Archive for the ‘hunting / hunt training’ Category

Let’s start with the good:

  • After this last Sunday’s hunt test was over, I was invited to come later this week to practice retriever work on some private land that actually has ponds on it. This is wonderful for two reasons:
    — I was invited. This means that perhaps I am losing my newcomer status a bit and slowly becoming part of a group.
    — The other reason is that Carlin and I get to practice retrieving in some water. Practice-able water is not easy to find around here – most ponds and rivers are on privately owned land, or they are on park land where dogs must be on leash and/or there are lots of kids and other dogs close by.
  • The judges and gallery were very kind.
  • I learned that somehow I have to accustom Carlin to duck decoys, which I realize now he’s never seen.
  • I brought a couple of dead pheasants home with me, which I gutted and then stuffed with insulating foam so I can use the birds for training.

Now to the not-so-good:

The hunt test went bad right from the start. We were out on the first bird (which for this test was pheasants). The first mark was about 75 yards into a pond just shallow enough for the dogs to run through. The pond was small, planted with five duck decoys at the right edge, and the starting line was about 30 yards back from the pond’s edge. A dog going straight through the pond to the bird would not encounter the decoys at all. A dog running around the pond would run right past them.

You can guess which dog I had. The one running around the pond. And when he got to the decoys, he stopped dead in his tracks. WHOA!!! WHAT IS THAT?!? Each decoy had to be thoroughly investigated.

I don’t know if you’ve seen other Irish Water Spaniels take a certain posture while checking out something potentially evil, but all of mine have done it. The dog stretches his neck w-a-a-a-y out in order to get the nose close-ish to the evil thing, while the body stretches as far away as possible. This is what Carlin did to every single one of those four decoys, one at a time.

And then, OMG!!! A breeze drifted over the water, and one of the decoys moved. Carlin jumped up and ran away several yards. At that point, he’d totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing out in that field, so he went into default spaniel mode, and started quartering. He got farther and farther away from the bird, and I could hear one of the judged shifting in his chair. So, I blew my whistle to stop Carlin.

He stopped, which is good. But then, when I tried to call him in just enough to get him away from the decoys, he ran the other way instead. Finally, the judge said, “Pick your dog up, and we’ll give him the live flyer.”

That mark went great. Carlin lined the bird, picked it up, and brought it back to hand.

I should have stopped right there.

Ordinarily, I’d have had to stop for the day because dogs that fail the 1st series don’t get called back to test in the 2nd series. But since there were so few entrants in the Junior test, the judge invited the dogs who had failed the 1st series to do the 2nd series anyway. I thought, well, I paid good money for this, I should take advantage of the opportunity.

Actually, I should have declined and let Carlin end on the success. The next two marks looked straightforward, and they were. Carlin lined each of them, ran straight to each bird (one through rather than around some swimming water), brought it back, and dropped it 6 feet away from me. He would not pick up either bird, just nosing and poking them on the ground. Aghhh! So embarrassing.

We’ve had this bird-dropping problem before at a retriever hunt test. Since he’s successfully picked up and delivered many a pheasant at spaniel hunt tests, we had thought the problem at retriever hunt tests was that the birds were ducks. But Sunday’s test used pheasants. So, now, I’m thinking that there is something about retriever hunt tests that bugs him.

Don’t know what the problem is, though. My retriever club has had several training days that were set up just like retriever hunt tests, with guns, birds, crowds of dogs, holding blinds, a marshall, and judges (but no decoys). And in all of the recent training days, Carlin has picked his birds (both ducks and pheasants) up and delivered them to hand.

So, what to do? For now, the lawn is strewn with Russ’s decoys and I’ll run some short marks past and through them in the yard until the decoys become no issue for him. And Carlin and I will go out to the property with water later this week, and put the decoys in there, too. And maybe when I’ve done that, some other bright idea will occur to me.

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Idaho, our new home, has lots of opportunities for those who love being in the outdoors with their dogs. Which, of course, is one of the reasons we moved here.

Today Carlin and I drove south of Boise to an area along the Snake River for a day of pheasant hunting. Specifically we were there to meet Steve, who lives in nearby Nampa, Idaho. Our paths originally crossed at some Spaniel Hunt tests in Oregon last August, just when we were planning our move. At Steve’s invitation, we had the opportunity to hunt with him and his English Springer Spaniel, Storm, at this beautiful location in southwest Idaho.

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

The day started with some excitement when Storm flushed a rooster out from underneath a tree growing next to where we had just parked — while the guns were still in the car. A good sign. Then, as Steve and I started out into the first field with Carlin, we had barely started when another hunting group dropped a bird about 60 yards in front of Carlin. And of course their two dogs raced off for a retrieve. It was an effort, but I managed to get Carlin in and away from that bird and the competing dogs. We immediately moved over to another field with some very tall cover.

The grass was so tall that I lost sight of Carlin, but I did see a rooster fly up that he flushed. A quick shot dropped it back into the cover, out of my sight, but Carlin was on it and delivered it to hand. It took him more time to find me than the bird.

First bird of the day

First bird of the day

The heavy cover was a real effort for man and dog to bust through, so we gave Carlin a break and brought out Storm. A lot of hunting from that dog, but no birds. After she was spent, we gave Carlin another round that lasted less than 30 minutes. He slowed to a trot and was pretty much done hunting for the day.

Carlin heads into tall cover in front of Steve

Carlin heads towards the tall cover in front of Steve

So back into the car with the boy and another round for Storm. This dog was not be stopped, and so we went for another hour in all types of cover, but the only birds put up were a covey of quail. One shot each from both Steve and myself did not add any quail to tonight’s dinner.

We did however have a great day, in a new state, hunting with new friends. And will be enjoying Carlin’s second Idaho rooster for dinner tonight.

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161111_0013blogRather than wind chill factors and deep snow, today’s November weather threatened us with sunburn and overheating. But before it got too warm today, Carlin and Tooey flushed up this nice rooster pheasant from a field not too far from Horseshoe Bend, Idaho. I was also fortunate to bring it down with a quick shot from my 20 gauge for an easy retrieve for Carlin.

This makes it Carlin’s official first bird of Idaho, which he can now add to his list of successful bird states that includes Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, and Colorado. Tooey already has some Idaho birds on her resume, but is willing to keep adding to her tally. Carlin will have to hustle to keep up with her bird numbers. And he still needs to add a few states to his list in order to match Tooey who has the same list as Carlin plus Kansas and Utah, and the province of British Columbia.

Life is good, especially with good dogs . . .

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Carlin did his thing today, well, actually, several of his things. Early this morning, he ran around in a park, burning off energy (and I think generating more) as he ran. We’re lucky here in Boise. From November 1st to February 28th, many of the public parks are open to off-leash dogs. The theory is that the dogs will scare off the geese. And right now, the morning temperatures are in the mild mid-40s F, so the grass isn’t frozen and the ponds are not ice. So Carlin and Tooey both ran around to almost their hearts content, on green mowed grass, with nary a grass awn or goat head to bother anyone.

Then, off we went to meet an unofficial subset of a local hunting retriever club. I had met one of their members at the Treasure Valley dog shows several weeks ago, and hearing that we had Irish Water Spaniels who needed a group to train with, she invited us out to train this morning.

Russ was handling Carlin, so I stood out in the field and threw bumpers. I like that job — you can get a good view of all the dogs and how they work. There was quite a variety of breeds represented. Labs, of course, but also a Golden Retriever, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Flat Coated Retriever, and today, and Irish Water Spaniel.

This is a retriever group, so we worked on marked retrieves and blinds. Fortunately, Carlin has not forgotten all his training during the long months while we were preparing to move, packing, actually  moving, and settling in. He stayed pretty steady at the line (with a reminder or two), and he did a great job of finding his 100 yard blind retrieve. He also did fine on the shorter marks, but got a bit lost on the 120 yard marks — we’ll have to work on those.

One of the fellows in the group brought his camera along, and got a great photo of Carlin running back with a bumper. You can see the kind of cover we were working in, the fact that it wasn’t raining, Carlin’s short field cut, and the intensity in his eyes.


Carlin returning with his bumper–photo by John Arrington

When everyone was done training, we came home for lunch, a shower, and a bit of re-grouping. Then Carlin and I headed out to the state fairgrounds for his third rally trial. It was a lovely small show put on by the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club. There was Obedience in the morning, with Rally Obedience starting in mid-afternoon. The novice classes always go last, so I didn’t actually have to be there until 3 PM or so. I watched the dogs working at the Excellent level, which is always a treat because you get to see such good work. (I was disappointed that yesterday’s exhibitor in a wheelchair didn’t compete today. Watching her and her dog do both Excellent and Advanced Rally really made my heart happy. They were such a great team, in wonderful harmony with each other.)

Today I hoped Carlin would do better than he did yesterday, and he did! Yesterday, during his second trial, he bested his first qualifying run of 83 with an 87. He was distracted yesterday by this horrible air conditioning system that screamed before it started blowing cool air, and then by a young dog who also screamed at something. Carlin has been a nervous competitor, and these distractions made yesterday’s run a real test of his concentration. He knocked over a sign and sat crooked at some of the Sits and Halts, but he also did a nice job with most of the 270 and 360 degree turns and the serpentines around the cones.

So, with these two qualifying scores, today I was just hoping for something better than an 87. I’d have been happy with an 88, but Russ sent us out the door today, telling Carlin to get a 90.

He kept it together much better with the screaming air conditioner today (I am not exaggerating — I saw people jump every time it came on), and with fewer dogs in the show today, he seemed to be quite a bit calmer. He sat and downed much straighter, and he mentally stayed with me for most of the run. What a good boy — this is hard for him, and he really tried hard.

We beat the 90 Russ told us to get. We ended up with a yellow squeaky toy, a green ribbon for a score of 93, a 4th place ribbon, and an RN title ribbon! I am so proud of my boy, and pleased that we can work together.


When we were done, I got Carlin a vanilla ice cream cone, and then we headed home to dinner.

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Carlin’s 4th MHU pass ribbon

Carlin pulled off two more Master Hunter Upland passes over the four-day Labor Day tests at Scatter Creek: Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Association on September 2 and Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Club on September 3. The next two days he didn’t pass; he overheated on the third day and had to be pulled, and then on the fourth day, he was steady to the flush after a long trail on a running pheasant, but then broke on the shot.

He did okay work on Friday. Even though he had just gotten stung multiple times by a swarm of yellow jacket wasps (and then given 37 mg of Benedryl) a half hour before his run, he did nice land work, finding his birds, being steady to wing and shot, and delivering nicely to hand. But then he took about 4 minutes (out of the 5 allowed) to do his hunt dead, and, on the water, ran the bank back and forth on the water blind before finally plunging into the creek to swim across and find the bird on the other side. Fortunately, he did his water marked retrieve with some style, so that combined with his stellar land work got him enough points to pass. One judge gave Carlin all 10s on his land work, remarking that Carlin was the best IWS he’s ever seen work.

Saturday’s test was a thing of beauty. Carlin’s scores averaged 9.1 from one judge and 9.2 from the second judge (out of 10). Most of the other Master dogs had difficulty locating birds on the long curving land course, and several were NQ’d for not finding any. But Carlin found his two birds in just under 4 minutes, trapping one pheasant and flushing and retrieving the second. The cover was knee high grass interspersed with hillocks covered with brambles, small trees, and dying ferns. Master dogs ran first, so it was still cool-ish for Carlin’s run.

His hunt dead was equally stunning. He went straight out the 65 yards and straight back with the bird. It took about 30 seconds, earning applause from the gallery.

His water blind was not elegant, but well above the standard needed to pass, and then, after being rock-steady at the line, he did an IWS-style leap into the water out to his marked retrieve bird and delivered it to hand.

All in all, we were thrilled. Four master passes in a row (2 at Monmouth and 2 at Scatter Creek), on top of 4 for 4 junior passes and then 4 for 4 senior passes, is just amazing and wonderful for a 2-1/2 year old male IWS. It took just 54 weeks from his first junior upland pass to his fourth master pass. Of course we were disappointed that he didn’t get that 5th master pass needed for the MHU title, but that will come.

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Day 2: same club and same location as yesterday, but different judges. Saturday’s judges knew Carlin, as we often practice together at Scatter Creek, Washington. Having a personal relationship didn’t hurt his cause. But the judges on Day 2 were relative strangers. They were known to have sharp pencils and had lots of experience running and judging accomplished dogs. So we were not expecting to be given any slack.

On Sunday, it was a good 10° cooler and since we now running as the 4th dog of the day, we got a cool start. Carlin put up his first bird at mid-course, and then sat while the gunner dropped it down further down the course.

Carllin quarters at full speed through tall grass

Carlin quarters at full speed through tall grass

The judges tapped my shoulder for a release, and upon my release to Carlin, he zoomed straight out and straight back with the bird delivered to my hand. Text book awesome.

Carlin heads out to pick up a pheasant

Carlin heads out to pick up a pheasant

We continued up the course where Carlin caught the scent of a bird near the edge of huge cluster of Scotch broom and blackberry brambles. He circled the cluster and then dove in to root out a bird.

The brown spot in the center is Carlin forcing out a pheasant from heavy cover

The brown spot in the center with a pink tongue is Carlin forcing out a pheasant from heavy cover

It flushed, the gunners missed, and I had no idea where Carlin was because I was on the other side of the cover. So were the judges. Was he steady? Apparently so. I called him in back, and as soon as I pulled broken-off pieces of blackberry vine out of his topknot, we were done with the land series.

Carlin takes a break while the judges record their scores for his last flush

Carlin takes a break while the judges record their scores for his last flush

For Sunday’s hunt dead test, we were the second dog to run. Only 4 out of 9 dogs running masters qualified on the land series and made it this far. (We were dumb struck by our good fortune.) A cross breeze had come up, and so I lined Carlin up downwind for this 5 minute test and he nailed the bird in under a minute. On to the water . . . .

Same scenario as yesterday, but now Carlin knew that there was not a bird across the river next to the bird handlers. I got him to focus on the bank directly across from us and I sent him with a “Back” command. He immediately cut left and ran the near bank and refused to enter the water.

WTF? I pleaded with my whistle, hands, and because I was under the observation of 3 judges, I limited my verbal commands to skip the traditional 4 letter words. After about 3 minutes of running up and down bank ignoring my commands (a very bad thing), he jumped into the river, swam across, grabbed the bird, swam back, and handed it off like nothing unusual had taken place.

I leashed him up while the judges conferred, gesticulated, shrugged, etc. for several long moments. Finally, they said they would let me try for the water retrieve to see if he altered their opinion. No pressure. Carlin sat at my side, the bird went up, the shot report came across the river, the bird hit with a splash while Carlin calmly sat and watched. The judge tapped for a release, I sent Carlin, and off he went, straight out, straight back, bird to hand. More judges conferring, scribbling on their score sheets, gesturing. To be determined.

Well, once again, his stellar land work and marked water retrieve saved our asses and Carlin passed another Master test. Other than this water blind debacle, his scores were mostly 9s. We looked at the score sheets later, and noticed that the Trainability score for the water blind had been scribbled out and changed. Perhaps that change put his Trainability score just enough so we did not NQ.

To celebrate, three of us decided it was time to go swimming in the Luckiamute River. Both Tooey and Patrice were troopers in the heat and fully enjoyed Carlin’s Master passes from the cool of the water.

Back into the Luckiamute river for the love of water

Back into the Luckiamute river for the love of water

Patrice and Tooey washing away the tension of watching Carlin's first Master passes.

Patrice and Tooey washing away the tension of watching Carlin’s second Master pass


Two Master ribbons

Life is good. And we do it all again in two weeks.

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We can’t say we were really looking forward to this last weekend. Carlin was entered in his first Master level spaniel hunt tests, but the weather forecast had the temperature soaring past 100° F for both days. And our training sessions leading up to this weekend were revealing a few possible gaps in our performance. Carlin (we) have improved in some areas, but are still sketchy in others. That combined with the fact that Carlin is a hot blooded dog who easily overheats, we were not primed for a successful weekend.

On the other hand, the hunt test grounds near Monmouth, Oregon are very familiar. The first time I was there was in December 2013 with the Mighty Coop. The high that day was only 9° F. In the photo below is a toasty Cooper and his birds, but with me bundled up with layers of long underwear, and topped with insulated overalls. Notice that I was wearing two hats, one with ear flaps.

The might Coop chillin' with his birds

The mighty Coop chillin’ with his birds

But back to Carlin and a hot hunt test put on by the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club.

We started the morning with the field work. We were running last in the Masters, and so we got to start around 9:30 a.m. and in the mid 70°s F. Watching and waiting behind the 8 dogs ahead of us got on Carlin’s nerves, especially when he saw a bird fall and he was not called for the retrieve. And it got on my nerves with basic performance anxiety, as this was my first attempt at handling a dog at the Master level.

Carlin stays focused while we wait our turn to run

Carlin stays focused while we wait our turn to run

The field was thigh-high grass interspersed with tall groves of Scotch broom and blackberries. And it was uphill. Carlin put up his first bird within seconds, but the gunner missed it with both shots. As the bird flew away over the trees, I was so happy to see Carlin sitting and watching intently (steady to flush and shot). A fly-away is often a weak link for a dog, but Carlin did me proud.

I called him back to continue our run. Unfortunately, I did not cast him off in the opposite direction, so he immediately took off in the direction of the fly-away that he had watched and carefully tracked. Oops. A few whistles and a verbal comment got him back on course and hunting again. As Carlin and I rounded a large clump of Scotch broom, he put up another bird. The right hand gunner knocked it down as it glided downhill into a another clump off the course.

Carlin stayed steady, but the judges, who had still been behind the Scotch broom, could not see if the bird had been hit or was down. I made another mistake by saying that Carlin could find it rather than taking a pass on the retrieve. He just sat there while I chatted with the judges.

After a bit, they said go for it. So with the release command, off Carlin went. But it wasn’t a slam dunk. He took a good line but cut left about 80 yards away. I was thinking I really screwed this up by being over-confident in his ability. But he cut back right into the clump and after a long 30 seconds of my heart in my throat, he came trotting back with the bird and delivered smack into my hand. The gamble paid off, and we were onto the next series after the Seniors and Juniors finished their land series.

It was 1:30 p.m. by the time we ready to run our turn at the “hunt dead” series, and the temperature was now a balmy 103° F. We waited for our turn in the shade of some big maple trees, but when we came out to run we were hit with a blast furnace of sun and dead air. We had 5 minutes to find a dead planted pheasant about 65 yards out, and with me directing Carlin with hand signals and whistles from the line. He did it in just over 3 minutes. I immediately threw this hot dog into a stock tank full of water, where he relaxed and drank his fill.

So we qualified to run the water series. For the water work, the order was reversed, starting with Junior dogs and ending with Masters. Being we were the last Master in the queue, we were the last dog to run for the day. The water work started with a blind retrieve across the Luckiamute River, about 50 yards away, followed with a marked retrieve into the river.

Well, when we got to the line, Carlin locked on to the bird handlers and ignored my direction to the blind. He jumped in and swam about 45° off course, swimming about 80 yards downstream to the bird handlers. He struggled up the steep bank, did not find a bird, and so he looked back at me to tell him what to do next. I whistled him back into the water, and now he had to swim about 50 yards upstream to find the low bank on which the bird was hidden in the grass. He was spent, but at 5 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock, he found it, swam back, and delivered it to hand.

Did I mention the 5 minute limit? Even though we’d gone passed that, the judges let us proceed to the water retrieve, which was launched and shot by the very handlers that distracted him on the blind. So back into the water, cross the river, and back with another bird. Oh well, I was thinking, nice try.

At the ribbon ceremony, the Juniors got theirs first, next the Seniors, and then the Masters. No ribbon for Carlin. And then the surprise. One of the judges mentioned that they were a Master ribbon short, so the secretary went and got another orange ribbon. It turns out that the judges were impressed with Carlin’s persistence and not giving up after that long swim, so  they decided to be flexible on the 5 minute limit. And considering how he smoked the land series, they gave us the benefit of the doubt and awarded Carlin his first Master pass.

Carlin shows off his Master ribbon where Cooper showed off his pheasants. The sweat on my brow is from the heat and the anxiety of watching Carlin's water blinds.

A tired Carlin shows off his Master ribbon in the exact spot where Cooper showed off his pheasants in the first photo. The sweat on my brow is from the heat and the anxiety of watching Carlin’s water blinds.

Tomorrow is another chance for another ribbon, but no matter how tomorrow turns out, today was sweet indeed.

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