Let’s just get to the thrill-packed conclusion: Cooper and I failed today’s WCX test. And we totally failed this time, unlike Cooper’s almost pass last time.
But it wasn’t just Cooper. Working certificate tests, like hunt tests, are a team sport. And this time, both team members messed up big time.
As Cooper and I walked from the parking lot to the first holding blind, it became obvious that Cooper was wild and revved up. As you can see from the picture below, I even resorted to wrapping the leash around his muzzle to stop him from pulling me.
photo by Martha Jordan
He waited in the holding blinds like I asked him to (without jumping on the blind or running out from behind it), but he was still pretty amped up, looking wildly around at every gunshot and whistle.
When it was our turn, we made our way to the line. I walked. Cooper, now off leash as required in the rule, essentially ran in circles around me, as he jumped out and I called him back, jumped out and was called back, and again, rinse, lather, repeat.
At the line, I took a few minutes to get him into heel position facing the spot where first bird would fall. I signalled to the judge that we were ready. The judge called for the bird. The bird was thrown, the gunshot went off, and so did Cooper.
In a hunting situation, this would be somewhat acceptable. But in the land series of a WCX test, the dog is supposed to wait for three birds to fall before being sent out to retrieve the first one.
When it became apparent that Cooper intended to retrieve that first bird, I called him back with a “Here!” command. He came back part way. The second bird was thrown, and Cooper went out about 10 more feet.
And that’s when I started my series of mistakes. I yelled, “Cooper! Here!”
To the non-hunt-tester reader, that sounds reasonable enough: get your dog’s attention with his name and call him back. But anyone who does hunt tests will immediately recognize the problem.
In hunt tests, the command to go out and retrieve is traditionally the dog’s name. And that’s how Cooper was trained. So what I essentially just told my dog to do was, “Go out! Come back!”
I was so discombobulated and so inexperienced, that I then made matters worse by repeating my mistake several times (I don’t know how many, but at least three, possibly four): “Cooper! Here!” And every time I did so, Cooper went out farther and then jumped back. Out and back, out and back.
Finally, Cooper couldn’t stand the contradiction any longer, and just went out and retrieved the second bird. All of this before the third bird was even thrown.
He brought that second bird back to me (he always brings back his birds), and at that point, the watching gallery (who were too far away to hear my mistakes), and the judges, and I, all knew that Cooper had failed. I just had to leash him up, say “Thank you, judges,” and walk off the test.
Everyone could see that Cooper was out of control, and later at lunch, I got a lot of very well-worn advice about how to get my dog under control and what I might be able to accomplish if I could just get that dog under control.
But it’s a team sport, and I am way more of a newbie than Cooper is. I’ve watched him in a lot of hunt tests, but I’ve only run him once.
Both of us need practice together, training us both on being steady and keeping ourselves under control.
Even with the failure, there were some nice things about that test:
Cooper picked the most difficult bird to go out and retrieve. That second bird was the farthest away, and the dog had to run over some up-and-down terrain in moderately heavy cover to get there. Even with all the jumping around, he marked that bird exactly, ran straight out to it, picked it up, and brought it back.
And I am grateful that my dog actually wants to go out and retrieve birds. I watched some other dogs at that test who didn’t want to go out, or couldn’t find their bird, or who objected to picking up a bird once it was found. Cooper doesn’t have any of those problems.
Another nice thing was watching Cooper’s half-siblings run the test: Riki and Emmy are also Nova puppies. Riki passed his WCX today. He’s got all the talent Cooper has and an accomplished handler. Emmy ran the WC test and failed, probably because she’d never run for Russ before, or even worked with him before. Even so, it was wonderful to watch her lovely line manners and her ability to mark and locate her birds.
Here’s a picture of the sibs:
Christine with Riki, Russ with Emmy and Cooper
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