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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