Archive for January, 2011

We had a very unexpected, very sweet surprise in our mailbox today. Cooper got a fan letter from Leicestershire in England:

original illustration by Matthew Johnson

The message inside said: “Congratulations Cooper — what a star you are! All good wishes for a bright future and very well done to both of you too!”

It’s really a fun card, complete with flag of Ireland, printed by Chocolate Dogs. (I can’t find a link to a company in the United Kingdom by that name — if you see a link, please send it too me.)

Whoever made the card knows Irish Water Spaniels — not just the mischevious expression, the curly fur, and the naked tail, face, and neck, but also the propensity for the coat to attract debris. You can see twigs sticking out of this dog’s topknot and shoulders. Made me laugh! (Note added later: Isn’t the Internet wonderful? Very quickly I got a comment that the original illustration was made by Matthew Johnson.)

Thank you so much, Penny and Paul — you really brightened up the end of a very long day!

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Tooey has been with Butch at Parkdale Kennels for (a long) 2.5 months now, and I think he must have been feeding her — she grew out so much coat!

(Also, as a side note, I really know he’s been feeding her because she’s fat. I understand that problem completely. Too bad I don’t have a kennel manager who can simply cut back my ration of kibbles.)

The night before we took her to Parkdale, we gave Tooey a very close field clip, leaving her beard and enough coat on her ears and topknot so that she looked like an Irish Water Spaniel. Last time we were there, a couple of weeks ago, I could see that cut had grown out. A lot.

So this morning, I arrived at the kennel early, armed with clippers, scissors, a comb, and a slicker brush. Boy, did she need a trim. I wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t get knots in behind her ears and in her armpits any more easily than necessary, and Butch wanted to be able to see her eyes.

Tooey didn’t particularly want to be brushed or combed or clipped. She hasn’t been on a grooming table all this time except to get brushed out before her monthly bath. She is completely out of the habit of being calm on the table, getting combed, brushed, combed, brushed, and trimmed. Pretty much, she wanted to look at me and lick my face. That was sweet for the first few minutes, and then totally not helpful.

I had only an hour before the training session started. Russ helped by holding her in place, and by brushing while I was clipping. We were pretty rushed at the end, so I don’t have any pictures of her with her new ‘do. She looks OK — about 3/4″ long all over her legs and body. Following Renae’s advice, I also shaved off most of Tooey’s beard.

And I cut the topknot must shorter, especially around her face, so Butch can see her eyes. He said he knows what the dog is thinking and whether she’s paying attention by looking in the eyes. I believe it. Glad I could help.

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Cooper at 14 weeks

We asked for a pet, and we got Cooper. Like other excited puppy “parents,” we sent lots and lots of pictures to Rosemary. When Cooper was about 14 weeks old, Rosemary sent us an email saying something like, I think we sent you a show dog.

Rosemary told me that Cooper would get his championship easily, Tammy said she would help, and I had a lot of encouragement from other friends and owners of Irish Water Spaniels. So I agreed to Cooper’s being shown and going for it.

It took 3 years, 4 months, and 29 days. If I had known how long getting Cooper’s championship would take or how hard it would be, I wonder — would I have started down that path?

Cooper and Tammy (middle)

Cooper’s first conformation show was the 2007 IWSCOPS Specialty when he was just 6 months old. Tammy groomed and showed him. (His armband number was 13 — that should have told us something.) He did 2nd in his puppy class. That wasn’t so bad. And all Russ and I had to do was watch. (We also had to hide so that Cooper wouldn’t see us and be distracted).

Jayme, Cooper, and Patrice

It took 10 months of showing for him to get any points. He got his first two points, having been groomed by Tammy again and shown by a professional handler, at the Canby dog show in June, 2008.

Since then, Cooper’s record has been mixed. He came in dead last a couple of times and placed reasonably well other times. He even got Reserve Winners Dog at an IWSCOPS Specialty.

But sometimes he behaved like a twit who couldn’t stand still, or jerked his way around the ring. A couple of times he even jumped over the ring gates and out of the ring. Once he broke a borrowed show lead trying to get away. Another time he pissed on my skirt while waiting at ringside. Sometimes his coat was thin and lifeless, or the winning dog had bigger bone, a squarer muzzle, or just presented better.

Patrice and Cooper, photo by Liz Liddle

But other times, he won. His coat wasn’t always long, having been cut down for field work, but when it was curly, lush, and glossy, and he moved beautifully — then he’d be eye catching, showing off all the drive and reach needed by a dog who needs to swim powerfully to do his work as a water retriever.

On the negative side, I discovered new depths of stage fright. When I get into the show ring, I stop breathing, my mouth dries up, my heart pounds, I get tunnel vision. And while I got to be able to groom my Irish Water Spaniels reasonably well, I have never figured out how to bring out Cooper’s best features. The best I could do was to get him pretty close, and then find someone to do the finishing touches. And having to find that someone and ask for that favor was always a source of sleep-destroying stress that kept me awake many a night.

Cooper and Colleen

Cooper and Rebecca

On the plus side, I had a LOT of help. Tammy and Jayme both helped me with advice and training. Tammy, Colleen, Jayme, and Rebecca were often willing to groom Cooper to his best advantage. Tammy always made at least some time for Cooper while she was getting her two IWS ready for the ring. A couple of times, Jayme had Cooper live with her for several weeks so that she could train him, groom him, and then show him for me. Colleen made herself available more times than I can remember. And then when I decided to show him myself, I got a lot of free (and welcome) advice from people who had been doing it a lot longer than I have.

Fortune comes into this, too. Cooper was born within 3 days of the current #1 Irish Water Spaniel in America. Since we live in the same region as that dog, we showed against him many times. Cooper never won those competitions. It’s a hard thing to do, to go into a dog show knowing you’re probably going to lose. But as I’ve discovered, dog shows and dog show judges are not predictable — sometimes you lose when you’re certain yours is the better dog, and sometimes you win when you think you have no chance.

Chance did come into it again, and changed everything. With such historically mixed results, I had just about decided to quit. But then Colleen asked if I’d send Cooper down to California to create a major.

I knew that Mowgli, Cooper’s littermate, was going and needed a major. Tammy had been such a help to me that I wanted to return the favor. But if Cooper was going to California, I wasn’t going to send him down — I thought I’d go for a fun road trip with my friends, take Cooper and Tooey, and show them myself. Cooper’s coat was in a very short field clip, but a “point fodder” dog doesn’t need to look good. He just has to be there. So we went, and Mowgli did indeed take the major the first two days.

Cooper, after his first major win, photo by Holloway

And then it happened. Cooper took the 3rd day’s major. I was so shocked my mouth fell open. Literally. I was completely unprepared for this development. Because, damn. With one major and 11 points, we had to keep going. All he needed was one more major and 4 more points.

Saturday, when Cooper won Winners Dog and Best of Winners, winning the 2nd major he needed to get his championship, I started to cry. The judge even asked me if was OK. I could hardly wait to call Russ and Rosemary and hug Tammy. The honor his win gives to Cooper’s dam (Rosemary’s Nova) and his sire (Tammy’s Balloo) pleases me very much. Cooper has always been my Pretty Boy, a dog with great reach and drive, and I am so happy that he had the title that recognizes that: Champion.

At the same time, I feel like a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Standing at ringside on Sunday, watching the other Irish Water Spaniels compete, I told Colleen, “I’m never going to do this again.”

She laughed. “Famous last words,” she said.

So, if I had known in the beginning that it would take this long, but that it would feel this good at the end, would I have started down that path? I still don’t know.

And will I do this again? I’d like to think not.

But I have discovered that what I think I will do and what I actually do are often not the same thing. So, who knows? (And as my friend Alan used to say, “Who is not telling.”)

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We did it!

Cooper, 1st in AOH class, Winners Dog, and Best of Winners, plus two Rally Novice qualifying scores, Rose City Classic, 2011

Yesterday, Cooper took 1st in the Amateur-Owner-Handler class (not hard, since he was the only one in that class). That turned out to provide a kind of a good omen. After we ran around the ring for the last time in that class, the judge pointed her finger at Cooper and said, “You are #1.” I thought (but didn’t say aloud), “Please, just keep that comment in mind …”

Then he went back into the ring to compete against the other dog, where he took Winners Dog. (Perhaps the judge read my mind.) After all the bitches were judged and the Winners Bitch chosen, we went back into the ring and took Best of Winners, winning over the Winner’s Bitch. And because he did that, he gets at least the number of points that the Winner’s Bitch got.

And (this is the best part), this was a major for bitches. Meaning that there were a significant number of bitches competing, enough to earn the winner 3 points.

To get a championship, a dog has to have a total of 15 points including 2 majors. Cooper got his first major down in California last October, and Saturday’s win gave him his 2nd major and his 15 point total.

All this means that Cooper is finished. He got his championship, and we never have to go into the conformation ring again.

Always a retriever

We also competed in Rally Novice B. That was fun. I like Rally — if you qualify with a passing score enough times, you get the title. You don’t have to compete against other dogs to win. We got a score of 94 (out of 100) on Saturday, which is really amazingly well, given that Cooper has practiced in a realistic practice ring only a couple of times. Mostly we’ve been practicing in the kitchen and living room.

Sunday in the Rally ring, he was goofy. Russ had come to watch, and Cooper knew that Russ was there. So Cooper kept losing his concentration on the task, looking for Russ as we moved around the Rally course. (And this is exactly why I asked Russ not to come on Saturday — I was afraid Cooper would lose his concentration in the conformation ring.)

We earned a score of 86 on Sunday, but he passed. So now we just need one more qualifying score for Cooper to earn his Rally Novice (RN) title.

Here’s a video of our second Rally run:

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This week, Cooper has been getting ready for his 3rd appearance at the Rose City Classic dog show here in Portland, Oregon. He is one win away from his AKC Championship, providing that his final win is a major competition.

So several times this week, he has been going from field training in the driving rain and mud, to the dog wash and grooming station. In order to document his clean coat and show cut, I took him into the studio for a portrait session. Afterward, of course, we stopped off for another training session on the way home and one more bath before he hits the ring tomorrow.

He is such a good dog to work with as a model, I thought that I would set up a small video camera and just record a typical photo shoot with the Coop.

Here is a sample of one of the photos that Cooper and I made together (we are a team).

If he wins a major this weekend, then this coat will get trimmed way down so he can just be a hunting dog. If this actually happens, Patrice will be making a significant blog post, as it has been over 3 years of going to dog shows, gradually accumulating enough points for this final milestone.

And if he doesn’t pull it off this weekend, then the coat stays and we look for some more dog shows — majors only. Stay tuned.

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Finally had that dream. You’ll know which one I mean. Everyone has had some version of it.

I am at the fair grounds in Monroe, Washington. Running madly through vendors, pushing my way through exhibitors, gawkers, dogs on leashes, all of whom seemed to magically get in my way as soon as I get to them.

I am trying to get to the dog show ring on time. Running really late, may not make it, panic, too many people in the way. I try to yell at them to move, but no sound comes out of my mouth.

Finally, I see the ring just ahead, with the first class of Irish Water Spaniels just walking in. That’s my class. And this is a major. I have to make it. If nothing goes wrong, if no more people or dogs get in my way, if I can speed up just a little, I just might be able to get there in time.

I make it to the ring gate. And then I look down — and realize I’m wearing only underwear.

It’s been a long while since I have had a dream about dogs. Or at least, a long time since I’ve had such a memorable one.

I have had this dream before, but in another variation. In that case, I was supposed to give a final exam for a class I had never taught. When I finally found the classroom and stood up in front, I looked down to realize that I had forgotten to bring the exams.

I’m not teaching anymore, so I don’t have to have that particular version again. I really hope I’m done showing dogs soon. Then I can move on to some other variety of anxiety dream.

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The Lower Columbia HRC had a training day today in cold but sunny weather. The training scenarios were set up to simulate the land series of an HRC hunt test. (Way too cold for a water series.) Our house entered two teams — Team Cooper and Team Tooey.

And, no doubt about it, hunt tests are a team sport. Team Cooper did really well.

Cooper was a rocket on a triple retrieve with a fourth diversion bird, plus a blind retrieve. First he marked the fall of three birds, and then went out and back to deliver each one, one at a time. Zoom, zoom, out and back. Then, as he was coming back in with the third bird, they threw a close-in diversion bird. The trick with a diversion bird is that the dog has to notice where it falls, but not to drop his current bird or divert his progress back in to deliver it. Then he has to go back out, fetch the diversion bird, and bring it back, too.

Then there was the blind. It was a real blind today, not a sight blind like we’ve been working recently. In a real blind, the handler knows where the bird is, but the dog doesn’t. (If it were a sight blind, the dog would have a visual clue like a white flag, to suggest the location of the bird.) The handler lines the dog up in heel position with nose pointing at where the bird is, and sends him.

Ideally, the dog goes out in a straight line until he finds the bird, fetches it, and then brings it back. The dog has to do this on faith, and that’s hard. It’s also hard to ignore the presence of paths, hillocks, ditches, bushes, and other things that a dog would prefer to go around, rather than straight through.

If the dog deviates from a straight line, he’s likely to miss the bird. So, the handler has to “handle” the dog — using whistles and hand signals to first stop the dog at a position chosen by the handler and then tell the dog which direction to go to find the bird. Cooper did need some handling to correct his course. But this is an achievement for Cooper because he understood and obeyed the handling and because he didn’t “pop,” which is to stop on his own and wait for directions.

Good boy, Cooper. And good job, Team Cooper.

Team Tooey did not do so well. Clearly, Tooey and I both need more training.

With me handling today, Tooey would not pick up her birds. She heeled nicely to the line. At the line, she marked the fall of her bird, went out when I sent her, and found it. But, darn it, she didn’t pick the bird up. Instead came back to me without it. This is bad.

I corrected her, lined her up, and sent her back out. She did go out, but veered off the straight line quite a bit. She re-found and picked up the bird, and then came back to me, but very slowly. And she didn’t want to come back to the heel position, where she had been corrected before. If I had been thinking more quickly, I would have moved my body so that the spot on the ground where she had been corrected was not the same spot as the heel position.

On her second bird, the first time it was thrown, she missed her mark (didn’t see the bird fall). So the bird boy threw another bird. She saw this one fall, went out, hunted around for it a bit, and then brought it back.

Good girl! What a relief. When I think about it now, I wish I had had a nice treat to reward this retrieve with. Something more valuable to her than just a “Good!” Lots of trainers don’t hold with this, and I don’t know what Butch thinks about it. But it seems like a good idea to me.

Tooey and I then took a short break to trim her topknot so she could see (you can see the problem in the last picture of yesterday’s blog entry). Then it was back to the line, this time with Butch handling. With Butch, she did fine. Mark the first fall, out, fetch the bird, bring it back. Mark the second, out, fetch the bird, back.

Clearly, I need training so that I can support my dog when she loses the thread of things. I’ll make sure I get it so that Team Tooey can succeed.

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Tooey did her first double marked retrieves today, at the end of her 8th week of training. In a double, the dog watches two birds fall, one right after the other, and then goes and brings back the 2nd bird first, and then the 1st bird second. For these retrieves today, the birds fell about 50 and 75 yards from the line, respectively.

On her first double, Tooey was naturally confused. Up until today, she’d seen one duck fall and be sent for it. So today, after she watched the two birds fall, she went for the 2nd bird down, which was a live flyer. In this case, the gunner had missed the duck, so Tooey had to chase it down in order to retrieve it.

Tooey chasing a live duck

And she still doesn’t much like live flyers. They flap, they fight back, it’s just hard to get a grip on them. After some chasing and encouragement from Butch, Tooey finally caught and brought the duck back, still very much alive.

Then, of course, since this is a double retrieve, she’s supposed to remember where the first bird fell and go get that one. Butch lined her up at the line facing the correct direction and sent her off. But after all the live-flyer drama, she’d forgotten where the first bird fell. So to help her out, the gunner threw out an additional bird (this one already deceased). She saw that one fall, and brought it back.

Tooey bringing back her duck

The next double went much better. Pre-killed ducks were thrown out from each gunner’s blind, and she saw and retrieved both ducks. Good girl! And on top of that, she then did a 200 yard sight blind retrieve, in which the dog does not see the bird fall (in this case, bumpers instead of birds). A sight blind retrieve has a flag or other marker to help the dog see where the pile of bumpers is.

The picture below shows the distance from the line out to the white flag marker. That’s Russ and Cooper out in the field, where Russ is sending Cooper on a couple of shorter blind retrieves, just to get Cooper into the swing of things.

Cooper and Russ walking out toward the pile of bumpers

Later in the day, Cooper did a very nice triple retrieve. The first mark was very dramatic, with Cooper splashing through a ditch filled with cold, cold water. He hit the far bank at full speed and did an ass-over-tea kettle roll, popped back up to his feet, grabbed the duck and returned as though nothing unusual had happened. The return through the ditch was more sedate, at just a moderate run rather than full throttle.

After the other two retrieves, he then laser-lined a blind retrieve like a well bred Lab, splitting between two of the previous marks, and covering the 200 yards in just a few seconds. Both of us (Patrice and Russ) just looked at each other with a surprised look of, “Wow, is that our dog”? All the Lab owners in the field thought that Cooper had just done his usually good job. “Oh, sure,” we said, “he always goes hundreds of yards and never deviates from a perfect line . . . he is an Irish Water Spaniel after all.”


I just want to post one more picture, of Tooey smiling in the blind. There’s no story — I just like the picture.

Tooey smiling in the holding blind

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2010 in review

I am very grateful to all of you for reading my blog over the past year. It’s one thing for a writer to write — that’s mere self-expression; it’s entirely different when people actually read it, too — that makes it communication. Your writing comments on the blog is the real icing on the cake — that makes the communication two-way.

WordPress sent me a little taste of how I actually did with this blog over the past year. They sent me the following message as an email, and invited me to post the message as a blog post. So I did:

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 144 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 311 posts. There were 275 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 46mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was March 18th with 186 views. The most popular post that day was St. Patrick’s Day Parade — Seattle.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, mail.yahoo.com, pets.groups.yahoo.com, mail.live.com, and retrieverman.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for the cooper project, cooper project, dog family tree, project cooper, and cooper project iws.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

  1. St. Patrick’s Day Parade — Seattle March 2010
  2. Cooper’s next step to becoming a Stud October 2009
  3. UKC Hunt Test Judging Seminar January 2010
  4. Broken nails, broken hearts February 2010
  5. Links March 2009

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