Archive for April, 2010

We were thrilled to watch three of Cooper’s brothers — Tiki, Gunner, and Ziggy Stardust — do their stuff at the WC/WCX (working certificate/working certificate excellent). These are breed-specific tests of retrieving abilities. For the WC, the dog has to do a double land retrieve and two single water retrieves. For the WCX, it’s a triple land retrieve and a water double, with an honor added to the mix. For this WCX, the honor was paired with the land retrieves.

Tiki came up from Georgia, Gunner down from Ontario, Canada, and Ziggy Stardust from Massachusetts. All three of them passed the WC.

Tiki (HRCH Realta Tiki Torches at Midnight SH)

Gunner (Realta's 13Cent Sniper)

Ziggy Stardust (SHR SR Realta's Casanova of Madrigal JH)

Watching these three at work was a real pleasure and inspiration. All three of them showed a lot of dash and style, and an eagerness to fetch and deliver the ducks.

We were sorry that Cooper couldn’t join us in Maryland — he’d most likely have passed the WC, too, and loved every minute of it, just like his brothers. We’ll just have to wait until October when a WC test is available to us in Washington State.

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We met Colleen and Jack at Lilypons just outside of Frederick, Maryland, where the Irish Water Spaniel WC/WCX tests were being held. One of the best parts of the day was being reunited with Tooey, who had been traveling with Colleen. We haven’t seen each other for 11 days — practically an eternity.

I was dressed for the mud and the cool, windy weather. Tooey was dressed in her usual good-looking fur coat, even if unbrushed.

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Tooey is on her way to the Irish Water Spaniel National Specialty in Maryland, escorted by Colleen and Renae.

Of course, they’re not walking to Maryland. This picture was taken at a stop-over on the way, where I hear Tooey is playing with the other dogs in the host household. Such a nice large, grassy yard. With a pool! What heaven!

I commented to Colleen that it was too bad the pool was covered, since Tooey loves to swim. Colleen, being the one actually traveling with Tooey at the moment, said, “Thank God it is covered as the last thing we need is a really soggy dog!”

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The hunt test practice this weekend in Scio, Oregon was delightful. Originally, I was disappointed that the hunt test was canceled, but then Tellus Calhoun, a pro-trainer and breeder, sponsored a two-day practice in its place. In my opinion, this exceeded the value of the hunt test with lots of opportunities to train in a new environment with lots of distracting stimulus.

One of the big delights was to meet lots of new folks, all friendly and helpful. And . . . black Labs were in the minority. There were lots of intense, highly focused Golden Retrievers, one Irish Water Spaniel (Cooper), and three Standard Poodles. All the Poodles were operating at the AKC Senior level for hunt tests, but they were doing it a with a style unlike all the other dogs. They did all their swims and retrieves with an elegance not matched even by Cooper. Notice in the photos that all the top-knots in these dogs are bone dry. And this is after multiple water entries and swims.

And for not-so-squeamish, it should be noted that we were using live flying ducks that met their demise in midair with a collision with a shotgun blast. Mostly. Occasionally a duck would still be clinging to life when it was scooped into the jaws of the mighty Standard Poodle. With the duck’s wings flapping and quacks of protest, the Poodles had no hesitation returning the expiring waterfowl to the hands of the (sometimes shocked) handler, just as any Lab would. But with not a hair out of place.

Tracy Calhoun and the next generation of water dogs

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… is very… something. I tried all morning, while working on The Ball is Out There flyball tournament, to figure out what I was feeling.

I’d known for quite awhile that Cooper wasn’t going to be with me. Russ and I had decided to put our time and effort with Cooper into hunt training and testing. And with hunt test season starting up in earnest, there would be no time for Cooper to practice flyball or go the tournament.

But I’m a team player, so I volunteered to go out yesterday with the my X-Fidos teammates to help out at the Canby fairground. My official job was “sticker runner” (essentially posting the times and wins on a board after each race), but I did a bunch of other things, too.

button for volunteering at The Ball Is Out There flyball tournament

I learned how to line judge, and did both line judging and box judging. Basically, these positions help the official judge know when a dog has dropped a ball, skipped a hurdle, crossed the line too early, etc. I also had a chance to observe the people at the scoring table enter the stats on the official sheets that are turned into NAFA. And I was a go-fer, getting coffee for people who couldn’t leave their seats, lending my jacket, helping to organize the next day’s prizes, finding a judge’s lost stopwatch, etc. A full day, even without Cooper.

But all day, I felt this heavy weight under my ribs. I wanted Cooper with me, and I wanted to be running him.

Of course, getting to run a dog is never a sure thing. In the last tournament, he was a butthead, being kind of snarky at the other dogs. Not good, and enough to keep him out of the races. And I can’t forget that his toenails keep breaking and he’s got this thing going on with his spine.

Maybe he won’t ever run flyball again — I guess that’s the fear and sadness I was feeling. Maybe his behavior got him out of the game, and his health won’t let him try again.

I hope that’s not the case. I know he loves flyball, and I do, too.

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To the untrained eye, the picture below looks like a dog sitting in a field with his tongue hanging out. But to those in the know, this is a photo of Cooper sitting calmly waiting his turn to move up to the holding blind, . . .  with no lead. How strange is that?

After last weekend’s hunt test with a hyper-excited dog, I spent the past week doing off-leash and slip lead obedience work at home. And it seems to have paid off — I showed up at this weekend’s practice with a different dog.

This weekend’s hunt test was canceled in Scio, Oregon, so a local pro-trainer, Tellus Calhoun, put together a training day at the hunt test grounds. Live fliers, shotguns, dogs, decoys, holding blinds, the works. I kept Cooper limited to singles and doubles with some memory blinds. It was good for desensitizing him as well, because this practice was on the grounds of a game farm with several hundred ducks quacking away in a pond nearby.

Cooper did really well, marking his ducks, fetching them, and bringing them back. With all that, who would have thought that the highlight of the day was not the perfect retrieves to hand, but when I heard an observer comment, “He sure is calm for an Irish Water Spaniel.”

Tracy Calhoun (in the red jacket in the photo above) was nice enough to get some great photos of Cooper and myself working together. Normally, I am the one with the camera, and so I don’t have much access to images of the two of us. In one of the pictures you will notice a flock of white geese decoys that Cooper had to navigate through to find the duck.

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Second day, 2nd hunt of the Whistling Wings Spring 2010 hunt test. Deeper pond and taller grass than the first hunt yesterday, but the same happy results.

Andy Fontenot, Russ, and the two judges for Sunday

Two passes down, two to go for the UKC’s Started Hunting Retriever title.

Russ, ribbons, the famous toy duck, and Cooper

Russ, ribbons, the famous toy duck, and Cooper

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The second half of Cooper’s first UKC hunt test consisted of two land retrieves. You can see the area of the test in the photo below — it’s an area of tall grass, into which the duck disappears when it drops. It’s a challenge for an inexperienced dog.

You can see the direction of the first land retrieve, about 70 yards down a 50-yard-wide swale. Russ is standing in front of the judges’ canopy, and Cooper is the dark blob out in the middle of the grass.

In the photo below, Russ is holding onto Cooper’s collar. At the Started level, dogs are not expected to stay at heel on their own. Of course, Cooper read the rule book, and knows that, so Russ followed the judges’ advice, and held onto the collar.

photo by Chris Rotell

The routine is the same as the water retrieves — the bird boy blows the duck call and launches the duck, the gunner shoots the blank, the judge says “Dog,” Russ says, “Cooper,” and Cooper runs out toward the duck.

For Cooper, though, the land retrieve is tougher than the water retrieve. While the duck floats on the water and is easy to see, with the land retrieve, the duck disappears into the grass. And even if a dog marks where the duck falls, the sea of grass makes locating the exact spot difficult. Imagine you’re 1.5 feet tall and colorblind, looking out over a field of foot-tall grass, with no landmarks to help you gauge distance. That’s the challenge. Most of the dogs at this level, including Cooper, got to the general area of the fall, but then have to hunt, using their noses, until they find and fetch the duck.

As you can see from the following photo, Cooper’s nose works and he’s persistent, hunting until he found his duck and brought it back to Russ.

photo by Chris Rotell

The second land retrieve was shorter and in shorter grass — a slam dunk for Cooper.

By succeeding in all 4 retrieves, Cooper passed his first hunt test. One down, three to go.

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Cooper’s first hunt test was at the Whistling Wings Spring 2010 hunt, located at Pepper’s Retriever Grounds. It was a UKC test, and Cooper was going for his first pass toward his Started Hunting Retriever title. To get his first pass, he had to succeed at doing 4 retrieves: 2 water retrieves and 2 land retrieves.

The water retrieves were set up at a small pond that had both “running water” (water too shallow to swim in) and “swimming water.” You can see the cluster of people at the water’s edge in the picture below. That spot at the edge is where the line was set up — that’s where the dog is sent from and returns to.

The water portion of the test consists of two single retrieves — a duck is launched, the dog goes out, grabs the bird, and comes back, and then a second duck is launched, which the dog also retrieves. In this case, the first duck was launched into the shallow area of the pond, just to the right of the small island. That retrieve was about 40 yards. The second duck was launched into swimming water to the left of the island — a retrieve of about 60 yards. At the left side of the photo above, just to the right of the lady in the purple coat, you can just see the blind behind which the second duck launcher is hidden.

Cooper was the 6th dog to go. He and Russ walked from the last holding blind (seen in the picture above) down to the line at the edge of the pond. At Russ’s signal, a person sitting behind the blind, seen at the far right of the photo below, blew on his duck call, and launched the duck. While the duck was in mid-air, the gunner to Russ’s right (not seen in the picture) shot a 12 gauge blank in the direction of the duck. After the duck splashed into the water, the judge said, “Dog,” Russ said, “Cooper,” and Cooper leapt into the water.

Cooper zeroed in on the duck, fetched it, turned around, and came back to Russ…

… who, with an extended left arm and pointed finger, visually signaled Cooper to come to heel.

Even though UKC rules for a Started Hunter Retriever test require only that the dog return the bird to the start area, Cooper has been trained to deliver the bird to hand. That means that he holds the bird gently in his mouth until Russ takes it from him.

photo by Chris Rotell

After the first duck, Cooper successfully retrieved the 2nd duck. We left the area, just hoping that Cooper and Russ had done their parts to the judges expectations, without breaking any rules. We wouldn’t find out until after the land retrieves, which I’ll talk about in the next entry.

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When we arrived at Colleen’s house this evening (she and Jack are very kindly hosting us this weekend while we go do Cooper’s first-ever hunt test), and she handed me this long-awaited picture.

Tooey wins Best of Opposite Sex

Here I’ve been waiting and waiting all these weeks for the picture. Only to find out that it had gotten sent to Colleen’s house. Argh!!

But I’m happy to have it now.

I posted about this win here (and added the picture there also).

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Finally, some sun on a weekend. Russ was taking Cooper out for training, so I decided I had to get out of the house and take Tooey to a new park.

She’s been acting shy again, and I wanted to take her to an off-leash park where, if she decided she needed to run, there would be room. And where the dogs are friendly, and where there is so much varied terrain that the dogs are not always fixated on each other. The obvious choice: Mt. Tabor.

At first, Tooey stuck to the park perimeters, dancing away when any person or dog approached. She did this swing motion, keeping her head pointed toward the approaching dog, but swinging her butt around so it couldn’t be sniffed. With people, she had lots of room, so she simply backed up. In some cases with both dogs and people, I inserted myself in between.

By the end, though, she seemed a lot more comfortable. She actually took treats from several people, and found several puppies to play with.

I counted it a successful afternoon.

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…or blunders through with big Irish Water Spaniel feet and a retriever mouth.

Cooper likes to retrieve tennis balls, birds, and bumpers. Tooey apparently prefers tulips.

This is the 2nd morning she’s done this. I’m sure the neighbors would not be best pleased if they knew. I will have to buy them some new tulips.

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I was surfing around the web, looking for some directions to the St. Louis Ponds, and came across this:

Eugene Register-Guard, July 25, 1986, pg 2B

It’s a great place to train. I’ve heard that the tests held there are notoriously difficult, though I can’t say from my own experience.

I like the way they lump “all retriever breeds” together, and single out the Irish Water Spaniels. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for that, but regardless, I like the way it sounds.

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We are two weeks away from Cooper’s first hunt test and keeping him tuned on water marks was today’s goal. So we loaded Cooper and Tooey up in the car and headed south to the dog training area at St. Louis Ponds. This Easter morning was quiet and overcast with a few inches of recent spring rain flooding the ponds, the surrounding fields, and even the parking lot.

Open the car doors and “release the hounds” (or spaniels, as the case may be). The fields around the ponds were fairly flooded which only made things fun for the water dogs. One look at the marsh and they became the essence of water dogs, running and jumping for the pure joy of being a curly brown dog in water. In a hunt test, this would be called “running water” as opposed to “swimming water.” To Cooper and Tooey, these boggy conditions were perfect.

And then things got even more perfect. After the dogs “aired” themselves, we all headed over to one of the ponds. Patrice placed herself on one side of the pond, while Cooper, Tooey, and I went to the far side. Patrice threw single marks into the pond, and both Cooper and Tooey took off for the same mark. Cooper, by the virtue of experience, drive, and age, out-swam Tooey to the mark and returned with the bumper as planned. Tooey on the other hand, decided to paddle around the pond waiting for another bumper launch.

With each bumper, Cooper still reached it first. Tooey just continued to cruise around like a coast guard cutter rather than return to land. After a half dozen water retrieves, Patrice, Cooper and I headed off for some land marks. Seeing us leave the pond finally encouraged Tooey to return to land, dripping and happy.

Over the next two weeks I will be concentrating on training skills specifically that relate to the hunt tests for Started (UKC) and Junior (AKC), which are single marks, both on land and water. Even though Cooper is now a competent marker, an actual hunt test could flip the switch in his brain so that he just ignores me, flouts the hunt test rules, and humbles me in public. He is very good at what he does, but the wires in his brain are not yet screwed down tight and are prone to coming loose and crossing circuits when he gets excited. We shall see. But for now, all that matters is that today was wet, wet, wet.

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