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Archive for the ‘water dog’ Category

One of our favorite training grounds is St. Louis Ponds, south of Portland, Oregon. In addition to the ponds and the hundreds of acres available to practice field work, there are a few extra delights this time of year. In the back corner of the park, we came across an old pear tree full of ripe fruit. After a hot morning of retrieving birds and swimming, a piece of juicy ripe fruit is just what an Irish Water Spaniel wants.

May I have another please?

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I will work for pears

A balanced diet is what is best for an active field dog. So after pears, maybe it’s time for an August blackberry dessert.

Yummmm.

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Blackberries for a second course

Also in this far corner of the park is a pond that brings back fond memories. This is where Cooper revealed his passion for water, jumping, and retrieving. The masthead banner of the Cooper Project (see top of this page) is Cooper leaping into this pond. I made this image on July 4, 2008. Here is the uncropped version:

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A young Cooper (17 months) doing what he loved

So here we were, 8 years and one month later, with our current IWS, Tooey and Carlin. From the very location where I shot the image of Cooper in 2008, I made this short slo-mo video of Tooey and Carlin making enthusiastic but less dramatic entries into the same pond, lowered several feet by the July and August heat.

Life is good.

 

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After a warm early morning of practicing steady to shot and steady to wing with Carlin, we decided to reward everybody with a nice swim and paddle in the river. We had a peaceful shady spot, with an easy calm current made by the ocean’s tide pushing against the river. The air was increasingly warm, but the water was cool. The photo below shows how beautiful it was, with me and the dogs only about 25 yards offshore at the edge of the channel, me in my 8-foot orange kayak, the dogs out swimming around with me.

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We’d been paddling around for a while, Tooey swimming steadily in her usual trolling-motor style and Carlin launching himself into the water from the shore. And then I saw the Sheriff, motoring toward us in his in his skiff. Uh oh. What were we doing wrong?

My first thought was that his issue was the dogs. I turned to Russ and asked if he wanted to put them up in the car. But they were out in the river happily swimming around in circles, and while I could paddle out and herd them in, I didn’t think I could do it before the Sheriff arrived. And besides, Russ said no — we had our permit, not to worry.

Slowly the Sheriff inched closer. He was being careful. By this time, there were several fishing boats trolling or anchored already out in the middle of the channel, filled with people trying to stay cool on what promised to be a day with temperatures in the triple-digits.

Finally, he got close enough to shout. I didn’t hear him, and both Russ and I cupped hands around our ears, and shouted back, “What?”

“How long is your boat?” he wanted to know. Boat? I thought. Oh…, boat! Not the dogs. Whew!

Now, spatial relations is not my strong suit. I’m the gal who bought nine bags of ice to fill a cooler that turned out to hold only three bags. So I guessed, “12 feet.” At the same time, Russ shouted, “8 feet.” Russ and I looked at each other. I clamped my mouth shut, and Russ said again, “8 feet.”

The Sheriff nodded, touched his hat, and motored away.

Turns out that he’d noticed we didn’t have a registration sticker on our kayak. That’s OK for 8 foot boats, but definitely not legal for 12 foot boats.

By then, the river was definitely getting crowded. We watched the Sheriff rescue one boat that seemed to be disabled. We noticed that the numbers of jet skis was increasing, as was the number of boats trailing fishing hooks and lines. Time to pack it up and go home.

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Russ built this boat for Cooper. When we were choosing our dog, we wanted one who would love the water and who would go on our boat with us. It’s just that Cooper left us before the boat was finished. So the job of inaguarating our boat, the Spainnear Uisce, fell to Tooey and Carlin.

And they both reminded us today that we are novices at this whole dogs-and-boats thing.

First, we didn’t consider that some dogs aren’t always thrilled with the sounds of an outboard motor or the tippiness of boats. Tooey was fine, but Carlin was a touch nervous. But finally, when he realized that he could look out the window and sniff all the strange and wonderful scents off the water, he was fine.

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Our plan had been to start out by boating out to an island in the Columbia river and pull into a small marina that was adjacent to a park.

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There were some other folks there (not surprising on a holiday weekend), but that didn’t stop us from also following the middle part of our plan, which was to let the dogs out for a swim and a run-around. The dogs loved that part. They ran up and down the beach, Carlin mostly with a bumper in his mouth (I think he kept it there primarily to keep it away from Tooey, who did snatch it away from him once or twice). They swam and ran around, swam and ran around, drank some river water, and swam some more. Tooey is the real water hound — she loves to be in it whenever possible. And she loves to drink whatever she’s swimming in.

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We returned to the boat, got some pictures in, pulled some grass awns from the dogs’ feet, and enjoyed sitting around enjoying the scenery. Tooey was happy to star in a photo or two.

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But she really didn’t want to be in the cabin with us. She wanted out. Probably, we thought, just to run on the beach some more, and swim.

Finally, we decided it was time to execute the remaining part of our plan, which was to leisurely circumnavigate another island before turning back to return to the boat dock. It was early afternoon yet. We had lots of time.

The dogs, especially Tooey, seemed to be a bit agitated, but finally, they both relaxed and acted like they’d been in boats their whole lives.

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Here is where the next lesson came in. I’m not sure if this was simple naivete on our part, or some kind of plan by the Irish boat gods to remind us who is in charge. We had never really christened the boat except with a few meager drops of Scotch whiskey, and I think that must have been our undoing. Because apparently the aforesaid gods decided to use an Irish dog to teach us a lesson in properly anointing a boat given an Irish name.

We got underway, and were out in the middle of the navigation channel when Tooey started to moan. Uh oh. That was clear enough. She had to pee. So we turned immediately back toward the boat dock, figuring we’d make it in time. Tooey has been known to hold it all day and all night before, so we weren’t too worried. But then the moaning got louder and more insistent. We cranked up the speed.

For some reason, it didn’t occur to either of us to just let her out of the cabin and into the cockpit. That’s all just fiberglass back there. But we didn’t, and finally she couldn’t stand it anymore. She hopped into the farthest reaches of the boat she could get into and let go. And what was that space? The V-berth in the cuddy cabin, where someday soon we hope to sleep overnight in our new boat.

Poor Tooey. She was not at all happy with peeing indoors, and she just couldn’t help it. What’s a girl to do after having tried to drink half the Columbia River?

Fortunately, we’d covered the V-berth with an old flannel sheet, which soaked up quite a bit. But not all.

It’ll be all right. The mattress cover is removable and washable, and I had almost a whole gallon of Nature’s Miracle to spray on the mattress and the cover. And we learned a lesson. When the girl wants out, figure out a way to let her go. And make sure to find a way to christen your boat properly, or else.

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On Sunday morning, just very briefly, there was a tiny break in the pouring rain. Portland, actually most of western Washington and Oregon, has been having more than a week of record-breaking rain. Just taking the dogs for a short potty run will get a person soaked through to the skin. Ponds and waterfalls have sprouted up where normally you wouldn’t see much water at all.

So anyway, Sunday. After all this time stuck in the house or out for relatively tame leashed walks on the city sidewalks, both dogs were ready for a run. So we ventured out to a dog park, even though we knew that many people would probably be taking advantage of the break in the weather to visit that same park.

There were. But fortunately, most people were trying to keep their dogs out the of the temporary ponds. Not us. We know better. We have Irish WATER Spaniels.

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The ball is up there!

We tried briefly to do some training, but cabin fever had struck both dogs and discipline went out the window. OK. Oh well. We’ll just chuck the ball and get the dogs some exercise.

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Happy 7th Birthday, Tooey!

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Tooey at 7

Today Tooey turns 7 years old. As you can see, she is still her beautiful self, still scanning tree branches for squirrels, still living enjoying her life with a quiet zest.

It’s been a relatively quiet year for Tooey. She’s no longer competing in any obedience, hunting, or conformation activities (although we may get that last Barn Hunt leg next year and possibly I may show her in the Veterans class at the next Specialty), so the training she does is in the living room, just for fun.

Tooey spent many days in the car and motel rooms traveling this year — Montana for hunting training and hunting, southern California to accompany Carlin to his hunt test, Colorado for a visit to family and day of hunting. She’s a very good traveler. Her only request is to go swimming whenever we’re near a river or pond. That was totally doable on day trips to the Willamette River or the Pacific ocean, in the Missouri and Marias Rivers on the trip to Montana, and in the ponds in southern California. But it’s not so fine when the Colorado River is many yards down a steep bank and behind a fence.

Tooey and Trice

She’s still our best hunter, finding birds in the field with no help from us and retrieving to hand the ones we bring down. She got birds in Montana this year, adding a new state to her list (California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, plus British Columbia). And along those lines, since she’s ever the beautiful photo model, another photo of Tooey (and Cooper) was published in December, just after her last birthday. The photo accompanied an article written by Russ (and translated into German) about hunting with spaniels in North America.

First page in the article about hunting with spaniels in North America

First page in the article about hunting with spaniels in North America

For 5 minutes every morning, before I get out of bed, we cuddle, her lying on my chest licking my face, me trying to breathe and stroking her head. She loves her daily walks and trips to the park, which for her are mostly sniffing and critter-finding expeditions — I mean, why rush? Mostly her day is spent keeping Carlin in line and playing with him when she feels like it (which is not that often now that he’s bigger and stronger).

It’s also been a tough year for Tooey. She lost Cooper, a constant source of adoration and the friend who loved her more than anything (except possibly the opportunity to retrieve). She was sad about that for many weeks. And she had surgery to removed a mammary gland for a biopsy of what we were afraid was cancer. (It wasn’t.)

But even so, life is good, and we’re looking forward to many more happy years with Tooey.

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Cooper was the retriever of the family. He’d retrieve anything, anywhere, for as long as you’d throw something. He lived to retrieve. Even on his last evening, he was retrieving.

Tooey will retrieve, especially if she’s going after birds on a hunting trip, but she’s never really enjoyed retrieving for the fun of it. It’s part of her job as a hunting dog, but not something she would recommend one do for fun.

Unless we’re at the beach.

Today, while Russ and Carlin are out hunting birds in Montana, I took Tooey out west to the beach. This particular spot is divided by a river, with a long sandy beach along the ocean. It’s a beach Tooey knows, and was the spot where she first saw and swam in the ocean.

As soon as she hopped out of the car, she knew exactly where she was. Tooey does not usually pull on the leash, but today was an exception. This is the beach and it’s time to go swimming!

Tooey_LeapingGood thing I brought the wubba along. We got to the river bank first, and she started barking at me. Throw it! Throw it!

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After about 45 minutes of solid toss-retrieve, toss-retrieve, we moved on the the ocean with its waves and swells.

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There I threw that wubba for another solid 1-1/2 hours. She brought it to me, and then ran back out into the surf, waiting for me to throw it again. She loves the surf, and when particularly big waves came rolling in, she’d crash through them, grab the wubba, and then body surf her way back in to shore. People would stop to watch, ask me what kind of dog she is, and smile at her obvious joy.

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After about 2-1/2 hours of solid wubba-throwing, I was tired and hungry. Time to go get some lunch and then home for a bath before dark. But you can bet Tooey didn’t want to leave. If she could speak, I know she would have been channeling her inner Cooper, saying, “Oh, do we have to leave? Can’t you throw it one more time?”

Tooey_wubba

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This morning turned out way better than yesterday morning.

Yesterday morning, we loaded up early to get out training before it hit 99 degrees F. Winger, birds, training bag, dogs all ready to head out to the St. Louis Ponds training grounds. We got there nice and early, only to discover that the place was crawling with dogs and their people for a retriever hunt test.

Oops. Can’t train there.

So we turned around and headed out to the training grounds on Sauvie Island. We had our dog training permit and parking pass along with us, so that seemed all good. It’s just that after an hour driving down to St. Louis Ponds, and an hour and a half back up to Sauvie Island, the temperature had zoomed up into the humid mid-80s.

We trained anyway. Tooey did a fine job doing her “hunt dead”, looking for a pheasant hidden about 45 yards out away from Russ. But poor Carlin, who really doesn’t handle heat very well, had a hard time keeping his mind on the job. On his second marked retrieve, he ran out just fine to pick up the bird, but rather than coming right back to me, he headed off across the field toward the bowl of water and the shade of the car. I coaxed him back to me, but it wasn’t pretty. That’s about all we got done before the temps hit the upper 80s and we decided to call it a day.

So, today, we left even earlier and headed straight to Sauvie Island. By the time we set up, it was in the mid-70s and humid again, so this time, I started Carlin in the shade, so that he’d want to come back to me with his bird. Russ threw two single retrieves. Carlin was nice and steady at the line, ran straight out, hunted around a bit, got each of his two birds, and brought them back to within about 5 feet of me before he sat, holding his bird. I called him to my side, and thankfully, he held onto his bird even while moving into heel position.

Tooey didn’t particularly want to do her hunt dead this morning. Way too many delectable cow pies to distract her from on her out to the bird. But with some help, she finally did it. And Carlin did a nice short sight blind, too.

So with that good work, we decided to reward ourselves with a trip to the river. We’d brought the kayak just in case, and sure enough, the spot we found a couple of weeks ago was open, just waiting for two panting dogs and their people. The tide was going out, and that made the current decidedly swift, so we stayed in the eddy that curled along the bank. Even so, the dogs got in lots of leaping, splashing, and swimming.

The sound on the video is odd. Because the video is in slow motion, the sound of my voice is distorted. It sounds to me like there is a monster advancing onto the innocent party of dogs. But even so, what a delight! Look at how beautifully Carlin drives off the edge of the bank and reaches way out on his way to the water’s surface. And Tooey, throwing herself with abandon into her favorite element, the water. At the beginning of the video, Carlin looks to Tooey, “wanna jump?” and at the end they look at each other, “wanna do it again?”

Yes. Yes we do.

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One piece of advice I got after Cooper died was to start some new activities and traditions. Do something that will make me happy because it makes my dogs happy. Do something that doesn’t carry memories of when I used to do that or go there with Cooper.

Sounded like good advice. So, inspired by last Friday’s training day, I went and got an inexpensive, bright orange, kayak.

Sunday morning, before it got all hot, we all went to the Sauvie Island dog training area, hoping to find enough water to kayak in. It’s been very hot, and we didn’t get any of our usual June rains. So we weren’t surprised that the usual smaller training ponds were completely dry. But there is a larger lake inside the dog training area that we thought we’d try.

Too bad it didn’t occur to me to check out the name of that lake: Mud Lake.

Muddy and mucky it was. Even though I tried to pole they kayak out several yards to what I hoped were deeper waters, I never did get into waters where I could float, much less where the dogs could swim – in fact, they never got deeper than running through really muddy muck.

Then we tried another lake. It was a little deeper. I slogged several yards away from shore, pushing the kayak along, the muck almost sucking my sandals off my feet with every step. Finally, I hit some float-able water, but no matter how far away from shore I got, the dogs never did find anything deep enough to actually swim in. (Although they did get a mud pack beauty treatment.)

After just a few minutes, we packed up everything and left.

So disappointing.

And then Russ mentioned this spot he remembered where we might be able to find some deeper water. So we turned around and found a low bank where we could put into to the river. The river was definitely deeper. When we stayed in near shore, there was an eddy where I could paddle slowly and the dogs could swim. When we got out farther, the current was swift enough that it took some doing to not simply float away downstream.

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Trice in the kayak, Carlin and Tooey in the water

Trice and Tooey swimming in the river

Trice and Tooey

But even so, it was like heaven. Before last Friday, I hadn’t been on a boat for years, and that session was way too short. So on Sunday, floating on the water, watching my water-loving dogs play and swim, run around on the bank, and then jump back into the water — I loved every single second, and they did, too. They both slept soundly all the way home.

I hope we can do it again very soon.

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I have consolidated the last three days of our pheasant quest primarily because as we traveled west, internet connections became scarce, and so it would have been hard, if not impossible, to update this blog.

Day 9: Near Corinne, Utah

The agricultural fields sandwiched in between the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake allowed us a morning to look for some Utah pheasants not far from I-84. The rain had been persistent prior to our arrival and consequently the hay fields were still un-mowed (tall and thick). The wheat grass along the edges was tall, but gave the birds some space to move around. While the morning was clear and crisp, the cover was still wet. Not ideal, as birds generally don’t want to fly with wet feathers. (Go figure.) But as we moved up the rows of tall wheat grass, the dogs successfully put up a total of 9 birds.

Two things of note. My shooting was improving quite a bit, so no dramatic shots or retrieves were required. Dog flushes bird, Russ shoots bird, dog retrieves bird, next. But out over the hay fields, two birds did get up in front of Norm, where he made a couple of successful long shots. The deceased birds glided into heavy wet alfalfa, a hundred-plus yards away. Scarlett, who stands just below the height of the hay, quartered out in front of Norm, and found both birds.

So after a couple of hours we had 8 more birds to add to the cooler.

If you are a photographer such as myself, or a serious bird hunter, it is inadvisable to wield both a camera and shotgun for reasons of safety, aesthetics, and only having two hands. I carry a small camera in my upland vest while hunting, but only use it when the shotgun is down and safe, hence no action photos when I have a gun. As such, the following image is one I made while resting at the end of a field, looking back east at the Wasatch mountains to give an visual reference to the hunting conditions.

Norm and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

Norm (carrying both shotguns) and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

After cleaning the birds, we snagged a lunch at Mollies in Snowville, Utah and headed into Idaho for the night.

Day 10: East of Shoshone, Idaho

We spent the night in a ubiquitous Motel 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Then after a solid breakfast at a local place named Norm’s Cafe in Twin Falls, we headed north to Shoshone, then west on along the rail line until we found the Little Wood Ranch, which straddles the  Little Wood River. This was an area of hay and grain fields surrounded by sagebrush. Due the marvels of modern irrigation, when you mix water with Idaho desert soils, you get great farm land. (Yes, this is the source for your fried potatoes at McDonalds and Tater Tots from Ore-Ida foods, but I digress.) These fields held quite a few birds and due to the dogs’ week of daily hunting and our week of practice with our shotguns, the birds were easy to find, shoot, and retrieve.

While the hunting seemed like a slam-dunk pheasant shoot, it turned out to be a dunk only. Tooey followed a scent trail and disappeared into some tall cover next the the Little Wood River. I immediately knew this was not a good thing thing, because if Tooey finds water, she goes swimming for the sport of it. I quickly dropped my shotgun, ran to the river bank (a 4 foot drop), and saw Tooey swimming hard upstream but floating downstream in the swift current around the bend. This is not an image you want etched into your memory if this is the last you ever see of your dog. I ran a short distance downstream along the bank, and got Tooey to swim laterally until she could find some traction on bottom. She got to the edge, I lay down and grabbed her collar (and I have long arms) and pulled her up the bank.

Now with a wet (and happy) dog, I had to find my shotgun somewhere upstream. Dog, check. Shotgun, check. Okay, time to start hunting again. We crossed a small footbridge over the river and hunted a field on the north side. Norm shot a bird that glided into trees next to the river. (Oh Shit!! Not again.) Scarlett disappeared into the cover, and then into the water. But as providence would have it, the pheasant landed in a shallow eddy on this side of the river, and  Scarlett found an entry point that matched her 12″ height. Wet dog, wet pheasant delivered to hand. Heavy sigh.

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

The only other interesting note was that we bagged a couple of chukar in addition to the 8 pheasants. While this is a pretty location with birds, I am no longer inclined to hunt areas with swift moving rivers with steep banks.

A couple of hours to the west, we stopped to have dinner with a dog friend, Ryan, near Boise, Idaho. We met Ryan several years ago in Oregon where he was one of the founding members of the Lower Columbia Hunt Retriever Club. But his work took him, his family, and small fleet of Labrador Retrievers to Idaho. After a nice break catching up and having great Thai food (way off the Interstate), Norm and I headed back into Oregon and a night stop in Baker City.

Day 11: A great Oregon pheasant hunt

Back in our own state of Oregon, we wandered out north of Baker City to the Tucker Creek Ranch. Fortunately Tucker Creek, which runs through the heart of the ranch was about 2 feet wide and dry. But the fields and trees along the creek bed were ideal bird habitat. The weather was perfect, the landscape was eye candy, but the birds very elusive. Tooey put up two rooster pheasants that went into my hunting vest. Tooey put up a third rooster, but somehow my crack shooting and Norm’s long distance skills were no match, and it got off to live another day. Oh well. On our way back up the creek towards the car, a covey of about a dozen quail flew up out from the cover and upstream among the trees. But quail season does not open for another 5 days, so we just watched with delight as these birds reconvened into the cover (another reason to return to Tucker Creek).

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

As we poked around the stream bed, I frequently reminded Tooey to “go find the birds”, but in her excitement, she must have misheard me and instead thought I said, “go find the burrs”. Being a good dog, she complied and brought back plenty. In addition to the cockle burrs and the sand spurs, she added a new variety to her collection, Beggars Lice.

Tooey with the birds and burrs

Tooey with the birds and burrs

While we only came away with two birds today, it was the best hunting of the trip. The weather, topography, ranch owner were perfect. Maybe it’s an Oregon thing.

After nearly two weeks of Motel 6s, it was time to go home. We just packed the dogs, birds, and gear into the car and headed the last 300 miles home to Portland. Arrived dirty and dog tired. But happy.

Day 12: Dog Grooming

Even though an hour was spent last night grooming Tooey to get out the burrs and spurs acquired from Tucker Creek Ranch, another pass was required this morning before it was bath time. Trice will be returning from her vacation in a few hours, and Tooey will be clean, dry, curly, and smelling fresh when Trice walks in the door.

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

And so in the last 12 days:

  • 3000 miles driven
  • traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas (and back again!)
  • 47 birds delivered to hand (45 pheasants, 2 chukar)
  • weather included hot sun, tornado warnings, flash floods, thunder storms, driving rain, and blue skies. Everything but hail and snow.

Tooey has been a trooper; sleeping all night on the beds in Motel 6s, logging 3000 miles in her car crate, protecting me from thunder, and covering miles on the ground looking for birds.

She is a Champion in the show world. She also has her titles in Obedience and Rally, Retriever and Upland Hunt Tests. She has earned the AKC All-Around IWS award and has qualified for the Quintessential Versatility Award. She is also a Top Producer in that she has produced three champion show dogs (aka puppies) located in the the USA, Canada, and Australia. And she is (as of now) one of only 5 Irish Water Spaniels to have done all of the above.

And now for the drum roll . . .

I have no data to prove this, but of the other 4 IWS that can match Tooey for the number and variety of titles and accomplishments, I venture that none of the others has ever produced as many birds in as many states as Tooey. So far to date, she has found and delivered waterfowl and/or upland birds in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Idaho. (And next year’s plan includes the Dakotas and Canadian provinces!)

In my mind she is quite a Renaissance Dog. What’s not to love.

 

To be continued . . .

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Day 6 of Pheasant Quest 2014

We are still on the hot and sunny high plains of Kansas. We hunted the morning, bagged another 10 pheasants, had lunch, packed, and headed north.

Now while getting 10 pheasants in the morning is nothing to sniff at, it is becoming the Kansas normal. But the highlight of the hunt was a record retrieve by Miss Tooey.

The dogs flushed up a rooster out of the milo that went vertical as though it had been in a rocket silo. The pheasant then streaked north, and Kent (a top skeet shooter and instructor) took a long shot at the disappearing rooster and connected. The bird took a death glide and fell 200 yards away. Tooey marked the fall and lit out across two strips of milo and two wheat belts, straight to where the bird had landed in some grass. This is a record retrieve distance for Tooey, and I couldn’t be more delighted. And this was after she ran down a crippled bird that landed and had run some distance. Tooey and Scarlett didn’t give up, and that is why Tooey found the live bird and brought it to me for a humane coup de gras. A trained dog makes for a good hunt.

Tooey and her 200 yard retrieve for Kent

Tooey and her 200 yard retrieve for Kent

Because we hunted early in order to beat the heat, the low sun made for some nice dog photography potential.

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Tooey’s last morning in Kansas

After we packed the car, Norm, Scarlett, Tooey, and I headed north to the Nebraska panhandle while Kent headed home to Illinois. By 5:00 p.m., we made it to a little ranch south of Bridgeport, Nebraska. Behind our cabin was a gorgeous pond surrounded by cattails. Tooey bee-lined it to the water to wash off the Kansas dust. Both pups got in a few water retrieves while Norm and I broke out the cigars and scotch. The coyotes came in to observe and comment while we basked in this oasis of a Nebraska ranch, anticipating the pheasant hunt of the following morning.

1 pond plus 2 water dogs makes for happy pups

1 pond plus 2 water dogs makes for happy pups

A great way to wash and Irish Water Spaniel

A great way to wash an Irish Water Spaniel

Norm discussing the finer points of cigars and scotch with Scarlett

Norm discussing the finer points of cigars and scotch with Scarlett

Day 7

Last night around midnight, Tooey, who had been curled up on the bunk bed with me, got up, ran to the door, and started barking like it was the 4th of July. Bright flashes were coming in from around the window curtains, followed by long rolling rumbles of Midwest thunder. The weather had shifted fast while we slept. Notice the cloud build up behind Norm in the previous photo. Well those clouds were followed by driving rain and a night of thunder storms with Tooey barking till dawn (not restful).

The daylight broke with non-stop lightning and more rain. We consulted with the ranch owner and determined that the weather forecast was not compatible with walking in the fields with 28-gauge lightning rods in our hands. He had reviewed the weather maps, as most Midwest farmers are prone to do, and the prospects were dimming. So discretion being the better part of valor, we abandoned pheasant hunting in Nebraska and ran from the storm front.

As soon as we were safely out from under this storm cell, I checked the weather in our planned hunting area.

Say no more . . .

Say no more . . .

This map shows tornado and flood warnings where we had planned to hunt, but now we are in western Wyoming, safely to the left of the orange. No, Tooey, we are not in Kansas (or Nebraska) anymore.

To be continued . . .

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In a parallel universe, I have my own piece of dog heaven, but in this one, the closest I have is the delta. So that’s where I chose to spend my first day of the new year, with Cooper, the dog of my heart.

I went out as early as I could, so as to miss as much of the holiday crowd as possible. The delta is one of the few places of any size around here where you can run your dogs without a leash, so it’s popular, especially on weekends and holidays.

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We took a meandering path out toward the river, up hills, through trees, and along the power lines. Cooper always runs out ahead, and then stops and waits for me to catch up, poor two-footer that I am.

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When we got to the river, of course the only thing to do is throw the bumper so Cooper can retrieve it. Does he care that it’s winter and the water is cold?

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No. Retrieve in the water, do a couple of land retrieves in the sun, and then water retrieve again. All that work keeps a dog like Cooper plenty warm.

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The hike in and the water retrieves took a couple of hours, and by the time we’d hiked out, it was midday, and fog had rolled in and obscured the sun. And the crowds had rolled in, too. Definitely time to go.

But we’ll be back to this little slice of heaven, hopefully before the next new year.

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If one is in need of fun, and the day is sunny and warm, and you live near the west coast, and it’s a Monday off work, and you have a Favorite Photographer and a couple of Water-loving Spaniels who love to go along, where better to go play than the beach?

Just make sure you have a camera and toy to take along!

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Cooper, retrieving out of the Columbia River, with Mt Hood in the background.

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Sunny, warm, that stretch of the river all to ourselves, after a long hike through a field at the delta. And a Friday off work.

Afterward, after we were both warm and dry, Cooper even gave me a rare kiss and cuddle. What could be better?

Not much that I can think of.

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Russ: Hey, Cooper! Do you want to go duck hunting today?

Cooper: Do I get to wear camo just like you?

Russ: Sure, but keep in mind it is going to be cold and wet.

Cooper: I’m an Irish Water Spaniel. I can do cold and wet.

Russ: Point taken. OK then.

Cooper: Can I put my wet muddy feet on the furniture in the duck blind?

Russ: Sure. So does this mean you want to go?

Cooper: Is the bear Catholic? Yeah, I wanna go!

Irish Water Spaniels

Two boys in their duck blind, Aumsville, Oregon
photo by Norm Koshkarian

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Ending score? 14 pheasants flushed, 3 pheasant shot at, 1 pheasant hit, and 3 apples retrieved to hand.

The dogs flushed up 14 pheasants. About half of those were roosters (you can’t shoot hens). The gunners shot at 3, and hit one. That one fell like a lead weight, right into the middle of some very dense, thorny bushes.

All four dogs and all four people searched, but none of us ever found anything resembling a bird. The dogs didn’t find the bird or its scent, and the people didn’t see any feathers or other evidence that a pheasant had ever been shot, much less fallen to earth.

Tooey, Rio, Cooper, and Kasen

But fortunately, the scenery and the weather at Lower Goose Lakes were absolutely beautiful. Mid-40’s, blue skies with wispy white clouds, just a bit of wind, fractured basalt cliffs, glittering blue lakes, the scent of mint and sagebrush. Perfect for hiking.

Rio, Tooey, Kasen, Cooper, Rod, Renae, and Russ

Oh, I guess we're going that way

Rio did get one scent that really excited him. He dived into some heavy cover to grab his favorite — apples. He loves apples. It was sort of funny that Rio retrieved apples on a bird hunting trip. But all of us were happy to take a break to enjoy their juicy sweetness. All you have to do is wipe off the bird doo-doo, get out the pocket knife, and cut slices for everyone. Even Cooper took a slice when he saw all the other dogs enjoying them.

Cooper and Tooey, surveying the terrain

Cooper has not yet had his hunting “lightbulb” moment this year. We really need to get him out somewhere, like a game preserve, where we can arrange for birds to be planted in identified locations. That way, we can direct Cooper to those birds so that when he flushes one, he can associate the excitement of the flush and retrieve with the birds’ scent and typical hiding places. Today, he mostly wanted to stay close to Russ, or to come find me. He’s birdy, though, so I know that with more experience, it’ll come.

I was very pleased with Tooey. We haven’t taken her out hunting before, so she doesn’t have a clue about what she’s supposed to be doing out there. But she clearly enjoyed herself. She checked in with us often, but she was also pretty adventurous, searching the rocks and bushes for whatever was out there.

And the water… Tooey loves to swim — she’ll swim just for the unadulterated joy of it. And the Lower Goose Lakes area is filled with, you guessed it, lakes. Little lakes, strung like beads along desert canyons.

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Whenever we couldn’t see Tooey, all we had to do was listen for the sound of splashing and paddling. If we heard that, we knew Tooey was swimming again. And loving every minute of it, even in the cold water on a cold November day.

And then, after all the day’s fun, the not-so-fun. The plants in the field provide cover for birds and are wonderful to the nose. But they also festoon the dogs with seeds, twigs, seeds, thorns, and more seeds. And every single bit has to be picked or brushed out. Especially, I’m told, the cheatgrass seeds. For some reason, cheat grass seeds love to hide between dog toes, and in the ears, eyes, and mouth. They can even work their way through the skin into body cavities such as lungs and abdomen and cause serious infections as they move though and get lodged in body tissues. Nasty.

So before dinner, before changing clothes, before even a glass of Scotch, out come the combs and brushes.

Trice brushing out the seeds and debris after a day of hunting

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