I have heard that even when you fail, the failure is not something to fret about. Instead, I’ve been told, just learn what you can and move on.
I’ve rarely been able to do that. Until last Saturday when, amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.
Tooey and I were entered in a Junior-level Spaniel Hunt Test. I had watched these tests plenty of times, but I’d never actually done it myself. And as I was the first Junior on the course, I couldn’t watch what my fellow Junior handers did before our run. So, predictably, I made a lot of mistakes. The kinds of mistakes that, if I hadn’t made them, Tooey and I might have passed.
The test was held at the Scatter Creek WIldlife Area, near Rochester, Washington. After our long drive up from Portland, it was nice to get out and walk to the hunt test grounds.
It had been raining lightly, so the field was damp-ish. Raindrops continued to fall now and then, and it stayed in about high 50s F, and with a light breeze. The cover was moderate, interspersed with clumps of Scotch broom — perfect bird hiding places. And the weather was perfect, too: cool enough for the dogs to work hard, and not so wet that the birds wouldn’t fly.
Tooey and I started in the middle of the field, behind the last Senior dog. The judges asked me if I was ready, I said I was, and I sent Tooey off. It didn’t take her too long to trap her first bird, a pigeon. She brought it right to me, alive and unharmed, so we seemed off to a good start.
But that was where I made my first mistake. I didn’t realize that the dog was supposed to stay with the handler after delivering a bird, so I sent her off right away. The judges were busy looking down, writing in their books, so they didn’t see that Tooey had quartered out behind a small tree and flushed up a chukar. And because they didn’t see the flush, it didn’t count.
And then, the bird flew over the course, so the gunners couldn’t shoot it. Suddenly, though, the chukar veered well off the course, a gunner shot it, and it glided off and landed about 80 yards away. Tooey took off and retrieved that bird to hand, too.
OK, so we didn’t get credit for the flush, but we did for the retrieve, so I’m thinking: Not too horrible.
This time while the judges made their notes, I held onto Tooey’s collar (having been informed by one of the judges that I should do so). When they were ready, I sent Tooey off again. What they wanted to see was a good solid flush. Tooey worked the field thoroughly (but in a somewhat irregular pattern), and found her third bird. I got my flush, but only after a v-e-r-y long point.
When a spaniel finds a bird, she is supposed to move in and make the bird fly so the gunner can shoot it. Spaniels (at least in a hunt test or field trial) are absolutely not supposed to point at the bird like a pointer. Tooey found her chukar, but she just stood there, her body and tail gradually stiffening, and pointed right at that bird. It was such a long point that Christine was able to prepare her camera for a couple of great photos.
At that, the judges talked together a bit, and then one turned to me and said, “Thank you.” I returned the “Thank you,” and we walked off the course to await the verdict — would we be called back to do the water retrieve, or not? Maybe yes — she had after all, flushed and retrieved birds. Or, given that the judges talked awhile, maybe no.
When all the Juniors were done, the crowd of handlers, dogs, and onlookers trudged back to the staging area for lunch. I hoped that they’d mark a “call back” board right away so I wouldn’t have to live in suspense. But no, we all had to eat first.
Finally, they marked lines through the names of the dogs who were out, and Tooey’s name was among them.
I went up to the judge, and after thanking him for helping me, asked why Tooey had been eliminated. Turned out, it was that point. In the AKC’s official “Hunting Style of the Irish Water Spaniel,” it says that IWS can hesitate before flushing a bird, but with Tooey, her hesitation turned into a point. He said that when her body and tail stiffened, that’s when it stopped being a hesitation and started being a point.
So, having his ear, I asked whether there was anything I could do about it. He smiled, and said, “I’m glad you asked that! For a test, you can encourage a Junior dog to flush. Did you notice that when you finally encouraged her, that she did flush the bird? Well, next time, if it looks like she might point, just encourage her to flush before she points. And you can train for the situation, too.”
A very nice judge. But still, we had failed, and it was time to go home and think about what to do on Monday, when we’d be running Tooey’s next Junior Spaniel Hunt Test.
I’ve handled a dog in plenty of obedience trials and conformation shows where my dog failed the trial or didn’t get the point. And I’ve always felt horrible afterwards, disappointed and sad. But this time, I didn’t feel bad at all. I just figured, well, it’s my first time, I know at least two mistakes not to make next time, and after all, Tooey did get her birds. So, no orange ribbon this time, but not too horrible.