Archive for May, 2013

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.

Irish Water Spaniel, IWS

photo by Christine Robertson

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.


photo by Christine Robertson

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.


photo by Christine Robertson

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.


photo by Christine Robertson


photo by Christine Robertson

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.

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We got Tooey back yesterday when I picked her up at Spaniel practice. She had a good time flushing up and retrieving a couple of pigeons, a fun but somewhat less successful time retrieving a wet, icky pigeon from the water, and then a long peaceful ride home in the car. (“Oh, look, it’s MY car! I will ride HOME in MY car!”)

Cooper was so happy to see her. I think that while he enjoyed being the only dog, he also missed his girl. So when she came home, all he wanted to do was show her how much he loved her. Rhythmically and often. And just as often, she told him to step away from her rear. (Sigh.)

After a few hours of this we finally separated them, and a bit later, they settled down. So today (Monday morning), Tooey went out into the backyard to admire her new espaliered pear tree. (It is MY tree. Boys are not allowed to pee on it.)

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniels, IWS

Tooey and her pear tree

After a full day of checking the entire house to make sure everything was in order, and then a walk to confirm that the neighborhood was still ordered as it should be, it was time for a nap. (My BED! Oh, it’s MY bed. Y-a-a-a-w-n.)

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniels, IWS

Tooey sound asleep with Russ’s sock in her mouth and red Kong toy under her belly

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Boy with favorite dog. Dog with favorite duck.


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Yesterday, I had one of those rare days: a Friday off work, sunny, warm, and dry in early spring. A day to do whatever I want, without inconveniencing anybody else.

So Cooper and I hopped into the car early in the morning and drove to the delta.

Friday means that it would be somewhat less crowded with other people and their dogs. Sunny, warm, and dry means that somewhat fewer clothes would be required (no raincoat, no long sleeves, and no rubber boots). Early spring means that there might still be water in the ponds, or at least that the river might be high enough for us to find some quiet back eddies to play in.

I found a new-to-me trail, for one thing. And not another soul (human or canine) on it within sight or hearing.


And for another, after passing a much diminished pond, we did indeed find a couple quiet, deep backwaters at the edge of the river to practice water retrieves and cool off.



A good morning all in all. Quiet, peaceful, renewing. I was back in time to miss the afternoon heat and have a nice lunch with Russ while Cooper slept on the cool tile floor.

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Tooey is gone to the Spa for Hot Girls. Trice is gone to a conference in Atlanta. What are the two left-behind boys to do?

Why, get their portrait done, of course!

Russ and Cooperphoto by Paul Thacker

Russ and Cooper
photo by Paul Thacker

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On the left is Ch Whistlestop John Jameson “JJ”, and on the right is my sweet Ch Stanegate Second Thoughts RN JH WD “Tooey”.

And yes, they are doing It. Clearly, JJ and Tooey both thought that today was the perfect day to try to start puppies.


Tooey went into season on April 23, so this would seem like the right time, just looking at the calendar. But there are no guarantees.

Tooey’s progesterone blood level has been checked every couple of days for the last week, and it is just not rising the desired levels. The vet said that it seems “stalled” at 3 ng/ml. Reading around on the web, I find a lot of variation on what the recommended level is for breeding, but most say that ovulation occurs at 5. So…

On the other hand, we can consider the analog method of making these determinations. While the potential sire is interested in the whole idea nearly the entire time the potential dam is in season, she is supposedly interested only when the time is “right”. Blood test? she says. We don’t need no stinking blood test.

Even so, another blood test will be done tomorrow with results available on Friday. So who knows? Maybe a mix of science and intuition will give us good news soon.


Note added on May 10: another tie today. Bloodwork be dammed!

Note added on May 13: another tie again today!

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Nothing important. No ribbons, no passes, no title or medallions.

Just a beautiful, warm May morning for some steady drills, long retrieves, and then some cooling water work.

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