Let’s start with the good:
- After this last Sunday’s hunt test was over, I was invited to come later this week to practice retriever work on some private land that actually has ponds on it. This is wonderful for two reasons:
— I was invited. This means that perhaps I am losing my newcomer status a bit and slowly becoming part of a group.
— The other reason is that Carlin and I get to practice retrieving in some water. Practice-able water is not easy to find around here – most ponds and rivers are on privately owned land, or they are on park land where dogs must be on leash and/or there are lots of kids and other dogs close by.
- The judges and gallery were very kind.
- I learned that somehow I have to accustom Carlin to duck decoys, which I realize now he’s never seen.
- I brought a couple of dead pheasants home with me, which I gutted and then stuffed with insulating foam so I can use the birds for training.
Now to the not-so-good:
The hunt test went bad right from the start. We were out on the first bird (which for this test was pheasants). The first mark was about 75 yards into a pond just shallow enough for the dogs to run through. The pond was small, planted with five duck decoys at the right edge, and the starting line was about 30 yards back from the pond’s edge. A dog going straight through the pond to the bird would not encounter the decoys at all. A dog running around the pond would run right past them.
You can guess which dog I had. The one running around the pond. And when he got to the decoys, he stopped dead in his tracks. WHOA!!! WHAT IS THAT?!? Each decoy had to be thoroughly investigated.
I don’t know if you’ve seen other Irish Water Spaniels take a certain posture while checking out something potentially evil, but all of mine have done it. The dog stretches his neck w-a-a-a-y out in order to get the nose close-ish to the evil thing, while the body stretches as far away as possible. This is what Carlin did to every single one of those four decoys, one at a time.
And then, OMG!!! A breeze drifted over the water, and one of the decoys moved. Carlin jumped up and ran away several yards. At that point, he’d totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing out in that field, so he went into default spaniel mode, and started quartering. He got farther and farther away from the bird, and I could hear one of the judged shifting in his chair. So, I blew my whistle to stop Carlin.
He stopped, which is good. But then, when I tried to call him in just enough to get him away from the decoys, he ran the other way instead. Finally, the judge said, “Pick your dog up, and we’ll give him the live flyer.”
That mark went great. Carlin lined the bird, picked it up, and brought it back to hand.
I should have stopped right there.
Ordinarily, I’d have had to stop for the day because dogs that fail the 1st series don’t get called back to test in the 2nd series. But since there were so few entrants in the Junior test, the judge invited the dogs who had failed the 1st series to do the 2nd series anyway. I thought, well, I paid good money for this, I should take advantage of the opportunity.
Actually, I should have declined and let Carlin end on the success. The next two marks looked straightforward, and they were. Carlin lined each of them, ran straight to each bird (one through rather than around some swimming water), brought it back, and dropped it 6 feet away from me. He would not pick up either bird, just nosing and poking them on the ground. Aghhh! So embarrassing.
We’ve had this bird-dropping problem before at a retriever hunt test. Since he’s successfully picked up and delivered many a pheasant at spaniel hunt tests, we had thought the problem at retriever hunt tests was that the birds were ducks. But Sunday’s test used pheasants. So, now, I’m thinking that there is something about retriever hunt tests that bugs him.
Don’t know what the problem is, though. My retriever club has had several training days that were set up just like retriever hunt tests, with guns, birds, crowds of dogs, holding blinds, a marshall, and judges (but no decoys). And in all of the recent training days, Carlin has picked his birds (both ducks and pheasants) up and delivered them to hand.
So, what to do? For now, the lawn is strewn with Russ’s decoys and I’ll run some short marks past and through them in the yard until the decoys become no issue for him. And Carlin and I will go out to the property with water later this week, and put the decoys in there, too. And maybe when I’ve done that, some other bright idea will occur to me.
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