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.