This last weekend was the debut for Carlin in the hunt test world. But Ms. Tooey also plays in this game from time to time. She already has her Junior titles in retrieving and spaniel upland work, so I entered her into the Senior level spaniel test last weekend put on by the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club. Tooey was a late bloomer in the world of field dogs, but when she discovered upland work, she turned into a great hunting dog. Last hunting season she put up and retrieved about 50 birds. And with our last week in Montana, she has now produced birds in 8 states*.
As we followed an English Cocker Spaniel onto the course, this test got off to an awkward start. That dog flushed a bird near the beginning, picked it up and brought it only 2/3rds of the way back, dropped it and proceeded to run uncontrolled around the course, flushing up all the remaining birds. I am sure this not only embarrassed the handler, but probably put the judges on edge and lowered their tolerance level for poor dog work.
And so we had to anxiously wait until the course was replanted with birds and start back at the beginning. Tooey flushed her first bird to the right and the gunner dropped it at the edge of the course. She promptly picked it up and made a very polite delivery to hand from the seated position.
Further up on the left side, Tooey flushed her second bird. Unfortunately, the gunner did not get a quick, clean kill, and the wounded bird ran a bit before Tooey tracked it down. And then the bird put up some resistance to being picked up in the mouth of a 70 pound dog. Tooey managed to get a firm grip over the fighting bird, but not before a third pheasant flew up a few away from where Tooey was sitting (with a live bird in her mouth).
She patiently waited and watched to see if this new bird was going to be shot and where it might land for yet another third retrieve. The judge told the gunner to let that third bird go, and so as soon as it left the area, I called to Ms. Tooey, still quietly sitting with a live bird in her mouth, in for her second retrieve. And yet again from the sitting position, she delivered it to hand. That is steadiness that one could only lust for in a Master level spaniel.
So with less than a third of the course covered, Tooey put up and retrieved two pheasants and was rock steady for a third flush. (Maybe I should have entered her in the Master level test?) After the Juniors were to run their field work, the Seniors and Masters were to move on to the “hunt dead” work and the water series. I put Tooey back in the car and positioned myself to watch Patrice run a spectacular Carlin in his Junior land series.
However, before that series started, one of the judges called me over to tell me that he had failed Tooey on the land series and she was out for the rest of the test.
He did not think that she hunted that well and should have shown more enthusiasm in her quest for the birds. (Like that Cocker?) Hunt tests have rules, and the bottom line is that dogs are judged on their hunting style and not just on their finding and returning the two birds.
What the photos do not show is that behind Tooey and me are two judges, two gunners, and small gallery of people, including the next dog that was going to run. Tooey always keeps an eye out for strangers, and as a consequence, she monitored these interlopers while still finding and retrieving pheasants. I suspect that her keeping a cautious eye on the crowd slowed her quartering speed, and the judge may have been a bit cranky as he watched the prior Cocker scare $100 worth of pheasants into the sky.
But, if one is going to fail, one can not ask for a better performance with master-level steadiness.
Maybe it’s just time to visit more states to add to Tooey’s real-world hunting chops. (Nebraska and the Dakotas are next.)
*To date Tooey has found, flushed, and retrieved birds in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana.