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Posts Tagged ‘Irish Water Spaniel’

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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