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Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Ponds’

Russ, Cooper, Tooey, and I were just finishing the land portion of our field training at St. Louis Ponds, when who should drive up but some of our “exotic” hunt training friends.

There was not a Labrador Retriever among them (hence, the “exotic” label). Hank and Holly brought their Master Hunter-level Poodle, Laney, and their 17-week-old Poodle puppy, Taura. Dave and Liz brought their Poodle, Maxie, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Bugsie. So after some happy conversation, both among the canines and the humans, we all walked over to one of the ponds to set up some water work.

Patrice, Maxie, Bugsie, Dave, Taura, and Liz
photo by Holly Thau

We did doubles and singles in the water for the experienced dogs, as well as several blind retrieves for Laney. Laney’s blinds were pretty long — giving her a nice water workout. She also had one very long blind that required her to pass by a bumper on the shore and keep swimming toward the bumper she had been directed to. Good girl!

Bugsie also needed work on entering the water at a narrow angle — a task often required for Senior Hunter (ACK) or Seasoned Hunter (HRC) levels of work. It can be a challenge to persuade a dog to go straight out to the mark at a narrow angle to the land. Often, they want to first run along the bank and then take a wider angle into the water. Cooper has this issue, too, but we didn’t practice it today.

The puppy Taura got to work on some short retrieves into the water — I think she entered into the water channeling her inner Irish Water Spaniel — no hesitation, just an all-out leap. She even brought the dummy back to within a few steps of her handler.

Tooey did very nicely on her water retrieves. She dropped the dummy only once and she delivered each one to hand. She did get somewhat turned around on one mark, and that was as a result of Cooper’s behavior.

Cooper had been acceptably honoring the other dog’s work. This is still really, really difficult for him. Russ had to remind him to stay down from time to time, and Cooper quivered the whole while, but he managed to remain in place.

But after watching all the other dogs go, Cooper’s seeing Tooey leap into the water after her mark was just too much for him to bear. He broke, got corrected, and yelped at the correction. The yelp threw Tooey off, and she started swimming away with the bumper instead of returning to me.

I whistled and called her. She swam away and then in circles. I whistled and called some more. After another moment, she came to her senses, and returned to me. But this was odd — in coming back, she went wide around the area of water where she had been when Cooper yelped.

It wasn’t a wonderful water retrieve, but that yelp made it a challenging one. I didn’t like the swimming-away behavior, but Tooey did come back and she did deliver the dummy to hand under these challenging circumstances. She got a piece of the coveted dried chicken for that.

And then, Cooper had another turn at a water retrieve. Even with the recent correction, he had no hesitation. His leap into the water was every bit as dramatic as the one shown on this blog masthead.

With that, we were all wet, happy, tired, and out of time. Time to stop, and go home.

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Cooper is a versatile boy. I have tried teach him how to make espresso coffee, but he is limited to drip only. Cinematography might be a new venue for his talents. I recently built a new collar out of steel and neoprene that is a camera mount for the GoProHD video camera.

In the video that follows, I felt it necessary to slow it down to half speed because Cooper’s motion is so quick, that the visual shakes would be too disturbing to watch at regular speed. Even then, when he shakes off the water, be prepared for some visual disturbances.

Cooper wearing his stylish GoProHD video camera

We spent this morning at St. Louis Ponds with the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club at their monthly club training day. After a few drills, I stepped over to one of the ponds with Cooper and his new camera to record a bit of video. In fact, it is the very same pond that is in the photo at the top of blog, the one with Cooper leaping into the water.

Patrice and Tooey are away this weekend in Canada at a Retriever workshop on Vancouver Island, so us boys are staying home and doing boy things with our toys. Over time I will adjust or modify the collar to help stabilize the image a bit. But I think Cooper has a future in producing some bird hunting videos.

Now if I can get him to perfect those espressos . . . .

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It’s a big jump from Junior Hunter level tests to Senior Hunter level. It’s true that both levels include “marks” — the dogs watch (mark) ducks fall from the sky, and then retrieve them.

At the Junior level, the dog marks one duck fall, retrieves it, then marks the 2nd duck fall, and then retrieves that one. But in the Senior test, the dog is expected to mark two ducks fall, retrieve one (the “go” bird) and bring it back to the handler, and then go out and get the second one (the “memory” bird).

A second major difference is the “blind retrieve.” In that case, the handler knows where the bird is, but the dog doesn’t see it fall. So the handler has to send the dog out to the bird, using whistle and hand signals to tell the dog where to go.

A third major difference, especially crucial for high-energy, high-drive dogs like Cooper, is that all this work is done without any collar or leash. That’s not so important while the dog is actually retrieving, but it can be critical when the dog is walking to the start line and waiting at the line for the command to retrieve. The dog has to be under control, and the handler has nothing but his voice, whistle, and hand signals to control the dog.

This ties into the fourth major difference: the honor. This is where the dog who has just completed his set of retrieves sits and watches the next dog work. This is so hard for a dog with desire to work or with a competitive spirit, like Cooper. Not being able to do the honor was Cooper’s undoing at his WCX test last October.

So here are some videos of Russ and Cooper’s 1st Senior Hunt test. The land series was first, with a 75 yard go bird, a 60 yard memory bird, and a 50 yard blind retrieve. It’s hard to tell from the video, but the land had both reasonably dense cover and shallow bogs, so the dog had hunt in cover and cross shallow water both coming and going.

Cooper got all three birds and passed the land series. He actually did better than quite a few of the other dogs out there, going right out to the marked birds and back, with a minimum of hunting around. He succeeded at the blind with only four “handles,” and best of all, he was under control going to the line, during the honor, and leaving the line. All this allowed him to participate in the water series.

The water series included a 75 yd go bird, with the dog entering diagonally to the bank (hard for a lot of dogs), a 50 yd memory bird, and then a 70 yard blind. What made this series interesting was that the judges wanted the dogs to go back into the holding blind, carrying their second bird, and there deliver it to the handler. That is an unusual scenario, one that Cooper has not practiced.

He got both his marks: the go bird was a nice straight-out-and back. The memory bird was a little squirrelly, but okay. The 70 yd water blind is longer than Cooper has practiced — in fact, he hasn’t practiced any water work since last October. So, wasn’t entirely sure what he was searching for, or how far away it was. He came upon three sticks in the water, and grabbed each one with the idea that this might be what Russ wanted him to get. But at each stick, Russ signaled another “Back!” telling Cooper to keep going. Finally, he got to the duck, picked it up, and brought it back.

Last weekend, Cooper did a great job being a spaniel, flushing up birds. Today, he was a stellar retriever. Team Cooper passed their first Senior Hunt test and got the orange ribbon. Cooper needs to do that only three more times, and then we’ll be able to add SH (Senior Hunter) to his list of titles.

Russ, Senior Test ribbon, and Cooper

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It has been a dry couple of months for Cooper, with only land training since duck season closed at the end of January. Finally, temperatures are getting above 50 (it was in the 20s just 10 days ago), so it is suitable for water training.

Today, Cooper was looking photogenic in the sun and pretty proud of himself with a duck. So I made yet another photo of my boy.

Water training is really important, even when the dog has a solid retrieve on land. Dogs don’t generalize well, so just because he knows how to do something in one environment, doesn’t mean he’ll know to do the same thing in another environment.

For water retrieves, the dog has to be willing to jump into the water (even when cold or slimy), retrieve the duck, and swim back to the handler with it. Cooper has had water work before, so the basic concept is not completely new to him.

Tooey’s a different story. She loves the water and loves to swim, but she hasn’t had the discipline of having to go out into the water, retrieve, and come back consistently.

So in just a couple of days she’s going off to California (where it’s sunny and warm) with Butch to do some daily water work. All this in preparation for her first hunt test in just under a month.

We will miss seeing our girl every weekend, but it’ll be good experience for her.

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Cooper has some big hunt tests in the next two weeks, so we will take every opportunity to train. Today, we met up his Poodle buddies, Laney and Trip, at St. Louis Ponds, south of Portland. The weather was perfect for an Irish Water Spaniel: overcast, cool, with intermittent cloud bursts. The ponds were over-full, the fields were marshes, and the need to retrieve was high.

Laney and Trip are both experienced and hunt-titled Standard Poodles (both are Tudorose Poodles, known for hunting performance). Laney is the elegant gray female, and Trip is a large black male who has at least 10 pounds on Cooper.

One of the differentiations between Cooper and these Poodles was their water entries.  Because the ponds had great clean banks, Cooper had the opportunity to practice his splashy dock-diving entrances. (See the masthead photo at the top of the blog showing Cooper entering a pond at this same training ground.) On the other hand, Laney and Trip slid into the water and swam out to the bumper leaving virtually no wake. The photo below reveals that after multiple water retrieves, both Poodles are dry from the neck up, and Cooper is totally soaked. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Laney, Cooper, and Trip

Quote of the day from Cooper, “Put down the camera and just throw the bumper!”

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I was surfing around the web, looking for some directions to the St. Louis Ponds, and came across this:

Eugene Register-Guard, July 25, 1986, pg 2B

It’s a great place to train. I’ve heard that the tests held there are notoriously difficult, though I can’t say from my own experience.

I like the way they lump “all retriever breeds” together, and single out the Irish Water Spaniels. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for that, but regardless, I like the way it sounds.

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We are two weeks away from Cooper’s first hunt test and keeping him tuned on water marks was today’s goal. So we loaded Cooper and Tooey up in the car and headed south to the dog training area at St. Louis Ponds. This Easter morning was quiet and overcast with a few inches of recent spring rain flooding the ponds, the surrounding fields, and even the parking lot.

Open the car doors and “release the hounds” (or spaniels, as the case may be). The fields around the ponds were fairly flooded which only made things fun for the water dogs. One look at the marsh and they became the essence of water dogs, running and jumping for the pure joy of being a curly brown dog in water. In a hunt test, this would be called “running water” as opposed to “swimming water.” To Cooper and Tooey, these boggy conditions were perfect.

And then things got even more perfect. After the dogs “aired” themselves, we all headed over to one of the ponds. Patrice placed herself on one side of the pond, while Cooper, Tooey, and I went to the far side. Patrice threw single marks into the pond, and both Cooper and Tooey took off for the same mark. Cooper, by the virtue of experience, drive, and age, out-swam Tooey to the mark and returned with the bumper as planned. Tooey on the other hand, decided to paddle around the pond waiting for another bumper launch.

With each bumper, Cooper still reached it first. Tooey just continued to cruise around like a coast guard cutter rather than return to land. After a half dozen water retrieves, Patrice, Cooper and I headed off for some land marks. Seeing us leave the pond finally encouraged Tooey to return to land, dripping and happy.

Over the next two weeks I will be concentrating on training skills specifically that relate to the hunt tests for Started (UKC) and Junior (AKC), which are single marks, both on land and water. Even though Cooper is now a competent marker, an actual hunt test could flip the switch in his brain so that he just ignores me, flouts the hunt test rules, and humbles me in public. He is very good at what he does, but the wires in his brain are not yet screwed down tight and are prone to coming loose and crossing circuits when he gets excited. We shall see. But for now, all that matters is that today was wet, wet, wet.

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