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Archive for March, 2016

One of the main pleasures of belonging to a club is sharing the results of concerted effort with folks who understand what and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

The club becomes a comfort when your efforts don’t succeed, and an appreciative cheering section when they do.

Last night, those of us in the Irish Water Spaniel Club of Puget Sound became each other’s cheer leaders. It was the annual club banquet, where plaques commemorating each dog’s achievements were given out, including Carlin’s.

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In 2016, Carlin earned several titles and certificates: Working Dog and Working Dog Excellent certificates, and Junior Hunter Upland, Senior Hunter Upland, and Coursing Ability titles. I am so proud of my dog and so grateful to the people who have helped us. Thank you all.

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Tomorrow, Carlin goes back to Richard’s. Carlin is very fond of Richard. Every day they get to do bird work out in the middle of west central Washington state.

This being a day off for me, we decided to get in one last training session before the boy leaves. So during this morning’s break in the weather, Russ and I took the dogs out to a local dog park to first chase around and “air out”, and then get some work done.

It’s not always straight-forward working in a dog park, even a huge one like the one we typically go to. Mostly because there are other dogs running around, some of which are curious about what we’re doing with bumpers and whistles. And then, of course, are the people who have just as much right to bring their dogs to the park as we do, but who seem oblivious to the idea that we might be continually moving farther away from them on purpose.

In any case, we finally did find a corridor on the other side of a graveled area, where we set up some sight blinds.

I set Carlin up next to me in heel position on his place board. Russ walked out about 50 yards and dropped a bumper into some 6-inch grass so that Carlin could see him drop it. Once Russ had returned, I told Carlin “Dead Bird”, and placed my hand next to his head and my left foot next to his place board, both pointing at the bumper.

With my “Back!”, Carlin took off. In most cases, he went straight out to the bird, but in one case, before reaching the bird, he left his line and started quartering back and forth instead. Not what we want with a blind retrieve. So, I called him back, Russ went out and re-dropped the bumper, and I sent Carlin out again.

This time he ran straight out, grabbed up the bumper, and returned with it to me. Yay! Remembering Richard’s advice to play, I started dancing around and celebrating with Carlin, finally throwing a fun bumper for him.

A great place to stop for the morning. As we left the park, the rains started falling again, seconding our motion to leave.

Update 3/15/2016: Carlin’s going back to Richard’s has been temporarily postponed.

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Flooded fields. Brisk winds with hundreds of sandhill cranes banking downwind, calling out in their clacking way. Thousands of Canadian geese lifiting from the water in a tornado of wings. Random flocks of ducks arriving on the somewhat calmer ponds from the nearby and undoubtedly white-capped Columbia River. All under the supervision of two bald eagles perched nearby.

The rains came down hard, almost horizontal. Too wet to risk getting out a camera. So wet, rain gear all around was soaked through. Those who had thought to bring two sets stayed comfortable. The rest of us just got wet. Even for Oregon, today could not be described as anything other than really, really wet and windy. But I didn’t see one dog who cared how wet or how muddy it got. None of that mattered — there were birds to retrieve.

Carlin ran fifth in today’s picnic retriever hunt test. And today’s performance was about the opposite from last weekend’s performance. In fact, today, on the three 115+ yard marks, Carlin did a great job of marking each of the falls. They were all tough marks, with birds falling in front of canopies of visually confusing oak tree branches into tall dead-grass cover. Or falling into a patch of cover that seemed to have a border of different cover around it, setting a visual barrier that the dogs had to cross. Or splashing into shallow puddles-turned-ponds.

With all these challenges, Carlin did a great job on every mark: straight out and straight back. Even one of the gunners, who didn’t know who Carlin belonged to, remarked to Russ, who was also gunning, what a great marker Carlin was.

But, again in opposition to last weekend, the other stuff fell apart. Carlin dropped two of his birds instead of delivering to hand, even with my reminder to “Hold”. He held and delivered the third bird, I think because I pointed my finger at him when I gave the “Hold” command and grabbed the bird from him before he had a chance to drop it.

And his behavior in the holding blinds was not up to the standard he set last weekend. True, he didn’t jump up onto a holding blind or push one over, but he wouldn’t stay in the blind voluntarily, and he attempted to pull me from the last holding blind to the line. We repeated that trip several times until his behavior was acceptable (barely).

Since Russ was gunning, I also ran Tooey. She did okay, based on Tooey standards. She marked both her birds, but as expected, refused to pick up the first bird, a wet pigeon. I marched out to where the bird fell, put it in her mouth, and told her to “Give it to Russ”. So she trotted out to the gunners station, delivered her bird to Russ, and then followed me back to the start line. Very unorthodox, but, … Oh well.

At the start line, I got her set up, and then, when she saw the gunners stand up, and realized that she was going to get a live flyer, she became intent on her job. That bird she marked and retrieved to (my) hand in her usual efficient methodical style.

The rest of the early afternoon, I went quite a ways down the road, where Carlin could see and hear the other dogs work, but not be too close, and practiced walking with Carlin in a loose heel-like position. He did okay at this, and I gave him lots of praise and treats for success. We did this for short bursts of just a few minutes each time.

Harder was was asking him to stay on the place board, set up also down the road, while other dogs went out for their retrieves. I did this also in short bursts, and he was more successful than not. He took the treats, but didn’t seem to find them particularly interesting, so probably they weren’t high-value enough and/or I was too close to the action.

So all in all, an okay day. I’m both glad and sad that I didn’t enter Carlin in next weekend’s retriever hunt test. It would have been great if he had passed, but I just wasn’t sure enough that he would. Better to save the money, train some more, and wait until I’m sure he’d pass. There will be more hunt tests.

And perhaps, while Carlin is sleeping off the day’s excitement and his dinner, some of what we worked on today will sink in.

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This cheese is not for you dogs.

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You get the tripe.

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After Saturday’s humiliating debacle at the picnic hunt test, I went out yesterday morning with a couple of experienced friends for some field training. My goals were to get from the holding blind to the line politely and to see if Carlin can mark the fall of birds (in this case, wing-covered bumpers) with various length marks.

It took many, many tries, going from behind the blackberry bush to the holding blind, for Carlin to walk politely by my side during that short trip. We tried to make this realistic, with duck calls going off and voices calling, “Guns Up!” to re-create the atmosphere of a hunt test as much as possible.

Then we had many more tries getting from the holding blind to the line. We had a person playing judge and a pile of bumpers nearby to simulate the hunt test experience there as well. This, miraculously, took fewer tries than the earlier exercise.

Once I got Carlin to the line, I lined him up toward the first mark. It was about a 100 yards in a straight line over mowed grass. The “gunner” blew the duck call, which really got Carlin’s attention (good), launched the bumper, and after the bumper landed, my friend said, “Dog”. I sent Carlin, and he zoomed out about 75 yards straight toward the bumper (good), but then took a wide circle around the gunner, looking at the gunner while he went. In that process, he lost the bumper and had to hunt around for it. Finally, the gunner threw another bumper for him, he found that one, and came back to deliver it to me.

The delivery was not good either. He swung wide around me and dinked around before he finally sat about two feet away from me, and dropped the bumper.

We tried a number of different marks, and, while the delivery improved, he did the same straight-out, curve away maneuver on all the marks. In some cases, it seemed that he was curving around the gunner, but in some other cases, it looked like he was curving around some invisible something. And then we wondered if he was curving around the area of what he thought was the fall (but was really too short), and was curving to take advantage of some wind pattern. But that didn’t seem consistently to be the case, as his curving wasn’t in the same direction every time.

Then we tried some really short marks, like 50 yards. Most of those didn’t go well either. (But after the ones that did, we celebrated big time — Carlin and I jumped around together, I threw a fun bumper for him, and we got to enjoy a few moments of running around free in the lovely bright sunshine.)

I am not sure what to think, but some ideas have occurred to me:

  • Maybe something is going on with Carlin’s eyesight – this would require a trip to the vet to check out
  • Maybe the curving behavior is due to something physical, like he’s out of alignment or has some injury – this would require a trip to the vet or a veterinary chiropractor
  • Maybe coupling the walking-to-the-holding-blind work with the marking work is too much pressure or too distracting – I could try separating these, or I could try marking practice before walking-to-the-holding-blind practice, or maybe I could try doing the walking-to-the-blind practice without the duck calls
  • Maybe my rate of reward is much too low for now
  • Maybe I have overestimated how much he knows and underestimated how much he’s forgotten since his last retriever success in September

But even so, this change in his marking ability is so surprising, shocking almost. Puzzling. Really puzzling. It deserves much more thought.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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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