Posts Tagged ‘hunt training’

It was an all-dogs-all-the-time weekend. Often our weekends are that way, but this one was packed.


On Saturday morning, Russ took Carlin to beginning agility class. Apparently, Carlin is doing quite well and really enjoying it. I knew he would, and I’m very happy Russ has found a good instructor for it. Someday I’ll go watch, but I hear that they’re learning stuff in very small pieces.

Going for a walk

While they were gone, Tooey and I went for an hour-long walk while it was still cool. There’s this neighborhood to the south of us that I hadn’t explored yet, so was took the long way through the adjacent park, and then wound our way among the houses and streets. That section was not laid out in a grid, and it was full of dead ends and cul de sacs. I never did exactly get lost (I caught sight of a busy road that I recognized several times), but it wasn’t a straightforward walk. Tooey enjoyed it though, especially that last bit when I let her swim in our neighborhood irrigation canal. She looked for the ducks that often live in the reeds that line the bank, but none were to be found.

Bathe and trim (part one)

When we got home, Tooey got a bath and trim. She was filthy. As in, the-water-turned-brown filthy. As in, why-have-I-been-letting-this-filthy-beast-sleep-on-the-bed filthy. By that time of the morning, the temperature had already reached the high 90s F, so blowing her dry was mostly a formality. Although it does get the loose hairs out of her coat, which means I don’t have to do quite as much brushing and combing. With a light trim, Tooey was looking and smelling beautiful again.

Bathe and trim (part two)

When Russ got home, Carlin got a bath and a clip-down. He was dirty, but not nearly as dirty as Tooey. (Perhaps that’s because of her swim in the irrigation canal?) I haven’t been clipping Carlin down because I had still been harboring this fantasy that I might show him in October, but I finally realized that that’s not going to happen. He doesn’t like judges touching him, he’s worried about being so close to other dogs, and I don’t handle all that very well. And plus, there’s unlikely to be any IWS in the Boise shows in October, so there’d be no point in showing him. (You conformation folks will get the pun, eh?)

So he got clipped. His topknot and ears went down to about ¾”, and the rest of him to 3/8”. He looks very handsome to me. Plus he and I are training for hunting now, and a short coat makes it easier to get out the burrs, seeds, and grass awns.

The First End

After about 3-1/2 hours, both Carlin and I were done grooming. I had Russ’s delicious soup for dinner, did a load of laundry, watched TV for a bit, and went to bed.

It all started again on Sunday morning.

Scent work

My scentwork group all came over to my house early in the morning to practice. We did several Interior Advanced hides, a couple of Exterior Advanced hides, one vehicle search (which is not part of AKC Scent Work, but is done in some other organizations’ searches), a Handler Discrimination Novice search, and an Advanced Container search with extra containers. Carlin did well on all of them except Containers.

In Containers, he could not concentrate. The containers were on his lawn, he ran last after all the other dogs, and all he could think about was sniffing the grass to learn more about all the other dogs. Finding odor was just not of any interest at all. OK, so I guess we go back to basics in Containers on grass. Normally, I practice Containers on concrete, but I’m going to have to change my ways. Somehow.

Spaniel training

After lunch, Carlin and I then trucked off to a friend’s property to practice water blinds and hunt deads. Since by that time it had gotten really hot, we decided to do water work first. My friend is an accomplished retriever person, and she set up some fun land-water-land-water-land blinds for Carlin. They weren’t long blinds, but it did mean that he had to resist stopping to hunt around on the island. He’s been through this scenario before, and I didn’t have to handle him very much. If this had been a retriever hunt test, it would not have met the standard—I let him get way off the straight line from me to the bumper, but my goal was to get him down wind from the bumper so he could find it on his own. Which he did just fine, several times in multiple locations.

Then came the hunt dead. Carlin has never failed a hunt dead in a spaniel test, but he’s gotten himself way off course many times. Enough to push time limit to the very nubbins. Enough to raise my stress level considerably, and enough to lower his score by quite a bit.

In a hunt dead, the handler knows only vaguely where the bird is. The judge will say, for example, that the bird is somewhere in the arc formed by that distant that tree out there to the left and that fence post out to the right, and about 65 yards out from the line. So basically, you try to make some kind of educated guess as to where the bird might be, and then send your dog straight out in a line to a spot downwind from that spot. Of course, you have to guess where downwind is out 65 yards away—sometimes that’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the wind is moving differently out there. Or there may not be any breath of wind at all.

And in yesterday’s practice, Carlin did exactly right. We set it up so that Carlin would out into a cross breeze. I sent him in a line that would put him downwind of where I thought the bird was, he actually took that line, and then hooked a right when he winded the bird. Actually taking the line is what I was looking for. So, good boy!

Riding in the car

While Carlin and I were gone, Russ took Tooey for a ride in the car, which is a good thing in and of itself. He was looking for a DMV where he could maneuver the boat and trailer, so both could be licensed and registered in Idaho. Since this was a reconnaissance mission, there were no worries about leaving Tooey in a hot car. Just a nice air-conditioned ride on a hot sunny day.

the now-registered Spainnear Uisce (the boat), Tooey, and Carlin

The Ending End

By the time we all got home, it was time for dinner, a little TV, another load of laundry (to wash the dog bath towels), and bed.

Like I said, all dogs, all the time.

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Carlin did his thing today, well, actually, several of his things. Early this morning, he ran around in a park, burning off energy (and I think generating more) as he ran. We’re lucky here in Boise. From November 1st to February 28th, many of the public parks are open to off-leash dogs. The theory is that the dogs will scare off the geese. And right now, the morning temperatures are in the mild mid-40s F, so the grass isn’t frozen and the ponds are not ice. So Carlin and Tooey both ran around to almost their hearts content, on green mowed grass, with nary a grass awn or goat head to bother anyone.

Then, off we went to meet an unofficial subset of a local hunting retriever club. I had met one of their members at the Treasure Valley dog shows several weeks ago, and hearing that we had Irish Water Spaniels who needed a group to train with, she invited us out to train this morning.

Russ was handling Carlin, so I stood out in the field and threw bumpers. I like that job — you can get a good view of all the dogs and how they work. There was quite a variety of breeds represented. Labs, of course, but also a Golden Retriever, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Flat Coated Retriever, and today, and Irish Water Spaniel.

This is a retriever group, so we worked on marked retrieves and blinds. Fortunately, Carlin has not forgotten all his training during the long months while we were preparing to move, packing, actually  moving, and settling in. He stayed pretty steady at the line (with a reminder or two), and he did a great job of finding his 100 yard blind retrieve. He also did fine on the shorter marks, but got a bit lost on the 120 yard marks — we’ll have to work on those.

One of the fellows in the group brought his camera along, and got a great photo of Carlin running back with a bumper. You can see the kind of cover we were working in, the fact that it wasn’t raining, Carlin’s short field cut, and the intensity in his eyes.


Carlin returning with his bumper–photo by John Arrington

When everyone was done training, we came home for lunch, a shower, and a bit of re-grouping. Then Carlin and I headed out to the state fairgrounds for his third rally trial. It was a lovely small show put on by the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club. There was Obedience in the morning, with Rally Obedience starting in mid-afternoon. The novice classes always go last, so I didn’t actually have to be there until 3 PM or so. I watched the dogs working at the Excellent level, which is always a treat because you get to see such good work. (I was disappointed that yesterday’s exhibitor in a wheelchair didn’t compete today. Watching her and her dog do both Excellent and Advanced Rally really made my heart happy. They were such a great team, in wonderful harmony with each other.)

Today I hoped Carlin would do better than he did yesterday, and he did! Yesterday, during his second trial, he bested his first qualifying run of 83 with an 87. He was distracted yesterday by this horrible air conditioning system that screamed before it started blowing cool air, and then by a young dog who also screamed at something. Carlin has been a nervous competitor, and these distractions made yesterday’s run a real test of his concentration. He knocked over a sign and sat crooked at some of the Sits and Halts, but he also did a nice job with most of the 270 and 360 degree turns and the serpentines around the cones.

So, with these two qualifying scores, today I was just hoping for something better than an 87. I’d have been happy with an 88, but Russ sent us out the door today, telling Carlin to get a 90.

He kept it together much better with the screaming air conditioner today (I am not exaggerating — I saw people jump every time it came on), and with fewer dogs in the show today, he seemed to be quite a bit calmer. He sat and downed much straighter, and he mentally stayed with me for most of the run. What a good boy — this is hard for him, and he really tried hard.

We beat the 90 Russ told us to get. We ended up with a yellow squeaky toy, a green ribbon for a score of 93, a 4th place ribbon, and an RN title ribbon! I am so proud of my boy, and pleased that we can work together.


When we were done, I got Carlin a vanilla ice cream cone, and then we headed home to dinner.

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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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Today, Wednesday, was not supposed to be our last day of training. But after Carlin did a beautiful job of quartering two different fields; finding, and retrieving his bird on each; and then after doing two 75-yard water retrieves, Carlin was done. He was tired. My brain was about full to the brim, too. So we decided to call it a day, a day early, and go home. (And honestly, I think Richard was looking for a well-earned day off, as well.)

The day started off in a field of low cover, about 8 to 12 inches of grasses. If you look at the photo below, it’s the field labeled “1”.


This day’s training was set up to mimic a hunt test. While Richard ran a Springer, Carlin and I followed along behind. This often happens in spaniel hunt tests, where one dog follows the working dog. This is done so that if the 1st dog finds and retrieves all its birds before running the whole course, the 2nd dog comes up and starts the course where the 1st dog finished. Carlin has never done this before, and it was not easy. It’s HARD watching another dog getting all the birds. He wasn’t perfectly quiet, but he wasn’t barking and he wasn’t wildly jumping around, either, so that’s good.

When the Springer was done, Carlin and I advanced a few yards up the field, and I sent him off upwind with a “Hunt It Up!” Carlin did fine. I am the one who is still learning how to read my dog and remember what to do about it. Carlin, like Cooper and Tooey both, tends to range out too far. He’s busy looking for birds, which is good, but out of gun range, which is not good. So my task has been to whistle Carlin back into gun range and indicate the direction I want him to go. During our week in Montana, I’ve really improved at this.

What I’m slowly getting better at is noticing the changes in Carlin’s body posture when he’s found a bird. Like I said in an earlier post, it’s like first learning to drive a car and trying to remember to both notice the other cars and steer, shift, and brake all at the same time. If he’s found a bird, even if it’s a little out of range, I don’t want to whistle him off it — better for me to move up quickly to where he is. So noticing when he’s “getting birdy” is key.

Richard and Russ both have told me that when Carlin first gets a whiff of a bird, he raises his nose, head, and neck high up into the air. Then when he’s located his target, his head goes forward again, his tail extends back, and after a bit, he dives his head into the bird. I have to notice when his head first goes up in the air and be ready to decide if a) there really is a bird there and be ready to move up to him, or b) there really isn’t a bird there, and whistle him back toward me. Today, finally, I did that part well, decided there really was a bird, and moved up.

So, Carlin found his bird, I moved up to him smartly, the bird flushed, and what did I do? I told him to “Take It”. Argh!!! Absolutely the totally wrong thing for me to say. I should have whistled or commanded him to “Sit”. Fortunately, Carlin ignored my command and sat, as he’s been taught to do when a bird flies. Good, good dog.

So, the bird flew, Russ brought it down, I sent Carlin with the “Take It” command, and he retrieved it and delivered it to hand. Good boy, Carlin.

Then we repeated the whole thing on field “2”. We switched fields and directions to give Carlin a different picture and experience working downwind. This time, both Carlin and I did everything right. I whistled at the right times and stayed quiet at the right times. I moved at a slow enough pace to enable Carlin to quarter the whole field. He found his bird, I noticed it and moved up, he flushed it, sat to shot until I sent him, and then retrieved it smartly to hand. What a wonderful success to end field work on for the day.

My next post will be about today’s water work. Stay tuned.


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The two hunters, one who knows and one who is learning:


Tooey and Carlin next to the stand of Russian Olive trees

Today was not so much an official training. It was more of a hike with the dogs through a variety of terrains: stands of Russian Olive trees, hillsides covered with grasses and sweet blooming flowers, and ponds surrounded by bogs and cattails.


Carlin in the pond


Tooey at the edge of the cattails

The point today was not to retrieve birds, but to get Carlin excited about real-life hunting by watching Tooey and by finding and flushing birds.

Tooey knew exactly what we were out there for. Once we sent the dogs off, she was scenting the wind, following bird trails, and searching likely spots where birds would hide. She was, as usual, methodical and thorough, not leaving a spot until she was satisfied there were no birds there. Carlin started out looking like he was just having a romp.

If Tooey has any fault, it’s working a bit too far away from the hunters. But that gave me an excellent opportunity to call Carlin back to me when he followed Tooey too far out, so that he would learn the useful distance is from dog to gunner.

As the morning wore on, the two dogs together flushed 9 pheasants and a covey of Hungarian partridges, and the more we got into the day, the more focused Carlin became.


Flushed pheasant over the cattails


Flushed pheasant flies off

A couple of those pheasants flew up right in front of Carlin’s nose. And one, Tooey had cornered up against the base of a tree, and when Carlin crashed in behind her, the bird flew up and out right in their faces. And after rustling around in 5-foot high cattails, the two of them flushed a hen pheasant, a rooster, and a young bird from the second hatch, all in one great flutter of wings. The others were flushed as the dogs traversed the fields and the ridges surrounding the ponds.

It was an exciting morning, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the day and the hike, the cool cloudy weather, and the opportunity to watch the older dog do what she knows how to do so well and the younger dog begin to see what can be found with a good nose and a steady pace.

We did one quartering exercise with Carlin. He quartered nicely within gun range and found his pigeon. When the bird flew, Carlin stayed steady in place (yay!), and waited until the bird fell and I sent him for it. And then he finished it off with a lovely delivery to hand.

Then Tooey practiced her hunt dead. Russ sent her out in a line to the bird, but she had her own ideas about how to find it. She hunted around in her own methodical style, found it within a few minutes, and delivered that to hand.

We debated briefly about continuing on with the training, but both dogs had worked pretty hard in the morning, and they had just done some very successful birdwork practice. So we decided to stop for the day. That was obviously the right choice, as the skies chose just a few moments later to open up in a thunder-and-lightening downpour so hard that we couldn’t see as we drove away. So we pulled off the road and waited happily for the weather to clear.

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From Tooey:

I read Carlin’s post from yesterday, and it was pretty good, but he forgot one very important fact. We are in Montana now. And I have now gotten birds in Montana.

That means that I have gotten birds in eight states: Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and now Montana. Plus, don’t forget British Columbia. Carlin has only gotten birds in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. He has some catching up to do.

Now from Patrice:

Both dogs did a pretty good job today. Not perfect, but OK. Both had to be reminded to hold their birds. On her second and third tries, Tooey was finally steady at the water, waiting until sent to retrieve the birds. Both dogs found birds, but sometimes they had to be reminded to follow instructions while doing so. And Carlin ended the day by breaking, leaving my side for the retrieve before being sent. That ended our session and we marched Carlin back to the car — he has to learn that breaking ends all the fun right then and there.

But mostly I’m the one who needs to practice. I am still not quite seeing when Carlin’s body language changes. Richard and Russ both see when Carlin’s head goes up, indicating that he’s scented a bird, or when his nose is going down, indicating that he’s about to drop the bird he’s just picked up. But I’m not there yet.

For me it’s like learning to driving a car: there are so many little behaviors and observations that have to practiced over and over until one doesn’t have to think about it anymore. For example, here I am noticing that Carlin is almost too far out of gun range and trying to remember which whistle sound to use to call him back in, that I don’t quite notice Carlin’s sudden double-take, indicating that he’s scented a bird.

Watching Russ and other handlers over the years at spaniel hunt tests has made this whole field dance look much easier than it is.

But in this lovely place, it’s not all work and no play. After doing land and water work with both dogs, Richard and Laura generously lent us their kayak so that we can “kayak the dogs” in a nearby reservoir. Great exercise for all of us, especially those with “Water” as their middle name.



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We took another car ride today. We take lots of car rides. Today we drove out to a new place, and… Hey! I know those guys! That’s Richard and Laura! I’ve gone to their house lots of times. When I’m with those guys, I usually get to flush and retrieve birds!

Wild Horse

Carlin, Richard, Russ, Logan, and Laura

But I haven’t seen Richard in a month, and I haven’t gotten to practice out in a real field for a couple of weeks. I kind of forgot what I’m supposed to do when we’re out in a field. I did remember how to go back and forth across a field. When we got down to a grassy field down in a swale, I did that back and forth part really well. But it was so windy! I didn’t smell any birds down in that swale. But then Russ found a bird up above the swale, so Trice and I went to look at it, and oh boy! I wagged my tail and then pushed my nose onto that bird, and it flew away. Russ brought the bird down, and it landed back down in the swale.

I ran down, and I found it, and oh boy! look! I found it! Trice is saying something about “take it”, but I kind of forgot what that means. Everybody seems to be disappointed, but I am not sure why. So then, Richard threw a pigeon, and Russ shot it, but it fell down over a cliff. Am I supposed to go all the way down there?

So then Tooey came out. She is so smart. She’s done this lots of times, and she hasn’t forgotten what she’s supposed to do. So Russ took Tooey down into the same swale, and she found LOTS of birds. They must have gotten there after I left. But she found them, and flushed them, and mostly retrieved them. Hey! Maybe she’s not so smart. She forgot that she’s supposed to hold onto the bird all the way until she gets to Russ and then GIVE THE BIRD TO HIM. She wanted to keep the birds.

By then, it was hot. I was thirsty and just wanted to lie in the shade. So we left that field and went to a pond. Oh good! Swimming!

I did a really nice job at the pond. Birds flew out over the water, and Russ and Logan shot them for me. I leapt out into the water. I do really good leaps. So I leapt out into the water, and grabbed the bird, and brought it back to Trice. Well, almost. I dropped it once, and Richard put it back into my mouth. I forgot that I’m supposed to hold onto the birds. Sometimes the wet ones don’t taste good, so I forget to hold onto them. But after that first one, I did three more. I got a duck and some pigeons. And I did a really good job. Trice reminded me to hold the birds, so I remembered to bring them right to her. I was a good dog.

Tooey got to retrieve some birds out of the pond, too. She was also a good dog. But it was very hard for me to watch her go get the birds. I wanted get all the birds! I even got up out of my sit, and wow, was Richard not happy with that. He came over and put me back in my sit. You gotta watch that Richard. He doesn’t let you get away with anything.

Since I was nice and cool and wet, we went out into the field again, and I retrieved three birds. That first one took me a couple of tries. Trice said “take it”, and I ran out, but then I was confused about what I was supposed to do, so I came back to Trice. But then the next three birds, I did a really good job. Everybody said so. Russ even took pictures.


Carlin and chukar


Carlin comes back with chukar, even though he can’t see

Trice was so happy that we did a Happy Dog dance with that chukar. It was fun!


Trice and Carlin celebrate a good day of training

I hope we get to go do it again soon!

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Mostly I love car rides. You hop in, and just little while later, you hop out and run around and sniff things. Sometimes there are bunnies to chase or birds to retrieve, and there is almost always grass to eat. But I’ve got to say, it was a horribly long drive yesterday, just to end up in some motel. Montana, I think I heard Russ say. Montana. Something like that. Horribly long. And boring. Especially if you’re a a couple of dogs in a crate in the back of the car, like Carlin and me. Nothing to do, no where to go. Not much to sniff, except Russ’s snacks (which, I will admit, he did share. Eventually.) Boring. Even Carlin’s whining to get out got boring after a while. I told him to shut up, but he didn’t.

That whole one long day stuck in the car, we only got out at these crowded rest stops at the side of the road. Lots of cars, lots of people. Not much to sniff except other dogs’ poop. And way way too hot. Russ and Trice kept exclaiming about, “Now it’s 102! Can you believe it? Oh, now it’s plunging down to 99!” Also boring. So then we ended up at this motel. I’ve been to lots of motels going to dog shows. I don’t mind those. You get to jump from bed to bed, sleep on top of special sheets on the bed, and you get to go to new places to sniff and pee. Sometimes you can find the smell of rats near the dumpsters. Not totally boring, but not wonderful, either.

Today was better. Russ and Trice found this river, another one of those “M” words, something like Missouri. Once we got to Great Falls, Russ found a park at the at the quiet southwest end of The River’s Edge Trail, and we got to go swimming. My favorite thing ever!


Tooey and Carlin swimming in the Missouri at Great Falls, Montana

But we got to go swimming only for a little while because the thunder and lightning started up. I hate thunder. I keep telling it to shut up, too, but it never does.

So we got back in the car and drove downstream to Fort Benton, and got out after only a little while to have a picnic. Russ finally shared his snacks (roast pork, yum!), Trice gave us some cabbage (also yum!), and we got to look at the river again. They wouldn’t let us go swimming, but we got to look at it from up on a big rock, next to this dog that was looking at the river, too. Apparently his name was Shep, but he didn’t smell right, and he never did move, so I just ignored him. I told Carlin to ignore him, too. This time Carlin listened. For once.


Tooey, Carlin, and the statue of Shep

Back in the car again. Russ and Trice got some ice cream, which they did not share, and we drove off. We drove down the road for another hour or so. Boring. I took a nap. I think Carlin did, too.

I woke up when we crossed this noisy bridge over another river. I spotted some public access, so before we could get too far away, I sent Russ a mental image to turn around and go back. He listens to me, usually, and so he turned around and parked in this quiet spot along the Marias River. And we got to go swimming again!


Carlin and Tooey leaping into the Marias River

After a long swim on a hot day, we got back into the car and headed north, towards Havre. After a while, since I had drunk so much of the Marias River, I had to pee really bad. So I made them stop, and guess what? We were at another motel. This motel has a pool, which I have not talked Trice into letting me into yet. (She listens to me sometimes, but so far I have not gotten through.)

But even without that, I’m liking this Montana thing. Rivers to swim in, motel beds to sleep on. The only thing better would be if there were birds to find.

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Western Oregon doesn’t have many bogs. There are some cranberry bogs on the Pacific coast, and there are (or at least, were) bogs near the great Klamath Marsh in Central Oregon, from which a mummified body, named Peat Man, was unearthed during the winter of 1999.

But there aren’t the vast swaths of bog in Oregon as there are in Ireland, bogs where Irish Water Spaniels were used to hunt gamebirds and waterfowl, giving them the nickname “Bog Dogs”.

Then again, there are usually lots of small lakes and ponds in Oregon. But this spring, there just aren’t. They’re all dried or drying up.

Here’s one example: The Oregon bog you see my three IWS cavorting in (after a couple hours of field training) in the photo below is usually a shallow lake this time of year, not drying up until July.

Suavie Bog Dogs

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin sittin’ in the bog

This year, it’s just three inches of undried up water filling the spaces between aquatic plants, creating a not-very muddy, but very squishy bog.


Russ and the three curly brown bog dogs

Even though there wasn’t any water to practice water retrieves with, there was plenty of firm cover alongside the bog to work on land retrieves.

Carlin started us out with three retrieves, all in a line with one another, one at 125 yards, another at 100 yards, and a third at about 50 yards. The hope is that he would start to learn to judge distances.

He found and delivered the first mark just fine. Unsurprisingly, for the second mark, he lasered out to where the first mark had fallen, and was a bit puzzled not to find his bumper in the same spot. He widened his search, and found the second mark. Then for the third mark, he went out to where the first mark had landed, then to where the second mark had landed, and wow! — no bumper in either place. So he widened his search again, and found the third bumper.

Cooper went next, with exactly the same drill. For him, who know distances pretty well, the challenge was staying steady at the line. Russ had to persuade him to come back into place and sit before releasing him to the retrieve. By now, though, this is a familiar ritual in itself. Both Russ and Cooper know how that dance goes.

Tooey went last. Instead of retrieves, for her we planted a frozen chukar in deep cover, and sent her from about 60 yards away to go find it. After repeating that several times in different locations, we repeated the same exercise with the two boys (with Carlin’s distance shortened up to about 25 yards). All three did a very nice job, finding and delivering the rapidly defrosting bird.

So, work done, it was time to play, to go get wet and cool, dogs a’bogging.

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Yesterday I had my second lesson with the pro hunting dog trainer. In the evaluation session and his first lesson, Carlin showed  a lot of jumping-crazy-man enthusiasm for going out to the bird, especially when there was any kind of gun shot involved. But he couldn’t be trusted to bring the bird even half way back, and sometimes, once he’d gotten out to the bird, especially if it was not completely dead, he didn’t want to pick it up.

So, it’s time for him to be trained to pick up a bird, hold it, and keep it in his mouth until asked to drop it, no matter what.

There are so many methods of training a retrieve, and every teacher has his or her own way of teaching it. Basically, it seems like there are two extremes. On one extreme, there’s the force fetch using an electronic collar, ear pinch, or toe pinch. Look up “force fetch” on the web, and you’ll see what I mean. Both Cooper and Tooey were trained by pros using this method. It worked great for Cooper, but not so well for Tooey. Cooper was so enthused by retrieving, that any method that got him more retrieves was OK with him.

On the other hand, Tooey hated being forced, and she eventually just shut down. What got her back into retrieving was Russ’s turning it into a fun game that he and she played together as a team. And that’s a pretty good example of the other extreme. There there are many variations on rewarding the dog with things the dog values, such as food or play, when the dog succeeds at small increments of retrieve behavior. Look up Shirley Chong or Sue Ailsby and their methods for a trained retrieve — they are good examples of shaping a retrieve.

I choose good teachers usually, so I’m confident that which ever way they want me to use will work as long as they take the specific dog’s personality into consideration. But it’s very confusing to me when I have more than one teacher for a thing because each one wants me to do it their way, and those ways usually aren’t the same. I don’t think mixing methods really works.  So I am just going to stick with this one way to train a retrieve until I become convinced that it’s not working.

So, this is way we’re starting: put a frozen bird in Carlin’s mouth, insist he hold it there for some short period of time, and then ask him to drop it into my hand. Gravy this week is if he can hold the bird while walking or sitting (which he did a couple of times — yay!) We are actively putting the bird into Carlin’s mouth (rather than waiting and rewarding him for taking it on his own), but he also gets a reward he values, which is praise and getting to work with his person.

Russ took some video of our practice today. Here are several clips strung together:

You can see at the end of the video that Carlin didn’t want to quit — an excellent sign. We’ll keep practicing this week, and see where it lands us for our lesson next weekend.


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Cooper and Tooey are hunting dogs. So when it came time to choose our next dog, we knew we wanted another hunting dog.

But hunting dogs are not just born. Genetics and early learning do count, of course, but to get a reliable hunting partner, those are not enough. You have to train your dog. Although we’ve been playing at it for several months, we knew it was time to get serious, so we started in earnest with Carlin by visiting Richard Matzke of Tuxedo Kennels to see how he might help us.

First we started by just running Carlin around the grounds, getting used to the area, the scents of other dogs (oh, boy! dogs!), the bird pens, a horse (we’ll give that huge snorting animal a wide berth, shall we?), and new people (oh, yeah, hi, OK, you smell okay, can we go do something now?).

Carlin scaring up a pigeon

Carlin scaring up a pigeon

The first hour we spent out in a field of low cover, with Richard and I teasing Carlin with pigeons and planting pigeons, a chukar, and a quail for Carlin to find.


Carlin found the birds okay, and he was happy to chase them if they ran or flew, but once he cornered one, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He poked a couple, but if they didn’t run or fly, he lost interest. And in the case of the live duck, when it stopped running away and turned to face Carlin instead, Carlin figured discretion was the better part of valor, and ran off in the opposite direction.

That was sort of discouraging. But Richard said he saw something in the boy, and figured that we could come up with something that would turn on Carlin’s inner birddog.

And then he had an idea. We’d told him that Carlin had been out a couple of times retrieving birds that had been flung by wingers and that he’d been out once hunting alongside Tooey, so Richard suggested, let’s just try the real thing.

That worked.


What’s that guy doing out there?


Oh, he’s going to shoot the bird! Let me go! Let me go!


I got the bird! I got it!


I got a bi-ird! I got a bi-ird! Look at me! I got a bi-ird!

So the plan is that Carlin and I will go up every Saturday for a lesson. There is so much to learn when you’re trying to teach a dog.

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I took the three dogs out for an easy-does-it training day last Sunday. It was bright, sunny, and warm (weird for this time of year), at a new location for us. Mainly, I just wanted to see the grounds where some friends of mine train, and give the dogs a little time out running around.

Joan brought frozen ducks and a chukar to train with, plus a winger (essentially a giant sligshot) with which to fling the birds into the air.

We started with Joan’s dog, a Toller who has recently learned how wonderfully fun retrieving birds can be. Then Donna’s black Lab, Turbo, who several years got his Master Hunter title, is now retired, and just enjoying a bit of retrieving in the sunshine for the heck of it.

Then Cooper. You know, it’s a good thing we’ve stopped trying to train and compete in hunt tests with him. Despite the years of training, he is still as eager and as unsteady as he ever was as a young dog. It took quite a bit for me to get him into heel position and to stay there until I sent him for his birds. But, oh boy, did he love being out there retrieving. Such joy to do what he was meant to do, and if it meant being corrected and pulled back into heel position many times over, that’s OK. The retrieve is worth it.

Then Carlin got to do a couple of short retrieves. I am so glad that he’s happy to pick up and hold a duck. So many dogs hate the taste or texture of ducks, but not Carlin. I held him by the collar at my side while we watched the duck fly up into the air and then come down. As soon as the duck was launched, Carlin leapt up himself, eager to Go! Go now! Go right now! But I held unto his collar until is butt hit the ground in a sit, and then I sent him off to fetch his duck.

He went out and picked it up with no problem, then turned around to come back. About 3/4 of the way back, he decided that he really wanted to keep the duck to himself instead of bringing it to me, so he tried to swerve around me.

Carlin holding his duck - photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin holding his duck – photo by Joan Armstrong

Fortunately for me and his long-term hunting career, he was wearing a 40′ leash, called a long line, so when he started to veer off, I grab the end and pull him to me.

Carlin returning with duck -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Carlin returning with duck — photo by Joan Armstrong

I let him keep his duck for a few minutes, petting him and telling him “Good hold” as he held onto it. Then I said “Drop”, and he actually dipped his nose a bit and dropped the bird into my hand (which was ready and waiting right beneath the duck). He got in a couple more very good short retrieves. Good boy.

Then Miss Tooey. First she did a very workmanlike single retrieve with the chukar — out and back at deliberate speed. Then a lovely double retrieve with ducks. She doesn’t rush, she’s in no hurry at all, but she gets her birds and brings them back.

Tooey returning with the memory bird -- photo by Joan Armstrong

Tooey returning with the memory bird — photo by Joan Armstrong

After that, my friends had to leave, but they were happy to leave me with the birds, so I planted them out in some tall grass for Cooper to find and retrieve. I do believe he was in heaven doing that, and could have done it all day.

But we had to head home — laundry to do, dishes to wash, rugs to vacuum — all the usual excuses for not training longer on a lovely October day.

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Labor Day, 2014 is exactly 6 months since the Emmy x Harry litter hit the ground in Alaska. Because Carlin’s 6-month birth date coincided with a holiday, we had some free time to celebrate as only field dog owners might understand. Now that summer is beginning to hint of fall, we spent the morning with all three dogs at one of our favorite training grounds, St. Louis Ponds.

Carlin at 6 months

Carlin at 6 months

We started off with some tracking exercises. I laid a duck-scented trail through the grass, trees, blackberries, more grass and then left the duck (deceased) about a 100 yards from the point of origin. I then sent Cooper on a 50-yard blind retrieve to the start point, and then let him “hunt it up”. About a minute later he returned with the duck, as planned. It took an extra tutorial for Tooey to find it, and Carlin came along for the session as an intern.

Then it was time for retrieves. As this was Carlin’s first exposure to a duck, we let him watch the other dogs do their retrieves and then gave him the opportunity to pick it up and do a retrieve with a new taste and texture in his mouth.

Carlin gets his first taste of duck

Carlin gets his first taste of duck

And that is followed with a retrieve . . .

And that is followed with a retrieve . . .

Carlin has pieces of the work he’ll need to do as a hunting dog. He’s excited to go out and find the bird he’s marked, but he doesn’t always pick it up without encouragement. He’ll bring it back, but often he needs to be enticed by our running away from him. And when he does get the bird back, he drops it nearby rather than delivering to hand. But unlike many beginning dogs, he had no objection to picking up a duck, and he loves retrieving out of the water.

So then it was time to move on to the water.


Trice sends Tooey on a water retrieve, while Cooper honors. Carlin admires the photographer.

A variation of a triple retrieve

A variation of a triple retrieve

A family portrait was also made this morning, which was also an opportunity to practice “sit-stay”.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin

And of course, Trice photographed the photographer at work.Russ, Cooper, Tooey, Carlin


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Lately, I have been blessed (or cursed) with unrelenting work from my best clients. Working 7 days a week for the last couple of months has taken its toll. Memorial Day weekend was a 3-day break with a hunt test for Tooey. But other than that, I haven’t taken a break while producing hundreds of images for a shoe and sportswear company here in Oregon.

The real saints in this process have been the dogs. No field work, no vigorous exercise; just  watching me work. So today, the whole crew took off for a morning to play on Sauvie Island and its water.

This photo sums up what Tooey and Cooper thought getting out of the house and the simple pleasures of just being outdoors and being a dog.


Cooper and Tooey leap into the lake for the pure joy of swimming

Carlin, at 17 weeks, knows little about the activities that await him as an adult Irish Water Spaniel. He initially looked on with amazement, as Tooey and Cooper swam and retrieved non-stop.


So to get him into the game, we pulled out a puppy size retrieving duck, dragged it along the ground, and tossed it into the lake. At first, he was not sure what to do, but then his retriever gene kicked in, and that was all he needed.





Carlin looks like he will be a suitable water dog as he made his first delivery to hand (in exchange for cheese), and this was his first deep water swim as well.


Carlin, at 17 weeks, weighs in at 30 lbs. His potential as a field dog is showing through nicely.

With long swims for the adult dogs, and lots of running through the pastures practicing recalls, the dogs slept nicely on the way home. The case of cabin fever has been broken.

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I think I had one of those ah-ha moments. It was another one of those things that my teachers have told me, but which I hadn’t really started to understand for myself. The moment occurred last Tuesday, while I was practicing Obedience with Tooey, and it maybe explains why she refused to go into the water at the last hunt test of the season.

Taken from the AKC Obedience Regulations, amended January 1, 2012, page 73

Tooey and I have been working on the broad jump. The broad jump consists of four white telescoping hurdles, all about 8 inches wide. (See the diagram.)

We’ve been gradually adding hurdles — starting with her jumping over one hurdle and then two. On Tuesday, after several beautiful jumps over two hurdles, I added a third. I gave her the command to “Fly” over the hurdles, she trotted toward them as usual, really slowed down as she got closer, stopped when she got to them, put one front paw on the nearest hurdle, and looked up at me.

Her expression clearly said, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Just that one change, from two hurdles to three hurdles, was enough to stop and confuse her.

My teachers (and many of the books I’ve read) have all said that environment and context are as much a part of the correct execution of a behavior as the command or signal. That a command to “Sit” in the living room does not necessarily mean the same thing to the dog as a “Sit” in the backyard or at the park. You have to practice it many times in many situations until the dog “generalizes” the behavior, and understands that “Sit” means butt down no matter where you are, who else is around, and what else is happening.

Similarly, to Tooey, “Fly” over two hurdles is one thing; “Fly” over three hurdles is clearly something else. She understood the first, but not the second. So I went back to the beginning, throwing cookies over the three hurdles until Tooey was as happily flying over them as she had been over two.

So, what might this say about her performance at the hunt test last weekend?

Tooey had made it through the land series really well. She did her usual workmanlike job of going out and retrieving the ducks, and she did it with little of the hunting around that many of the other Junior dogs were doing. We were pleased and very excited. This meant that if Tooey also got her two ducks in the water series, she’d pass her 4th retriever Junior Hunter test, and would have her Junior Hunter title.

But when she and Russ got to the start line at the edge of a deep pond, she was clearly distracted and confused. She sat at Russ’s side, marked where the duck had fallen on the other side of the pond, heard Russ send her, but then wouldn’t get into the water. She looked up a Russ a couple of times, clearly confused. He sent her again, and she moved out along the bank for a few feet or so, and then came back to Russ. That was it — she was out.

Russ leashed her up, and we went home, without the pass or the title, and ourselves clearly confused as to what the problem could have been. Tooey loves the water. She has always loved the water. Getting into any kind of water has never been a problem. If we had been asked to predict what might fail Tooey in a hunt test, not getting into the water would never have occurred to either of us.

But on Tuesday night, maybe the problem was at least partially defined: A command in one environment is not necessarily the same as the same command in another, new environment.

We’ve practiced at all kinds of ponds and rivers — still water and moving water, deep swimming water and shallow running water, and steep banks and flat banks. But this test was set up at water unlike anywhere we’ve practiced. This was deep water with a 90 degree drop for a bank, just the pond’s edge with tall grass. At the line, the dog sat on the edge; take one step and the dog is in deep water, needing to swim right away. Nothing gradual about it.

Tooey doesn’t usually do the water-spaniel leap like Cooper does (see the banner photo at the top of the blog). She usually walks in, at least part of the way. But to get into the water at this test, there was nothing to walk on. So she was confused, just like she was on Tuesday with the hurdles. Her look up at me on Tuesday was just like her look up at Russ on Sunday: “What am I supposed to do now?”

That is exactly the question. But now, at least, having formulated a hypothesis as to what the problem might be, we can keep working on it, and see what happens next year.

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