It’s a big jump from Junior Hunter level tests to Senior Hunter level. It’s true that both levels include “marks” — the dogs watch (mark) ducks fall from the sky, and then retrieve them.
At the Junior level, the dog marks one duck fall, retrieves it, then marks the 2nd duck fall, and then retrieves that one. But in the Senior test, the dog is expected to mark two ducks fall, retrieve one (the “go” bird) and bring it back to the handler, and then go out and get the second one (the “memory” bird).
A second major difference is the “blind retrieve.” In that case, the handler knows where the bird is, but the dog doesn’t see it fall. So the handler has to send the dog out to the bird, using whistle and hand signals to tell the dog where to go.
A third major difference, especially crucial for high-energy, high-drive dogs like Cooper, is that all this work is done without any collar or leash. That’s not so important while the dog is actually retrieving, but it can be critical when the dog is walking to the start line and waiting at the line for the command to retrieve. The dog has to be under control, and the handler has nothing but his voice, whistle, and hand signals to control the dog.
This ties into the fourth major difference: the honor. This is where the dog who has just completed his set of retrieves sits and watches the next dog work. This is so hard for a dog with desire to work or with a competitive spirit, like Cooper. Not being able to do the honor was Cooper’s undoing at his WCX test last October.
So here are some videos of Russ and Cooper’s 1st Senior Hunt test. The land series was first, with a 75 yard go bird, a 60 yard memory bird, and a 50 yard blind retrieve. It’s hard to tell from the video, but the land had both reasonably dense cover and shallow bogs, so the dog had hunt in cover and cross shallow water both coming and going.
Cooper got all three birds and passed the land series. He actually did better than quite a few of the other dogs out there, going right out to the marked birds and back, with a minimum of hunting around. He succeeded at the blind with only four “handles,” and best of all, he was under control going to the line, during the honor, and leaving the line. All this allowed him to participate in the water series.
The water series included a 75 yd go bird, with the dog entering diagonally to the bank (hard for a lot of dogs), a 50 yd memory bird, and then a 70 yard blind. What made this series interesting was that the judges wanted the dogs to go back into the holding blind, carrying their second bird, and there deliver it to the handler. That is an unusual scenario, one that Cooper has not practiced.
He got both his marks: the go bird was a nice straight-out-and back. The memory bird was a little squirrelly, but okay. The 70 yd water blind is longer than Cooper has practiced — in fact, he hasn’t practiced any water work since last October. So, wasn’t entirely sure what he was searching for, or how far away it was. He came upon three sticks in the water, and grabbed each one with the idea that this might be what Russ wanted him to get. But at each stick, Russ signaled another “Back!” telling Cooper to keep going. Finally, he got to the duck, picked it up, and brought it back.
Last weekend, Cooper did a great job being a spaniel, flushing up birds. Today, he was a stellar retriever. Team Cooper passed their first Senior Hunt test and got the orange ribbon. Cooper needs to do that only three more times, and then we’ll be able to add SH (Senior Hunter) to his list of titles.