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Archive for May, 2017

Sunday’s master spaniel test was tough. The Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club did a fine job putting on a test with the conditions presented to them. But still it was tough, particularly on the Juniors and Masters.

There was very little breeze. It was hot. In fact, we drenched Carlin with water every 10 minutes or so, just to keep him relatively cool.

Juniors went first — only 1 dog passed. Seniors went next — they had 4 qualifiers. Masters went next, and they were hard hit, with only 2 dogs qualifying.

Carlin was 4th in the Master running order, and as we walked the course, we watched the other dogs fail one by one. Some dogs just couldn’t find any birds. Other dogs found birds, but then weren’t steady and broke before being sent for the retrieve. One dog flushed a bird, but then couldn’t find it after it had been shot. One dog read Tooey’s playbook, and ran off the course after a flyaway. But Carlin, an Irish Water Spaniel, and Dennis, a cross-eyed, 9-year-old yellow Labrador, did well enough to get their hunt deads and then go to the water.

It took quite a while for the first three dogs to fail. And by the time Carlin was called up, we were nervous, he was amped, and it was getting hotter and hotter.

But when it was Carlin’s turn, it took him less than 5 minutes to find, flush, be steady, and retrieve two chukars, and then nail a 65-yard blind retrieve (no ducks this time).

Carlin returning with his 2nd chukar

So, it was on to the water. As in Saturday’s test, the Master water blind was held first. And because Carlin was the first of two Master dogs to go on to the water test, he was the first Master dog to do the water blind.

This blind was at a 45 degree angle to the slough’s edge. If Carlin were to go straight to the bird, he’d cross the first channel, just touch the tip of a small island, and then cross the 2nd channel to the slough’s edge on the other side. What he did was to swim to the tip of the island, get out just there, and stop to look back to Russ for directions. Russ gave him a left-hand back cast. Carlin crossed the 2nd channel and climbed half way up the bank to retrieve the pheasant. Which he picked up and delivered directly to hand.

Then, Russ and Carlin went back aways from the water to wait while the Junior and Senior dogs did their marked water retrieves. Carlin tried to get a better look, but it wouldn’t have done him any good. The Master water retrieve was in a slightly different place and angle than the Senior marks.

And again, that tense moment. Would Carlin break at his water mark, and blow the whole test? The gallery was rooting silently for him. There was actually no talking while Carlin did this mark.

The bird landed in some pheasant-colored reeds on the far bank of the slough. Carlin swam right by it, got up on the bank, and thought for a moment about going over to where the blind retrieve had been. He changed his mind, though, and turned around, saw the bird at the water’s edge, picked it up, swam it back, and delivered it to hand.

The crowd clapped and cheered. The judge said to Russ, “You can breathe now.” And so it was done. Another Master qualifying score: average 9.33 out of 10!

Good job, boys! May 21, 2017

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Tooey is her own kind of bird dog. She knows how to get birds. She doesn’t need no stinking tests to prove that. She doesn’t need validation from the AKC (though she has it). She’s gotten birds in multiple states, including Montana, plus a Canadian province. And this recent trip to Montana just proved her out.

To keep her entertained on this trip, we entered Tooey at the Senior level at the two tests put on by the Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club. It’s just not fair to have to wait in the car the whole time while Carlin’s having all the fun.

So on Saturday, Russ took her out to the course set up for senior and master dogs. While the judges were giving instructions to Russ, Tooey was ignoring their comments and plotting out her own strategy. There are birds out there. They must be gotten, no matter what.

Tooey quartered methodically between the gunners, stopping and seriously inspecting every suspicious area where the wiley chukars might be hiding. She flushed her first chukar, which was out walking around in the low grass. That proved to be an easy shot and an easy retrieve. Pretty quickly, she got herself into some good cover.

And dove in to flush another bird.

Which was promptly shot at. It flew off, though, so Tooey needed to do a long retrieve. She needed no prompting, and off she went. And kept going. And kept going some more. She was gone so long that I thought the judge was going to call a “no bird”, but then we could all see Tooey in the distance, coming back in with a bird.

She handed the bird over to Russ, and the judges conferred a bit. Judges conferring is rarely a good thing, but they came to the conclusion that Tooey could keep going with the test. Apparently she came back just soon enough to not throw her out for not being under control.

And it was on to the hunt dead, which we seldom practice with Tooey. But she’s watched us work with Carlin, and she knew what to do. After all, it’s only about 45 yards away. Easy for a hunter like Tooey. She took the correct line, picked up the correct bird, and delivered it to hand.

So far, so good. Only one simple water retrieve left for her to do to get another Senior pass.

Well, at this point, her desire to play by the rules was waning. After all, rules can get in the way of efficient hunting and retrieving. Russ lined Tooey up on the bank of the slough, called for the bird. As soon as the bird hit the water, so did Tooey. Test over. Fail. Unfortunately, the rules require that a Senior dog stay steady at the water until sent. Tooey obviously thinks that this is a stupid rule. But she got her bird, and I don’t think it had even been in the water long enough to get very soggy.

The next day, I ran her. We didn’t think it could get too much worse. I guess, though, it depends on how you define “worse”.

She quartered very nicely, responding to my whistles quickly. She found and flushed her first bird, a chukar, in short order.

It flew, but the gunner missed. As the chuckar flew out of gun range, Tooey must have figured that if the gunner couldn’t do his job, she’d better go get that bird.

She ran off the course, and at some point, the judge told me “no bird”, so I attempted to whistle her back in. And I kept whistling as she disappeared hundreds of yards away and behind some trees. When she finally reappeared, she was carrying a chukar, which she delivered to hand.

I think at that point, the judges decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps being impressed by her long retrieve. So they gave us another chance at another bird.

Within just moments, she found and flushed a rooster pheasant. The same gunner who missed the chukar was unable to get a safe shot of the pheasant as it disappeared over the northeast horizon. The problem was that Tooey also disappeared over the northeast horizon in pursuit of the second get-away bird.

Again, another “no bird”. Again, Tooey did not respond to my whistles. We waited, but eventally, the judge politely excused me to go retrieve my dog so that they could continue the test for the next Senior dog.

I hiked north towards Canada, whistling for my missing dog. About 400 yards out, she reappeared, holding the live pheasant gently in her mouth. She delivered it to me, panting, with a few loose pheasant feathers hanging from her tongue. The pheasant seemed unfazed as I carried it back to the judges. When I handed it to the judge, I said, “I know there’s no ribbons, but here’s your bird.” The gunner came up and apologized for missing both birds.

But you know, I wasn’t mad. Tooey got her birds. She’s a good hunter. If you ever really need to get your bird, Tooey’s your girl.

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To get an AKC Master Hunter Upland title, a dog must pass 5 master-level spaniel tests. By the end of 2016, Carlin had passed 4. So we loaded up the car, and trekked 450 miles to the headwaters of the Missouri River in Three Forks, Montana to see if we could get that 5th pass at the test put on by the Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club on Saturday, May 20th.

The setting was the Missouri Headwaters State Park where Lewis and Clark camped in 1805, at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers. With all those rivers, the grounds were flat and lush, covered with still-green, calf-high grasses and dotted with native shrubs, some low at 1 foot, some reaching 10 feet tall. This all provided dense cover, challenging dogs to find birds and obscuring those dogs from the the vision of their handlers and judges from time to time. Often, you could see bushes rustling, but not actually see the dog making them move.

Russ and Carlin started 5th in the Master test, after the Juniors and Seniors had already run. Even though snow had fallen only three days prior, the weather was warming up fast by the time of his run. We wanted to make a good show of it, as Carlin was the first Irish Water Spaniel most of the folks had ever seen, much less watch one run in a spaniel test.

Russ sent him off with a “Hunt it up!” Carlin quartered the field easily, stopping to circle and investigate the many clusters of shrubs. In pretty short order, he flushed a rooster pheasant on the right side of the course, which the gunner knocked down about 40 yards away. Carlin was steady to flush and shot, and when the judge tapped Russ’ shoulder, Russ said, “Take it!” Carlin ran to where he’d seen the bird fall, but the bird wasn’t there. We in the gallery saw the bird flutter another 10 yards away, with Carlin on its tail. He grabbed it up and delivered the live bird to hand.

One bird down, 4 to go.

The next bird was a chukar, which Carlin flushed up on the left. Once again, Carlin was steady to wing and shot. The gunner knocked that bird down into heavy cover, which proved no trouble for Carlin. He delivered that one to hand, too.

Two down, 3 to go.

This club decided to hold the hunt dead test immediately after a dog qualified in the flushing part of the test. So Russ and Carlin hid behind one of the shrubs while one of the judges placed the dead bird about 65 yards off the course in a patch of low bushy cover.

Russ lined Carlin up in the direction where the judges indicated that there was a hidden dead bird. Carlin started off in that direction, but then veered 30 degrees off to the left of the line into another area of dense cover, and started to hunt. Before Russ could whistle-sit Carlin in order to handle him back to the area where the dead bird had been hidden, Carlin flushed a duck out of the cover where he was hunting. Without even thinking, Russ blasted the whistle and Carlin slammed his butt to the ground. Every one watched the duck fly temptingly low over the hunt test course, while Carlin kept his butt on the ground. Every one was stunned. No one knew there was a duck there, except Carlin.

So then, Russ called him in about 15 yards, did another whistle-sit, and then with a right-hand back, spun Carlin around in the direction to the original dead bird. He picked the chukar up and promptly delivered it to hand.

With that done, the gallery broke into amazed applause. Flushing ducks is not usually part of the hunt dead. Three birds down, 2 to go.

For the water series, the test moved over to a slough near the Madison River, about a mile away from the land work. Working in the river might have been nice in the Fall, but this is Spring, and cold water was rushing too fast in the river.

The Master water blind retrieve went first. Only 4 dogs made it to that point. The 50-yard retrieve started on the bank of the slough, went across some water, across an island in the slough, across another channel, and up a steep rocky bank.

Russ lined Carlin up again and sent him. Carlin did a flashy launch into the water, swam to the island, and began to search the island for birds. Russ handled Carlin back over to the spot where he had first gotten onto the island, had him do a whistle-sit, and then a back. Whereupon, Carlin turned around, launched himself into the second channel, and swam straight to the spot just below the rooster pheasant. After picking up the rooster, he made the return trip in a straight line, and handed it over. Very clean. We are very grateful for our friend’s help and access to the quarry pond that we practiced in last week — the two scenarios turned out to be almost exactly the same (except the quarry pond blind retrieve was longer.)

Four birds down, 1 to go.

For the final test, a marked water retrieve, we moved farther down the slough. Juniors and then Seniors went first, which left us as the second-to-last dog to run. So many tests have been failed at this point, where the dog has done everything beautifully up to this point, but then breaks, going after the bird before being sent. And Carlin and all the Master dogs were getting amped. They couldn’t see anything, but they could hear the shots, splashes, and whistles.

When it was Carlin’s turn, he was definitely dancing at the bank, waiting to go get his bird. The judges said, “When your dog is ready, give us the signal, and we’ll call for the bird.” Russ took the leash off. Carlin parked his butt. Russ raised his gun, and signaled the judges that they were ready. The whole gallery at this point is thinking, “Sit! Sit! Sit!” No one wanted to see Carlin break.

The bird was thrown, the gun shot went off, and still Carlin sat. The just tapped Russ’s shoulder, and still Carlin sat. Russ waited three beats, and still Carlin sat.

Finally, finally, Russ said, “Take it!” and Carlin leapt into the water in true IWS style. He went straight out and straight back, and delivered the soggy chukar to hand.

Five birds down. Five Master qualifying passes. Realta’s Carlin O’Whistlestop RN MHU CA. With this pass, he’s the 4th and youngest IWS to earn this title.

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It was sunny when we got there, but threatening hail as we packed up to go. But in the hour and a half that we were at the quarry pond, after a somewhat rocky start, Carlin did his best to make us proud.

We started off with a 80-yard water mark that landed just up the bank in the dirt. Carlin leapt into the water from the pond shoreline, swam over there, went up on the land, and brought the bird right back toward Russ, only to drop it several times on the shore. Once at the shoreline. Once again behind Russ’s feet, and again at his side. Eventually he picked it up and delivered it, though.

Then as Russ and Carlin walked back off the line, our friend planted another bird very near where the mark had been. Russ lined Carlin up and sent him, and halleluia! Carlin went straight out. No veering off to the right as he has been prone to do. (We’ve been working on it in the yard, so maybe those drills clicked in today.)

Our friend then planted another blind, as Russ and Carlin again turned to walk away again. This one a touch farther away, on the shore of a different nook of the pond, 85-ish yards away, and only about 30 degrees off from the first blind.

Russ lined him up, waited till Carlin’s nose was pointed the right way, and then sent him. And Yay! for Carlin, he went straight again. No veering off this time either. No returning to the site of the first blind. And this time, he delivered the bird to hand with no goofing off. Such a nice job. Cheering was heard from both sides of the pond.

Then we put Carlin up while we threw a series of double marks for our friend’s dog and a couple of single marks for Tooey. (Tooey was in a mood to goof off, although she did finally retrieve the bumper both times.)

We’d gotten what we wanted and were packing up the car and chatting. We were up on a ridge, looking at another section of the pond when Russ said something like, “You know, that patch of cattails looks pretty interesting over there. Why don’t we try a long mark for Carlin.”

Now, I can be a worrier. Carlin had done such a nice job on his water blinds. I wanted to end on a success. I looked at that 150-yard distance out to the cattails, and worried that Carlin would fail. Friend said, “You’ll never know unless you try.”

So she waded out there (at one point, getting soaked up to mid-thigh), and got ready to throw a long mark for Carlin. You can kind of see her as a vertical black dot on an island in the upper right third of the photo below.

Russ signaled for the bird, it went up and then down for a splash in the water (and Carlin stayed at Russ’s side!). Russ sent him, and off Carlin went. He ran down the hill and across the flat, jumped into the water, crossed the channel, swam to the island where our friend was standing, and then located the bumper off the the right. That’s him just reaching the bumper in the photo below. You can see the wake he left on his way from the island to the bumper.

His going out was not perfectly straight to the bumper, but then, bless his heart, he came straight back. Water, land (you can see him coming back at the near edge of the peninsula in the photo below), water, land, up the hill…

…for a nice delivery to hand. More cheering was heard. Good boy!

We could see that the sky was getting darker and the storm was coming in fast. So we finished packing up quickly and left the quarry pond in a hurry. Just as we pulled out of the gate onto the highway, the rain and hail brought the clouds down and reminded us that it’s not summer yet.

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We’ve been trying to keep up Carlin’s spaniel training as best we can. Some in our yard, some at a local state park, and some on private land. This last has a pond and some irrigation canals, much to our relief and delight, so we go out there to train (and help train the landowner’s dogs) whenever we are invited.

Today we were invited. Fortunately, it was cloudy and cool so we didn’t have to worry about Carlin’s over-heating. He got in a little bit of steady training (butt to ground whenever the bird or bumper is thrown), but soon he got too smart for us. He figured out really quickly that at least one of us had a bird in hand, so instead of quartering between us looking for birds he knew weren’t there, he decided to just sit and wait for somebody to throw something. Darn it! It looked like such a fun drill when we watched an English Springer Spaniel do it yesterday.

Plus he did well on a couple of a couple of water blinds. One was across a shallow pond into the sage brush, and another was across two channels of an irrigation canal with a small island in between them.

Tooey always travels with us, so today we thought we’d give her a few water retrieves, too.

It wasn’t deep enough to swim in, but it wasn’t shallow enough to run in either. More like lunging water, rather than swimming or running water. She did an okay job, but with Tooey, you never know which dog is going to show up. Today, she was less than pleased with the well-used pheasants. In my defense, I have to say that the pheasants weren’t rotten. I’d gutted them, filled the cavities with expanding foam, and froze and thawed them several times. But they had lost a lot of feathers, and there was more skin showing that she (or I, for that matter) prefer.

But she did a very nice blind land retrieve, once she figured out I had a hunk of liver that I was willing to trade for a pheasant to hand.

All in all, it was a delightful morning. (And we hope at least somewhat entertaining for the cows, which you can see in the photo.)

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Southeast Idaho has many opportunities for training dogs, but is lacking in an abundance of water. (An average year will have only 12″ of percipitation.) Plus, most ponds seem to be on private land, or on parks where dogs must be leashed. So we’ve had a hard time finding ponds where we can train our dogs for spaniel and retriever work.

And this is where an Idaho dog person steps in to assist. We have met an active trainer and handler in the world of retrievers. She is dedicated to the retriever sport, to the point that she lives on a nice spread (ranch) about an hour from Boise, so she can train dogs year round. She even hosts the occasional hunt test and field trial when other areas are flooded out. And as a ranch, she has her herds of cattle, horses, and even an abundance of bee hives for honey production.

She has really helped us out by inviting us to train with her in her pastures. A nearby river feeds numerous canals and irrigation ditches that supply her ponds, so that even with the limited rain and snow in this part of Idaho, she has year-round water.

We are getting ready to run Carlin in a Spaniel Hunt Test in a couple of weeks, and having an opportunity to do blind retrieves across some water might make all the difference in whether he passes or not. Patrice made this short video. It shows Carlin doing a blind retrieve of a pheasant hidden in the sage on the other side of a shallow pond.

If he passes and gets his Master Hunter Upland title later this month, it will be in large part to the training opportunities that our friend has provided us on her dog oasis in southeast Idaho.

Dog people are really good people.

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