversed, starting with Junior dogs and ending with Masters. Being we were the last Master in the queue, we were the last dog to run for the day. The water work started with a blind retrieve across the Luckiamute River, about 50 yards away, followed with a marked retrieve into the river.

Well, when we got to the line, Carlin locked on to the bird handlers and ignored my direction to the blind. He jumped in and swam about 45° off course, swimming about 80 yards downstream to the bird handlers. He struggled up the steep bank, did not find a bird, and so he looked back at me to tell him what to do next. I whistled him back into the water, and now he had to swim about 50 yards upstream to find the low bank on which the bird was hidden in the grass. He was spent, but at 5 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock, he found it, swam back, and delivered it to hand.

Did I mention the 5 minute limit? Even though we’d gone passed that, the judges let us proceed to the water retrieve, which was launched and shot by the very handlers that distracted him on the blind. So back into the water, cross the river, and back with another bird. Oh well, I was thinking, nice try.

At the ribbon ceremony, the Juniors got theirs first, next the Seniors, and then the Masters. No ribbon for Carlin. And then the surprise. One of the judges mentioned that they were a Master ribbon short, so the secretary went and got another orange ribbon. It turns out that the judges were impressed with Carlin’s persistence and not giving up after that long swim, so  they decided to be flexible on the 5 minute limit. And considering how he smoked the land series, they gave us the benefit of the doubt and awarded Carlin his first Master pass.

Carlin shows off his Master ribbon where Cooper showed off his pheasants. The sweat on my brow is from the heat and the anxiety of watching Carlin's water blinds.

A tired Carlin shows off his Master ribbon in the exact spot where Cooper showed off his pheasants in the first photo. The sweat on my brow is from the heat and the anxiety of watching Carlin’s water blinds.

Tomorrow is another chance for another ribbon, but no matter how tomorrow turns out, today was sweet indeed.

In Pursuit of the Wily Pear

One of our favorite training grounds is St. Louis Ponds, south of Portland, Oregon. In addition to the ponds and the hundreds of acres available to practice field work, there are a few extra delights this time of year. In the back corner of the park, we came across an old pear tree full of ripe fruit. After a hot morning of retrieving birds and swimming, a piece of juicy ripe fruit is just what an Irish Water Spaniel wants.

May I have another please?

Pears_500

I will work for pears

A balanced diet is what is best for an active field dog. So after pears, maybe it’s time for an August blackberry dessert.

Yummmm.

Blackberries_500

Blackberries for a second course

Also in this far corner of the park is a pond that brings back fond memories. This is where Cooper revealed his passion for water, jumping, and retrieving. The masthead banner of the Cooper Project (see top of this page) is Cooper leaping into this pond. I made this image on July 4, 2008. Here is the uncropped version:

070408_Cooper

A young Cooper (17 months) doing what he loved

So here we were, 8 years and one month later, with our current IWS, Tooey and Carlin. From the very location where I shot the image of Cooper in 2008, I made this short slo-mo video of Tooey and Carlin making enthusiastic but less dramatic entries into the same pond, lowered several feet by the July and August heat.

Life is good.

 

It’s been so hot. Today it’s a humid 90 degrees F, and yesterday was worse. I had been growing Tooey’s coat for possibly showing her in the Veterans class at IWSCOPS Specialty in a couple of weeks, but then various things happened, and I decided I couldn’t deal with two dogs at the specialty. So, we decided Tooey would stay home with Russ.

And then we got this spike in the heat, and Tooey was clearly not liking it one bit. She has the coat of a duck hunting dog: a thick under coat along with a thick outer coat. Sometimes she can jump into and out of the water, and still be dry at the skin. Great when you’re in 40 degree F water. Not so great when you’re in hot, humid air.

So, I cut it off.

Tooey in her Sports Dog cut

She really perked up after I was done, so I guess I did the right thing.

And actually, I think she’s beautiful this way. Perhaps it’s just that she’s beautiful. But also, this is how she’s looked on most of our hunting trips, where she really shines. All her skill and talent comes out when looking for and retrieving birds for just the two of us. She’s in her element, and she’s beautiful.

So when I look at her today, with her silvering coat clipped short, all I can think is, “God, what a beautiful dog.”

Tooey got her RATN title from the Barn Hunt Association last month. Fortunately, the AKC and Barn Hunt have an agreement whereby the AKC will recognize Barn Hunt titles as part of their Barn Hunt Titles Recognition Program.

So, now the AKC shows that she has a nice shiny new AKC-recognized title to add to her long list.

Tooey-akc-titles_160811

As I’m looking at this, I marvel at all the activities Tooey, Russ, and I have participated in together. And I notice that they’re all “novice”-type titles. I’m going to have to look at that, and see when next we can train for the next level of Barn Hunt, Tooey’s current fav.

We had a break in the weather this weekend — relatively cool with a few drops of rain. A bonus like this can’t be wasted, so we took some time both days to take Carlin upland training.

Saturday, we trained with the Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Association.

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They set up a short, narrow course with planted pigeons. This type of course is tough for Carlin because, with his long stride and fast movement, he covers the ground between the gunners in just a few steps before he has to turn. Being squeezed in like this, his preference is to run out away, rather than from side to side. And that makes being steady to shot and wing all that much harder, too, as he is farther away from his handler. But, on the good side, he found all of his birds, flushed two and trapped one, and was steady to one of the flushes. Needs more work on steady (not a big surprise).

We also had him do a blind water retrieve and a marked water retrieve. He jumped into the water, swam straight to the blind, picked it up, and brought it almost all the way back. He still drops his birds at the water’s edge from time to time, but usually picks them up and brings them to hand. That’s also a thing to work on. But, as he’s only been doing blind water retrieves for a short while, we were happy with his work. It’s a narrow creek, so he didn’t feel the need to “pop” (turn around and look for direction from handler) as he sometimes does on wider ponds.

The next day, Russ and I took Carlin out to Sauvie Island to practice land retrieves, land blinds, and water retrieves.

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The marked retrieves were short this time. He ran past the bird, which we expected. Again, it’s that long stride and fast running — he just gets going, and already he’s at the bird. He winded it though, turned around as soon as he could slow himself down, and came back with the bird. The land blind was tougher. Russ has been working with him on going straight out, but Carlin would rather quarter and hunt. It’s still an issue, and out in a field with a bird, he “forgets” that he’s practiced going out straight to find a dummy. Yet another thing to work on.

When we got to the water, we decided to try an idea to help him realize that dropping the bird to shake is not okay. We put him on a long line, with me holding the long line in back of Russ and Carlin. Russ tossed the bird within long-line distance, and as Carlin went out to get it, I moved forward and let the line flow through my hands so that Carlin wouldn’t be constrained by the line. Then, when he turned to come back, I moved back to my former position, and gently pulled the line steadily, with just enough pressure so that he’d be urged forward and couldn’t stop, but not enough pressure to actually pull him up the bank.

We repeated this exercise three times, and then it was time to go home and get the BBQ ribs that had been slow-cooking at home. I think the exercise is a good one, and worth repeating. I’ve also read about the handler’s putting on waders and wading into the water to take the bird before the dog gets out of the water, and then over repetitions, gradually moving out of the water and onto the shore. This one might be work trying as well.

It’s a process. Since we’re doing this ourselves without a pro, it’ll take as long as it takes us. I wish it were faster, but even so, Carlin is doing more than Cooper or Tooey ever did at this age, so I have to figure we’re ahead of the game.

If you have dogs who are allowed indoors, the floors will get dirty fast. This is a Law of Nature, lessened only if you’re one of those rare and wonderful people who wash their dogs’ feet every time before they come into the house.

We are not among those people. We let our dogs run in and out. In the summer, we leave a door open so that they can run in and out at will.

The linoleum is fairly easy to sweep. Even if we leave it a couple of days, it’s still relatively easy and quick.

The living room carpet is another story. It hides dirt reasonably well, so we can ignore it for weeks (dare I say “months”) at a time. Unless… Perhaps a dog eats too much grass on one of her many trips outside, and has to get rid of it in the middle of the night, when no one will wake up and let her out. Or perhaps a dog gets into some water and then some dirt, and then runs into the house before you can stop him. Or maybe the just-fertilized flower pot gets overturned by accident, somehow, by some unnamed, unseen entity.

When that happens (as it all has in the last week), we have to actually clean the carpet. Usually, that goes OK. Until that moment when the unstoppable force meets the unmovable object.

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Tooey, aka Unmovable Object

Finally the unmovable object relents, and consents to compromise, and the job finally gets done.

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the Unmovable Object consents to move

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