Archive for August, 2012

On this cool almost-Autumn morning, Russ, Tooey, and I ventured over to Carnation, Washington to compete in another retriever Junior Hunt Test, this one put on by the Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association. (Cooper came, too, but alas! to his sorrow, he didn’t get to compete — he just had to listen to gunshots and duck calls all day, poor boy.)

Tooey was in the Junior B group, which started with the water marks first while the Junior A group was doing their land marks. The Junior B judges decided to use the same marks that the Seniors had had the day before, only as singles instead of the double that the Seniors had done. (Later I heard that the Junior A judges simplified the water marks for their group.)

The start line for the water series was located on a bank maybe 6 feet above a long channel of swimming water. The right-hand mark was down the bank, across the narrow width of the channel (maybe about 10 yards wide), up the opposite bank, and then about 40 yards farther to the area where the live flyer would most likely fall. (You can never tell exactly where a live flyer will fall — it all depends on how far the duck flies before it gets shot.)

To the left along the length of the channel, there was an island topped by weeds, brambles, and grass. A dog swimming that water to the left-hand mark would go down the bank into the channel, swim the length of the channel past the island, hopefully ignore the decoys at the water’s edge, and climb up the opposite bank onto a grass-covered promontory where the bird had landed.

Tooey ran third — enough time for Russ to see what some of the difficulties might be. On the right-hand mark, while they were down in the channel swimming, some dogs lost their mental picture of where the duck had landed. On the left-hand mark, some dogs got sucked in by the island, thinking, as they swam near it, that the island is where they should get out and look for the bird.

The right hand bird was first, and Tooey’s performance was pretty straightforward. Down the bank where she hesitated briefly, swam the water slowly (Russ joked that there must be a “no-wake zone” down there), climbed up the opposite bank, and trotted the distance to the bird. She grabbed it up and brought it back. She did drop it on the bank near the start line, but then picked it up again to adjust her grip, and delivered it nicely to hand.

Tooey returning with the live flyer

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey delivering to hand, lined up facing the left-hand mark

The left-hand bird was tougher for many dogs, but Tooey handled it beautifully. She swam past the island only getting up onto the submerged edge of the island at its far end. She then swam the rest of the way, got onto the shore, briefly sniffed the decoys, and then climbed up to the promontory to find the bird right away. This bird she delivered without dropping it first, halleluiah!

Tooey returning with her second bird, swimming past the island

With such nice work, we were not surprised that she was called back to the afternoon land series. The land series was held at the back the property just east of a nice stand of tall cottonwood and oak trees (so the gallery and dogs could wait in the shade). The marks held in a long grassy area bounded by blackberries on the left, a gradual hill in the middle dotted with fallen-over decoys, and which then fell into a swale on the right. The first bird was another live flyer that fell into the right-hand swale at about 75 yards. The left-hand mark was very short — pretty close to the blackberries, about 50 yards out.

The live flyer was first. The gunners threw the duck, which then hooked right, was shot, and fell right behind the gunner’s station, out of sight of Tooey, the judges, and the handler at the line. The judges offered Russ the option for a “no bird,” which would mean he’d have to go back in line about three dogs. Tooey was amped, though, so he declined the offer. The gunners retrieved the first bird, threw another, and shot that one. That duck had flown a better pattern and landed in the swale where they had intended the flyers to land.

Tooey going out at full speed to retrieve the land series “live flyer”

Tooey zoomed out, disappeared briefly into the swale, and then reappeared as she went straight to where the first bird had fallen, right behind the gunners station. Ignoring the gunners and finding no duck there, she then went back up the hill to the decoys. No duck there, either, so she went back down into the swale and along its length, out about 150 or so yards.

I could see Russ touch his whistle, thinking about getting ready to try to handle her to the bird, but he stopped himself and waited while she worked it out. Tooey then turned and started coming back toward the line on her own. On her way, she must have winded the bird. She trotted over to it, grabbed it up, brought it back at a deliberate pace, and delivered it to hand (without dropping it first, again halleluiah!).

Tooey emerging from the swale with the bird

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Retriever ribbon #3

The left hand bird was much more straightforward. A short out and back, done and thank you. She and Russ did a great job during this test, and I am very proud of them both. This is her third pass of a retriever Junior Hunt Test. If/when she passes one more, she’ll have her Junior Hunter title.

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Cooper isn’t the only Irish Water Spaniel to qualify for entry into the Field Dog class at the local IWSCOPS specialty conformation show. It’s open to dogs who have earned an AKC hunt test title or a working (either WC or WCX) certificate. But for the past several years, you wouldn’t know it. He’s just the only one who ever gets entered in the class.

But that’s OK. It means I get to show him off out there on that grassy stage, all by himself. We don’t have to share the proverbial spotlight with anyone else. He gets a polite round of applause as we take our last run around the ring. And he gets a nice rose ribbon for taking 1st place in the Field Dog class. Which, of course, he has to, being the only one entered.

Because he won that class today, he got to show also in the Best of Breed ring, where he hadn’t a hope of winning anything, what with all those beautifully groomed show dogs, with their long flowing leg coat, manicured curls, and perfectly shaved faces, each one trained to gait and stack to show themselves to perfection.

Now, I don’t mean to sound too snarky (although I admit it might come across just a bit that way). Those dogs in the Best of Breed ring are truly beautiful. They move with grace and power, and they’re built well with nice balanced structures. And many of them are truly nice dogs and bitches with lovely temperaments.

It’s just that most of them don’t do the work the breed was bred to do. Some may have hunt test titles and some may have the aptitude for it, but at least this year, I don’t believe any of the other dogs in the Best of Breed ring actually hunt. And I guess deep down, I wish a judge would really look at Cooper, truly value the fact that he’s a field dog, and recognize him with something. Not Best of Breed, not Best of Opposite. I know that’s never going to happen. Probably not even Select Dog. But an Award of Merit would be nice. Dream on…

Anyway, Russ took some pictures of us in the show ring. Cooper loves having his picture taken — he always has. So he can look like a dignified show dog gaiting around the ring.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Or he can look like a goof, hamming it up for the camera.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

And he’s not at all subtle about being a ham. The camera clicks and his head swivels. The judge even noticed it, thereafter referring to Cooper as “Photo Boy.” I am still not quite sure if I think that’s funny or not. But then, that describes a lot of things Cooper does. Gotta love him, show him off when I can, and then take him hunting.

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About a month ago, I asked one of my Obedience people whether they thought I should enter Tooey into an Obedience trial. Instead of an immediate answer, I saw this, “gee, I don’t know how to answer that question comfortably” look in their eyes.

I wanted to enter something. After all, this was the local IWSCOPS specialty I was thinking about, and I didn’t want to go all that way and not enter my dog in something. Conformation was out — Tooey had puppies in May and her coat is still not completely filled back in. Plus her coat has been cut short — definately not a show coat.

Rally was out, too. Tooey already has her Rally Novice title, and she’s not even close to ready for Rally Advanced. That left Obedience. We’ve been working on Obedience, just little pieces of it — we’re up to about about nine steps of solid heeling, the beginnings of a stay, and all the rest of it.

So I modified my question. What if I entered her in Beginner Novice, the easiest level, just for fun? No pressure. Just to see what we can do. OK, my Obedience person said. Just for fun. No pressure. If you don’t think you can be relaxed and have fun, then pull her from the competition.

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We were pretty relaxed beforehand. I didn’t feel nervous, my heart was not pounding, I could breathe — I was fine. And Tooey seemed pretty relaxed, too.

Just before it was our turn, I went around to all the spectators (all Irish Water Spaniel people, of course), and asked them to give Tooey a round of applause when we were done, no matter how well or poorly we did. They all agreed, bless their hearts. I didn’t see anything that could possibly go wrong.

And nothing did. We did the heeling and figure-8, I only felt the leash tighten a few times, and Tooey mostly remembered to sit when we halted. Tooey was rock solid on the Sit for Exam, letting the judge touch her head with not even the flicker of an eyelash. And her sit-stay was beautiful — you can see from the pictures that her feet did not move at all — only her head swiveled to watch me walk around the ring.

The last exercise was the recall, and when I called her, Tooey trotted right to me, sitting squarely in front of my feet. And as soon as the judge said, “Exercise finished,” the room erupted into applause. Tooey perked right up, looked around, and then looked at me. I could see in her eyes, “Are they cheering for me?” Yes, Tooey darling, they are. You did a great job.

And she did, too. Earning a 182 (out of 200). A nice qualifying score and a 1st place ribbon.

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Chasing things seems to turn Tooey on. That and, we think, Russ having taken her hunting. Tooey likes working for Russ, and so far, he’s had some good success in retriever work. So, since we were taking Cooper to a Senior Spaniel Hunt Test last weekend, why not enter Tooey in Junior, too?

The Junior course was down the hill and in different conditions than the Senior and Master course. The Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club test committee located it on a field of mown hay, and both afternoons, the wind came up a bit, as did the temperature. Very low cover, as you can see in the picture below. And since the cut hay was lying horizontally over green grass that had grown up about 6″, it left plenty of places under the hay and into the grass for the bird planters to hide the pigeons. (They used pigeons instead of pheasants or chukars for the Juniors.)

There were some challenges. We’ve trained Tooey for Spaniel work before, but always with chukars. She loves chukars. But pigeons she hadn’t seen so much before. And the field was small-ish, about 150 yards long by 50 yards wide. That put the gunners (a.k.a. strangers) pretty close to Tooey as she zig-zagged back and forth across the course.

So, Saturday: Tooey did a good job of quartering the field. She stayed nice and close to Russ, covering the width of the field efficiently, thoroughly, and not out of gun range. But every time she crossed the field, she ran into one of the strangers with a gun. That made her stop and back away before turning to trot in the other direction — very distracting. And she did find pigeons, which is good. She found at least two for sure. But unfortunately, she “blinked” the first one — found it, and then trotted off, making no attempt to flush it.

Finally, she flushed a pigeon. As the bird flew, the gunners shot, but they missed. Tooey gave chase, but the bird outpaced her, flying into the nearby trees. Another good thing: when Russ whistled her back, she gave up the chase and came back.

Because Tooey blinked at least one bird, the judges had to fail her. But that one bird that she flushed? It flew away and she got to chase it — that turned on a switch. Pigeons are prey.

Sunday went much better. Same field, same kind of bird, same weather and wind conditions. But this time, Tooey flushed her two pigeons and didn’t blink any. And of those two, the gunners shot one. That gave her the opportunity to retrieve a bird, which she did in her usual methodical, workmanlike manner. And a nice flourish happened also. She was so surprised by the second pigeon’s sudden flight that she sat. That’s a good thing — it gave every appearance to the judges of Tooey’s being steady to wing. (Which she isn’t, but there’s no reason to tell them that, is there?)

Tooey Irish Water Spaniels

Tooey retrieving her pigeon

So, on Sunday she passed the flushing test. That means she was called back to go on to the water. Tooey does a nice job in the water. With Junior dogs, the handler can lightly restrain the dog by holding a couple of fingers under the dog’s collar. When the rules give you an advantage, you take it, so Russ did indeed hold on to her collar. But he told me later that as Tooey watched the bird go up and heard the gun go off, she marked the bird’s fall intently, but didn’t try to break.

Once the bird hit the water, Russ sent her for the retrieve. I was pleased to see an enthusiastic, Water Spaniel splash. In fact, one bystander observed ironically (referring to one of the judging criteria), “Hmmm. Reluctance to enter the water.” Many other Spaniels really have to be trained and persuaded to enter the water, but not our Irish Water Spaniels.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey swimming back with the bird

One part of this water work that Tooey did really well was to ignore the piece of branch that was sticking up out of the water. It’s not in any of the pictures, but there was a log embedded in the river bottom, to the area left of the left edge of these water pictures. This log had a branch that was sticking up about a foot above the water, about 5 yards to the left of where the bird fell.

Many, many dogs, at all levels, swam to that piece of wood first, determined that it wasn’t a bird, and only then turned to find the bird. Not Tooey. She knew where that bird had fallen, and she swam straight out to it and straight back. In her methodical, workmanlike manner, she got the job done.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey after just having delivered the pigeon to hand

She does a nice job of delivery to hand, too. None of the shenanigans that Cooper can engage in from time to time, while he’s thinking about whether he wants to give the bird up, or not. Tooey just delivers it.

I am very proud of Team Tooey. There are those out there who haven’t believed she could do it, but perhaps we will convert them. Tooey’s good and she’s smart, and she can do the work. Especially when she gets to do it with her favorite handler. And one more nice thing? This success fulfills the requirements for Tooey’s earning a WD (Working Dog) certificate from the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America!

Tooey and Cooper Irish Water Spaniels

Tooey and Cooper with Russ and their Sunday ribbons

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Whenever we’ve gone out upland bird hunting or to Spaniel Hunt Tests, Cooper has always shown his stuff in finding, flushing, and bringing back upland birds. So, since he got his Junior Hunter Upland title last May, we decided to try him out in some Senior Spaniel Hunt Tests this past weekend.

It was a beautiful setting in a little valley near Monmouth, Oregon. You can see from the pictures below that the Senior and Master dogs were running in 2-3 foot high grass cover, interspersed with tall, wide bushes and low patches of blackberry.

Both days were very hot, in the high 90s and low 100s F. Bright blue skies, and very little breeze in the morning, with a touch of wind coming up in the afternoon.

For the two tests this weekend, the course was about 200 yards long by 80 yards wide, slightly uphill. The first part of the test started about 8:30 in the morning. Pheasants were planted (out of sight of the dogs) in various places in the course, about three to four birds per run.

At the start, the handler, dog, judges, and bird shagger stood at the middle of the lower edge of the course, and two gunners stood, one on each side of the course. When the judge indicated, the handler sends the dog to go hunt up birds, and the team walks up the course together.

The dog is supposed to cover the course thoroughly, looking and scenting for birds. Each breed of spaniel has an official “hunting style” that describes how that breed should hunt in an AKC Spaniel Hunt Test. IWS are not required to go back and forth in a windshield wiper pattern, but they do have to hunt the width of the course efficiently and at moderate speed as they move up the length. The handler can help the dog by whistling them to turn in the other direction, come in closer, or go a bit farther out (Cooper doesn’t usually need help to go farther out).

Once a Senior dog flushes a bird, they don’t have to be steady to wing and shot: sit and watch as the bird flushes and the gun is shot. What they do have to do is mark where the bird fell, go out to it, fetch it up, and deliver it into the handler’s hand.

Cooper did just fine in this part. Both days, he got his two birds while covering about two-thirds of the course. You can see him in the pictures below from Saturday, bringing back birds: one that he flushed, the gunners shot, and he retrieved; the other that he trapped alive on the ground.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Cooper brings back a flushed bird

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Cooper brings back a trapped bird

Then there is the “hunt dead.” For this part of the test, a dead bird is planted in a different patch of land, at a specified distance away from the handler (35-40 yards for Senior dogs). The handler is told generally where the bird is, but not exactly. (This is unlike the “blind retrieve” used in retriever hunt tests, where the handler knows exactly where the bird is and is required to send his dog directly to it.)

But the hunt dead is actually pretty easy for Cooper. He was trained to do blind retrieves, so he generally goes out in the direction that Russ sends him, but then hunts up the bird once he gets out into the field. On Sunday, this went beautifully. Russ made a good guess as to where the bird was planted, and sent Cooper just a bit downwind of it. Cooper went out until he scented the bird, did a sharp right, took a couple of steps, nabbed the bird, and brought it back.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Cooper brings back his “hunt dead” bird

Saturday’s hunt dead was a bit tougher than Sunday’s because there was some confusion between where Russ understood the bird should be and where Cooper’s nose told him it actually was. But even so, Cooper passed the hunt dead portion of both day’s tests.

Having passed the flushing and hunt dead portions of the test (and after lunch), it was on to the water portion of the test. The water portion was held in a wide oxbow bend of a river, with handler, dog, and judges standing on one side of the river, and the gunner and bird thrower standing on the opposite bank.

Watching this part made my heart pound. At the water, the Senior dog has to be steady. He has to watch the bird go up, listen to the gun go off, and see the bird hit the water, all while sitting in place with no forward movement.

Being steady has not historically been Cooper’s strong point. In Senior Retriever Hunt Tests, the dog is okay if he “creeps” out a few feet out in front of the handler. This fact has helped Cooper pass those tests. But in Senior (and Master) Spaniel Hunt Tests, creeping is not allowed.

But this weekend, Cooper stayed steady, both days. He sat in place and waited. Now, admittedly, as you can see in the picture below, his butt was 6″ off the ground. One of the judges even said that he looked like a rocket ready to blast off. But he didn’t move forward. And then he even stayed in that crouch for a few more beats after the bird hit the water, enough time for Russ to look at the judge, the judge to nod his head, and Russ to send Cooper.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Cooper staying steady at the water

Cooper leapt in with his typical, dramatic style into the water, swam to the bird, snatched it up, and brought it back to hand. He swam so hard that he stirred up the river bottom silt. I think I started to breathe only after I saw that wet bird clutched in Russ’ left hand.

Russ reminding Cooper to “Hold!” that bird

All in all, it was a great weekend for Team Cooper. And the two passes, the two ribbons, and friends to share it with are always great, too! And just for icing on the cake? His first Senior pass fulfills the requirements for a WDX (Working Dog Excellent) certificate from the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America!

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Norm and Scarlett with Russ and Cooper with Saturday’s ribbons

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Ok, just to start off here, with the phrase “bird shagger,” I am not being suggestive. A bird shagger is not one who enjoys the romantic attentions of birds. Nor am I referring to a haircut, a type of carpet, or aspect of baseball practice.

In the world of Spaniel Hunt Tests (at least here in the Pacific Northwest), a bird shagger is the person who follows each dog, handler, and judges up the course, in order to take the birds from the judges. The judges put each bird into the basket after the dog has flushed, retrieved, and delivered the bird, and the judges have examined it for its “fitness for the table.” In other words, the bird must not be chewed up, mangled, or “mouthed.” That would be very unappetizing, at least for the people.

A bird shagger must have the appropriate costume, configurable somewhat to account for the weather and local conditions. Here is a picture of me as bird shagger for this past weekend’s Spaniel Hunt Test.

Trice in her bird shagger costume at the NWESSC hunt test

Herewith are the main features:

  • Blaze orange shirt (or jacket). Everyone at the test is wearing some form of blaze orange shirt, so the bird shagger fits right in. Actually, the blaze orange is pretty important. We’re right out there in the middle of the action, with a gunner on either side, shooting real shells.
  • Blaze orange vest with deep pockets to hold trapped birds — birds that a dog has found and grabbed off the ground before the bird could fly. These are usually alive and flapping. Some clubs have the bird shagger carry a burlap bag for this purpose. I thought the vest was easier.
  • Bird basket — a large basket carried on the back, into which the judge puts the dead birds after examining them.
  • Hat. The red ribbon was my idea, though I would have preferred a blaze orange hat band if I’d had one.
  • Shotgun (unloaded), which is handed to the judge, who hands it to each Senior and Master handler, who will pretend to shoot it at the bird when the dog flushes one, and who then hands it back to the judge, who hands it back to the shagger when that handler’s turn is done.
  • Pants, boots, socks, etc. I don’t need to describe the etc., do I? (And no, they weren’t blaze orange.)

I should have also worn a pedometer. Walking up and down that 200-yard-long course for each of 13 Senior and Master dogs for both days gave me a whole bunch of steps for the weekend.

I also carried a small camera. The bird shagger has just about the best view of the action, second only to the handler and judges. I got to watch a lot of dogs do nice work, and I got to take some pictures of Cooper, Tooey, and our Boykin friend, Scarlett. I’ll include those pictures in some future posts.

With all that gear on, and all those steps on both Saturday and Sunday, and in the very high-90s F heat — I also carried and drank a lot of water. Which necessitated a bunch of breaks. But I don’t think anyone minded the breaks that much. Although it did necessitate temporarily taking off some of that bird shagger costume.

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This morning, Russ ran Tooey and I ran Cooper in first three marks of the Oregon Hunting Retriever “5 singles” practice retriever test. This afternoon we ran marks 4 and 5.

These marks were also about 125 yards each. Both of them were set up so that the dog was supposed to run first over land, then through the running water, and back onto land to nab the duck. On the 4th mark, the duck splashed just a bit where land met the pond, while on the 5th mark, the bird landed into a large patch of tall yellow mustard-colored flowers (which was also carefully watched from about 50 yards away by a very large cow).

Cooper did his routine dash ahead of me to the line, reluctant sit at heel, and excellent marking of the fall of each bird. He also, hallelujah!, did not try to break. (I had the same light leash threaded to his collar to prevent his leaving the line before being sent, but he didn’t appear to need it this time.)

He knew exactly where those birds landed — that was not the issue. This afternoon, the issue was that he “cheated.”

To understand this instance of cheating, picture a big capital C. The start line is below the C. The land is the C itself, and the water is the space within the C. In retriever hunt tests, the dog is supposed to go in as straight a line as possible from the starting line to the bird. These two marks were specifically designed so that the bird fell on the top of the C. So the dog s supposed to leave the start line below the C, run across the land at the bottom of the C, through the water that is in the middle of the C, and then onto the land at the top of the C, where the bird is. The dog is then supposed to grab the bird, and then retrace his path, back into the water, across the bottom of the C, and then back to the start line.

Cooper, being the efficient spaniel that he is, sees no sense in this. It’s faster and easier to cheat by going around on the C of land, rather than run through water in the middle of the C. So that’s what he did, twice. He always gets his birds, as fast as possible and according to his own rules.

Tooey, bless her little retriever heart, did not cheat much at all. She went mostly through the water to the birds. She loves the water, which helps. But she also seems to have learned that “go straight” lesson pretty well when she was training with Butch, a hunt test pro.

Her 4th bird was a bit tricky. She did veer off a little into cheating territory and got distracted by something on the side of the C that needed investigation. Russ waited for awhile, and then whistled her to sit. She sat, and he directed her in an “Over” toward the bird. You could almost read the thought bubble over her head, “Oh! Yeah. I’m supposed to be getting a duck. Okay.”

She got into the water, and trotted through it to the bird. She put her head down to pick up the bird, but then flinched back. Slowly, she lowered her head again, and jerked back again. Finally, she put her head down a third time, grabbed the bird, hopped back into the water, and trotted through it, onto land, and back to Russ. A bee, maybe? We never did see what was making her flinch.

Tooey trotting back with her bird

Her 5th mark was much more straight and straightforward. Go get duck. Bring it back. Beautiful work. We were both so happy and pleased. The judge even commented that Tooey and one other Junior dog did the best job with that last mark — straight to the bird and back.

A nice bonus was the they gave ribbons for placements in this “5 singles” practice test. And Tooey took 2nd in the Junior division.

Tooey and Russ with her 2nd place ribbon

Good girl, Tooey!

Cooper didn’t get any ribbons, but I doubt that he cares. Ribbons, smmibbons! When can I go retrieve another bird?

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We are spending what will be a very hot day in Portland doing hunt test training.

A local hunting retriever club is putting on a “5 singles” practice test. There are three marks this morning, one is a live flyer on the land and the other two are both land-water marks. And each one is at least 125 yards long.

Cooper, of course, smoked the marks. He zoomed out and zoomed back to deliver the bird to hand each time. His issue is being steady, so that is what worked on.

He wore his buckle collar with a very light leash strung through it. That way, if he broke, I could hold on and prevent him from leaving the line. But he did pretty well. When each bird went down, he stood up out of his sit, but he did not move forward. Good boy! Of course, getting to the line is something else. He does like to get out there ahead of his handler.

Tooey did a very workmanlike job on all three marks. She watched each bird go down, and then went out at a fast trot to get each one.

Tooey delivering her third bird

The second mark involved running on land for a bit, hopping into the water, and then going through a bunch of decoys and around a large log. She had to look around for that bird, but once she found it, she grabbed it up and brought it almost right back.

I say almost because on the second mark, she fetched up the bird from the water, but then put it down on the water’s edge. But then she picked it right back up and trotted back with it.

So far so good. Happy wet dogs and pleased people. Now we’ll see what the afternoon brings besides 100F temperatures.

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