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Usually, I like to sleep in on weekends, but when the day is promising to reach triple-digit temperatures, everyone gets out of bed and out to the training fields early. So that’s what we did.

We have this nifty launcher, operated by remote control, that throws pheasant-sized retrieve objects straight up into the air.

Dogtra Pheasant Launcher

Dogtra Pheasant Launcher

The action is supposed to mimic the action of a bird launching itself from the cover when flushed by a dog. And except for the noise of the latch letting loose and the springs letting go, it does a pretty good job.

So, we loaded the launcher with a partially thawed chukar, hid it in the four foot cover, and tied a small piece of orange ribbon to nearby grass stalks to mark the spot. Then went back to the car to get Carlin. We set ourselves up as much like a hunt test as possible, Russ and Carlin on one side and me on the other. Russ sent Carlin across the course, and then whistled him back and forth, gradually working toward the launcher. It would have been better had we a third person along (any volunteers for next weekend?) to play the second “gunner”, but even so, Carlin did a nice job of quartering the field, looking for birds.

When he got close to the laucher, Russ set it off and whistled a short single blast simultaneously. Carlin’s butt hit the ground (YAY!), and then stayed on the ground when Russ shot the starter pistol (double YAY!). This is exactly what we’re looking for.

Russ went out and petted Carlin (who was busy looking back and forth between the area of the fall and Russ (Dad! The bird is right there! It’s right there! Dad!!!). Carlin doesn’t get to retrieve every bird, though, so back to the car he went, while we set the thing up again in a different spot.

And he did it again! Great place to stop.

I wish I had videoed that — it was great. But I didn’t think to video until Russ set Carlin up for a blind retrieve in the water.

As you can see from the video, Carlin didn’t go straight at the bird. Instead, he veered off toward the right a bit. In a hunt test, this is less than ideal, but it’s not bad, and it would definitely be more than OK while out hunting. He found his bird and brought it back. That’s what we’re looking for. Good boy!

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I’d really hoped to bring Carlin home today. The plan was that we’d have a last visit at the Academy, get a demo of Carlin’s progress, and get a lesson ourselves on how to handle him. We’d walk him around with Tooey, and my hope was that he’d stay in a nice, polite “Right Here” while doing so. And then we’d check out and go home.

I got it about half right.

While we practiced indoors yesterday, Carlin did better than last week. I was able to walk him almost right up to Russ and Tooey, and then turn and walk away, and have Carlin come with me, leash loose. Very good! I was happy.

But we hardly ever walk our dogs on leash in the house, so I asked to try it outdoors, one of us walking Tooey up ahead, and one of us walking Carlin not too far behind. I knew this would be hard because Carlin does not like to be left behind, prefers to be in front with or ahead of Tooey, and generally just finds all of the scents and activity outdoors to be very distracting.

And alas, he still wasn’t ready to do this, no matter which of us had Tooey and which of us had Carlin. He still couldn’t concentrate on staying in position while his beloved Tooey was near and they were both outside.

He has to learn to stay in position, no matter what the distraction, whether it be Tooey, a squirrel dashing across our path, another dog coming toward us, or other dogs running past to retrieve a bird.

So to help solve this problem (we hope), we are now dogless for a week. We left Tooey there so she could help Carlin learn to work around one of his top favorite distractions.

Tooey really didn’t want us to leave her this morning, but it looks like she’s made the best of it.

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Tooey snoozing on the couch (in a house where dogs are not supposed to snooze on the couch)

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This time Russ and Tooey accompanied me on my second visit with Carlin at the Academy. Parts went about as I thought, and some parts exceeded my expectations but didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Sometimes hopes are just that — not something you expect, but something you really want, nonetheless.

Before our visit, I’d told the trainers at the Academy that I’d like to be able to walk Carlin on the same walk where Russ is also along, walking Tooey. In the past, this hasn’t gone nearly as well as I’d like, especially when Tooey is ahead and Carlin is behind. Carlin hates being left behind, so when he was behind, he would pull the leash until he was ahead. It seemed like I was always correcting him, which is unpleasant, so my usual strategies were to always have Carlin ahead, or to take an entirely different route altogether.

So, at the Academy, we tried it. Russ and Tooey sauntered along ahead of Carlin and me, and I did my best to remind Carlin to maintain his “right here” position, which is a loose heel. Carlin was really trying hard to do what I asked. I could see him trying, and then forgetting. So I’d remind him with a gentle pop on the leash, and he’d shake his body as to say, “Oh yeah! Right here. OK,” and then he’d hop back into place. But at the same time, he loves Tooey and what he really wanted to run and play with her, not stay a couple of steps behind.

So Carlin had a real challenge, and I did, too, trying to remember how to handle the leash, and when to say “No,” when to (or not) repeat the command. I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to do this — it will just be hard work on both our parts when we get Carlin home. And if I can get a solid “right here” despite any distraction, then I know I’ll be able to walk him at a hunt test from the holding blind to the start line off leash.

Then on to the next challenge: I wanted to know how to handle Carlin while going into and out of a room crowded with dogs, such as in an Obedience trial or conformation show. So, while Russ put Tooey up in the car, the trainer, Carlin, and I went over to an Obedience class that was being held on the grounds. I had Carlin wait at all the various gates and doorways, and he did a great job at that. Next he did a beautiful “right here” getting into the area where all the other dogs were working. Then the trainer had me work Carlin a bit, doing easy stuff like a sits and downs.

He did the sits and downs right away upon cue. And he didn’t move out of those positions until I told him to do something different. So that’s great. He was so good at this, better than I expected. But what I’d hoped was that he’d relax in his down, such as by tipping over onto one hip or putting his head down. Instead, he lay ramrod straight, like the Sphinx, watching (but not staring at) the other dogs intently. So, good. He lay down, he didn’t stare, and he didn’t bark or lunge. Finally, I could see that this was just very hard on him, so I started to say something to the trainer about our leaving. But just then, he relaxed onto one hip. Good boy! So I said, “This is a good place to stop. Let’s get out of here.” So, I released Carlin from his down, asked him for a “right here”, and we got out of there without problem or incident.

I think his being able to relax at a dog show will be a long time coming. He’ll get it, but I think it’s going to be a long time and a lot of work.

So, then we went back to the office, where Russ and I both got our rewards — being able to tell Carlin “Hugs!” At this, he leapt into our arms, and gave us kisses galore, over and over. Neither one of us could see past our goopy eyeglasses. And maybe at least one of us also had something in our eyes that made it hard to see.

Until next time, Carlin. We’ll be back.

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Western Oregon doesn’t have many bogs. There are some cranberry bogs on the Pacific coast, and there are (or at least, were) bogs near the great Klamath Marsh in Central Oregon, from which a mummified body, named Peat Man, was unearthed during the winter of 1999.

But there aren’t the vast swaths of bog in Oregon as there are in Ireland, bogs where Irish Water Spaniels were used to hunt gamebirds and waterfowl, giving them the nickname “Bog Dogs”.

Then again, there are usually lots of small lakes and ponds in Oregon. But this spring, there just aren’t. They’re all dried or drying up.

Here’s one example: The Oregon bog you see my three IWS cavorting in (after a couple hours of field training) in the photo below is usually a shallow lake this time of year, not drying up until July.

Suavie Bog Dogs

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin sittin’ in the bog

This year, it’s just three inches of undried up water filling the spaces between aquatic plants, creating a not-very muddy, but very squishy bog.

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Russ and the three curly brown bog dogs

Even though there wasn’t any water to practice water retrieves with, there was plenty of firm cover alongside the bog to work on land retrieves.

Carlin started us out with three retrieves, all in a line with one another, one at 125 yards, another at 100 yards, and a third at about 50 yards. The hope is that he would start to learn to judge distances.

He found and delivered the first mark just fine. Unsurprisingly, for the second mark, he lasered out to where the first mark had fallen, and was a bit puzzled not to find his bumper in the same spot. He widened his search, and found the second mark. Then for the third mark, he went out to where the first mark had landed, then to where the second mark had landed, and wow! — no bumper in either place. So he widened his search again, and found the third bumper.

Cooper went next, with exactly the same drill. For him, who know distances pretty well, the challenge was staying steady at the line. Russ had to persuade him to come back into place and sit before releasing him to the retrieve. By now, though, this is a familiar ritual in itself. Both Russ and Cooper know how that dance goes.

Tooey went last. Instead of retrieves, for her we planted a frozen chukar in deep cover, and sent her from about 60 yards away to go find it. After repeating that several times in different locations, we repeated the same exercise with the two boys (with Carlin’s distance shortened up to about 25 yards). All three did a very nice job, finding and delivering the rapidly defrosting bird.

So, work done, it was time to play, to go get wet and cool, dogs a’bogging.

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Last Saturday, I played judge for a Rally match at my dog obedience training club. It was fun. I enjoyed choosing and setting up the courses, running the people and their dogs through them, watching for errors where I might take off points if I were a real judge at a real trial, all to help my fellow club members improve their and their dog’s performance.

I discovered that I naturally see certain things, like inefficient or incorrect footwork on the part of the person, or the dog’s sitting at an angle at the Halts, rather than sitting parallel to the person. I saw incorrectly done stations and missed stations. But I realized later that I  hadn’t really noticed out-of-position heeling — as long as the dog was not really lagging for forging, as going along pretty much next to the person, I didn’t really see if the dog’s neck was right next to the person’s pants seam or not. Interesting…

But what I did gain was a pronounced appreciation for real judges. For their ability to stay focused, observe closely, treat every body with respect and kindness, all while standing on hard floors, for hours.

Thank you, judges.

I didn’t judge the whole time. In each of the courses, I took a few moments to run one of my dogs: Cooper in Excellent, Tooey in Advanced, and Carlin in Novice (sort of).

Each dog had a different experience:

  • Cooper: “Hah! I already have my RAE title. I don’t have to do this anymore. Except the jumps. I like the jumps. Let’s do that jump again!”
  • Tooey: “You really want to do this? You do? Really? Oh… okay…. But there will be food in the ring, right?”
  • Carlin: “Wow! Look at all these dogs! Smell all those treats! What are all those cones and signs all over the floor? Oh, you want some heeling? Ok, I can give you three steps. 1, 2, … Oh! Look at that puppy over there! Let’s go say hi!”

We all came home tired and ready for a nap.

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I took the three dogs out for an easy-does-it training day last Sunday. It was bright, sunny, and warm (weird for this time of year), at a new location for us. Mainly, I just wanted to see the grounds where some friends of mine train, and give the dogs a little time out running around.

Joan brought frozen ducks and a chukar to train with, plus a winger (essentially a giant sligshot) with which to fling the birds into the air.

We started with Joan’s dog, a Toller who has recently learned how wonderfully fun retrieving birds can be. Then Donna’s black Lab, Turbo, who several years got his Master Hunter title, is now retired, and just enjoying a bit of retrieving in the sunshine for the heck of it.

Then Cooper. You know, it’s a good thing we’ve stopped trying to train and compete in hunt tests with him. Despite the years of training, he is still as eager and as unsteady as he ever was as a young dog. It took quite a bit for me to get him into heel position and to stay there until I sent him for his birds. But, oh boy, did he love being out there retrieving. Such joy to do what he was meant to do, and if it meant being corrected and pulled back into heel position many times over, that’s OK. The retrieve is worth it.

Then Carlin got to do a couple of short retrieves. I am so glad that he’s happy to pick up and hold a duck. So many dogs hate the taste or texture of ducks, but not Carlin. I held him by the collar at my side while we watched the duck fly up into the air and then come down. As soon as the duck was launched, Carlin leapt up himself, eager to Go! Go now! Go right now! But I held unto his collar until is butt hit the ground in a sit, and then I sent him off to fetch his duck.

He went out and picked it up with no problem, then turned around to come back. About 3/4 of the way back, he decided that he really wanted to keep the duck to himself instead of bringing it to me, so he tried to swerve around me.

Carlin holding his duck - photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin holding his duck – photo by Joan Armstrong

Fortunately for me and his long-term hunting career, he was wearing a 40′ leash, called a long line, so when he started to veer off, I grab the end and pull him to me.

Carlin returning with duck -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin returning with duck — photo by Joan Armstrong

I let him keep his duck for a few minutes, petting him and telling him “Good hold” as he held onto it. Then I said “Drop”, and he actually dipped his nose a bit and dropped the bird into my hand (which was ready and waiting right beneath the duck). He got in a couple more very good short retrieves. Good boy.

Then Miss Tooey. First she did a very workmanlike single retrieve with the chukar — out and back at deliberate speed. Then a lovely double retrieve with ducks. She doesn’t rush, she’s in no hurry at all, but she gets her birds and brings them back.

Tooey returning with the memory bird -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Tooey returning with the memory bird — photo by Joan Armstrong

After that, my friends had to leave, but they were happy to leave me with the birds, so I planted them out in some tall grass for Cooper to find and retrieve. I do believe he was in heaven doing that, and could have done it all day.

But we had to head home — laundry to do, dishes to wash, rugs to vacuum — all the usual excuses for not training longer on a lovely October day.

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While Russ and Tooey were off hunting, I took a short dog-free trip to visit my cousin in Marin County in California. So I sent Cooper and Carlin off to camp at Classy Canines.

Jayme, who owns Classy Canines, was the person who groomed, trained, and showed Cooper at the beginning of his show career, so I thought Carlin would benefit greatly from her attentions. She’s also a fabulous dog trainer — her dogs have Rally, Obedience, and Hunting Test titles, so she knows where we want to go with Carlin. And plus, I’m hoping she’ll help Cooper learn the elusive Three Steps Backwards exercise for Rally Excellent.

And last but definitely not least, her boarding dogs get to go for daily runs in a multi-acre open space, and I knew both Cooper and Carlin would love that.

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Carlin and Cooper running with the pack — photo by Jayme Nelson

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Carlin and Cooper running with the pack and Cooper’s Springer buddy, Stryker — photo by Jayme Nelson

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Cooper — photo by Jayme Nelson

Here are Carlin and the most of the pack practicing their Sit-Stay for the camera.

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Sit! Stay! Camera click! Good dogs! — photo by Jayme Nelson

Cooper, amazingly enough, is not in the picture. Usually he’s a real camera hog. But instead, he was apparently off with his English Springer buddy, Stryker. They had flushed a pheasant earlier in the walk, and were convinced that they could find another one. Good dogs!

Russ, Tooey, and I are all home now, but the boys are still with Jayme. It’s a long story involving a broken-down truck and expensive repairs, but when the truck is fixed, Russ will go get the truck and the dogs, and we’ll all be home together again.

I’m sure Coop and Carlin will be very happy to be home, but I bet they will really miss running with Jayme and her pack.

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