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Subtitle: The hawk, the porcupine, and the beavers.

Yesterday morning, our 2nd day of this trip, we walked through a field of grasses and thorny rose bushes, lines with small, cattailed ditches and culverts. Cooper did a much better job out in this more open and somewhat flatter field. He ranged ahead of Russ and quartered the field, looking for birds.

Cooper

Cooper quartering the field, Tooey following along

Rio did the same job for Rod, working out front, searching for birds.

Alas, no birds.

So after lunch, we headed over to the much prettier and more dramatic Upper Goose Lakes. The terrain is much like what we saw Friday at Lower Goose — basalt cliffs, strings of small ponds, Russian olive trees, and sage brush — totally non-urban scenery. But the action was quite a bit more dramatic.

The first incident was with the ducks and the goshawk.

As were walking down the hill toward the first series of lakes, we saw ducks sitting in the water. So Rod, Renae, Russ and I quietly made our way down to the base of the canyon. Renae and I held the dogs while the Rod and Russ crept toward the lake, hoping to surprise the ducks. And surprise them they did. In a flurry of flapping wings, the ducks flew away from the two gunners, who got off several shots.

All of a sudden, a goshawk swept in from nowhere and grabbed one of the ducks. In the hawk’s talons, the duck struggled in mid-air. After a few minutes, the hawk dropped the duck into another pond. We thought about sending the dogs after the duck, but by then, the duck had managed to hide itself in the cattails at the water’s far edge. That would have made a 200+ yard blind retrieve in cold water and then tangled cattails. We decided not to pursue it, and walked on.

And then there was the porcupine.

I wrote in my last post about Tooey’s love for the water. Whenever she disappeared, we could pretty much count on finding her in the nearest pond, stream, or culvert. So, when Tooey disappeared for the fifth time today, we knew where she was — in the pond next to the path where we were walking.

Suddenly, we heard a low, long growl. Renae looked up and said, “Get her out of there now!”

I called “Here!”, and thankfully, Tooey came — her face decorated with porcupine quills. I held her muzzle, and Russ wrapped his legs around her body and pulled quills out of her nose and lips, and even a couple out of her tongue. She flinched as each one was pulled out, but let us do it. (I was so concentrated on getting those quills out that I didn’t snap a photo.)

And as soon as we let her go, she charged right back into the cattails, determined to GET that porcupine. As they said in the movie, she’s got grit.

I called her out. She didn’t come. I whistled her out, and for a moment, I thought I’d have to go in after her. But out she came, got her chicken jerky reward, and then looked back at the cattails, asking permission to go back in. “No. Leave it. Let’s go,” I said. She came with me, but whenever we came to a new patch of cattails, she turned her head toward them, telling me that that’s where she wanted to head.

And lastly, the beavers.

We saw lots of evidence of beavers. Renae found a beaver skull, and then Russ found the matching mandible close by. That came home with us, to be used in some future art project. We also saw lots of beaver dams. And had the benefit of being able to cross a couple of the ponds by walking on the top of a couple of the dams. They looked sort of iffy, seeing as how they were made out of cattails, but turned out to be amazingly sturdy.

crossing a beaver dam

After several hours, we could see that the sun would be going down soon, so we headed back, sans birds. Toward the very end, Cooper started to limp. He’d gotten sore feet the day before, with the skin between the pads looking a bit inflamed. But we’d put some antibiotic protective cream on them and in the morning they’d looked fine.

We’d put some more cream on his feet in the morning and again before our afternoon at Upper Goose. And all day, he showed no sign of discomfort at all, until that last climb back up the canyon sides to the parking lot. That’s when we saw how red and angry the skin between his feet had become.

He spent the rest of the day resting, and rested again during the whole 6-hour drive home today. This evening, he’s limping a bit like an old man, poor dog. I’ll clean his feet with cool water, put some herbal lotion on them, give him some Rescue Remedy, and keep him quiet. If it doesn’t get better, we’ll be off to the vet. And in any case, I’ll have to see what I can do to prevent this from happening on our next hunting trip.

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I was so enamored when I saw the pictures of Cooper’s sisters, Darcy and Tosca. I just loved the way that Louise and Pepi have trimmed their topknots and ears. So easy to maintain. So practical for a field dog.

Darcy, photo by Louise Bailey

Tosca, photo © Pepi Barrington

So, I wanted to try it on Cooper. Colleen once again agreed to help me out. Actually, she did most all of the work. And I think it turned out pretty darn good.

Cooper with new hairdo

When I got home from Colleen’s, I asked Russ what he thought of it. Diplomat that he is, Russ just said, “Well, you’re the one who grooms him.”

Okay, I get it. Not Russ’s favorite. And I have to admit it was a shock looking at him for the first several days. It’s really different from how he looked for his birthday photo. But it’s growing on me. It’s really growing on me.

And the real test will be next Sunday, when he’s out hunting for pheasant and chukar. I’m betting it will be much easier to get out all the debris and mats out of the new ‘do. I’ll let you know what I find out.

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As of March 1st, 2011, the American Kennel Club will allow Irish Water Spaniels to compete in AKC Spaniel Hunting Tests. Up until last week, the only AKC-sanctioned hunt tests Cooper could compete in were the Retriever series. Now we have the best of both worlds.

Cooper in Retriever mode, waiting for a duck

Yesterday was a day of retriever training, and we passed a milestone for Cooper and myself. The scenario was a land triple-marked retrieve into moderate cover, averaging about 100 yards each. Then there was a cold blind retrieve. It was in line with the second land mark but with an additional 200 yards, including crossing a ditch with cover and running up a hill (300 yds total).

After Cooper ran the triple, I sent him on the blind. He shot out past the old fall and made it to the ditch, where I stopped him with a whistle sit because he was getting off line. With only one back-cast, he turned slightly to the left and went across the ditch and up the hill to find the bumper. Whoa . . . who trained this Spaniel to become a Retriever? As you may have read on this blog in the past, this has not been an easy skill for Cooper to absorb.

So now that he is becoming a proficient Retriever, it is time to train him to become a Spaniel on command. This morning I took him out, and we threw marks into some moderately heavy cover. No problem. Then we added some sit-to-flush drills. Again, no problem.

The next Spaniel drill was to hide bumpers with attached pheasant wings in the cover. I lined him up, pointing him in the general direction, but with the command of “dead hunt.” Off he went like on a blind retrieve, but when he got to area where a bumper was hidden, I called out “go find it.” The Spaniel gene kicked in, the nose went down, and he circled the cover until he came up with the prize. It was a hoot to watch him find, pause, rev the tail up, and lunge. If it had been a live bird, the flush would have been exciting.

Cooper in Spaniel mode, after finding a faux pheasant in the grass

In addition to getting ready for some Spaniel Hunt Tests, we are joining our Boykin friends in two weeks for a late season upland hunt in central Oregon. So we have two weeks to get him reved up to become a hunting Spaniel. And then the following Saturday, Cooper will compete in the season’s first AKC Retriever test (at the senior level). We will see if Cooper’s Spaniel/Retriever brain can keep it all sorted out. Fun will be had for sure, hopefully a few birds, and everything else will be a bonus.

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Boarding school for your pup is something I would not have endorsed a couple of years ago. But with experience and observing the results in Cooper, I changed my mind. Cooper is a much better companion because of his time at the Academy of Canine Behavior and a better hunter because of his 3 months at retriever boot camp. So now that Tooey is a show dog champion, it is time to move her full time into her training as a field dog.

For the last year in Cooper’s field training and hunt tests, I have been affiliated with the Lower Columbia Hunting Retriever Club. It has given me an opportunity to forge new relationships and friends, see lots of dogs work, and hone my own skills as a trainer. One club member, Butch Higgins, is a professional gundog trainer. His success with a variety of breeds and temperaments is a significant reason why we have decided that Tooey and Butch will be working together over the next few months.

Both Patrice and I have observed Butch at hunt tests, and the rapport between Butch and the dogs he is handling is very upbeat with a lot of tail wagging and a lot of positive communication taking place. This is not at the expense of high performance either. (Butch had 4 dogs this year pass all 6 days of the Master National Retriever Tests.) Plus, at the initial evaluation that Butch did with Tooey about a month ago, Tooey decided she likes Butch. So we anticipate that this should be a good fit.

Lesson One: "Watch Me"

Tooey’s very first training with Butch is pictured above. Butch walked her around the the lobby of Parkdale Kennels, and then encouraged her to sit in the chair and focus on him. Note that she is wearing a leash, but it is loose on the floor. This is all under his verbal control and encouragement. We should all be so relaxed with relative strangers.

Looking for that stash of office cookies

Tooey then decided that if this was going to be her home for a while, she should get to know the staff and her surroundings.

In about 2 months, Patrice will be making weekend trips to Parkdale (about 50 miles from home) to start learning how to be Tooey’s field handler. This will all be leading up to the hunt test season of 2011, so they can join Cooper and me in competing for those hunt test titles. Team Tooey will be testing for a Working Certificate this spring and hunt titles in the both the AKC and the HRC.

Blog posts about Tooey will probably be sparse for a couple of months, but as soon as Patrice and Tooey meet up again, she will probably be a very popular topic for Patrice.

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If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that Cooper has been working hard to learn how to retrieve ducks, pheasants, chukars, etc. And he’s been doing a darn fine job of it, too.

However, birds don’t generally fall out of the sky on their own. At hunt tests, the club putting on the test takes care of that — they bring in birds, gently gas them, and then launch them out of slingshot-like machines to simulate a bird falling out of the sky. Actual hunting is another story. The hunter has to actually shoot the birds. That means they have to a) have a shotgun, b) know how to use it, and c) actually be able to hit something with the shot.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re a duck), Cooper is a much better retriever than I am a gunner. I have some excuse. I never really shot much over the course of my many decades. But now my excuse is much weaker because my husband bought me a shotgun. Several months ago.

Today, we finally had the time to try it out. Even though it was raining. (Heck, we’re northwesterners — we’re used to rain.) I discovered that I need practice. Lots and lots of practice.

I showed this blog to some childhood friends of mine a month ago, and showed them a picture of me holding some chukars and a shotgun. I didn’t tell them until after their mouths had fallen open that the picture had been staged.

But if I keep practicing, I may be able to actually bring down some birds on my own, and make my husband proud and my dog happy.

(Oh, and Cooper is a part of this story. He was in the car while Russ and I were shooting at the gun range. He’d go through these fits of barking, convinced, no doubt, that ducks were falling out of the sky and he wasn’t being let out to retrieve them.)

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Just when you think you know your dog, he likes to throw something fun your way. The WCX test this weekend had some known challenges for Cooper. Steady to the line off-lead is one. When going out on multiple marks, he has often stops and turns around to ask for help (popping), and when he is excited he resists pivoting at the line in the heel position to get a good look at additional birds going down into cover.

The land test for the WCX was a triple with pheasants (one a live flier). Cooper went to line off-lead and sat while scanning the horizon for the gunners. Because this test is run by field trial rules, the shooters are out in the field, wearing white jackets for visibility. After Cooper watched the first two pheasant go down, he turned and faced the live flier station. Upon his release, he bee-lined it for his first retrieve, delivered to hand, rotated to the next bird, ditto, and onto the third. Wow, that was easy. We walked back to the holding blinds off-lead and in the heel position. Is this Cooper?

Notice the loose leash. Is this Cooper?

The water test was a double retrieve, including one live flying duck. Our trip the line was again off-lead but with a noticeable increase in Cooper’s hyper drive. He resisted pivoting his heeling position to mark the ducks, but when the first shot went off, he spun, focused, and marked the fall. Unfortunately, the duck did not go down into the water and a “no-bird” was called. I put Cooper back on the lead and we returned to the holding blinds where we waited two more turns to try it again. Cooper sat in the blinds listing to gun shots and dog whistles, none of which helped him calm down.

The return to line was a bit tense on my end, keeping the boy in check with a lot of commands to “Heel” between the last blind and the line. But Cooper focused and it was two ducks up and into the water, and Cooper doing a double retrieve and delivery to hand. Woo Hoo!

The very last portion of the test is an “honor”: to step aside and sit calmly off-lead while the next dog runs the water series. Cooper started out well, watching two more ducks go up and into the water, sitting, butt glued to ground. So far so good. Then the working dog, a Flat-Coated Retriever, was sent to pick up his first bird, and that was the undoing of our WCX.

Just as the judge was coming over to say, “Honor dog released,” Cooper decided he could out-swim the Flat-Coat and get to the duck first. So off he went with another one of his dock-diving entries, breaking his honor.

Plus, the WCX rules state that once the action starts for the working dog, the honor dog’s handler cannot speak to the honor dog. I had to call Cooper back, but in doing so, I violated the rule of talking to my dog.

Working Certificate not-so-Excellent.

The photo shows Cooper in the final moments of his honor position, with me standing next to and at 90 degrees to him with my arms crossed, mouth shut. This is to distinguish my body language from my normal getting-ready-to-send-him-on-a-retrieve position. Mentally, I am shouting as loud as I can, “Sit!, Stay!, No Bird!” But if you look at Cooper’s expression, you can see that he is just licking his lips in anticipation of out-racing the Flat-Coat to what he thinks is his rightful bird.

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Irish Water Spaniels were bred to be working dogs, retrieving waterfowl and upland game birds. But just because that was their original work, that doesn’t mean that every modern IWS has the desire to go get birds. You have to test a dog to find out. And this weekend’s IWSCOPS Specialty gave me the chance to see if Tooey is “birdy.”

Every year, the Irish Water Spaniel Club of Puget Sound puts on a Specialty. This includes a set of competitions for Irish Water Spaniels only — conformation, obedience, and rally obedience. Just before the start of the Specialty, IWSCOPS puts on another event that gives IWS a chance to show whether they’re birdy or not  — and that’s the Bird Dog seminar.

Jim started it out with a short talk/demo, reminding us that a retrieve has three parts — going out to the bird, picking up and holding the bird, and bringing it back. Going out to the bird and picking it up is instinctual for most retrievers — holding it nicely without eating it, bringing it back, and giving it up to the handler all have to be taught.

(He also warned us, and I will now warn you, that live pigeons were going to be used for this event. This is understandably upsetting to many. Others may have thought of a solution, but I don’t know how to get around this — hunting dogs have to be willing to pick up real birds, hunting dog handlers have to mold their dogs’ natural prey drive to teach them to do this, and inexperienced retrievers sometimes have to see live prey in order to get excited about the idea. If you have a dog who chases live squirrels or thrown tennis balls, but merely sniffs ones that’s aren’t moving, then you can see the dilemma.)

Jim showed us a technique for some early stages of teaching Hold. Basically, you start by rolling your hand into your dog’s mouth and keep it there while saying “Hold.” One good thing about starting this with your hand is that your dog won’t bite your hand. That way, the dog begins to learn that “Hold” doesn’t mean “Bite.” That’s Jim demonstrating on Tooey in the picture below. Then you take your hand out while giving another command. Russ uses “thank you” for the give command, so that’s what I’ll use, too.

After we all got a chance to practice this maneuver, then we got to try out our dogs on birds. We first got the dogs excited by showing them some pigeons. Here’s Liz showing a pigeon to Tooey. Tooey was pretty revved up at the sight. A good sign for a potential hunting dog.

Most exciting was the actual test. Someone out in the field throws out a pigeon, you send your dog, wait until it grabs the bird, and then do whatever you can to get your dog to bring it back to you across the finish line. In this case, our line was between two folding chairs. As you can see, Tooey passed the test.

Thank you, Tooey!

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