Posts Tagged ‘hunt test training’

We’ve been trying to keep up Carlin’s spaniel training as best we can. Some in our yard, some at a local state park, and some on private land. This last has a pond and some irrigation canals, much to our relief and delight, so we go out there to train (and help train the landowner’s dogs) whenever we are invited.

Today we were invited. Fortunately, it was cloudy and cool so we didn’t have to worry about Carlin’s over-heating. He got in a little bit of steady training (butt to ground whenever the bird or bumper is thrown), but soon he got too smart for us. He figured out really quickly that at least one of us had a bird in hand, so instead of quartering between us looking for birds he knew weren’t there, he decided to just sit and wait for somebody to throw something. Darn it! It looked like such a fun drill when we watched an English Springer Spaniel do it yesterday.

Plus he did well on a couple of a couple of water blinds. One was across a shallow pond into the sage brush, and another was across two channels of an irrigation canal with a small island in between them.

Tooey always travels with us, so today we thought we’d give her a few water retrieves, too.

It wasn’t deep enough to swim in, but it wasn’t shallow enough to run in either. More like lunging water, rather than swimming or running water. She did an okay job, but with Tooey, you never know which dog is going to show up. Today, she was less than pleased with the well-used pheasants. In my defense, I have to say that the pheasants weren’t rotten. I’d gutted them, filled the cavities with expanding foam, and froze and thawed them several times. But they had lost a lot of feathers, and there was more skin showing that she (or I, for that matter) prefer.

But she did a very nice blind land retrieve, once she figured out I had a hunk of liver that I was willing to trade for a pheasant to hand.

All in all, it was a delightful morning. (And we hope at least somewhat entertaining for the cows, which you can see in the photo.)

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Apparently, it took about five days to get Carlin to the point you see in the video.

When he and Richard started this activity, Richard had to remind Carlin pretty constantly to sit still and to not grab at the chukars flying around his head. Today, as you saw in the video, Carlin got up only once and only partially, and Richard had to use his whistle to remind him to sit only a couple of times.

While I was in the coop capturing the video, chukars landed on my head and my hand. That’s why the video is shakier in spots than I would have liked.

But even so, I am pleased and impressed with Carlin’s progress in the face of many and constant temptation. Good work, guys!

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Tomorrow, Carlin goes back to Richard’s. Carlin is very fond of Richard. Every day they get to do bird work out in the middle of west central Washington state.

This being a day off for me, we decided to get in one last training session before the boy leaves. So during this morning’s break in the weather, Russ and I took the dogs out to a local dog park to first chase around and “air out”, and then get some work done.

It’s not always straight-forward working in a dog park, even a huge one like the one we typically go to. Mostly because there are other dogs running around, some of which are curious about what we’re doing with bumpers and whistles. And then, of course, are the people who have just as much right to bring their dogs to the park as we do, but who seem oblivious to the idea that we might be continually moving farther away from them on purpose.

In any case, we finally did find a corridor on the other side of a graveled area, where we set up some sight blinds.

I set Carlin up next to me in heel position on his place board. Russ walked out about 50 yards and dropped a bumper into some 6-inch grass so that Carlin could see him drop it. Once Russ had returned, I told Carlin “Dead Bird”, and placed my hand next to his head and my left foot next to his place board, both pointing at the bumper.

With my “Back!”, Carlin took off. In most cases, he went straight out to the bird, but in one case, before reaching the bird, he left his line and started quartering back and forth instead. Not what we want with a blind retrieve. So, I called him back, Russ went out and re-dropped the bumper, and I sent Carlin out again.

This time he ran straight out, grabbed up the bumper, and returned with it to me. Yay! Remembering Richard’s advice to play, I started dancing around and celebrating with Carlin, finally throwing a fun bumper for him.

A great place to stop for the morning. As we left the park, the rains started falling again, seconding our motion to leave.

Update 3/15/2016: Carlin’s going back to Richard’s has been temporarily postponed.

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Flooded fields. Brisk winds with hundreds of sandhill cranes banking downwind, calling out in their clacking way. Thousands of Canadian geese lifiting from the water in a tornado of wings. Random flocks of ducks arriving on the somewhat calmer ponds from the nearby and undoubtedly white-capped Columbia River. All under the supervision of two bald eagles perched nearby.

The rains came down hard, almost horizontal. Too wet to risk getting out a camera. So wet, rain gear all around was soaked through. Those who had thought to bring two sets stayed comfortable. The rest of us just got wet. Even for Oregon, today could not be described as anything other than really, really wet and windy. But I didn’t see one dog who cared how wet or how muddy it got. None of that mattered — there were birds to retrieve.

Carlin ran fifth in today’s picnic retriever hunt test. And today’s performance was about the opposite from last weekend’s performance. In fact, today, on the three 115+ yard marks, Carlin did a great job of marking each of the falls. They were all tough marks, with birds falling in front of canopies of visually confusing oak tree branches into tall dead-grass cover. Or falling into a patch of cover that seemed to have a border of different cover around it, setting a visual barrier that the dogs had to cross. Or splashing into shallow puddles-turned-ponds.

With all these challenges, Carlin did a great job on every mark: straight out and straight back. Even one of the gunners, who didn’t know who Carlin belonged to, remarked to Russ, who was also gunning, what a great marker Carlin was.

But, again in opposition to last weekend, the other stuff fell apart. Carlin dropped two of his birds instead of delivering to hand, even with my reminder to “Hold”. He held and delivered the third bird, I think because I pointed my finger at him when I gave the “Hold” command and grabbed the bird from him before he had a chance to drop it.

And his behavior in the holding blinds was not up to the standard he set last weekend. True, he didn’t jump up onto a holding blind or push one over, but he wouldn’t stay in the blind voluntarily, and he attempted to pull me from the last holding blind to the line. We repeated that trip several times until his behavior was acceptable (barely).

Since Russ was gunning, I also ran Tooey. She did okay, based on Tooey standards. She marked both her birds, but as expected, refused to pick up the first bird, a wet pigeon. I marched out to where the bird fell, put it in her mouth, and told her to “Give it to Russ”. So she trotted out to the gunners station, delivered her bird to Russ, and then followed me back to the start line. Very unorthodox, but, … Oh well.

At the start line, I got her set up, and then, when she saw the gunners stand up, and realized that she was going to get a live flyer, she became intent on her job. That bird she marked and retrieved to (my) hand in her usual efficient methodical style.

The rest of the early afternoon, I went quite a ways down the road, where Carlin could see and hear the other dogs work, but not be too close, and practiced walking with Carlin in a loose heel-like position. He did okay at this, and I gave him lots of praise and treats for success. We did this for short bursts of just a few minutes each time.

Harder was was asking him to stay on the place board, set up also down the road, while other dogs went out for their retrieves. I did this also in short bursts, and he was more successful than not. He took the treats, but didn’t seem to find them particularly interesting, so probably they weren’t high-value enough and/or I was too close to the action.

So all in all, an okay day. I’m both glad and sad that I didn’t enter Carlin in next weekend’s retriever hunt test. It would have been great if he had passed, but I just wasn’t sure enough that he would. Better to save the money, train some more, and wait until I’m sure he’d pass. There will be more hunt tests.

And perhaps, while Carlin is sleeping off the day’s excitement and his dinner, some of what we worked on today will sink in.


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After Saturday’s humiliating debacle at the picnic hunt test, I went out yesterday morning with a couple of experienced friends for some field training. My goals were to get from the holding blind to the line politely and to see if Carlin can mark the fall of birds (in this case, wing-covered bumpers) with various length marks.

It took many, many tries, going from behind the blackberry bush to the holding blind, for Carlin to walk politely by my side during that short trip. We tried to make this realistic, with duck calls going off and voices calling, “Guns Up!” to re-create the atmosphere of a hunt test as much as possible.

Then we had many more tries getting from the holding blind to the line. We had a person playing judge and a pile of bumpers nearby to simulate the hunt test experience there as well. This, miraculously, took fewer tries than the earlier exercise.

Once I got Carlin to the line, I lined him up toward the first mark. It was about a 100 yards in a straight line over mowed grass. The “gunner” blew the duck call, which really got Carlin’s attention (good), launched the bumper, and after the bumper landed, my friend said, “Dog”. I sent Carlin, and he zoomed out about 75 yards straight toward the bumper (good), but then took a wide circle around the gunner, looking at the gunner while he went. In that process, he lost the bumper and had to hunt around for it. Finally, the gunner threw another bumper for him, he found that one, and came back to deliver it to me.

The delivery was not good either. He swung wide around me and dinked around before he finally sat about two feet away from me, and dropped the bumper.

We tried a number of different marks, and, while the delivery improved, he did the same straight-out, curve away maneuver on all the marks. In some cases, it seemed that he was curving around the gunner, but in some other cases, it looked like he was curving around some invisible something. And then we wondered if he was curving around the area of what he thought was the fall (but was really too short), and was curving to take advantage of some wind pattern. But that didn’t seem consistently to be the case, as his curving wasn’t in the same direction every time.

Then we tried some really short marks, like 50 yards. Most of those didn’t go well either. (But after the ones that did, we celebrated big time — Carlin and I jumped around together, I threw a fun bumper for him, and we got to enjoy a few moments of running around free in the lovely bright sunshine.)

I am not sure what to think, but some ideas have occurred to me:

  • Maybe something is going on with Carlin’s eyesight – this would require a trip to the vet to check out
  • Maybe the curving behavior is due to something physical, like he’s out of alignment or has some injury – this would require a trip to the vet or a veterinary chiropractor
  • Maybe coupling the walking-to-the-holding-blind work with the marking work is too much pressure or too distracting – I could try separating these, or I could try marking practice before walking-to-the-holding-blind practice, or maybe I could try doing the walking-to-the-blind practice without the duck calls
  • Maybe my rate of reward is much too low for now
  • Maybe I have overestimated how much he knows and underestimated how much he’s forgotten since his last retriever success in September

But even so, this change in his marking ability is so surprising, shocking almost. Puzzling. Really puzzling. It deserves much more thought.

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Carlin graduated from the Academy; got a bath, a close trim, and some good food; and now he has returned to Tuxedo Kennels for more hunting and hunt test training. What he learned at the Academy is essential to living in polite society. What he’s learning with Richard at Tuxedo Kennels is much more fun.

Here’s Carlin in a video Richard posted today on Facebook:

Richard noted that the video shows Carlin working on some fun memory drills without any pressure. The retrieve is about 90 yards, which Carlin does in a nice straight line. And even though he’s being a bouncy goofy boy, at the end of the retrieve, Carlin is still delivering his bird to hand, in a nice heel position, right next to Richard’s left foot.

I am so pleased to see Carlin enjoying himself and learning good birdwork at the same time. I can hardly wait to see him.


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It’s Friday now. We spent half of Wednesday and all of yesterday traveling home from Montana, along rivers and over mountain passes. If this hadn’t been fire season, it would have been a beautiful drive. As it was, the grey, dusty, smoke obscured the skies and the scenery in both Montana and Washington state. We drove past staging areas filled with people and fire-fighting gear, temporary road signs that said, “Fire ahead. DO NOT STOP”, and whole swaths of blackened ground and charred trees. It made me grateful for all these people and the work they do, protecting the wild areas that I love to use and enjoy.

So, having described Wednesday’s land work in my last post, now on to Wednesday’s water work…


The water was this lovely, large pond. We used the same area, marked on the map with a “3”, previously in the week. First Carlin and I watched two other dogs (including Tooey) do their water work. Then it was Carlin’s turn.

The gunners, standing back from the peninsula, were going to try to bring the bird down on the other side of the peninsula, so that Carlin would have a land-water-land-water mark. But, the duck actually landed in the water off the point. Unfortunately, Carlin was not steady this time — in other words, when the gun went off, he got up out of his sit. So I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him off the line and back over the dike that contains the pond. (Having watched the other dogs may have been too much distraction for him.)

We tried to use one of the other dogs as a “pick up” dog, but she wasn’t advanced enough in her training to retrieve a bird that she hadn’t seen fall. So, after a break, I brought Carlin back to the line to see if he could get it. I positioned the two of us facing the bird, but Carlin was busy looking around for a gunner rather than looking where I was facing. So at the same time that the gunner put a shot into the water near where the duck was floating, I took Carlin’s collar with my right hand, put my left hand pointing to the bird just to the right of his head, and gave him the hand signal that my obedience trainer is just starting to teach us. He pointed himself in the right direction, and I sent him off with a “take it!”

He did that whole 75-yard swim, directly at the bird. And then he picked it up, and swam directly back, dragging that heavy bird through the milfoil. He held the bird onto the land about half way to me, but then dropped it to shake. Sigh. I went over to him, put the duck back into his mouth, told him so sit, walked off about 8 paces, called him to me, and this time he delivered the duck to hand.

Ok, so one more time.

This time he was steady to shot, and so I sent him off. He swam, picked up the bird, brought it back, and again dropped it to shake when he got back to shore. I put it back into his mouth and told him “Hold”, but he spit it out. I put it back into his mouth again, told him “Hold” again, and he spit it out again. A third time, I put it back in his mouth, and this time also pushed my index finger up into the underside of his chin, lowered my voice an octave, and repeated “Hold”. For 10 very long seconds, I repeated “Good Hold” and he held it. Finally, I said “Drop”, and he put it in my hands.

“Good hold, Carlin. Good boy!” I said. He glanced at me, and wandered off aimlessly. The boy was tired. A full morning’s fieldwork, four 75-yard swims, on top of 4 solid days of training. But then I changed my voice to a song, “Really good, good boy. What a boy, good boy. You a good dog? You get a bird? You got your bird!! Good boy, good dog!” He looked back up, came back to me, and started to dance around trying to get the duck I still held in my hand. We played and I sang “What a good boy! What a good dog! Good boy, good dog.”

It was a good time to stop for the day. I didn’t really want to stop for the week because an opportunity to train like this is a rare luxury. But I could see that we were all tired and could use a lazy day at home. So we said goodbye to Richard and Laura, packed up, and took off west and south for home.

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