Posts Tagged ‘hunting dog grooming’

It’s been so hot. Today it’s a humid 90 degrees F, and yesterday was worse. I had been growing Tooey’s coat for possibly showing her in the Veterans class at IWSCOPS Specialty in a couple of weeks, but then various things happened, and I decided I couldn’t deal with two dogs at the specialty. So, we decided Tooey would stay home with Russ.

And then we got this spike in the heat, and Tooey was clearly not liking it one bit. She has the coat of a duck hunting dog: a thick under coat along with a thick outer coat. Sometimes she can jump into and out of the water, and still be dry at the skin. Great when you’re in 40 degree F water. Not so great when you’re in hot, humid air.

So, I cut it off.

Tooey in her Sports Dog cut

She really perked up after I was done, so I guess I did the right thing.

And actually, I think she’s beautiful this way. Perhaps it’s just that she’s beautiful. But also, this is how she’s looked on most of our hunting trips, where she really shines. All her skill and talent comes out when looking for and retrieving birds for just the two of us. She’s in her element, and she’s beautiful.

So when I look at her today, with her silvering coat clipped short, all I can think is, “God, what a beautiful dog.”


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Here is the summary of my 2015 trip to Montana with Carlin. It is easy to brag on my dogs all the time, and they mostly earn it. But on some occasions it is best to reveal some less than perfect outcomes with our pups.

Last week I trekked off to northern Montana to spend 3 days hunting wild birds with Carlin’s trainer, Richard, of Tuxedo Kennels. This is the same area where we spent a week in August training for hunt tests and hunting. But Carlin’s brain was somewhere else last week, and he was not the stellar bird dog that I was expecting. Here is the blow by blow report.

Northern Montana in late October can have all weather patterns. Being only 50 miles from the Canadian border and uninterrupted high plains, one can expect wind, snow, rain, sun, fog, hot or cold. However, after arriving in a light rain, I won the weather lottery for the next week. Lows in the 30s and highs of mid 60s under full sun. Absolutely perfect weather for hunting birds with a dog. The area where we hunted is dry land farming of wheat (food for birds), mixed with draws and drainages that provided the cover. Not only were these areas the home to a large population of pheasants and sharptail grouse, but also the home to a huge population of burrs that where lying in wait for Carlin.

Big Sky country where bird cover abuts agrigculture

Big Sky country where bird cover abuts agriculture

As reported in an earlier post, Carlin was brought to his knees early in the hunt by burrs of multiple types. After an hour, he was so covered with burrs that he would walk only 20 feet before having to lie down and yank burrs out. Rinse, lather, repeat. While birds were flying, Carlin was self grooming. And while this process was playing out, our hunting party put up a large pheasant rooster an 8th a mile away. As it flew in our direction, it met a with a perfect shot from Richard’s son, Garret, and fell about 30 feet from Carlin. Carlin interrupted his grooming to mark the bird. Retrieve number one.

But Carlin had another problem besides burrs. We were also using a couple of Richard’s dogs to cover the area, and those were females. Carlin’s brain had no capacity for looking for birds, so when he wasn’t pulling out burrs, he was totally preoccupied with tracking the females in the field. After a morning of no flushes, one retrieve, and bazillion burrs, Carlin got to spend the balance of the day in his crate while we continued to hunt. We spent that evening removing burrs.

The next day, it was again apparent the Carlin’s nose was focused on females and not birds. So while the main group of hunters moved to the other side of a large field of cattails, I stayed back with Carlin. As the group moved toward us, a covey of sharptail grouse flew out and generally in our direction. My hunting partner, Norm, managed to knock down 2 with his double gun, while another high flying grouse headed my way. I brought it down where it landed 20 feet behind me. Carlin took 4 quick steps and he had another retrieve.

As a group, we were bringing in a lot of amazing birds, a good mix of pheasants and grouse. But other than the one retrieve, Carlin was there to pull out burrs and chase girls.

The morning's collection of pheasant and grouse

The morning’s collection of pheasant and grouse

Carlin admiring the work of other dogs . . .

Carlin admiring the work of other dogs . . .

The third morning, as the rest of our our group was pushing through cover, Carlin and I waited in a field to block the escape route of any birds. Fortunately a sharptail grouse didn’t get the memo. It blew full speed away from the other dogs in our direction, where I dropped it just 30 feet away with an easy shot. Carlin zoomed unscathed through a barbed wire fence and did another delivery to hand.

A sharptail grouse on its way to my hand

A sharptail grouse on its way to my hand

After a morning hunt in some farm fields, we spent the last afternoon working some draws below a large reservoir. Because it was the perfect environment for burrs, Carlin got to sit that one out while we put lots of birds in the air and few more in our vests.

For our last push of the afternoon through pastures and a cattail patch, Carlin joined me but hung close to my heels. While he showed no interest in finding birds on his own, he was happy to retrieve the last bird of the trip.

Picking up a rooster in tall grass

Picking up a rooster in tall grass

Carlin returning a big Montana rooster

Carlin returning a big Montana rooster

Each night in the motel was a grooming session. By this time Carlin was learning to hide behind the air conditioner and the bed to avoid the scissors and combs. Can’t blame him as it is not pleasant to have burrs cut out everyday.

Even though he didn’t flush a single bird, and picked up only a few retrieves, most of his energy was dissipated walking with me and chasing girls. Add a few hours of grooming and he eventually got tired and had to sleep.

Sleeping 10-24-15

After a session of burr removal, sleep overcomes the boy

We got home early on Sunday, and after unpacking the car, Patrice and I found and cut out another 100 burrs. Maybe tomorrow’s bath with find and remove the rest.

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Well, Russ reported that the take today is one grouse, one giant rooster pheasant, and about 1000 burrs of at least 6 varieties. The photo below is out of focus, but you can see the lighter colored blobs all throughout his coat — each blob is a burr.


Apparently, after running though multiple patches of burrs, and then jumping into a beaver pond, Carlin managed to collect, and then weave into his coat, more than 1000 burrs, turning it into a single felted, tangled mass. Russ reported that Carlin collected so many burrs that after only an hour of hunting, he couldn’t really even trot more than 20 yards without stopping to try to pull burrs out of his legs.

Somehow, it didn’t cross my mind, before I sent the boys off on their hunting trip, that there would be burrs. It should have. I’ve been told about a Standard Poodle that came back covered in burrs. And there were always burrs in eastern Washington. I was just thinking that it was good that his coat would be long enough to keep him warm. And I was looking forward to showing him in January. Russ didn’t think of the burr problem, either.

But now we know. Carlin should have gone to Montana only after having his coat clipped down to no longer than 1/2″ of coat.

So, this evening, Russ has managed to cut the burrs out from Carlin’s armpits, his inner thighs, and his (formerly) lovely long ears and topknot. There was not nearly enough time or energy to try to work 1000 burrs (and this is no exaggeration) out of his coat. They have to be cut out, and there are many more to go before tomorrow morning, and a new day of hunting. Russ is going to try to scissor his coat short so that the additional burrs Carlin collects tomorrow and the next day can be easily removed.

I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for a patchwork boy upon their return. I have resolved already not to cry and to remember that there will always be another dog show. And that what we really wanted was a hunting dog, so now it’s time to treat him like one.

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While Ms. Tooey and I were on our road trip to Kansas for our 2014 pheasant quest, I received an email from the waterfowl conservation group, Ducks Unlimited. They were looking for a representative photograph of an Irish Water Spaniel to illustrate an article on waterfowl retrievers.

Normally, I would have access to thousands of images of IWS retrieving waterfowl, but I was sitting in a Motel 6 in Utah with only my laptop and limited bandwidth.

However, I had been making some images during our hunting trip, and so I forwarded a few from earlier in the week when Tooey and I were chasing roosters in Kansas. The photo editor for the Ducks Unlimited magazine replied that he could use one for the November/December issue of their magazine.

November - December issue of Ducks Unlimited

November – December issue of Ducks Unlimited

The photo appears in a little time-line history of retrievers.

Tooey, as published on page 54

Tooey, as published on page 54

It was cropped from one of the photos of Tooey scanning the horizon of western Kansas, looking for more pheasants to flush and retrieve.

Ms. Tooey, my most accomplished bird dog

Ms. Tooey, my most accomplished bird dog

Tooey has retrieved her share of ducks, and she really excels at flushing, marking, and retrieving pheasants. It pleases me again that Tooey is such a versatile and all-round Irish Water Spaniel.


Note from Patrice:

There are folks out there who will argue that the photo Russ sent to Ducks Unlimited is not representative of Irish Water Spaniels because Tooey’s topknot, a characteristic of the breed, is clipped short. When you look at many breeders’ websites or even the AKC website, you’ll see IWS with long, luxurious topknots and ears.

Tooey with both duck and traditional topknot

But in my experience, long topknots are just burr, bramble, and debris collectors. In fact, on several hunting trips, both Cooper and Tooey came back from a retrieve with their ears velcroed to their topknots by burrs and other sticky, brambly plants. So while they were still being shown in the conformation ring, we tied their topknots back.


Now we just clip them short.

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I have consolidated the last three days of our pheasant quest primarily because as we traveled west, internet connections became scarce, and so it would have been hard, if not impossible, to update this blog.

Day 9: Near Corinne, Utah

The agricultural fields sandwiched in between the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake allowed us a morning to look for some Utah pheasants not far from I-84. The rain had been persistent prior to our arrival and consequently the hay fields were still un-mowed (tall and thick). The wheat grass along the edges was tall, but gave the birds some space to move around. While the morning was clear and crisp, the cover was still wet. Not ideal, as birds generally don’t want to fly with wet feathers. (Go figure.) But as we moved up the rows of tall wheat grass, the dogs successfully put up a total of 9 birds.

Two things of note. My shooting was improving quite a bit, so no dramatic shots or retrieves were required. Dog flushes bird, Russ shoots bird, dog retrieves bird, next. But out over the hay fields, two birds did get up in front of Norm, where he made a couple of successful long shots. The deceased birds glided into heavy wet alfalfa, a hundred-plus yards away. Scarlett, who stands just below the height of the hay, quartered out in front of Norm, and found both birds.

So after a couple of hours we had 8 more birds to add to the cooler.

If you are a photographer such as myself, or a serious bird hunter, it is inadvisable to wield both a camera and shotgun for reasons of safety, aesthetics, and only having two hands. I carry a small camera in my upland vest while hunting, but only use it when the shotgun is down and safe, hence no action photos when I have a gun. As such, the following image is one I made while resting at the end of a field, looking back east at the Wasatch mountains to give an visual reference to the hunting conditions.

Norm and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

Norm (carrying both shotguns) and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

After cleaning the birds, we snagged a lunch at Mollies in Snowville, Utah and headed into Idaho for the night.

Day 10: East of Shoshone, Idaho

We spent the night in a ubiquitous Motel 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Then after a solid breakfast at a local place named Norm’s Cafe in Twin Falls, we headed north to Shoshone, then west on along the rail line until we found the Little Wood Ranch, which straddles the  Little Wood River. This was an area of hay and grain fields surrounded by sagebrush. Due the marvels of modern irrigation, when you mix water with Idaho desert soils, you get great farm land. (Yes, this is the source for your fried potatoes at McDonalds and Tater Tots from Ore-Ida foods, but I digress.) These fields held quite a few birds and due to the dogs’ week of daily hunting and our week of practice with our shotguns, the birds were easy to find, shoot, and retrieve.

While the hunting seemed like a slam-dunk pheasant shoot, it turned out to be a dunk only. Tooey followed a scent trail and disappeared into some tall cover next the the Little Wood River. I immediately knew this was not a good thing thing, because if Tooey finds water, she goes swimming for the sport of it. I quickly dropped my shotgun, ran to the river bank (a 4 foot drop), and saw Tooey swimming hard upstream but floating downstream in the swift current around the bend. This is not an image you want etched into your memory if this is the last you ever see of your dog. I ran a short distance downstream along the bank, and got Tooey to swim laterally until she could find some traction on bottom. She got to the edge, I lay down and grabbed her collar (and I have long arms) and pulled her up the bank.

Now with a wet (and happy) dog, I had to find my shotgun somewhere upstream. Dog, check. Shotgun, check. Okay, time to start hunting again. We crossed a small footbridge over the river and hunted a field on the north side. Norm shot a bird that glided into trees next to the river. (Oh Shit!! Not again.) Scarlett disappeared into the cover, and then into the water. But as providence would have it, the pheasant landed in a shallow eddy on this side of the river, and  Scarlett found an entry point that matched her 12″ height. Wet dog, wet pheasant delivered to hand. Heavy sigh.

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

The only other interesting note was that we bagged a couple of chukar in addition to the 8 pheasants. While this is a pretty location with birds, I am no longer inclined to hunt areas with swift moving rivers with steep banks.

A couple of hours to the west, we stopped to have dinner with a dog friend, Ryan, near Boise, Idaho. We met Ryan several years ago in Oregon where he was one of the founding members of the Lower Columbia Hunt Retriever Club. But his work took him, his family, and small fleet of Labrador Retrievers to Idaho. After a nice break catching up and having great Thai food (way off the Interstate), Norm and I headed back into Oregon and a night stop in Baker City.

Day 11: A great Oregon pheasant hunt

Back in our own state of Oregon, we wandered out north of Baker City to the Tucker Creek Ranch. Fortunately Tucker Creek, which runs through the heart of the ranch was about 2 feet wide and dry. But the fields and trees along the creek bed were ideal bird habitat. The weather was perfect, the landscape was eye candy, but the birds very elusive. Tooey put up two rooster pheasants that went into my hunting vest. Tooey put up a third rooster, but somehow my crack shooting and Norm’s long distance skills were no match, and it got off to live another day. Oh well. On our way back up the creek towards the car, a covey of about a dozen quail flew up out from the cover and upstream among the trees. But quail season does not open for another 5 days, so we just watched with delight as these birds reconvened into the cover (another reason to return to Tucker Creek).

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

As we poked around the stream bed, I frequently reminded Tooey to “go find the birds”, but in her excitement, she must have misheard me and instead thought I said, “go find the burrs”. Being a good dog, she complied and brought back plenty. In addition to the cockle burrs and the sand spurs, she added a new variety to her collection, Beggars Lice.

Tooey with the birds and burrs

Tooey with the birds and burrs

While we only came away with two birds today, it was the best hunting of the trip. The weather, topography, ranch owner were perfect. Maybe it’s an Oregon thing.

After nearly two weeks of Motel 6s, it was time to go home. We just packed the dogs, birds, and gear into the car and headed the last 300 miles home to Portland. Arrived dirty and dog tired. But happy.

Day 12: Dog Grooming

Even though an hour was spent last night grooming Tooey to get out the burrs and spurs acquired from Tucker Creek Ranch, another pass was required this morning before it was bath time. Trice will be returning from her vacation in a few hours, and Tooey will be clean, dry, curly, and smelling fresh when Trice walks in the door.

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

And so in the last 12 days:

  • 3000 miles driven
  • traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas (and back again!)
  • 47 birds delivered to hand (45 pheasants, 2 chukar)
  • weather included hot sun, tornado warnings, flash floods, thunder storms, driving rain, and blue skies. Everything but hail and snow.

Tooey has been a trooper; sleeping all night on the beds in Motel 6s, logging 3000 miles in her car crate, protecting me from thunder, and covering miles on the ground looking for birds.

She is a Champion in the show world. She also has her titles in Obedience and Rally, Retriever and Upland Hunt Tests. She has earned the AKC All-Around IWS award and has qualified for the Quintessential Versatility Award. She is also a Top Producer in that she has produced three champion show dogs (aka puppies) located in the the USA, Canada, and Australia. And she is (as of now) one of only 5 Irish Water Spaniels to have done all of the above.

And now for the drum roll . . .

I have no data to prove this, but of the other 4 IWS that can match Tooey for the number and variety of titles and accomplishments, I venture that none of the others has ever produced as many birds in as many states as Tooey. So far to date, she has found and delivered waterfowl and/or upland birds in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Idaho. (And next year’s plan includes the Dakotas and Canadian provinces!)

In my mind she is quite a Renaissance Dog. What’s not to love.


To be continued . . .

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Saturday evening we had guests coming, so Saturday morning I got busy brushing and combing the dogs. It always takes a while. Tooey gets mats behind her ears and between her toes, and Cooper’s coat collects a sample of every bit of vegetation he wanders through.

So by the time our guests arrived, the dogs were relatively neat, and our guests were mostly charmed. (Perhaps they got a little tired of Cooper’s frequent offers of a soggy tennis ball, and Tooey did her stand-offish bit for a while…)

Then Sunday morning, after our guests went off for the day, and it being an absolutely and uncharacteristically beautiful, warm, and dry October day, we decided to go field training.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey bringing Russ the bumper after a 100 yard retrieve

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Russ being very pleased with Tooey’s 100 yard retrieve through 2 foot cover

We had a lot of fun. We always do. We did walking singles and lining drills, and both dogs did pretty well.

The dogs also collected hundreds and hundreds, nay thousands, of seeds. The field was covered with 1 to 3 foot grass cover, all of it ripe and waiting for some force to come along and help distribute the seeds. My dogs were happy to be that force.

And distribute the seeds they did. I could have planted an entire meadow with the seeds my dogs collected, even with the dogs’ short field cuts. I pulled seeds out from between their toes, from under the eyelids (thank you Rod for your advice about checking the eyelids), and from around the ears (though none got into the ears, thank you Martyn for your advice on ear grooming).

Brushing didn’t get all the seeds out, so both dogs went into the bath, which got out a lot more of seeds, and then got blown dry, which got out almost all the rest of them.

So, I guess I could have (should have) waited until Sunday to do all that brushing and combing. The dogs probably would have liked that better. But the extra brushing didn’t hurt. And they’re clean now. For at least a while.

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I gave up trying to comb the mats out of Tooey’s legs and ears. So I just cut her coat off short.

I used a 3/4″ blade everywhere except her topknot and her front legs. Even the ears. Tooey was very patient. I’d like to think she’s more comfortable now, but who knows. I’m pretty sure she’s not unhappy. She still wags her tail at me and, suspecting she’ll be rewarded with liver, still happily hops up on the grooming table.

This cut worked out great for our Sunday training session. Tooey didn’t bring back nearly the amount of twigs and debris that Cooper caught up in his coat.

The reason for this is that Cooper (in the background) is wearing the Irish Water Spaniel show dog cut. Not that I’m going to show him any time soon. And I like the short cut on Cooper, too. It’s just that he’s just recently gone through this amazing bout of shedding. At his last bath, handfuls of coat came off. I’m afraid that if I cut his coat down, he’ll end up being naked.

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