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Posts Tagged ‘Irish Water Spaniel’

As Tooey has gotten older, her coat has become more woolly and difficult to comb through. So, I keep her coat mostly short. I pay for it if I don’t, and so does she.

And at the beginning of each summer, I clip her topknot and ears quite short–just a little longer than the rest of her coat. I know many IWS aficionados disapprove, but this is easier for me and for her.

And no matter how I groom her, Tooey is beautiful.

This time, I wondered if I should put her through the rigors of being clipped down. Every month since her cancer diagnosis in February, I have wondered if this month will be her last grooming, and maybe I should just comb her out and let her be in her long IWS coat.

But Tooey is still with us, it’s almost summer, and this weekend it’s going to be 100 degrees F. Not a time for a long coat. And who knows, Tooey could be with us for several more months.

So, I improvised. She can’t stand for very long. But as long as there were plenty of treats coming, she was happy to lie on her sides and be clipped. I scissored her front legs while she was lying down. I clipped the undersides and tops of her ear flaps while she was lying down. It was only when I needed to finish her head and ears that I needed her to sit up.

Which she did. I worked as quickly as I could and let her lie down for a rest when she needed to.

Finally we finished and she could lie down and recuperate, looking out at the sheep and the squirrels.

I think she’s beautiful in this short coat–it shows off her beautiful eyes. But to me, she has always been beautiful, no matter how she’s groomed, whether in full show coat or in ratty, thin post-puppy coat.

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Drawing not completely to scale, but close-ish

This social distancing thing is hard to take, for me anyway. I like to be around people. And one of the reasons I do dog sports, besides the joy of working with my dog, is to be around other people who also like to work with their dogs.

But now in this age of the COVID-19 virus, all the Scent Work trials I was entered in have been cancelled, and no one really wants (understandably) to get together to practice. I get that. But both Carlin and I can get a bit stir crazy if we don’t work on something. So today, I designed my second Detective search for us to try out.

The total area was just under 4000 square feet. Half of the search area was inside our “barn” (It used to be a barn 35 years ago), and the other half, outside in a carport, plus the lawn area just east of the building. I set out 9 hides (I didn’t write down which odors went where, but I used all 4 odors):

  1. (Main room) Under the top in the corner of one of three big folding tables shoved together. The tables had about 6 chairs around them, none of which obstructed the hide.
  2. (Main room) On the metal leg of an etching press, about 30″ above the ground. The space between the press and the wall was just wide enough for the dog to get into.
  3. (Bathroom) Behind the latch of a glass shower door, about 36″ high.
  4. (Garage) Under the foot pedal of the snow plow.
  5. (Garage) Above the top hinge of a door.
  6. (Carport) Under the pedestal of a column that holds up the carport roof.
  7. (Side yard) Under and behind a metal power box, maybe 40″ high.
  8. (Side yard) In a sand-filled Buried tub, next to a blank sand-filled tub.
  9. (Side yard) Pushed into the grass, so the top of the scent vessel was just under the level of the dirt.

The doors between the kitchen and garage, the hallway and bathroom, and the hallway and carport were left open during the search, as was that chain link gate. The front door and garage door were closed. All the windows were closed. The furnace was not turned on inside. Outside it was sunny, with no discernible breeze, and about 60 degrees F. I did not set out any distractions.

I use the barn pretty often to practice various things, so I really tried to find locations I haven’t used before. For example, there is a row of drawers and cabinets that line the hallway, but I left that area blank this time, as well as the kitchen, which has lots of shelves and cabinets that we’ve used a lot. I’m not sure why I got the idea to use Buried tubs, but we’ve been practicing Buried searches with sand, so I thought mixing it up this way would be interesting.

One thing that I’m noticing now that I didn’t do–I didn’t really create areas of converging odor, except for maybe kind of the two hides in the main room, which were almost the same height. I need to make sure to do that next time. I also didn’t do any threshold hides, which I should do, as Carlin often blasts right past those.

So, we started by coming into the front door (top of the diagram). Carlin took a pretty decisive right into the kitchen (we’ve done a lot of hides in there). He didn’t find anything right off the bat, so he took me into the garage. Hide #4 was tricky–he kept sniffing the opposite corner (to the right of the closed garage door). It looked like he was going to get stuck there, so I called him toward the center of the room, around the back of the snowplow, and he caught the odor. It took him a bit to decide that the odor was inside the snowplow and not underneath, but finally he called it.

Next he found #5. Back in that corner, there is a small furnace and a hot water heater. He spent quite a bit of time searching behind and around those, and then went to the opposite corner to sniff the shelves there. Then he came back along the wall toward the hide, lifted his head, and bam, there it was. He indicated, and when I asked him “Where?”, he lifted his whole body up toward the hinge. Good boy.

We went back out to the kitchen, where he took himself first on a clockwise, then a counter-clockwise circuit of the room. Deciding that nothing was there, he trotted down the hallway toward the bathroom, where he quickly found #3. Being near the back door, he wanted to go out that way, but I called him back in to search the main room. He searched the chairs and the table, and found #1 pretty quickly. (Those tables and chairs aren’t usually in that room, so that changed the picture quite a bit from usual.) #2 on the press was easy–in the past, we’ve hidden lots of hides on the press.

Then I had him search the cabinets in the hallway, which I think he did just to humor me. They were blank, and I think he knew that already.

So it was out the door to the carport, which had a big pickup truck parked in it. He did a wide sweep around the outside of the carport, sniffing the out-of-bounds grass and concrete. While out there, he did a head-snap, turned his body, and then found #6. He then took himself on a circle around the truck, decided nothing else was in the carport, and headed out and through the chain link gate.

We’ve used that yard many times before–there are a number of places I’ve hidden odor, and he checked all of those. But all those spots were blank. At that point, he notice the Buried boxes. That stopped him in his tracks for just a microsecond–we don’t normally have Buried boxes out while practicing Exterior hides. I think he was curious, so he went to check them out, and dang, if there wasn’t odor in #8.

#9 was just about 6 feet from #8, and also in a spot we haven’t used before. But he found that one almost immediately after finding #8.

The last one, #7, took him quite a while. I’m not sure why. He was sort of avoiding sniffing along that wall for some reason, so after a minute or so, I directed him down the wall. Once he went down the wall, passing #7, he turned himself around and searched back along the wall in the opposite direction. He caught something underneath the various power boxes (there are a several on that wall), so he took a moment to search each box. Finally he found it and sat.

I was ready to quit myself, but if this had been a real Detective search, we would have no guarantee that we had found all the hides. A judge can set ten hides, so there could have been one more. So, I told him to “find another one”. He casted around a bit, and then went back inside to #3 again and sat. Returning to a known hide is often his signal that he’s done. And he was right!

Carlin did some things today that I haven’t noticed him doing on his own consistently before.

  • In two cases, in the kitchen and along the outside wall with #7, he took himself in one direction and then in the other, without my asking him to.
  • He didn’t give up after four or five hides and tell me he was done. He kept going until he was satisfied he’d found everything.
  • He didn’t try to pick up nearly as many hides. If he had his way, he’d retrieve the hides and bring them to me (being a gun dog and having had so training in retrieving). He still tried to pick up a couple, but happily sat when I asked him to, before he got that far. I do try to place my hides and use vessels that make it hard to retrieve them. I keep hoping that this will interrupt that self-rewarding behavior and break the habit. Maybe it’s working.

It seems like it’s taken me much longer to describe all this than it took Carlin to find the hides. I really tried to pay attention to what he was doing, and less to whether he’d found hides or not. That’s a tough one for me. Hopefully writing this out will teach me something, even if I don’t quite know what it is just yet.

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I admit it. I’m like my dogs. I work for rewards.

Now, my rewards are different than my dogs’. Salmon jerky is all right, but it’s not enough to get me to go out and do one more practice, to set up another blind retrieve, to study Rally signs, or to travel to the spaniel club practice or scent work class.

I admit it’s shallow, but I like recognition. And I’ll work for it. Fortunately, my dogs will work for salmon jerky and dried liver, and they’ll mostly go along with whatever I need them to do to earn it. At some point, though, I usually forget the recognition thing, and mostly just do the work because it has become fun in and of itself.

But, there are those days. You know. Those days when the work just doesn’t sound that fun. When it’s too cold, or too hot, or the drive is too long, or you have to practice alone, or the equipment is just too hard to get out yet again. Those days, it’s the possibility of recognition that will get me out of my chair and working again.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin have all given me the opportunity for a lot of work, a lot of fun, and more than my share of rewards.

Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin just earned the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) Quintessential Versatility Award. A beautiful glass medallion is given by the club to all dogs who earn this award.

An IWS is awarded this by earning titles in 5 different AKC sports. For Carlin, these were:

As you can see, we’ve been working on this award for a while now. And I am thrilled that Carlin also has been recognized for his work ethic, talent, and enthusiasm.

And it gets better!

Carlin, to my total shock and surprise, won the club’s Top IWS Scent Work 2018 trophy. The trophy is given to the IWS with the most points earned in AKC Scent Work for the previous calendar year. The IWSCA determines the points, but basically, the dog earns a certain number of points for each Scent Work title earned, with more advanced titles earning more points.

I knew Carlin had done well. I knew he’d be right up there. But I had been convinced that another dog had earned the award. So when I opened the package sent by the IWSCA Awards Committee, I about fell down, huge smile on my face. Totally blown away, was the only way I could describe it. I’d spent some energy trying to just feel good for the winner and not let my disappointment that Carlin hadn’t won get me down.

But then we won! We won!

I still can’t quite believe it. It still makes me smile. But you know, Carlin doesn’t care. He just loves the work. And the fact that he loves it and begs me to do it with him–that’s often all the recognition I need.

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“Carlin Superstar”. It’s one thing to think that in your own head about your own dog. It’s an entirely different thing when someone else says those words aloud. Particularly when they’re said by someone in a position to know. And yesterday, that’s what the judge said as Carlin and I walked out of the area of his third Exteriors Advanced search.

Exteriors Advanced had been a tough search for most of the dogs. Only two qualified, and Carlin was the fastest of the two with a time of 43:08 seconds and no faults. In Russ’s video, you can see from the movement of the spectators’ hair and the movement of the little pink flags that there was a definite breeze. I think the wind must have been swirling around the corners and into the alcove of the building.

It was still morning, so not too hot, and the search area was still in the shade. We were the 5th team to run, so the odor had been in place for at least 1/2 hour if not longer. And the course was set up so that the start line was downwind of both hides, which I think helped.

You can also see from the video how eager he is to go. Carlin is always eager to go. Even on the last run of the last day of a multi-day trial, he pulls me to the start line. He loves this game, just about as much as he loves Spaniel Hunting Tests.

Russ also took a video of Carlin’s second Containers Advanced run. This search took place about an hour and a half after the Exteriors search. The air was warmer, the asphalt was warm but not too hot, and the breeze was still blowing. This start line was set at 90 degrees to the wind direction.

I’d hoped to start Carlin on the most downwind row of containers (the row opposite the judge), but he had his own ideas. And as it turned out, that worked out great. The timer clocked him at 35:07 second, again with no faults, for another 1st place. This run, being the third in which he qualified, also earned him his Scent Work Exteriors Advanced title.

The Great Salt Lake Dog Training Club offered only Exteriors and Containers at the Advanced level in their trials this weekend, so since we were there anyway, I took Carlin out for another Exteriors run. Unfortunately, the battery on Russ’s camera gave out, so I don’t have a video of that one. But Carlin did well again, at 1 minute, 05:19 seconds for a 2nd place.

That one took a little longer, I think, because there was this big round pillar that captured the scent of one hide and gave him the idea that there were actually two hides along the brick wall that formed the boundary of the second search. It took a while for me to decide that he’d found that hide already, and take him to the other side of the course along the downwind edge. He caught that scent as soon as we got downwind, and alerted to it right away.

Our last run of the day was his third Containers Advanced run. Same three-rows-of-five setup, similar location in the parking lot, and what looked to me like the exact same containers. (I think they must have had several copies of the same containers, some “hot” with scent and some not.) This time the start line was set up at the corner of the search area, directly downwind. He finished this search in 34:09 seconds, for a 1st place and his Scent Work Containers Advanced title.

Carlin starting his Containers Advanced search

“Here’s one!”

“Here’s another one!”

Carlin floats off the search area

Today was a good day for Team Carlin

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A sunny November day in Southwest Idaho is by definition a perfect day to go chasing pheasants with your dog. Today, Carlin was up for the task, so we headed to an area along the Payette River near the micro-town of New Plymouth. The area we hunted was along the flood plain of the river. It was laced with ponds, ditches, cattails, and other terrain that provides good cover for upland birds.

Carlin took about 20 minutes of covering ground when he got birdy. I watched him study an area of cover and then visually track something in the grasses. In he dove and out came a rooster pheasant.

Now one might assume that having observed Carlin’s behavior that I would have been ready with my gun. The bird came right at me and over my head, but I totally missed it with both shots. At least it got Carlin jazzed up about finding birds.

A short time later, he was out ahead of me walking a ditch line where he flushed up another rooster. This one didn’t have a chance, and I dropped it right back into the ditch. Carlin got his first water retrieve of the season with a gorgeous bird that will be on our dinner table within a day or two.

He was quite proud of the find and retrieve. He shows this pride by willing pose for the camera and waiting to hand off the bird until our short photo session was over.

2017-11-17-1

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We’ve lived in Boise for a year now (already!), but we still haven’t done much exploring of the state. So yesterday, we took the opportunity to drive through the countryside and meet some new dog folks.

The trip to Council, Idaho took just over 2.5 hours. Council isn’t quite that far from Boise, but Ann and Gary live about a few miles from there, all on gravel roads. We took the I-84 route for speed, but if we’d had the time, I’d have preferred the route through New Plymouth and Payette, as it’s just plain prettier than the interstate.

But we got there, and met the folks, their guests, and their myriad dogs, mostly a collection of Cesky Fousek (Chess-key Foe-sek). These dogs, also known in the USA as Bohemian Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, are a coarse-coated versatile hunting breed, developed in the Czech Republic. According to what we’ve read and people we’ve talked to, the Fouseks retrieve happily and love water, as well as point.

They certainly seem suited to Idaho, particularly with that wirehaired coat. Sure, they picked up a few seeds and cockle burrs as they roamed Ann and Gary’s property, but the debris just pulled right out, with very little effort.

Their dogs seemed just like descriptions of the breed that I’d read: friendly, happy, and very responsive to their people.

We brought Tooey and Carlin with us, and they, along with two Cesky Fousek and one Cairn Terrier, went for a nice long walk through the fields, into a pond, and then, to Tooey’s delight, to the Weiser River, where they all (except the Cairn) went swimming and retrieved sticks.

It was a great day. I know that because we were all tired when we got home, and ready for some hot tea and early bed. Of course, that was delayed for an hour or so, because unlike the Fouseks, the two IWS had to be brushed and combed to get all the debris out of their coats.

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Of all the things that can go wrong at a dog competition, I think the most painful must be handler error.

I’m not talking about disqualifying errors, like the guy I watched at a recent hunt, who sent his dog for the retrieve before the judges released him to do so. He had a great dog who could do the work, but the team was disqualified for that error.

I’m more talking about the errors in judgement, where, maybe, if you’d made a different choice, the outcome might have been success rather than failure.

Dog competitions are, for the most part, team sports. Both team members have to be on their game. And if one team member falters, the other one has to pick up the slack. And mostly, it’s on the human half to do the human thing — to think ahead and have a plan.

I’ve been on the successful side of this from time to time. For one example, Tooey and I were in what I hoped would be her third pass for her CD obedience title. I studied the course, and watched several other dogs run, and I saw the place where Tooey would likely falter. There were two about-turns in a row, and I thought she’d stay with me for the first, but lose me on the second. So I saved my second “Heel” command for that moment just as we came out of the second about-turn. I lost points for using the command, but it helped her remember what to do, and we passed.

But I’ve been on the fail side of it too. Like today’s Junior retriever hunt test with Carlin. Carlin had passed his 3rd Junior test yesterday, so if we’d passed today, he’d have gotten his Junior title. But due to series of errors, we didn’t.

The root problem is that I have not force-fetched Carlin. He and I have worked a lot on picking up birds. But I have never taught it to him in such a way that he believes he must pick up a bird whether he wants to or not. And by this weekend, I had been lulled into thinking that, since he’s been picking up birds pretty consistently for the last several weeks, that this would not be a problem today. Error in judgement #1.

I also, for some reason, did not do a good job myself of marking the spot where the bird fell. Carlin has always been an excellent marker, and I was relying on him to mark the fall of this bird for me. I knew sort of where it was, but not really. Error in judgement #2.

So when Carlin ran out the 100 yards, across a road, over a dike, and into the cover, and put his nose down, I assumed that he’d pick up a bird out of that spot. Error #3.

But then he lifted his head without the bird in his mouth. Not having marked the fall of the bird myself, I then assumed that he’d put his nose down into a spot where another dog’s bird had been, and would shortly go over to his own bird and pick it up. Error #4.

But Carlin didn’t pick up a bird. Instead, he began to hunt around in wider and wider circles. He stopped at one point, and stood looking at me. I’d been advised recently to just let my dog work it out and find his own bird, and besides, I didn’t exactly know where the bird was myself. So even if I’d tried to handle him to the bird, I would be handling just to be doing something.

Finally, when Carlin had gotten himself way out of the area of the fall, the judge suggested I try to handle him. So I tried. Carlin took the first handle, but not the rest of them, so he never did find his bird on his own. The judge told the gunner to throw the bird for Carlin again. He did, and Carlin picked up and delivered it smartly to me. But of course, by that time we’d failed.

So, this is what I think happened, based on what I saw and what observers told me. He really did mark the fall of his bird, and when he put his nose down, that actually was his bird. I should have, at the moment he put his nose down, given him an emphatic come-in whistle. I think that may have helped him decide to pick up his bird, even though he didn’t want to.

Having not done that, my next move would have been to give that whistle as soon as he lifted his head without the bird in his mouth. If that had been the spot where his bird was, then that might have helped him decide to pick it up. If his bird was actually somewhere else nearby, then that whistle might have told him that I knew the bird was close by and and that he should pick it up and come in.

Having not done that, then when he later stopped his hunt to look at me, I should have realized that he was asking for help. I knew he was between me and bird, so I could have just given him a back command. It would have cost us points, but it might have helped him. Of course, if I’d known where the bird was myself, I’d have known whether to give a left back command or a right back command, but I didn’t.

I can’t recall feeling this crushed in quite a long time. Carlin failed one of the hunt tests in McCall last month, but that wasn’t due to anything I did or could have done in that moment. That was a training issue, something to keep working on.

Today’s failure was more on me than on Carlin. Yes, it’s a training issue about picking up birds, but it’s also about my being the one that knows her teammate’s weaknesses and comes to the game ready to pick up the slack.

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Ms Tooey is good bird dog, but she has always been a good critter dog, too. Critters are anything that loosely fall into the rodent category, ranging from field mice to porcupines. It doesn’t matter if they live in trees or underground; all are fair game for her.

Patrice has even put a Barn Hunt title on this girl because of her distinct talent for ferreting out rodents (appropriate verb even if she isn’t a weasel).

Currently, our new home in Boise has enough tree squirrels to keep both Tooey and Carlin busy and vigilant. They spend several hours everyday laying in wait underneath a lilac bush as a brace of squirrel predators. This lilac bush is strategically placed next to one our neighbor’s sheep pens where corn and other feed is bait for squirrels. From their hideout, the pups can scan the fence line and trees for any incoming marauders.

So it was a bit unusual when Tooey started sniffing the dirt at the back fence last night. She would not leave one specific area and then started digging at the base of the fence. She even got Carlin interested, and the two of them alternated pounding on the fence with digging at the base. She was so persistent that we had to drag her inside last night, as she would not leave the fence line or respond to a verbal recall. We were puzzled because on the back side of the fence is a neighbors’ decorative fountain, with no indication of rodents, just the sound of trickling water.

This morning she made a bee-line to the spot and started digging again.

Our neighbor decided to check out a small space between his fountain and the fence with a flashlight. He subsequently retrieved a fermenting squirrel that, based on rigor mortis, had only been there for less than 24 hours. Fortunately, his discovery saved Tooey the burden of ripping off fence boards and digging a trench. (She was told to “leave it”, yet she persisted.)

As soon as the critter was disposed of, and Tooey confirmed that there was nothing of interest behind the fence, she returned to her post under the lilac.

Barn Huntress Most Excellent . . .

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As I left the master upland course on Day 1, a member of the gallery stepped up to whisper in my ear. “The rules require you to aim the gun. Don’t forget.”

And all of a sudden I realized that I had not aimed the gun the day before. When a dog flushes a bird, the handler in a master upland test is supposed to follow the flight of the bird with the muzzle of an unloaded gun and pretend to shoot the bird. The official gunners do the actual shooting, but the handler must create the most realistic picture possible for the dog to test his steadiness to flush and shot. And I forgot.

And then I realized that the nice lady reminding me of the rules was also one of the judges for the Day 2 test. I had darn well better remember. I could lose points for forgetting, especially after that reminder.

The flushing portion of 2nd test put on the by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers was pretty much the same as the first day. It was hot, perhaps even a touch hotter. The course was a long horseshoe shape. The breeze was squirreley and inconsistent. Carlin ran 4th.

He found birds much more quickly on this course. His first flush was a flyaway, a chukar that could not be shot because it flew over the following gallery of observers. I remembered to aim the gun, though. Carlin was steady out in the field, and then returned to me when I called. I gave him a drink of water, and sent him off for the next bird.

His second chukar was a trap. He tried to flush it. It hopped about a foot away. He tried to flush it again, but the bird wasn’t flying. So he grabbed it up and brought it to me.

So at this point, the judges had seen a couple bird-findings, one flush, and one steady to flush. They’d seen him deliver a bird to my hand. But they hadn’t seen him be steady to a shot and dropped bird. The could have had Carlin go out and find a third bird, and hope that it would flush into a position where it could be safely shot. But the morning was wearing on and getting hotter, and the light breeze was likely to push a flushed bird out over the gallery again. So they decided not to risk it.

The judges had me get Carlin into place next to me, facing off the course. One of the judges walked about 35 yards off the course and threw a live bird into the air. I reminded Carlin to sit, aimed my unloaded gun, and the judge threw the bird. The gunner shot the bird, and it fell. And Carlin sat.

Finally after seeing that Carlin was steady to shot and fall, the judge tapped my shoulder, and I sent Carlin on the retrieve.

He took a line to the bird, but went out too far. So I whistled him in a bit, and he winded it. That chukar he delivered to hand, too.

So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

This hunt dead was tougher than the previous day’s — it took Carlin 3 minutes and 40 seconds to find and return the bird. I sent him a few degrees downwind of where I thought the bird was located, but he decided to hook a left, go downwind even farther, and then go a bit too far out. I handled him back to an area more directly between me and the bird, and told him to go back, but then he went out too far again. I called him in a little bit, and he came too close to me. Argh!

I stopped him, took a breath, and then sent him back. Finally this time he caught wind of the chukar and found it. Later I was advised that perhaps it would have been better to do less handling and more waiting for him to find it on his own, but this was the first time in a long time that I’d seen him take so long to find a dead bird. Oh well. We passed the hunt dead, so it was on to the water.

Carlin’s water test was much less dramatic than the previous day’s. No running down the bank to find Russ, for one thing. When I sent him on the blind retrieve, he got right into the water, but then swam across the creek to where the previous day’s bird had been. Fortunately, he happily took my handle over to where this test’s bird was located. Again, he thought he had to get up onto the land to grab the bird just at the water’s edge, but that was OK.

His marked retrieve was excellent. I aimed the gun, the bird went up and splashed down, and Carlin was steady. The judge tapped me, I sent Carlin, and when I released him, he flew into the water. Mere moments later, the bird was in my hand. Carlin shook the water off his coat, and we left the area with a nice round of applause.

Carlin, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 27, 2017

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Russ had completed Carlin’s Master Hunter Upland title in Montana, so we decided that I would be the one to handle him (we hope) to his Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It would make a nice ending bookend, with my having started him out by putting his Junior Hunter Upland title on him back about 1-3/4 years ago.

Before the test started, I was nervous. I hadn’t handled him successfully in anything since his Rally Novice title last November. But I’d seen how well he’d done in Montana with finding birds, being steady, and retrieving to hand. So I hoped that if one of the team weren’t that experienced, the other member might be able to carry us through.

It was was hot at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. In May, it’s supposed to be at least somewhat cool, but not this year. It was forecast to get up to 86 degrees F, and Carlin is a hot dog. He got so hot in the 65 degree weather in Montana that we kept him mostly soaked the whole time he was running. And this test, put on by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, was no different. Fortunately, the club supplied tubs of water at the beginning of the course that handlers could use to cool their dogs.

You can see the start flags and the two judges in the photo above. Carlin and I were first in the running order. We walked to the start line, and chatted briefly with the judges. And then came the news that we would have to wait. Somehow, the judges hadn’t gotten their scoring books, and we had to wait while the club secretary quickly put them together.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, the judges had their books. They handed me the gun, and told me to send Carlin when I was ready. So I did, and he was off.

Carlin quartered the course beautifully. I whistled him a few times to turn or to come closer to me, but mostly he went back and forth across the course several times on his own. But he wasn’t finding any birds. That’s very odd. He usually finds birds as soon as there is one to find. It was only then that some in the following gallery realized that while we were waiting for the judges books to be put together, the planted chukars must have began to wake up to their surroundings and walk off the course.

Finally, about a quarter of the way down the very long, horse-shoe-shaped course, Carlin found and flushed his first bird.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was so busy goggling at Carlin flushing a bird that I forgot to whistle him to sit on the flush. Fortunately, like I said earlier, one-half the team had it together, and Carlin sat on his own. And he kept sitting while the chukar flew away over gallery, preventing a safe shot.

Carlin’s next bird (like most of the birds that morning) was a trap. It wouldn’t fly, so Carlin just grabbed it up on the run, kept going a few paces, and then turned and brought the bird to me.

Having seen Carlin find birds, flush one, be steady to wing and shot, and deliver two birds to hand, the judges told me that they had seen enough. So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

I don’t have any pictures of the rest of the test, unfortunately. But the hunt dead went well. Like all the other dogs, he went out and found the bird steward’s bag of birds first, so I had to give him an “Over” command to send him downwind a bit to catch the scent of the bird I wanted. But even with that, it took him all of 30 seconds to run out the 65 yards and bring back my dead bird.

The next portion was the water test. For master dogs, there are two parts to this. One is the blind water retrieve. In this case, a dead bird was hidden at the edge of the other side of the swollen creek, and Carlin was supposed to go get it.

This was nerve-wracking. Unbeknownst to me, about 15 yards upwind and down the shore on our side of the creek, Russ was helping out, hidden with a basket of birds, waiting to launch them out into the pond for the marked water retrieve. So what did Carlin do? Instead of jumping into the creek to go over to the other side to retrieve the hidden bird, he ran straight down shore to Russ. That’s not totally unreasonable, as there were hidden birds there. But it’s not the direction I sent him.

I whistled him back to me, but I had to be careful not to do anything even remotely resembling getting him back to my side. If I did that, and sent him again to the bird hidden across the creek, that would be a double send and we’d fail the test.

So when Carlin came back to me, I jumped sideways about 5 feet and told Carlin to go “Over” without waiting for him to stop. This is called a handle. A handle happens after a send at some distance from the dog, so it’s not a re-send. Fortunately, he decided to jump into the creek and swim over to other side.

He found the bird over there. Eventually. He could have found it right away if he’d just looked for it at the edge of the creek, where it was hidden in some tall grassy stuff. But no, he had to climb up onto the shore, clamber among the broken tree limbs and branches, and splash around in the flooded areas. I gave him another handle, he went to where I indicated, and found his by-now soggy chukar. Which, thankfully, he brought right back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

So now it was onto that last bird. Would he break, or would he be steady for the launch of the bird, the shot, and the splash in the water? The bird went up, the gun went off, and bird landed, and Carlin, bless him, sat while I waited for the judge to tap me.

But there was no tap. I could see out of the corner of my eye that the judge was too far away to tap me, so I gambled that by then, Carlin had demonstrated his steadiness, and I sent him.

photo by Dan Rotter

Carlin threw himself into the water with a dramatic leap, grabbed up the bird, and brought it back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

And we were done. I knew we’d passed the test. Now the only question was: were his scores high enough to qualify toward a Master Hunter Upland Advanced title? To earn that, he has to pass 5 master tests, each with an average of 8 out of 10 poimts overall in 5 categories being judged: hunting, bird finding, bird flushing, trained abilities, and retrieving.

Master Hunter Upland pass, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 26, 2017

Later, after all the scores were tabulated, we found that yes, Carlin had averaged just over 9 out of 10 for this test. So we were happy and tired, celebrated a bit with some other competitors from Idaho, and then crawled off the hotel room for a shower and bed.

We’d need our sleep if were were going to do the whole thing over the next day.

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To get an AKC Master Hunter Upland title, a dog must pass 5 master-level spaniel tests. By the end of 2016, Carlin had passed 4. So we loaded up the car, and trekked 450 miles to the headwaters of the Missouri River in Three Forks, Montana to see if we could get that 5th pass at the test put on by the Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club on Saturday, May 20th.

The setting was the Missouri Headwaters State Park where Lewis and Clark camped in 1805, at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers. With all those rivers, the grounds were flat and lush, covered with still-green, calf-high grasses and dotted with native shrubs, some low at 1 foot, some reaching 10 feet tall. This all provided dense cover, challenging dogs to find birds and obscuring those dogs from the the vision of their handlers and judges from time to time. Often, you could see bushes rustling, but not actually see the dog making them move.

Russ and Carlin started 5th in the Master test, after the Juniors and Seniors had already run. Even though snow had fallen only three days prior, the weather was warming up fast by the time of his run. We wanted to make a good show of it, as Carlin was the first Irish Water Spaniel most of the folks had ever seen, much less watch one run in a spaniel test.

Russ sent him off with a “Hunt it up!” Carlin quartered the field easily, stopping to circle and investigate the many clusters of shrubs. In pretty short order, he flushed a rooster pheasant on the right side of the course, which the gunner knocked down about 40 yards away. Carlin was steady to flush and shot, and when the judge tapped Russ’ shoulder, Russ said, “Take it!” Carlin ran to where he’d seen the bird fall, but the bird wasn’t there. We in the gallery saw the bird flutter another 10 yards away, with Carlin on its tail. He grabbed it up and delivered the live bird to hand.

One bird down, 4 to go.

The next bird was a chukar, which Carlin flushed up on the left. Once again, Carlin was steady to wing and shot. The gunner knocked that bird down into heavy cover, which proved no trouble for Carlin. He delivered that one to hand, too.

Two down, 3 to go.

This club decided to hold the hunt dead test immediately after a dog qualified in the flushing part of the test. So Russ and Carlin hid behind one of the shrubs while one of the judges placed the dead bird about 65 yards off the course in a patch of low bushy cover.

Russ lined Carlin up in the direction where the judges indicated that there was a hidden dead bird. Carlin started off in that direction, but then veered 30 degrees off to the left of the line into another area of dense cover, and started to hunt. Before Russ could whistle-sit Carlin in order to handle him back to the area where the dead bird had been hidden, Carlin flushed a duck out of the cover where he was hunting. Without even thinking, Russ blasted the whistle and Carlin slammed his butt to the ground. Every one watched the duck fly temptingly low over the hunt test course, while Carlin kept his butt on the ground. Every one was stunned. No one knew there was a duck there, except Carlin.

So then, Russ called him in about 15 yards, did another whistle-sit, and then with a right-hand back, spun Carlin around in the direction to the original dead bird. He picked the chukar up and promptly delivered it to hand.

With that done, the gallery broke into amazed applause. Flushing ducks is not usually part of the hunt dead. Three birds down, 2 to go.

For the water series, the test moved over to a slough near the Madison River, about a mile away from the land work. Working in the river might have been nice in the Fall, but this is Spring, and cold water was rushing too fast in the river.

The Master water blind retrieve went first. Only 4 dogs made it to that point. The 50-yard retrieve started on the bank of the slough, went across some water, across an island in the slough, across another channel, and up a steep rocky bank.

Russ lined Carlin up again and sent him. Carlin did a flashy launch into the water, swam to the island, and began to search the island for birds. Russ handled Carlin back over to the spot where he had first gotten onto the island, had him do a whistle-sit, and then a back. Whereupon, Carlin turned around, launched himself into the second channel, and swam straight to the spot just below the rooster pheasant. After picking up the rooster, he made the return trip in a straight line, and handed it over. Very clean. We are very grateful for our friend’s help and access to the quarry pond that we practiced in last week — the two scenarios turned out to be almost exactly the same (except the quarry pond blind retrieve was longer.)

Four birds down, 1 to go.

For the final test, a marked water retrieve, we moved farther down the slough. Juniors and then Seniors went first, which left us as the second-to-last dog to run. So many tests have been failed at this point, where the dog has done everything beautifully up to this point, but then breaks, going after the bird before being sent. And Carlin and all the Master dogs were getting amped. They couldn’t see anything, but they could hear the shots, splashes, and whistles.

When it was Carlin’s turn, he was definitely dancing at the bank, waiting to go get his bird. The judges said, “When your dog is ready, give us the signal, and we’ll call for the bird.” Russ took the leash off. Carlin parked his butt. Russ raised his gun, and signaled the judges that they were ready. The whole gallery at this point is thinking, “Sit! Sit! Sit!” No one wanted to see Carlin break.

The bird was thrown, the gun shot went off, and still Carlin sat. The just tapped Russ’s shoulder, and still Carlin sat. Russ waited three beats, and still Carlin sat.

Finally, finally, Russ said, “Take it!” and Carlin leapt into the water in true IWS style. He went straight out and straight back, and delivered the soggy chukar to hand.

Five birds down. Five Master qualifying passes. Realta’s Carlin O’Whistlestop RN MHU CA. With this pass, he’s the 4th and youngest IWS to earn this title.

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It was sunny when we got there, but threatening hail as we packed up to go. But in the hour and a half that we were at the quarry pond, after a somewhat rocky start, Carlin did his best to make us proud.

We started off with a 80-yard water mark that landed just up the bank in the dirt. Carlin leapt into the water from the pond shoreline, swam over there, went up on the land, and brought the bird right back toward Russ, only to drop it several times on the shore. Once at the shoreline. Once again behind Russ’s feet, and again at his side. Eventually he picked it up and delivered it, though.

Then as Russ and Carlin walked back off the line, our friend planted another bird very near where the mark had been. Russ lined Carlin up and sent him, and halleluia! Carlin went straight out. No veering off to the right as he has been prone to do. (We’ve been working on it in the yard, so maybe those drills clicked in today.)

Our friend then planted another blind, as Russ and Carlin again turned to walk away again. This one a touch farther away, on the shore of a different nook of the pond, 85-ish yards away, and only about 30 degrees off from the first blind.

Russ lined him up, waited till Carlin’s nose was pointed the right way, and then sent him. And Yay! for Carlin, he went straight again. No veering off this time either. No returning to the site of the first blind. And this time, he delivered the bird to hand with no goofing off. Such a nice job. Cheering was heard from both sides of the pond.

Then we put Carlin up while we threw a series of double marks for our friend’s dog and a couple of single marks for Tooey. (Tooey was in a mood to goof off, although she did finally retrieve the bumper both times.)

We’d gotten what we wanted and were packing up the car and chatting. We were up on a ridge, looking at another section of the pond when Russ said something like, “You know, that patch of cattails looks pretty interesting over there. Why don’t we try a long mark for Carlin.”

Now, I can be a worrier. Carlin had done such a nice job on his water blinds. I wanted to end on a success. I looked at that 150-yard distance out to the cattails, and worried that Carlin would fail. Friend said, “You’ll never know unless you try.”

So she waded out there (at one point, getting soaked up to mid-thigh), and got ready to throw a long mark for Carlin. You can kind of see her as a vertical black dot on an island in the upper right third of the photo below.

Russ signaled for the bird, it went up and then down for a splash in the water (and Carlin stayed at Russ’s side!). Russ sent him, and off Carlin went. He ran down the hill and across the flat, jumped into the water, crossed the channel, swam to the island where our friend was standing, and then located the bumper off the the right. That’s him just reaching the bumper in the photo below. You can see the wake he left on his way from the island to the bumper.

His going out was not perfectly straight to the bumper, but then, bless his heart, he came straight back. Water, land (you can see him coming back at the near edge of the peninsula in the photo below), water, land, up the hill…

…for a nice delivery to hand. More cheering was heard. Good boy!

We could see that the sky was getting darker and the storm was coming in fast. So we finished packing up quickly and left the quarry pond in a hurry. Just as we pulled out of the gate onto the highway, the rain and hail brought the clouds down and reminded us that it’s not summer yet.

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Let’s start with the good:

  • After this last Sunday’s hunt test was over, I was invited to come later this week to practice retriever work on some private land that actually has ponds on it. This is wonderful for two reasons:
    — I was invited. This means that perhaps I am losing my newcomer status a bit and slowly becoming part of a group.
    — The other reason is that Carlin and I get to practice retrieving in some water. Practice-able water is not easy to find around here – most ponds and rivers are on privately owned land, or they are on park land where dogs must be on leash and/or there are lots of kids and other dogs close by.
  • The judges and gallery were very kind.
  • I learned that somehow I have to accustom Carlin to duck decoys, which I realize now he’s never seen.
  • I brought a couple of dead pheasants home with me, which I gutted and then stuffed with insulating foam so I can use the birds for training.

Now to the not-so-good:

The hunt test went bad right from the start. We were out on the first bird (which for this test was pheasants). The first mark was about 75 yards into a pond just shallow enough for the dogs to run through. The pond was small, planted with five duck decoys at the right edge, and the starting line was about 30 yards back from the pond’s edge. A dog going straight through the pond to the bird would not encounter the decoys at all. A dog running around the pond would run right past them.

You can guess which dog I had. The one running around the pond. And when he got to the decoys, he stopped dead in his tracks. WHOA!!! WHAT IS THAT?!? Each decoy had to be thoroughly investigated.

I don’t know if you’ve seen other Irish Water Spaniels take a certain posture while checking out something potentially evil, but all of mine have done it. The dog stretches his neck w-a-a-a-y out in order to get the nose close-ish to the evil thing, while the body stretches as far away as possible. This is what Carlin did to every single one of those four decoys, one at a time.

And then, OMG!!! A breeze drifted over the water, and one of the decoys moved. Carlin jumped up and ran away several yards. At that point, he’d totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing out in that field, so he went into default spaniel mode, and started quartering. He got farther and farther away from the bird, and I could hear one of the judged shifting in his chair. So, I blew my whistle to stop Carlin.

He stopped, which is good. But then, when I tried to call him in just enough to get him away from the decoys, he ran the other way instead. Finally, the judge said, “Pick your dog up, and we’ll give him the live flyer.”

That mark went great. Carlin lined the bird, picked it up, and brought it back to hand.

I should have stopped right there.

Ordinarily, I’d have had to stop for the day because dogs that fail the 1st series don’t get called back to test in the 2nd series. But since there were so few entrants in the Junior test, the judge invited the dogs who had failed the 1st series to do the 2nd series anyway. I thought, well, I paid good money for this, I should take advantage of the opportunity.

Actually, I should have declined and let Carlin end on the success. The next two marks looked straightforward, and they were. Carlin lined each of them, ran straight to each bird (one through rather than around some swimming water), brought it back, and dropped it 6 feet away from me. He would not pick up either bird, just nosing and poking them on the ground. Aghhh! So embarrassing.

We’ve had this bird-dropping problem before at a retriever hunt test. Since he’s successfully picked up and delivered many a pheasant at spaniel hunt tests, we had thought the problem at retriever hunt tests was that the birds were ducks. But Sunday’s test used pheasants. So, now, I’m thinking that there is something about retriever hunt tests that bugs him.

Don’t know what the problem is, though. My retriever club has had several training days that were set up just like retriever hunt tests, with guns, birds, crowds of dogs, holding blinds, a marshall, and judges (but no decoys). And in all of the recent training days, Carlin has picked his birds (both ducks and pheasants) up and delivered them to hand.

So, what to do? For now, the lawn is strewn with Russ’s decoys and I’ll run some short marks past and through them in the yard until the decoys become no issue for him. And Carlin and I will go out to the property with water later this week, and put the decoys in there, too. And maybe when I’ve done that, some other bright idea will occur to me.

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We got Tooey some snow boots. When we go running around in the snow, the poor girl quickly gets these huge snow balls between her pads and between her toes, and she feels she must get the snow out right now. That means she’ll run 20 yards, stop and lie down to chew out the snow balls, run 20 more yards, stop again, etc., etc. No fun at all, especially since Mr. Carlin Hotfoot just runs and runs and runs in zigs and zags all around her.

So, boots. The ones we got fit her feet, but the front ones kept slipping down. We determined that the front boots needed to be taller and have another strap that would tie around above the carpal pad. So, Russ bought some matching ripstop, and I did some sewing.

Not quite as professional looking as the original boots, but they seem to work okay.

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Now she’s comfortable enough to zig in the show to Carlin’s zag.

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I think in the last several years, all the sewing I’ve done has been for the dogs. Dog rugs, holding blinds, snow boots. What’s next? Hmmm…. maybe some camo waterproof crate pads, like fellow IWS person, Ruth, makes.

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Idaho, our new home, has lots of opportunities for those who love being in the outdoors with their dogs. Which, of course, is one of the reasons we moved here.

Today Carlin and I drove south of Boise to an area along the Snake River for a day of pheasant hunting. Specifically we were there to meet Steve, who lives in nearby Nampa, Idaho. Our paths originally crossed at some Spaniel Hunt tests in Oregon last August, just when we were planning our move. At Steve’s invitation, we had the opportunity to hunt with him and his English Springer Spaniel, Storm, at this beautiful location in southwest Idaho.

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

The day started with some excitement when Storm flushed a rooster out from underneath a tree growing next to where we had just parked — while the guns were still in the car. A good sign. Then, as Steve and I started out into the first field with Carlin, we had barely started when another hunting group dropped a bird about 60 yards in front of Carlin. And of course their two dogs raced off for a retrieve. It was an effort, but I managed to get Carlin in and away from that bird and the competing dogs. We immediately moved over to another field with some very tall cover.

The grass was so tall that I lost sight of Carlin, but I did see a rooster fly up that he flushed. A quick shot dropped it back into the cover, out of my sight, but Carlin was on it and delivered it to hand. It took him more time to find me than the bird.

First bird of the day

First bird of the day

The heavy cover was a real effort for man and dog to bust through, so we gave Carlin a break and brought out Storm. A lot of hunting from that dog, but no birds. After she was spent, we gave Carlin another round that lasted less than 30 minutes. He slowed to a trot and was pretty much done hunting for the day.

Carlin heads into tall cover in front of Steve

Carlin heads towards the tall cover in front of Steve

So back into the car with the boy and another round for Storm. This dog was not be stopped, and so we went for another hour in all types of cover, but the only birds put up were a covey of quail. One shot each from both Steve and myself did not add any quail to tonight’s dinner.

We did however have a great day, in a new state, hunting with new friends. And will be enjoying Carlin’s second Idaho rooster for dinner tonight.

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