Archive for January, 2010

Russ and Cooper waiting for the launchers to be loaded

Yep. Cooper is parked on a log as we look down range while the bird launchers are being loaded. This is actually a hunt test simulation that replicates conditions seen in flooded timber. In that situation, the hunters may be in a blind or boat while the retriever is parked nearby on a stand set in the water or on the side of a tree.

The issues for the dog and handler are that distance between the two is increased and only a voice command or stern look can control a rambunctious puppy. And with a high and small perch, a dog that tends to break or squirm before being released falls into the water. Not good form. For a dog to mark multiple birds, he needs to be able to turn its head and look in each direction while keep his aft end glued to the stump.

How did Cooper do? Well, after the second shot, he fell off, but immediately sat on the ground until released. For the rest of the dogs, we got a bigger stump with more stability.

Notice below the correct way it should be done. The dog follows the muzzle of the gun, looks skyward over his shoulder, marks the incoming bird, and still stays sitting on the log (the new and improved version – stump 2.0). Even Cooper could have stayed on a stump this size.

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Sometimes a dog is just a dog. A regular family member. Hanging out in the evening, providing moral support when necessary.

Tooey shows Trice how to do her shoulder exercises

Tooey and Cooper help Russ relax after a hard day at the office

(Doesn’t everyone have a 500-sized crate as a nightstand?)

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While the Rose City Classic dog show was underway in Portland, I spent the weekend in Rainier, Oregon, participating in a seminar on how to run and judge a UKC Hunt Test. The seminar was hosted by the Lower Columbia Hunt Retriever Club (a UKC affiliate) and held on the grounds of Parkdale Kennels. The regional representative from the Hunt Retriever Club (UKC) gave a classroom session on Saturday. On Sunday we moved outdoors and the group designed a trial for all three levels: Started, Seasoned, and Finished. As the Oregon winter rain flowed from the sky, everyone was in their mandatory water proof camo clothing (see page 8 of the rule book) as we placed the bird launchers and discussed the tactics.

Judges establishing the rules for a Finished UKC Hunt test

In the advanced trial (Finished) of the UKC, a dog must “honor” the retrieve of another dog. This means it needs to sit quietly, unrestrained, while guns are firing and the other dogs are working the course. A feature that distinguishes the UKC hunt trial from an AKC, is the handler of the dog also shoots at the birds while his or her dog sits. This is to simulate real hunting conditions. Below is Butch from Parkdale Kennels with one of his Labs and Earl, the Boykin Spaniel, sitting by in a good honor.

Shooting over a Lab while a Boykin honors

And one more important distinction between the UKC and AKC retriever hunt tests is which dogs are allowed to compete. The UKC is open to more breeds and mixes as it is focused on the hunting experience and less on maintaining the arbitrary “Purebred” experience. One such example is the Boykin Spaniel, a very versatile retrieving dog that is not much larger than some ducks. Pictured below is “Earl”, from Deer Island, Oregon. He is a top champion who competes at the national level in the UKC Grand series. In the world of Labs, it is great to see a 25 lb. dog zoom out 200 yards straight to the bird. And with all this talent, Earl is not eligible for an AKC retriever hunting test.

The Duke of Earl, a champion Boykin Spaniel

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I walked back into the grooming area at the Portland Expo Center, where the Rose City Classic dog shows are being held, to pick up Tooey. When I got to Stacy’s grooming space and saw Tooey, the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, my God!” (“Thank you SO much” came later.)

I really, really wish I had taken a picture of Tooey before I dropped her off with Stacy last evening, so I could show you the transformation. She went from looking like a raggedy Muppet to a sculpted paragon of IWS beauty.

Rosemary reminds me that winning in a dog show takes more than a beautifully groomed coat. I know that’s true. A dog also needs structure and movement and attitude. I know that.

But, wow. Tooey looks like a fairy-godmothered show princess. Let’s hope she also moves and behaves like one in the breed ring tomorrow and Saturday.

And I should add: Let’s hope I remember to breathe and don’t fall all over myself while escorting Tooey around the ring.

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The big flyball tournament is coming up in just two weeks, so it’s time to focus the practice. Going into this weekend, the big questions for Cooper were:

  • Can he do a decent box turn?
  • Can he pass another dog without stopping to discuss?

Yes, and it depends. Take a look at this video of yesterday’s flyball Fun Match:

So, yes he can do a decent box turn. What we’re looking for is called a swimmer’s turn. Hit the box sideways with all four feet (triggering the ball), grab the ball, and push off with same said four feet.

You might notice a clear barrier right in front of the box — that’s there to force Cooper to pick up his back feet just before he hits the box. Otherwise, it would be way too easy for him to hit the box with just his front feet. That’s not only slower, it can also cause injury to the dog’s shoulders over time. We’ll use that barrier at all times except in the actual tournament, just to build in the muscle memory of the swimmer’s turn.

And can he pass another dog? Well, it depends. In the video, Cooper did really well passing a little, light-colored dog, and today in regular practice, he did fine passing a Chihuahua, going straight out to the box and straight back. And he’s fine with all dogs when he’s returning to me with the ball.

But he’s not so fine going out, passing bigger dogs who are coming back. With those dogs, he turns his head and body toward the other dog, slowing himself and the other dog way down. It’s not clear why he’s doing that — lack of confidence? trying to protect me from this big dog that’s rushing toward me? trying to play? challenging the other dog? But whatever the reason, whenever he does that, he gets pulled from the race and doesn’t get to play any more for awhile.

You can see in the video that he REALLY wants to play. I’m hoping that not letting him play every time he pulls that stunt will get the message through: Ignore the other dog and GO GET THE BALL!

So it’s clear: We need more practice. More chances to do it right and keep playing. More chances to do it wrong and get pulled. More chances for the connection to be made and the light bulb go on.

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I’ve been working with Rosemary to get a Realta IWS website going.

If you notice any similarity to my blog — well, that’s not coincidental. I’m not really a web developer, so I am just going with what I know.


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In the last 3 years, I have taken and archived over 5000 photographs of Irish Water Spaniels. Mostly of Cooper, quite a few of Tooey, but also hundreds more at dog shows, hunt trials, and dock diving events. This archive is now sufficiently large that I can find enough good selections to build a mosaic image from just my own IWS images.

I selected an image of Cooper with a duck (you can see the original in a past entry), crunched through the files, and this photo mosaic is the result. It is made up of 4,356 separate tiles, and about 3000 unique images. (Actual size is 24 x 36 inches.) The pictures include many of the people mentioned in this blog, usually at a dog show, at a grooming table, or having fun with their IWS.

(c) 2010 Russ Dodd

The detail below makes up a section around the right eye.

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Tooey has settled right back in to the routine. And a big part of her routine involves being on the grooming table.

Cooper and Tooey on the grooming table

Months ago, Tooey observed that Cooper got “treats” when he’s up on the grooming table. Actually, they’re pills, not treats, at least to Cooper. He doesn’t like salmon oil, so I have been stuffing salmon oil capsules down his throat. After which, of course, he does get some kind of treat or other.

Tooey, on the other hand, has a broad definition of food*. Almost everything edible can be defined as a treat. She loves the salmon oil capsules, chewing them down with great gusto. So when Cooper is done getting his pills, Tooey hops up to get hers, too.

What’s funny is that Tooey now spends quite a lot of time up on the grooming table. We have a small house, so the table is in the kitchen. From that platform, she can keep her eye on all the doings around the house (especially Russ’s cooking!), escape from Cooper when needed, and offer her paw for a “high 5” to earn yet another treat.

* Thanks to Christine for this phrase. She used it to describe one of her pups, and it sounded just right to me.

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We sent our girl Tooey off to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship last month, and what did she do (besides winning Reserve Winners Bitch)? She promptly went into season. (Some refer to this as being “in heat.”)

Colleen volunteered to keep Tooey for the duration, so she’d been gone for almost a month when we arrived yesterday at Colleen and Jack’s.

We got home today. After the usual arriving-home flurry, I discovered a pile of emails and other business that needed attending to online.

Russ took this picture while I worked. I can’t quite tell if Tooey is keeping me company, or not letting me out of her sight. Either way, we’re thrilled to have her home again.

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Following family tradition, here’s this year’s New Year portait of Cooper.

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For a retriever, chasing a seen bird is instinctual. Going out after an unseen object requires following the handler’s instruction. Following instructions is not something that comes naturally to Cooper, and Russ is not a particularly bossy person. Fortunately, the “force to the pile” drill will help Cooper and Russ learn to work together, giving and following instructions.

In this drill, the dog goes out to a pile of bumpers that have already been set out beforehand, and brings one back. The point seems to be to bore the dog with going out and returning with bumpers that were not thrown (and are thus not exciting), over and over again.

Why bore the dog? Once the dog is bored, the hope is that instead of going to the pile, he will goof off, wander away, get distracted by some suddenly enticing scent — something, anything for which the handler can correct the dog.

The point of this is to teach to the dog to go out upon command, even when he hasn’t seen a bird fall. To trust the handler that there is something out there that needs retrieving. To obey the handler, no matter what.

Eventually, there will be “blind” retrieves: times when there’s a bird out there that the dog hasn’t seen fall. In a hunting situation, this might be a wounded bird that must be found and dispatched quickly. In a hunt trial, blind retrieves are set up on purpose to test the dog’s ability and willingness. This situation is what the “force to the pile” drill is preparing for.

In the early stages of this training, before the dog knows the hand signals that tell him to go left or right, something visible is used to mark the pile of bumpers. In this case, we’re using two while fence posts, stuck in the ground at angles to form an “X”. The bumpers are spread around the “X” instead of being lumped in a pile, to make it easier for the dog to just pick a bumper and bring it back. (If the bumpers are in a pile, many dogs will “shop,” rooting through the pile in order to pick the “perfect” one.)

This “force to the pile” drill is harder than it looks. The dog starts by sitting in heel position next to the handler. Only when the dog’s body and head is pointed at the pile can the handler send him out. This way, it’s more likely that the dog will go out straight. If the dog’s head or body is turned, he’ll go out to one side or another. And if he gets in the habit of going out to the side, he will be much more likely to miss a distant mark in the future.

To make sure the dog is sitting straight, the handler has to notice the position of the dog’s body. That sounds easy, but think about it. When the handler looks down and to the left, he sees (or should see) the dog’s head at the handler’s knee, pointing at the mark. But, if the handler’s body is also pointed straight at the mark (as it should be), it’s not all that easy to see if the dog’s body is also straight. You have to twist your head and maybe shoulders around to see it, and that movement can easily prompt the dog to move out of position.

And, at the same time, a novice handler is also having to think about what to do if the dog “breaks” (leaves position before the command), refuses to go out, changes position, wanders off, lies down, stands up, looks around, etc. And in the park where we usually practice, you also have to notice other dogs (some friendly and some not), people (some oblivious and some not), and flying chuck-it balls, frisbees, and etc.

It’s a lot to notice. Think about how it felt when you were first learning to drive, and you’ll get a sense of what learning to hunt-train a dog feels like.

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