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Archive for November, 2015

In my youth, growing up in Grand Junction, Colorado, I frequently explored the outskirts of town in an old jeep and on foot. Now I only visit on rare occasions such as for visiting family this last week for Thanksgiving. Our motel was just a mile from the desert, so it was the obvious place to go to run the dogs in the morning.

The area, sandwiched between the city limits and the mountains, is open to the public for lots of uses. The rolling hills of Mancos Shale provides some tempting challenges for off-road vehicles and motorcycles. As such, there are many vertical paths headed straight up (or down) the hills, and these provide paths for dogs and humans to stretch our legs after sitting in the car for the 1000 mile road trip from Oregon.

From the crest of a Mancos Shale hill

From the crest of a Mancos Shale hill

Carlin and Tooey resting after zooming to top

Carlin and Tooey resting after zooming to the top

When it rains or snows, these hills become slippery and somewhat treacherous to navigate in or on a motorized vehicle. There are frequent roll overs and spills that are often the outcome of mixing speed, alcohol, youth, and internal combustion engines. (Note: the author of this post only knows about this through hearsay and never did anything like it in his youth.)

On the slope of one such hill, Carlin noticed a lump of dried mud that looked out of place. He turned over the artifact, and we determined that it must have resulted from such a mishap.

Carlin's prize

Carlin’s prize, with pups and Trice below looking for more

Encrusted in the alkaline clay-shale muck, was a rather nice wristwatch. Based on the broken band, it appears that a motorcyclist must have taken a hard spill sometime in the past, and the watch was ripped from his wrist and buried in the muck. After some recent rains, it reappeared on the surface where Carlin extricated the find like a fresh found fossil. The leather band looked like what you would expect when you bury something organic in a caustic soup of minerals, but the watch was in near perfect shape with the correct time and the hands just ticking along as though nothing was wrong. The date was three days off, so I speculate that since not all months are 31 days, this watch must have been buried for sometime.

When I returned to Oregon, I cleaned it up, ordered a new band online, and should have a fine time piece that has already proven to be quite rugged. For the record, this is a Luminox Anacama model 1925 (MSRP $625).

I can only hope the original owner is still alive, as we found no wrist bones sticking out of the mud. I am sure that if he survived the spill, seeing his motorcycle sitting at the bottom of the hill probably distracted him enough that he never noticed the watch was missing.

Tooey and Carlin cruising the ridge looking for more goodies. (rabbits specifically)

Tooey and Carlin cruising the ridge looking for more goodies (rabbits specifically)

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On this so called “Black Friday”, Russ, Russ’ nephew Galen, the dogs, and I spent the afternoon outdoors, first in snow, then in bright sunshine, and then again in dark clouds and snow. We were at 5000 feet on Reeder Mesa, on the Broken Spoke Ranch, in western Colorado. Russ and I hoped to give the dogs something feathered to flush and retrieve, and Galen came along to observe and take the photos for this blog post.

We got Tooey out first. She’d missed out on the hunting in Montana, and she wasn’t entered in the hunt test in California, so the girl was past due for some bird action. She didn’t disappoint. She found her first bird right off, using her usual, methodical, back and forth quartering. She flushed the rooster, but before it could be brought down, it glided into a neighboring pasture on the other side of a barbed wire fence.

Tooey's first flush

Tooey’s first flush. Photo by Galen Dodd

After Russ helped her through, she flushed it again right toward Russ, who brought it down about 50 yards away. Russ could have retrieved that bird himself, but Tooey, stuck on the other side of the barbed wire, was jumping up and down, trying to leap over the fence so she could get that retrieve herself.

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The first pheasant of the day. Photo by Galen Dodd

Once Russ helped her back through the fence, she dashed directly to her bird, grabbed it up, and delivered it to hand.

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Here you go, Dad. Can we go get another one? Photo by Galen Dodd

Tooey then quartered the field, looking for more birds. After a search through some Russian Olive trees, she flushed another rooster, which Russ missed. Both Russ and Tooey watched it glide away about 200 yards into some heavy, boggy cover. Tooey correctly identified the landing zone, found the rooster, and flushed it again, this time in Russ’s direction.

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A twice-flushed pheasant. Photo by Galen Dodd

That made this one a much easier shot.

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The snow is lightening up. Photo by Galen Dodd

And Tooey delivered that one to hand, too.

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I’m a real hunting dog, right? Photo by Galen Dodd

All in all, Tooey found, flushed, and delivered a total of four pheasants. That was her quota for the day, so then it was Carlin’s turn.

Our goal was to see whether Carlin could do an extended hunt, where there weren’t other (girl) dogs around to distract him. We know that he can do a short 4 minutes in the field at a hunt test, but can he do an hour? Unlike Tooey, Carlin is not moderately paced. His style is to range out farther and much faster. We ended up having to whistle him back in closer to us many a time, and remind him to actually quarter across a field, rather than just run out in front.

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Carlin’s first of five flushes. Photo by Galen Dodd

But even with these challenges, Carlin scored better than the gunners, finding and flushing five pheasants, only three of which he got to retrieve to hand. Clearly, he can do the work, find and flush the birds, and deliver them to hand. We just need to continue to tune up his style.

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We done good. Photo by Russ Dodd. Birds by Carlin and Tooey

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SHU

I thought I’d create a post that lists Carlin’s scores for the four Senior Hunter Upland spaniel tests he took and passed, earning his SHU title. Each test is represented in a table, and each table includes the scores given by the two judges for each category.

Senior Hunter Upland test 1 – Clumber Spaniel Club of America – September 6, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt Dead Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 9 | 9 9.0 | 9.0
Bird finding 8 | 8 8 | 9 8 | 8 8.0 | 8.3
Flushing 8 | 8 N/A N/A 8.0 | 8.0
Trained 8 | 8 8 | 8 8 | 8 8.0 | 8.0
Retrieving 9 | 9 8 | 8 9 | 9 8.6 | 8.6
Overall average 8.3 | 8.4

 

Senior Hunter Upland test 2 – Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers – September 7, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt Dead Average
Hunting 8 | 8 N/A 9 | 7 8.5 | 7.5
Bird finding 9 | 9 9 | 9 8 | 7 8.6 | 8.3
Flushing 8 | 8 N/A N/A 8.0 | 8.0
Trained 8 | 8 8 | 9 8 | 7 8.0 | 8.0
Retrieving 9 | 9 7 | 9 9 | 7 8.3 | 8.3
Overall average 8.3 | 8.0

 

Senior Hunter Upland test 3 – Sporting Spaniel Club of Southern California – November 7, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt Dead Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 9 | 9 9.0 | 9.0
Bird finding 10 | 10 10 | 9 8 | 9 9.3 | 9.3
Flushing 10 | 10 N/A N/A 10.0 | 9.0
Trained 8 | 9 9 | 9 7 | 8 8.0 | 8.7
Retrieving 9 | 8 9 | 9 9 | 9 9.0 | 9.0
Overall average 9.1 | 9.0

 

Senior Hunter Upland test 4 – Sporting Spaniel Club of Southern California – November 8, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt Dead Average
Hunting 10 | 9 N/A 8 | 10 9.0 | 9.5
Bird finding 9 | 9 10 | 10 8 | 9 9.0 | 9.3
Flushing 9 | 9 N/A N/A 9.0 | 9.0
Trained 10 | 7 10 | 9 8 | 8 9.3 | 8.0
Retrieving 10 | 9 10 | 9 9 | 9 9.7 | 9.7
Overall average 9.2 | 8.9

 

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Picture this: hundreds of acres of rolling hills of lush and verdant agriculture. To this, add dozens of ponds with coots, egrets, and curlews foraging for food. In the morning, coyotes are calling back and forth as they look for breakfast. And above, redtail hawks are scanning for their share of the bounty. Not only is the the perfect place for wildlife, but this is the perfect venue for a hunt test, either retriever or spaniel.

Now picture this: this area surrounded by hundreds of miles of 6-lane freeways, hundreds of strip malls, thousands of houses, and millions of people. This is exactly where we spent the weekend with Carlin running two hunt tests in suburban Los Angeles with the Southern California Sporting Spaniel Club. Prado Recreation Dog Park in Chino Hills, California, is an oasis of dog park perfection and was the venue for two days of AKC Spaniel Upland hunt tests. Oh, and the occasional palm tree and blooming cactus patch says, “we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

Tooey, doing a quality control check on a Prado pond. It passed.

Tooey, doing a quality control check on a Prado pond. It passed.

So, what compelled me to drive 1000 miles (one way) just to snag a few pheasants for Carlin, when there are ample supplies close to home? First, this venue is where the 2016 Irish Water Spaniel Club of America National Specialty will be holding the WC/WCX tests, and I have the good fortune to be the field chairman, so I thought I better scout out the property before next Spring. (Note: if you are planning on attending, this location is remarkable and should not be missed.)

Second, this trip was initially the brainstorm of Patrice, who missed out on handling Carlin’s last run at Senior, due to a bad case of food poisoning. And she really wanted to wrap up Carlin’s Senior title herself after months of hard training. But as soon as she paid for Carlin’s entry and made motel reservations, Patrice’s employer wanted her to travel overseas to Wales for business. Conflict! Angst! So I offered to make the trip solo with the boy while she went to Europe to earn kibble money for the pups.

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Martyn, 3 Cockers, 1 IWS, and Patrice

(The bonus for Patrice is that Martyn Ford lives in the neighborhood (sort of), so she got to spend some time with some of her favorite dog folks after her work was concluded).

So Carlin, Ms. Tooey, and I headed south a 1000 miles to Chino Hills in pursuit of the wily California pheasant. Being a sporting Spaniel club, SCSPC is used to Springers, Cockers, Clumbers, Sussex, and Boykins, but Carlin was the very first Irish Water Spaniel to test with their club. In fact, he was the very first IWS that these folks had actually laid eyes on, much less watched as a hunting dog. He was a novelty for sure, and I felt the pressure not only to pass the tests for Patrice, but to keep my fingers crossed that Carlin would be a good ambassador for the breed. As Carlin is a male IWS at the height of his adolescence, I was honestly concerned that his behavior might bring on some embarrassment.

Prado Dog Park in Chino Hills, California

Prado Dog Park in Chino Hills, California

On Saturday, November 7, the land series was in a field of wild chard, under slightly boggy conditions. We queued up in the gallery with couple of little American Cockers, while the working dog ahead poked around looking for pheasants. My concern was that Carlin’s focus was going to be the girl dogs and not birds, as was the case last month in Montana. But when it was our turn, Carlin became Mr. Bird Dog.

Zooming through the chard, photo by Marsha Linehan

Zooming through the chard, photo by Marsha Linehan

In contrast to the little Cockers which disappeared under the chard while looking for birds, Carlin bounded through, over, and around anything that could remotely be considered bird cover. Zooming between the gunners, he was clearly the biggest and fastest dog of all the entries. And because he bounded above the cover, all the spectators could follow his actions from a distance. He soon put a bird in the air, the gunner dropped it 40 yards away, and Carlin delivered a live bird to hand as planned. A quick drink of water, and he was off again. The second bird was put up, but this one eluded the gunners. Carlin was not steady, but he quickly returned on my whistle command while the bird flew off into the trees. Done with the land series.

photo by Marsha Linehan

photo by Marsha Linehan

Delivery to hand, photo by Marsha Linehan

Delivery to hand, photo by Marsha Linehan

The hunt-dead was a bit nerve-wracking. Carlin had been doing some stellar work in training, going straight back for 50 yards through heavy cover before locating a dead bird. But this test was up against some cover that was the same as the land series, so rather than taking a straight line out to the area of the dead bird, Carlin figured there was more quartering to do and more birds to flush, right? Wrong! But after a few moments that seemed like we were pushing the 5-minute time limit, he eventually walked over and picked up the bird as though he knew where it was all along, but wanted to use his time allotment for real hunting.

On to the water series. While Carlin was lining up in the heel position overlooking a glorious pond and as I was removing his leash, one judge said that he had hunted over a cross between an IWS and an American Water Spaniel. “A great dog, but he hated water and would never get wet” is what he said. (Another setup for being an IWS ambassador). The pheasant went skyward, splashed 30 yards out, and that very same judge tapped my shoulder to release Carlin for the retrieve. Carlin attempted to jump half way to the bird before entering the pond with his huge water launch. Everyone in the gallery and the judges now know what the “W” stands for in IWS. Carlin would have passed just because of his water entry alone, much less bringing the bird back to hand like he did.

Result: One orange ribbon and the third pass at the Senior Hunter Upland level.

Sunday was another day in paradise. The land portion was held at the same location, but going in the other direction. There was no wind for scenting, none. But Carlin made about a dozen passes through the chard, checking out previous bird locations. He started to move a bit too far out for my liking and definitely too far for the gunners. So as I was about to call him in closer, he stuck his head into a clump of chard, grabbed a pheasant, and trotted back. “You lookin’ for this?” Carlin handed me the bird, I gave it to the judges, and we moved on. And for bird number 2, it decided to flush rather than be trapped, and flew off the course, where the gunner dropped it into moderate cover. Boom, zoom, 2nd bird delivered to hand.

The hunt dead was a condensed version of Saturday. I lined him up, he went straight for 10 yards, hooked a right, quartered through the cover, went left, and as he was crossing in front of me, I blew the whistle masking a four letter word that meant “Sit!! and right now”. He stopped, I let him sit there and think about it for a few seconds and then raised my right arm with a somewhat loud “BACK”. He spun, went out and picked up the bird. (Note to self: things to work on for winter training.)

Carlin was the last Senior dog for the water series on Sunday, and the gallery was primed for a repeat of the prior day’s water work. He did not disappoint. There was a minor moment of concern, though. As the bird hit the water, Carlin’s rock solid steadiness at the line faltered with a forward hop of about a foot. Fortunately I reflexively blurted out a “No” before anymore forward motion occurred, and immediately followed that with a “Take It!!” command. Carlin’s grand water entry completely distracted the judges from the fact that he was on the verge of not being steady. His score sheets had three 10s and one 9 on the water work, so the little hop was not a problem (this time).

With that, Carlin earned his fourth senior orange ribbon. This fourth pass now gives him his AKC Senior Hunter Upland title. (4 attempts, 4 passes)

Carlin celebrates Senior pass #4 with the judges and Russ, photo by Marsha Linehan

Carlin celebrates Senior pass #4 with the judges and a kiss to Russ, photo by Marsha Linehan

One serendipitous aspect of this test, was that one of the judges was also the very judge who awarded Cooper “Best of Winners” at a dog show 5 years ago, which gave him his second major win and elevated him to his AKC Championship. While Carlin is our dog of the moment, the mighty Coop is never far away in our minds and he is missed everyday. To have this connection between these two Realta boys is very powerful as we try very hard to make sure that Cooper does not fade away in our memories.

This is, after all, The Cooper Project.

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