Posts Tagged ‘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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Let’s just get to the thrill-packed conclusion: Cooper and I failed today’s WCX test. And we totally failed this time, unlike Cooper’s almost pass last time.

But it wasn’t just Cooper. Working certificate tests, like hunt tests, are a team sport. And this time, both team members messed up big time.

As Cooper and I walked from the parking lot to the first holding blind, it became obvious that Cooper was wild and revved up. As you can see from the picture below, I even resorted to wrapping the leash around his muzzle to stop him from pulling me.

photo by Martha Jordan

He waited in the holding blinds like I asked him to (without jumping on the blind or running out from behind it), but he was still pretty amped up, looking wildly around at every gunshot and whistle.

When it was our turn, we made our way to the line. I walked. Cooper, now off leash as required in the rule, essentially ran in circles around me, as he jumped out and I called him back, jumped out and was called back, and again, rinse, lather, repeat.

At the line, I took a few minutes to get him into heel position facing the spot where first bird would fall. I signalled to the judge that we were ready. The judge called for the bird. The bird was thrown, the gunshot went off, and so did Cooper.

In a hunting situation, this would be somewhat acceptable. But in the land series of a WCX test, the dog is supposed to wait for three birds to fall before being sent out to retrieve the first one.

When it became apparent that Cooper intended to retrieve that first bird, I called him back with a “Here!” command. He came back part way. The second bird was thrown, and Cooper went out about 10 more feet.

And that’s when I started my series of mistakes. I yelled, “Cooper! Here!”

To the non-hunt-tester reader, that sounds reasonable enough: get your dog’s attention with his name and call him back. But anyone who does hunt tests will immediately recognize the problem.

In hunt tests, the command to go out and retrieve is traditionally the dog’s name. And that’s how Cooper was trained. So what I essentially just told my dog to do was, “Go out! Come back!”

I was so discombobulated and so inexperienced, that I then made matters worse by repeating my mistake several times (I don’t know how many, but at least three, possibly four): “Cooper! Here!” And every time I did so, Cooper went out farther and then jumped back. Out and back, out and back.

Finally, Cooper couldn’t stand the contradiction any longer, and just went out and retrieved the second bird. All of this before the third bird was even thrown.

He brought that second bird back to me (he always brings back his birds), and at that point, the watching gallery (who were too far away to hear my mistakes), and the judges, and I, all knew that Cooper had failed. I just had to leash him up, say “Thank you, judges,” and walk off the test.

Everyone could see that Cooper was out of control, and later at lunch, I got a lot of very well-worn advice about how to get my dog under control and what I might be able to accomplish if I could just get that dog under control.

But it’s a team sport, and I am way more of a newbie than Cooper is. I’ve watched him in a lot of hunt tests, but I’ve only run him once.

Both of us need practice together, training us both on being steady and keeping ourselves under control.


Even with the failure, there were some nice things about that test:

Cooper picked the most difficult bird to go out and retrieve. That second bird was the farthest away, and the dog had to run over some up-and-down terrain in moderately heavy cover to get there. Even with all the jumping around, he marked that bird exactly, ran straight out to it, picked it up, and brought it back.

And I am grateful that my dog actually wants to go out and retrieve birds. I watched some other dogs at that test who didn’t want to go out, or couldn’t find their bird, or who objected to picking up a bird once it was found. Cooper doesn’t have any of those problems.

Another nice thing was watching Cooper’s half-siblings run the test: Riki and Emmy are also Nova puppies. Riki passed his WCX  today. He’s got all the talent Cooper has and an accomplished handler. Emmy ran the WC test and failed, probably because she’d never run for Russ before, or even worked with him before. Even so, it was wonderful to watch her lovely line manners and her ability to mark and locate her birds.

Here’s a picture of the sibs:

Christine with Riki, Russ with Emmy and Cooper

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How to spend $75 in 3 minutes:

  1. Take your dog (whom you been training to be steady at the line for many months) to a Senior hunt test.
  2. Watch your very excited dog zoom out to the start line in nowhere close to the heel position.
  3. Call your dog back to the heel position at the start line. Tell him, “Sit.” Then tell him “Sit,” again.
  4. Watch the first bird go down while your dog jumps forward 4 feet.
  5. Watch your dog break and race out as the second bird goes up before the judge releases him to go.
  6. Watch your dog retrieve the second bird before it even bounces the first time.
  7. Watch your dog come back with the second bird and proudly deliver it to your hand.
  8. Leash your dog, say “Thank you, judges,” walk back to the car, and drive home.

For an additional $6, you can then pour yourself a very nice glass of McCarthy’s Single Malt Whiskey, even if it is 8:30 in the morning.

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The good news first: Today Cooper took his 2nd Senior hunt test, and he passed. 2 passes down, 2 passes to go.

Cooper's 2nd qualifying test: AKC Senior Hunter (Retriever)

Cooper passes the land and water tests

The land series was first. It included a walk up, a double with a 100-yard live flyer and a 50-yard mark, and then a 50-yard blind retrieve. By good fortune, we had trained earlier in the week for most of this scenario — dark brown birds flying through the air against a dark background of trees. Cooper generally does marking very well, so that added practice watching the fall against a dark background could only enhance a probably good performance.

And the blind retrieve was almost exactly the same as what we practiced: charging straight through tall cover to retrieve a duck he hadn’t seen fall. In fact, when it looked like Cooper was going to zoom in a straight line toward the blind retrieve, Russ decided to stop him and give him directions, just to show the judges that Cooper can take direction. What happened at the walk up at the beginning of the land series will show why.

That walk up was hard to watch. After all these years of training, at hunt tests, Cooper still does not have a controlled walk at heel — instead he dances out to the line, several feet out in front of Russ. And on a walk up, that can be a real problem. On a walk up, the handler and dog walk toward the line, and when the team gets there, the judge signals for the bird to be thrown. Only at the point when the bird is in the air, only then can the handler tell the dog to sit. The farther out in front of the handler the dog is, the greater the temptation it is for the dog to bolt out for the bird, and not wait to be sent. But fortunately, Cooper sat when told, and only went out when given the command.


Then it was on to the water series: a double with a 80-yard mark and a 50-yard mark with a diversion shot, a 60-yard blind retrieve, and an honor.

I don’t know why Cooper does this, but he always seems to do at least one very dramatic thing at every test. It started with him jumping over the holding blind at the water series and then dancing to the line ahead of Russ. And it continued during his retrieve of the 80-yard mark.

The mark was thrown so that the a straight line to the duck would be very close to parallel to the shore. The dog would be sorely tempted to cheat by running along the bank instead of going into the water, swimming to the duck, and swimming back.

Cooper succumbed to temptation. Unfortunately for him, there was a log right at the edge of the pond. To stay along the edge of the bank, he actually had to crawl along and over the log, then jump into the water at the end of the log, swim to the duck, then swim back to the closest part of the shore. To avoid crawling back over the log again while holding the duck, he decided to run overland around the log and back to the start line. At this point, I was biting my nails. I could barely watch.

But then the rest of the water series went well — he did his 50-yard mark with the diversion shot just fine, nailed the blind retrieve, and managed to restrain himself from jumping into the water while he was honoring the next dog’s work.

Cooper survives the water test

And this gets me to the “survive” part. Like a lot of sports, hunt tests are dangerous. When you’ve been to several tests and no one gets hurt, it’s easy to forget that the outdoor fields and ponds are filled with danger. A not uncommon danger is logs in the water. Submerged or partially submerged log surfaces are smooth and slippery, and often partially broken off branches project out from such logs. Sometimes those branches are also partially submerged and can’t be seen, other times they are visible, but no one expects that the dogs will get near them.

beavers' work puts logs with protruding branches into the ponds

But obviously, Cooper got near them as he crawled along the log at the edge of the pond. He was OK because he wasn’t running full tilt when he got to the log. But another dog, a black Lab, wasn’t so lucky. The Lab ran at full speed and collided his upper chest right into one of those protruding branches. He screamed, turned around, and limped back to his handler, who scooped the dog up in his arms and walked quickly to his car and to the vet. Close-by onlookers reported no blood but the quick swelling up of a white hematoma.

Of course, bystanders discussed whose fault this was. Some said that the judges should have made sure well before the test that no logs or branches were anywhere near a dog’s possibly path to the duck — they would have said: Remove the logs or launch the duck so the dog’s path to its landing place doesn’t intersect with the logs. Others said that a handler should have been aware of the possibility of the log’s danger, and sent his dog in a line that would not intersect with the log, even if that line would take the dog away from the direct line to the duck.

After that dog was injured, a crew of hunt test workers and volunteer dog handlers worked together to drag the logs out of the pond. Too late for the injured dog, and too late to prevent Cooper from doing his log-crawling act.

But for Cooper, there was one small benefit. The injured dog obviously didn’t get his duck, so it was still floating out there in the water. Since we were still there watching, and since Cooper had already run, he was asked to be the “pick up” dog. After carefully checking that there were no more dangers in the pond, Russ sent Cooper out on one extra retrieve for the day.

And that’s all Cooper ever wants — one more retrieve.

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You might think it strange that a blog entry about my dogs would start with a story about a conversation I had with one of my college English professors. I was taking a written argument class, and with every paper, I would write myself in circles. I could see the validity of every point of view, and my papers reflected that. It seemed like I could never decide what conclusion I wanted to come to.

The professor finally took pity on me and said, “Patrice, just decide. It’s only a paper. You can always argue the other side later.”

So how does that fit in? Well, I’ll get to that in a bit…

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that Tooey’s performance in field work has been sometimes exciting and more often disappointing. So I’ve been thinking and talking — a lot — about what to think and then do about it.

Being in the grip of disappointed emotions, as I was after last weekend’s hunt test, is probably not the best time to be deciding what to do. I’ve noticed about myself that in this kind of situation, I can make rash, rushed decisions that I later regret.

But knowing that hasn’t stopped me from thinking around and around and around in circles about it for the last half week. Ideas that have occurred to me:

  • Giving Tooey back and getting a different dog with hunting drive. This is what some experts advise — when your dog doesn’t have the traits/temperament to do the job you want, get rid of the dog and get another one. But give my Tooey away to yet another home? — I don’t think I could live with myself.
  • Changing venues to obedience, rally, or agility. I think Tooey would like any of these — it’s just that I’m not sure I would like them nearly as well as field work.
  • Switching to spaniel work. I’m not sure this would be a workable choice since Tooey would still have to retrieve birds. But at least they wouldn’t be ducks. She has seemed usually happy to pick up chukars, pheasants, and pigeons.
  • Starting back at the basics with retriever work myself, including my doing a force fetch on her so that she will pick up ducks for me whether she really wants to or not. But I’m not sure I have the stomach for doing a force fetch, and I don’t think I want to force an oval peg into a round hole. She will happily go out and pick up bumpers, but not ducks.
  • Getting a 3rd dog, one with hunting drive. I know some folks successfully have 3 dogs, but I am pretty sure that would not work in my house, my work situation, or my marriage.
  • Trading dogs with Russ, so that I handle Cooper and Russ handles Tooey. I don’t know exactly what I think about this — I would get the field work experience, but I’d miss all the initial training experience. And besides, Cooper so clearly loves working with Russ.
  • Doing nothing, just having a pet. But I don’t want to do nothing with my very smart, sweet girl.

Seems like I’m having my same old problem of seeing every side and not being able to choose.

But, just as in my college papers, I can make one choice now and a different ones later. So let’s start defining some goals for my relationship with Tooey: I should be happy, and she should be happy. This pretty much means: having fun, learning new things together, having enough time to spend some with Tooey, and having fewer disappointments.

This eliminates the getting rid of Tooey, getting a 3rd dog, trading dogs with Russ, and doing nothing. Leaving changing venues, switching to spaniel work, or going back to basics on retriever work.

Of these, changing venues to obedience seems like the best option. Tooey likes it, which means she would be happy and that we’re likely to have some success. That will make me happy. And obedience work will teach Tooey and me how to work together and become a team. Which will also make me happy.

Plus, obedience can’t hurt anything I’d do it the future. Obedience will only support similar skills used in the field — going out, retrieving, sitting steady, coming when called, all that good stuff.

We can always do ducks or other birds later.

OK, that’s decided. Whew!

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Tooey failed yesterday’s Junior retriever hunt test. The failure didn’t completely surprise me, but what did surprise me was the almost complete lack of enthusiasm.

I could see that she didn’t want to go out to get that first duck. We started at the water. She left the line, stepped into the water, swam out for about 15 yards, and then turned around to come back. I told her to go get her bird, and since she was still swimming in, I then turned my face away.

At that point, she decided to turn around and get the bird. When she got it, I gave her a happy, “Good! Here! Good job!” She brought the duck back to about two feet away from the line, dropped the duck, and wouldn’t — would not — pick it up again. Finally the judge excused us.

We’ve been working on picking up and holding wet ducks, so I knew that dropping and not fetching up the wet duck might be an issue.

But I was very surprised at her reluctance to go out. I thought that we’d been making strides in building enthusiasm. And for the past couple of weeks, we have been going out to a couple of different training fields with ponds, and she has been happy to leap into to water, fetch up the bumper, and come straight back in. She’s been so eager to go out that she’s been whining when we get close to the training field, and whining at the practice line to be sent, both on land and water. So eager that she’s even been willing to pick up icky wet ducks.

It’s as if there is something about an actual hunt test environment. It amps Cooper up so high with the desire to retrieve that he’s on the edge of control. With Tooey, it just seems to deflate her — it happened with me yesterday, I could see it at the two hunt tests I attended that Butch took her to, and I could hear it in the descriptions that Butch gave me of the tests I didn’t see.

Or maybe it’s the ducks. Hunt tests always have ducks. Our practice doesn’t always have ducks. It isn’t easy to get ducks to train with — the last two we had finally became too decrepit. I cut the wings off and will band them to a dokken until I can get some more ducks.

I don’t know what I’m going to do now. She’s scheduled for another hunt test in a couple of weeks. I have about 12 hours to scratch her from the test. I’m thinking about what to do…

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Bev Higgins, of Parkdale Kennels, called to tell me that Tooey ran a perfect Junior hunt test today. What made it even better was Bev’s description of how happily and enthusiastically Tooey worked for all four marks.

I wasn’t there (darn it!), so I have to report what I was told. The facts will probably be mostly right, they just may not be in the right order. And no pictures, either.

The weather in Anderson, California for today’s Lassen Retriever Club hunt test was warm, with no wind (thank heavens). She was again handled by Butch Higgins, her trainer. There were, as usual, two series: the morning’s land series and the afternoon’s water series.

The land series included two birds, one of which was a live flyer. Both birds came down at about 100 yards. For each of the two single marks, Tooey apparently marked the fall, went straight out to the bird, and came straight back. Bev even described her as having “stepped on the bird.” That’s a common hunt test phrase that means the dog nailed it: going out to exactly where the bird landed and not having to hunt around looking for it. What’s even more perfect is that Tooey did this twice. Oh, good girl!!!

Bev said that this made Butch so happy that he did a small little dance at the line watching her come back with the second bird. (I would like to have seen this…) And when they were done with the land series (I’m guessing it was the land series), he even let her jump up on him so he could “love her up.”

The water series also included two marks. It sounds like both birds were thrown from a peninsula that went into the middle of the pond. The first bird was launched for a 75-yard mark into the water (I think). The second bird was hand-thrown for a 50-or-so-yard mark toward the shore of the pond. Really lucky dogs got a second bird that fell into the water with a big splash (which makes it easier to see), while unluckier dogs got a duck that fell onto the land at the edge of the pond. Tooey’s second bird landed in between, so there was a little splash.

And she did it again. Went right into the water, swam briskly to the duck, grabbed it up, and brought it right back. On the second bird, she did the same — and what’s great about this is that she resisted the temptation to get out of the water and shake off before fetching the bird. Tooey just grabbed it up, turned around, and swam back to Butch.

One of these four marks (I don’t know which one), Bev even said that Tooey came back with her duck, sat prettily into a perfect heel position at Butch’s side, and raised the duck up to deliver it to him.

A perfect hunt test. And Tooey’s first orange ribbon!

Good girl, my sweet Tooey darling! Let’s hope for/pray for/wish for/meditate on another ribbon tomorrow.

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