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Archive for the ‘hunting / hunt training’ Category

Of all the things that can go wrong at a dog competition, I think the most painful must be handler error.

I’m not talking about disqualifying errors, like the guy I watched at a recent hunt, who sent his dog for the retrieve before the judges released him to do so. He had a great dog who could do the work, but the team was disqualified for that error.

I’m more talking about the errors in judgement, where, maybe, if you’d made a different choice, the outcome might have been success rather than failure.

Dog competitions are, for the most part, team sports. Both team members have to be on their game. And if one team member falters, the other one has to pick up the slack. And mostly, it’s on the human half to do the human thing — to think ahead and have a plan.

I’ve been on the successful side of this from time to time. For one example, Tooey and I were in what I hoped would be her third pass for her CD obedience title. I studied the course, and watched several other dogs run, and I saw the place where Tooey would likely falter. There were two about-turns in a row, and I thought she’d stay with me for the first, but lose me on the second. So I saved my second “Heel” command for that moment just as we came out of the second about-turn. I lost points for using the command, but it helped her remember what to do, and we passed.

But I’ve been on the fail side of it too. Like today’s Junior retriever hunt test with Carlin. Carlin had passed his 3rd Junior test yesterday, so if we’d passed today, he’d have gotten his Junior title. But due to series of errors, we didn’t.

The root problem is that I have not force-fetched Carlin. He and I have worked a lot on picking up birds. But I have never taught it to him in such a way that he believes he must pick up a bird whether he wants to or not. And by this weekend, I had been lulled into thinking that, since he’s been picking up birds pretty consistently for the last several weeks, that this would not be a problem today. Error in judgement #1.

I also, for some reason, did not do a good job myself of marking the spot where the bird fell. Carlin has always been an excellent marker, and I was relying on him to mark the fall of this bird for me. I knew sort of where it was, but not really. Error in judgement #2.

So when Carlin ran out the 100 yards, across a road, over a dike, and into the cover, and put his nose down, I assumed that he’d pick up a bird out of that spot. Error #3.

But then he lifted his head without the bird in his mouth. Not having marked the fall of the bird myself, I then assumed that he’d put his nose down into a spot where another dog’s bird had been, and would shortly go over to his own bird and pick it up. Error #4.

But Carlin didn’t pick up a bird. Instead, he began to hunt around in wider and wider circles. He stopped at one point, and stood looking at me. I’d been advised recently to just let my dog work it out and find his own bird, and besides, I didn’t exactly know where the bird was myself. So even if I’d tried to handle him to the bird, I would be handling just to be doing something.

Finally, when Carlin had gotten himself way out of the area of the fall, the judge suggested I try to handle him. So I tried. Carlin took the first handle, but not the rest of them, so he never did find his bird on his own. The judge told the gunner to throw the bird for Carlin again. He did, and Carlin picked up and delivered it smartly to me. But of course, by that time we’d failed.

So, this is what I think happened, based on what I saw and what observers told me. He really did mark the fall of his bird, and when he put his nose down, that actually was his bird. I should have, at the moment he put his nose down, given him an emphatic come-in whistle. I think that may have helped him decide to pick up his bird, even though he didn’t want to.

Having not done that, my next move would have been to give that whistle as soon as he lifted his head without the bird in his mouth. If that had been the spot where his bird was, then that might have helped him decide to pick it up. If his bird was actually somewhere else nearby, then that whistle might have told him that I knew the bird was close by and and that he should pick it up and come in.

Having not done that, then when he later stopped his hunt to look at me, I should have realized that he was asking for help. I knew he was between me and bird, so I could have just given him a back command. It would have cost us points, but it might have helped him. Of course, if I’d known where the bird was myself, I’d have known whether to give a left back command or a right back command, but I didn’t.

I can’t recall feeling this crushed in quite a long time. Carlin failed one of the hunt tests in McCall last month, but that wasn’t due to anything I did or could have done in that moment. That was a training issue, something to keep working on.

Today’s failure was more on me than on Carlin. Yes, it’s a training issue about picking up birds, but it’s also about my being the one that knows her teammate’s weaknesses and comes to the game ready to pick up the slack.

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Last Sunday, we had a very nice, warm and therefore short, spaniel practice. We were out with a few other members of the Snake River Spaniel Club, in a field within the Montour Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Because I started handling Carlin earlier this year, I took on handling duties again at the practice. Carlin did a very nice job. He was steady to wing and shot, he retrieved all his birds to hand, and he even did a creditable hunt head, looking for a bird that had glided off course and gone down in a neighboring field.

It was hot, though, and getting hotter, so as soon as practice was done, we wanted to inspect Carlin for grass awns, pull any out, and then get out of there. It's hard to see in the first photo, but the third photo shows the mature grass growing tall, so tall that sometimes Carlin wasn't visible in the field. But what's worse is that every grass plant had grass awns. Those are dangerous grass seed cases with barbs that can work their way under the skin, travel to distant organs and muscles, and just generally cause expensive pain and anguish, and even death. So, it's important to get them off a dog before the awns have a chance to embed themselves.

Carlin had at least one awn between each of his toes. And he doesn't much like anyone messing around with his feet. But it's necessary, so Russ and I teamed up to look everywhere — top- and bottom-sides of all feet, inside ears, in the armpits, the eyes, gums, anus, shaft…, pretty much everywhere. It look longer to do that inspection and removal than to run Carlin on the course and do a hunt dead.

But the excitement wasn't over. As we were leaving the area, a black Labrador-looking dog trotted down the road toward us. No people or cars in sight. So we stopped to see what we could see.

He was a friendly, intact male dog, a bit submissive, with no collar. He was also very thirsty, not surprising since the weather has been above 95 degrees F most days for months now. And, the thing that broke my heart even more — he had grass awns sticking out from between most of his toes, some of which were abscessed already.

We gave him several bowls of water, and some treats, and with a bit of coaxing, he hopped into one of the dog crates we have in the car. (Tooey volunteered to sit in a back passenger seat so the strange dog could have her crate.)

So, obviously, he is or has been someone's dog. We called a friend who lives sort of nearby the WMA to ask for advice. Then we called the county sheriff to see if they knew any shelters that were open.

This being on a Sunday, there weren't. And the sheriff also told us that the WMA is a popular dumping ground for unwanted pets. So, we took the dog to the Idaho Humane Society in Boise. If his home was near the WMA, we may have taken him away from people who might be looking for him. But those grass awns, which he would have gotten from the fields of the WMA, had obviously been in there for way more than a week.

I just couldn't leave him there. I hope some good people find him and give him a good home. And give him the medical care he needs now, before it's too late.

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Last Saturday… well, maybe we should just skip over a long description of Saturday. Basically, that one last bird defeated us on Saturday. That last bird, the one, that if Carlin had put it in my hand, would have earned us Carlin’s 2nd retriever Junior hunt test pass? Carlin dropped that bird just five feet from my hand. It rolled down the bank to the edge of the pond, getting dredged with sand. He tried two times to pick it up — he put is mouth on it, but he just couldn’t bring himself to bite down on that sand hard enough to grab up the bird so he could hand it to me. So we were out.

Which is too bad. Because on the rest of the test, Carlin did a fine job. Two tough land marks, both in thick, taller-than-an-IWS cover, the first out 20 yards farther than it looked. And the other, the live flyer, landing perfectly in line with the gunner and the blind so that neither I nor Carlin could see it. He found both birds, though, (the first with a little handling help from me), and brought them both back to hand. The first water bird was nicely done, too. It splashed down into the water, and Carlin went out directly and directly back, with bird to hand. But then that last bird…

Oh well.

So on to Sunday, which had a much happier ending.

It was hot in McCall, Idaho, somewhere in the mid-90s F. And, unlike Saturday, we weren’t rescued by a 20-degree-dropping thunder storm. The hunt test, put on by the Treasure Valley Hunting Retriever Club, was held in a large, dusty gravel operation south of Lake Payette, with quarry ponds and re-growing fields studding the area.

The morning land series was held in a field of tall grasses, broken up by small trees and smaller bushes. It was also damp enough to attract a small swarm of mosquitoes. The judges placed decoys (which have thrown Carlin off his stride in the past) among the grasses. The first bird was pretty easy for Carlin, although he did introduce a note of personal expression. The cover was tall, but the mark wasn’t too far away, maybe only about 65 yards. He zoomed out, ignored the decoys, picked up the bird, and then zoomed sideways for a few yards to pee on a bush. When done showing everyone who’s who around here, he sauntered back and delivered the bird.

The live flyer was a bit more challenging. It flew, was shot, and dropped about 85 yards away, but directly behind a tree and some bushes. When I thought Carlin must have found it, I muttered, “I can’t see him.” Very helpfully, one of the judges stepped to the side so she could see him, and then said, “He’s got it.” I whistled, and Carlin came trotting back, and delivered that bird to hand, too.

So, we were called back to the water series.

I tried my best to keep a positive attitude. I wanted to project confidence. But when I saw the setup, what I saw was a prime opportunity for Carlin to run the bank instead of going straight out into the water. Which would likely mean that he’d come back along the bank, too. Which would give him plenty of opportunity for him to drop the bird when he got out of the water 5 yards away from me.

But that didn’t turn out to be the problem. Yes, he ran the bank. But after swimming across the water, he got to the bird, which had landed directly on top of a duck-sized, duck-shaped rock. Like every dog before and almost every dog after him, he took exception to that rock. He found his duck, all right, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to get too close to that rock. After many calls from me to fetch up his bird, he finally, gingerly, reached over and grabbed it. He swam back across the pond, got on the bank, but kept running and delivered his bird.

The second water mark was also a bit problematic, too. The start line was on a thin peninsula. The mark was set up so that the dog coming back from the opposite shore could have shorter swim if he came back onto the land behind the neck of the peninsula, through a break in the bushes, instead of swimming all the way back to the start line. And this is precisely what Carlin and a few other dogs did. Very generously, the judges allowed us to move back and toward the break in the bushes so we could meet our dogs about 5 yards from the shoreline.

Happily, Carlin held onto his bird all the way in and put it into my hand. Oh, happy day! We’d done it! When we got off the field, I gave him about 5 pieces of salami, a slice each of ham and turkey, and made a big jumping-around deal of his success. Not dignified, I know. But I was pretty darn happy.

When Russ was done gunning for Seniors, Carlin, Tooey and I went over to the Payette River and had a swim. I hadn’t brought a bathing suit, so I swam in my hat, blouse, and underwear. It was delicious. The water was cool, and it washed off a bunch of the grime, sunscreen, and bug spray that I’d been getting on me all day.

The dogs had fun, too, especially Tooey, who had waited patiently in the car all day. Russ threw fun bumpers. And the two dogs beat me to it every time.

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John Arrington, one of my new training buddies, is an excellent photographer. I am so lucky when he brings his camera and takes photos of Carlin and I training. Here are three from a couple of weeks ago that I really like:

photo by John Arrington

photo by John Arrington

photo by John Arrington

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As I left the master upland course on Day 1, a member of the gallery stepped up to whisper in my ear. “The rules require you to aim the gun. Don’t forget.”

And all of a sudden I realized that I had not aimed the gun the day before. When a dog flushes a bird, the handler in a master upland test is supposed to follow the flight of the bird with the muzzle of an unloaded gun and pretend to shoot the bird. The official gunners do the actual shooting, but the handler must create the most realistic picture possible for the dog to test his steadiness to flush and shot. And I forgot.

And then I realized that the nice lady reminding me of the rules was also one of the judges for the Day 2 test. I had darn well better remember. I could lose points for forgetting, especially after that reminder.

The flushing portion of 2nd test put on the by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers was pretty much the same as the first day. It was hot, perhaps even a touch hotter. The course was a long horseshoe shape. The breeze was squirreley and inconsistent. Carlin ran 4th.

He found birds much more quickly on this course. His first flush was a flyaway, a chukar that could not be shot because it flew over the following gallery of observers. I remembered to aim the gun, though. Carlin was steady out in the field, and then returned to me when I called. I gave him a drink of water, and sent him off for the next bird.

His second chukar was a trap. He tried to flush it. It hopped about a foot away. He tried to flush it again, but the bird wasn’t flying. So he grabbed it up and brought it to me.

So at this point, the judges had seen a couple bird-findings, one flush, and one steady to flush. They’d seen him deliver a bird to my hand. But they hadn’t seen him be steady to a shot and dropped bird. The could have had Carlin go out and find a third bird, and hope that it would flush into a position where it could be safely shot. But the morning was wearing on and getting hotter, and the light breeze was likely to push a flushed bird out over the gallery again. So they decided not to risk it.

The judges had me get Carlin into place next to me, facing off the course. One of the judges walked about 35 yards off the course and threw a live bird into the air. I reminded Carlin to sit, aimed my unloaded gun, and the judge threw the bird. The gunner shot the bird, and it fell. And Carlin sat.

Finally after seeing that Carlin was steady to shot and fall, the judge tapped my shoulder, and I sent Carlin on the retrieve.

He took a line to the bird, but went out too far. So I whistled him in a bit, and he winded it. That chukar he delivered to hand, too.

So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

This hunt dead was tougher than the previous day’s — it took Carlin 3 minutes and 40 seconds to find and return the bird. I sent him a few degrees downwind of where I thought the bird was located, but he decided to hook a left, go downwind even farther, and then go a bit too far out. I handled him back to an area more directly between me and the bird, and told him to go back, but then he went out too far again. I called him in a little bit, and he came too close to me. Argh!

I stopped him, took a breath, and then sent him back. Finally this time he caught wind of the chukar and found it. Later I was advised that perhaps it would have been better to do less handling and more waiting for him to find it on his own, but this was the first time in a long time that I’d seen him take so long to find a dead bird. Oh well. We passed the hunt dead, so it was on to the water.

Carlin’s water test was much less dramatic than the previous day’s. No running down the bank to find Russ, for one thing. When I sent him on the blind retrieve, he got right into the water, but then swam across the creek to where the previous day’s bird had been. Fortunately, he happily took my handle over to where this test’s bird was located. Again, he thought he had to get up onto the land to grab the bird just at the water’s edge, but that was OK.

His marked retrieve was excellent. I aimed the gun, the bird went up and splashed down, and Carlin was steady. The judge tapped me, I sent Carlin, and when I released him, he flew into the water. Mere moments later, the bird was in my hand. Carlin shook the water off his coat, and we left the area with a nice round of applause.

Carlin, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 27, 2017

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Russ had completed Carlin’s Master Hunter Upland title in Montana, so we decided that I would be the one to handle him (we hope) to his Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It would make a nice ending bookend, with my having started him out by putting his Junior Hunter Upland title on him back about 1-3/4 years ago.

Before the test started, I was nervous. I hadn’t handled him successfully in anything since his Rally Novice title last November. But I’d seen how well he’d done in Montana with finding birds, being steady, and retrieving to hand. So I hoped that if one of the team weren’t that experienced, the other member might be able to carry us through.

It was was hot at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. In May, it’s supposed to be at least somewhat cool, but not this year. It was forecast to get up to 86 degrees F, and Carlin is a hot dog. He got so hot in the 65 degree weather in Montana that we kept him mostly soaked the whole time he was running. And this test, put on by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, was no different. Fortunately, the club supplied tubs of water at the beginning of the course that handlers could use to cool their dogs.

You can see the start flags and the two judges in the photo above. Carlin and I were first in the running order. We walked to the start line, and chatted briefly with the judges. And then came the news that we would have to wait. Somehow, the judges hadn’t gotten their scoring books, and we had to wait while the club secretary quickly put them together.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, the judges had their books. They handed me the gun, and told me to send Carlin when I was ready. So I did, and he was off.

Carlin quartered the course beautifully. I whistled him a few times to turn or to come closer to me, but mostly he went back and forth across the course several times on his own. But he wasn’t finding any birds. That’s very odd. He usually finds birds as soon as there is one to find. It was only then that some in the following gallery realized that while we were waiting for the judges books to be put together, the planted chukars must have began to wake up to their surroundings and walk off the course.

Finally, about a quarter of the way down the very long, horse-shoe-shaped course, Carlin found and flushed his first bird.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was so busy goggling at Carlin flushing a bird that I forgot to whistle him to sit on the flush. Fortunately, like I said earlier, one-half the team had it together, and Carlin sat on his own. And he kept sitting while the chukar flew away over gallery, preventing a safe shot.

Carlin’s next bird (like most of the birds that morning) was a trap. It wouldn’t fly, so Carlin just grabbed it up on the run, kept going a few paces, and then turned and brought the bird to me.

Having seen Carlin find birds, flush one, be steady to wing and shot, and deliver two birds to hand, the judges told me that they had seen enough. So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

I don’t have any pictures of the rest of the test, unfortunately. But the hunt dead went well. Like all the other dogs, he went out and found the bird steward’s bag of birds first, so I had to give him an “Over” command to send him downwind a bit to catch the scent of the bird I wanted. But even with that, it took him all of 30 seconds to run out the 65 yards and bring back my dead bird.

The next portion was the water test. For master dogs, there are two parts to this. One is the blind water retrieve. In this case, a dead bird was hidden at the edge of the other side of the swollen creek, and Carlin was supposed to go get it.

This was nerve-wracking. Unbeknownst to me, about 15 yards upwind and down the shore on our side of the creek, Russ was helping out, hidden with a basket of birds, waiting to launch them out into the pond for the marked water retrieve. So what did Carlin do? Instead of jumping into the creek to go over to the other side to retrieve the hidden bird, he ran straight down shore to Russ. That’s not totally unreasonable, as there were hidden birds there. But it’s not the direction I sent him.

I whistled him back to me, but I had to be careful not to do anything even remotely resembling getting him back to my side. If I did that, and sent him again to the bird hidden across the creek, that would be a double send and we’d fail the test.

So when Carlin came back to me, I jumped sideways about 5 feet and told Carlin to go “Over” without waiting for him to stop. This is called a handle. A handle happens after a send at some distance from the dog, so it’s not a re-send. Fortunately, he decided to jump into the creek and swim over to other side.

He found the bird over there. Eventually. He could have found it right away if he’d just looked for it at the edge of the creek, where it was hidden in some tall grassy stuff. But no, he had to climb up onto the shore, clamber among the broken tree limbs and branches, and splash around in the flooded areas. I gave him another handle, he went to where I indicated, and found his by-now soggy chukar. Which, thankfully, he brought right back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

So now it was onto that last bird. Would he break, or would he be steady for the launch of the bird, the shot, and the splash in the water? The bird went up, the gun went off, and bird landed, and Carlin, bless him, sat while I waited for the judge to tap me.

But there was no tap. I could see out of the corner of my eye that the judge was too far away to tap me, so I gambled that by then, Carlin had demonstrated his steadiness, and I sent him.

photo by Dan Rotter

Carlin threw himself into the water with a dramatic leap, grabbed up the bird, and brought it back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

And we were done. I knew we’d passed the test. Now the only question was: were his scores high enough to qualify toward a Master Hunter Upland Advanced title? To earn that, he has to pass 5 master tests, each with an average of 8 out of 10 poimts overall in 5 categories being judged: hunting, bird finding, bird flushing, trained abilities, and retrieving.

Master Hunter Upland pass, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 26, 2017

Later, after all the scores were tabulated, we found that yes, Carlin had averaged just over 9 out of 10 for this test. So we were happy and tired, celebrated a bit with some other competitors from Idaho, and then crawled off the hotel room for a shower and bed.

We’d need our sleep if were were going to do the whole thing over the next day.

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We have kept this blog up for more than 10 years. I know that there are others who enjoy reading it. But we also use it as a kind of diary, to help us remember what happened to which dogs when.

So as I have with Carlin’s other hunt test passes (Junior and Senior), I thought I’d create a post that lists Carlin’s scores for the Master Hunter Upland spaniel tests he took and passed, earning his MHU title. Each test is represented in a table, and each table includes the scores given by the two judges for each category.

Master Hunter Upland pass 1Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club – August 20, 2016

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt   Dead Water Blind Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 8 | 8 6 | 6 7.67 | 7.67
Bird finding 9 | 10 8 | 9 8 | 8 6 | 7 7.75 | 8.5
Flushing 8 | 8 N/A N/A N/A 8.0  | 8.0
Trained 8 | 8 8 | 9 8 | 7 6 | 6 7.5  | 7.25
Retrieving 9 | 8 9 | 8 8 | 8 7 | 8 8.25 | 8.0
Overall average 7.83 | 7.88

 

Master Hunter Upland pass 2Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club – August 21, 2016

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt   Dead Water Blind Average
Hunting 8 | 9 N/A 9 | 9 8 | 10 8.33 | 9.33
Bird finding 9 | 9 10 | 9 10 | 9 10 | 10 9.75 | 9.25
Flushing 8 | 9 N/A  N/A  N/A 8.0  | 9.0
Trained 6 | 6 10 | 8 7 | 9 6 | 6 7.25 | 7.25
Retrieving 9 | 9 10 | 9 10 | 10 6 | 8 8.75 | 9.0
Overall average 8.41 | 8.77

 

Master Hunter Upland pass 3Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Club – September 2, 2016

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt  Dead Water Blind Average
Hunting 10 | 8 N/A 8 | 7 10 | 7 9.33 | 7.33
Bird finding 10 | 7 8 | 9 7 | 7 10 | 7 8.75 | 7.5
Flushing 10 | 9 N/A N/A N/A 10.0 | 9.00
Trained 10 | 10 6 | 7 7 | 7 8 | 6 7.75 | 7.50
Retrieving 10 | 10 10 | 7 8 | 8 7 | 6 8.75 | 7.75
Overall average 8.92 | 7.82

 

Master Hunter Upland pass 4 – Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Club – September 3, 2016

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt   Dead Water Blind Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 10 | 10 8 | 8 9.0  | 9.0
Bird finding 9 | 9 10 | 10 10 | 10 8 | 8 9.7  | 9.25
Flushing 10 | 9 N/A N/A N/A 10.0 | 9.0
Trained 9 | 8 8 | 10 10 | 10 8 | 8 8.7  | 9.0
Retrieving 10 | 8 9 | 10 10 | 10 9 | 9 9.0  | 9.25
Overall average 9.2  | 9.1

 

Master Hunter Upland pass ? – Clumber Spaniel Club of America – September 4, 2016
We don’t have any records of passing this test. But when I called the American Kennel Club in early this month to straighten out some other mistakes on Carlin’s AKC Points and Awards page, the AKC said they show a pass at this test for Carlin.

“Really?” I asked, “I don’t think so. Are you sure?” And the nice lady there replied, yes, she’s sure. They even had it down as Carlin’s 5th qualifying score for his MHU title. She was a bit embarrassed that the certificate hadn’t been sent out yet, and was glad I’d called her so she could make sure to get it sent.

About 5 days later, an MHU certificate arrived, dated September 4, 2016. We just didn’t get it until May 8, 2017. We could have stopped there and accepted the title, but it didn’t feel right. So we entered him in more tests to make sure Carlin could really do the work.

 

Master Hunter Upland pass 5Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club – May 20, 2017

Ability Land Water Retrieve Hunt   Dead Water Blind Average
Hunting 9 | 8 N/A 10 | 8 9 | 8 9.33 | 8.0
Bird finding 9 | 8 9 | 9 10 | 9 9 | 8 9.25 | 8.5
Flushing 9 | 6 N/A N/A N/A 9.00 | 6.0
Trained 9 | 8 9 | 9 10 | 9 9 | 8 9.25 | 8.5
Retrieving 9 | 7 9 | 10 10 | 8 9 | 9 9.25 | 9.0
Overall average 9.2  | 8.0

 

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