Archive for September, 2010

Last Sunday, all four of us went to Parkdale Kennels for the LCHRC Fall Festival.

Cooper and Russ arrived in the morning, so Cooper could practice a Senior-level hunt test. He did a great job, Russ said. His only issue was “popping.” That’s when a dog, which has been given the command to go “Back,” stops before reaching the bird, and instead turns around to look at the handler for more  instructions.

Cooper’s been doing this pretty often recently, and Russ has been trying a number of ways to get him to just keep going. They haven’t always worked though, so Russ would sometimes finally have to give up and provide the additional command to go “Back!” On this day, however, Russ just stood there, mouth shut, and waited. Eventually, Cooper figured it out. He turned around, went out in the direction he’d been given in the first place, and got the bird.

Here’s the picture of Cooper that Russ posted on his Facebook page:

One commentor said about Cooper that “[s]omething down range has got his attention. Looks like he’s ready for blast off!”

Cooper is pretty much always ready for blast off, no matter what’s out there. This is what Cooper was looking at:

Cooper had been told to sit and stay, and that’s what he was doing. Good boy!

Later in the afternoon (after the Shelton dog show), Tooey and I arrived. Tooey was riveted by the whole proceedings: guns going off, birds and bumpers flying through the air, dogs retrieving.

Unlike Cooper, Tooey’s only reliable “sit and stay” occurs in the kitchen. Under stimulating conditions like this picnic test, I have to hold onto her collar and leash for dear life. If I didn’t, she’d have run right into somebody else’s practice test and stolen the bird. Bad form, but gratifying drive and birdiness.

We’re excited that Tooey seems so enthralled. It’ll stand her in good stead when she arrives again at Parkdale in November for her 3 months at “duck camp.”

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Three stories from this weekend at the Gig Harbor Kennel Club show in Shelton, Washington (told in reverse chronological order). It’s true: Good things can happen at dog shows.

“Did something just happen?” the judge asked

In the dog show ring today were two 14-point bitches and one other bitch that has a couple of points. This show was worth 1 point, and if one of those 14-point bitches won, that bitch would have the 15 points needed to “finish.” In other words, get her Champion title.

And indeed, after showing outside, in the rain, on slippery grass, one of the 14-point bitches won it. Kassie, the older one, the one who has been trying for many, many months to get that one last point, took her finishing point.

We three handlers erupted into cheers, smiles, pats on the back, and hurrahs. The judge, perhaps not very accustomed to losers being so happy, asked, “Did something just happen?” We all chimed in at once, “She just finished!” The judge smiled, and gesturing at the pouring rain, said, “Well, this is the perfect weather for finishing an Irish Water Spaniel. Congratulations.”

What was also strange is that this morning, when I woke up, I knew Kassie was going to win. I could see the judge giving Jill, Kassie’s handler, the ribbon. I tried very hard and several times to re-visualize this, to see myself running effortlessly around the ring, Tooey floating along side me, and the judge pointing at Tooey for the win. But no matter how many times I tried this, the vision always ended with Kassie getting the nod.

So, when Kassie actually did get it, I wasn’t particularly shocked. And I was happy — I have wanted this for Jill for awhile. Of course, I was disappointed that Tooey didn’t win — I would love to be finished.

But I can hold two contradictory ideas in my head at one time. And, as I have been told many times, Tooey’s championship will come.

Falling asleep holding “hands”

Tooey and I spent Saturday night on one of Jill’s very comfortable guest beds. Out in the country, where Jill lives, there is almost no light at night, and it’s very quiet. Both of us were ready for sleep. Showing in the dog show ring, getting groomed (again!), and running around playing ball with the other dogs had tired Tooey out. I was simply tired from having gotten up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare us both for the ring, and knew I’d be getting up the next morning at 5:30 again to do it all over again.

We were both lying on our sides, bellies facing each other, when Tooey pawed gently me a couple of times. I reached out to pet her and tell her good night, when she simply placed her paw in my hand. I laid my hand down on the bed, and her paw stayed cradled in my palm. I could feel the heat and the roughness of her pads. We feel asleep like that, paw in hand.

If this had been a movie, and my sleeping partner a human instead of a dog, it would have been one of those romantic “awww…” moments. As it was, it was simply sweet. It’ll be a memory I carry with me a long time.

Now a member of the 1-point club

The Gig Harbor Kennel Club dog show, like many weekend-long dog shows, is actually two shows. Tooey had gotten her 13th point just a week prior, at the Wenatchee show, and I had a chance to finish her this weekend if Tooey could win both shows.

The past week has been hell. I was stressed, I really wanted to finish, and none of the people who frequently help me groom were available. I’m not a great groomer, but I remembered Colleen telling me (to my shock) that it’s not unusual for person who’s going to show an Irish Water Spaniel to do a little grooming every night before a show. That gives the groomer the chance to see the effect after the dog has moved around and the fur has fallen into place.

So that’s what I did. I put poor Tooey up on the table for an hour every night last week. Each time, I asked Russ to help me see where it was uneven, or not matching from side to side, or too long, or the wrong shape, or … He’s not a groomer, either, but he’s got an artistic eye, and he’s watched some great IWS groomers do their stuff many times over. He caught a lot of areas that needed work, and I appreciate it.

Finally, about an hour before I had to leave to get to Jill’s house, where I was staying the night before the show, I just had to stop. I decided that Tooey looked good enough to show without my being humiliated.

And then the gods smiled on me. When I did get to Jill’s house, I found that Jayme, the groomer who has worked on both Cooper and Tooey in the past, was also staying at Jill’s house. And yes, she said she’d take a look at Tooey.

So up on the table Tooey went. Jayme studied her for a few minutes, and then looked up, and said, “You did this?” I nodded. Hard to know where a question phrased this way is coming from.

Jayme walked around the table and surveyed Tooey a bit more. Finally, she said, “You did a great job.” I let out a breath.

And truthfully, Jayme didn’t do a lot more. She took off some more fur along the belly, where I hadn’t been brave enough with my scissors, she shaped a bit around the back of the back legs, and touched up some uneven spots on the front legs. But basically, she told me that I could have easily taken Tooey into the ring without her help.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” Jayme asked, “if you finally got good at this just as you were finishing Tooey?”

Yeah. Funny.

Oh, and we did get the point on Saturday, bringing Tooey up to 14 points. Now she needs just 1 point, making her a member of the “1-Point Club.”

May Tooey’s membership be very short.

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Yesterday, Tooey got another point on her show championship. When Colleen texted me the news from Wenatchee, my response was an immediate “Yay!!!!”

My overwhelming response was delight, not at all colored by disappointment, sadness, or envy, even though I wasn’t the one who handled Tooey in the ring.

Here’s why that’s important: So many people have been telling me that I should put a championship on Tooey myself. That I would be disappointed if someone else did it. One person, who showed Tooey in Enumclaw last month (where there was a possibility that Tooey might have finished her championship without me), said that she was feeling a little sad for me.

Well, Tooey didn’t finish at Enumclaw, so up till yesterday there was no way to know how I’d feel. But now I have a better idea. If somebody else is Tooey’s handler on either of her two last points, it appears that I’m more than likely to be delighted.

Now, I will admit a preference — I’d like to be Tooey’s handler on her last point, but if I had to pick between her being finished sooner and my finishing her later, I’d pick the sooner.

So, now this is how it stands for Tooey: 12 points handled by me, and 1 point handled by the lovely Loren. Only 2 more points to go. And may they be bestowed soon.

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If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that Cooper has been working hard to learn how to retrieve ducks, pheasants, chukars, etc. And he’s been doing a darn fine job of it, too.

However, birds don’t generally fall out of the sky on their own. At hunt tests, the club putting on the test takes care of that — they bring in birds, gently gas them, and then launch them out of slingshot-like machines to simulate a bird falling out of the sky. Actual hunting is another story. The hunter has to actually shoot the birds. That means they have to a) have a shotgun, b) know how to use it, and c) actually be able to hit something with the shot.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re a duck), Cooper is a much better retriever than I am a gunner. I have some excuse. I never really shot much over the course of my many decades. But now my excuse is much weaker because my husband bought me a shotgun. Several months ago.

Today, we finally had the time to try it out. Even though it was raining. (Heck, we’re northwesterners — we’re used to rain.) I discovered that I need practice. Lots and lots of practice.

I showed this blog to some childhood friends of mine a month ago, and showed them a picture of me holding some chukars and a shotgun. I didn’t tell them until after their mouths had fallen open that the picture had been staged.

But if I keep practicing, I may be able to actually bring down some birds on my own, and make my husband proud and my dog happy.

(Oh, and Cooper is a part of this story. He was in the car while Russ and I were shooting at the gun range. He’d go through these fits of barking, convinced, no doubt, that ducks were falling out of the sky and he wasn’t being let out to retrieve them.)

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Wendy Tisdall, of Coastalight Flatcoated Retrievers, has graciously let me use several great pictures that she took of Cooper at last weekend’s WC/WCX. These are four that she took during the water series of Cooper’s WC work.

I love how Wendy captured Cooper’s determined expression and the movement of the water. If anyone had any doubt about what Cooper loves best, all they have to do is look at his face in these pictures, and the way he completely immerses himself in the water and in his work.

photo by Wendy Tisdall

photo by Wendy Tisdall

photo by Wendy Tisdall

photo by Wendy Tisdall

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The vet was just as pleased as we were with the improvement in Cooper’s nails, so after consulting with the veterinary dermatologist, she agreed with our wish to reduce the amount of tetracylcine that we’re giving Cooper.

So now we have the same array of medicines, but just less of the tetracyline and the niacinimide:

  • 1/2 tsp Biotin Concentrate 2X, 1x per day
  • 500 mg tetracycline, 1x per day
  • 500 mg niacinimide, 1x per day
  • 3-1000 mg salmon oil capsules, 2x per day
  • 2-Permaclear capsules, 2x day
  • 3/4 tsp Si Wu Tang powder, 2x per day
  • 400 IU Vitamin E, 2x day

It’s sort of an experiement to see if the Permaclear and the Si Wu Tang are really the agents that have led to Cooper’s improvement. We’ve seen significant improvement after he started them about 5 months ago, in contrast to almost no forward progress with having been on the tetracylcine and niacinimide since the beginning of treatment in February of 2009.

That’s a long time, over a year and a half, of being on tetracylcine and niacinimide. We’re hoping that reducing these medicines will not put back Cooper’s status with his nails, while maybe helping bring back his undercoat.

But I don’t like experimenting on my dog. I wish I had a medical crystal ball that could give me the answers I need.

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Halleluhia! I just realized that it’s been about 11 weeks since Cooper broke a nail.

Back on June 21st, three nails broke very badly, and we had to go to the vet to get them clipped and filed off. Since then, the surfaces of two nails have peeled back somewhat, but no nails have broken open, no quicks have been exposed, and he’s been in no pain.

The best part is that this is true despite Cooper’s being just as active and just as busy in field work as he’s ever been.

In a previous post, I listed out all the medicines that Cooper is taking for his SLO. That regimen has changed a bit since we started him on acupuncture and Chinese herbs. This is what we’re giving him now:

  • 1/2 tsp Biotin Concentrate 2X, 1x per day
  • 500 mg tetracycline, 3x per day
  • 500 mg niacinimide, 3x per day
  • 2-1000 mg salmon oil capsules, 3x per day
  • 2-Permaclear capsules, 2x day
  • 3/4 tsp Si Wu Tang powder, 2x per day
  • 400 IU Vitamin E, 2x day

I also file his nails very gently, 2-3x per week, just to keep them short and to remove any snags or sharp edges.

I’m feeling hopeful that perhaps his SLO will go into some semblance of remission.

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Just when you think you know your dog, he likes to throw something fun your way. The WCX test this weekend had some known challenges for Cooper. Steady to the line off-lead is one. When going out on multiple marks, he has often stops and turns around to ask for help (popping), and when he is excited he resists pivoting at the line in the heel position to get a good look at additional birds going down into cover.

The land test for the WCX was a triple with pheasants (one a live flier). Cooper went to line off-lead and sat while scanning the horizon for the gunners. Because this test is run by field trial rules, the shooters are out in the field, wearing white jackets for visibility. After Cooper watched the first two pheasant go down, he turned and faced the live flier station. Upon his release, he bee-lined it for his first retrieve, delivered to hand, rotated to the next bird, ditto, and onto the third. Wow, that was easy. We walked back to the holding blinds off-lead and in the heel position. Is this Cooper?

Notice the loose leash. Is this Cooper?

The water test was a double retrieve, including one live flying duck. Our trip the line was again off-lead but with a noticeable increase in Cooper’s hyper drive. He resisted pivoting his heeling position to mark the ducks, but when the first shot went off, he spun, focused, and marked the fall. Unfortunately, the duck did not go down into the water and a “no-bird” was called. I put Cooper back on the lead and we returned to the holding blinds where we waited two more turns to try it again. Cooper sat in the blinds listing to gun shots and dog whistles, none of which helped him calm down.

The return to line was a bit tense on my end, keeping the boy in check with a lot of commands to “Heel” between the last blind and the line. But Cooper focused and it was two ducks up and into the water, and Cooper doing a double retrieve and delivery to hand. Woo Hoo!

The very last portion of the test is an “honor”: to step aside and sit calmly off-lead while the next dog runs the water series. Cooper started out well, watching two more ducks go up and into the water, sitting, butt glued to ground. So far so good. Then the working dog, a Flat-Coated Retriever, was sent to pick up his first bird, and that was the undoing of our WCX.

Just as the judge was coming over to say, “Honor dog released,” Cooper decided he could out-swim the Flat-Coat and get to the duck first. So off he went with another one of his dock-diving entries, breaking his honor.

Plus, the WCX rules state that once the action starts for the working dog, the honor dog’s handler cannot speak to the honor dog. I had to call Cooper back, but in doing so, I violated the rule of talking to my dog.

Working Certificate not-so-Excellent.

The photo shows Cooper in the final moments of his honor position, with me standing next to and at 90 degrees to him with my arms crossed, mouth shut. This is to distinguish my body language from my normal getting-ready-to-send-him-on-a-retrieve position. Mentally, I am shouting as loud as I can, “Sit!, Stay!, No Bird!” But if you look at Cooper’s expression, you can see that he is just licking his lips in anticipation of out-racing the Flat-Coat to what he thinks is his rightful bird.

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Cooper’s full name is now (drumroll, please) SHR Realta Rosario Cooper, CGC, FdX, JH, WC.

I can’t express how happy I am that Cooper passed his Working Certificate (WC) test this weekend, put on by the Northwest Flat-coated Retrievers Club in Monroe, Washington. I was also thrilled to be able to handle Cooper at the test. But before I go on, I want to thank Russ for doing all the hard work training up to this point, and for graciously encouraging me to do the handling on the WC this weekend.

It was a blast. First there was a land double. That means that two pheasants were tossed into the air, about 50 yards away, and over 90 degrees apart, where they landed in short mowed grass. Only after both birds hit the ground did the judge say, “Dog.” That was my signal to send Cooper out after the first pheasant.

The first pheasant was a bit difficult — the feathers kept coming out in Cooper’s mouth, so he’d drop the bird, spit out the feathers, and then fetch up the bird again. Not optimal — it would have been best if he’d simply grabbed the bird and brought it all the way back before spitting feathers. But this wasn’t disqualifying, so on to the 2nd pheasant.

The trick with a double is that the dog has to remember where the 2nd bird went down while he’s retrieving the 1st bird. Cooper went out straight to the 2nd bird, but then he hunted around a bit. Not sure what exactly he was doing out there. I suspect that he really did know where the 2nd bird fell, and just wanted to run around a bit before coming back. Also not optimal — if he’d gone over to hunt in the area where the 1st bird fell, that could have been disqualifying. But fortunately, he didn’t. After a couple of minutes of dinking around, he fetched up the 2nd pheasant and brought it back.

Then we rested, ate lunch, gave Cooper several opportunities to take care of his personal needs, and then, since Cooper passed the land series, we went on to the water series.

Getting Cooper out to the line is a challenge for me. He is so excited that he wants to pull me all the way out. He’s better for Russ, probably because Russ has worked with him so much more and has established some authority. (You can see in the top picture above that the leash is tight.) So by the time we got to the line for the water marks, which are Cooper’s favorite, he was wound up and pushing himself off my legs to get to the line quicker. The judges observed this, and make some comment about “those Irish Water Spaniels are so… mumble, mumble…”

But then, when they saw Cooper go after his first water mark (a duck), they changed their tune. “Wow!” one judge said, “That’s a photo op!” It certainly was — Russ clicked the camera just at the right second:

Cooper went out and got both ducks, swimming about 50 yards or so to each one. He’s a strong and fast swimmer, and brought both ducks straight back to me without running along any of the banks. Now, not “bank running” — that’s optimal.

Cooper got all 4 of his birds without making any disqualifying mistakes, earning his IWSCA Working Certificate. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have things to work on, like not spitting out birds, not dinking around hunting in the field, and walking calmly to the line.

But all in all, I had a wonderful time, we put a new title on Cooper, and Cooper got his birds.

(This same weekend, Russ ran Cooper in the more difficult Working Certificate Excellent (WCX) test. I’ll let Russ tell that story in another post.)

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Cooper is spaniel who retrieves. By that, I mean that when left to his own devices in the field, Cooper uses his nose, quartering back and forth in the cover with his head down, sniffing for birds. If I send him on a marked retrieve and he loses focus (literally and figuratively), he resorts to his hard-wired spaniel genes and just starts a search with his nose. But the AKC says an Irish Water Spaniel is a retriever, so if Cooper wants to play in the AKC games, he has to leave his inner spaniel at home and put on his retriever suit.

So today we hooked up with some Retriever Field Trial folks in Scio, Oregon and played big dog rules to train Cooper into forgetting that he is a spaniel for a few moments. Field trialers send their dogs on marked retrieves as long as 400 yards. To put that into perspective, that is like watching a bird fall out of the sky a quarter mile away, remembering where it fell in the cover, and zooming out to get it. The photo below shows Cooper about ready to head off on a 300 yard marked retrieve. In the exact center of the photo, at the edge of the dark tree line, is a tiny white speck. That speck is a person in a white jacket shooting birds for the dogs.

For the first retrieve, Cooper made it as far as the trees in the pasture before he turned back into a spaniel, deciding that the bird must be hiding in the trees and diving in to find it. Second time was about the same. Finally, as you can see from this zoomed in section of a photo, Cooper kept on going, and came back with a duck in his mouth, while the shooter returned to his ATV at the back tree line. It will take quite a few more sessions like this for Cooper to believe in his eyes and memory when I send him on a long retrieve, and to temporarily ignore his inner spaniel.

Meanwhile, Miss Tooey, who came along for the ride, got to go after some of Cooper’s ducks in one of the ponds. For a dog who is just getting used to putting birds in her mouth, retrieving it out of the water is a naturally compelling action, also hard wired in the retriever/spaniel brain somewhere. So into water went the duck (an underhand toss), and then in went Tooey, who scarfed it up, brought it to shore, and then realized that she had just retrieved her first duck. Hopefully, there will be many more to come after she finishes her job in the conformation show ring.

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