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Archive for December, 2010

I knew this was going to happen. I’ve been watching Russ training Cooper for 1.5 years, and the longer I’ve watched, the better I’ve gotten at watching.

I notice when Cooper’s spine is not straight in heel position, when he’s not marking the birds, when he’s veering off the straight line to the bird. Being a good wife, I offered my observations. And being a wife who is capable of learning, I’ve stopped doing that (mostly).

Now I get to be the one who is participating in training a dog for hunt tests. I’ve been watching Butch work with Tooey for the past several weeks. It’s a lot harder than it looks. I knew it would be. But knowing that didn’t stop me from suffering stage fright and making plenty of mistakes today, my first day handling Tooey. Fortunately, Tooey and I have a good trainer.

Butch instructing Patrice

For our first task, the back to the pile drill, I managed to get Tooey out of the holding blind, into heel position, and to the line without too much drama. She did try to leave the blind several times without permission, her first of several tests to see if I’d let her get away with any misbehavior. (No is the answer, but Tooey wanted to find out for herself.)

Patrice and Tooey at the line -- "Are you ready?"

Since the back to pile drill is a series of blind retrieves, I told her “Dead Bird,” said “Good!” when she pointed her nose in the right direction, and then sent off her with a “Back” command. Or at least I think I sent her. Perhaps she actually left a beat before I said “Back.” I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know if I should correct her, so I let her go. And off she went, picked up a duck, and came happily back to me with it.

"Heel! Hold... good girl!" Tooey delivering a duck to Patrice -- their first one as a team

Thank you!

After retrieving 5 ducks from the back pile, we walked down to the lower field to do some marks. These were about 75 yard marks (where the dog gets to see the bird fall), and even included a live flyer and a real shotgun.

I did a couple of these with Tooey, but neither Tooey nor I were ready for this. She was so excited that, once again, she “forgot” her training. We got out of the holding blind and to the line just fine. But then, when Butch shot the gun and threw a bird, she leapt up with excitement instead staying butt-down in the heel position.

At least she's not gun shy or unenthused, eh?

I got her to sit, and then sent her out after the bird. Which she did with a lot of enthusiasm.

Tooey's got spirit!

And she's got good reach

In the photo below, Butch is standing next to the gunner’s blind, from which he just threw the bird. It’s about 75 yards from the line where I was waiting.

Oh her way back

Tooey with duck

Not all went perfectly. Turns out Tooey didn’t particularly want to pick up the live flyer (a flying duck shot out of the sky). Too warm, too fuzzy, too squishy, too flappy. She did pick it up though, brought it back part way, and dropped it. I reminded her to “Fetch.” Which she did, held it for several yards, and then dropped it again.

This is not the desired behavior. I didn’t know what to do to correct it, so Butch took over for the last several marks.

Tooey delivers the duck to Butch

It was a full day, and my head is stuffed in instructions about how to signal a heel, how to signal a sit, when to say “No!” and when to make this growling noise instead, how soon to say “Here,” what the count should be between “Dead bird” and “Back,” and how to move my body and arms while Tooey is coming back to the line with a bird.

So much to remember, and I have only just started. Tooey has 7 weeks on me, and with Cooper and Russ working so well together, I have a lot to live up to.

I’ll go back next week, and do it again.

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Russ’s pictures do a great job of telling the story of Tooey’s training session at Parkdale Kennels today. So I’ll let them carry the tale:

Tooey waits her turn in the holding blind on a "place board"

Tooey has been called out of the blind and is heeling to the line with Butch

After having Tooey sit in heel position at the line, Butch sends her out to the pile of bumpers on a "Back" command

Tooey brings back a bumper from the pile of bumpers near the cone

Tooey coming back to Butch with the bumper

On another retrieve, Tooey recognizes Russ -- "Oh! I know him!"

Tooey still has to heel at Butch's side, though. "See, I'm a good girl. Can I go see Russ now?"

All done with training for today -- "Good girl!"

Finally, Tooey gets to say hi to "mom"

Tooey did some other stuff, too: whistle-sits (she’s mostly remembering to sit instead of lie down), overs (she’s got this down, in this field at least), a fun bumper, and hugs with Russ.

Four Labrador Retrivers and a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon worked the same set of drills as Tooey today: One Lab is farther along than Tooey, Tooey and two other Labs are at about the same level, and the last Lab and the Griffon had a frustrating time of it today.

And we heard tales of Tooey’s successfully working on a 6-position marking drill. (To read about this drill, go here and scroll down to “Diagram D — Thrower-Based Depth Drill”.) Marking is usually fun for retrievers because they get to see the object fall out of the sky before they go retrieve it. More on that later when I actually get to see it for myself.

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Rainy, cold, windy, dark — perfect duck weather, right?

Right. That’s what we thought, too, so we headed out to Sauvie Island this morning to do a little duck hunting. And we did indeed see lots of ducks. Also lots of geese, a pelican, some cormorants, several white swans, a marsh hawk, three sandhill cranes, a couple of seagulls, a lot of LBBs (little brown birds), and a few elegant egrets.

Also, we got a several hours’ look at our duck decoys.

And what about all those ducks we saw? All of them were either too far away, too high up in the sky, or sitting contentedly out in the middle of the pond. So no ducks within range. All of this meaning, of course, that there was nothing for Cooper to retrieve. (That’s the whole point of this exercise, isn’t it?)

But I will say this — I had a good time. It was sort of like I expected it to be, but better. It rained, but not constantly and I was dressed for it. We had buckets to sit on, so I wasn’t uncomfortable as I thought I might be. And I didn’t have to get up before dawn. We didn’t get any ducks, but we had a great day outdoors, the three of us together.

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What a lovely day! Christmas dinner with friends (a few days early), with a bit of training beforehand.

Here’s Russ and Cooper (who is peeking!) waiting for our friend Norm and his son to finish setting up the winger, while the two horses look on:

Thank you so much to Norm and Carol for inviting us to join them for a delicious dinner this evening, and for making their field and equipment available to us today. Great company, and lots of fun, too!

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At just over 5.5 weeks into training, Tooey’s doing a nice job on going to the back pile. When that’s all she’s doing, she’s got that down.

But now Butch has just added overs to the back pile drill. He’d already taught her the over command by itself, but adding it to the back to the pile drill is new. (It was just too cold and wet to keep videoing, so I’ll just explain it.) This is what he did:

As she went out to the back pile, Butch would throw a bumper over to the side. About the halfway mark of her return , he’s whistle once to direct her to sit facing him, and then use a hand signal to send her “over” to the side at a 90 degree angle to get the bumper he’d just thrown.

Tooey’s smart, and that got her into some trouble today. She figured out very quickly that Butch was in a rhythm of about 2 backs and, then on the 2nd return, would add in an over. So on every other return, she’d slow down while coming back in, anticipating that she’d get the whistle-sit.

The problem with that is that Tooey was thinking that she’d be rewarded for performing this new pattern, when instead, what we want to reward her for is following instructions. Once this became clear, Butch started varying the pattern. That got her confused, and Butch had to encourage her to come in when she slowed down (you can kind of see this slowing on the video during the return). At one point, when she got a whistle sit, she flopped into a down instead of sitting. She looked like a border collie, doing an instant down. Butch had to go out and show her what he wanted.

But then, she did it right! She came in, delivered the bumper, got a whole bunch of praise, some petting, and that’s where they stopped for the day.

This whole time, I was just sitting off to the side and watching. Butch set out a chair for me, and asked me to sit there. He’d mentioned that today I would just watch, and not interact with Tooey at all. Tooey didn’t see me while they were working, and my chair was upwind from them. Then, when all the beginning dogs were done at the back pile, we all went over to the back field, where Butch some of the more advanced dogs on marks and sight blinds. At that point, the dog truck was parked down wind from where I was standing, and I know Tooey realized I was there. She started wagging her tail and whining and doing this whisper bark. But since Butch had asked me not to interact with Tooey, I restrained myself from going over to the truck.

But then I got an unexpected treat. At the end of the session, we all went up back up the hill, and when we passed the entrance to the kennel, for some reason, Butch changed his mind, and let Tooey hop out of the truck to greet me.

There was no question that she recognized me. She was just as happy to see me as I was to see her — not only did she jump up on me, she burrowed up under my jacket and tried to get her head and shoulders as high up under my jacket as she could get them. I tried to take some pictures, but my fingers still had not thawed out from the horizontal rain, sleet, cold and wind. None of the photos turned out very well.

Tooey wet after training

Next Saturday is Christmas, so I won’t be going out that weekend. Looks like it’ll be another 2 weeks before I see my girl again. But I’ll check in with Butch in the meantime. He said he’s very happy with how she’s doing, and I trust him to know.

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A mere 10 miles from where Cooper took Winner’s Dog on Saturday, he spent his Monday doing what a duck dog does — sitting in the rain and cold, waiting for his gunner to shoot something.

Cooper and Matt on Sauvie Island

Cooper and I joined Matt, who has been mentioned in previous posts as one of our hunt training partners, for a day of duck hunting not far from where Cooper passed the first two legs of his AKC Junior Hunter tests. This time it was bit cooler and wetter, but Cooper was quite stylish in his new neoprene camo dog vest.

The morning started with us sitting at the edge of a lake, hidden behind some camo and branches. He stayed put surveying his domain. Initially he was confused after Matt called for the ducks, and then there was no gun shots or ducks falling from the sky. I let him in on the secret that real hunts have different rules than hunt tests, and to be patient.

Stealth Spaniel waiting for ducks

While today was comfortable weather for hunters, it was paradise for ducks, and they were off on vacation. The weather was so calm and warm (for ducks) that they didn’t have to return to their ponds for cover and food. Since the ducks were somewhere else, we pulled up the decoys and moved on. Cooper could see that we were retrieving items from the water, so he jumped in and participated with vigor.

"If you are not going to shoot ducks then I will retrieve sticks"

The next location was a flooded cornfield (as seen in the first photo). The Oregon Department of Wildlife, which manages this area, plants corn alternating with millet to provide both food and cover. We set up the decoys in the flooded field and then retreated into the corn, a few rows back from the water’s edge.

Cooper sat tight, mostly. The only two ducks to pass our way went right overhead, but Matt and I both missed our shots. Looking down after shooting, I noticed that Cooper was missing. I looked up, and there he was — sitting in the middle of decoys, waiting for the ducks to fall into his lap. Note to self: Continue to work on that “steady to shot” aspect of dog training.

Irish Corn Dog?

Because we had limited opportunity to shoot (at) ducks, I was able to spend a fair amount of time removing dozens of cockleburs from Cooper’s coat. He had walked through a hidden patch a the edge of a flooded field, and in moments his coat was covered. Fortunately, his vest limited the Velcro-swarm to just his legs and ears. Or as my mother used to say, “those pernicious sons-of-bitches”.

just a few of the cockleburs retrieved from Cooper's coat

Now all we need is another cold snap and some really ugly weather to encourage the the ducks to come back. Today there were literally thousands of geese, hundreds of swans, numerous Sandhill cranes, a few bald eagles, but scant few ducks. That is why it is called hunting and not shooting.

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Cooper has it all, mostly — he hunts sometimes, he’s somewhat obedient, and he occasionally wins at dog shows.

Today, I’m very happy with his being awarded Winner’s Dog at the Greater Clark County dog show in Vancouver, Washington.

ribbons for 1st in Amateur class and then Winner's Dog

ribbons for 1st in Amateur class and Winner's Dog

If we can find a major somewhere and Cooper wins it, then he’ll met all the requirements for a show championship (Ch). He already has his Junior Hunter title (JH). With a Ch and a JH, then all he’d need is a CD (Companion Dog) Obedience title to be what’s considered to be an “All Around IWS.”

Tammy’s got me started on the Obedience work by informing me that I AM going that I enter Cooper at the Rose City show in the Rally competitions. Rally is like an informal, more fun version of Obedience — in Rally, you do obedience moves around a course, and you can talk to your dog as much as you like. It’s good practice, it’s fun, and it’ll get me going until I can get into a competition Obedience class here in the Portland area (there are l-o-o-o-ng waiting lists).

But in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy my win. And because Cooper needed competition to get any points for today, thanks to Colleen for bringing some dogs down to Vancouver for Cooper to compete against.

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When you start showing up at hunt tests with Irish Water Spaniels, you immediately become aware that this is a world of Labrador Retrievers. And for good reason — Labs are amazing at what they do and have justly earned their place at the top of the retriever world. But . . .  those of us with some of the other breeds, sometimes referred to as “exotics”, enjoy the sport with some success as well.

Another thing that occurs at  hunt tests: those of us with non-Labs soon notice who else has an exotic or “off-breed” (as one judge referred to Cooper) and we strike up conversations and quite often friendships. If you have read the various posts on this blog that mention Poodles and Boykins, then you will see some of the great folks and dogs we have met and continue to work with in the world of hunt tests and hunting.

Bugsie and Maxie: dogs, ducks and photo by Dave Lubinski

Above is a photo of a brace of exotics, Bugsie and Maxie, doing the real thing, retrieving ducks during a real duck hunt. Bugsie is a brown Standard Poodle and Maxie is a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, both owned, trained, and hunted by Dave and Liz on the coast of Oregon. We met them at a hunt test last summer. Dave continues to amaze me with photos he sends of his two dogs bringing in ducks from the brackish and storm-driven waters of Tillamook Bay.

Dave took this photo earlier this week as the winter storms blew in from the Pacific, driving the ducks inland and south. He kept both his dogs busy and took his limit in just 45 minutes. Notice the camo neoprene vests on both dogs and wind whipping across the water and dog’s coats. That is duck hunting weather with two successful “exotics”.

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I just took a look at the Lower Columbia Hunting Retriever Club website, and check it out! Cooper and Tooey are displayed on their “Dogs of the Lower Columbia HRC” page.

The page is long, so for the screenshot below, I took the liberty of taking out most of the page, just so you can see Cooper and Tooey’s pictures.

To see the full page, go to http://www.lowercolumbiahrc.org/page2/page2.html. Some of our hunt training buddies are shown there, like Scarlett (a Boykin Spaniel) and Goose (a Labrador Retriever).

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Tooey turns 2 years old today, and to celebrate, she and Butch went out into the field to do some back-to-the-pile drills. Check it out:

We aren’t allowed to visit Tooey yet — too distracting! So I wasn’t there to ask the videographer to keep the camera going until Tooey delivered the bumper to Butch. Darn it!

But I’m so happy to see the video. We miss her horribly. And it’s wonderful to see her work with some alacrity.

She’s not a rocket like Cooper, but I am very pleased to see her going straight out to a bumper she can’t see, picking it up, and coming straight back.

After only 4 weeks of training, too. Good girl!

(And if you’re wondering what that black thing is that she’s jumping over, read this blog post.)

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Just down the street a piece is a telephone pole with three posters on it:

The last sign is the key, I think. Might have something to do with all the other “missing cat” signs around the neighborhood, too.

There would be no need for this sign if we didn’t have a resident coyote (or coyotes) in the neighborhood.

coyote in neighbor's driveway

People: Keep your cats indoors. And your small dogs, ducks, and chickens, too. The only duck I’ve seen around here is in Cooper’s mouth for training purposes, but there are lots of cats, small dogs, and chickens in the neighborhood.

Cooper and Tooey are probably too big to be in too much danger from a single coyote. But I have heard about packs of coyotes luring bigger dogs away from home, and then attacking and eating them. I don’t know if the coyotes around here live in packs — I haven’t seen one, but I don’t think I want to take the chance.

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Today Tooey moved out of the kennel and got to train in the cool sunshine. Butch said she was doing a fine job of working the “back pile”: retrieving one duck at a time from a pile of ducks to which he had sent her.

The trick here is that Tooey had to run out straight away from Butch, jump over an infiltrator panel, and to the pile of ducks. Having gotten to the pile, she’s to pick up a duck, turn around, run back, jump back over the infiltrator panel, and arrive at Butch’s side to deliver the duck.

So, a) this is really encouraging to hear that Tooey is doing so well, and b) it’s a very inventive use of a thing normally unrelated to dog training.

Let’s start with b). What the heck is an infiltrator panel?

an example of an infiltrator panel

As near as I can tell, an infiltrator panel is a half-section of a perforated chamber that is used in constructing drain fields for septic systems. (I’m not going to pretend to understand this.) The panel in the picture above is 48″ long x 22″ wide x 12″ high, which is about what I remember from seeing one out at Parkdale last summer.

So, imagine this: The dog and handler are standing outside of the picture, many yards to the left, facing the long side of the panel. If we could see them, they’d be in profile, facing the right side of the picture. The pile of ducks would be also outside of the picture some yards to the right of the panel, low on the ground and so below the dog’s line of sight.

Ideally, when the dog goes out to the pile, she goes out straight and over the panel, not around it. This is something that takes training, though, because most dogs will prefer to go around the panel. This training is a first step in teaching the dog two things that are important in hunt tests and in hunting: to go out straight in the direction you’re sent, and to go out even though you may not be able to see the bird to which you’re directed.

And a)? Apparently, Tooey is doing really well. At 3.5 weeks at Parkdale, she’s doing work that the group ahead of her wasn’t doing until after 4 weeks. And this is the best part: she’s enjoying herself. Enjoying being outside, enjoying her success, enjoying Butch’s praise.

Butch warned me that later this task will get tedious. If she’s normal, Tooey will no doubt get bored with going over the panel again to get the darned duck or bumper again, over and over again.

Eventually, she’ll balk, and then she’ll be corrected. This will be another opportunity for her to learn that when directed out, you must go and get the bumper or bird regardless. But once she’s got that, she’ll be able to move up to the next thing, and enjoy that, too.

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Since going back to the full regimen of medications for Cooper’s SLO, we’ve had no broken nails. That was on October 28 — more than a month ago.

Funny. I just realized that I wrote, “we’ve had no broken nails.” Not exactly true, but that’s exactly how it feels.

I know that Cooper is the one whose nails break, but whenever it happens, it feels like it happens to me, too. I don’t have the physical pain in my feet, but it hurts my heart. I just hate to see him suffer. And I hate knowing that we’ll be dealing with this his whole life.

But, given that SLO is with us to stay, all the alternatives are worse. So, I’ll just try to be grateful that I have my boy, that we have a vet and a treatment regimen that is working, and that right now we have time to enjoy together.

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