Cooper and President’s Day

Digging into the archives, I had an image of Cooper that was produced as a lesson for my digital illustration students that I thought I would re-post* today, President’s Day, 2015.

It was the combination of a studio portrait* I made of our top dog way back in 2011 and some digital manipulation.

Cooper, enjoying the view from Mt. Rushmore on President's Day

Cooper, enjoying the view from Mt. Rushmore on President’s Day

I compiled a video clip of the studio shoot and the computer work which is typical of my day job, but this is with a subject that I really like.

*Originally posted here: Cooper: Carved in Stone and Portrait Session with Cooper

Yesterday I had my second lesson with the pro hunting dog trainer. In the evaluation session and his first lesson, Carlin showed  a lot of jumping-crazy-man enthusiasm for going out to the bird, especially when there was any kind of gun shot involved. But he couldn’t be trusted to bring the bird even half way back, and sometimes, once he’d gotten out to the bird, especially if it was not completely dead, he didn’t want to pick it up.

So, it’s time for him to be trained to pick up a bird, hold it, and keep it in his mouth until asked to drop it, no matter what.

There are so many methods of training a retrieve, and every teacher has his or her own way of teaching it. Basically, it seems like there are two extremes. On one extreme, there’s the force fetch using an electronic collar, ear pinch, or toe pinch. Look up “force fetch” on the web, and you’ll see what I mean. Both Cooper and Tooey were trained by pros using this method. It worked great for Cooper, but not so well for Tooey. Cooper was so enthused by retrieving, that any method that got him more retrieves was OK with him.

On the other hand, Tooey hated being forced, and she eventually just shut down. What got her back into retrieving was Russ’s turning it into a fun game that he and she played together as a team. And that’s a pretty good example of the other extreme. There there are many variations on rewarding the dog with things the dog values, such as food or play, when the dog succeeds at small increments of retrieve behavior. Look up Shirley Chong or Sue Ailsby and their methods for a trained retrieve — they are good examples of shaping a retrieve.

I choose good teachers usually, so I’m confident that which ever way they want me to use will work as long as they take the specific dog’s personality into consideration. But it’s very confusing to me when I have more than one teacher for a thing because each one wants me to do it their way, and those ways usually aren’t the same. I don’t think mixing methods really works.  So I am just going to stick with this one way to train a retrieve until I become convinced that it’s not working.

So, this is way we’re starting: put a frozen bird in Carlin’s mouth, insist he hold it there for some short period of time, and then ask him to drop it into my hand. Gravy this week is if he can hold the bird while walking or sitting (which he did a couple of times — yay!) We are actively putting the bird into Carlin’s mouth (rather than waiting and rewarding him for taking it on his own), but he also gets a reward he values, which is praise and getting to work with his person.

Russ took some video of our practice today. Here are several clips strung together:

You can see at the end of the video that Carlin didn’t want to quit — an excellent sign. We’ll keep practicing this week, and see where it lands us for our lesson next weekend.


Yesterday, I read something horrible and shocking. I belong to the SLOdogs yahoo group, and on their email list, a new member posted that her veterinarian had diagnosed her sweet 3-year old dog with SLO.

That’s sad, but not shocking. What was shocking was that the vet advised the member to put her dog down.

I don’t know what the vet’s reasons were, other than the SLO diagnosis, because the member didn’t say. I suppose it’s possible that the dog has other conditions that, in combination with SLO, would make life unbearable. But I didn’t get that from the question the new member essentially asked us: Is life with SLO was really so bad that it would be better to put the dog down? I could almost hear the tears in her voice as I read her post.

Many of us fellow members, including me, answered her with:

  • No, no, no! Don’t put the dog down. Life can be good for a dog with SLO.
  • Find a veterinary dermatologist to confirm the diagnosis and provide knowledgeable treatment.
  • Run as fast as you can away from the original vet, and find someone else.

Then it got worse. The member reported that her dog was scheduled for a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. My heart broke. If the member agrees, the dog will have most of a toe removed so that the vet can diagnose a condition that a competent veterinary dermatologist can usually diagnose clinically, without needlessly causing the pain and deformity of removing a toe.

I so hope that person finds another vet, and quickly.

And that leads me to the gratitude. I have been so lucky to find that SLOdogs group, and have access to their considerable resources and recommendations.

But even more, I am so glad that our family has found competent veterinarians. The people at Fremont Veterinary Clinic (my regular vets) and at the Animal Allergy and Ear Clinic (my veterinary dermatologists) have been knowledgeable, kind, and effective. And all without needless surgery and death.

And as a result, Cooper has had a great life despite his SLO, full of retrieving, adventures, companionship, and teamwork.

I am so grateful. Thank you.

He’s smiling at me!

This morning, while Russ and I were eating breakfast, Cooper came over to my chair, sat, and just looked up at me with this big smile on his face.

Cooper smiling at me

Cooper smiling at me

What a delightful way to start the morning.

A lot of retriever dog trainers advise against working on water retrieves in the middle of winter. The water is too cold and it might put the dog off jumping into water when a water retrieve is needed.

Those trainers have never worked with Cooper.


Cooper will (wants to, demands to even) retrieve anything, anywhere, any time. And that includes from the water in winter.

Now, admittedly, yesterday morning at the delta was not a worse case scenario. Although it was in the low 40 degrees F, it was bright and sunny enough that Cooper could run around after getting wet and dry off. And I did stop throwing the bumper after the 6th water retrieve when I noticed him shivering. He didn’t want to stop, but to make up for that, we did lots of finding bumpers on land that I “accidentally” dropped along our walk, and several marked retrieves as well.

It was a wonderful day, spent doing just about my favorite thing — walking with my Coopman outside.

Carlin tries out a trainer

Cooper and Tooey are hunting dogs. So when it came time to choose our next dog, we knew we wanted another hunting dog.

But hunting dogs are not just born. Genetics and early learning do count, of course, but to get a reliable hunting partner, those are not enough. You have to train your dog. Although we’ve been playing at it for several months, we knew it was time to get serious, so we started in earnest with Carlin by visiting Richard Matzke of Tuxedo Kennels to see how he might help us.

First we started by just running Carlin around the grounds, getting used to the area, the scents of other dogs (oh, boy! dogs!), the bird pens, a horse (we’ll give that huge snorting animal a wide berth, shall we?), and new people (oh, yeah, hi, OK, you smell okay, can we go do something now?).

Carlin scaring up a pigeon

Carlin scaring up a pigeon

The first hour we spent out in a field of low cover, with Richard and I teasing Carlin with pigeons and planting pigeons, a chukar, and a quail for Carlin to find.


Carlin found the birds okay, and he was happy to chase them if they ran or flew, but once he cornered one, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He poked a couple, but if they didn’t run or fly, he lost interest. And in the case of the live duck, when it stopped running away and turned to face Carlin instead, Carlin figured discretion was the better part of valor, and ran off in the opposite direction.

That was sort of discouraging. But Richard said he saw something in the boy, and figured that we could come up with something that would turn on Carlin’s inner birddog.

And then he had an idea. We’d told him that Carlin had been out a couple of times retrieving birds that had been flung by wingers and that he’d been out once hunting alongside Tooey, so Richard suggested, let’s just try the real thing.

That worked.


What’s that guy doing out there?


Oh, he’s going to shoot the bird! Let me go! Let me go!


I got the bird! I got it!


I got a bi-ird! I got a bi-ird! Look at me! I got a bi-ird!

So the plan is that Carlin and I will go up every Saturday for a lesson. There is so much to learn when you’re trying to teach a dog.

Birthday choir

Today is my birthday, and I hear tell (based on this photo that Russ texted to me) that the canine choir is practicing up to serenade me with birthday songs when I come home from work. They have, after all, been practicing since last summer.


Carlin, Tooey, and Cooper

Either that, or they are staging a sit-down strike, protesting my having to go to work on my birthday in the first place.


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