Archive for June, 2014

Lately, I have been blessed (or cursed) with unrelenting work from my best clients. Working 7 days a week for the last couple of months has taken its toll. Memorial Day weekend was a 3-day break with a hunt test for Tooey. But other than that, I haven’t taken a break while producing hundreds of images for a shoe and sportswear company here in Oregon.

The real saints in this process have been the dogs. No field work, no vigorous exercise; just  watching me work. So today, the whole crew took off for a morning to play on Sauvie Island and its water.

This photo sums up what Tooey and Cooper thought getting out of the house and the simple pleasures of just being outdoors and being a dog.


Cooper and Tooey leap into the lake for the pure joy of swimming

Carlin, at 17 weeks, knows little about the activities that await him as an adult Irish Water Spaniel. He initially looked on with amazement, as Tooey and Cooper swam and retrieved non-stop.


So to get him into the game, we pulled out a puppy size retrieving duck, dragged it along the ground, and tossed it into the lake. At first, he was not sure what to do, but then his retriever gene kicked in, and that was all he needed.





Carlin looks like he will be a suitable water dog as he made his first delivery to hand (in exchange for cheese), and this was his first deep water swim as well.


Carlin, at 17 weeks, weighs in at 30 lbs. His potential as a field dog is showing through nicely.

With long swims for the adult dogs, and lots of running through the pastures practicing recalls, the dogs slept nicely on the way home. The case of cabin fever has been broken.

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When I took this photo of Russ and the pups on June 27th,

conducting_canine_choir_2014-06-28I was reminded of this photo of Martyn Ford and his dogs, which I took on October 17, 2012. Martyn knows what he’s doing, having been for many years both an accomplished field trainer and a professional conductor.

IMG_0916ARuss does a pretty good Martyn Ford imitation, doesn’t he?

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Well, after just over a month, Tooey’s JHU title has shown up on the AKC’s website.


captured from the AKC’s website – June 26, 2014

She earned that title, fair and square, with her fourth Junior spaniel hunting test pass on May 25. Now all I have to wait for is that beautiful title certificate to arrive in the mail. (Which will go to her co-owner’s address, but I’ll get it eventually.)

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15 weeks blog

Carlin has been doing the sweetest thing. I didn’t realize what he’d been doing until I saw it a few times, and then I thought, “Wow, little guy. You might win Cooper over yet.”

Cooper has this seven-year-old habit of dropping a ball several feet away from his target person, and then running to a spot even farther out. There he waits for the person to pick up the ball and throw it.

For the most part, neither Russ nor I pick the ball up until it’s at our feet, and so over a period of several minutes, Cooper will run up to the dropped ball, bring it maybe a few inches closer to the person, and then run off again. After a wait, he’ll again come pick up the dropped ball, drop it a few more inches closer, and then run off again. Eventually, the ball will appear at the person’s feet, but it takes a while.

Sometimes I think that this is a longitudinal experiment Cooper has designed to see how close he has to get the ball to the person before that person will throw the ball. At the very least, this is a game that Cooper has made up, and he loves playing it.

So, about Carlin. The other day, Carlin watched Cooper start the drop-ball-and-run-away routine. And when Coop turned to run away from the dropped ball, Carlin picked it up. I thought, “Oh, boy. Stealing Cooper’s ball may not be such a great idea.”

But it turned out, he wasn’t stealing it. Instead, he ran to Cooper, dropped the ball about eight inches away from Cooper, and then pushed it toward Cooper’s feet. Experiment interrupted, Cooper grabbed the ball, and started the routine again. And again, Carlin picked it up and brought it to Cooper. Not too close to Cooper, of course. Cooper can be grumpy.

It could be that Carlin is just returning the ball — “Here, Cooper, you dropped this.” That would be sweet.

But there is another interpretation. Carlin so wants to play with Cooper. Carlin is usually polite, and understands that Cooper won’t put up with being jumped on and having his ears pulled, the way Tooey will let him do. But when Cooper runs in the yard, Carlin runs along, just behind. When Cooper sniffs along the fence, Carlin trails after him.

So here’s what I think. I think maybe Carlin is trying to add a new rule to Cooper’s game, so that Carlin can play it, too.

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Two points makes a line, but perhaps not a trend.

Today’s was our — Cooper’s and mine — first successful second-day RAE leg. He’s gotten 7 previous RAE legs, but none of them were on the second day. Our two previous second days were confounding and humiliating, but up until today, not successful.

But today, Cooper kept both his body and his brain in the Rally ring for both the Excellent and Advanced runs. We came out of the Excellent ring with an 88, and Advanced with an 89. The scores today were not as high as yesterday’s. Cooper had to work harder at staying focused, and as one handler put it, today’s judge’s pencil was sharper than yesterday’s judge.

But who cares? Cooper did it, and I was, and am, so very pleased with having earned his 8th RAE leg (out of 10 required), and on a second day.




After ribbons were handed out, I packed up our stuff, loaded everything into the car, and took Cooper for a little celebratory swim in a nearby river. He chased bumpers into the water until he decided not to bring me the bumper anymore. (That’s quite a few — I stopped counting after 7.)

What a way to end the day. We both came home exhausted and happy.



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The fact that I had a colonoscopy yesterday might explain a few things about our rally runs today.

Like the fact that when reading the course map for Excellent before the walk through, I completely missed the fact that there was a Stand Dog, Leave Dog, Down Dog exercise (station 9).

Or that when we got to the Novice-level sign for Call Front Finish Right (station 17), Cooper did an extra sit. I wondered for a second why he did that, and only then realised that I’d given him a Sit command. We repeated the station.

Sheesh. The anaesthesiologist had promised on Friday that all the drugs would be out of my system by run time on Saturday.

With all that, we got a very generous 91 in Excellent.


Advanced mostly went well, too. Like several other dogs, Cooper got distracted at a sign near the door. Another handler speculated that stockyard scents were coming through from the nearby stables. (The rally trials were held in a barn at the Canby, Oregon fairgrounds.)

The only other thing was that the judge used that same Call Front Finish Right exercise in Advanced, and Cooper anticipated that I would give that extra sit command, so he sat. We repeated that exercise again, and got out of the Advanced rally ring with a 95.


I was very pleased. And it was warm and sunny, so I took Cooper for a short swim in the nearby Molalla River.

Wonder how we’ll do on Sunday?

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After yesterday’s successful RAE leg, I texted Russ about our successfully qualifying run, reported all our mistakes, and ended with: “I love Cooper.”

Today, I have to remind myself I said that. And try hard to remember why I said that and what he did right during today’s Excellent Rally run:

  • He jumped both jumps, even the Send to Jump exercise, which he failed yesterday.
  • He did not jump out of the ring, like he did at IWSCOPS Specialty last August.
  • He mostly stayed with me on the Serpentine.

That’s about it.

For the rest of the run, his brain was gone. Just gone. He was looking around, wandering away, not responding when I called him. No sense of teamwork at all.

He was distracted. I was humiliated. The judge gave us an NQ.

We didn’t even try the Advanced course.

I think I see a pattern here, though. So far, we have tried two-day RAE runs only twice, and both times, we qualified on the first day, but on the second day, Cooper’s brain left his body, and we failed.


We are entered for a two-day trial in a couple of weeks, and I’m not sure what we’ll do. Perhaps we’ll just go to the first day, see how it goes, and then decide.

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This was a weird Rally trial. Cooper actually performed better in Excellent than in Advanced.

As you can see, the Excellent course was tough. It had the moving Stand Walk Around Dog (which we’ve IP’d –incorrectly performed — before, but did well this time), the Send to Jump (which Cooper apparently forget how to do), and the Back Up 3 Steps (which he did pretty well).


So we lost 10 points for the IP, but only 3 points on everything else. I was happy with that 87. Conditions were good, too, quiet and not too much commotion.

Advanced was another story. The course looked easy. The judge even changed the Figure 8 to one without distractions.


But something was going on in the room, and Cooper was very distracted.

For one thing, there was much more commotion. Many more people and dogs walking around, barking, and treats and toys everywhere. Plus there were dumbells being thrown and loud commands being given in nearby rings.

We got an 88 in Advanced, nominally better than the 87 we got in Excellent. But his performance was marked by lots of forging, lagging, going wide, for which we lost a total of 10 point. We even lost the other two points for taking an age to set up and sit at the Start line. He not paying enough attention to me from the very beginning.

I don’t think the crowds and commotion were enough to explain it. There was something else, something that, after our run was over, I let Cooper search for in the room.

What ever it was, he didn’t find it. I suspect, though, that Cooper thought he saw Russ. While we were waiting to go into the ring, I saw what I think Cooper saw: a very tall, slender grey haired person at the other end of he room.

And just like last August at the IWSCOPS show, Cooper wanted to jump out of the ring and go to Russ. This time, though, I stopped him just a foot from leaving through a gap in the ring gate, kept him in the ring, and got him back into the game.

Enough to get that 2nd qualifying score and a 6th leg (out of 10 required) for his RAE title.


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It’s all fixed now. I was trying out this method of temporarily restricting access, but it just ended up confusing everybody.

I apologize for the inconvenience. The post is open to all now.

click here to get to the formerly protected post

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At the 2014 IWSCA National Specialty, I participated in a conversation that unfortunately morphed into an incident, and I’ve been thinking for quite a while about how to write about it. When I came across a blog post by one of my favorite writers about dogs, I knew I had my opening.

PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS TOO. Remember the value of positive reinforcement? I’m often amazed at how quickly people forget to use PR as soon as they… start talking with a member of their own species… If you want to say something to someone about their [dog], you darn well better start with something good… I learned early on how defensive people can be about their dog.

From Trisha’s Blog (The Other End of the Leash website by Patricia McConnell – http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/how-to-talk-to-other-dog-owners)

So here’s what happened at the Specialty (* some of this I heard second hand)

  • While waiting our turns in the Rally ring on Monday morning, and friend (Friend) and I both noticed a dog across the room. This dog had very straight stifles (sort of equivalent to the human knee), not curved as they should be. This gave the dog a very stiff-looking gait in the rear. It looked painful, and seeing this, my friend observed, “Watching that dog walk makes me hurt.”
  • (*) The sister of the dog’s owner was passing by, and overheard our comments. She reported to her sister (Owner) that Friend had said, “That dog makes me want to hurl.”
  • A few minutes later, I walked up to Owner, and offered unsolicited advice about trying chiropractic for her dog, saying that chiropractic had helped my dog a lot when he’d hurt his back.
  • Tuesday night, after the last specialty event was over and people were pulling out of the parking lot, another club member (Member) approached Friend as she and I were just leaving, and scolded her for insulting the dog, saying that Owner had been so upset that she chose not to come to any more of the specialty events and was thinking about quitting the club. Friend tried to explain that she had not said what had been reported, nor had she meant any offense, and that had she been given the chance to explain and apologize in person, she certainly would have. Friend also asked for, and did not receive, Owner’s name or contact information.
  • Late that night, I spoke privately to Member. We explained to each other what we’d each done and why. Since I didn’t know Owner’s name, I also asked Member to give Owner my email address and phone number, so that I could apologize also to Owner for giving unsolicited advice. (I don’t know if my contact info was passed on or not.)
  • (*) Days later, Owner complained to the IWSCA’s President about Friend.
  • (*) About the same time, Friend independently contacted the IWSCA’s President, explained the situation, and said she would be happy to apologize if given Owner’s name and contact information. The president supplied that info, and Friend sent Owner an email explaining and apologizing.
  • (*) Owner replied, acknowledging the apology.

So sad, all this hurt and anger. And none of it had to happen.

But it did. And why? Because we all forgot about the power of positive reinforcement. None of us thought to start out our comments with something good and positive.

We also forgot something else. National specialty dog shows, even more than regular dog shows, are fraught events. As a dog trainer might put it, we spend a lot of time at specialties being “over threshold”. Not only are we generally defensive about our dogs, at specialties, we are also frequently nervous, envious, anxious, and generally hypersensitive.

This situation makes it even more important that we be careful to not only start out with the positive, but perhaps even to stay with just the positive.

So how could this all have been different? There were lots of chances to make it better, and all of us involved missed them.

  • Both Friend and I could have said nothing at all in public that was even remotely less than positive about any dog. Or in this particular situation, we could have simply approached Owner, introduced ourselves, and just said something nice about her dog.
  • Owner’s sister could have checked with Friend to make sure she really heard what she thought she heard.
  • Owner could have approached Friend directly, explained how hurt she was, and asked for an apology.
  • As soon as I noticed Member approaching us in the parking lot, I could have turned to greet her warmly to start our conversation on a positive note.
  • Member could have asked for an explanation of Friend’s comments about Owner’s dog, rather than starting out with a scolding.
  • Member could have introduced Owner to Friend directly, either in person or via email/phone, and urged a conversation.

Now, I don’t want to imply that the Specialty was all like this incident. It wasn’t. If you’ve read my previous posts about the specialty Obedience and Rally trials and the conformation show, then you’ll know that it was also filled with fun, generosity, and kindness.

It’s just that those positive qualities can so easily be overshadowed by incidents like this, and it’s up to us to practice on our fellow humans what we have learned from our dogs: positive reinforcements works.



  • Others who participated in, witnessed, or heard about this incident may remember it differently. They (and all of you) are welcome to comment on this post — I just hope that when commenting, you take my (and Patricia McConnell’s) observations to heart.
  •  If Patricia McConnell’s work doesn’t convince you, take a look at Amy Sutherland’s article “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” (New York Times,  June 25, 2006) and her book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.

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Tooey is spending a few relaxing weeks at the Spa for Hot Girls, so for the time being, it’s just the boys and me. The boys are in the pictures. I’m not.


Russ, Carlin, and Cooper down on the floor


Carlin leaves the bone and chews on the toy instead


Russ and Carlin resting up after afternoon gardening


That gardening is hard work!

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