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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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