Archive for March, 2012

CH Realta Rosario Cooper SH CD RN CGC, aka “Cooper,” spent yesterday doing what he really loves to do — finding his own birds to retrieve. A week ago, when Cooper got his CD title, we scheduled one last hunting trip to central Oregon with Norm and his Boykin Spaniel, “Scarlett,”  before the close of the season on March 31. So less than 24 hours after earning his AKC Senior Hunter title, Cooper got to go from retrieving ducks on Saturday to finding and retrieving pheasants on Sunday.

Cooper, taking a break with Mt. Hood in the background

The high dessert of Oregon is one of the nicest places to be working with your dogs at this time of year. There had been 7″ of new snow just 4 days earlier, and now the temperatures were pushing into the low 50’s. The pleasure of hunting over Cooper and Scarlett is always enhanced by being outdoors with good friends, basking in the spring sunshine, and watching these two curly brown dogs solve the problem of finding birds in their own distinctive ways.

Cooper, a typical male Irish Water Spaniel at 65 pounds, put his nose to the ground and started going after scent. Once he picked up a trail, off he went looking for the source. Once he spotted a bird, he hesitated with a momentary “point” and then flushed the bird. Scarlett, a female Boykin Spaniel weighing in at just 26 pounds, covered the ground with a delightful close quartering action at full speed. The birds had no choice but to flush with that kind of action.

Between the dog’s hunting skills and Norm’s good shooting, we were able to bring home 5 pheasants. The dogs flushed 7 birds in total and they marked and retrieved every bird that we successfully brought down. (My own shooting success was limited to one bird down and delivered to hand.)

Scarlett, with one of her retrieves

A day spent working behind skilled Spaniels in the field is just about as good as it gets.

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Russ gave me a gift today that I have wanted for a year — Cooper’s Senior Hunter (SH) title. SH is a title given by the AKC to Irish Water Spaniels (and other retrievers) who pass 4 senior-level retriever hunt tests. Cooper passed three tests in 2011, the first one being the 2011 Greater Pacific N.W. Retriever Trial Club hunt test in March. And today, at the 2012 Greater Pacific N.W. Retriever Trial Club hunt test, Cooper was one of the 9 out of 25 dogs entered to get a pass, earning his fourth.

Russ and Cooper SH

This has been anything but easy. Cooper loves to retrieve above everything else, but he doesn’t see WHY he should follow somebody else’s rules. There are ducks/pheasants/chukars/tennis balls/bumpers/etc. out there to be retrieved. Why, he wants to know, does he have to stay steady at the line? Why does he have to stay in heel position until sent for the bird? Why does he have to politely give another dog a turn?

Well, there is no ‘why’. There is just ‘do’.

But convincing Cooper of that has been hard, frustrating, time-consuming, and marked with people giving well-meant but unhelpful advice.

So much frustration can wear on a person, and many, many times we thought of quitting. But I kept wanting the SH title and the recognition of Russ and Cooper’s teamwork and talent. And at about the same time that Cooper earned his first Senior pass, I started working on Obedience with Cooper. We worked on Stay. We worked on Heel. We worked on delaying gratification. And Russ, bless his heart, promised to keep going until Cooper got the Senior title.

So finally, today, all that work, all those early Saturday mornings, all that money and time spent with trainers, all that practice after work, during lunch hours, and in the dining room before breakfast, all the help from our training group, all of that finally paid off. As one of the judges said today, “Not too shabby.”

Russ edited some video of today’s events, giving a nice commentary along the way:

Tomorrow Team Cooper goes hunting, where the only rules for Cooper are find the bird, flush the bird, hope the gunners get the bird, watch the bird go down, go get the bird, and bring it back.

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Here is a link to the premium and entry form for the Irish Water Spaniel Club of Puget Sound ‘s 2012 WC/WCX test.

Open to Irish Water Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and Flat-coated Retrievers. Limited entry, preference given to Irish Water Spaniels.

It’s being held on April 28, 2012 at Greenleaf’s in Monroe, Washington.


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After an hour of training on this sunny early evening, we let the dogs loose to go do what they wanted.

And what did they want? To point out birds.

The very large dog park where we often train is immediately next to a protected wildlife area. The ducks have figured out where the dogs usually are, so said ducks pretty much stay over in the protected area, on the other side of the fence.

Tooey wanted to go git ’em. Cooper wanted to point them out. Are my pups birdy, or what?

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Sometimes I love social media. Thank you all for sharing my happiness with Cooper’s CD:

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Today, the day I had lost hope for finally arrived. Cooper qualified for his third Novice A Obedience trial, earning him the Companion Dog (CD) title from the AKC. (He earned his first leg last August, and the second leg yesterday.)

Patrice, Cooper, and judge Laurie Beck

When I called called Tammy to tell her the good news, we chatted a bit, and then she asked, “So was it worth it?”

Was it worth it? In the throes of happy emotion, the only possible answer was, of course, “Yes!” It has taken more than a year, a lot of help, and every-day effort to get this title. It’s also taken a many more failures than successes, and a lot of frustration, some tears, and the shoulders of friends to cry on. You can’t spend all that, and not think it’s worth it.

Unless you’re crazy — and believe me, that thought has crossed my mind. (And Cooper’s, too, wondering, what in the heck are we doing? There are no ducks in here…)

But I had a goal: I wanted the All-Around IWS award that is given by the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America to dogs who have earned a show championship (CH), a retriever hunt test title (JH or better), and an Obedience title (CD or better). We got the JH in 2010, the CH in 2011, and 2012 was the year I hoped for the CD.

When I reported Tammy’s question to Russ, his mind went to the resources we spent to earn this title. (Of course it did — he pays the bills.) Here are the round numbers we came up with (your mileage may vary):

  • Obedience classes for a year: $700
  • Private lessons: $280
  • Practice space rental: $50
  • Obedience practice matches: $160
  • Obedience trial entry fees: $300
  • gas to get to classes, lessons, matches, and trials: $700
  • homemade liver treats and chicken jerky: $40
  • homemade tug toy: 2 hours, some heavy duty camo cloth, and a plastic bottle
  • time: countless hours, every day
  • new clothes: none (I permanently borrowed Russ’ photography vest, which now smells of liver treats)
  • 1 visit to the emergency room and etc.: $23,000

But there have been a lot of benefits, too, beyond the CD title:

  • new friends in the Obedience world who have opened their homes, expertise, and practice spaces to me
  • new connections with people who do both Obedience and field work
  • the occasion to be regularly humbled by and proud of my curly brown boy
  • the opportunity to constantly re-evaluate goals, expectations, advice, priorities, hopes, and reality
  • the good fortune to have something outside of work to strive for and achieve
  • the understanding that you can (eventually) attain successes with the dog that you have
  • a new appreciation of what others have achieved before me
  • the conviction that Tooey will be a LOT easier to work with (even as I write that, I’m thinking: we’ll see… I’ll probably learn a bunch of lessons with her, too)

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Going in to today’s Novice A Obedience trial, I thought, “Green would be excellent for an Irish dog on St. Patrick’s Day.” And today, Cooper appeared to agree with me. I didn’t expect him to decide he also wanted red, but I’m not going to argue with that.

Green for qualifying score, Red for 2nd place

This pass made me very, very happy. My main hope was that Cooper would stay down during the 3-minute Long Down. He’s been staying down in the living room, on the front porch, at class, and at practice matches, but in all but one other actual trial, he’d been getting up at 2 minutes and 50 gol-dang seconds. I had even decided last night that, even if we didn’t pass overall, I’d be happy if he’d just stay down the whole time.

We’ve been working at it. 5-minute downs before breakfast. 4-minute downs before I throw the ball. 4-1/2 minute downs in the park. And last night at a practice match, we had a 2-minute Long Sit (a real Novice trial has a 1-minute Long Sit) and a 4-1/3 minute Long Down — and good-boy Cooper stayed put. As he did, thank God, in today’s trial. Yay!!!

Now, that red 2nd place ribbon is just a bit deceiving. When you’re one of only two teams in the class, and both teams qualify, one of them is going to get 1st place and the other is going to get 2nd. As you can see from the judging sheet below, Cooper and I (#2310) weren’t even close to first.

We did lose a bunch of points on the heeling. Cooper lags behind, and on the Heel Free (heeling without leash), I even had to give him an extra command. So we lost 21 points on our heeling. But, and this is a big But, the happy part makes me really happy. Notice that there is a great big zero (0) in the Long Sit and Long Down rows in the Cooper column. No, zero, none, nada, zip, zilch points taken off. He did perfect. He was even so relaxed at a couple of points during the Long Down that he put his head down on his paws.

All during the Long Sit and Long Down, my heart was pounding. I had to remind myself to breathe. Friends ringside were sending Cooper “stay down” vibes. The second hand in my head ticked by so, so painfully slowly.

But hey, 178 points is 8 points higher than the minimum score (170). And qualifying is qualifying. And that’s all I’m looking for.

I was instructed to go celebrate, so we did. I drove to St. Louis Ponds with the idea of throwing some bumpers. When I got there, though, I discovered that it is really St. Louis Pond. Singular. The whole place, including the parking lot, is flooded.

Cooper sitting in St. Louis Pond

Fortunately, today I had the big Ford truck with 4-wheel drive and lots of ground clearance, so I parked in the parking pond, put on my long boots, and splashed with Cooper through the grass to throw and retrieve bumpers in the unexpected sun.

Now I think I’ll be off to the pub for an Irish coffee and some hoping for a repeat (or better) of it all tomorrow.

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Russ and Cooper have been practicing land marks and land blinds all winter, but there’s been no opportunity to practice in the water. So this weekend, off to the water we went.

We don’t worry so much about water marks — Cooper has always been very enthusiastic about marks on either land or water. But water blinds have been another story.

Especially in late winter/early spring, the water is still chilly, and there isn’t the excitement of leaping in to grab a bird that’s just flown through the air to entice Cooper to enter the cold. And plus, somewhere along the line, Cooper got frazzled and nervous about where to go and what to do in a water blinds. So Team Cooper needs practice, and this weekend made an encouraging start.

While Russ and Cooper were in a nearby field working on something else, I quietly made my way over to the other side of the pond and dropped some orange bumpers behind a log. When I returned, Russ called Cooper into “heel” and positioned him near the pond’s edge, facing the spot where the bumpers were hidden.

Then Russ sent Cooper out into the water with a “Back” command. Cooper went sideways along the bank a few yards before turning into the water. Not ideal — you want them to go straight in — but he kept going. There have been a couple of times when Cooper just went in circles instead of out toward the blind, so this is an improvement.

Russ did have to give Cooper some instructions on his way across the pond, using whistle and hand signals. But it worked out fine in the end — Cooper found the bumper and brought it back, even in the very cold Pacific Northwest water.


Heading across to the grassy spot under the angled log

There it is!

I'll bring it back in just a minute

Almost there

Later in the day, Russ and Cooper worked with Jim Davis‘ training group. Everyone was pleased with Cooper’s work — he did three laser-accurate single marks, a very a creditable land triple, and two running-water blinds.

The three single marks were about 100 yards each, across some flooded ditches and into very heavy cover. The three marks in the triple ranged from 80 to 125 yards into flooded but open cover. Cooper did a great job — on the singles, he zoomed out and zoomed back with the bumpers. On the triple, he had to hunt around for a bit and Russ helped him out with a handle or two, but otherwise he did a very nice job.

The two blinds were about 150 yards, and took Cooper over land and flooded swales. Once Cooper got across the swales, Russ handled Cooper to the bumpers, but he got them both and brought them back smartly to hand.

And Cooper even did a nice steady honor, without flinching or whining. He just sat there, watching a bumper fly through the air and then some other dog going out after it.

I was very proud of both my guys. And actually, everyone who watched was very pleased at how well Cooper did. All around, a very nice job.

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Last time I saw Tooey, she was walking away down that way.

I’ll just sit here and watch out the window. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.

Cooper looking down the street where Tooey went

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This time around, Tooey’s trip to the Spa for Hot Girls may actually bear fruit, so to speak. She had a friendly and flirtatious meet-and-sniff session with Cork*, her intended, this past Thursday. So this weekend, I drove up to Colleen’s, hoping to be there for my girl’s first time.

Tooey and Cork in the courtyard

Cork and Tooey in the exercise yard

Both Tooey and Cork are complete novices at this. This weekend, they ran around together in the courtyard and in the exercise yard. They both peed a lot, and sniffed each other’s pee. Cork followed Tooey closely, mostly nose to butt. Yesterday, Tooey started to signal her interest by “flagging” — basically putting her tail straight up and exposing her nether parts. And today, she stood still and allowed Cork to climb up on her back.

It was interesting to watch (though perhaps some would call me a voyeur). I’ve never seen the process of dogs mating, and somehow, I thought it would be more expeditious and down-to-business. I didn’t expect the flirting, ear licking, and play, and I didn’t expect liking to come into it. But fortunately, they do seem to like each other. Tooey was playful, and Cork was very polite and even gentle.

Nothing productive happened yesterday or today, though, so I started my drive home to Portland early in the afternoon. Later this afternoon, I got a text from Colleen saying that she put the two of them together again, and Cork is starting to get a better clue about the urgency of what he’s supposed to be doing. Perhaps tomorrow, they will complete the act for the first time.

Of course, tomorrow’s being a weekday, I can’t be there. I’ll have to finish my dog sex education another time. But I’m not completely surprised. Tooey has never been convenient in her timing for anything, so I guess there’s no reason to start now.

*Ch Whistlestop Wayward Wind CD, RN, JH, WC

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