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Archive for March, 2013

Irish Water Spaniels were developed specifically to assist hunters with guns. And while the people in the British Isles generally have a bit more restrained attitude towards firearms than those of us in the U.S., they are uninhibited in acknowledging that this whole group of working dogs are classified as “Gundogs”.

From the Kennel Club web site:

The Gundog Breed Group: Dogs that were originally trained to find live game and/or to retrieve game that had been shot and wounded.

Some folks in the U.S. are exuberant promoting our second amendment rights, but we are also too politically correct at times, so the AKC refers to this group as “Sporting Dogs”. Other than chasing tennis balls, Cooper doesn’t do sports. He is bred to be a gun dog. He is a gun dog.

That being said, not only is he trained to find and retrieve birds, he is trained to work around shotguns. He responds to the direction they are pointed (at birds) and respond to the big noise they make (time to go get birds). He is even moderately good at recognizing people handling guns and knowing when to turn in the field and work within the range of the gunners. He is a gun dog. Sporting dogs chase frisbees.

Browning Citori

Cooper is delighted to go hunting with a Browning Citori 20 gauge!

Owning and training gun dogs is not cheap. Among other things, a well trained gundog likes the status of working with nice ($$) shotguns. If the dog is not flushing birds quick enough, finding downed birds, and delivering promptly to hand, then the problem may be that the gunner is using an inferior firearm. While this is a subtle distinction, many gundog trainers are constantly trying to find the perfect shotgun for their dog just like a show handler goes through jeweled show leads.

Cooper teams up with a Benelli for some Chukars

Cooper teams up with a Benelli Super Nova for some Chukars

In the quest for perfection, Cooper is on his 4th shotgun. Being an IWS who does waterfowl retrieving and upland hunting, he requires a different gun for ducks, pheasant, partridge, quail, etc . . . . (so far he does not know about geese, grouse, or doves).

Cooper admires the precision of a Remington 870 Wingmaster

Cooper admires Trice’s precision with a Remington 870 Wingmaster

Beretta 686 28 gauge

Cooper, following Norm’s lead with a Beretta 686 28 gauge

Friday, he got to field test a Benelli 686 and a Ruger Red Label. Both seem acceptable at this point and he located the birds and delivered the pheasants to hand. To date he has worked with Benellis, Berettas, Brownings, Rugers, Remingtons and Stoegers.

Ruger Red Label 20 gauge

Sitting proudly in front of his Ruger Red Label 20 gauge

Preferences? Nothing definitive yet, as the list of shotguns Cooper hasn’t tried is still quite long.

Browning BPS

Tooey scanning the sky for ducks with Norm and his Browning BPS

Tooey did mention that she would look good working with a B.Rizzini 28 gauge. (She just earned her AKC Junior Hunter title, and so I may have to reward her for her success.)

It’s all about the dogs and our effort to make them happy.

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Just under two years ago, on April 3, 2011, Tooey started her retriever hunt test career at the Marin Retriever Club 2011 Spring Hunt Test. Today, she completed her retriever Junior Hunter title with a pass at the Greater Pacific Northwest Retriever Trial Club 2013 Spring Hunt Test. (The spring in between, she was busy having puppies.)

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey — CH Stanegate Second Thoughts RN JH WD

Tooey does have a few idiosyncrasies:

  • Tooey likes working with Russ, but she likes me to be there to watch her. She just runs better for him — more focused, more willing, and more energetic going out to get the bird and bringing it back in. But she wants me to be there to watch her. While she’s moving from holding blind to holding blind on her way to the line, she looks around until she finds me. That has meant that I must go find some place in the gallery to stand, call out to her so she knows where I am, and then stay standing there in that very spot until the series is over and Russ brings her to over to me.
  • She doesn’t like wet hunt test birds, whether they are retriever hunt test ducks or spaniel hunt test pigeons. If they’re wet, she puts them down and then picks them back up before bringing them in. On the other hand, in actual hunting, she’s perfectly happy to crash into whatever water there is to bring back something Russ has brought down.
  • It’s better if you can practice a few weeks beforehand at the hunt test grounds, and have that practice include strangers out in the field throwing birds. That way, when strangers pop up out in the field during a hunt test, Tooey doesn’t have to stop and sit in the middle of her run to wonder, “Who ARE those people and WHAT are they doing here?”
Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey coming back with the 1st land bird

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey and Russ getting ready for the 2nd land bird — a live flyer
photo by Norm Koshkarian

In a pinch, the land series could have stood in for a water series. The field was crossed by numerous ditches filled a foot or so deep with water. The line was set up just on one side of one such ditch, and for each of the marks, the dog had to splash through (or leap over) at least one ditch. From the dog’s point of view, the ditches were camouflaged really well, and several dogs stopped at them as if the ditches were walls. Conditions were great: overcast or sun breaks, light breeze coming down the field toward the line, about 45 degrees F.

The land marks were straightforward. The field was interspersed with patches of 2 foot cover, but was generally only about 1 foot or less. The first was about 65 yards, and the second, a live flyer, was generally about 85 yards, except when the bird decided to hook back over the road rather than out over the field.

Tooey marked her birds really well. She trotted pretty much straight out and straight back, with very little hunting. And on those land birds, she did a beautiful delivery to hand from the heel position.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey delivering the 1st water bird
photo by Norm Koshkarian

So, Team Tooey went on to the water series. Russ was clever. The trek out from the parking lot to the pond was about 1/4 mile. Because he was slated to be the #4 dog, he arranged for me to take Tooey to just outside the test area while he attended the handler’s meeting at pond’s edge. That meant that since dogs #1, #2, and #3 weren’t there yet, he and Tooey were ready to go first. And that meant that Tooey’s birds would start out dry. Later dogs could easily get birds that had been used in the water once already, and so were likely to be wet to the skin and stinky.

Like the land marks, the water marks were clear cut. Both birds landed with a splash into the water, with the first one being 40 yards out and the second one about 60 yards out. The second bird was a bit tricky because it landed next to the bank in a dark shadow cast by the surrounding trees. But again, Tooey went straight out and straight back.

All was happy going until she dropped her 1st wet bird on the bank and proceeded to bop it with her nose several times. After only a few moments, she picked it back up, carried it a few feet, and then dropped it again. And then, after several long heartbeats, she picked it up and delivered it to hand. She pulled exactly the same routine on the 2nd water bird, only this time with maybe one fewer drop of the bird.

We didn’t know exactly what this bird-dropping would do to Tooey’s chances, but when all the dogs were done, after a long wait, Tooey’s name was called and Russ was handed that beautiful orange ribbon.

So now Tooey is done with retriever hunt tests. She has her show championship (CH) and her retriever Junior Hunter (JH) title, so next we’ll tackle the Obedience Companion Dog (CD) title. It would be great to have two All-Around IWS in the house.

Tooey’s retriever passes:

  1. Lassen Retriever Club, April 9, 2011
  2. Salem Retriever Trial Club, July 21, 2012
  3. Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association, August 26, 2012
  4. Greater Pacific Northwest Retriever Trial Club, March 24, 2013

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Well, we pulled today’s Rally Excellent run out of the hat.

The course was difficult and crowded. Difficulty started right away at station 2 (exercise #107). At station 2, the dog ends up in a sitting position, and then for station 3, has to do a Send to Jump (exercise #210) almost immediately, within just 6 feet of station 2. That was particularly difficult for Cooper.

The two little French bulldogs who took 1st and 2nd place did fine, but a big dog like Cooper really needs the whole 10 feet called for in the regulations to execute that maneuver. Cooper seemed sort of befuddled, just standing there in front of the jump, and I had to tell him at least 4 times to jump. Finally he just hopped over. Hence all the points taken off for “slow, delay, or resistance to respond,” as you can see in the score sheet below the course map.

130317_RallyE_Course

But the judge rightly took the whole 10 points off for Cooper’s not doing the “Back Up 3 Steps.” He didn’t even try to stay with me — he just stood there and watched me idly while I backed up the three steps without him. I could have retried it and possibly not lost all 10 points, but after yesterday’s iffy performance of the same exercise, that was a risk I decided  not to take.

Cooper got back with me on the next station, and he did fine on everything after that. And that was a relief because, like I said, the course was crowded. Probably it was more suited for a square ring instead of the narrow rectangular ring we had, and sometimes the teams had to step around or away from signs that were directly in the natural path of movement.

130317_RallyE_judge

But you know, a qualifying score is a qualifying score, and we were right in the middle. 100 is perfect, 70 is qualifying, and we finished the run with an 84. Not bad, and not the worst.

130317_RallyE_ribbons

So now, with his pass at Rose City and yesterday’s pass, Cooper has his third Rally Excellent leg. That gives him his Rally Excellent title. I’m very proud of my boy. We’ve had a good time together.

After I got home, Russ asked me, “What’s next?”

Hmmm. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

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The AKC regulations for Rally Obedience say that the judging begins when the judge says, “Forward!” Unless you abuse your dog, all that stuff you do to get ready to move forward at the Start sign is not supposed to be part of the judge’s evaluation.

Thank God.

As Cooper and I entered our ring, over in the ring next to us, handlers were throwing dumbbells, and dogs were jumping over a jump and retrieving those dumbbells. I walked toward the middle of our ring, where the Start sign was located, got Cooper to sit, and removed his leash. At that point, Cooper couldn’t resist anymore — he hooked a left over to the ring gate to get a closer look at what was happening on the other side. His ears and nose were extended forward, almost as if he were a puppet with a string tied to his nose, pulling him over there.

All the time, I’m trying to get his attention and call him back into Heel position without actually abusing him. Finally, after many long centuries (probably really only 15 seconds), he came back to me and sat. But not in Heel — no, he was sitting directly behind me facing the other ring.

Sigh. The judge asked me, as directed in the regulations, “Are you ready?”

Hell no. I didn’t say that, of course. I just smiled at her, said, “Not yet,” and called Cooper to heel again.

Finally, I got him into position, and the judge, said again, “Are you ready?”

“Ready,” I said, and the the judge said, “Forward!”, not giving Cooper any time to get distracted again.

We actually had quite a nice run. Cooper did almost everything I asked him to, and I think he even enjoyed it. Here’s the course:

130316_RallyE_CourseHe even tried the “Back Up 3 Steps.” He moved backwards with me, but he didn’t exactly stay in position. Instead he moved at kind of a 90 degree angle rather than staying parallel with me. But he did the jumps nicely, and he even gave me a very nice down in place, without moving forward, in the Stand-Leave Dog-Down Dog-Call Front Finish exercise.

I was pleased, and onlookers told us that we did a smooth, natural-looking job. Then I was happily shocked when I saw our generous score of 99. I had watched two other dogs in the ring who did a much better job than Cooper, staying in heel, keeping their attention on their handlers, and even moving backwards three steps exactly in heel position.

So why did those teams get lower scores? It was all handler error. One handler added an extra trip around the cones in the Figure 8 exercise, and another added a sit to the Stand-Leave Dog-Down Dog-Call Front Finish exercise.

So that put Team Cooper in 1st place for his 2nd qualifying score in Rally Excellent B. The Mt. Hood Keeshond Club is putting on a second show tomorrow, and we’ll be back to try to qualify in Rally Excellent again.

130316_RallyE_ribbons

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There she was, doing a quick heel around the cones in Rally class, when suddenly, a duck started quacking. Tooey stopped in her tracks, her attention totally off me, looking toward the area where the quacking was coming from.

The quacking stopped. After a few beats, I got her attention back, and we started heeling again. Then the quacking started up again: “Q-u-a-c-k, q-u-a-c-k, quack, quack, quack, quack.” Just like the mechanincal quacks that are used on wingers during hunt tests.

Tooey stopped again, focussed on the area where the quacking was coming from.

I could not get her attention. That quacking had her rivetted.

Finally, the right command came to me. “No bird,” I said. “No bird.” She turned and looked at me, as if to say, “Oh… No bird. Are you sure?”

The quacking stopped just then. Why? Because the owner answered her phone. She’d had it set to quack when that particular caller called, and being an obedient phone, that’s exactly what it did.

And Tooey and I got back to heeling.

Who knew we’d have to proof against quacking in the Rally ring?

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If I were still showing Cooper in the conformation ring, I’d have collapsed on the floor and cried. As it is, I can’t bear to take a picture of what happened.

I had just finished cleaning and oiling my clipper blades, getting ready to give Cooper a trim. I wanted him to look nice for next weekend’s Rally Obedience trial in Salem.

I’d gotten out the grooming table, my combs and brushes, and my scissors. Cooper surprised me by jumping up on the grooming table, so after giving him a piece of homemade chicken jerky, I grabbed the clipper and started to work on his back, just over his shoulders. After a few moments, I thought to myself, “Wow. That blade is much sharper than I remembered.”

And right after that, I thought, “OMG!” and dropped the clipper.

Wrong blade. The blade I use the most, the one that cuts a nice 3/4″ length isn’t the sharpest blade. The sharp blade I actually had on my clipper was a #10. That one cuts about 1/4″. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Normally I use that blade to clip his muzzle. And too late, I realized that it was the one that was still on my clipper when I finished cleaning and oiling them all. So here is my beautiful Pretty Boy with three clipper-blade-wide, 4″-long divots of really short coat over his whithers.

Well, there’s nothing to do for it except keep clipping him. Not with the #10. It’s still too cold around here for that. I switched to my 3/4″ blade, and clipped against the grain of the coat on his back. That leaves the coat at about 5/8″. Still a lot longer than 1/4″, but I hoped that the 5/8″ cut would make a slightly less obvious contrast with the #10 blade than a 3/4″ cut would.

Wishful thinking and denial combined, but it kept me going. And if I do say so myself, I did a really nice job on his legs — usually the hardest part for me.

But about his back? It’ll just have to grow out so I can clip it again. Hopefully with the right blade.

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Yesterday had to turn out well, no matter what happened. How could it not with a sunny, warm and dry day in March out with the dogs?

We started out at one of our favorite training grounds with a picnic hunt test put on by the Greater Pacific NW Retriever Trial Club. This is the same site where the club will put on a real hunt test later this month, and we want to help Tooey get comfortable in those surroundings should we decide to enter her in the test.

As the morning progressed, she got better with her marking. Russ had to handle her to the area of the fall on her first bird, but by the afternoon, she successfully trotted through the the area of her third bird to get to her fifth bird, which landed in line with the third, but 25 yards further out.

Tooey is not a naturally confident performer, so we were happy to see that she didn’t let the fact that there were a bunch of strangers hiding out in the field faze her. (Strangers being out in the field has been a problem in the past.)

20130310-134931.jpg

I ran Cooper in the field. Or at least, I tried to. I had resolved that if he broke at the line, I’d march him back to the car. Sigh… I gave him several chances, but Cooper spent most of the morning in the car.

After field practice, we drove about 30 minutes to the building where Cooper’s next Rally trial will be held. Fortunately, yesterday the owner was sponsoring “tickers” — short bursts of time when you can take your dog into the ring and do whatever you want within the provided setup. We arrived in time to run Tooey twice through a Rally Advanced setup and Cooper twice through a Rally Excellent setup.

Tooey did okay with a lot of enthusiastic encouragement, and Cooper did great. In fact, except for the fact that he didn’t jump the high jump the first time I asked him to, all of the mistakes were my mis-reading or forgetting the signs.

The contrast between Cooper’s field work with me and his Rally work was striking. Out in the field, he was completely not aware that I even existed. In the Rally ring, he gave me lots of really impressive (for him) attention and had a lot of fun.

I feel pretty good about our chances of qualifying in Rally Excellent next weekend. I’ll have to study the signs again and bring my cheat sheet with me, but at least Cooper will be familiar with the venue when we get there.

But the dog day didn’t end there. We finished up with a bath. Never Cooper’s favorite, but necessary. He was so dirty that the shampoo turned brown.

After all that, I was tired. Tooey lay down in that sweet spot where she could keep an eye on both me in the dining room and Russ in the kitchen. But not Cooper. No. When I finally got to sit down with some scotch and my book, what did I find at my feet? A tennis ball and a hopeful Cooper smiling up at me.

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