Posts Tagged ‘AKC hunt tests’

Carlin is my third retriever Junior Hunter, falling somewhere in between Cooper’s stellar performance and Tooey’s slow, grudging one. Carlin loves going out to look for birds, but he has struggled with delivering the ducks to hand and with going straight out to the fallen bird, rather than quartering out to it like a spaniel.

Fortunately, at the hunt test put on by Sand and Sage Hunting Retriever Club, he delivered all four birds directly to hand, succumbing to his spaniel instincts only once.

The test was held in Othello, Washington. The club’s name describes the landscape pretty well — sandy, desert soil studded with sagebrush and long tall, seedy grass. The grounds were located on a professional retriever trainer’s property, so the fields and ponds were already in pretty good shape for the test.

Carlin ran #10. I prefer #3 or #4, just because he gets pretty amped up waiting his turn in the holding blinds. But when we got to the line, he sat when I asked him to, and studied the objectives before him.

The first mark was pretty short — only about 60 yards. It did involve running through a dry, shallow swale, but this didn’t put off any of the dogs. Most of the run was through flattened grass, the bird landed just on the edge of a large patch of sage brush.

Carlin picked it up and brought it right back to me. No dropping it on the way.

The second mark was a live flying duck. When gunners shoot a live duck, you never know exactly where it will fall. Carlin’s was long, about 105 yards. As the duck flew and fell, Carlin sat quietly by my side. I know he saw the bird go down because his butt came up just slightly when the bird landed (out just past the post, into the long grass to the right).

From my perspective, that mark should have been easy. And it was, for a few dogs. But there was apparently some kind of force field out there that made many dogs shy off about 15 yards before the area of the bird’s fall. Most dogs, though, eventually found it.

Carlin eventually found it, too. He started quartering the field just at about the same place that all the other dogs got off track. He ran to the right almost to the sage brush, then back toward the trees for about 40 yards, and then quartered the field back and forth toward me. Finally, he got close enough to the bird to wind it, pick it up, and bring it back to hand.

We had a touch of excitement when Carlin decided to go see the dog waiting his turn in the holding blind. This is not a good thing as it shows lack of control. But I got him back, leashed him up, and waited for callbacks.

Most of the dogs got called back. A few didn’t. There was one dog that decided to eat the bird, another that never did come back willingly to the handler and had to be corralled, and a couple of dogs who didn’t deliver their bird to hand. But that was the minority. I really felt for those people, having been in their shoes with one of my dogs too many times.

But we were called back to the water.

I think the two marks were about 80 yards and 70 yards. Both of them had the dog leave the bank, swim across some water, get up onto the land on the far side of the pond, trot some distance to pick up the bird, and then do a return trip. Or at least, that was the idea. It was a relatively small pond, so several of us were not surprised when the test dog ran along the bank around the pond instead of swimming through it.

So the judges put up a hunting blind at the start line, just to the left of the handler, with the idea that this would dissuade the dogs from running the bank.

It worked. I don’t think any of the dogs ran the bank. Instead, they all happily entered the water. Some, like Carlin, leapt in, ears a’flyin’, while others more sedately trotted in.

Carlin did a nice, very straightforward job of his water marks. In the water, out on the land, pick up the bird, and bring it back to hand. No bank running, no shenanigans, no quartering. Just solid good work.

That was Carlin’s 4th pass in a retriever Junior Hunt test, and that earned him his JH title. I was so pleased and so grateful to all the people how have helped us get to this place.

Carlin, Junior Hunter, Sand and Sage Hunting Retriever Club, October 1, 2017 with judges Eric VanStaveren and Chelsea Jensen


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I thought I’d create a post that lists Carlin’s scores for the four Junior Hunter Upland spaniel tests he took and passed, earning his JHU title. Each test is represented in a table, and each table includes the scores given by the two judges for each category.


Junior Hunter Upland test 1 – Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club – August 22, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Average
Hunting 10 | 10 N/A 10
Bird finding 9 | 10 10 | 10 9.8
Flushing 9 | 9 N/A 9.0
Trained 8 | 8 10 | 9 9.3
Retrieving 9 | 9 9 | 9 9.0
Overall average 9.4


Junior Hunter Upland test 2 – Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club – August 23, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 9.0
Bird finding 9 | 9 10 | 10 9.5
Flushing 10 | 10 N/A 10.0
Trained 8 | 8 10 | 10 9.0
Retrieving 7 | 7 10 | 10 8.5
Overall average 9.2


Junior Hunter Upland test 3 – Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Association – September 4, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Average
Hunting 9 | 9 N/A 9.0
Bird finding 8 | 9 9 | 9 8.75
Flushing 8 | 8 N/A 8.0
Trained 7 | 6 9 | 8 7.5
Retrieving 9 | 9 8 | 8 8.5
Overall average 8.4


Junior Hunter Upland test 4 – Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Association – September 5, 2015

Ability Land Water Retrieve Average
Hunting 8 | 8 N/A 8.0
Bird finding 9 | 8 10 | 7 8.5
Flushing 8 | 9 N/A 8.5
Trained 8.5 | 9 8.5 | 7 8.25
Retrieving 8.5 | 8 7 | 7 7.63
Overall average 8.2


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This Labor Day weekend, four spaniel clubs each offered a spaniel hunt test, all on the Scatter Creek Wildlife area near Rochester, Washington. Even though Carlin already had two Junior passes (out of the four needed for a title), you never know what an Irish Water Spaniel might do, so we entered him in the Junior level all four days.

Friday — Mount Rainier Sporting Spaniel Association

The Junior level course was set under the power lines, in a field of low cover, grass about 12-18 inches tall interspersed with ferns. It was a very narrow course, perfect for the small English Cockers, Sussex, and Field Spaniels. Carlin, a fast-running, wider ranging Irish Water Spaniel, covered the width in no time, forcing me to call him in and whistle him into quartering right and then left in quick succession.

But even with that challenge, Carlin found his chukars in just a few minutes. He trapped one and delivered it to hand, flushed another that flew away unshot, and then flushed and delivered yet another that was brought down by the gunners. I was very pleased that, even with chasing the flyaway bird, Carlin came back quickly to my side when called.



At the water, Carlin watched the chukar as it was thrown about 30 yards out into the pond, executed a classic Irish Water Spaniel leap into the water, swam straight to the bird, swam straight back with it, and dropped it neatly into my hand.




This finished our third Junior Hunter Upland pass.


Saturday — Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Association

Saturday’s Junior course was also narrow, with taller grass cover than Friday’s course. Again, we were hunting chukar. Carlin was wilder than Friday, wanting to run and much less willing to be called and whistled into quartering. He got farther out from me than I liked, forcing me to keep up with him. Even so, he got three flushes, two delivery to hand and one flyaway in pretty short order. Again, he impressed the judges with his verve and style, and his willingness to be called off a flyaway bird.




One bird forced the judges to confer — it had been flushed and shot at, and then fell out of sight behind a mound dead ferns. Carlin ran to pick it up, but brought back an unwounded live bird. So, the question was, did he retrieve the shot bird or did he refuse the shot bird and trap a live bird that was also in the area of the fall? Since the judges couldn’t tell, they gave Carlin the benefit of the doubt. So we passed the land work, and were called back to the water.

Carlin did a beautiful enthusiastic water entry, grabbed the chukar, brought it most of the way back and then dropped it on the top of the bank. About gave me heart failure. Here we were, at the last bird needed for the title pass, and he dropped it. In Junior work, delivery to hand isn’t required, so I could have grabbed it, and I would have if I hadn’t been so stunned.

But before I could grab it, it rolled back down about three feet down the bank and back into the water. I turned to the judges and asked, “So are we screwed now?” She laughed and said, no, just get him to bring it closer. So I told him to Take It, which he did by the tip of one wing. I crouched down and reached out my arm, and Carlin took two steps toward me to drop that soggy, skanky, almost naked chukar into my hand.

As we left the line, Carlin made it clear he wanted that chukar back, so in my relief and happiness at getting his 4th Junior Hunter Upland pass, and therefore his Junior Hunter Upland title, I gave it back to him for just a few minutes.



With this 4th pass qualifying Carlin for his Junior Hunter Upland title, we moved Carlin up to the Senior level for the next two tests. See the next post for a report on these.

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Last Saturday and Sunday, the Spaniel hunt tests were family affairs. We all went: Russ and I, plus Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin. We all had jobs to do.

The stars of the show, of course, were Russ and Tooey, who were out there showing the judges and gallery what a good hunter Tooey really is.

Cooper mostly just rode along, although he had a small job to do at the water test — pick up dog. He’s the one who stood by, waiting (not patiently), for some poor dog to not be able to retrieve his bird. In that case, I’d send Cooper out to pick it up. He got to do that exactly once — and to his mind, that was not nearly enough retrieves for the day.

Carlin’s job was to get along: meet new people: learn new sights, sounds, and smells; and gradually get closer to the gunfire. My job was to keep him under some sort of control and give him cookies from time to time.

We started off in the parking lot — every time a gun went off, Carlin got about 10 small pieces of cookie. Slowly, we got closer and closer to the course, and each time a shot gun went off, 10 more pieces of cookie. I was delighted that Carlin didn’t even apparently notice the guns, although he certainly did notice the cookies.

By Sunday, Carlin and I were wandering around just to the side of the course, sniffing out pigeons and chukars, and meeting men with facial hair and hats, women large and small, and even one kid.  And, of course, getting cookies every time a gun went off.

This is not his first exposure to gunfire. His breeder, Jill, shot off starter pistols around the puppies several times. And Russ has been taking him to the skeet range, where Carlin stays in the car while Russ practices shooting.

So, all in all, it was a good weekend. Except, maybe, for Cooper, who would have appreciated about 99 more retrieves.

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Memorial Day’s hunt test was much more successful than the previous Saturday’s test. I remembered my lessons (don’t let the dog go before told to by the judge and don’t let your dog point a bird), and so Tooey earned her third and me my first orange hunt test ribbon.


Irish Water Spaniels with their ribbons
Patrice and Tooey with a Junior ribbon, Christine and Riki with a Master ribbon

The weather was awful. Not cold, but wet. Really wet. Pouring down rain wet. I was the bird shagger for the Master dogs, and those poor chukars were obviously soaked. After the Master and Senior dogs worked the field for their chukars, we Juniors waited a few moments for the pigeons.

I might add here that, at least in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have those large tracts of private lands with game keepers and many hundreds of pheasants to hold spaniel hunt tests on, as Russ and I saw in the United Kingdom last October. Instead, hunt tests are often held on public lands, and the birds are imported and “planted” — placed in likely bird hiding spots in the tall grasses, bushes, and other cover.

So, the bird planters went out into the field, planted the pigeons, and then the 1st Junior team, judges, marshal, and bird shagger all went out into the field, closely followed by Tooey and me. (The first team may not need the entire course to flush and retrieve two birds, so the next team follows along behind so as to be handy to start wherever the first dog finishes.)

And indeed, that’s what happened. Tooey and I started in the middle of the course. She hunted in her usual up and back, over and back pattern, even sometimes hunting behind me. In short order, she found a bird and started to point at it. I interrupted her with a “get it!”, and she flushed the bird. It flew, the gunners shot it, and Tooey went out and retrieved it to hand.

After that, I don’t really remember what happened. (That’s the trouble with writing these blog posts a week later.) I do know that she retrieved another bird, and it may have been one that she trapped and delivered to me. (Trapped is when the dog just grabs the bird without flushing it first.) Those birds were so wet, I am amazed any of them flushed.

I thought maybe we passed the “upland” portion, even though I did have to encourage her to flush. I even texted Russ: “Maybe yes. Maybe no.” But Tooey showed me that she can do the work when she wants to. On the way back to the staging area, she pulled me off the path and into the cover. She doesn’t usually pull me this hard, so I just held on and allowed her to go where she wanted to go. Suddenly, she dove into a patch of Scotch broom, and came out with a blinking chukar firmly trapped in her mouth. With some reluctance, she let me have it, and I took it back to the bird steward, alive and unharmed.

After waiting through lunch again and then asking one of the judges if we’d passed, I found out that Tooey and I were indeed invited back to test on the water.

The “line” at the water test was about 8 feet back from the water’s edge. That’s where you wait for the bird thrower to throw a dead pigeon into the water and the gunner to shoot at it (you can sort of see where they are by the blaze orange in the trees at the left edge of the photo below). I had hoped for a line closer to the water’s edge.


photo by Christine Robertson

The rules say that when retrieving a bird, a Junior dog must bring the the bird to the close proximity of the handler. Around here, that’s interpreted to mean two large steps. Eight feet is longer than two steps for me, so if Tooey decided to drop the bird at the water’s edge (something we’ve been working on ever since we started her in hunting), then we’d be out.

Fortunately, Tooey did a beautiful, bold Water Spaniel entry, and that impressed the judges. We were off to a good start at the water.

photo by Christine Robertson

photo by Christine Robertson

She marked the bird well, and swam straight out to it and straight back. And then she got to the water’s edge. In the following picture, you can see her start to lower her head.

photo by Christine Robertson

photo by Christine Robertson

I told her to “Hold!” But she dropped the bird anyway, right at the water line. My heart dropped along with it. But I told her to “Fetch it up!” and “Here!” I could see the wheels turning in that head of hers, deciding whether or not to pick that icky, wet pigeon back up.

After a few eternal moments, she did indeed pick it up, so I just bent down and took it from her, not wanting to risk her dropping it again.

photo by Christine Robertson

photo by Christine Robertson

And so we passed with an average of 8.1 points. (This is something I love about the Spaniel Hunt Tests — you can look at the judge’s book. In this case, I saw only one of the two.)

one judge's scoring of Tooey's performance

one judge’s scoring of Tooey’s performance

According to the rules, a dog must score at least an average of 7, with no score going below 5. So we did okay, but not great. Her “Water Categories” scores is what really saved us. Her “Water Entry” score (10) raised the average considerably, as did Tooey’s marking and going straight out to the bird in the water (“Bird Finding Ability”). The nice “Trained Abilities” score kind of surprised me — maybe they were looking at the fact that Tooey didn’t jump around or whine at the line, and that she delivered the bird upon command. Of course, the fact that she dropped the bird and had to be told to fetch it up probably explains the 8 on “Retrieving Abilities.”

And so Team Tooey passed this test. This is Tooey’s 3rd Junior pass — a dog needs 4 for a Junior Hunter Upland title. There are 6 more tests this year — 2 in August and 4 on the Labor Day weekend. If Tooey is not nursing puppies, we will be entered for sure.

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I have heard that even when you fail, the failure is not something to fret about. Instead, I’ve been told, just learn what you can and move on.

I’ve rarely been able to do that. Until last Saturday when, amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.

Tooey and I were entered in a Junior-level Spaniel Hunt Test. I had watched these tests plenty of times, but I’d never actually done it myself. And as I was the first Junior on the course, I couldn’t watch what my fellow Junior handers did before our run. So, predictably, I made a lot of mistakes. The kinds of mistakes that, if I hadn’t made them, Tooey and I might have passed.

The test was held at the Scatter Creek WIldlife Area, near Rochester, Washington. After our long drive up from Portland, it was nice to get out and walk to the hunt test grounds.

Irish Water Spaniel, IWS

photo by Christine Robertson

It had been raining lightly, so the field was damp-ish. Raindrops continued to fall now and then, and it stayed in about high 50s F, and with a light breeze. The cover was moderate, interspersed with clumps of Scotch broom — perfect bird hiding places. And the weather was perfect, too: cool enough for the dogs to work hard, and not so wet that the birds wouldn’t fly.

Tooey and I started in the middle of the field, behind the last Senior dog. The judges asked me if I was ready, I said I was, and I sent Tooey off. It didn’t take her too long to trap her first bird, a pigeon. She brought it right to me, alive and unharmed, so we seemed off to a good start.


photo by Christine Robertson

But that was where I made my first mistake. I didn’t realize that the dog was supposed to stay with the handler after delivering a bird, so I sent her off right away. The judges were busy looking down, writing in their books, so they didn’t see that Tooey had quartered out behind a small tree and flushed up a chukar. And because they didn’t see the flush, it didn’t count.

And then, the bird flew over the course, so the gunners couldn’t shoot it. Suddenly, though, the chukar veered well off the course, a gunner shot it, and it glided off and landed about 80 yards away. Tooey took off and retrieved that bird to hand, too.


photo by Christine Robertson

OK, so we didn’t get credit for the flush, but we did for the retrieve, so I’m thinking: Not too horrible.

This time while the judges made their notes, I held onto Tooey’s collar (having been informed by one of the judges that I should do so). When they were ready, I sent Tooey off again. What they wanted to see was a good solid flush. Tooey worked the field thoroughly (but in a somewhat irregular pattern), and found her third bird. I got my flush, but only after a v-e-r-y long point.

When a spaniel finds a bird, she is supposed to move in and make the bird fly so the gunner can shoot it. Spaniels (at least in a hunt test or field trial) are absolutely not supposed to point at the bird like a pointer. Tooey found her chukar, but she just stood there, her body and tail gradually stiffening, and pointed right at that bird. It was such a long point that Christine was able to prepare her camera for a couple of great photos.


photo by Christine Robertson


photo by Christine Robertson

At that, the judges talked together a bit, and then one turned to me and said, “Thank you.” I returned the “Thank you,” and we walked off the course to await the verdict — would we be called back to do the water retrieve, or not? Maybe yes — she had after all, flushed and retrieved birds. Or, given that the judges talked awhile, maybe no.

When all the Juniors were done, the crowd of handlers, dogs, and onlookers trudged back to the staging area for lunch. I hoped that they’d mark a “call back” board right away so I wouldn’t have to live in suspense. But no, we all had to eat first.

Finally, they marked lines through the names of the dogs who were out, and Tooey’s name was among them.

I went up to the judge, and after thanking him for helping me, asked why Tooey had been eliminated. Turned out, it was that point. In the AKC’s official “Hunting Style of the Irish Water Spaniel,” it says that IWS can hesitate before flushing a bird, but with Tooey, her hesitation turned into a point. He said that when her body and tail stiffened, that’s when it stopped being a hesitation and started being a point.

So, having his ear, I asked whether there was anything I could do about it. He smiled, and said, “I’m glad you asked that! For a test, you can encourage a Junior dog to flush. Did you notice that when you finally encouraged her, that she did flush the bird? Well, next time, if it looks like she might point, just encourage her to flush before she points. And you can train for the situation, too.”

A very nice judge. But still, we had failed, and it was time to go home and think about what to do on Monday, when we’d be running Tooey’s next Junior Spaniel Hunt Test.

I’ve handled a dog in plenty of obedience trials and conformation shows where my dog failed the trial or didn’t get the point. And I’ve always felt horrible afterwards, disappointed and sad. But this time, I didn’t feel bad at all. I just figured, well, it’s my first time, I know at least two mistakes not to make next time, and after all, Tooey did get her birds. So, no orange ribbon this time, but not too horrible.

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Just under two years ago, on April 3, 2011, Tooey started her retriever hunt test career at the Marin Retriever Club 2011 Spring Hunt Test. Today, she completed her retriever Junior Hunter title with a pass at the Greater Pacific Northwest Retriever Trial Club 2013 Spring Hunt Test. (The spring in between, she was busy having puppies.)

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey — CH Stanegate Second Thoughts RN JH WD

Tooey does have a few idiosyncrasies:

  • Tooey likes working with Russ, but she likes me to be there to watch her. She just runs better for him — more focused, more willing, and more energetic going out to get the bird and bringing it back in. But she wants me to be there to watch her. While she’s moving from holding blind to holding blind on her way to the line, she looks around until she finds me. That has meant that I must go find some place in the gallery to stand, call out to her so she knows where I am, and then stay standing there in that very spot until the series is over and Russ brings her to over to me.
  • She doesn’t like wet hunt test birds, whether they are retriever hunt test ducks or spaniel hunt test pigeons. If they’re wet, she puts them down and then picks them back up before bringing them in. On the other hand, in actual hunting, she’s perfectly happy to crash into whatever water there is to bring back something Russ has brought down.
  • It’s better if you can practice a few weeks beforehand at the hunt test grounds, and have that practice include strangers out in the field throwing birds. That way, when strangers pop up out in the field during a hunt test, Tooey doesn’t have to stop and sit in the middle of her run to wonder, “Who ARE those people and WHAT are they doing here?”
Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey coming back with the 1st land bird

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey and Russ getting ready for the 2nd land bird — a live flyer
photo by Norm Koshkarian

In a pinch, the land series could have stood in for a water series. The field was crossed by numerous ditches filled a foot or so deep with water. The line was set up just on one side of one such ditch, and for each of the marks, the dog had to splash through (or leap over) at least one ditch. From the dog’s point of view, the ditches were camouflaged really well, and several dogs stopped at them as if the ditches were walls. Conditions were great: overcast or sun breaks, light breeze coming down the field toward the line, about 45 degrees F.

The land marks were straightforward. The field was interspersed with patches of 2 foot cover, but was generally only about 1 foot or less. The first was about 65 yards, and the second, a live flyer, was generally about 85 yards, except when the bird decided to hook back over the road rather than out over the field.

Tooey marked her birds really well. She trotted pretty much straight out and straight back, with very little hunting. And on those land birds, she did a beautiful delivery to hand from the heel position.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey delivering the 1st water bird
photo by Norm Koshkarian

So, Team Tooey went on to the water series. Russ was clever. The trek out from the parking lot to the pond was about 1/4 mile. Because he was slated to be the #4 dog, he arranged for me to take Tooey to just outside the test area while he attended the handler’s meeting at pond’s edge. That meant that since dogs #1, #2, and #3 weren’t there yet, he and Tooey were ready to go first. And that meant that Tooey’s birds would start out dry. Later dogs could easily get birds that had been used in the water once already, and so were likely to be wet to the skin and stinky.

Like the land marks, the water marks were clear cut. Both birds landed with a splash into the water, with the first one being 40 yards out and the second one about 60 yards out. The second bird was a bit tricky because it landed next to the bank in a dark shadow cast by the surrounding trees. But again, Tooey went straight out and straight back.

All was happy going until she dropped her 1st wet bird on the bank and proceeded to bop it with her nose several times. After only a few moments, she picked it back up, carried it a few feet, and then dropped it again. And then, after several long heartbeats, she picked it up and delivered it to hand. She pulled exactly the same routine on the 2nd water bird, only this time with maybe one fewer drop of the bird.

We didn’t know exactly what this bird-dropping would do to Tooey’s chances, but when all the dogs were done, after a long wait, Tooey’s name was called and Russ was handed that beautiful orange ribbon.

So now Tooey is done with retriever hunt tests. She has her show championship (CH) and her retriever Junior Hunter (JH) title, so next we’ll tackle the Obedience Companion Dog (CD) title. It would be great to have two All-Around IWS in the house.

Tooey’s retriever passes:

  1. Lassen Retriever Club, April 9, 2011
  2. Salem Retriever Trial Club, July 21, 2012
  3. Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association, August 26, 2012
  4. Greater Pacific Northwest Retriever Trial Club, March 24, 2013

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