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Archive for June, 2010

One of the advantages of an HRC Started Hunting Retriever test and an AKC Junior Hunter test is that the dog can wear a flat buckle collar, and the handler can hold onto that collar at the line.

This prevents the dog from bolting when he sees the bird, instead of waiting until he’s been sent out to retrieve it. Some pros teach their dogs early on not to bolt. They feel confident that their dogs will stay put, so they don’t bother with the collar. Other, less experienced handlers are sometimes tempted to try the same before their dog is trained and ready to withstand temptation.

Russ, knowing Cooper can’t yet be trusted not to bolt, is not so foolish. But other handlers sometimes make a mistake, and that’s the story that the photo below would tell if I’d taken it just a half second later.

If you look just to the left of Russ’s left knee, just on the water side of the weeds, you’ll see a small arc of brown that’s leaving a wake in the water. That’s the head of a collar-less chocolate Lab who had bolted and was chasing after Cooper’s duck.

So here’s the story: At last weekend’s Lower Columbia HRC hunt test, Cooper and Russ were waiting at the line, with all three holding blinds behind them occupied with a dog and it’s handler. The gunner blew the duck call, the launcher launched the duck, and the duck landed in the water. At that, Russ said, “Cooper!” to send Coop out after the duck. Just a few seconds later, the Lab, having gotten away from it’s handler in one of the holding blinds, jumped into to the water and swam full on after Cooper, who had by that time already fetched the bird and was coming back in.

It could have been bad. The two dogs could have fought over the duck. But when the Lab got to Cooper, Coop simply turned his head and the bird away from the Lab, and kept on swimming in a straight line back to Russ. The Lab growled and tried several times to grab the bird, but Cooper simply turned his head each time and kept on swimming.

And even more amazing, when Cooper stepped up onto the land, he calmly came into heel at Russ’s left, sat, and delivered the bird, ignoring the Lab who was still trying to grab the duck, as well as the gaggle of judges, handler, and bystanders who were all trying to grab the Lab.

The judges were amazed that Russ seemed so calm. The Lab’s handler had been freaking out the whole time, calling and yelling at her dog to “Come!”, which the Lab ignored. Sadly, but understandably, the Lab was disqualified for the day. Cooper passed the test with flying colors.

And here’s the thing. We’ve been inadvertently training Cooper for this very scenario without realizing it. If you’ve read the post about our taking Cooper and Tooey to St. Louis Ponds, you might remember that Tooey loves to chase after Cooper while he’s retrieving bumpers from the water. He’s learned to outswim her to the bumper, and then keep it away from her while they’re returning to land. Having some Lab try the same maneuver was nothing new after Tooey’s shenanigans.

So the moral of the story? If the rules let you do something to your advantage, do it. Use whatever opportunities for training you can get. And then be grateful when it all turns out all right.

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Soon we’ll write some blog entries about this weekend’s hunt test, but for now, a picture:

Russ and Cooper with a new ribbon and a new title: Started Hunting Retriever (SHR)

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When I say that Cooper’s nails “break” because of his SLO (Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy), that’s really misleading. It might make you think, “Oh, a broken nail. No big deal. Happens to dogs all the time.”

A much better way to describe it is “blow out” or “explode.” That’s what the nails really do. Picture a nice, smooth, solid popcorn seed exploding.

If the popcorn image doesn’t do it for you, maybe these photos will help:

Back right foot, outside nail

In the picture above, you can see how the top of the nail has lifted up and lifted away from the quick. The quick — the core part of the nail, just under where a green piece of grass is sitting — is already dead. You can see where the top of the nail has also split away from the side of the nail that’s on the other side of the quick. The section of nail on this side of the quick is already gone.

Front right foot, inside nail

In the picture above, you can see how the whole nail had lifted up and away from the quick and then blew apart. It’s separated into three parts: top and two sides. The quick in this one is dead already, too. You can see from this, too, that they nail had already been clipped pretty short before it blew apart. For dogs with SLO, it’s better to keep nails short, but that’s no guarantee that they won’t break.

Front right foot, outside nails

The nails in the picture above are what would be the pinkie (top left) and ring finger (bottom right) of the front right paw. The pinkie has already split into three parts, while the ring finger hasn’t blown out yet. On the ring finger, you can see the initial split along the bottom of the nail, and you can also see at the tip of the nail how the nail shell has begun to separate from the quick. This nail is going to blow apart soon.

Nails that have exploded like this are painful. They need to be trimmed or maybe even removed to prevent them from splitting further up and tearing the cuticle. If you’re very lucky, your dog will let you trim them, but I haven’t been this lucky. Sometimes, with less severe splits, Cooper has been able to chew off the hanging pieces himself, but the nails in these pictures required professional help.

If your dog consistently gets nails like this, get to a veterinary dermatologist as soon as you can. They will recognize SLO and can help you choose treatments that might control the disease. And consider joining the SLOdogs yahoo group for information and support. Or add a comment to this blog entry. If I can help you, I will.

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That’s what Tom Quarles said after judging Cooper’s 4 runs today. That’s a real compliment coming from Tom, who is a long-time Irish Water Spaniel owner, pro trainer, and AKC hunt test judge. He also noted, as did yesterday’s judges, that we have A LOT of dog. If we can just get him under control, they all said, he’ll go far.

French Creek Ranch, Junior Hunt Test site, June 19, 2010

There’s something about hunt tests. If you read Russ’s earlier post, you may remember how well behaved Cooper has been in training — calm, controlled, and focused. Well, in hunt tests, he doesn’t lose the focus on retrieving, but he does lose his calm and control. He pulls on the leash, won’t heel, jumps around in the holding blinds, sits at the line only reluctantly, and would break at the line if Russ weren’t holding him by the collar. Fortunately, these behaviors don’t disqualify a dog at Junior Hunter level tests. But he will need to learn these lessons thoroughly before he can go on to Senior level work.

Even so, as you’ll see from the following video of Cooper’s 3rd Junior hunt test, he does a lot right on those abilities that AKC judges are looking for*. (I’ve indicated these abilities in parentheses.):

  • His head snaps around to the sound of the duck call or gunshot to mark the fall of the bird (marking).
  • When the bird falls into cover, like tall grass or bushes, he keeps using his nose until he finds it (perseverance).
  • He has a lot of dash and style when leaping into the water (style).
  • He returns to heel and delivers the bird to hand (trainability).

What he needs more work on are the calm control coming to the line and at the line (trainability). He also need to work on keeping his his head and body facing forward in alignment with Russ’s body, so that he can see the bird when it falls (marking), rather than just relying on the sound of the duck call, gunshot, or splash. You can see this issue clearly on the first water mark in the video.

Here’s the video of his 3rd pass, earned at the Umpqua Valley Retriever Club Hunt test in Glide, Oregon. Unfortunately, due to operator error, we didn’t get good video of his 4th pass, (judged by Tom Quarles and Don Aker) which qualified him for the official Junior Hunter title. We did get some good ribbon pictures, though, which you’ll see at the end of the video.

*You can see these standards by going to AKC Rules and Regulations page, clicking Retriever Hunting Test Rules, downloading the PDF, and going to Chapters 4 and 5.

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Alas, there are no pictures of the Puyallup dog show this past weekend. Which is a darn shame because Rebecca did a gorgeous job grooming Tooey in preparation.

On Saturday, all Rebecca’s work paid off. On Sunday, events conspired to keep us humble.

On Saturday, we had a really light-handed, gentle judge in a nice big ring. Both Tooey and I just got into the flow. We ran around the ring at the right speed, Tooey stood for the judge’s exam just beautifully, and we came out of there with Winner’s Bitch, Best of Winners, and one more point. (That puts us at 11 out of 15 needed.)

Sunday was a whole different game. For some reason, the ring magically shrunk. Or perhaps it was that I didn’t gauge the distances right. Whatever the reason, both Tooey and I slipped on the concrete floor, and then I righted myself awkwardly by falling into and grabbing the ring gates. That put us both off our stride.

Plus, Tooey decided she didn’t like this judge. He was heavier handed than Saturday’s judge, and didn’t talk to me. Being an opinionated dog, Tooey must have decided that he was not in the “friend” category.

As he ran his hands over her, Tooey tucked her tail and tried to sit, and then turned her head to follow his every move. I tried to “support” (i.e., hold her up) by kneeling down with my left hand under her belly and my right hand holding her head forward. But all that put me in the judge’s way, so I had to back off.

And then, at the very worst, as the judge walked away from us, Tooey tensed herself and reached out to nip his fingers. Fortunately, I caught her before she could complete the nip, and gave her leash a pop.

Not a good thing to be nipping judges. But it’s also not a good thing to correct your dog while in the ring, either.

Even with all those shenanigans, the judge awarded Tooey Reserve Winner’s Bitch — no points, but a nice honor.

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This weekend, Patrice and Tooey are off to Puyallup, Washington for a couple of dog shows at the Washington State Fairgrounds. Cooper and I had a date in Scio, Oregon set aside for hunt test training. (We are 6 days away from his next AKC hunt test.) Our training focus has been on line manners and being calm in the blind. As you may have read from a couple of posts back, we now have a holding blind of our own and have been using it to get Cooper to sit calmly waiting for his turn at the line. Well, damn if isn’t working as planned.

Our training partners today were on the other end of the spectrum from the calm Poodles we trained with on Wednesday. These folks are primarily field trialers and have high energy dogs (Labs and Goldens) that are bred and trained to a level that Cooper can only dream about. In the world of field trials, it is not a pass/fail competition but one of zero-sum, as in “I win, you lose.” This level of competition brings out another level of training effort and nuances that we generally don’t see in hunt tests. What it did for us, is give myself and Cooper a chance to “run with the big dogs,” so to speak.

The warm-up test was a live flier duck at about 50 yards and a blind retrieve set out about 120 yards. The trick was that the duck was launched first, but the field trial dogs had to go past the area of the fall (ignoring the duck), retrieve the blind first, and then go back and get the duck. No way was Cooper capable of this kind of mind game. So I sent him for the duck first. No problem. And then I sent him after the blind retrieve right past where he had previously picked up the duck. Again, no problem. He just needed 3 prompts to continue moving out further and pick up the bumper at a distance he has never covered before in a blind retrieve. Well, he sure looked good. (Let this be a warning . . . stand by to humbled.)

The second set up was a double mark plus a blind in between the two marks at about 180 yards. The first mark at about 100 yards was at the edge of some tall grass, and the second at only about 50 yards, but into grass on the far side of a pond. I ran the birds as single marks, which is what he will see in his next Junior test. Cooper had his laser guidance systems calibrated, his nose turn up to “10” and away he went. Out, back, straight lines, splash, swim, bring back the duck. Wow, this boy is good!

Then it was time to send him across the pond and out the other side for the long blind retrieve. Melt-down.

One thing that Cooper can do is count. And if the numbers don’t add up, he knows it. He saw two ducks land, he brought two ducks back, and so there is no reason to go out after an imaginary duck that he never saw in his mental ledger. (I am personifying this of course, as any good trainer will recognize Cooper’s hesitation to go out after an “imaginary” duck as the lack of training on my part. Well, they would be correct.) I was able to force Coooper out to the distance to pick up the blind, but his enthusiasm was about a tenth of what it is when he sees a marked flier. (Note to self: Work on this after he gets his AKC Junior Hunt title, and don’t fret until then.)

To build his confidence back up, I re-ran the two birds as a double like the field trialers, but skipped the blind retrieve. And I had the second duck land at the far end of the pond for a full water retrieve. Out, splash, swim, retrieve, out, back, two ducks, two retrieves to hand. Even my ego was re-inflated.

The real highlight of the day was Cooper’s off-lead line manners and honoring another dog’s retrieves. I do believe this boy is getting the concept. This training thing has potential. While we were waiting for another field-trial-capable dog (in the picture above, the black spot out in the field is a Lab), I grabbed my cell phone camera and snapped this photo of Cooper calmly looking up at me, hidden in the blind, ignoring the other handler and waiting for me to issue the green light that it was his turn. For those of you who know Cooper’s history and his canine attention deficit disorder, this is more remarkable than going out and getting a duck.

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Cooper has some big hunt tests in the next two weeks, so we will take every opportunity to train. Today, we met up his Poodle buddies, Laney and Trip, at St. Louis Ponds, south of Portland. The weather was perfect for an Irish Water Spaniel: overcast, cool, with intermittent cloud bursts. The ponds were over-full, the fields were marshes, and the need to retrieve was high.

Laney and Trip are both experienced and hunt-titled Standard Poodles (both are Tudorose Poodles, known for hunting performance). Laney is the elegant gray female, and Trip is a large black male who has at least 10 pounds on Cooper.

One of the differentiations between Cooper and these Poodles was their water entries.  Because the ponds had great clean banks, Cooper had the opportunity to practice his splashy dock-diving entrances. (See the masthead photo at the top of the blog showing Cooper entering a pond at this same training ground.) On the other hand, Laney and Trip slid into the water and swam out to the bumper leaving virtually no wake. The photo below reveals that after multiple water retrieves, both Poodles are dry from the neck up, and Cooper is totally soaked. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Laney, Cooper, and Trip

Quote of the day from Cooper, “Put down the camera and just throw the bumper!”

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