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Archive for May, 2011

Thanks to Matt Johnson, we have a few pictures of Russ and Cooper during yesterday’s hunt test:

Waiting in the blind, photo by Matt Johnson

Bringing back the live flyer, photo by Matt Johnson

Going out for the second duck, photo by Matt Johnson

Swimming back with duck #2, photo by Matt Johnson

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A summary of this long weekend’s overdose of hunt tests: 1 Senior retriever test, 2 Senior spaniel hunt tests, and 1 more Senior retriever hunt test.

  • 6 ducks launched, marked, and retrieved
  • 3 ducks hidden, found, and retrieved
  • 0 ducks missed
  • 4 chukers trapped and retrieved
  • 2 chukers flushed, shot, and retrieved
  • 1 chucker flushed, chased for 200 yards, caught, and retrieved
  • 2 chukers hidden, found, and retrieved
  • 0 chukers missed
  • 1 orange ribbon for the Oregon Hunting Retriever Club hunt test today

"Hold!"

Cooper may not always bring ribbons home from hunt tests — but he ALWAYS brings back his birds.

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This upcoming weekend, Cooper is in four hunt tests. (Yes, we may be crazy.) Two Senior-level retriever tests and two Senior-level spaniel tests.

So last night, we went out to one of our favorite training grounds to practice some blind water retrieves, a couple of land-water-land-water retrieves, a double retriever (one land, one water), and above all, being steady at the line.

Cooper (and Tooey, too) did great on the retrieves. Coop did better on being steady (sigh…). Overall, we were happy with the work and the fact that it didn’t rain.

Although rain would not have made any difference. Our training grounds are flooded. They lie along the river, which yesterday reached flood stage. So we had less land available to do land retrieves (and not enough to practice quartering for the spaniel tests), but a lot more water for water work.

After training was done for the day, we got our cell phones out and took just a few pictures — happy dogs and beautiful scenery.

wet and happy Cooper and Tooey

reflections of Cooper, Tooey, and the clouds

A temporary pond that is normally dry land

Patrice, Cooper, and Tooey on a spit of dry-ish land

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In the last couple of weeks, I’ve received two very nice notes explaining the history of the card that Cooper received last January.

Here’s a close-up of the front of the card:

cartoon of Moss by Matthew Johnson

It turns out that there is a whole series of these cards, produced by Jean Evans and Penny Diamond, as part of their cottage industry that they call Chocolate Dogs. The cartoon on the front is of Jean’s Irish Water Spaniel, Moss (Fynder Tip of the Whistle).

As Jean tells the story, she and her sister had been walking their dogs — the sister’s Dalmatian and Doberman, and Jean’s Moss — in a pine forest in Wales. The Dalmatian and the Dobie came out from their walk all neat and tidy, but Moss came out as an IWS will, covered with debris. Jean’s nephew Matthew did the drawing shortly thereafter.

Jean obtained the copyright for the cartoon, and the Chocolate Dogs ladies made and sold cards of the image. Jean mentioned that they had sold the cards at Crufts and elsewhere, giving some of the proceeds to Irish Water Spaniel rescue. And since I got the card, I’ve heard from some who said they purchased cards at Crufts.

I really love this image. It describes perfectly how Cooper comes out from the field — covered with all possible combinations of debris.

Plus, being a Fynder dog, Moss must be related somehow to Tooey, whose sire is Fynder Freethinker.

Thank you again Jean, Penny, and Matthew. The card is a real pleasure — we have it framed and on our bookshelf so that we can enjoy it every day. Perhaps someday I’ll get a chance to see the whole set.

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A key element of training for spaniel hunting tests (and actual hunting) is birds. Sometimes you can work with dummies or with already-dead birds, just to have something to retrieve. But sometimes, you really need live birds — live birds which have the good sense to run away.

Spaniel hunt tests need a lot of live birds — I’m not sure how many, but I imagine they need about 2 or 3 per entrant. So the club has been scouring all the regional suppliers of chukars to have enough for the 30+ entrants in next weekend’s three hunt tests. That left only a few chukars for today’s club training.

Rio was training with the club today. He is an experienced hunting dog, but he has this habit of flushing a bird and then turning to look at Rod, his handler. This means that while Rio is looking at Rod, the bird can fly away, or if it’s shot by the gunners, it can fall without Rio’s seeing it. This is not good — it means that Rio won’t be able to see where the bird falls and thus won’t be able to find it in order to retrieve it.

A solution to this problem is using a clipped wing bird (primary flight feathers removed). A clipped wing can run, flap, and fly for very short distances, but it can’t fly away. A running and flapping bird is very attractive to a dog, so if Rio could flush a clipped wing, we were betting that he’d be more likely to want to chase it instead of looking up at Rod.

But there weren’t enough training birds for Rio to have his two previously allotted birds, and a clipped wing, too. Sigh.

Fortunately, Tooey came to the rescue. Here’s how it happened:

Tooey with chukar

One of the other dogs was training with one of his chukars. When the dog flushed it up, the bird flew, but neither of the gunners hit it. We all turned and watched as the chukar soared into the neighboring field. One of the other folks said there was no sense in going over there because dogs have to be on leash in that field. Losing a paid-for bird is one of the accepted hazards of training with live birds.

If I’d been more experienced, perhaps that statement would have made more sense to me. But it didn’t, so while everyone else was off working their dogs, I decided to take Tooey (on leash) over to that other field to see if we could find that bird.

And we did. Tooey pounced and flushed the bird out of the tall tuft of grass it was hiding in. It flew away low and under a large nearby conifer tree. Tooey chased it with me in hot pursuit (I dropped the leash only very temporarily), and she caught it and brought it to me alive! Good girl!

So we walked back over to the training field, me with bird in hand (worth way more than 2 in the bush), and handed it over to Karen, who was organizing everything. Since this was now an extra bird, she offered it to Rod and Rio to use as a clipped wing.

And it worked. Karen removed the flight feathers and then planted the bird in the field. Rod and Rio then went out and worked the field. Rio quickly found the bird, and then got so excited by its flapping and running, that he chased and caught the bird without stopping to look at Rod first. And then Rio capped it all off with a very nice delivery to hand.

Success! I am so glad that Tooey got a little excitement with chasing a bird, and then shared some of that with Rio. Good dogs!

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The good news first: Today Cooper took his 2nd Senior hunt test, and he passed. 2 passes down, 2 passes to go.

Cooper's 2nd qualifying test: AKC Senior Hunter (Retriever)

Cooper passes the land and water tests

The land series was first. It included a walk up, a double with a 100-yard live flyer and a 50-yard mark, and then a 50-yard blind retrieve. By good fortune, we had trained earlier in the week for most of this scenario — dark brown birds flying through the air against a dark background of trees. Cooper generally does marking very well, so that added practice watching the fall against a dark background could only enhance a probably good performance.

And the blind retrieve was almost exactly the same as what we practiced: charging straight through tall cover to retrieve a duck he hadn’t seen fall. In fact, when it looked like Cooper was going to zoom in a straight line toward the blind retrieve, Russ decided to stop him and give him directions, just to show the judges that Cooper can take direction. What happened at the walk up at the beginning of the land series will show why.

That walk up was hard to watch. After all these years of training, at hunt tests, Cooper still does not have a controlled walk at heel — instead he dances out to the line, several feet out in front of Russ. And on a walk up, that can be a real problem. On a walk up, the handler and dog walk toward the line, and when the team gets there, the judge signals for the bird to be thrown. Only at the point when the bird is in the air, only then can the handler tell the dog to sit. The farther out in front of the handler the dog is, the greater the temptation it is for the dog to bolt out for the bird, and not wait to be sent. But fortunately, Cooper sat when told, and only went out when given the command.

Whew!

Then it was on to the water series: a double with a 80-yard mark and a 50-yard mark with a diversion shot, a 60-yard blind retrieve, and an honor.

I don’t know why Cooper does this, but he always seems to do at least one very dramatic thing at every test. It started with him jumping over the holding blind at the water series and then dancing to the line ahead of Russ. And it continued during his retrieve of the 80-yard mark.

The mark was thrown so that the a straight line to the duck would be very close to parallel to the shore. The dog would be sorely tempted to cheat by running along the bank instead of going into the water, swimming to the duck, and swimming back.

Cooper succumbed to temptation. Unfortunately for him, there was a log right at the edge of the pond. To stay along the edge of the bank, he actually had to crawl along and over the log, then jump into the water at the end of the log, swim to the duck, then swim back to the closest part of the shore. To avoid crawling back over the log again while holding the duck, he decided to run overland around the log and back to the start line. At this point, I was biting my nails. I could barely watch.

But then the rest of the water series went well — he did his 50-yard mark with the diversion shot just fine, nailed the blind retrieve, and managed to restrain himself from jumping into the water while he was honoring the next dog’s work.

Cooper survives the water test

And this gets me to the “survive” part. Like a lot of sports, hunt tests are dangerous. When you’ve been to several tests and no one gets hurt, it’s easy to forget that the outdoor fields and ponds are filled with danger. A not uncommon danger is logs in the water. Submerged or partially submerged log surfaces are smooth and slippery, and often partially broken off branches project out from such logs. Sometimes those branches are also partially submerged and can’t be seen, other times they are visible, but no one expects that the dogs will get near them.

beavers' work puts logs with protruding branches into the ponds

But obviously, Cooper got near them as he crawled along the log at the edge of the pond. He was OK because he wasn’t running full tilt when he got to the log. But another dog, a black Lab, wasn’t so lucky. The Lab ran at full speed and collided his upper chest right into one of those protruding branches. He screamed, turned around, and limped back to his handler, who scooped the dog up in his arms and walked quickly to his car and to the vet. Close-by onlookers reported no blood but the quick swelling up of a white hematoma.

Of course, bystanders discussed whose fault this was. Some said that the judges should have made sure well before the test that no logs or branches were anywhere near a dog’s possibly path to the duck — they would have said: Remove the logs or launch the duck so the dog’s path to its landing place doesn’t intersect with the logs. Others said that a handler should have been aware of the possibility of the log’s danger, and sent his dog in a line that would not intersect with the log, even if that line would take the dog away from the direct line to the duck.

After that dog was injured, a crew of hunt test workers and volunteer dog handlers worked together to drag the logs out of the pond. Too late for the injured dog, and too late to prevent Cooper from doing his log-crawling act.

But for Cooper, there was one small benefit. The injured dog obviously didn’t get his duck, so it was still floating out there in the water. Since we were still there watching, and since Cooper had already run, he was asked to be the “pick up” dog. After carefully checking that there were no more dangers in the pond, Russ sent Cooper out on one extra retrieve for the day.

And that’s all Cooper ever wants — one more retrieve.

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You might think it strange that a blog entry about my dogs would start with a story about a conversation I had with one of my college English professors. I was taking a written argument class, and with every paper, I would write myself in circles. I could see the validity of every point of view, and my papers reflected that. It seemed like I could never decide what conclusion I wanted to come to.

The professor finally took pity on me and said, “Patrice, just decide. It’s only a paper. You can always argue the other side later.”

So how does that fit in? Well, I’ll get to that in a bit…

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that Tooey’s performance in field work has been sometimes exciting and more often disappointing. So I’ve been thinking and talking — a lot — about what to think and then do about it.

Being in the grip of disappointed emotions, as I was after last weekend’s hunt test, is probably not the best time to be deciding what to do. I’ve noticed about myself that in this kind of situation, I can make rash, rushed decisions that I later regret.

But knowing that hasn’t stopped me from thinking around and around and around in circles about it for the last half week. Ideas that have occurred to me:

  • Giving Tooey back and getting a different dog with hunting drive. This is what some experts advise — when your dog doesn’t have the traits/temperament to do the job you want, get rid of the dog and get another one. But give my Tooey away to yet another home? — I don’t think I could live with myself.
  • Changing venues to obedience, rally, or agility. I think Tooey would like any of these — it’s just that I’m not sure I would like them nearly as well as field work.
  • Switching to spaniel work. I’m not sure this would be a workable choice since Tooey would still have to retrieve birds. But at least they wouldn’t be ducks. She has seemed usually happy to pick up chukars, pheasants, and pigeons.
  • Starting back at the basics with retriever work myself, including my doing a force fetch on her so that she will pick up ducks for me whether she really wants to or not. But I’m not sure I have the stomach for doing a force fetch, and I don’t think I want to force an oval peg into a round hole. She will happily go out and pick up bumpers, but not ducks.
  • Getting a 3rd dog, one with hunting drive. I know some folks successfully have 3 dogs, but I am pretty sure that would not work in my house, my work situation, or my marriage.
  • Trading dogs with Russ, so that I handle Cooper and Russ handles Tooey. I don’t know exactly what I think about this — I would get the field work experience, but I’d miss all the initial training experience. And besides, Cooper so clearly loves working with Russ.
  • Doing nothing, just having a pet. But I don’t want to do nothing with my very smart, sweet girl.

Seems like I’m having my same old problem of seeing every side and not being able to choose.

But, just as in my college papers, I can make one choice now and a different ones later. So let’s start defining some goals for my relationship with Tooey: I should be happy, and she should be happy. This pretty much means: having fun, learning new things together, having enough time to spend some with Tooey, and having fewer disappointments.

This eliminates the getting rid of Tooey, getting a 3rd dog, trading dogs with Russ, and doing nothing. Leaving changing venues, switching to spaniel work, or going back to basics on retriever work.

Of these, changing venues to obedience seems like the best option. Tooey likes it, which means she would be happy and that we’re likely to have some success. That will make me happy. And obedience work will teach Tooey and me how to work together and become a team. Which will also make me happy.

Plus, obedience can’t hurt anything I’d do it the future. Obedience will only support similar skills used in the field — going out, retrieving, sitting steady, coming when called, all that good stuff.

We can always do ducks or other birds later.

OK, that’s decided. Whew!

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Tooey failed yesterday’s Junior retriever hunt test. The failure didn’t completely surprise me, but what did surprise me was the almost complete lack of enthusiasm.

I could see that she didn’t want to go out to get that first duck. We started at the water. She left the line, stepped into the water, swam out for about 15 yards, and then turned around to come back. I told her to go get her bird, and since she was still swimming in, I then turned my face away.

At that point, she decided to turn around and get the bird. When she got it, I gave her a happy, “Good! Here! Good job!” She brought the duck back to about two feet away from the line, dropped the duck, and wouldn’t — would not — pick it up again. Finally the judge excused us.

We’ve been working on picking up and holding wet ducks, so I knew that dropping and not fetching up the wet duck might be an issue.

But I was very surprised at her reluctance to go out. I thought that we’d been making strides in building enthusiasm. And for the past couple of weeks, we have been going out to a couple of different training fields with ponds, and she has been happy to leap into to water, fetch up the bumper, and come straight back in. She’s been so eager to go out that she’s been whining when we get close to the training field, and whining at the practice line to be sent, both on land and water. So eager that she’s even been willing to pick up icky wet ducks.

It’s as if there is something about an actual hunt test environment. It amps Cooper up so high with the desire to retrieve that he’s on the edge of control. With Tooey, it just seems to deflate her — it happened with me yesterday, I could see it at the two hunt tests I attended that Butch took her to, and I could hear it in the descriptions that Butch gave me of the tests I didn’t see.

Or maybe it’s the ducks. Hunt tests always have ducks. Our practice doesn’t always have ducks. It isn’t easy to get ducks to train with — the last two we had finally became too decrepit. I cut the wings off and will band them to a dokken until I can get some more ducks.

I don’t know what I’m going to do now. She’s scheduled for another hunt test in a couple of weeks. I have about 12 hours to scratch her from the test. I’m thinking about what to do…

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You know, there are times when I get tired, and writing posts for The Cooper Project seems to fall pretty far down the priority list. Work, sleep, meals, dog training, dog grooming, saying hello to the husband once in awhile, remember that I have friends whom I want to keep in touch with, taking a nap, even reading the occasional book all see more important from time to time.

But then I get a nice comment on the blog, or someone writes to tell me that an entry helped them, or I see that someone actually searched the web for “cooper project” to find it — I’ve even had people write to me asking to change what I’ve written or arguing with my conclusions. All of these encourage me to keep going.

And then there is that special category of encouragement — fan mail. I was so fortunate yesterday to get more fan mail today, this one from Becky. She sent a lovely card designed by Skylar and Ariel, and also a T-shirt with an IWS face designed by her sister-in-law.

card and shirt

The card is so sweet. I love my IWS, too, so I know exactly what they mean. And the shirt is perfect: lightweight with lots of coverage, and a perfect color of brown to go to hunt tests with. (Retriever hunt tests require camo or dark colors.)

Thanks, Becky. And thanks to everyone who reads my blog.

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Here are a selection of photographs of Cooper from last weekend’s AKC Spaniel Hunt Test at Scatter Creek, Washington. Patrice was the photographer while I handled Cooper. There are also a couple of photos by Ken Clausen, who was a judge on Saturday and a bird shagger and photographer on Sunday.

Cooper already looking downrange for the flushing and retrieving test
photo by Ken Clausen

Cooper searching through the scotch broom looking for the wily chukar
photo by Ken Clausen

Cooper quartering between the course markers

Cooper returning with a chukar from the "hunt dead" test

Explaining the rules about breaking to Cooper . . . again!

6 of the 7 Irish Water Spaniels entered on Saturday were all grandsons of Rosemary’s Stella.

Stella grandkids: Joey, Riki, Monty, Rio, Cooper, and Mowgli

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From this weekend’s AKC spaniel hunting tests, Russ and I came away knowing what we have to train: steadiness. This has always been a huge challenge for Cooper, and since he’d been doing so much better, we thought he had a chance at the Senior-level test, which requires a dog to be steady. I’ll discuss that more below.

The test course was 60 yards wide and about 200 yards long for the Senior- and Master-level dogs, with more difficult terrain and cover than for Junior dogs. That was particularly true on Sunday’s course, which had waist-high, very dense scotch broom blanketing the course.

Cooper and chukar in the high, dense scotch broom

But even so, of all the IWS there, Cooper probably did the best job of quartering the field independently. His boldness in dashing through the heavy cover, enthusiasm, intense desire to hunt, and abilities to flush, mark, and retrieve (all qualities that the judge’s are scoring on) were the equal of any dog there. He moved in a nice even quartering of the whole field, and he found and flushed up all his birds in very short order.

On Sunday, he trapped one chukar and delivered it very alive to hand. Two other birds he flushed and the gunners shot, and Cooper retrieved them both quickly and with very little handling.

Another requirement of Senior and Master spaniels is the dead hunt, which is much like a retriever’s blind retrieve. The main difference between a dead hunt and blind retrieve is that in a dead hunt, the handler does not know where the bird is. There are flags, ribbons, or landmarks that mark the outside side-to-side perimeters of the area where the bird has been planted, and the handler knows generally that it’s about 40-some yards out (for Senior), but not exactly where it is. You send the dog out in the general direction, taking wind into consideration, and the dog has to use his nose to find it.

On the dead hunt, Cooper went straight in and straight out. His nose found the bird in very little time, and he delivered it smartly to hand in about a minute. (The rules allow for 5 minutes.) Many of the master dogs did not do as well as Cooper did.

But… At the water test, the dog must be steady at the line. He must sit still while the bird is being thrown into the water and wait to be sent by the handler before leaving the line to retrieve it. And in the spaniel tests, steady means steady. That means his butt has to stay on the ground, and there can be no forward movement. Unlike in a retriever hunt tests, in spaniel tests there is no concept of a controlled break, where the dog can move out a few feet without failing.

Cooper has (and has always had) a very difficult time with this concept, and failing to be steady is a disqualifier. And this is what happened both days. Cooper moved out several feet forward when the chukar was thrown into the water, and that did it.

What a heartbreaker. His scores in all the other parts of the test were mostly 10s and 9s (unlike in retriever tests, we were able to examine the judges’ books and see the scores). We did note that at one point, one of the judges thought Cooper was mouthing the bird (also a no-no), but when the retrieved and very alive chukar was examined and found to have absolutely no damage, she changed her assessment.

The spaniel people were wonderful to us, welcoming, kind, and encouraging. One of the judges on Sunday even invited Russ to come out and train with his group. There is a series of spaniel tests scheduled for Memorial Day weekend. We’re not sure whether we’ll enter Cooper or not, or if so, in what level.

In the meantime, we’ll be training for steadiness, and see what we think closer to the tests’ closing date.

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