Yesterday, while Russ was gunning, Carlin and I ran in a retriever picnic test put on by a local retriever club. It’s the first time since last September that Carlin has been in a retriever hunt test situation, with all that entails: a crowded parking lot crammed with trucks; shotguns, duck calls, and holding blinds; about 5 dozen dogs (mostly Labs, of course, with a couple of Standard Poodles, a Flatcoat, and a Chessie), and many painfully loud whistles.
Or, at least, I thought I had Carlin. Thinking back on it now, I think some evil genie switched Carlin out for another Irish Water Spaniel for the vast majority of the day, one that I didn’t know at all. This dog I had didn’t do well those things I expected him to do well at, and he did some other things well that I totally didn’t expect.
The club had set up six holding blinds where dog-handler teams waited their turn. The wait was long. This was training, so when it was their turn, teams often re-ran marks or they ran all 3 blind retrieves just for the practice, or they simply took a long time getting set up to run. I didn’t time them, but I estimate that each team took at least 5 or 6 minutes a piece. That meant that a team waiting in the first blind had to wait more than 1/2 hour until their turn at the line, moving from one blind to the next every 5 or 6 minutes or so. That is a very long time for an excitable Junior dog like Carlin. But to my surprise, he did very well. He sat or stood calmly in each blind, not jumping around, not pulling me out of each blind, not trying to get around, over, or under the blind, and walking relatively calmly from blind to blind.
With all this good work, I was very surprised when I tried to get us from the last holding blind to the line. Carlin’s afterburners blasted on, and he pulled me toward the line with all his might, most of it while up on his hind legs.
That is against the rules — a Junior dog has to get to the line on all four feet. So, I returned him to the holding blind a couple of times, until I could four on the floor. When we finally succeeded, he wasn’t calm, but he was on four feet.
Once at the line, I set him up with the command Richard has using with him, “Get ready.” He stood in heel position facing where my left foot was pointing (good), but wouldn’t sit (bad). He’s not had this not-sitting issue in a very long time. I told him to sit again, and he didn’t sit. Finally, I took off my hat hand bopped him on the butt with it. Then he sat. I waited a bit until he seemed to calm down, and told him, “Find your mark.” He pushed his head forward, studying the area. I signaled for the bird, the judge signaled the bird boy, the bird boy blew the duck call, and then launched the bird. The judge said, “Dog,” and I sent Carlin with a “Take It”.
Carlin took off like a shot, right toward the duck.
But for some reason, he didn’t find it. He ran right next to it, and all around it, but didn’t even wind it. (You can see the brown duck below and behind Carlin’s right rear foot in the photo above.) Finally, the bird boy came out and tossed him a second one. That one he found, and that one he brought back. I was really puzzled. It seemed like an easy mark — a straight line through low cover. Very wet, splashy, boggy cover, but still low.
He came back to me, swung wide, showed the bird off to the judge, and then came in and delivered it. I’d seen that behavior on Thursday, so I wasn’t totally shocked. But I also sort of expected Carlin to drop the duck, but he didn’t. So that was good.
But the big shock was that Carlin hadn’t marked his duck. He went out the right direction, but apparently hadn’t actually seen where the duck fell. That was very surprising, as this has not been a problem for Carlin before.
So maybe it was something about being over-excited. Maybe he’d been too jazzed to actually focus on where the duck fell. Maybe the next mark, a flyer, would be better.
But it wasn’t. He positioned himself squarely at the mark. I waited a bit to give him some time to get oriented. And he looked out intently, with his head pointed in the correct direction when I told him to find his mark. The duck flew, the guns brought it down, the judge said, “Dog”, and I sent Carlin. Again, he was off like a shot, but stopped short and started hunting in a wide circle. Again, he couldn’t find it, and again, the gunner came out and tossed a second bird for him.
While Carlin was returning from the second mark, the judge asked me, “Is she a show dog?” (The third bird wasn’t any better — I had to wade out into the shallow pond, show him that bird myself, and tell him to follow me back to the line.)
That question, on top of Carlin’s humiliating performance… that question just stopped me. I don’t even remember what I mumbled in response. The question is sort of understandable, if you’re coming from the world of Labrador Retrievers. And it’s not like the retriever people are alone. I’ve been asked that question by spaniel people as well. In those breeds (and some others), there is a huge difference if field ability between “working” Labs or Springers or Cockers and their “show” counterparts.
Some would argue that this is also true in Irish Water Spaniels. But if it’s a matter of heredity, Carlin, like a lot of IWS, should come firmly down on the side of both working and show. He’s got great field dogs in back of him on both sides, and many of his ancestors were very successful show dogs as well.
But I know why I got the question today. Carlin has just done a horrible job at a retriever’s main responsibility — marking and retrieving birds. And, you know, if you’re accustomed of thinking of working vs. show dogs, and you saw Carlin’s performance today, you might suspect that Carlin is “just” a show dog with no inherent working ability. But golly, did he have to rub it in?
And then there’s the “she”. The assumption that everything with curls is a she is just not logical, and anyone who knows the least little bit about sexual reproduction would (or at least should) realize that. It just does nothing less than reveal the prejudices of the person saying it. Especially when you’re looking at an intact male with very short coat around generous testicles. Sheesh.
We waited until all the other dogs had run, and I asked permission to run two of the marks again. Even though it was starting to rain, and everyone was soggy and wanted to go home, they said yes. So I ran Carlin again on two of the marks, and this time, he made it out to the line on all four feet, and he found both his birds and brought them in. He had to search for just a bit, and he paraded his birds around a little before delivering them. But he did the job. Finally.
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