Cooper, Tooey, Russ, and I went out for the Oregon Hunting Retriever Club‘s picnic test last Saturday. We all had a great time, and the dogs did a good job (subject to their usual challenges). Cooper got every bird or bumper he was sent for. In this test, I ran the 4 marks as singles. One mark landed in the water, and the other three required the dog to run through the water and onto land to get the bird.

Cooper picked up and brought back every mark. But, true to himself, Cooper wanted to break and tried to do so — to go out after the bird before I sent him. I knew he was going to do this, so I held a leash around his chest at the line to prevent him from leaving early. He’d get up and strain against the leash. When he finally sat, I sent him for the birds.

I am not going let that boy break! — photo by Kim Shade

There was also a water blind and a land blind. He did a pretty okay job on the land blind. Going straight has never been his strong suit, but he let me direct him to the mark with whistles and hand signals, adding a few off-route flourishes of his own invention. But, like all the marks, he brought his bumper back to hand.

Cooper coming back from a blind retrieve — photo by Kim Shade

The water blind was a bit more challenging. Although he’s always been willing to jump into any water to retrieve a mark, lately he’s been unwilling to go into the water when he can’t see what he’s going after. So, the “judge” tossed a bumper into the water when Cooper couldn’t see him do it, and since Coop was able to see the bumper floating in the pond, he went right in.

I don’t have any photos of Tooey, but she did a fabulous job. She also did the 4 marks as singles, and unlike Cooper, who “cheats” by going around water from time to time, Tooey trotted straight to the mark and back at her usual methodical pace, through mud, water, shrubs, whatever. Her one failing here, resulted from the fact that one of the marks was an already-dead pigeons that had gotten wet. She hates wet pigeons, so though she picked it up and brought it mostly back, I wasn’t surprised to see her drop the pigeon about 10 feet away from the line and then refuse to pick it up.

But, wow! When she saw the guns come out for her live flyer, she really turned on. When I sent her out after that bird, she actually ran out across the field, straight into the water, and onto the land where the bird fell. She picked up that pigeon, and brought it directly back at a pretty impressive pace.

Gunners out standing in the field

We also did a very short land blind — maybe 30 yards. Tooey hasn’t done a blind in a hunt test situation, but she did go straight out where I sent her, so I was pleased. In fact, I was thrilled with Tooey’s performance. Now, if they’d only had ducks instead of pigeons, she’d have done a perfect job.

While Tooey and I were waiting for our turn, the gunners missed one of the pigeons, which flew off as fast as its wings could take it. When Tooey and I arrived back at the car after our turn, I was amused to see it sitting on the lift gate of my minivan. I don’t think it liked my being this close, and flew off just after I snapped the photo.

The one that got away

All in all, we had a great time. The dogs were thrilled to be out working, I enjoyed handling the two of them and then helping to launch one of the marks, and Russ got in some gunning practice. Since we’re not practicing for any hunt tests, it was all for fun. And it was sunny, too. I can’t think of a better way to spend an April Saturday.

Clearly, the boy has talent. With a couple of months of weekly training with a pro, and a couple of weeks of daily training with Russ, Carlin has been able to mark the fall of birds and bumpers, go out, pick them up, bring them back, and deliver them to hand. Sometimes, he can even do short doubles — watching two bumpers go down, and then going out to get them one at a time. He’s picked up ducks, pigeons, chukars, quail, and pheasant. He’s even quartering a bit, trotting out in front of the handler, finding birds that have been planted in the field.

So he has some of the pieces that a gundog needs to know. Now it’s time for Carlin to put them all together in his head. So following in the footsteps of the other two dogs, Cooper and Tooey, Carlin is going off for several months to train with a pro. Starting today, Carlin will be living and working with Richard Matzke of Tuxedo Kennels.

Richard and Carlin with bird

Richard and Carlin with bird

Richard is best known for training pointers and spaniels. That will stand us in good stead because our first goal is to have a spaniel for upland hunting. Richard is a hunter himself, and a hunting guide, so he knows what an upland hunter needs in a working spaniel. Besides Carlin’s being a spaniel, though, we also want him to succeed in retriever hunt tests. Richard is also currently working with several other “exotic” retrievers, including a Standard Poodle and some Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. And he’s worked with Labrador Retrievers, for whom the retriever hunt test game was invented. Fortunately, Richard is close enough to us, and available to clients on Saturdays, so I’ll be able to go up once a week and train with him, too.

Now to one of my favorite (and well-worn) peeves. Carlin is currently in a long show coat. I’d like to clip him down to a field cut, like I did with Tooey. But I have plans to show him in conformation from time to time, and although winning a conformation show while in a field clip happens once in awhile, generally, an IWS has to have long coat on the legs, ears, and topknot to win and get those points. Mostly the long coat is OK — with proper bathing, combing, brushing, and coat conditioning, an IWS can run around out in the field with a long coat. But it does help if the dog can see, and sometimes that long topknot can get in the way. Hence, the ninja spaniel hairdo:

Carlin with topknot tied up

Carlin with topknot tied up

He’s been gone only a few hours, and already I miss the boy, and I suspect he’ll miss us, too. But while we were out training today, he was the soul of happiness.

Carlin airborne

Carlin airborne

Now that we’re home, I can see that Cooper is thrilled to have that Twerp out of the way. Tooey looks worried. But not to worry girlie. All the dogs get sent off to camp or the spa from time to time, but none are given away.

Post-bath bath

Russ took Carlin for a bath. This is payback.

Russ_CarlinPoor boys.

It’s wonderful to be married to an accomplished photographer — that means we usually have really great photos to remember our activities by. But sometimes I am grateful to be just an amateur snap-shooter. That way, when I come home from hunting with less-than-perfect photos, I can just shrug my shoulders and say, “Better luck next time.” Russ did the vast majority of the shooting on today’s hunting trip. I mostly just carried my shotgun, which lead to fumbling my phone when I wanted to take a picture and hold the shotgun at the same time. We had a good laugh when we got home and examined the photos I’d taken. There were a whole series of photos like the following. I won’t embarrass myself further than publishing just one.


Why you shouldn’t try to shoulder a shotgun and take a photo at the same time

But… on to the hunting trip

I took a rare day off from work today, and Russ and I accompanied the three dogs out hunting for our last day of the pheasant preserve hunting season. It was much warmer than it should be in March, but the blue skies and fluffy clouds made for a delightful day. We walked up and down the rows of downed corn and new grass, behind a row of conifers, and along the top of a low cliff over the Luckiamute River with Cooper, and then Tooey, sniffing the ground and the air, looking for birds. Cooper got the high total of the day, flushing 4 roosters and 3 hens, while Tooey put up 3 hens and 1 rooster. We were allowed to shoot hens since it was so late in the season, and we came home with 8 cleaned birds for the freezer and eight necks, gizzards, hearts, and livers for the dogs’ dinners.


Having delivered one bird, Cooper hunts for another


Tooey and Russ hunt pheasants in the grass


Bringing one out from behind the trees

Carlin got to do some practice flushing on some hen pheasants that we’d planted. He did a good job finding them, but didn’t quite know how to get one into his mouth. Pheasant skins are loosely attached to their bodies, and so the mass of the bird slides around inside the skin unless the dog has a good solid hold. Carlin hadn’t ever tried to pick up a pheasant before, so we were not surprised to have to help him. But once he got it in his mouth, he did a fine job of holding on to it.

Carlin holding his first pheasant

Carlin holding his first pheasant

He’s going to be a fine hunting dog one day, and soon as he gets it all together in his head and syncs it all with what his body is doing. Perhaps I should say the same thing about my photography — if I can just get my brain and my fingers all synced up…

Six months of raw

All our dogs have been fed kibble. Our first dog, Kayak, a malamute-mix, ate grocery store dog kibble. She did fine on it, healthy, happy, and long-lived (almost 15 years). Cleo, a Chow-mix of some kind from the Humane Society, also ate kibble. Having lived on the streets, she was used to scrounging, so she also self-supplemented her diet with food off the counters and dining room table. She was a contented dog with a beautiful dark tri-colored coat, who lived only to about 6-ish, dying early of a heart defect – nothing food related.

It was only when we got our first purebred dog, Cooper the Irish Water Spaniel, that I began to learn that there even existed higher- and lower-quality kibbles.

As a puppy, Cooper came with instructions, one of which was a recommendation to continue feeding what he’d been getting, which was definitely not to be found at my local grocery store. So we switched to a kibble that looked pretty much the same as the grocery store brand, but was about twice the price.

But hey, he was my special puppy, and I wanted to do what was best.

As time went, we moved in to more and more high quality kibble. Cooper developed Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy, and I started reading. In addition to all the recommendations about salmon oil and vitamin E, almost everything I read recommended feeding a grain-free food. So, OK. I can do that. And again, the kibble looked about the same, but cost three times the price of the grocery store brand. Admittedly, the ingredients read much more like food and much less like chemicals. There was no corn, wheat, rice, or any other grain. And there was more recognizable meat ingredients, like “beef liver” and “chicken fat” instead of “meat meal”.

Then two things happened. We got another Irish Water Spaniel puppy, Carlin, who almost right away lost his coat due to skin infections, and I finally got really tired of Cooper’s cycling through seasons of shiny thick coat, then dry woolly coat. Tooey can eat anything and stay perfectly healthy doing it, but for the boys I thought maybe better food might be at least a partial answer to their skin and coat issues. So I decided to try feeding raw food. As in mostly raw meat.

If you’re interested in really jumping into controversy and argument, try reading about feeding raw food to dogs. Try asking a raw-feeding advocate a question, and then prepare to duck. Unless, of course, you’re talking to someone kind and reasonable – I’ve been fortunate to have found several of those. But even so, strong opinions are held in this arena, and a few folks can be quite combative. Based on my reading and conversations, here are some things people apparently want to argue about:

  • Should you feed fruits and/or vegetables to your dogs? What about grains?
  • Can you feed both kibble and raw foods? If so, must you feed them in separate meals, or can you mix them within a meal?
  • Can you cook some of the meat, or do you have to feed it all raw?
  • Can you mix meats in a single meal?
  • Can you grind the meat, or do you have to feed it in chunks, or perhaps even in the form of an animal part or whole animal?
  • Is there a proper ratio of muscle meat, bone, and organ meat? If so, what is it?
  • Is it OK to feed your dog fish? If so, what kinds? And does it have to be raw?
  • Should you add any supplements?

So basically I’ve come to my own answers, and here’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months.

Typical dinner: section of turkey neck, ground beef heart and green tripe, and blended veggies

So far, it seems to balance convenience and quality, the dogs love it, and it’s only four times more expensive than grocery store kibble (if four is an exaggeration, it’s not by much):

  • Weekday breakfast consists of half (by approximate calorie count) very high-quality kibble and half ground meat. Usually the meat is ground beef heart and green tripe, but sometimes its ground turkey or chunks of pork. Lamb is just way too expensive, and I think chicken is too “hot” (in the Chinese medicine sense) for dogs with skin issues. Weekend breakfasts don’t include kibble.
  • Dinner consists of something boney, like a chunk of turkey neck or chicken wing, plus some kind of ground or chopped meat. About once a week I’ll include whole cooked high-fat fish like sardines or mackerel (the dogs make disgusted faces when given raw fish and won’t eat it), organ meat like beef or lamb liver, or an egg.
  • To each meal, I add a vitamin supplement formulated for raw diets.
  • Each meal also gets moistened with hot water, or if I have any, hot homemade meat broth.
  • Dinners also include a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil, plus a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.
  • About three or four times a week, I add chopped and blended raw vegetables to the dinners, usually leafy green, cruciferous, and/or non-starchy vegetables blended with water and fresh garlic.

I don’t know yet if this is having an impact on their coats. But here’s what I do know:

  • They almost always eat all of the food. (Well, Tooey has always eaten all of her food plus whatever the boys leave, but since I’ve been feeding mostly raw, the boys don’t leave her much anymore.)
  • The skin on Cooper’s elbow calluses has softened.
  • The inside of their ears stay clean longer and are much less gunky.
  • Cooper has much less discharge from his eyes.
  • Less poop.

If I didn’t feed any kibble at all, probably that would be even better. It’s just that I get so rushed on weekday mornings, that including some grain-free kibble has been just easier on me.

So, how much do I feed? I know the approximately calorie count of the ground meat and kibble I feed, and I just adjust up and down based on whether or not I can feel the dog’s ribs. Right now, I feed the equivalent of these amounts:

  • Carlin, 1 year old intact male: 2.5 .lbs of meat per day (plus a bite of apple for dessert, please)
  • Cooper, 8 year old neutered male: 1.6 .lbs of meat per day (sometimes he asks for more, and I give it to him)
  • Tooey, 6 year old spayed female: 1.0 .lbs of meat per day (which she believes is way, way too little)

Most likely I’ll adjust all this as I go along. But as long as I can afford it, I’ll keep feeding mostly raw.

My friend Kay was working hard to keep Carlin still on the grooming table. He was getting antsy and just couldn’t keep himself in a steady stand. Sit, twist, squirm, attempt to lie down, try to jump off, sit again, squirm, twist, anything but stand still.

That makes it tough for a person to practice giving a show groom to an Irish Water Spaniel. Admittedly, he’d been on the table for a while, and I could see he was bored and tired. Treats weren’t doing it. So while I was trying to figure out something that would help keep Carlin’s mind occupied, it came to me: practice holding birds.

So I got out a frozen chukar, which I just happened to have handy in my freezer, put it into Carlin’s mouth, and told him to Hold!

Huh... am I a show dog or a bird dog?

Huh… am I a show dog or a bird dog?

All of a sudden he stopped moving. You could see the wheels in his head grind to a slow stop: being groomed and holding birds do not belong together, so, ah, what is happening here? And as his mind slowed, so did his body. He quieted down, held the bird, and stayed still. He held the bird. He didn’t drop it, or squirm, or twist. He just held the bird.

Then he started whining. I could see a new thought bloom in that head of his: I want to jump off this table with the bird, and take it away somewhere. But I can’t! But I want to! But I can’t! Whine. So I told him to drop the bird. He had to think about that one. He wanted to keep it.

He’s thinking, Could I actually jump off the table with the bird? No. Darn it. OK. I guess I’d better give it up. But with all that thinking, he stayed still. Good boy!

The Internet is a wonderful thing sometimes. Today I was trying to find some corroboration of a news story a friend emailed me about, and what did I find? A news article that features Russ and his nameless Irish Water Spaniel, along with our friend Norm and his Boykin Spaniel, Scarlett.

Russ and Norm, along with Cooper (Irish Water Spaniel) and Scarlett (Boykin), helped teach a pheasant hunting workshop last September, and the article was written by one of the students.

Here’s a link to the article on TDN.com, the web outlet for The Daily News Online, a local publication for the people of the lower Columbia River.

But the Internet being what it is, I can’t guarantee that that article will always be available, so I’m posting a PDF of it here. Click the image below to access the full article in PDF format.



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