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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.

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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…

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

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 . . .

I worried about what I was planning to do for days ahead of time. I had bad dreams. My lower intestinal tract was worried, too. I knew there were good reasons for doing it, but I didn’t want to.

I don’t want to hurt or frighten my dogs, especially on purpose. But there are rattlesnakes around here. There are rattlesnakes right behind my employer’s building. People have seen them on roads out of town. Apparently this a bumper year for gophers, ground squirrels, and whistle pigs, so with all that food and the early hot weather, the rattlesnakes are out in force.

And what I might do to teach my dogs to avoid rattlesnakes would hurt them less than if they went on a summer hike or early season hunt trip, and got bitten by a rattlesnake.

So Russ and I took both dogs to the Rattlesnake Avoidance Training put on by the Idaho Humane Society and the Idaho Chukar Foundation.

We signed up for the earliest time they had. I hoped to avoid too many crowds and hot weather. But even so, there were lots and lots of people there. (It appears they had capacity for about 250 dogs, I’m guessing.) The photo below doesn’t begin to show how many people were at this beautiful park to teach their dogs about rattlesnakes.

They had 7 trainer stations where trainers met handler and their dogs, and talked with them about any exposure the dog might have had already with an e-collar, snakes, or previous training. They also explained how the training would be run.

They also explained that the dogs would be exposed to bull snakes on the course, which look and behave almost like a rattlesnake but don’t have rattles and are not venomous. When the dog looked at, stepped on, touched, or investigated a snake, the trainer would activate the e-collar to simulate the sharp pain of a snake bite.

Then one at a time, a trainer/handler/dog team went through the course to help the dog learn to recognize the sight, smell, and sound of a rattlesnake.

The course had 5 snake stations:

  • Stations 1, 2, and 3 had a bull snake. These would teach the dog about the sight and smell of a rattlesnake.
  • Station 4 had a bull snake and a sound maker to simulate the sound of a rattle rattling. These would introduce sound, along with the sight and smell.
  • Station 5 had a plastic snake and a sound maker to simulate the sound of a rattle rattling. This would remove the smell element, but keep sight and sound.

Each station also had a snake handler to keep the snakes safe. But even so, the snakes were being handled more than they’d like, and they were not happy about it. There was a lot of writhing, tail flicking, and lifting of heads.

Russ took Carlin through first. My photos did not turn out well — my shutter finger was way too slow. But then I took Tooey through, and Russ took photos. In the pictures below, Tooey had been through three stations already, and really begun to get that rattlesnakes are not our friends.

The snake is lying at the base of the tree, on the right side, along with the noise maker. The snake handler is peeking out from the left side.

We hadn’t even gotten that close to the snake, but Tooey, I think, had already gotten a whiff of it in the photo below.

By this photo, she’s heading off away from the snake.

At this point, my job was to run away from the snake with her, praising her for avoiding the snake. The trainer could see that she was reacting appropriately, and didn’t use the e-collar this time.

Carlin went through the training a second time. He’s usually quite soft, and those few times when we’ve used an e-collar on him, we haven’t needed to turn up the dial beyond the minimum. But in his first run through the training, he didn’t seem to get the point at all, so we ran him through again, this time using a higher setting.

You can see how close he got to the snake. Just before this photo, he looked at the snake and the trainer nicked him with the collar. He jumped away fast, and we both yelped. This snake was beginning to lift it’s head in a threatening posture. That scared me, adding to the reality of the simulation.

But the time we got to station 4, Carlin had figured it out like Tooey. He was already running away when I was just seeing it for the first time.

The trainers said that many dogs don’t need another session, that they get it after this training. But he also urged us to repeat the training on our own if (when?) we come across another snake. I hope that never happens. But we live in Idaho now, and rattlesnakes are our neighbors.

As I left the master upland course on Day 1, a member of the gallery stepped up to whisper in my ear. “The rules require you to aim the gun. Don’t forget.”

And all of a sudden I realized that I had not aimed the gun the day before. When a dog flushes a bird, the handler in a master upland test is supposed to follow the flight of the bird with the muzzle of an unloaded gun and pretend to shoot the bird. The official gunners do the actual shooting, but the handler must create the most realistic picture possible for the dog to test his steadiness to flush and shot. And I forgot.

And then I realized that the nice lady reminding me of the rules was also one of the judges for the Day 2 test. I had darn well better remember. I could lose points for forgetting, especially after that reminder.

The flushing portion of 2nd test put on the by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers was pretty much the same as the first day. It was hot, perhaps even a touch hotter. The course was a long horseshoe shape. The breeze was squirreley and inconsistent. Carlin ran 4th.

He found birds much more quickly on this course. His first flush was a flyaway, a chukar that could not be shot because it flew over the following gallery of observers. I remembered to aim the gun, though. Carlin was steady out in the field, and then returned to me when I called. I gave him a drink of water, and sent him off for the next bird.

His second chukar was a trap. He tried to flush it. It hopped about a foot away. He tried to flush it again, but the bird wasn’t flying. So he grabbed it up and brought it to me.

So at this point, the judges had seen a couple bird-findings, one flush, and one steady to flush. They’d seen him deliver a bird to my hand. But they hadn’t seen him be steady to a shot and dropped bird. The could have had Carlin go out and find a third bird, and hope that it would flush into a position where it could be safely shot. But the morning was wearing on and getting hotter, and the light breeze was likely to push a flushed bird out over the gallery again. So they decided not to risk it.

The judges had me get Carlin into place next to me, facing off the course. One of the judges walked about 35 yards off the course and threw a live bird into the air. I reminded Carlin to sit, aimed my unloaded gun, and the judge threw the bird. The gunner shot the bird, and it fell. And Carlin sat.

Finally after seeing that Carlin was steady to shot and fall, the judge tapped my shoulder, and I sent Carlin on the retrieve.

He took a line to the bird, but went out too far. So I whistled him in a bit, and he winded it. That chukar he delivered to hand, too.

So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

This hunt dead was tougher than the previous day’s — it took Carlin 3 minutes and 40 seconds to find and return the bird. I sent him a few degrees downwind of where I thought the bird was located, but he decided to hook a left, go downwind even farther, and then go a bit too far out. I handled him back to an area more directly between me and the bird, and told him to go back, but then he went out too far again. I called him in a little bit, and he came too close to me. Argh!

I stopped him, took a breath, and then sent him back. Finally this time he caught wind of the chukar and found it. Later I was advised that perhaps it would have been better to do less handling and more waiting for him to find it on his own, but this was the first time in a long time that I’d seen him take so long to find a dead bird. Oh well. We passed the hunt dead, so it was on to the water.

Carlin’s water test was much less dramatic than the previous day’s. No running down the bank to find Russ, for one thing. When I sent him on the blind retrieve, he got right into the water, but then swam across the creek to where the previous day’s bird had been. Fortunately, he happily took my handle over to where this test’s bird was located. Again, he thought he had to get up onto the land to grab the bird just at the water’s edge, but that was OK.

His marked retrieve was excellent. I aimed the gun, the bird went up and splashed down, and Carlin was steady. The judge tapped me, I sent Carlin, and when I released him, he flew into the water. Mere moments later, the bird was in my hand. Carlin shook the water off his coat, and we left the area with a nice round of applause.

Carlin, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 27, 2017

Russ had completed Carlin’s Master Hunter Upland title in Montana, so we decided that I would be the one to handle him (we hope) to his Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It would make a nice ending bookend, with my having started him out by putting his Junior Hunter Upland title on him back about 1-3/4 years ago.

Before the test started, I was nervous. I hadn’t handled him successfully in anything since his Rally Novice title last November. But I’d seen how well he’d done in Montana with finding birds, being steady, and retrieving to hand. So I hoped that if one of the team weren’t that experienced, the other member might be able to carry us through.

It was was hot at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. In May, it’s supposed to be at least somewhat cool, but not this year. It was forecast to get up to 86 degrees F, and Carlin is a hot dog. He got so hot in the 65 degree weather in Montana that we kept him mostly soaked the whole time he was running. And this test, put on by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, was no different. Fortunately, the club supplied tubs of water at the beginning of the course that handlers could use to cool their dogs.

You can see the start flags and the two judges in the photo above. Carlin and I were first in the running order. We walked to the start line, and chatted briefly with the judges. And then came the news that we would have to wait. Somehow, the judges hadn’t gotten their scoring books, and we had to wait while the club secretary quickly put them together.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, the judges had their books. They handed me the gun, and told me to send Carlin when I was ready. So I did, and he was off.

Carlin quartered the course beautifully. I whistled him a few times to turn or to come closer to me, but mostly he went back and forth across the course several times on his own. But he wasn’t finding any birds. That’s very odd. He usually finds birds as soon as there is one to find. It was only then that some in the following gallery realized that while we were waiting for the judges books to be put together, the planted chukars must have began to wake up to their surroundings and walk off the course.

Finally, about a quarter of the way down the very long, horse-shoe-shaped course, Carlin found and flushed his first bird.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was so busy goggling at Carlin flushing a bird that I forgot to whistle him to sit on the flush. Fortunately, like I said earlier, one-half the team had it together, and Carlin sat on his own. And he kept sitting while the chukar flew away over gallery, preventing a safe shot.

Carlin’s next bird (like most of the birds that morning) was a trap. It wouldn’t fly, so Carlin just grabbed it up on the run, kept going a few paces, and then turned and brought the bird to me.

Having seen Carlin find birds, flush one, be steady to wing and shot, and deliver two birds to hand, the judges told me that they had seen enough. So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

I don’t have any pictures of the rest of the test, unfortunately. But the hunt dead went well. Like all the other dogs, he went out and found the bird steward’s bag of birds first, so I had to give him an “Over” command to send him downwind a bit to catch the scent of the bird I wanted. But even with that, it took him all of 30 seconds to run out the 65 yards and bring back my dead bird.

The next portion was the water test. For master dogs, there are two parts to this. One is the blind water retrieve. In this case, a dead bird was hidden at the edge of the other side of the swollen creek, and Carlin was supposed to go get it.

This was nerve-wracking. Unbeknownst to me, about 15 yards upwind and down the shore on our side of the creek, Russ was helping out, hidden with a basket of birds, waiting to launch them out into the pond for the marked water retrieve. So what did Carlin do? Instead of jumping into the creek to go over to the other side to retrieve the hidden bird, he ran straight down shore to Russ. That’s not totally unreasonable, as there were hidden birds there. But it’s not the direction I sent him.

I whistled him back to me, but I had to be careful not to do anything even remotely resembling getting him back to my side. If I did that, and sent him again to the bird hidden across the creek, that would be a double send and we’d fail the test.

So when Carlin came back to me, I jumped sideways about 5 feet and told Carlin to go “Over” without waiting for him to stop. This is called a handle. A handle happens after a send at some distance from the dog, so it’s not a re-send. Fortunately, he decided to jump into the creek and swim over to other side.

He found the bird over there. Eventually. He could have found it right away if he’d just looked for it at the edge of the creek, where it was hidden in some tall grassy stuff. But no, he had to climb up onto the shore, clamber among the broken tree limbs and branches, and splash around in the flooded areas. I gave him another handle, he went to where I indicated, and found his by-now soggy chukar. Which, thankfully, he brought right back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

So now it was onto that last bird. Would he break, or would he be steady for the launch of the bird, the shot, and the splash in the water? The bird went up, the gun went off, and bird landed, and Carlin, bless him, sat while I waited for the judge to tap me.

But there was no tap. I could see out of the corner of my eye that the judge was too far away to tap me, so I gambled that by then, Carlin had demonstrated his steadiness, and I sent him.

photo by Dan Rotter

Carlin threw himself into the water with a dramatic leap, grabbed up the bird, and brought it back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

And we were done. I knew we’d passed the test. Now the only question was: were his scores high enough to qualify toward a Master Hunter Upland Advanced title? To earn that, he has to pass 5 master tests, each with an average of 8 out of 10 poimts overall in 5 categories being judged: hunting, bird finding, bird flushing, trained abilities, and retrieving.

Master Hunter Upland pass, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 26, 2017

Later, after all the scores were tabulated, we found that yes, Carlin had averaged just over 9 out of 10 for this test. So we were happy and tired, celebrated a bit with some other competitors from Idaho, and then crawled off the hotel room for a shower and bed.

We’d need our sleep if were were going to do the whole thing over the next day.

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