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Archive for the ‘hunting / hunt training’ Category

I admit it. I’m like my dogs. I work for rewards.

Now, my rewards are different than my dogs’. Salmon jerky is all right, but it’s not enough to get me to go out and do one more practice, to set up another blind retrieve, to study Rally signs, or to travel to the spaniel club practice or scent work class.

I admit it’s shallow, but I like recognition. And I’ll work for it. Fortunately, my dogs will work for salmon jerky and dried liver, and they’ll mostly go along with whatever I need them to do to earn it. At some point, though, I usually forget the recognition thing, and mostly just do the work because it has become fun in and of itself.

But, there are those days. You know. Those days when the work just doesn’t sound that fun. When it’s too cold, or too hot, or the drive is too long, or you have to practice alone, or the equipment is just too hard to get out yet again. Those days, it’s the possibility of recognition that will get me out of my chair and working again.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin have all given me the opportunity for a lot of work, a lot of fun, and more than my share of rewards.

Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin just earned the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) Quintessential Versatility Award. A beautiful glass medallion is given by the club to all dogs who earn this award.

An IWS is awarded this by earning titles in 5 different AKC sports. For Carlin, these were:

As you can see, we’ve been working on this award for a while now. And I am thrilled that Carlin also has been recognized for his work ethic, talent, and enthusiasm.

And it gets better!

Carlin, to my total shock and surprise, won the club’s Top IWS Scent Work 2018 trophy. The trophy is given to the IWS with the most points earned in AKC Scent Work for the previous calendar year. The IWSCA determines the points, but basically, the dog earns a certain number of points for each Scent Work title earned, with more advanced titles earning more points.

I knew Carlin had done well. I knew he’d be right up there. But I had been convinced that another dog had earned the award. So when I opened the package sent by the IWSCA Awards Committee, I about fell down, huge smile on my face. Totally blown away, was the only way I could describe it. I’d spent some energy trying to just feel good for the winner and not let my disappointment that Carlin hadn’t won get me down.

But then we won! We won!

I still can’t quite believe it. It still makes me smile. But you know, Carlin doesn’t care. He just loves the work. And the fact that he loves it and begs me to do it with him–that’s often all the recognition I need.

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Carlin has done some good spaniel work in hunt tests over the years. And we are fortunate that he’s been recognized for his talents:

I particularly enjoyed his winning the Trucker trophy because Carlin won it from a club originally founded to promote the traditional spaniel breeds: English Springer, English Cocker, American Cocker, Sussex, Field, Clumber, and the like.

Irish Water Spaniels in the United States have not really been seen as a traditional spaniel breed; they’ve occupied a weird space: being named spaniels but being classified by the AKC as retrievers. Carlin, and the other IWS that have competed in spaniel hunt tests or hunted upland birds afield, have reminded anyone who has forgotten that IWS can and do excel as flushing spaniels.

But now it’s time to pass the Trucker trophy on to another spaniel, an English Springer this time. We took one last photo and then sent the trophy on to Lynn and her Sky to enjoy.

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The two dogs took Russ and me pheasant hunting today at the Payette River Wildlife Management Area. It’s the last day of the season, and they thought we might get lucky.

Well, we were lucky. We had a lovely walk along the river on a spectacular winter day. No birds, though. Unless you count the picked-clean pheasant carcass that Tooey retrieved. (Which I was foolish enough to not photograph before returning it to the wild.)

But we all had a good time. Here are some photos.


This last photo was taken at the same spot that the photo of Carlin was taken just a few days ago. (When Russ and Carlin had an equally lovely walk and just as many birds.)

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There were some great things about our recent hunting trip in eastern Montana. Carlin and Tooey got to trot almost to their hearts’ content in the wild country without danger from snakes, ticks, or other dogs.

There were only a few cockleburs and grass awns, and those we got out from the dogs’ coats pretty quickly.

The stars at night were amazing. I’ve never seen the Milky Way so clearly, and the Big Dipper pretty much blew my socks off (not literally–it was too cold for that) with how close and crisp those stars appeared.

And the dogs found and flushed a few pheasants and sharptails.

But mostly, it was an unsatisfying trip. It was cold – really cold: in the low 20s F during the day, and 0 at night. The birds were few and far between. And it was very windy. Even though the dogs flushed a few birds, the north wind whipped them quickly up and out of gun range and off to the far southern horizon. Being November, the days were short, and we had a lot of driving between areas where we were permitted to hunt.

And then, there was that little trip to the vet…

A bit of back-story is in order: Almost 7 years ago to the day, Russ and I were hunting the Potholes in eastern Washington with Rod and Renae. We had their dog Rio along, and we had Cooper and Tooey. Tooey liked to cruise the edges of the ponds looking for whatever could be flushed or chased. And she found something – a porcupine. That porcupine got Tooey but good. We spent quite a while pulling quills out of her nose and muzzle. We got them all out, but as soon as we let her go, she ran right back toward that spot where the porcupine had been. She fully intended to get that porcupine for what it did to her. We called her off, and most reluctantly she turned away and came back.

But apparently, she has never given up her grudge against porcupines.

It turns out that porcupines like to eat the inner bark of trees. But until this last week, we didn’t know that. Both dogs were hunting in a draw crowded with bare, stunted trees. Fortunately, Russ was on the ridge right above them. Suddenly, he called out “Porcupine!”

The dogs had ventured into porcupine country. This is what I think went through their minds when Tooey encountered the porcupine. Tooey: “Porcupine! I am going to GET you, sucker.” Carlin: “I think I’ll go see what Tooey is looking at.”

Both dogs got quilled by the unhappy resident. Once Russ called out, the rest of us came running to grab the dogs and take them back to the truck, where we could try using a hemostat to pull the quills out.

But getting them out didn’t work so well this time. We finally muzzled Tooey with a rope during the operation, but it was clear that we wouldn’t get the ones out from inside her mouth. Carlin bit Russ on the thumb while Russ was trying to get the quills out, and besides, Carlin had a quill up one nostril.

So off to the vet we drove, a little office in Glendive, about an hour away from where we were hunting.

Dr. Jen at Dawson County Veterinary Clinic was awesome at getting those quills out. The vet also did a careful, thorough search of their paws (apparently, some dogs try to wipe the quills away from their muzzles and then get them stuck in their paws), ears, eyes, mouth, neck, and front legs.

Poor Tooey had to be sedated to get the quills out from the roof of her mouth.

She found several broken-off quills in both dogs, and pulled them out, too.

Based on what we’d just gone through, we were not surprised to hear that quill-pulling is a big part of Dr. Jen’s practice. One poor local dog apparently comes in once a month to have quills pulled. I guess some dogs never learn.

Like Tooey. I imagine that this incident will just intensify her grudge. I hope for Carlin, though. He’s not as happy to put up with pain as Tooey is.

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It was an all-dogs-all-the-time weekend. Often our weekends are that way, but this one was packed.

Agility

On Saturday morning, Russ took Carlin to beginning agility class. Apparently, Carlin is doing quite well and really enjoying it. I knew he would, and I’m very happy Russ has found a good instructor for it. Someday I’ll go watch, but I hear that they’re learning stuff in very small pieces.

Going for a walk

While they were gone, Tooey and I went for an hour-long walk while it was still cool. There’s this neighborhood to the south of us that I hadn’t explored yet, so was took the long way through the adjacent park, and then wound our way among the houses and streets. That section was not laid out in a grid, and it was full of dead ends and cul de sacs. I never did exactly get lost (I caught sight of a busy road that I recognized several times), but it wasn’t a straightforward walk. Tooey enjoyed it though, especially that last bit when I let her swim in our neighborhood irrigation canal. She looked for the ducks that often live in the reeds that line the bank, but none were to be found.

Bathe and trim (part one)

When we got home, Tooey got a bath and trim. She was filthy. As in, the-water-turned-brown filthy. As in, why-have-I-been-letting-this-filthy-beast-sleep-on-the-bed filthy. By that time of the morning, the temperature had already reached the high 90s F, so blowing her dry was mostly a formality. Although it does get the loose hairs out of her coat, which means I don’t have to do quite as much brushing and combing. With a light trim, Tooey was looking and smelling beautiful again.

Bathe and trim (part two)

When Russ got home, Carlin got a bath and a clip-down. He was dirty, but not nearly as dirty as Tooey. (Perhaps that’s because of her swim in the irrigation canal?) I haven’t been clipping Carlin down because I had still been harboring this fantasy that I might show him in October, but I finally realized that that’s not going to happen. He doesn’t like judges touching him, he’s worried about being so close to other dogs, and I don’t handle all that very well. And plus, there’s unlikely to be any IWS in the Boise shows in October, so there’d be no point in showing him. (You conformation folks will get the pun, eh?)

So he got clipped. His topknot and ears went down to about ¾”, and the rest of him to 3/8”. He looks very handsome to me. Plus he and I are training for hunting now, and a short coat makes it easier to get out the burrs, seeds, and grass awns.

The First End

After about 3-1/2 hours, both Carlin and I were done grooming. I had Russ’s delicious soup for dinner, did a load of laundry, watched TV for a bit, and went to bed.

It all started again on Sunday morning.

Scent work

My scentwork group all came over to my house early in the morning to practice. We did several Interior Advanced hides, a couple of Exterior Advanced hides, one vehicle search (which is not part of AKC Scent Work, but is done in some other organizations’ searches), a Handler Discrimination Novice search, and an Advanced Container search with extra containers. Carlin did well on all of them except Containers.

In Containers, he could not concentrate. The containers were on his lawn, he ran last after all the other dogs, and all he could think about was sniffing the grass to learn more about all the other dogs. Finding odor was just not of any interest at all. OK, so I guess we go back to basics in Containers on grass. Normally, I practice Containers on concrete, but I’m going to have to change my ways. Somehow.

Spaniel training

After lunch, Carlin and I then trucked off to a friend’s property to practice water blinds and hunt deads. Since by that time it had gotten really hot, we decided to do water work first. My friend is an accomplished retriever person, and she set up some fun land-water-land-water-land blinds for Carlin. They weren’t long blinds, but it did mean that he had to resist stopping to hunt around on the island. He’s been through this scenario before, and I didn’t have to handle him very much. If this had been a retriever hunt test, it would not have met the standard—I let him get way off the straight line from me to the bumper, but my goal was to get him down wind from the bumper so he could find it on his own. Which he did just fine, several times in multiple locations.

Then came the hunt dead. Carlin has never failed a hunt dead in a spaniel test, but he’s gotten himself way off course many times. Enough to push time limit to the very nubbins. Enough to raise my stress level considerably, and enough to lower his score by quite a bit.

In a hunt dead, the handler knows only vaguely where the bird is. The judge will say, for example, that the bird is somewhere in the arc formed by that distant that tree out there to the left and that fence post out to the right, and about 65 yards out from the line. So basically, you try to make some kind of educated guess as to where the bird might be, and then send your dog straight out in a line to a spot downwind from that spot. Of course, you have to guess where downwind is out 65 yards away—sometimes that’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the wind is moving differently out there. Or there may not be any breath of wind at all.

And in yesterday’s practice, Carlin did exactly right. We set it up so that Carlin would out into a cross breeze. I sent him in a line that would put him downwind of where I thought the bird was, he actually took that line, and then hooked a right when he winded the bird. Actually taking the line is what I was looking for. So, good boy!

Riding in the car

While Carlin and I were gone, Russ took Tooey for a ride in the car, which is a good thing in and of itself. He was looking for a DMV where he could maneuver the boat and trailer, so both could be licensed and registered in Idaho. Since this was a reconnaissance mission, there were no worries about leaving Tooey in a hot car. Just a nice air-conditioned ride on a hot sunny day.

the now-registered Spainnear Uisce (the boat), Tooey, and Carlin

The Ending End

By the time we all got home, it was time for dinner, a little TV, another load of laundry (to wash the dog bath towels), and bed.

Like I said, all dogs, all the time.

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That title isn’t exactly in English, is it?

Here’s what it means. “Top IWS Upland 2017” is an award given by the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America (IWSCA. It recognizes Carlin for being the most accomplished Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) in Spaniel hunt tests (sometimes known as Upland tests) in 2017.

So what did he do to get that award?

  • 6 Master-level Spaniel hunt test passes–5 of them with scores of 8.0 (out of 10) or higher
  • 1 Master Hunter Upland title
  • 1 Master Hunter Upland Advanced title

Each one of these items is awarded points. Added up, Carlin had the most points of any Irish Water Spaniel owned by a member of the IWSCA.

I thought we maybe had this award for 2015 and 2016, but another very accomplished dog beat Carlin out by just a couple of points.

But this year was Carlin’s year, and I was thrilled to travel to the IWSCA National Specialty in Blacksburg, VA to pick up the award.

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When Dagmar, a very accomplished hunting dog trainer in Germany, saw this photo, she said, “This dog would fail in a hunting test here.”

And when I read Dagmar’s comment, I thought, yes, exactly.

The photo shows a 9-month old Cesky Fousek that was participating last Saturday in the Natural Ability Test put on by the Bohemian Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America. If this dog had been participating in an upper level AKC pointer hunting test, it would have failed here, too. Pointing dogs are supposed to stay steady and point, not flush a bird or grab at one that flies.

But that is not the point of a Natural Ability Test. And as one who has participated in AKC hunting tests, getting my head around what exactly is the point of a Natural Ability Test has been a bit of a puzzle.

One of the aspects I have looked for when evaluating a dog or a bitch is the titles before and after their pedigree names. This, I have thought, tells me something about what they’re good at. If I see a CD, I know the dog can succeed at Obedience competitions. If I see a hunting test title, I know they can succeed at hunting tests. And etc.

But what I can’t necessarily tell is whether the dog has natural talent in those areas. Does he love Obedience, and just naturally follow the handler’s lead? Or has he learned the exercise only after extended repetition and repeated corrections? When I see hunting test titles, can I assume the dog naturally finds game and brings it to her handler? Or has she been forced the pick up birds and deliver them to avoid correction? Just by looking at titles, I can’t tell.

This is something that other people think about, too. And one group of such people is the Bohemian Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America (BWPGCA).

The BWPGCA is trying to sustain and improve a breed of dog for upland hunters. They want dogs with natural talent for searching for, finding, pointing, trailing, and retrieving upland game birds and ducks on both land and water. Specifically, they want to select dogs and bitches for breeding who have these talents naturally.

So they have developed two tests to look for these qualities in their dogs at various stages of development. One is for young dogs 6 to 16 months, called the Natural Ability Test (NA). The other is for dogs 16 to 24 months, called the Intermediate Hunting Dog Test (IHDT). Both tests assume that the dogs have been exposed to hunting, gamebirds, water, and gunshot. But the NA test doesn’t assume any training, and the IHDT assumes only some training. They’re not looking for the dog who retrieves a bird because the dog has been forced — they’re looking for dogs who naturally pick up birds and give them to the handler out of a desire to work together as a team.

Of course, inherent ability is important, but it’s not the only criteria for breeding. They also look for proper conformation, which is evaluated during the tests.

They look for proper coat, eye color, height and length, weight, temperament, and other factors as outlined in the Cesky Fousek Breed Standard. Separately, they also require PennHip testing so they can eliminate dogs with hip dysplasia from the breeding program.

As a person who has owned AKC-registered dogs for over a decade, this whole program is unlike anything I’ve heard of before. In the past, I have advocated for a breeder’s total right to breed their dog or bitch with any other dog or bitch they choose. And I have advocated for a careful program of out-crossing to diversify the Irish Water Spaniel gene pool. And here I have found a group that utterly rejects the first idea, and pursued the second idea so strictly that they have transitioned from one breed to another one, from Wirehaired Pointing Griffons to Bohemian Wirehaired Pointing Griffons (English for Cesky Fousek).

It’s been days since I watched these tests, talked to the people, interacted with their dogs, and listened to their geneticist’s presentation. And I still have no idea what I think.

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It was a busy weekend with the dogs. Russ took Carlin out spanieling on Saturday, and on Sunday I took Tooey to Barn Hunt practice and Carlin to Scentwork practice.

Russ said Carlin did everything perfectly spaniel-wise. The grey, snowy weather didn’t trip him up, and he didn’t forget anything, even though he hadn’t been practicing spaniel work since last fall. He found his birds, sat after flushing them, stayed sitting while one flew away and the others were brought down, retrieved the downed ones, and delivered them to hand.

Apparently, Carlin’s work finding birds was better than Russ’s work bringing them down, but as I wasn’t there, so I can’t say.

Anyway, Sonya Holcomb took some photos, for which I am grateful.

Carlin waiting his turn to hunt — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin staying steady in the field watching his flushed bird fly away — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin delivering his bird — photo by Sonya Holcomb

There are no photos of Sunday’s practices, as there were no photographers to hand and I was busy handling my dogs.

On Sunday morning, Tooey was a bit off on her rat hunting. I actually began to wonder if she was feeling well. She was way slower than normal — if the practice runs had been at a trial, she’d have qualified in only one run, which was just two seconds under the time limit (2 minutes 30 seconds for the Open level). And she did something she’s never done before — indicated a tube that didn’t have a rat in it. Very odd. She indicated that same tube (but not any other non-rat tube) in both runs 2 and 3. The woman playing judge said she thought Tooey was treating this non-rat tube differently from the tubes with a rat in them, but agreed that it was a subtle difference.

But in all three runs, she happily went through a longer-than-usual tunnel without being asked, and she was happy to climb the hay bales. So — not a total loss. I do wonder how she and I will perform in a couple weeks at the Valley Barn Hunt trials in Kuna, Idaho. I guess we’ll see, as Sunday’s practice was the last one before the trial.

Carlin did really, really well at his Sunday afternoon scentwork. He stayed mostly calm (except when a pug, dressed in a lumpy yellow coat with a floppy hood, walked by — obviously, this was an alien being that needed warning off). Staying calm around other dogs is his challenge, so I was happy with his demeanor overall.

I am often amazed at that dog’s nose. He found all his hidden odors — small containers of birch essential oil buried in the dirt, lying along the railroad tracks, tucked up high in a door jamb, behind an electric meter, and under a wooden pallet. He even found a container with clove essential oil, stuck up above his head on a fence post. I haven’t trained him to find clove, so he got rewarded big time when he found and indicated that one.

All in all, a very happy weekend. Both dogs ate their dinner and zonked out — Carlin curled up on the grass in the backyard kennel and Tooey inside on her dog bed.

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For the third year in a row, Carlin has won the Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Association’s Trucker Memorial Field Challenge Trophy.

I didn’t do a blog post on it when Carlin won the 2nd time, but I did with his first win. That post gives a nice little history of Trucker, the dog the trophy is named for, and his owner/handler.

The trophy is awarded each year to the club member’s dog that earns the most points from spaniel hunt test passes: Master=3 points, Senior or WDX=2 points, and Junior or WD=1 point. And in 2017, six Master passes earned Carlin the most points and the trophy for that year.

I handled Carlin to 5 of those passes, and Russ did the first one. We are very proud of this dog and his good work.

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Every dream turned into a goal involves a journey laden with setbacks, disappointments and milestones. There is joy in that journey. Guard that joy well so that in the end you rightly celebrate the accomplishment as well as the memories of the trip.

That’s from an article “The Joy Stealers” by Connie Cleveland. In the article, she talks about the comments we make that diminish another’s dream or accomplishment, whether out of thoughtlessness, misplaced kindness, or malice. And in one tiny sentence, she mentions that sometimes we can steal our own joy.

I think that’s what I’m doing in the back of my mind.

My first two Irish Water Spaniels were All-Around IWS. That’s an award given to Irish Water Spaniels that get titles in AKC retriever hunt tests, obedience, and conformation.  I worked hard for those titles, and fortunately, I had two dogs who agreed to go along with me (as well as a lot of help from other dog folks).

With Cooper, my first IWS, I wanted to achieve all that because I wanted to make his breeder proud of us, and because I could see that he had all the talent, work ethic, and beauty to achieve it. He loved retriever work, kind of got a kick out of obedience from time to time, and tolerated conformation because he loved me.

With Tooey, I thought I could do it again, and we did. She loved conformation, even though, being English, she didn’t look like the other American IWS girls. So that title took awhile. Retriever hunt tests took even longer — only when Russ decided to make it fun for her in the field, did she finally get that title. Obedience was OK, so long as the judge was a woman with a gentle touch, and not some big guy with a floppy coat.

So both of them got their All-Arounds. And now I have Carlin, who has all the beauty, brains, and work ethic that Cooper had, and he has a retriever title. So, all I need to get is the conformation championship and the obedience title, right?

Well, maybe not.

Carlin has issues. Ever since he was viciously attacked out of nowhere and injured by a dog twice his size, he has been deeply suspicious of other dogs he doesn’t know. Which, in a conformation ring or at an obedience trial, is just about every dog. He lunges and barks at them, and it raises my stress levels every time. I put a lot of effort and thought into keeping him safe, and those efforts are distracting when you’re trying to remember the Obedience rules or struggling to help your dog stay calm in the conformation ring. I’m sure some very intuitive person with excellent handling skills and a lot of dog knowledge could pull it off, but I don’t think I’m that person. And I haven’t found the person who can take him on without my sending Carlin away and spending a lot of money.

So. I may have to give up that dream. And the thought of Carlin’s not getting an All-Around like Cooper and Tooey fills me with regret.

And I think my own regret might be stealing at least some of the joy I could be feeling about Carlin’s considerable accomplishments:

  • A Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It took 18 increasingly difficult spaniel hunt test passes and years of training to get that title.
  • A Rally Novice title. He loves doing the Rally exercises, but not the dog-filled environment. We got that title by concentrating on small shows with relatively few dogs and one ring. And he was on leash the whole time. And I kept him either busy or in the car, so he never had very many moments in a row to worry about other dogs.
  • A Coursing Ability title. That was not work — it was all fun. Just the joy of watching my dog run alone at top speed for 600 yards, and loving every second.
  • A retriever Junior Hunter title. That one was work, and a lot of training, and involved several failures. There were parts he loved (swimming and running), and parts he didn’t like so much (ducks). But we did it. When we passed that last test, I cried and hugged the judges. (They were very nice about it.)
  • A lot of very fast progress in Scentwork in just a few months. He loves the game, is very methodical in his searches for odor, and almost always finds it. If there’s a weak link, it’s me.

Really, when I look at that list, it’s kind of amazing. It’s a lot to rightly celebrate. And my trip with Carlin is not over yet.

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The upland hunting season in Idaho wraps up in 3 days (December 31). So between snow storms and in freezing weather, Carlin and I went out for possibly the last time this year looking for some pheasants. With a few inches of snow on the ground left over from Christmas day, and the mercury slightly above 20°, we spent the morning along the Payette River in SW Idaho.

There was not much activity. As we were gradually heading back to where we were parked, I heard a rooster cackle several hundred yards away and saw it flush out of some cattails in front of another hunting party. The flush was so far out ahead of them and their dogs that they never took a shot.

Because it was out of range for the other hunting party and it was headed my way from my right, I stood by until it was past my left (fair game etiquette). It covered the distance quickly and zoomed in between Carlin and myself.

As the rooster cruised about 10 feet off the ground, I made a passing shot and watched it tumble across a small ditch of moving water and into some cover about 50 yards away. Carlin, however, was fixated on the other hunting party and never saw the bird or my shot.

I called him in to me and then sent him on a classic “dead bird” drill. He crossed the stream with a leap and up the bank toward the bird. With only one “over” cast from me, Carlin headed into the cover straight to the bird. On the return trip he hesitated at the creek (deciding to jump or wade), but with the bird in his mouth he wisely chose the latter. Moments later, he delivered the bird to hand.

And that is why we train our dogs.

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Carlin delivering his bird near the banks of the Payette River

 

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A sunny November day in Southwest Idaho is by definition a perfect day to go chasing pheasants with your dog. Today, Carlin was up for the task, so we headed to an area along the Payette River near the micro-town of New Plymouth. The area we hunted was along the flood plain of the river. It was laced with ponds, ditches, cattails, and other terrain that provides good cover for upland birds.

Carlin took about 20 minutes of covering ground when he got birdy. I watched him study an area of cover and then visually track something in the grasses. In he dove and out came a rooster pheasant.

Now one might assume that having observed Carlin’s behavior that I would have been ready with my gun. The bird came right at me and over my head, but I totally missed it with both shots. At least it got Carlin jazzed up about finding birds.

A short time later, he was out ahead of me walking a ditch line where he flushed up another rooster. This one didn’t have a chance, and I dropped it right back into the ditch. Carlin got his first water retrieve of the season with a gorgeous bird that will be on our dinner table within a day or two.

He was quite proud of the find and retrieve. He shows this pride by willing pose for the camera and waiting to hand off the bird until our short photo session was over.

2017-11-17-1

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Carlin is my third retriever Junior Hunter, falling somewhere in between Cooper’s stellar performance and Tooey’s slow, grudging one. Carlin loves going out to look for birds, but he has struggled with delivering the ducks to hand and with going straight out to the fallen bird, rather than quartering out to it like a spaniel.

Fortunately, at the hunt test put on by Sand and Sage Hunting Retriever Club, he delivered all four birds directly to hand, succumbing to his spaniel instincts only once.

The test was held in Othello, Washington. The club’s name describes the landscape pretty well — sandy, desert soil studded with sagebrush and long tall, seedy grass. The grounds were located on a professional retriever trainer’s property, so the fields and ponds were already in pretty good shape for the test.

Carlin ran #10. I prefer #3 or #4, just because he gets pretty amped up waiting his turn in the holding blinds. But when we got to the line, he sat when I asked him to, and studied the objectives before him.

The first mark was pretty short — only about 60 yards. It did involve running through a dry, shallow swale, but this didn’t put off any of the dogs. Most of the run was through flattened grass, the bird landed just on the edge of a large patch of sage brush.

Carlin picked it up and brought it right back to me. No dropping it on the way.

The second mark was a live flying duck. When gunners shoot a live duck, you never know exactly where it will fall. Carlin’s was long, about 105 yards. As the duck flew and fell, Carlin sat quietly by my side. I know he saw the bird go down because his butt came up just slightly when the bird landed (out just past the post, into the long grass to the right).

From my perspective, that mark should have been easy. And it was, for a few dogs. But there was apparently some kind of force field out there that made many dogs shy off about 15 yards before the area of the bird’s fall. Most dogs, though, eventually found it.

Carlin eventually found it, too. He started quartering the field just at about the same place that all the other dogs got off track. He ran to the right almost to the sage brush, then back toward the trees for about 40 yards, and then quartered the field back and forth toward me. Finally, he got close enough to the bird to wind it, pick it up, and bring it back to hand.

We had a touch of excitement when Carlin decided to go see the dog waiting his turn in the holding blind. This is not a good thing as it shows lack of control. But I got him back, leashed him up, and waited for callbacks.

Most of the dogs got called back. A few didn’t. There was one dog that decided to eat the bird, another that never did come back willingly to the handler and had to be corralled, and a couple of dogs who didn’t deliver their bird to hand. But that was the minority. I really felt for those people, having been in their shoes with one of my dogs too many times.

But we were called back to the water.

I think the two marks were about 80 yards and 70 yards. Both of them had the dog leave the bank, swim across some water, get up onto the land on the far side of the pond, trot some distance to pick up the bird, and then do a return trip. Or at least, that was the idea. It was a relatively small pond, so several of us were not surprised when the test dog ran along the bank around the pond instead of swimming through it.

So the judges put up a hunting blind at the start line, just to the left of the handler, with the idea that this would dissuade the dogs from running the bank.

It worked. I don’t think any of the dogs ran the bank. Instead, they all happily entered the water. Some, like Carlin, leapt in, ears a’flyin’, while others more sedately trotted in.

Carlin did a nice, very straightforward job of his water marks. In the water, out on the land, pick up the bird, and bring it back to hand. No bank running, no shenanigans, no quartering. Just solid good work.

That was Carlin’s 4th pass in a retriever Junior Hunt test, and that earned him his JH title. I was so pleased and so grateful to all the people how have helped us get to this place.

Carlin, Junior Hunter, Sand and Sage Hunting Retriever Club, October 1, 2017 with judges Eric VanStaveren and Chelsea Jensen

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After a long, very hot, dusty, and wildfire-smokey Labor Day at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Management Area in Rochester, Washington, I was tired. Carlin and I had just run his 10th passing master-level spaniel hunt test. He’d gotten to go swimming as part of the test, so he was refreshed, but I wasn’t.

I knew Carlin had passed the test. But I wasn’t sure that his scores were good enough to get that last high-scoring pass needed to qualify him for the Master Hunter Upland Advanced title.

After a dog gets a spaniel hunt test title, the dog can earn an “Advanced” title at that same level. So, for example, a spaniel that has earned a Junior Hunter can earn a Junior Hunter Advanced. (For dogs classified as retrievers, as are Irish Water Spaniels, the titles would be JHU and JHUA, for Junior Hunter Upland and Junior Hunter Upland Advanced, respectively.)

To earn these Advanced titles, the dog must first have earned the initial title with however many passes that takes. So, for a Master Hunter title, the dog needs to earn 5 Master Hunter passes. Then, the dog needs to earn that number again, but this time each a with score averaging 8 or more.

While ribbons were being given out, Russ went and found the judges’ score sheets, and did some quick calculations. Carlin, despite having hopped a foot out of position on one of his bird flushes, and despite an ugly hunt dead portion of the test, had squeaked by with an average of 8.25

So, that was it. Carlin had earned the highest possible title in spaniel hunting tests. More than two years of testing and three of training, working toward this goal. And we finally made it.

I cried and hugged Russ, the judges, my trainer, Carlin, the test secretary, and just about anyone else who looked like they wouldn’t mind being hugged.

Here are the tests he qualified in for the MHUA title:

Master Hunter Upland pass 6Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club – May 21, 2017
Average score: 9.33

Master Hunter Upland pass 7 – Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers – May 26, 2017
Average score: 9.2

Master Hunter Upland pass 8Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers – May 27, 2017
Average score: 8.9

Master Hunter Upland pass 9 – Clumber Spaniel Club of America – September 2, 2017
Average score: 8.63

Master Hunter Upland pass 10 – Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Club – September 4, 2017
Average score: 8.25

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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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