On a lark (or maybe a chukar?), Russ and I decided to enter Carlin into the Lower Columbia HRC’s Upland test today. He’s been doing well with most of his training, so we read the rules last night, and thought, Well, why not? He probably won’t pass, but if nothing else, this would be an opportunity to train in a new place, among new people and dogs, and with a new agenda. And if he failed early enough in the day, we could just come home for lunch since the test was held only about an hour away from home.
Most folks enter Hunting Retriever Club’s hunt tests to test their retriever skills. Similar to the AKC’s hunt tests, the HRC has three levels of retriever work: Started, Seasoned, and Finished. But they also offer an additional hunt test called Upland. It’s not an easy test.
It consists of a quartering test with two flushes with steady to wing and shot, a walk-up and retrieve, an honor, and sometimes a tracking section.
- The quartering we figured he do OK at. He works a field well, but sometimes goes larger (and potentially out of shotgun range) from time to time.
- His flushing was likely to be good — he usually finds and either traps or flushes his birds.
- The steady to wing and shot could go okay, or not — he’s been mostly good at this lately, but not always.
- He’s never done a walk-up retrieve in his life — that’s where you walk forward with your dog at heel, and at some point, a bird flies (usually be mechanical means). At that moment, you stop, your dog stops and ideally sits, you aim your shotgun loaded with a popper and shoot basically a blank, and then you send your dog for the retrieve to hand. Carlin has never been asked to walk at heel off-leash with birds flying, and his retrieve to hand has been iffy for several months now.
- He’s also never honored. That’s where the dog has to sit and stay quietly at heel off-leash and watch another dog retrieve birds.
- He’s only done the most rudimentary tracking. (Fortunately, today there was no tracking compontent.)
Today’s test was held on the east side of Sauvie Island (area indicated by an orange box).
And here was today’s course. It was pretty low cover, about 8 inch grasses, interspersed with tall bushes and scotch broom. And the weather was nice, sunny in the low 70’s F and a light breeze.
Carlin started the course in the holding blind point A. He was antsy in there, pulled on the leash, bounced around, and basically behaved like a beginning retriever puppy. Not a good omen.
But as soon as Russ removed the slip lead, Carlin calmed down and heeled nicely off-leash with Russ to point B. There he sat quietly at heel, while the previous dog did his walk up retrieve from points F through I, H being where the dog left the line for the retrieve, picked up the bird at I, and then returned to his handler at H. Then that dog was leashed up and walked down the road past Carlin, while Carlin still sat quietly waiting at heel. It was an honor of at least 2.25 minutes. At that point, I didn’t care how Carlin did after that — I was just so gobsmacked by the fact that he quietly honored another dog.
Then Russ and Carlin took off toward the first bird, which was at C, with Carlin quartering back and forth across the course. There was a gunner at each side, and Carlin quartered between them cleanly. He found the bird at C, and the bird took off west, where the gunner brought him down to fall at D. Carlin ran straight out and straight back, and the delivered the bird gently to hand back at C, where Russ was waiting.
The course then curved a bit, and Carlin flushed up his second bird at E. It took off toward the gallery of watchers along the road, so the judges instructed the gunners to let the bird go, but fire a shot anyway in the opposite direction from the gallery. Carlin sat at the flush and stayed sitting for the shot. At that point, the judges instructed Russ to have Carlin quarter some more until he got to point F, and the walk-up began.
Like I said, Carlin has never done a walk-up, and he was pretty sure he was supposed to be quartering, so Russ’s insisting that he heel was just confusing. He’d take off ahead a few feet to go out, but Russ would call him back, and he came back, but then would try leaving again. By the third repetition of this, Carlin must have figured that Russ had lost his mind, so he’d better stay close. So he did. He did a nice quiet heel from point G to H, where all of a sudden, a bird quietly flew out of nowhere (actually a cold chukar launched from a winger in the trees just south of point I).
Russ stopped, and Carlin sat. Russ raised his shotgun and fired another blank toward the flying chukar, and Carlin still kept sitting. And then Russ sent Carlin, and Carlin took off. Unfortunately, Carlin didn’t know he was supposed to have been looking where Russ was pointing the shotgun (this is new for Carlin), and no sound had come from the winger like it does in an AKC retriever test, so Carlin didn’t mark the fall very well. But he hunted around, Russ gave him some direction (which he amazingly followed), and he finally located the bird, snatched it up, and returned it directly to hand.
Then, just like the dog before him, Carlin was leashed up and walked down the road past the dog sitting quietly at heel at point B. Just as they were leaving the course, one of the judges said, “Nice pass.” The other judge commented that it was a pleasure watching Carlin run. And I agree — it was.