Archive for May, 2010

This was a hard Junior Hunter test. Only 31 out of 56 dogs passed the first series, qualifying to be called back to the second series.

The First Series

The first two retrieves started with a live flier at about a distance of about 80 yards. From the start line to the area of the fall, it was all tall grass (knee high on Russ, head-high on Cooper), with an patch filled with a flock of duck decoys. Once Cooper blew past the decoys and got to the area of the fall, it took him about 30 seconds to find the bird, using his nose. Sadly, this bird was mortally wounded, and not quite dead when it landed.* One of Cooper’s virtues is that he’s not intimidated by a live bird, as he’s proven with chukars in actual hunting.

The second duck was launched against a backdrop of tall trees, and never visually cleared the treeline. Plus, the shotgun sound didn’t go off until after the duck was at the apogee of the arc — meaning that if the dog wasn’t looking in the correct direction at that moment, the dog had only a fraction of a second to hear the sound and then turn his head see the dark duck fall in front of a line of dark trees, behind tall cover, over 100 yards away. Even though the duck landed into an area dotted with tufts of grass, the area between the start line and the area of the fall was interspersed with tall grass, ferns, and blackberries.

Making the 2nd retrieve even tougher was the fact that the 1st bird had been a live flier. Most dogs are attracted to live fliers, so when the dog is confused or can’t find the 2nd bird, they’ll often go back to where the live flier fell. This was the downfall of many of the dogs that didn’t qualify in this first series.

Many of the successful dogs followed the line part of the way, and then used their noses to find the duck. When you see the video of Cooper, you’ll see that for the 2nd bird, he went straight out and straight back — he was one of the few successful dogs to nail it this way. As Andy, pro handler who handled the other 3 Irish Water Spaniels said to us, “That dog has wheels.”

This first series took a long time. A lot of time was spent watching a lot of dogs, who were doing long, slow, and sometimes futile searches for hard-to-find ducks. With 56 dogs, the first series started at just before 10 and didn’t end until about 3:30.

The Second Series

Amazing as it seems, on all of Sauvie Island there was no water available for water retrieves for the Junior level tests. So the AKC gave a dispensation to allow the second series of retrieves be held on land instead.

These two retrieves were somewhat easier, if for no other reason than they were only about 80 yards each, and no live fliers. Plus, in these retrieves, the shotgun sound preceded the duck’s being launched, and the duck calls were close enough to hear.

The only real obstacle in this series is that the first duck landed in a dip in the land. When most dogs went out (including Cooper), they circled around the depression, and only went down into it when they scented the bird. The second bird was basically a straight, flat line through tall cover. Cooper went wide of the fall, and looped back around to the bird when he scented it.

And as before, he brought the bird back to hand, and hopped into the heel position, waiting for that elusive 3rd bird. Oh, well. He’ll have to wait until he gets into the Senior and Master levels for that to happen.

Russ collecting Cooper's 2nd ribbon from the judges

* The fact that ducks (“live fliers”) are killed during the test is the one part of this whole enterprise that troubles me. The ducks start out caged, and then they’re thrown up into the air by an assistant and shot by the gunner. Most ducks are lucky and killed outright. A very few are wounded and are only killed after they’re retrieved, and that makes me very sad. I realize that all these ducks are used, reused, and then frozen and reused again to train dogs, and that’s a necessity when you’re training a hunting dog. Hunting dogs have to practice on real birds, or they won’t be able to retrieve birds.

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photo by Patrice Dodd

Cooper posed for this portrait, taken just after the water series in his first AKC hunt test.

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Ten months of training has led up to this day: Cooper’s first AKC hunt test. It was a huge hunt test, with 59 dogs running at the Junior level. Russ and Cooper were slated to run 57th, but fortunately, got to run a bit earlier than that. Because pro handlers handle so many dogs, they’re given a bit a leeway to run when they can, and that opened up an earlier spot for Team Cooper.

The Land Series

The land series consisted of retrieving two ducks, a launched bird and then a live flyer. For the first bird, the dogs had to mark the duck and then run through (or around) a small patch of blackberries. Nothing significant obscured the dog’s view of the 2nd bird. Both retrieves were about 80 yard, and both ducks landed in short grass cover.

At the Junior level, the handler is allowed to hold the dog’s flat buckle collar in order to restrain an over-eager dog. This rule must have been written with Irish Water Spaniels in mind, specifically Cooper.

But his retrieves were text-book: Cooper went out and back. The only glitch was that he dropped the first bird at the line before Russ could get a hold on it. But the rules state that the dog can pick the bird back up and then deliver it to hand. The dog qualifies as long as the handler does not touch the bird or the dog before the dog delivers the bird. Russ told him to “fetch it up!” and fortunately, Cooper complied.

The 2nd retrieve worked out well, too. Cooper remembered his flyball rules, and ran out and back as fast as he could. Plus, the live flier landed on it’s back with white breast feathers showing, making it easy for Cooper to find.

Oh, and a bit of humor: On Cooper’s return with the live flier, the judge commented not “good job” or “good work,” but “nice hairdo.”

The Water Series

Then we went on the water series. Today we had what one commenter called “splashing water.” Not deep enough to swim in, but dogs did need to be willing to go through water to get their birds on the other side. The judges planned the retrieves to make it easy for most dogs to resist “running the bank” (going around the water rather than through it) on the first bird. The first bird was straight across the middle of the pond. However, the 2nd bird was closer to the edge of the pond, so some dogs might think it was simply more efficient to run around rather than through.

More efficient maybe, but against the rules for any level above Junior. And while all dogs went through the water to get the birds, a few dogs ran the bank on their returns. It seems like a silly rule to me — efficiency should be rewarded, I think. In real hunting situations, as along the mouth of the Columbia River, many hunters want their dogs to run the bank for as long as possible, so the dogs won’t use up all their energy swimming in cold currents and tides.

All this means that for most dogs running hunt tests, not running the bank is definitely something you have to train for. Cooper’s love of water has meant that running the bank hasn’t been a problem. So far, anyway.

Cooper is so eager for the work. You can see it in the video — after the 2nd bird in each series, he comes to heel and starts to scan the horizon for more birds. There just have to be more than 2 birds out there, right?

And another bit of humor for the day: While waiting in the holding blinds for the water series, the handler before Russ said, “I see you’re running an exotic dog, too.” Exotic — translated as “not a Lab, not a Chessie, not a Golden.” This handler had a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. A NSDTR is another rare-ish breed, like an IWS, but both have long been used and bred to the work.

Anyway, back to the story and its happy ending. Cooper and Russ did really well, and the judges recognized that with a pass and a ribbon.

Cooper's 1st AKC ribbon -- Junior Hunt qualifying score

Oh, and about the pink flamingos that you see at the starting line: they’re a tradition at this Memorial Day hunt test on Sauvie Island. I’m not sure where the tradition started, but the host club, Oregon Hunting Retriever Club, auctions them off each year to benefit breast cancer research.

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Russ took this picture with his phone this evening, at my request: dogs in their crates, in the dog car, in the rain.

We had just put up the dogs after a training session in a local dog park. Being that it was pouring down rain, the park was empty. Perfect! The park had some tall grass — just what we wanted. That way, when I threw the bumpers, they’d fall into the clumps of grass, and Cooper would actually have to visually mark where they fell, rather than relying on seeing them when he got to the area of the fall.

He did great. Marked the bumpers, retrieved them speedily, and returned them to hand. Just what we want for tomorrow, at Cooper’s first AKC hunting test. He’s entered in the Junior division.

The only downside of tonight’s training session was the darn grass. I don’t know if it’s just springtime, or the grass has not been cut, or what, but the blades of grass were sticky. You can see just some of it on Tooey’s legs in the picture. I plucked strands of grass out of everywhere: from her legs, stuck to her belly, behind her ears, all around her rear. Cooper had his share, too, but he doesn’t have a long show coat, like Tooey.

And it was nice to have a car all set up to transport wet, muddy, grassy dogs, safe and contained in their crates.

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Or maybe “hate” is too strong a word. But what would you think about people who strew broken glass all over a heavily trafficked public staircase? One that’s used by joggers, kids, dog walkers, and dogs?

one of the neighborhood staircases


Now, most joggers, kids, and dog walkers have shoes. But the poor dogs? Their pads are naked. After a few years, the pads are toughened, but they’re still naked, and broken glass cuts.

You can see by the picture that many of these neighborhood staircases are zig-zagged. So you can’t always see until you get to it that there is broken glass on a staircase.

This has happened several times now. The first day, I was able to see the glass before we got to it, and turn around. Yesterday, I didn’t see it until we were on top of it. Tooey hadn’t stepped on anything yet, so I told her in no uncertain terms to STAY!, and brushed as much of the glass as I could to the sides.

Thank God no squirrel showed up. I’m not certain that Tooey would have stayed if she’d seen a squirrel. But that didn’t happen, I got all the glass picked up, and we were able to move on without injury.

You’re probably wondering why I don’t just walk someplace else? Well, stairs are good exercise for me and Tooey. They’re are quite a few of these public stairways, they are heavily used, and, heck, I just want to walk on them. And I can never know which staircase is going to have glass on it until I get there.

Makes me mad. Sometimes I am really disgusted by people.

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Russ, Cooper, Tooey, and a friend, Paul, went out to Sauvie Island for some hunt training. There is a dog training area out there where you can get in some good water and field work. You need a dog training permit and parking pass, but it’s well worth it.

photo by Paul Thacker

With Paul’s help as bumper launcher, Russ practiced doubles and marking. He said that Cooper did great, even to the accompaniment of Tooey’s barking.

Apparently, Tooey was very impatient to be let out of the car so she could join in the fun. She was whining, barking, and even drooling in the car. (Not a good thing –we’ll probably have to work on this somehow.)

Probably her commotion was a combination of the facts that Tooey LOVES to swim and HATES to be left out of anything. And here she had to stay in the car and watch Cooper, out of the car and swimming without her.

Finally, Russ let her out, and while he and Cooper kept working, Tooey just swam back and forth in the pond. Who needs bumpers to have a good time?

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Please God, never let that phrase pass my lips. If my dog is ever frightening, intimidating, annoying, or even just being too pushy with another dog, just let me just say, “Sorry” and take my dog out of the area.

Yesterday, Tooey and I were leaving after a day at the Delta, and my eye was caught by this German Shepherd about 150 yards away. The dog did a hard, direct stare at Tooey, hunkered down into a crouch, moved her weight forward, raised her tail stiffly, and then took off, straight at Tooey.

Tooey tucked her tail, dropped her head, and started moving away from the German Shepherd. Sooner than I consciously realized what I was doing, I was running toward the soon-to-be intersection between the two dogs, bellowing, “NO!” as loud as I could.

I reached the German Shepard, but she simply maneuvered around me and kept going for Tooey. I was leaning down to get a rock when the GS’s owner finally called called her dog off.

For a minute, I was simply relieved that the GS obeyed her owner, and then I heard the woman say, voice dripping with disgust, “She only wants to play.”

I said, in the calmest voice I could muster, “Sorry, that looked like stalking to me.” And at that, the woman repeated, as if I were blind, deaf, and stupid, “She only wanted to play.”

Right. I am temporarily speechless even thinking about it again today…

Has that woman never read, seen, or learned anything about dog behavior and body posture?

Contrast that with a pitbull owner whom I also met yesterday. Her dog Lizzie was simply pushy, not scary or mean, but after a few minutes, I said, “What I don’t like about this is that my dog is the one who’s always on her back.”

The pit bull owner said what I want to say if (God forbid) my dog is ever frightening, intimidating, annoying, or being too pushy with another dog or person. She just said, “Sorry. We can go someplace else” and took her dog away.

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Today, Russ and Cooper went off to do some hunt training, leaving us girls at home. Despite the rain, neither Tooey nor I really wanted to stay home. So, what to do?

One of my favorite things is to go with Cooper to the Delta. He loves it, and he stays with me (or at least within 50 feet of me, which is close enough in such a large tract of land).

But I’ve hesitated to take Tooey to the Delta because, as both Renae and Deb observed, “Tooey’s such an independent little bitch.” But I figured it’s Sunday, I need some fun, Russ and Cooper were gone, so I decided to chance it.

This path looks straight, right? You don’t see any little pathlets leading off from the sides, do you? No, I don’t either. However, Miss Explorer Puppy did, and trotted down each one. But after the first two or three, my heart returned to it’s normal heartrate because Tooey came back to me, every time. Down the main path we went. I’m sure she thought it was worth it when we got to the beach.

Tooey loves the beach. She loves to swim. Retrieving is OK, too, if it involves swimming.

I forgot the camera, darn it, but I had my phone. I took the pictures above, and the video below, with my phone.

I took the video because I wanted documentary evidence that Tooey actually does retrieve. There for the longest time, we thought that she had no retrieving drive at all. But we know she’s interested in birds, she’s got prey drive (particularly if they’re squirrels), and now we know she’ll retrieve something out of the water.

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Birds do it, and bees do it. This being Spring, plants want to do it, too, but they need help.

Dandelions really put themselves out there, so Tooey volunteered to play her part in plant reproduction: Courier.

Tooey has her way with tulips, too, but I don’t think her methods there are nearly as helpful.

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April 25th was the last time Cooper  had an opportunity to work in the water. The next day he was deposited at a boarding kennel while the rest of us headed to Maryland for the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s 2010 Specialty.

Upon our return, as you may have read in previous blog entries, he blew out a couple toe nails. With the assistance of the vet, the nails were completely removed to prevent further damage while they re-grow (about 4 months from now). He limped a few days, but always in good spirits. While recovering, we did no retrieves and no serious playing. Until today.

This morning, Cooper and I met up with some training partners at a really nice pond just off the Columbia River about an hour downriver from Portland. Cooper did drills of swimming to a pile of bumpers on the far side of the pond. A new location, sometimes a big distraction, seemed to have no impact today. It was just swim, retrieve, swim, retrieve, etc, etc.

We also worked on some new techniques for teaching him to hold the bumper until delivered to hand. He had a tendency to spit them out prematurely in order to get a jump on the next retrieve. Training partners are great for their observations and advice. Much progress was made on that front.

For the bonus round, I got some help teaching Cooper to be “steady to the flush.” For the non-hunters, this means when an upland game bird is flushed by the dog, his butt needs to stick to the ground until released so he doesn’t try to retrieve the flying bird while the gunner is pointing a shotgun in the bird’s direction. It took only three tries, and Cooper was sitting and waiting without any voice or whistle prompt. Hard to believe that this dog could learn so fast. But it is a testament to the importance of building foundation skills and teaching Cooper “how to learn.” Maturity also has its benefits for sure. Bring on the pheasants!

This is one happy dog. He loves the work, loves the water, and was still on a buzz after we got home. Cooper went from the car, into the house, straight to his toy-drawer, grabbed a tennis ball, and ran to the back door. I wish I could maintain my attitude to live in the moment like that. So much to learn from this boy.

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If you’re reading this blog, it’s more likely that you have an Irish Water Spaniel.

If you have, or have ever had an Irish Water Spaniel, go to the Irish Water Spaniel Club of American website. Or start by clicking the big, green, round Click Here button.

The survey is for all Irish Water Spaniels, no matter whether they’re your beloved pet, a show dog, an performance dog, a hunting companion, or whatever. The club wants to know about the health of all IWS.

It’s anonymous, too. The survey will not ask for your name or your dog’s name. It will not collect any information from your computer. Take the survey once for each Irish Water Spaniel you’ve owned.

If you’re like me, when you take the survey, you might want to have handy your file or records about your dog’s healthcare. If you have your records out (or a really good memory), the survey should take only about 10-20 minutes per dog. But don’t worry — if you don’t have all the details, just try to be as accurate as you can.

The IWSCA will use the information they get to help breeders breed healthier dogs and to help the club determine where to spend it’s research money.

Please, take the survey. And thank you.

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It started with Christine. We went out to a field one morning a couple of years ago to watch her train her two Irish Water Spaniels for hunt tests. As we drove up in our Toyota Camry, Christine said, “Hmm. That’s not a dog car.”

(not our actual car)

Yeah, well. That’s the car we had. With one dog — perfectly manageable. Even with one wet and muddy dog, pretty much manageable, given enough towels.

Then we got Tooey. That makes two dogs. The Camry, even equipped with two canine seatbelts, was crowded in the back seat, especially since Tooey (the little bitch) stretches out to take almost the entire back seat. Cooper is left to sit, crunched into one side.

When we went hunting last fall with Rod and Renae, we admired their very nice crossover utility vehicle. (We saw a couple of this same model at the WC/WCX test at the Specialty with two 400-sized crates into the back.)

Then Tammy got into an accident with her van. Her two dogs, both safely enclosed in crates, were fine. Tammy was mostly fine. The van wasn’t.

Finally, yesterday, we drove past a Ford dealership, and decided to “just take a look.” Well, you can predict where this is going. We came home with a dog car: a used Ford Taurus X. Now all we have to do is buy the crates to go in the back.

not our actual car, either

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We got Cooper’s bandages off his feet, and hoped that all would be well. One of the two nails has healed up just fine, but sadly, he’s still limping.

This morning, he finally let us look at his feet. We noticed that on the foot that makes him limp, the vet cut the whole nail and quick all the way back to the toe. We can see a pink, moist center in the toe — that’s what’s left of the quick. Of course, it’s exposed, so naturally it’s uncomfortable. This surgery is much more extreme than he’s had before.

There’s a lot of debate on the SLODogs yahoo group list about surgery. Some people just give pain medications and let the nails eventually fall off or get bitten off by the dog. Others rush to the vet everytime a nail breaks.

We’re somewhere in the middle. We try to keep his nails short so they’re less likely to break. If he’ll let us clip a broken nail, we’ll do that. If he can bite it off himself, we let him do it. It’s just when the split goes so far up under the cuticle that we can’t clip it and he can’t bite it off that we go to the vet.

Dogs with SLO will have broken nails. Doing surgery every time a nail breaks just isn’t feasible or healthy. Every time there’s surgery, there’s at least a tranquilizer, and for future surgeries, the vet has told us that there will be anesthesia. This is really hard on a dog, but so are broken nails.

We’ll just have to see what the future holds and go from there.

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When you have a dog with SLO, you expect that nails will break. For Cooper, mostly a nail splits and he chews it off. It’s uncomfortable for a couple of days, but he gets the nail off, the quick underneath dries out, and we go on.

Last night though, when we got Cooper home from the boarding kennel, we noticed he was limping, holding his left front foot in the air. Once we got him to let us look at his feet, we could see that he had two split nails, one on the left front foot and the other on the right. And these were both bad splits, up to and under the cuticle.

These were the kind of split that, had he tried to take it off himself, he could easily have ripped the cuticles, inviting infection and more pain. So off to the vet we went.

Cooper home from the vet

They tranquilized him and removed the broken nails. Nasty, painful, and expensive. And they told us that next time this happens (and we know that there will be a next time), they will have to anesthetize him. The tranquilizer doesn’t kill pain; it just makes him immobile enough to allow the vet to remove the nails.

No matter what we do, Cooper’s nails will break. It doesn’t matter if we keep him quiet in the house or allow him to run in the field — the nails will break. In fact, by the time we see the splits, the nails have already broken at the nail bed.

The disease makes me so angry, and there is no one and nothing to be angry at. It makes me cry. And it has taught me in yet one more way that heartache is real, not just a metaphor.

We’ve been consulting a vet with expertise in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. It’s too soon to tell if the needles and herbs are helping his nails. We can see that it’s helping his digestion, and that may be, we hope, a path into helping his nails.

But here’s the thing. There was Cooper, limping, both front feet bandaged, and a little woozy from the tranquilizer. And what did he do? He came over to me, and dropped a tennis ball at my feet. “Throw the ball” is what that means. “I want to retrieve.”

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After all these years, we finally got to meet Nova, Cooper’s mom. We knew and loved Balloo, Cooper’s dad, so we were thrilled with the opportunity to meet the other half.


Cooper is a lot like his mom. Even though she has earned a Master Hunter title, she still is a touch over-eager for retrieving. When Rosemary was out throwing bumpers for her, Nova still had a little trouble staying in the heel position while waiting for the command to go. She wanted to go get the bumper NOW!

Made us feel a lot better — Cooper isn’t defying us when he pulls out out to the line — he’s just his mother’s son. Rosemary told us that “line manners” was one of the more difficult things to train with Nova. We’re still in process with Cooper, and it isn’t easy with him, either. They’re built similarly, too, with big chests and broad shoulders, and the intense focus in the face and eyes.

Thanks to Rosemary for bringing Nova out the the National Specialty. It was a privilege.

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