Posts Tagged ‘Tuxedo Kennels’

Tomorrow, Carlin goes back to Richard’s. Carlin is very fond of Richard. Every day they get to do bird work out in the middle of west central Washington state.

This being a day off for me, we decided to get in one last training session before the boy leaves. So during this morning’s break in the weather, Russ and I took the dogs out to a local dog park to first chase around and “air out”, and then get some work done.

It’s not always straight-forward working in a dog park, even a huge one like the one we typically go to. Mostly because there are other dogs running around, some of which are curious about what we’re doing with bumpers and whistles. And then, of course, are the people who have just as much right to bring their dogs to the park as we do, but who seem oblivious to the idea that we might be continually moving farther away from them on purpose.

In any case, we finally did find a corridor on the other side of a graveled area, where we set up some sight blinds.

I set Carlin up next to me in heel position on his place board. Russ walked out about 50 yards and dropped a bumper into some 6-inch grass so that Carlin could see him drop it. Once Russ had returned, I told Carlin “Dead Bird”, and placed my hand next to his head and my left foot next to his place board, both pointing at the bumper.

With my “Back!”, Carlin took off. In most cases, he went straight out to the bird, but in one case, before reaching the bird, he left his line and started quartering back and forth instead. Not what we want with a blind retrieve. So, I called him back, Russ went out and re-dropped the bumper, and I sent Carlin out again.

This time he ran straight out, grabbed up the bumper, and returned with it to me. Yay! Remembering Richard’s advice to play, I started dancing around and celebrating with Carlin, finally throwing a fun bumper for him.

A great place to stop for the morning. As we left the park, the rains started falling again, seconding our motion to leave.

Update 3/15/2016: Carlin’s going back to Richard’s has been temporarily postponed.

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Carlin graduated from the Academy; got a bath, a close trim, and some good food; and now he has returned to Tuxedo Kennels for more hunting and hunt test training. What he learned at the Academy is essential to living in polite society. What he’s learning with Richard at Tuxedo Kennels is much more fun.

Here’s Carlin in a video Richard posted today on Facebook:

Richard noted that the video shows Carlin working on some fun memory drills without any pressure. The retrieve is about 90 yards, which Carlin does in a nice straight line. And even though he’s being a bouncy goofy boy, at the end of the retrieve, Carlin is still delivering his bird to hand, in a nice heel position, right next to Richard’s left foot.

I am so pleased to see Carlin enjoying himself and learning good birdwork at the same time. I can hardly wait to see him.


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It’s Friday now. We spent half of Wednesday and all of yesterday traveling home from Montana, along rivers and over mountain passes. If this hadn’t been fire season, it would have been a beautiful drive. As it was, the grey, dusty, smoke obscured the skies and the scenery in both Montana and Washington state. We drove past staging areas filled with people and fire-fighting gear, temporary road signs that said, “Fire ahead. DO NOT STOP”, and whole swaths of blackened ground and charred trees. It made me grateful for all these people and the work they do, protecting the wild areas that I love to use and enjoy.

So, having described Wednesday’s land work in my last post, now on to Wednesday’s water work…


The water was this lovely, large pond. We used the same area, marked on the map with a “3”, previously in the week. First Carlin and I watched two other dogs (including Tooey) do their water work. Then it was Carlin’s turn.

The gunners, standing back from the peninsula, were going to try to bring the bird down on the other side of the peninsula, so that Carlin would have a land-water-land-water mark. But, the duck actually landed in the water off the point. Unfortunately, Carlin was not steady this time — in other words, when the gun went off, he got up out of his sit. So I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him off the line and back over the dike that contains the pond. (Having watched the other dogs may have been too much distraction for him.)

We tried to use one of the other dogs as a “pick up” dog, but she wasn’t advanced enough in her training to retrieve a bird that she hadn’t seen fall. So, after a break, I brought Carlin back to the line to see if he could get it. I positioned the two of us facing the bird, but Carlin was busy looking around for a gunner rather than looking where I was facing. So at the same time that the gunner put a shot into the water near where the duck was floating, I took Carlin’s collar with my right hand, put my left hand pointing to the bird just to the right of his head, and gave him the hand signal that my obedience trainer is just starting to teach us. He pointed himself in the right direction, and I sent him off with a “take it!”

He did that whole 75-yard swim, directly at the bird. And then he picked it up, and swam directly back, dragging that heavy bird through the milfoil. He held the bird onto the land about half way to me, but then dropped it to shake. Sigh. I went over to him, put the duck back into his mouth, told him so sit, walked off about 8 paces, called him to me, and this time he delivered the duck to hand.

Ok, so one more time.

This time he was steady to shot, and so I sent him off. He swam, picked up the bird, brought it back, and again dropped it to shake when he got back to shore. I put it back into his mouth and told him “Hold”, but he spit it out. I put it back into his mouth again, told him “Hold” again, and he spit it out again. A third time, I put it back in his mouth, and this time also pushed my index finger up into the underside of his chin, lowered my voice an octave, and repeated “Hold”. For 10 very long seconds, I repeated “Good Hold” and he held it. Finally, I said “Drop”, and he put it in my hands.

“Good hold, Carlin. Good boy!” I said. He glanced at me, and wandered off aimlessly. The boy was tired. A full morning’s fieldwork, four 75-yard swims, on top of 4 solid days of training. But then I changed my voice to a song, “Really good, good boy. What a boy, good boy. You a good dog? You get a bird? You got your bird!! Good boy, good dog!” He looked back up, came back to me, and started to dance around trying to get the duck I still held in my hand. We played and I sang “What a good boy! What a good dog! Good boy, good dog.”

It was a good time to stop for the day. I didn’t really want to stop for the week because an opportunity to train like this is a rare luxury. But I could see that we were all tired and could use a lazy day at home. So we said goodbye to Richard and Laura, packed up, and took off west and south for home.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tooey and Carlin next to the stand of Russian Olive trees

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


Carlin in the pond


Tooey at the edge of the cattails

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

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

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

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


Flushed pheasant over the cattails


Flushed pheasant flies off

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

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

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

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

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

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It would be nice to think that practice makes perfect, but that’s just not true. Good practice, however, especially if it’s regular and frequent, can make much, much better.

The lack of regular and frequent has been my biggest handicap in training Carlin for fieldwork — I work a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 job, so my daylight time is very limited. And I don’t live anywhere close to training grounds with varied cover and ponds, where I can train my dog on birds. And I don’t have anyone to work with regularly, to help set up scenarios, tell me when I’m doing well or poorly, throw bumpers, and all the other parts of putting together a training session.

I do have pieces of what I need, though. Russ takes the dogs out in the morning to a large, closely mown field. He can work with them on their marking short retrieves using bumpers. I work them on heeling at home and on waiting for things they want, like meals and going out doors. When we have time, Russ and I will drive out on a weekend morning to a local training field, where lately the ponds have been all dried up. And on some Saturdays over the last several months (not during hunting season), I’ve been able to go up to Washington state and work with Richard.

This week I am enormously fortunate. Russ and I have been able to work three days in a row on some fabulous training grounds in Montana with Richard of Tuxedo Kennels. Tuxedo Kennels has facilities in both Washington (not during hunting season) and Montana (during hunting season), and through good fortune and my regular and frequent asking, we were invited to come train this week. (Actually, I think Richard just likes Carlin and wants him to do well, and I come along as part of that package.) Every day so far, Richard has set up hunting scenarios, provided birds, and most of all, provided timely, pertinent training for this newbie dog-handler team.

Today, things came together. Carlin heeled nicely out to the field. He quartered the field beautifully, and my handling flowed along with him. When he got too far or too wide, I noticed it in good time and called him back in. I actually saw when Carlin scented the bird, and sped up my pace to catch up with him. Carlin trapped all his birds this morning, so Richard threw the birds for him to retrieve. Carlin was steady until sent, retrieved the birds, and then brought them to hand in really close to heel position. It was a thing of beauty.


Richard pointing out the course while Carlin waits


Carlin bringing back the bird


Carlin delivering the bird to hand from heel position

And Carlin’s water work was equally as beautiful. He had a 65-yard swim across the pond to retrieve a duck that had landed into some tall grass on the shore. I think that’s the longest water retrieve he’s attempted, and about half way across, he popped (turned around and looked at me). I repeated his “Take it” command, and he turned back toward the duck, got to shore, hunted around a bit, found it, and got a nice firm grip on the body of the duck. He swam almost straight back to me, got into near-heel position, and delivered the duck.

With all the challenges of this scenario, everyone watching was amazed. Carlin has a hard time being steady at the water, but this time he was mostly steady, just lifting his butt about an inch off the ground. He had a long swim back and forth through milfoil weeds in the water. The duck’s location in the grass on the shore was not immediately obvious, but Carlin was persistent in his hunt. When he found it, he brought it directly back and delivered it beautifully at my side.

I had my part, too, which I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. When he popped, I stepped forward, raised my arm, and repeated his “take it” command. When he was coming back, it appeared that he might come back a little off the straight line back, so I stepped sideways to redirect his gaze to the right spot. And I reminded him to hold his bird just before he got to the spot where he was most likely to drop it.


Carlin at the line; Laura playing judge


Carlin swimming through the milfoil weeds


Carlin searching for the duck


Re-entering the water for the swim back


Swimming back with the duck


Holding the duck

We were a team today, and it was beautiful.

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From Tooey:

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

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

Now from Patrice:

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

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

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

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

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



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