Posts Tagged ‘AKC Junior Hunt tests’

The day just outside of Butte, MT, started out beautiful: misty, a cool 41 degrees F, and quiet (or as quiet as a it can be at a retriever hunt test with almost 100 dogs and their people). It had been so hot in Boise, that this weather was sweet indeed.

And the day ended up just as sweet, even if quite a bit warmer.

The test was put on by the Helena Valley Gundog Club at the Bob Sparks Retriever Grounds in Elk Park, MT. Absolutely beautiful grounds.

The land work came first. It was held in a field of knee high grass and scrubby bushes, surrounded on three side by tall conifers. Carlin was early in early in the running order, which we both like because a long wait in line to run can really amp him up and get in the way of good focus.

The marks were short, probably only about 70 and 80 yards. But there were odd dips in the ground, and places where, if you’re only 24 inches tall, it can look like the ground is going up hill. Some of the other dogs had trouble, but not Carlin. He went straight out and straight back with the second bird. He stopped and hunted a bit about 10 yards in front of the first bird, but soon pushed out and then dived into the cover to grab up the bird.

When Carlin got back, one of the judges even called it, “Such a nice run.”

The water work was held in a very odd pond. The water was essentially U shaped, with an island coming down the middle of the pond, almost to the start line. A perfect recipe for bank running. This is where the dog stays on the land as long as possible instead of going in a straight line the whole way to the bird, no matter if that line crosses water or land. With this Junior test, the judges are just looking for the dog to get into the water at some point to get the bird. And in this case, the bird landed in the water, so if a dog were to run the bank, they’d have to jump into the water at some point to get the bird.

And that’s what Carlin did. On the first bird, he ran half-way down the bank, jumped into the water and swam to the island. Then he ran down to the end of the island and and then at the top of the U, finally jumped into the water to get the bird. On that one, he swam almost all the way back to the line, got out onto the land, and then came over to me to hand it over. (And thank God, he didn’t drop the bird when he got out of the water.)

On the second bird, he did almost the same thing, only this time, he ran all the way to end of the U, jumped in, got the bird, then got out onto the land at the end of the U, and ran all the way back down the bank to me.

I was very happy to get all 4 ducks delivered to hand. I did wish that he hadn’t had the opportunity to run the bank — that undid some of the training I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. If he is to run a Senior test someday, he’ll need to go in a straight line to the bird, without succumbing to the temptation to run a handy bank.

But still, with these 4 birds, he earned his third pass. Just one more to go!


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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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Let’s start with the good:

  • After this last Sunday’s hunt test was over, I was invited to come later this week to practice retriever work on some private land that actually has ponds on it. This is wonderful for two reasons:
    — I was invited. This means that perhaps I am losing my newcomer status a bit and slowly becoming part of a group.
    — The other reason is that Carlin and I get to practice retrieving in some water. Practice-able water is not easy to find around here – most ponds and rivers are on privately owned land, or they are on park land where dogs must be on leash and/or there are lots of kids and other dogs close by.
  • The judges and gallery were very kind.
  • I learned that somehow I have to accustom Carlin to duck decoys, which I realize now he’s never seen.
  • I brought a couple of dead pheasants home with me, which I gutted and then stuffed with insulating foam so I can use the birds for training.

Now to the not-so-good:

The hunt test went bad right from the start. We were out on the first bird (which for this test was pheasants). The first mark was about 75 yards into a pond just shallow enough for the dogs to run through. The pond was small, planted with five duck decoys at the right edge, and the starting line was about 30 yards back from the pond’s edge. A dog going straight through the pond to the bird would not encounter the decoys at all. A dog running around the pond would run right past them.

You can guess which dog I had. The one running around the pond. And when he got to the decoys, he stopped dead in his tracks. WHOA!!! WHAT IS THAT?!? Each decoy had to be thoroughly investigated.

I don’t know if you’ve seen other Irish Water Spaniels take a certain posture while checking out something potentially evil, but all of mine have done it. The dog stretches his neck w-a-a-a-y out in order to get the nose close-ish to the evil thing, while the body stretches as far away as possible. This is what Carlin did to every single one of those four decoys, one at a time.

And then, OMG!!! A breeze drifted over the water, and one of the decoys moved. Carlin jumped up and ran away several yards. At that point, he’d totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing out in that field, so he went into default spaniel mode, and started quartering. He got farther and farther away from the bird, and I could hear one of the judged shifting in his chair. So, I blew my whistle to stop Carlin.

He stopped, which is good. But then, when I tried to call him in just enough to get him away from the decoys, he ran the other way instead. Finally, the judge said, “Pick your dog up, and we’ll give him the live flyer.”

That mark went great. Carlin lined the bird, picked it up, and brought it back to hand.

I should have stopped right there.

Ordinarily, I’d have had to stop for the day because dogs that fail the 1st series don’t get called back to test in the 2nd series. But since there were so few entrants in the Junior test, the judge invited the dogs who had failed the 1st series to do the 2nd series anyway. I thought, well, I paid good money for this, I should take advantage of the opportunity.

Actually, I should have declined and let Carlin end on the success. The next two marks looked straightforward, and they were. Carlin lined each of them, ran straight to each bird (one through rather than around some swimming water), brought it back, and dropped it 6 feet away from me. He would not pick up either bird, just nosing and poking them on the ground. Aghhh! So embarrassing.

We’ve had this bird-dropping problem before at a retriever hunt test. Since he’s successfully picked up and delivered many a pheasant at spaniel hunt tests, we had thought the problem at retriever hunt tests was that the birds were ducks. But Sunday’s test used pheasants. So, now, I’m thinking that there is something about retriever hunt tests that bugs him.

Don’t know what the problem is, though. My retriever club has had several training days that were set up just like retriever hunt tests, with guns, birds, crowds of dogs, holding blinds, a marshall, and judges (but no decoys). And in all of the recent training days, Carlin has picked his birds (both ducks and pheasants) up and delivered them to hand.

So, what to do? For now, the lawn is strewn with Russ’s decoys and I’ll run some short marks past and through them in the yard until the decoys become no issue for him. And Carlin and I will go out to the property with water later this week, and put the decoys in there, too. And maybe when I’ve done that, some other bright idea will occur to me.

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This morning, the Greater Pacific Northwest Retriever Trial Club put on a lovely small hunt test. It was especially lovely because this, the last of the local hunt tests this year, was the test where Carlin and I passed his first retriever Junior hunt test.


Patrice and Carlin, 1st retriever Junior Hunter pass

Because Russ was gunning for the test, we got to St. Louis Ponds nice and early, while it was still cool. Carlin and I ran last (number 11), so while Russ was helping out, I “aired” the dogs and myself, drank some water, and waited while the judges, bird boys, and gunners got themselves organized.

As in all retriever Junior tests, there were four birds to be retrieved: two ducks on land and two on water. And as with many Junior tests, the judges of this test, who also judged the Senior-level dogs yesterday, used almost the same marked retrieves for the Juniors as they had for the Seniors. Almost, but not quite. The first difference was that the Seniors ran the marks as doubles, whereas the Junior ran them as singles. The second difference was that starting line for the Junior dogs’ land marks was actually moved back farther away from the areas of the fall by about 5 yards, making the Junior marks longer than the Seniors’ marks.

The first mark was about 65 yards away. The dog had to cross a shallow ditch, run through some taller cover, and find the bird in a patch of mint. I held on to Carlin’s collar and signaled for the bird. The bird flew, came down and landed, and then three v-e-r-y long beats later, the judge said “11.” Fortunately, Carlin had stayed sitting, so all I had to do was say, “Take It!” — our command for him to go out and retrieve the bird.

But did I say “Take It”? No. I said “Dog.” Sometimes, some judges don’t call the dog’s number, they just say “Dog.” I’ve listened to judges say this during Cooper’s and Tooey’s retriever tests for years, and “Dog” is just what came out of my mouth. And when I said, “Dog,” Carlin took off for the bird. Now, if this had been practice, I’d have stopped him for leaving on any command other than “Take It.” But this wasn’t training — it was a test. I let him go.

Carlin, like his uncle Cooper, is a very good marker. He saw exactly where that bird fell and ran straight out to it. His nose went down, so I know he found it. He poked it a couple of times. Finally, I came to my senses and whistled him to come in. Fortunately, he picked up the bird and came back to me with it.

The second land mark was about 75 yards away, with the live flyer falling into a patch of 8″ inch tall grasses. What made this mark tough for some of the dogs was that it was in an area of dappled shade in front of a stand of trees. Those dapples and dark trees confused some of the dogs, but not Carlin. He ran straight out to that one, too. He poked it a couple of times, and then looked up. Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! This time, I was marginally faster at whistling him in. He picked this one up, too, and delivered it to hand.

So, we were called on to the water.

The water marks were about 80 yards. The start line was up on a sloped five foot bank, and the dog was to run down the bank, swim diagonally across the pond, go up onto the opposing bank, and pick up the bird. The first water mark had the bird falling at the water’s edge, and the second falling into some 16″ cover about 10 feet up the bank.


Patrice and Carlin at the water line, calling for the first bird

As usual, Carlin put on a show with his water entry. Very enthusiastic. I could hear appreciative comments from the judges as I watched him swim diagonally across the pond toward his first water bird.



The bird had landed on the shore, but by the time Carlin got there, it had rolled into the water. Carlin was (reportedly) the only dog to swim directly to the bird, rather than searching the bank. He snatched it up and turned to swim back with it.


He didn’t swim quite straight back to me, though. For a few yards, he was seriously considering swimming out in a perpendicular line to the bank, instead of diagonally across the pond. This would have meant that he would then have had to run the bank back to me. But fortunately, at some whistling from me, he changed his mind and corrected his line to be more diagonal again. That meant that he had to drag his duck through a tree limb floating in the water, but he did it. When he got back to the bank, I could see that he had the duck by one wing. I told him to Hold it, but instead he dropped it, got a better grip, and then delivered that bird to hand.


By this time, he was amped and more than ready to go. I lowered my voice on my third command to “Sit,” and he finally sat. Once he sat, I could call for the bird. His last bird was launched and fell about 10 feet up the opposite bank into  a patch of 16″ tall cover of grasses and other little bushes.

Fortunately, while the bird was in the air, he stayed sitting, and when the judge called “11,” I said “Take It,” and he was off. He swam straight toward the duck, dashed up the bank and found his bird in the cover.


Before he could stop and poke at it, I whistled him back in. He grabbed the bird, and did the nicest water entry he could do with a duck in his mouth.


This was another diagonal swim, which he did quickly. He came up the bank, and delivered the bird to hand, and we were done. As we left the line, one of the judges said, “Nice job,” and I knew we had passed.

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Sometime back about another hunt test, I wrote a blog post titled When the rules give you an advantage, take it. It concluded:

If the rules let you do something to your advantage, do it. Use whatever opportunities for training you can get. And then be grateful when it all turns out all right.

That could have been the theme for today’s entry, too.

Saturday, Tooey did a beautiful job hunting and flushing pigeons in the landwork portion of the Spaniel Hunting Test put on by the Western Washington English Springer Spaniel Club. She quartered precisely, smartly flushed up two pigeons, and retrieved the one downed by the gunners, and delivered it to hand. (Such an amazing and wonderful improvement from the last series of spaniel hunt tests she participated in.) Her work was good enough that she was invited back to test at the water.

This was a worry. Tooey hates, hates, hates wet pigeons. More often than not, when faced with retrieving a pigeon out of the water, she’ll go out to the pigeon willingly enough, but then simply pushes it to near the shore line, and then refuses to pick it up and deliver it. And that’s exactly what she did on Saturday.

Tooey pushing a pigeon through the water

Tooey pushing a pigeon through the water — photo by Richard Liebaert

So Tooey was out, and we made the long drive back home without a ribbon.

After some debate, Russ and I decided to come back for Sunday’s test (May 25th — also put on by the WWESSC), and try it again. Not that there was much hope of doing any better, but Tooey has actually passed three of these Junior spaniel tests*, so it’s always possible that she’d agree to deliver a wet pigeon at least one more time. But not likely.

But then, I had an idea. I looked at the hunt test premium again, and it said that juniors would be tested on “Pigeon and/or Chukar”. (Hunt test premiums out here almost always say pigeon and/or chukar for juniors, but they almost always get pigeons regardless.) Tooey loves chukars as much as she hates wet pigeons, and on our training day on Friday, she happily retrieved and delivered a wet chukar to hand. (We didn’t have any pigeons to practice with, so used a frozen chukar instead.)

So since the premium specified pigeon or chukar, I suggested to Russ that if Tooey was called back to do the water work on Sunday, he might ask the judges if Tooey could have a chukar instead of a pigeon. We thought there would be chukar available, since that’s what the Master and Senior dogs were tested on.

Like on Saturday, her land work today was fabulous. Conditions were good — cool, cloudy, not raining, with just a bit of dew on the foot-high cover.

Tooey and Russ waiting for their turn on the field

Tooey and Russ waiting for their turn on the field — photo by Richard Liebaert

Quartering beautifully and searching likely cover, she flushed up three pigeons in pretty short order. And since the gunners didn’t bring any of those three down, they threw a bird for her to retrieve, and she delivered that one neatly to hand. So Tooey was indeed called back to the water to give it another go.


Good girl, Tooey! — photo by Richard Liebaert

When Tooey was called to the water, Russ walked to the line, got Tooey into a neat sit in heel position, and then turned to the judges and asked, “Would it be within the rules for us to have a chukar instead of a pigeon?” The judges were surprised by the request, but one obligingly went to see if the bird boy had a chukar. He did, but the judge reported that it was one that had been pretty badly shot up and had guts hanging out. Russ replied, “Perfect!” We think that response surprised the judges as well, but they let Russ have what he asked for.

And lo and behold, when the bird boy threw the chukar into the water, Tooey leapt in, swam to that chukar, grabbed it up, swam back, and delivered it quickly and neatly to hand.

And halleluiah! combined with her lovely land work, that retrieved chukar gave us what we’d been working for — Tooey’s 4th (and final) pass toward her Junior Hunter Upland title. Who cares that by this time, the rain was coming down steadily? When she delivered that chukar, I whooped so loud it could be heard in the parking lot. Earning this title took a long, long time, and we had many times considered quitting, but today’s pass was totally worth it.


Russ and Tooey with her 4th Junior Hunter Upland ribbon — photo by Patrice Dodd

As soon as the AKC records it, Tooey will now be known as Ch. Stanegate Second Thoughts CD RN JH JHU. And with this fifth AKC title, Tooey now qualifies for the IWSCA Quintessential Versatility Award, too!

*Tooey’s Spaniel hunt test passes:

  1. Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club – August 12, 2012
  2. Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Association – August 31, 2012
  3. Western Washington English Springer Spaniel Club – May 27, 2013
  4. Western Washington English Springer Spaniel Club – May 25, 2014

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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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