Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘life with dog’ Category

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

And the bed passed!

Let me explain. Russ and I have been sleeping in a queen size bed. And since we are the type of folks who allow the dogs on the furniture, we are often joined on the bed by one IWS. There’s room for only one IWS when both Russ and I are in it. Used to be that Tooey ruled that roost, but since we moved to Idaho, Carlin has been claiming that space. And amazingly enough, Tooey has let him do it.

But this last weekend, Russ finished building a beautiful new bed. And this one, given that we now have the room, is a king size bed. Totally big enough for two adults and two Irish Water Spaniels.

But still, Tooey hasn’t been willing to get on it while Carlin was up there.

In the middle of the night last night, though, we got lightning. Flashes of white that came through all the bedroom window blinds. And as usual, Tooey started barking at the lightning. I used to think that she was just mad and barked to tell the lightning off, like Cooper used to do. But last night, I thought, well, maybe she’s scared.

We have a thundershirt for her — a wrap that goes tightly around her chest and back. It has seemed to calm her in the past. But the thundershirt was stored away in an outbuilding, and I certainly didn’t want to wander outside in the middle of the night, in the middle of a lightning storm.

So I heaved Tooey up onto the bed next to me, and put my arm around her tightly, as if I were a human thundershirt. Thankfully, she stopped barking, letting out only a little growl or whine from time to time.

After a while, the lightning stopped. Tooey stayed alert for it for awhile. But finally, she stretched out and gave a long deep sigh, and we both joined Russ and Carlin in sleep.

So, it’s true, there’s plenty of room for two adults and two IWS to sleep comfortably on the beautiful new bed.

Now, if can just stop her from running through the flowers and dousing herself in pollen before bedtime…

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Ms Tooey is good bird dog, but she has always been a good critter dog, too. Critters are anything that loosely fall into the rodent category, ranging from field mice to porcupines. It doesn’t matter if they live in trees or underground; all are fair game for her.

Patrice has even put a Barn Hunt title on this girl because of her distinct talent for ferreting out rodents (appropriate verb even if she isn’t a weasel).

Currently, our new home in Boise has enough tree squirrels to keep both Tooey and Carlin busy and vigilant. They spend several hours everyday laying in wait underneath a lilac bush as a brace of squirrel predators. This lilac bush is strategically placed next to one our neighbor’s sheep pens where corn and other feed is bait for squirrels. From their hideout, the pups can scan the fence line and trees for any incoming marauders.

So it was a bit unusual when Tooey started sniffing the dirt at the back fence last night. She would not leave one specific area and then started digging at the base of the fence. She even got Carlin interested, and the two of them alternated pounding on the fence with digging at the base. She was so persistent that we had to drag her inside last night, as she would not leave the fence line or respond to a verbal recall. We were puzzled because on the back side of the fence is a neighbors’ decorative fountain, with no indication of rodents, just the sound of trickling water.

This morning she made a bee-line to the spot and started digging again.

Our neighbor decided to check out a small space between his fountain and the fence with a flashlight. He subsequently retrieved a fermenting squirrel that, based on rigor mortis, had only been there for less than 24 hours. Fortunately, his discovery saved Tooey the burden of ripping off fence boards and digging a trench. (She was told to “leave it”, yet she persisted.)

As soon as the critter was disposed of, and Tooey confirmed that there was nothing of interest behind the fence, she returned to her post under the lilac.

Barn Huntress Most Excellent . . .

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: