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Archive for December, 2012

This evening, after today’s adventures, I looked back on the blog to just over 11 months ago, to the last video I have of Cooper working in the Rally Obedience ring. It was a big day. He’d just won his show championship at the Rose City Classic, and that same day, he qualified in his 2nd Rally Novice trial.

That old video is vintage Cooper: happy to go along, but really distractible. From moment to moment, he might be paying attention to what we’re doing in the Rally ring, but on the other hand, he might be more interested in something on the floor, something going on outside the ring, something that the judge is doing, some noise he’s hearing from across the room.

In that show, he earned a 86 out of 100 — a not-horrible qualifying score. We went into the Rally Novice ring one more time, the next month. We qualified with a 90, and that third pass earned Cooper his Rally Novice title.

At that point, I switched to competition Obedience. I wanted Cooper to earn a Companion Dog (CD) Obedience title so he could qualify for the AKC All-Around Irish Water Spaniel award. He earned that last March, and that was the last time I had Cooper in any kind of Obedience competition. I started working with Tooey instead.

Tooey is different from Cooper. When Cooper doesn’t understand what he’s supposed to do, he just tries something, anything — whatever seems most likely or most fun at that moment. Tooey, on the other hand, is serious and not totally self-confident. She wants to do it right, and when she doesn’t understand what she’s supposed to do, she gets a bit anxious.

I wanted to lighten up things for Tooey, so I started to take her to a Rally Obedience class. You can talk to and encourage your dog during a Rally trial, and there’s a lot of action and movement — I thought that might make it more fun and less anxiety-producing for Tooey. I took Cooper along to class just for the heck of it, and guess what? It turns out he loves Rally Advanced. Unlike Rally Novice, it’s off leash, you get to jump over things once in a while, and the moves are just a little more complicated.

He’s been doing so well in class that I took a deep breath and entered Cooper in his first Rally Advanced trial. It’s scheduled in just over two weeks, at the Western Washington Cluster of dog shows in Puyallup. We definitely need practice. The class we’ve been taking is run something like a real trial, but to get even closer to a real trial experience, I wanted to find a match — a practice trial that is run just like the real thing so that both dog and handler can have the experience at less cost and no risk.

So I was thrilled to find a match put on today by the Silver Falls Kennel Club in Rickreal, Oregon, just south of Salem. And I was lucky to find a bystander who was willing to video it for me.

We did OK — the judge even said that had it been a real trial, we would have qualified. As you can see from the video, there were 16 stations*. I was glad there was a “Send Over Jump” (#103) because that’s Cooper’s favorite. I was hoping that one station would be an “Offset Figure 8” (#108), where the team has to go around traffic cones in a figure 8 pattern while ignoring bowls of food and toys, but no such luck. But there was a “Halt Stand Dog Walk Around” (#105), where the team stops, the dog sits, then stands, and then stays standing while the handler walks in a circle around the dog. That’s been a hard one for Cooper, and he didn’t do it perfectly today, either — but he didn’t fail it, either.

I was glad for the video because watching it, I can see that on the call “Dog Front — Finish Left” (#14) station, Cooper returned to my left side, but pretty much sat in the heel position. In that station, the dog is not supposed to sit before moving forward with the handler. I’m going to have to work on that one. And I encountered a station I’ve never done before, the “Halt About U Turn and Forward” (#102), so that was good practice for both of us.

Cooper is still my boy Cooper, though. In today’s video, you can see him paying much better attention to what we’re doing in the Rally ring, but sometimes he still gets distracted by something on the floor or the chair, something going on outside the ring, something that the judge is doing, or some noise from across the room.

* You can read a description of each Rally Obedience station by reading the AKC Rally Regulations, accessible from the AKC Rules and Regulations page.

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Mowgli and Tooey had had their turn hunting up birds Thursday morning. They’d been put up with water and a snack in a warm car to thaw out; Russ, Tammy and I had our lunch; and now it was Thursday afternoon — time to take Cooper out for his chance at finding and flushing some birds.

Cooper Irish Water Spaniel

Starting the hunt

Tammy stayed behind for this round, so Russ and I stationed ourselves as gunners on either side of the field, while Russ also took on dog handling duties. And it did take some handling. Cooper works out a bit farther from the gunners than we like, so Russ had to whistle him in closer to us pretty frequently. Cooper humored us, but he wasn’t particularly worried about flushing birds too far away from the guns. His plan was to find and simply trap birds in their hiding places, and bring them in without our having to expend any shells at all.

Irish Water Spaniels

Cooper hesitating before flushing (and dragging his ears through the snow)

And that’s exactly what he did. He quartered the field pretty nicely, and when he scented a bird, he hesitated for a few moments (dragging his ears along the snow), and then pounced, grabbing the bird up and bringing it back alive and flapping. He did this twice. This isn’t good for shooting practice, and some may not consider it “sporting,” but it is nice not to have to worry about biting down on shot when you’re eating pheasant stew.

Irish Water Spaniels

Being bespangled with snow balls

Russ flushed up a pheasant himself while we were tramping the field, but it flew too low and too fast for him to get a good shot. Coop wanted to chase it, but Russ called him back so that we could move on down the field.

And then Cooper flushed a bird. It flew up on my side of the field, but by the time I got the gun into position, the bird had flown closer to Russ. Russ decided it was too far out, so he put his gun down. Since I was finally in position, though, I gave it a shot anyway.

The bird was obviously hit, but not downed. It glided across the field, down over the draw and stream, and up about 125 yards on the opposite bank, right into a stand of juniper bushes. Cooper was pretty excited by the gunshot, but he wasn’t in a position to have marked the bird’s fall. Fortunately, both Russ and I were tall enough to see where the bird went down.

So Russ did what he and Cooper have been practicing in retriever training for 4 years. Russ called Cooper into heel position, lined him up nose pointing toward the area of the fall, and sent him on a “Back” command. Cooper shot out, and as he maneuvered himself through the cattail- and willlow-lined stream, got about 15 degrees off course. Russ whistled him to sit, and sent him on an angled “Back” toward the area of the fall.

At about 125 yards out, Cooper was about 30 yards to the right of the bird, so Russ whistle stopped him again, and sent him with an “Over” command, 90 degrees to the left, to the spot where we had seen the bird fall. Cooper went straight left as directed, but when he got there, the bird jumped up and ran deeper into the junipers. And that’s where Cooper’s spaniel nature kicked in. He trailed that bird, disappearing back behind the stand of junipers.

We waited. Russ considered hiking over there himself to find Cooper. But just then, about 50 yards away from there the bird fell, Cooper emerged from the junipers with a wounded pheasant in his mouth.

What a relief. And we were so impressed. All this hunting, trailing, and retrieving through a foot of snow, himself covered with balls of snow on his ears, legs, armpits, and belly. Cooper brought that bird back to Russ’s side, holding it securely until Russ gently took it from him.

Irish Water Spaniels

Admiring Cooper’s birds

That was enough. The shadows lay horizontal on the ground, Cooper was trotting slowly with at least 5 pounds of snowy adornment, and were were all tired. We headed back to get Cooper some water and rub some of the snow balls off his coat.

Irish Water Spaniels

Heading back to the car after a good day hunting

There the Realta brothers and their people celebrated good hunting, friendship, and another good day out with the dogs.

Irish Water Spaniels

Patrice, Cooper, Russ, Tammy, and a thawed-out Mowgli with Cooper’s birds. (Mowgli’s bird was already cleaned.)

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Bright blue skies, bright white powder snow, bright blaze orange worn by the people and dogs. That’s my impression now, looking back on it. That, plus sage brush, stands of juniper, and tall clumps of grass scattered along the field. Breathing hard, trying to keep up with the dogs, pulling through a foot of powder with every step, tramping along ruts cut in a small road, down hills, into a cattail- and willow-filled, half-frozen stream along the bottom of the draw. From time to time, the sudden flutter of wings as pheasants were flushed from their hiding places. And the dogs, each one in turn, panting with excitement and effort, themselves becoming more and more bespangled with heavy white balls of snow.

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Just as it was getting light yesterday, Tammy, Russ and I, plus three Irish Water Spaniels, left Portland and drove east along the Columbia River and then up and over the Deschutes River into the high ground above Maupin, Oregon. We were there to hunt pheasants. Unlike Tooey, Cooper hadn’t had his share of the bird hunting yet this season, and his brother Mowgli wanted a chance to fine-tune his bird sense.

With three dogs and three people, we quickly formed working teams, each with two gunners, a dog handler, and a dog. We started out with Tammy handling her Mowgli, with Russ and I gunning. It didn’t take long, maybe only 10 minutes of quartering back and forth, road to draw, when Mowgli flushed a pheasant. The bird flew right into range of Russ’s gun. Russ downed the bird, and Mowgli, true to his retriever training, marked the bird’s fall, retrieved it, and delivered it to Tammy’s hand.

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The three us covered the length of that field, and Mowgli did his job, flushing up three more birds. We shot at two of them, but we gunners were apparently not warmed up enough, because we missed them all. Mowgli tried to help the situation by running down into the draw, across the pond, and up the opposing hill, chasing after one that got away. But when it became apparent that he would never catch it, Tammy called him back.

By this time, Mowgli was carrying at least 5 pounds of snow on his belly and legs. So we turned and headed back.

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After we rubbed as much snow off Mowgli as we could and put him up in the warm car with a bucket of water and some food, we got Tooey out for her turn. Not that we expected that Tooey would get any birds from the area that Mowlgi had just worked, but we did have to give her a turn. She hates being left out, and this way, there would be at least the appearance of fairness.

Russ handled Tooey, while Tammy and I held the shotguns. Tooey, unlike Mowgli, didn’t quarter the field, but spent most of her time in the draw. The stream had dammed up a bit at the beginning of the field, and the resulting pond was frozen. Too bad for Tooey, who loves to swim. She continued to work in and around the willows and cattails, getting birdy a few times where some of Mowgli’s birds had been. Toward the far end of the field, she found the unfrozen section of the stream, and went in and out, washing off the snow that was accumulating on her belly and legs. Finally, we turned around, walked back along the road, back to the car. We spend a few minutes rubbing Tooey to get the snow off, put her up in the nice warm car, and then had some lunch.

After lunch it was finally Cooper’s turn. I’ll cover that in the next post. Stay tuned…

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A white Christmas in Oregon with your dogs and friends is about as good as it gets. With sunny skies and a fresh cover of snow, the weather yesterday was perfect for day of chasing pheasants in central Oregon. Tooey and I joined up with Norm and his Boykin Spaniel, Scarlett (many posts about them over the last few years), plus Norm’s son Kent, who is visiting from Illinois.

Tooey, admiring the fine 28 gauge shotguns carried by Norm and Kent

Tooey, admiring the fine 28 gauge shotguns carried by Norm and Kent

Bagging birds when we go hunting with Norm is almost a sure thing if there are birds to be bagged, and with the addition of Kent (a world class clay shooter himself), it is a virtual guarantee that if there are pheasants flushed, then there will be birds brought home. And because I was flanked by two amazing shooters, I got to carry just a camera and a dog whistle while working with Tooey.

Tooey, who has two legs of her AKC Junior Hunter Upland title, is still an enthusiastic rookie. She has often been suspicious and easily distracted at hunt tests with all the strange gunners, judges, and an audience watching from the gallery. So working with gunners she knows and trusts is a great confidence builder for her. (Cooper on the other hand, never met a person with a shotgun who wasn’t his best friend.)

Tooey immediately found a scent and started tracking through the snow. With head down and nose to the ground, she soon became oblivious that we were supposed to be working as a team. Tooey had pushed well out of shooting range when she flushed up her first bird. But in no time at all, she was able to locate another rooster, which she flushed up right in front of Norm, who got in a good shot. One down, retrieved, and in the bag.

Tooey's second flush and first bird of the day delivered to hand

Tooey’s second flush and first bird of the day delivered to hand

Her third flush flew fast and low, straight away over the horizon. Norm and Kent let that one go rather risk just wounding the bird. As a handler, I did let Tooey roam a bit too far out at times, but for the most part, she systematically inspected and pushed through heavy cover right in front of us. Of the birds flushed that were remotely in range, only one bird was missed by the gunners.

Tooey's next flush and in range of Kent's great shooting

Tooey’s next flush and in range of Kent’s great shooting

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Tooey’s 2nd bird, ready to be delivered to hand

Mea culpa as a photographer. The above image was my last photo of the day because my camera battery was soon exhausted in the cold, and my spares were safe and warm at home.

Tooey’s final count was 5 birds flushed, with two shot and delivered to hand.

To her dismay, we then put her up in Norm’s truck and headed back to the field with Scarlett. This time I traded my dead camera for a shotgun, while Norm handled his little brown bird-finding machine. Scarlett’s first rooster was caught asleep at the wheel, and Scarlett delivered the live bird to Norm. All other birds took note and flew. Scarlett’s score was 4 delivered to hand. Collectively for both dogs and the gunners, there were 10 flushes, only one miss, and all shot birds (6) retrieved and delivered.

Upland hunting with Spaniels is best, in my opinion, with one dog and two gunners. Due to logistics, I had to leave one of my 2 pups behind. Because Cooper got to go duck hunting recently, he drew the short straw this time. Patrice was away on Christmas family duties, so Cooper got to spend the day at Norm’s house being entertained by Carol (see her amazing work on this post).

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Where’s dad?

She made this photo of the boy scanning the horizon waiting for our return, just knowing we had made a mistake by not taking him. I had tried to trick him by leaving his truck behind so he would assume that I had stepped away for just a moment, but I’m guessing he figured out the scam pretty quick.

Not to worry. In two days we will be out there again, this time with Cooper along, too.

Merry Christmas

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Hunting ducks is somewhat of a misnomer. Sitting and waiting is a better description. Sitting and waiting in the middle of winter, in bad weather, and in the dark of night is even more descriptive. So why do it?

Cooper is my primary reason.

The typical protocol is to make your way to the duck blind well before the sun comes up. Trudge through the muck, the ponds, the farm fields in total darkness. Then set out a bunch of decoys in knee-high frigid water (with maybe a hint of glow on the east horizon if it is not raining too hard). Wade back to the blind and then wait for the sun to come up with your loyal Irish Water Spaniel.

But while it is dark, it is not quiet.

Migrating birds by the hundreds (thousands?) fly all night long immediately overhead. Ducks create a chorus of whistling wings in full surround-sound as they make their way to points south. Geese talk to each other non-stop while cruising the night sky. Sandhill cranes plan their day while flying in flocks of a dozen or so. Then, as the sun starts to come up, all goes quiet.

Suavie Island, Oregon

Sauvie Island, Oregon at sunrise

Unless weather, birds, and your horoscope are all lined up, there is good chance that one can sit and wait even longer. But the sights are wonderful. Thousands of Canadian geese rise or land in unison, swirling like feathered tornadoes. The occasional group of ducks fly low and fast, avoiding predators, including Cooper and me. Sandhill cranes converge in nearby pastures. And Marsh harriers mix hunting and romance as they tack back and forth past the blind, ignoring us as we sit in our front row seats.

As the sun pops over the horizon, but before it slips behind a sky of overcast and rain, there is a brief moment of less than a minute, when picture postcards can be seen in every direction.

Sandhill Cranes commuting past the blind

Sandhill Cranes commuting past the blind

For two hours, Cooper sat quietly in the blind, scanning the flooded corn fields and ponds, wondering why I didn’t call for the bird. To date, in every hunt test he has competed, there has been a retrieve within moments of his entering the blind. So what gives this time?

Patrice’s obedience training with Cooper is now paying off in spades. For logistical reasons, there are not 2 hour sit-stays in obedience competition, but if there were, today Cooper would have qualified.

No ducks today. But having spent several hours listening to and watching our amazing world with Cooper is why we sit in a duck blind, in the cold and dark.

Cooper, near the end of a long but successful sit-stay

Cooper, near the end of a long but successful sit-stay

While not considered appropriate behavior in some circles, Cooper did get a retrieve or so. Not ducks, but I did let him help retrieve the decoys before we headed back home for a hot breakfast (and a dog bath).

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Sometimes, things go to hell. This week has been one of those times. In addition to the tragedies of school children and mall goers being killed en masse, there are also more personal disasters. This week’s was being laid off from my job.

It happened on Tuesday. I was escorted out of the building with a packet of papers to sign. All I could think of was, thank God I didn’t cry until I was locked in my car, driving away. That first day went by in a fog of shock, bewilderment, and fear. (Not anger. Anger came later.)

On Wednesday, the morning dawned cold, but to clear skies with white puffy clouds. A gift in usually-grey December. So I decided to go out and do what I love — walk with my dog at the Delta.

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Starting east down the train toward the Cascades in the distance

It was like a meditation. I didn’t think of anything except walking the paths toward the ponds Tooey loves, enjoying the bright blue sky, the golden fields, the bare tall cottonwoods. I walked, and Tooey trotted along mostly behind me, stopping to sniff the ground for critters and horse poop. But sometimes, especially as we got closer to the ponds, she dashed ahead. That girl loves swimming. Even in December, her thick coat protected her and kept her warm. Watching her do what she loves kept me warm as well.

Here are pictures, in order. They don’t tell a complete story, though. There’s a whole section missing, where we walked a narrow path through a grove of cottonwoods. But often I didn’t want to take pictures. I just wanted to walk and enjoy the feeling of moving forward, with the sun in my face, watching my girl love her life, trying to keep loving mine.

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On the other side of the power lines are duck hunters shooting. Note Mt Hood in the distance at right.

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Swimming in December. I wait and watch for many minutes while Tooey cruises the pond.

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Almost to Tooey’s favorite pond. Come on! Hurry up! Let’s go!

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Tooey retrieving a stick. More of an excuse to swim than anything else.

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Oh, do we have to go already? I’ve only swum in three ponds, and I haven’t gotten to this one yet! Can’t we stay just one more minute?

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Ms. Rainbow is the youngest girl, and she was the smallest puppy in Tooey’s litter of pups. Every week, when I went up to Colleen’s to visit the puppies, I took a special interest in Rainbow. Sometimes she shivered, and I put her under my shirt. She often spent time off in a corner by herself — her own girl. Sometimes, another puppy would be fooled by her size and try to tell her what to do, but Rainbow held her own.

Oonagh 5 months

Whistle Stop’s Pick Me, Pick Me “Oonagh” (Ms. Rainbow) at about 5 months

As you can see from the picture, Oonagh is very beautiful. Her people say that along with that beauty, she’s also an intelligent pup, perhaps even a little too much for her own good sometimes! Of course, she’s a teenager, so that’s to be expected.

Oonagh is also very lucky for a Water Spaniel — she lives on the Oregon coast. Her people say she loves the Oregon coast and the rain! And they say she loves to bring it all in the house with her. Well, her mom also loves the ocean and bringing it all home. Love to see the legacy continue.

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