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Archive for February, 2010

Cooper LOVES dock diving. He loves to run and chase the toy into the water. Russ said that one of my throws was perfect — it kept the toy just inches in front of Cooper’s mouth. He flew through the air, mouth wide open, straining to catch the toy. Don’t think we got a picture of that, though (darn it!)

Tooey really improved this time out. Last time, she mostly just kind of fell off the puppy dock. Today, we decided to let Cooper show her what to do.

Tooey and Cooper jump off the puppy dock

Cooper flies, Tooey jumps off the puppy dock

Cooper flies and Tooey jumps off the puppy dock

Tooey did begin to get the idea. So, while Cooper jumped off the big dock…

Cooper jumps off the big dock

… Tooey did her own jumps off the puppy dock. And she did them in her own style — run to the end of the dock, stop, make sure the toy is still in the water, and then jump.

Tooey does a solo jump off the puppy dock

Her current style is not award-winning, but it does get her what she wants: to go swimming. Tooey really loves the swimming. There was even a time or two when she didn’t come straight back to the exit ramp because she wanted to swim just one more minute.

Tooey retrieves the Wubba

Finally, we had to leash up and go home. Even the best dock jumping on an amazing sunny and warm February day has to end sometime.

Wet and waiting for the towels and the ride home

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Take a look at this picture, and see what story comes to mind:

Three birds in the hand

Wouldn’t you think that this gunner shot these three birds? I’d like to think that was the story, but alas, no. Here’s the real story:

It took Cooper two pheasants and a chukar to figure out that what we wanted was for him to go out and find birds. Not having seen any birds fall (as he has been seeing in retriever training), he kept looking to Russ for direction. Finally, though, it clicked in. He flushed the last three birds on purpose (the first three were by accident), and even did a nice point on the last one.

I can see that teaching Cooper to be steady to wing* will be a challenge. That urge to chase the flushed bird was irresistible. And that made my job harder. Since I had just had my first shotgunning lesson that morning, I was simply not comfortable shooting while Cooper was even remotely near to the bird.

Fortunately, our friend Norm came along, and he’s an excellent shot. He actually shot the three birds I’m holding in the picture above.

Norm, Cooper, Trice, and the chukar

Norm, Cooper, Trice, and the chukar

I did shoot at one bird that Norm also shot at, but I think it was Norm’s.

Trice, Cooper, and a chukar

The retrieving went much better than the hunting. In fact, in one case, Cooper’s willingness to chase turned out to be a good thing. The last bird was wounded and flew low across the field and into an oak grove. The bird was still lively enough to run away, and Cooper chased it over logs, around stumps, through brambles, and finally caught it. The bird, naturally enough, fought back, so Cooper had a bit of a struggle to hold the bird at first. But he successfully delivered that bird to hand AND kept it fit “for the table.”** Cooper held it, but didn’t chomp down. Good boy!

Retrieving a chukar

Mt. Hood and the Irish Water Spaniel

*According to Wikipedia — Steady: When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird.

** From page 39 of the United Kennel Club’s HRC Rules & Guidelines: Started Hunter Test: “A bird unfit for the table resulting from hard-mouth shall be grounds for failing the test.” Generally this means a bird too mangled to be appetizing.

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If you’ve never shot a shotgun, before you read any further, picture how you’d move the gun into position. This is how I pictured it (I’m right-handed): Cup the fingers of your left hand under the barrel, put your right index finger near the trigger and the rest of your fingers under the trigger, and place the stock up against your shoulder.

Turns out I was all wrong. And it will take awhile to mentally undo that picture.

Mainly, as Roger (the instructor) explained it, I need to remember three things about holding a shotgun: Put your left index finger and thumb along the barrel length-wise, put the stock up to your cheek first, and then lean forward to put the stock in the right place at your shoulder.

Here I’m doing it mostly right:

Once you’ve committed all that to muscle memory, then you need to remember stuff about the actual shooting: Keep both eyes open, see the target, pull the gun into position, release the safety, point your left finger (which is along the length of the barrel) at just in front and below the target, and pull the trigger.

Aiming the gun is not in it. You look with your eyes, point your finger, and pull the trigger. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to release the safety. And keep both eyes open. And breathe. And relax. And, and, and…

The not aiming thing sounds all wrong, but when I did as instructed, I hit the clay pigeons. Three of them. Three out of, oh say, about 15 or 20. But still, what a thrill when I actually hit the clay and it burst into little pieces.

That’s on the trap range, practicing on clay pigeons. Going out into the field with your dog to hunt is something else entirely, and I’ll get to that in the next post.

In the meantime, I’m going to be amazed all over again at what my dog has gotten me into.

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Russ and I started out our marriage with an adventure, a kayak trip to the Sea of Cortez. We marked our 25th anniversary with another adventure — hunting with Cooper under me with a shotgun.

25th anniversary portrait

The kayak trip and the hunting trip were alike in several ways. Both were outdoor adventures and both celebrated our marriage, but mainly, both took me into the realm of the new, delightful, and scary.

On the kayak trip, we’d been kayaking before, but our honeymoon trip was out of our usual comfort zone. We woke up to coyote footprints in the sand surrounding our sleeping bags, watched brown pelicans, and cooled our beer in the ocean. Russ made a german chocolate cake with a cast iron frying pan and a bed of coals. We bathed in the ocean, learned to make tortillas, and met people we’d never see again.

On the other hand, we got stuck by high winds on one (beautiful white shell) beach for several more days that we’d planned. We ate goat, unrefrigerated mayonnaise, and the eyes of a giant grouper fish. And I, having just survived a boat sinking the summer before, got seasick one afternoon in the double kayak, making Russ paddle for both of us.

The only thing missing on that trip was a dog, which we got a month or so later.

As with the kayaking trip, we’d been hunting before before, but that time, the gunner (Russ) had some experience with shooting, the dog was a complete rookie, and the photographer (me) got to simply hike around and enjoy the scenery.

This time, Russ got to take pictures and enjoy the scenery, the gunner (me) was the complete rookie whose only experience was that morning’s hour-long lesson, and the dog began to get the idea.

The shooting lesson was thrilling — the shotgun makes a really loud noise, and I actually hit three clay pigeons during the lesson. I was amazed and delighted when they exploded in the air and pieces flew in all directions.

Then we went out into the field. Seeing Mt. Hood shining white in the sunny sky was glorious, the hiking was invigorating, and watching Cooper begin to realize that he’s supposed to find and flush the birds was gratifying.

But actually walking around with a loaded gun and the intention to shoot is scary. So many things to remember: how to carry the gun safely, how to load the gun with the safety on, how to lift the gun into position next to the cheek, how to aim by looking at the target with both eyes open, how to remember to click the safety off before you pull the trigger, how to reload without hitting yourself with the spent shotgun shell, everything. And most importantly, how not shoot your dog or your husband.

The hunting was scary, but like the kayaking and the marriage, I think I’ll come back to it again. It’ll just takes practice and commitment. As long as Russ is there with me, I’m sure the adventures will keep coming.

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Patrice and Cooper heading out to hunt upland game birds

Just a little teaser. I’m too tired to write much tonight, but I wanted to share this photo. It’s a favorite!

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That’s what Cooper gets every day to treat his SLO.

Cooper's daily regimen

My regular vet and dermatologist vet worked together to prescribe this regimin:

  • Morning: 400 mg pentoxifylline, 3 salmon oil capsules (for 540 mg EPA and 360 mg DHA), and 400 UI vitamin E
  • Afternoon: 500 mg tetracylcine, 500 mg niacinimide, and 2 salmon oil capsules
  • Evening: 400 mg pentoxifylline, 3 salmon oil capsules, and 400 IU vitamin E, and 1/2 tsp biotin concentrate powder (for 2500 mcg of biotin — when we travel, I use a capsule instead)

If you read around about SLO, you’ll no doubt eventually find the most common recommendations, which are for niacinimide/tetracyline, plus the EPA and DHA. The amounts are based on the dog’s weight. Pentoxifylline is a more recent recommendation. Some vets also recommend steroids, which we are avoiding. If we are lucky, Cooper’s SLO will go into some kind of remission, which we’ll then be able to maintain with just the fish oils and vit E.

The purpose of the tetracyline is not for its antibiotic properties — it, plus the niacinimide, is intended to increase circulation to the feet and toes. At first, we had three doses of the niacinimide/tetracyline per day, but when the pentoxifylline was added, the tet/nia was reduced to once per day.

And it all takes so long to see if anything works. Nails take about 90 days to grow out, and the damage is done at the nailbed, before that part of the nailshell even emerges from the under the skin. So, if a nail has already been damaged, you won’t see if for months. And then it splits or breaks off, and you have to wait another 90 days to see if that nail will grow in healthy.

We are still waiting.

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This afternoon, Russ took Cooper into the vet to have a piece of broken nail trimmed off. It turned out to be more than the vet tech wanted to handle, so the tech called in the veterinarian. One thing led to another, and Cooper was lightly sedated so that the vet could remove the nail shell from one of his front toes.

Cooper after toenail surgery

This is just the latest chapter in a long story that has been going on since at least January 2009 when Cooper was almost 2. That’s when we discovered the first broken nail. The top of one nail on one of his front feet had split and lifted up. Picture the hood of a car lifted up — that’s what it looked like. But where the engine would be in a car, was the poor, pink, pulsing quick.

We thought it was just a broken nail, split on one of his romps. We got it trimmed off, and forgot it.

But then another nail split and then another one. Whole pieces of nail shell would hang on by a cuticle at the nail bed. Then Cooper would chew the pieces off, or, if he let us, we’d trim them off. Sometimes they split top from bottom; other times side from side.

It obviously hurt. And a new one would break every month or so. Earlier this week was the worst. One nail split, but the shell wouldn’t come off all the way, and he wouldn’t let us near it. He tried to lick it off himself, but every lick hurt. He lay on the bed, licked his toe and cried: lick, cry; lick, cry; lick, cry. Over and over again.

Cooper’s nails break, not because he’s romping and catching them on something, but because he has a disease, called Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy (SLO). It’s an auto-immune condition in which the immune system attacks the nails. It’s not known exactly what causes it — probably something genetic, triggered by something in the environment.

All dog breeds can get it, though greyhounds are noted for it. Mixed breed dogs get it, too. Raw-fed dogs get it just as kibble-fed dogs do. Some say that hypothyroid might be implicated; others notice that dogs with perfectly normal thyroid function, like Cooper, get SLO. It’s not a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection, though a broken nail can become infected. There’s no clear link to vaccinations, other diseases, activity, trauma, or anything identifiable in the environment.

And the heredity factor isn’t even clear. Neither of Cooper’s parents suffered from it, and the owners of those dogs had not heard of the disease in any of Cooper’s fore-bearers, either.

I can’t get Cooper to let me take pictures of his feet when he has a broken nail, but another blogger has a more cooperative dog. If you want to see what it looks like, take a look at http://blackschutzhundshepherds.blogspot.com/2009/08/horrors-of-slo-symmetrical-lupoid.html. These pictures were taken after the quick has begun to shrivel, so you won’t see the pulsing pink quick under the freshly broken nail.

If you think your dog might have SLO, do at least these two things: join the SLOdogs Yahoo group and go see a veterinary dermatologist. The people on the yahoo group have a wealth of information and experience, and there’s a good chance your regular vet will never have seen SLO. I’d also suggest you talk to your dog’s breeder — I did that, and received wonderful support and help from both Rosemary and Tammy.

It’s heartbreaking to see my beloved boy suffer, and the more so because there’s nothing I can do to fix it. I have been mostly silent all this time. I kept hoping it would clear up or go into remission. But keeping quiet has kept me isolated from other people, and it’s made me feel like I’ve left out an important part of this blog about my life with Cooper.

Now I hope I’ll hear from some of you.

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Not his ability to drive a Ford truck but to retrieve birds.

When training with a group of people, the dog spends the majority of his time waiting. Cooper uses his down time observing and researching the drills from the driver’s seat. Not wanting to miss one moment of action, he will focus for hours staring from this position of power. This intensity is a blessing and a curse.

Our training is directed at channeling this drive and learning hunt test rules. It is sometimes trying to get his attention away from what he anticipates and second-guesses. On the other hand, because retrieving is such a self-rewarding behavior, no effort on my part is required to coax or motivate him.

His retrieve button is stuck in Drive and not Park. And that is one of this IWS’s endearing features. I don’t mind cleaning the nose prints from the windshield and the mud from the dash. It’s just a truck, but this is my favorite dog. Only when we are finished for the day will he curl up in the back seat and sleep on the way back home (in a dog seat belt harness).

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Yesterday, when we brought our canine family into Colleen’s house, Colleen did a double-take. Later, she told me that she had just been about to ask what Mabel had been doing outside, but then realized that the dog coming in the door was Cooper, not Mabel.

There’s a reason for that resemblance. Mabel (Ch Hooligan’s Fair Hibernia CD, RN, SH, WCX) is Balloo’s mother and Cooper’s grandmother. And yesterday we had the happy realization that Mabel and Cooper share Valentine’s Day as a birthday. Today, Cooper turns 3 and his grandmother Mabel turns 12.

Mabel and Cooper

grandmother Mabel and grandson Cooper

They do resemble each other. They both have delicate legs and feet, and long ears. The shape of their noses, the color of their eyes, proportion of their bodies, and the texture of their coats all mark them as close relatives. Cooper’s even getting flashes of silver frosting on his ears and elbows.

And the resemblance is more than just physical. They both have some idiosyncrasies in their personalities, like wanting to make up their own rules to the game (whatever the game is, from obedience to house manners to hunt training).

Happy Birthday to all of the Nova X Balloo siblings and their grandmother!

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Last night after work, Trice and I headed up north to the Seattle area (from Portland, Oregon). The destination was Colleen’s kennel, where I planned to do a portrait of her current Irish Water Spaniel matriarch, Mabel.

Am Ch Hooligan's Fair Hibernia "Mabel" CD, RN, SH, WCX

Not only is this a portrait project of an IWS and of a sporting breed (she does have an AKC Senior Hunter title), but it is also going to be a portrait of Cooper’s grandmother. She produced Balloo, Cooper’s sire.  This gives Cooper hunt titled grandmothers on both sides of his pedigree (see Stella’s web page for information about the other half of his grandmother gene pool).

For me this is going to be an meaningful portrait project. Mabel is very attractive, especially for those of us who admire this breed. I am now percolating on quite a few ideas on how to render the final portrait. It’ll probably be an oil painting, but I’ll undoubtedly do quite a few studies and prints along the way. The image above is one from this morning’s photo session. Mabel is a striking example of a venerable and distinguished matron. We should all be so fortunate as we age.

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We took Cooper out to a local field for training, and brought Tooey along for the ride. When you look at the picture below, think about what’s not shown: Cooper streaking past about 24 times: 12 times out to get the bumper and 12 times back, with a bumper in his mouth.

She completely ignored it all: Cooper running, the whistled commands, the bumpers, everything. Whatever was in the ground was more enticing.

Tooey might like those AKC earthdog competitions, but as much as she might try, I don’t think she’d fit down those narrow dachshund- and terrier-sized holes.

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I’ve been a writer for many years now, and I’ve been asked from time to time if I’ve ever published anything.

Well, yes, I have. But that was work.

Writing this blog for the past 3 years has been play. I get to write about what I love — my life with my husband and dogs.

And I get to write on my own terms. Mostly, that is. Over these three years, I’ve tried to take the most positive view of any situation or person that has come into my dog-life.

However, I do have opinions, and as Russ recently pointed out, we’re not exactly beginners anymore. I have opinions about dog shows, grooming, hunt tests and hunting, dog training, dog sports, breeding, all kinds of things. I also have fears of my own. All of these will inevitably show themselves in my blog.

And all of that means that sometimes I might say something you don’t like. Well, I guess that comes with the territory. But I might also say something that you think is unfair to you, or hurtful. If that’s the case, I hope you’ll contact me. Being unfair or hurtful is not my goal, and I’d like to create harmony instead, if I can.

I’m not exactly a beginner, but I still have a lot to learn. And my dogs (and my friends) still have a lot to teach me.

I hope you’ll stay with me.

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Or, at least, sometimes you don’t win. They’re not exactly the same thing. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself.

Take the most recent Rose City Classic dog shows. Both my dogs looked good. Stacy made Tooey look like a real show princess, and Tammy neatened up Cooper’s gundog cut. They’re both good looking dogs with nice movement.

But neither Tooey nor Cooper won Winners in the ring. Tooey came in first in her puppy class on one of the days, but then lost out to another beautiful bitch. Cooper came in 2nd and 3rd in his Open class on the two days — not enough to progress to the next level. So neither of them “lost” exactly — they just didn’t win.

And then there was last weekend’s Pineapple Express Flyball Tournament. Had Cooper been behaving himself consistently, he would have been much more likely to run more of the 64 possible heats. Instead, he got to run only 10 heats. The captain (rightly) pulled him because he was snarking at the teammate-dogs who were passing him at the start gate. And then, in a couple of the heats that he did get to run, some other dog on the team fouled — dropped the ball, ran outside a hurdle, or something.

All that led to fewer points than possible. Not exactly a loss — after all, he did get some points, and all the points count. He just didn’t do as well as I had hoped going into the tournament.

I think what went wrong was similar in both venues: a combination of handler error, overly high expectations, really good competition, and dogs who need more training and practice.

So what do we do? Get over the discouragement. Lower expectations. Maintain hope. Devise better practice. Work on it. Get support. And give it back.

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