Sunday, September 28, 2008

Devon's first triple

I now have more confidence about this WCX test in a couple of weeks. Janet called last night and wanted to know if I wanted to field train today. Oh yes I did! We got together and just worked Zoe and Devon since Archie is recovering from a UTI (poor guy). Zoe came right out and nailed her triple, and I was really impressed. Wanting to do that, but knowing better, I decided to do three singles first with bumpers, then try the triple with pigeons. Janet made me feel better when she said they'd been practicing that way for a couple of sessions.

Building the triple with the singles went fine. However, when the we did the triple, the third bird down was nearly invisible when it came down and the gun didn't go off. It was a black pigeon against the dark trees and without a gun, I knew Devon didn't see the mark, since I only glimpsed it hitting the ground because I knew were it was supposed to land. I sent Devon anyway, and in spite of help, she couldn't find it and switched to the middle mark. Steve couldn't find it either, and he really had to hunt! I accepted the switch, and sent her to the outside mark, which she got after all that hunting on the first mark. We re-threw the first mark and she did get it as a single.

I put her away successful, and we made sure we didn't use that dark pigeon on that mark again! After Zoe had another very successful turn, Devon came out again. This time, I tried the triple cold since she'd already been to the marks twice. The last bird down, the go bird, was a white pigeon! Oh yeah, she saw this one! Out she went and nailed the mark. I called her back in, lined up for the outside bird, the first mark down. She was just off the line, but a quick hunt and she nailed it. Now for the 85-90 yard long mark. I lined her up, asked her "Where?" and sent her. She lined it and put her two front feet on it! I danced around at the start line and waved my hands in the air, completely forgetting I had the second pigeon still in my hand!

After that great success, we went across the street and did a water double. We built Devon's with two singles using dokens, then did the double with ducks. She struggled on the memory bird, which was on land, wanting to go right to the gunner then past him to near the first fall. However, she went back and found her duck. She did the same thing when this mark was a single, so I think she was just struggling to mark it and both times she got out of the water to the right of the fall and kept going right. Her line swimming out was pretty good, though, so it was odd that she struggled.

We ended there. I'm not really worried about the double on water, and I can have Dad come to the water and help me with that next week. I was thrilled with the triple! Before we even started running the marks, I set up bumpers in Devon's two permanent blinds and ran them. The older one she ran cold and got two bumpers. Then new one I taught last week I re-taught to her, then ran it two more times. After that, I returned to the first permanent blind and ran it one more time on a new line. She was perfect. 

Now Devon can barely keep her eyes open. She was curled up in her drying off towel in the van dozing as we talked. She came home and crashed and even curled up on my lap completely sacked out for a while. I had to pull myself out from under her to move. She's now sound asleep on the daybed. She can have the rest of the evening to sleep -- she deserves it!

Sunday's agility session

Ok, maybe the teeter issue yesterday was a little of both types (not understanding and refusal to want to play). I think I did present something new by going to the teeter, especially the end of the board, and asking her to walk the whole board. She has been scooting up on the board around the end of the yellow on the down side (going on halfway up the down side). I've been worried about her getting a failure to perform call because both the up and down are judged on the teeter, so I had been presenting her with something different. 

This morning she didn't want to do the teeter, so out came the leash again. I'm very neutral, in fact more positive than neutral about the leash. She hopped off a couple of times with the leash, then compiled and did the teeter three times with dog on left and then easily with dog on right three times. I was overly enthusiastic about my praise and cookie giving with each success. Then we stopped! I think I'll also take the pressure off doing the whole board for a while. I'll take success as getting on, tipping and walking down!

We worked weaves, and she's driving to them and checking her speed to get into them. They are out 4 inches, so I'll shut them down to 3 inches tomorrow. She's not super speedy, but I can tell she's working on foot work and she's thinking. 

After the weaves, I did two jump work. We started this yesterday, and she struggled with the lead out to the second jump; understandably because this was the first day. So I made it easier for her and added in motion between the first and second jump to get into the position she needed. This worked wonders, because today she was confident and nailed every one of her two jump lead out positions without the help of motion.

Devon is definitely a jumpers dog (sigh, just like Ian). She likes the A frame and is fine on the dogwalk. I have a feeling she'll do fine with the weaves. It's that blasted teeter that will be our problem obstacle for a while. There are two upsides, though: 1) if I have the patience to work with Ian and get him to the levels he's achieved, I'll have no problems with Devon; and 2) Devon actually ran over to the teeter today after we finished our jump work!!! I asked her for it since she ran over to it, and after a split second of hesitation, went on it and was successful!! Interestingly, I was several feet away when she did this. I'm wondering if like Ian with the weaves, because of the pressure we've had on the obstacle, will she be happier with me farther away from her so she can do her job? I'll have to keep a look out for this behavior!

More on Devon's teeter

Something interesting happened with Devon's teeter yesterday, and it prompted an interesting discussion between Kim and I last night. On Friday, I noticed Devon glancing over the side of the teeter like she was considering coming off. I did just a few reps (maybe four), and we ended. The glancing started toward the end of the session, and it was what prompted me to end teeter work. On Saturday, she again gave me the head flicks off the teeter from the first time over it. I did about three reps then moved to other exercises. 

I considered leaving the agility field and not asking for the teeter again. I knew what she was showing me was a "warning" signal she was going to break down. However, I asked for the teeter again, and she did come off and start refusing. I got the leash back out and insisted she do the teeter. After she did it with the leash, I took the leash off and asked for a couple of reps without it and then we were done with that success.

It wasn't until later when I realized that the glancing over the side was a similar signal to me as Devon's head flick to the left right before she's going to break down in pile work. In pile work (field training) where the dog goes out to get bumpers from a distant pile, the goal of the exercise is two-fold: 1) sending to a distant pile for a bumper that isn't thrown and 2) repetition to build work ethic by doing something when asked by the handler (even if they don't want to). In pile work, Devon will start to break down around bumper #6. If we don't push through to 10 or 12 bumpers, she starts breaking down earlier and earlier until she won't even go on bumper #1. At that point we have a huge battle. However, if I correct the problem in the first training session when I see it, we never get to the huge battle.

Last night when I was talking with Kim, she brought up another training issue: doing too much and then failing when the dog has had too much. I've done this way more times than I can count! I've had 2-3 successes, so I push for more instead of getting out of it on a good note and then ending up with a battle I don't need. The proper procedure in this case is to go back to where you were successful, be it fewer reps or and easier requested behavior, and then stop with success. I totally agree with this. 

I guess for me it's all about reading the dog and where you are in the behavior. In my example with the teeter, the head checking went from rep 4 or 5 to rep 1 in the next session. That told me we were going to have to deal with this issue and stopping earlier in our reps was only going to delay addressing the behavior (like the pile work). Second, Devon has been doing the teeter at this height successfully for two days before a one-day break. She's been happily banging the teeter down, wagging her tail and standing straight up at the pivot. It's not like it was the first day she'd seen this height where she might be unsure and worried.

In my analysis, she just didn't want to do it. She doesn't like the teeter. She'd rather do any other obstacle out there; kind of like pile work. It's not fun, but doing that skill builds on other skills that are fun and that she's getting to do now. If we didn't have solid pile work in her foundation skills, she wouldn't be able to do blinds, and we are both having a lot of fun learning that skill.

I also have to admit she's likely getting a little bored. We've been doing isolated obstacle work for about 2.5 weeks now, and I'm sure it's getting boring. However, I need her to be confident on the equipment before we can start sequencing. This is the foundation work I didn't do last fall that bit us in the butt when I moved into sequencing and trialing way too quickly. 

It's about time for me to go out and do agility training again today. I'll be interested to see what kind of teeter performance we have today!

Back to VST work

It's so great to have a weekend at home to train. Thanks to Devon passing her JH in four straight tests, I didn't need this weekend to do another hunt test. Devon got to do VST tracks Friday and Saturday evenings. It's been 5 weeks since the last time we tracked. Friday Devon started strong on her track. I gave her 100 yards of grass before hard surface, and it was aged three hours. She did great onto the parking lot and even did well against the building; however, a worker came out and told us to stay out of the flower beds (we weren't even in them), and that broke both of our concentration. Devon got back on track and headed around the building for her article, and then shortly after pooped. I think this bothered her and it got even worst when I dropped the article to mark the spot so I can could come back and clean it up. She worried over the article being dropped and us leaving it; she knows they are supposed to come with us. She did work through it and found her glove. I think the article distraction was the biggest issue; something I'll remember not to do in the future (I need to carry a poop back in my tracking bag). She tracked her hard surfaces great and had no problem with the age.

Yesterday I laid a longer track with less veg and more hard surface; I also ran this at 3 hours. I took Devon to the start flag at a 90 degree angle, and it took her a long time to start. I waited until she was fully committed before I followed. It was interesting because I had assumed her starts were solid and this one was not. I think I'm giving her all the information for where her track is because I always know where the start is. I'll have to do this more often.

Devon worked very well but didn't want to track the sidewalk on her second leg. She wanted to fringe onto the grass on either side. I tried to hold her to the sidewalk, and that's where I think I started losing her a little. She struggled on the non-veg turn, and I finally showed her where it was. I had used good water and hand print there, so I was confused why she had such difficulty. I think it was because I was trying to hard to make her "honest" to the track versus letting her fringe and do it her way. When I let her have her way at the next non-veg turn, she did fine. She then followed that leg nicely onto another sidewalk, across a tether ball court, past a toddler and her grandmother playing and into the curb. She even caught the angle across the road well. 

Then I screwed up. I kept her in the opposite curb when I should have given her the veg for about 70 yards instead. After that turn we were in a tennis court for some challenging non-veg. I should have relaxed her with the veg and easy scenting instead of back to back hard surface challenges. Devon broke down about two-thirds of the way through the tennis courts, and we limped to the glove. Bad mom!

Overall she did a good job. I could have given her a lot more help with my track laying on Saturday. I did a good job on Friday of giving her veg breaks, and I did a poor job on Saturday. I'm pretty sure I can get some tracking in on Monday evening, so I'll plan a better track for her then.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From 0 to 120 yards in 2 minutes flat

Well, maybe it took Ian longer than 2 minutes to get down that 120 yard track because I gave him an article halfway down, but it felt like only 2 minutes! Wow, he's going to be a great tracking dog. I ran him at 25 minutes ... well, it was 25 minutes when I started to get the stuff out of the van, so by the time I got his tracking harness on, I got cookies in my apron and we got to the track, it was probably a full 30 minute track. Ian just did a great job. 

I think I'm going to have to make him really honest to the line of the track. I noticed tonight he'll go off of it 10 ft., and I'm still walking with him. I started making myself stop when he was 2 ft. off of it and he quickly learned to get back on his track. Janet was right that I needed to do more straight line confidence building tracks before trying turns. I think I'll just do more of these and learn how to read him and build up some age for the next few weeks. 

I saw Sheree this week, and I told her I was tracking Ian and her reaction was, "IAN?!? You're tracking IAN?!?!" I laughed and said he loves it and told her what a natural he was at it. I can see me having fun with him for a while and even doing TDX and possibly VST (although I'm not sure how he'll do with the added people in a VST ... well we have a lot of time before we have to worry about that!).

70 yard permanent blind

I am so proud of Devon. Tonight she nailed her 70 yard permanent blind cold! It's easily been a couple of weeks since I asked her to do this blind, and it's only the third time I've presented her with it. Even so, she marked it and went straight as an arrow out to it. I taught her a second permanent blind, again 70-80 yards, and after learning it, she nailed it straight twice in a row. WOW! What a girl! On the way back to the van, I threw in a couple of whistle sits, and she just turned and sat. Yippee!!! This was after 20 minutes of agility about an hour before we went out to play with the blinds!

I know how to do it!

Devon didn't miss a beat at the higher teeter. She knew it had been raised; I could tell when she went up to it. And when I asked her for it, she jumped right on without hesitation, went to the pivot point and tipped it down. She was standing almost straight up -- no crawling for her! I thought by the way she was doing the lowered teeter she had figured out the tipping point and how to make it tip on her own, and I was right. Devon is also starting to make it "bang" with the speed and force of tipping it, which I'm encouraging! YEAH!!! I have real confidence that we're going to tackle this challenge this fall!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Devon and her agility basics

I’m doing about 15 minutes of agility basics with Devon every evening, and it continues to go very well. Last night she ran to the teeter and volunteered it with me 25 feet way and in front of it. I’m really proud of her. She’s actually having fun “showing off” that she can do it. I raised the new dogwalk to full height since she’s already going over the old one that is full height. Last night we ran from the A frame to both of the dogwalks and back and she had a ball. I’m also doing some foundation one jump work with her to review.

After our session, I raised the teeter a little more; it’s still not at full height. It should be interesting to see what she does. This was about the height it was when she slipped off of it a couple of weeks ago. We may spend more time here before it goes up again. Weaves start on Wednesday!

Ian had his first turn

I laid a short one turn track for Ian last night and ran it at 20 minutes. He started strong, but he continues to be a little erratic when he goes off the track. The turn seemed to stump him, and he finally came and stood next to me like he had no idea what to do. But when I took one step in the direction of new leg and said track, he put his nose right down and tracked on it. I’m wondering if he was indicating the new leg and I missed it. As I said, he’s so erratic that it’s hard for me to tell if he’s on the track or searching. His jerky movements were also pulling on my very sore back, as was the uneven terrain, so that may have also caused me to miss his less than obvious indications. We’ll just have to keep tracking so I learn his behavior. I think I lay a serpentine track for him on Wednesday and see what he does with that!

Connor’s latest track

Connor continues to be a steady, solid tracker, and he’s having so much fun. He struggled a lot on his first turn, but he did keep working and wagging his tail the whole time. He missed the article I gave him 20 yards after the turn, but when he finally got on the leg he was tracking strong so I didn’t fuss with it. He did the rest of the track just fine, and it was 380 yards. He’s also getting much better at article indications and finding the articles. I think I’m going to have a friend lay a blind track for us next week and then depending on how that goes get my nerve up to try certification again.

After I finished tracking Ian and Connor last night, I took Devon out to pick up Connor’s flags and play with whistle sits with her. We’re struggling a little with this concept. She was generally walking in front of me as I lined up on Connor’s first turn and started out in the direction of the missing article. I should have just called her into me and told her to track, because she realized there was a track there and found his article before I got near it. She was SO PROUD of herself! I played tug with her, told her she was brilliant and had a party for the lost article she found. We also got a lot of work in on sit whistles, and I think she’s getting the concept pretty well. We need more practice, but I’m seeing the light bulb turn on!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Devon conquers the full-height dogwalk

Devon didn't miss a beat having one day off from agility practice. She went out and ran to the teeter, volunteering it and looking great (and very proud of herself). We went over and did some one jump work, which was also successful. Then I asked for the A frame, and she seemed a little confused and refused it. I think I just turned her to the new obstacle too fast, and she didn't have time to prepare. After some encouragement, she got her stride and went up and over it several times. She even ran back over to the teeter to show me she could do that again too!

After some more one jump work, she actually went straight over to my old, full-height dogwalk and volunteered it! I was so thrilled because it has less support under the ups and downs, so they move a little. While this slowed her a little the first two times over it, she didn't let it bother her and continued to volunteer it! YEAH!!

I was thrilled with her volunteering the teeter and full-height dogwalk. Even better, she's showed no signs of limping after her first jumping session last Thursday. After contact work and additional one-jump work she gaited beautifully back to the house, so I think we've given her enough time to heal and she's really ready for agility again!

Praise the dog, slap the handler

I can not remember a weekend when Ian and I were 0 for 4 ... until this weekend. And even worse, of all the stupid things Ian has done (like falling off the dogwalk three weeks ago), I have to say I likely caused every one of the errors. I'm much more forgiving of my dog than myself.

Saturday in Standard I thought he was committed to a tunnel and I stood up to get into position for his exit; and he saw the chute out of the corner of his eye and turned to question if he was right. Handler error and his only error on course. We kissed 9 points goodbye there.

Saturday's JWW run I said tunnel the first time when he was in the air at the jump before the tunnel. I said tunnel two more times with increasing volume as he was headed towards an off course jump and screamed tunnel so loud the entire building heard it right before he sailed over the off course jump beside the tunnel. Then he took the tunnel and finished the course. We lost 4 points on that one even with the extra jump. Even worse, on the way to the crate a phrase ran through my mind: "The verbal is the least reliable cue you can give your dog." Oh yeah. I run Ian silently with only encouragement and no obstacle verbals other than weave and tunnel. I have a feeling my body was pointed directly at the off course jump he was locked on. Bad handler, with help from the dog.

This morning's Standard run was the worst handler error yet. I wanted to get a lead out from the table. I knew it was risky. I knew a twitch from me would pull him off the table. He had nailed all the hard parts including a demotivating start of pinwheel to weaves, rear cross to the dogwalk (he least favorite approach) and the judge standing 3 ft from the teeter on the opposite side as me and he still did the teeter. I heard "...2 and 1 and" from the judge and I see Ian lean forward on the table AND I JUST STOOD THERE AND LET HIM COME OFF! I could have turned and at least kept him on the table and only lost a couple of seconds as he re-sat and the count ended! Of course, that was his only mistake and most everyone thought we Q'd. Only 3 dogs Q'd out of all the 24 inch dogs and Ian would have placed. UGH!!! We lost 9 points on that run. BAD, BAD handler; very good dog!

And to top off our weekend, Ian ran a flawless, fast JWW course and dropped the bar on the third jump from the end. Can I tell you he's dropped maybe 8 bars in his entire career! This judge was wheeling very tight, and most of the fast dogs were earning at least 2 fewer points under her. Ian ran that course in 34.02 seconds and the SCT was 39. Even though Kim saw the jump from the perfect profile angle and said he took off way too early (which was his error), I had just said "GOOD boy" with an emphasis on the "good" and I think he thought I was pushing for speed. I was just so thrilled with the run, that I was trying to keep him going. UGH!!! I think we were even on that one.

So to the shock of most of my friends who couldn't believe the consistent team of Deb and Ian was 0 for 4, we packed up and came home. Connor had a great weekend, and Ian had some very, very pretty runs that he deserved to Q on had it not been for me. I pulled a hip muscle Saturday during one of my runs, and my back spasmed this morning, so I could barely walk when I got out the of van once we were home. Some "Icy Hot," three Advil and a 20 minute nap later, I was ready to groom dogs, work Devon in agility, do laundry and make dinner. While my back and hip are still killing me, at least moving around seemed to help. Now I'm headed to bed to forget about Ian's weekend.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Connor's having fun at 16 inches

This is the second weekend Connor ran in preferred at 16 inches, and he's having a BALL!!! I just entered him one day, and I haven't run him in three weeks since the last trial. They started the Standard ring with Ex. B 26 inches at the same time as the JWW ring with Open. Terrie who was running Zoe and I had the same conflict, so we ran the first two 24 inch dogs, threw our 24 inch excellent dogs in the crates, grabbed our open dogs and headed to open. I got to the ring with about 4 dogs to go until our run. The other thing that made the morning so stressful is that I took a wrong turn going to the show site and went way out of my way. I arrived at 7:25 a.m. and first dog on the line was 8 a.m. and I had to set up crates, etc. UGH! I only got to walk each course 2 times before I had to get dogs and never saw a course map.

However, Connor ran great! I got a nice lead out and he made the first front cross well, so I was really pleased. He rear crossed into the weave poles and was flying but checked his speed and made the entrance. I well timed hand cue at pole 10 saved a clean weave performance, and we were off to the races again. I had a split second of total blank on the course when Connor was in the tunnel, but luckily remembered where he was supposed to go and we nailed the course! A clean run and 10 seconds under SCT.

About 5 hours later and 15 degrees warmer in the building, Connor ran Standard. The opening was the same as Excellent, and I knew coming off the A frame would be tough. There was a triple which started a pinwheel to the right off the A frame and you had to put a cross in somewhere before that triple but still make the contact. Connor did his contact and I was able to front cross. He also hung in the weaves with another well timed hand cue at pole 10 by me. I was so thrilled when he again turned in another clean run, 12 second under standard course time (he didn't go down on the table right away!).

Kim and Sally watched the Standard run, and they both thought it was lovely. While Sally has no history with Connor, Kim has seen the good, bad, ugly and REALLY ugly with Connor. She said it was one of the best runs she's ever seen him have. I agree. This is back to the old Connor at the beginning of his career. He's really having fun, and I am too. He's focused and not a bit of stress.

So Connor earned his final leg for his OAJ and his first OAP leg. I've already emailed the move up to Excellent A JWW for next month's trials. I think he'll have no problems since he was clean in Ex. B at full height many, many times but just over time. It will be interesting to see if I can get him back in Excellent Standard. He's running so well in Standard right now, and I never would have believed it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Devon vs. the Teeter, rounds 2-5

Well, after a great round 1 with the teeter, things haven't gone so smoothly. On the second day of the teeter, Devon was hesitant. Then when she thought she was at the tipping point, she started to tip it, but then rocked back. When she did this is moved back and you could tell she was frustrated. It was if she said, "I thought I understood and now I don't and I don't want to play your game anymore!" I got her back working it, and then her rear foot slipped off and she was done. Someone came to the house, and I had to stop. I hate stopping at a point like that, but it was probably for the best. Round 2 went to the teeter.

I gave her a few days off with the hunt tests, then it was back at it this week. I lowered the teeter back to about 16 or less inches. After a little encouragement, she went over it once, but that was it. I got a leash and very neutrally put it on her and asked for the teeter again. She did go on it but didn't want to go to the tipping point. I never pulled her with the leash, but if she leaned like she was going to bail off, I put enough tension to hold her on the board. This was enough to tell her I wasn't backing down and she had to do the teeter. She was successful several times with no pressure on the leash. Round 3 was a draw.

The next evening, she didn't want to do the low teeter at all. This was frustrating to me since she was very successful the night before. However, I stayed neutral and headed for the training bucket with the leash. All I had to do was have the leash in my hands and she went to the teeter and did it fine! In fact, the little stinker was going over it with me standing in any position around the teeter, including in front of it! She just needed to know I was going to insist that she do the scary teeter. Round 4 went to Devon!

So tonight, we went back out to the teeter. She did awesome! She was volunteering it with me at any position, including 5 feet of lateral distance away! She was also standing up pretty straight. Up until now Devon has been doing a belly crawl or leaning way down to get it to tip. This is actually causing problems for her because when she leans, she throws her weight back and the board sometimes rocks back to the starting point (which caused her issues the week before). Now that she's getting more brave, she's having more success with the tipping point because she's standing up. You can tell she's really working hard to understand where she has to put the pressure to make it tip. Connor was very much like this as a young dog, too. He would press his feet at the tipping point and actually stare at it like he was concentrating really hard. Of course years later he's quite confident and happy with the teeter which is where I know Devon will be someday. Round 5 clearly went to Devon!

We have a plan of continued teeter work with jumping thrown in next week and weaves later in the week. I'm going to gradually raise it up and see if we can make progress over the next month. I've also ordered another teeter that's aluminum like most of the trial teeters. Mine is an old steel base with a solid wood plank. I'm sure it moves more slowly than the lighter weight aluminum teeters, so after she concurs the old teeter, we'll move her to the new one and then "take the show on the road" and start renting other people's equipment so she generalizes the behavior. We have a plan!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great photos

Enjoy these photos we took at the Greater Pittsburgh Golden Retriever Club's hunt test a couple of weeks ago. We had so much fun! Thanks to Terrie for letting us borrow her awesome camera for the weekend, and to Steve for taking these great photos!

Devon’s Junior Hunter: the making of a great team

Devon earned her JH this weekend at the Backwater Retriever Club test in Northern Indiana. The tests both days were challenging, but they were made very difficult by the weather conditions. While I don’t know the final numbers, I believe the pass rate for the two junior tests was between 50-60% both days.
I am so proud of what Devon did for me this weekend. She made the test look easy, and she was so obedient at the line she earned raving compliments from the judges. While some may think her success was based on instinct, and it was, it was also based on our hours of hard work at becoming a team.


It rained on the test site starting Friday morning, with heavy rain and strong storms Friday night, and then steady rain most of the morning. When we found the “land” and walked out to watch the test set up, we decided our first series can be considered a "hybrid" of land and water. By 8:30 a.m., the rain was standing 6 inches in the field with medium cover making it seem like a flooded rice field!

The first mark was an 80 yard shot flier, and the gunners were practicing shooting at the birds in the pouring rain. I saw two ducks hit the ground and walk away in the first four tries. However, they got better as they went. The second mark was about 60 yards on the back side of a small rise, so the dog couldn’t see the bird land.

The first test dog failed both marks, got spooked at the gunning station and refused to handle to the marks. We called for a second test dog, who had to be an old retired Master Hunter Chessie. This old guy made it look easy, which really scared me. We watched as the first three dogs failed the test, then retreated to our vans to watch in dry conditions as only one in the first 8 dogs passed.

On the first mark, the dogs had to break through two sections of tall cover and then go deep into the short cover for the mark. Most dogs were stopping at 65 yards as soon as they broke the second cover, because they knew the bird fell into short cover. These dogs who stopped short usually never drove deep enough in their hunt and never found the bird.

Devon was dog #40, and let me tell you she was not impressed with her wait! Last weekend she was in the upper one-third of the group and the first of our group to run. She ran before traveling mate Reba each day. However, she had a long wait after Reba ran this Saturday. She fluffed up her crate pad, buried her head in it as a pillow and occasionally shot me sidelong glances as I sat in the van as if to say, “Did you forget to enter me? How dare you leave me laying here! Did the check bounce? I’m embarrassed I have to lay here while all those other dogs get to play – how could you!” She’s such a princess!

We had six blinds going out to the line and the last four were in water above my ankles. As we got deeper, the water began to fill the inside of my Frogg Togg rain pants. The line we ran from was standing water up to Devon's belly. In fact, she almost started swimming and looked at me like, "You never go into the water with me." She was quite confused if this was a “land” or “water” mark. I was having trouble maneuvering myself because of the water around my ankles; it felt like I was walking with concrete blocks around my feet.

Needless to say, I didn’t ask for a sit from Devon at the line. I heard from others who ran before me that by about dog #15 there was a channel beaten down through the cover to the long mark. I was advised to line Devon up on this channel, and I did. Devon got the best shot bird of the whole day (according to the judges). The shot hit the bird in the butt and pushed it another 20-30 yards beyond where the other marks fell. This put it right on a road of short cover. The down side was as the 40th dog of 58 she had to angle off the beaten down path the previous dogs made and run through water that was at least 8 inches deep. Devon just nailed the line and got within 5-10 yards of the bird for a very short hunt. The judges were impressed and said so, as was I!

We had to walk around to the other side of a blind for the second mark. This ended up being a challenge because a) I had to fish Devon’s leash out from the bottom of my soaked Frogg Toggs because I missed getting it into my pocket and it fell all the way down my leg between my pants and my Frogg Toggs; and b) my Frogg Toggs were so waterlogged, they started slipping down from around my waist! So going to the other mark, I had Devon’s leash in my left hand, I was again slogging through water that was probably a foot deep and I had my right hand on the waistband of my Frogg Toggs holding them up so they wouldn’t fall off! I told the judges what my issues were, and they laughed and asked if I had something on under my Frogg Toggs! I assured them I did and I would not be mooning them on the second mark!

The 60 yard second bird over the rise of cover was cake for Devon and she again put herself within a 5 yard search area for the bird. The judges were both extremely complimentary of Devon’s marking ability. I’m thinking all the lining drills we’ve been doing has improved her marking. I’m doing a good job of lining her up where the fall will be and she’s marking it as it falls and overall doing a great job of running the line.

After we were done, we went to celebrate with Gary and Tana, Beth’s friends who we stayed with in the area, who were standing in the gallery. They had braved the rain and the conditions to come watch our test. As Gary held Devon, I unzipped the ankles of my Frogg Toggs, and water gushed out of them – at least I could walk again! Gary and Tana said, “Look, you’re retaining water!” We got quite a hoot out of that!

Over all, 37 out of 58 dogs passed land, which was a lower than usual pass rate for Junior. Of our group, Archie and Zoe also passed land. We were especially pleased with Archie since it was his first shot flier. Zoe’s bird wasn’t quite dead, which was its downfall. Its final flap pulled Zoe to it since she stopped short. Unfortunately, Reba (who ran #6) never got out to the 80 yard mark and ended her day early.

The water series was pretty straight forward. Both ducks landed in the water. The first mark was about 40 yards, but they had to swim against a strong wind to keep their line. Devon made it look easy and lined it going out and coming in. The second mark was a short bird 25 yards in front of them for a simple swim out and back. Devon again lined the bird and came into heel for a perfect delivery to hand. The judges were very complimentary of our work.

Of the 58 dogs that ran, 31 dogs passed the Junior test (52% pass rate). Unfortunately Archie had a brain fart on the first mark in the water. An intact breed dog, we think his mind was on a female coming into season. Zoe passed, so we had a 50% pass rate for the group. It put a damper on the evening meal, and we were all tired and still feeling the affects of the wet weather.

The rain let up Saturday afternoon, and we only had sprinkles Sunday morning. Devon was dog #55 of 57 entered dogs on Sunday (52 dogs ran, so I guess that made us officially dog #50 in the running order).

Our long mark was about 70-75 yards down a hill to a shot flier. The flier was landing in a circle of open cover or a triangle of heavy cover next to it. The gunners weren’t quite as good as the day before; however our judges made it clear these were “hunting dogs” and they were expected to bring back the bird no matter what. I saw about three dogs chasing down the ducks as they continued to run through the cover wounded.

Another Lab chased down his bird who was clearly alive and kicking when he brought the bird back. Unfortunately his handler lost her hold on the duck, and it flew off to the left of the line, the Lab in hot pursuit jumping in the air trying to grab the bird. He was called back by his owner, and the judge got the bird. As soon as the judge came walking back, the Lab ran out like, “hey, thanks for helping me out. That’s mine; can I have it back?” He was really disappointed when the judge said no.

The other thing both judges were insistent about was line manners and walking to the line under control, as well as delivering to hand. The dogs also had to walk behind the judges’ tent before you could clip the leash on them, so they were off leash heeling or walking with your hand in the collar. Devon has great line manners, but they’ve been slipping a lot since we’ve started trialing. We worked heeling in the blinds on the way to the line! Her delivery to hand is fantastic and that has stayed strong.

However, I saw two experienced/pro handlers fail when their dogs couldn’t deliver to hand. One was a jerk and took his embarrassment out on his dog. Too bad, because it was his fault for not proofing and training the dog well enough.

Unfortunately, as I moved Devon into the holding blind beside the judges’ tent near the line, a third dog had issues with delivery to hand. This poor yellow Lab dropped the bird and would not pick it up high enough for his handler, even though the guy said, “FETCH IT UP!” about 500 times. Since this is a force command for Devon, she began to get stressed from the man’s firm voice and the tension in the air. I looked at her and smiled and encouraged her softly, but her ears were against her head signaling stress. Finally after at least 2 minutes and a shared look between the judges that the team had failed the test, the man grabbed the bird off the ground and said, “I scratch!”

Wow, what a way for Devon and I to go to the line! I tried to get Devon to jump up and touch my hands, thinking that would release some of her stress. She wouldn’t do it (“Mom, we don’t do that in field work, only agility and obedience!”), but when the judge stepped into the blind to get my number, she turned and flung herself at him, thinking he stepped in to say hello and give her a duck! I quickly apologized, and he said not to worry he shouldn’t have stepped in on us like that.

In spite of all this stress in the last blind, Devon stepped up to the challenge on line manners. She heeled to the line on a loose leash. When I lined her up I said sit, and she instantly plopped her butt on the ground. I took of her leash without holding her collar, exhaled a deep breath, put one finger in her collar and called for our bird.

Thankfully, Devon’s bird was dead in the air. She ran the line just off to the right 5 ft, realized she was off and just as the judge next to me said, “come on baby find your bird,” she turned 180 degrees on a dime and pounced on her bird. I whistled her in and she came in on the line to compliments from both judges.

I was still a little rattled from the earlier stress, and I forgot to receive her to her second mark. She came into heel, sat and I took the bird. I could hear both judges comment what an impressive job she did. I thanked them, then said, “Devon, heel” and turned left to the second mark as Devon got up and pivoted beside me, then sat directly on the line I wanted. I again put my finger in her collar and called for the bird.

Devon lined the second mark perfectly and returned like a shot into heel for another perfect return to hand. I thanked the judges for their compliments and turned and heeled her off leash around the side of the tent. She was just brilliant, looking more like a Senior dog! One judge met me at the back of the tent and heaped praise on me and my dog for our line manners. He said she was the best mannered Junior dog he’d ever seen and he knew we had worked hard. He also loved the fact I had a big smile on my face the whole time we were on the line. Little did he know that was from years of training by Connor, my stress dog. It’s a conscience process for me to go to the line with a huge smile on my face whenever I compete with me dogs! I was just glowing with all the praise! We have worked so very hard on these things, and it was awesome to have a judge follow us out to sing our praises!

Of our little group, Reba did a great job on land, and she passed thanks to Beth’s great catching at the line. Zoe hunted for quite a while but never got the flier, which was odd. Archie’s flier was still alive when he got to it, and it jumped at him. He was really, really startled, and after returning to the bird three times and with much encouragement from his dad, Archie did bring back the bird. I thought this was a great training success, even though the judges didn’t carry him to water. Of the 52 dogs who ran, 39 were called back to water.

Unfortunately, before they read call backs, the remains of Hurricane Ike rolled in and it started raining – and it never stopped. They set up the water test, and Beth and I thought we’d grab lunch … only they were out of all food. Good thing we had some light stuff with us, like peanut butter and apples and power bars and slimfast!

We walked over to the water to watch the test dog, and I about fell over at how difficult the water marks were set. The first mark was a 60 yard channel swim, then the dog had to come onto shore, drive up a 4 ft. bank and find the bird in the cover on land – keep in mind it was steady to hard rain! The second “water” mark was a 35-40 yard swim, up onto shore, drive up another 4 ft. bank to find the bird in cover on land. Unbelievable! Not a single “splash” on two “water” marks.

Not surprising, the test dog failed. When asked if the dog had any title, the somewhat angry handler said, “Yes, she earned her JH last weekend, so this should be your perfect test dog!” One judge turned and yelled to the long gunning station to turn the angle of the mark so it landed on the shore. OK, that was better!

Now for the second test dog. He has two SH passes, and he nailed the first mark. However, it took 5 minutes of handling to get him to the second mark. Again the judge yelled out that gunning station #1 was set, but station #2 could move to the mark on the shore. The test dog re-ran that mark, but it landed in the water with a splash. Nope, she wanted it on shore. They re-angled the winger and it landed 2 ft. up the face of the tall bank into a thick patch of cover. The test dog got it, but the judge said, “Oh just put it down in the water and make it splash!” I thought the Junior gallery was going to break into the Hallelujah Chorus!

We were so far down in the running order, we sat in the pouring rain and watched the other dogs. The rain on the umbrellas was so relaxing; it was hard not to doze. On the first water mark the bird landed on shore, usually buried 3 inches in the mud thanks to the winger. With the bird in the mud and the rain on the water, this mark was impossible to see especially after the dog got in water. At least every other dog refused to go because they couldn’t see the ducks. I felt bad for the handlers and even worse for the poor teenaged gunner who was soaked through and had to walk out and pull that dead duck out of the mud!

This long mark was incredibly difficult due to the conditions, and it had rained for 3.5 full hours before Devon got to the line. I knew this would not be an easy water series and even really good dogs were failing. Even added pressure was the judges remembered her from land and said, “let’s show ‘em how it’s done” when we walked to the line! Wow, they were confident!

Devon’s first mark landed a little higher on the shoreline and didn’t sink in the mud. It was still pretty impossible to see with the dark wet duck on the muddy shore. She went in confidently and swam the line out about half way. However, she then angled left of the mark and shored up to the left of gunning station, when the bird was 30 yards to the right of the gunning station. She turned to her left on the shore, even more in the wrong direction, giving me the first fear of failure, but then immediately indicated she was going the wrong direction and turned back right. She ran behind the gunning station (and for the first time in her life didn’t stop to say hello to the gunners) and 30 yards beyond it and indicated the original test mark fall on the top of the 4 ft. bank. At this point one of the judges walked up beside me and said, “Come on baby come down the shore for your birdie.”

As if she heard him, she wagged her tail and did just that! I was so proud of her and called her into me. As she was swimming back, the judge told me the gunners nearly failed her by not giving her a loud enough duck call to start. He then said, they were talking and moving around in the blind while she was swimming out to the mark which caused her to pull left off the mark – well that explained that! I was watching her and not them! He asked if we had been entered yesterday, and I said yes; and he asked if we passed and I said yes again. I told him if she brought back her second duck, she would earn her JH today. I then told him she was my first field dog and he said I’d done a great job with her.

The second mark was supposed to be in the water, but due to the conditions (or God’s way of telling us we could do a harder test and I should not have worried), Devon's bird ended up 3 ft. up the face of a hill in cover. Well, I said this was going to be a true test of her abilities! As Devon was about one-third of the way out to the mark, the judge started complaining about the gunners again. I looked up and they were resetting the winger as Devon was swimming out to her mark.

Devon didn't notice the movement, but the judge was furious. Devon came out of the water just to the left of the bird (closer to the gun station so there may have been influence even if it wasn’t obvious). She charged up the bank and again searched the area of the original test fall, proving to me that she could have indeed done the original test and remembered all those set ups where we practiced charging the bank up a hill. She again realized it was down below her and came down the hill right on it and grabbed it up to high praise from me!

As soon as Devon picked up the bird, the judge patted me on the shoulder and said congratulations. I figured she still had to bring it back, but apparently he and his co-judge weren't worried about Devon returning the bird. As she started swimming back, the judge moved off to my left and started screaming at the second gun station. Not to be outdone, the other judge came out of the judges’ tent and started in on gun station #1. Devon was now about one-third of the way back with the bird watching the two judges scream at the gunners, and she just looked at me with wide eyes like, "Who are those crazy people next to you, Mom?" I smiled at her and told her how good and brilliant she was all the way in, and she was fine. She delivered her bird perfectly!

So that was how Devon earned her JH in two really difficult tests. I was really proud of her for that water series, because not only did she nail it, but she also proved to me during her search she could have handled the harder set up.

Unfortunately out of our training group, Devon was the only dog to pass on Sunday. Reba just couldn’t see her mark and wasn’t able to drive out to the long bird. She was in good company, because I bet half of the dogs that went to water failed, and they all failed this way. Devon and Zoe now have their JHs, and Reba and Archie will be going to Ohio in two weeks to try again. We’ll be with them in spirit!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teeter tipping good time

Well, I took the plunge this morning. Devon and I went to the agility yard, and I asked for the teeter. This is the first time I’ve asked for it in at least 8 months (and maybe more). Devon was doing pretty well when we left off this spring. She was volunteering a low teeter about 16 inches. It took us several weeks to work up to that height.

This morning, I asked for the dogwalk first, then the A frame. And then I asked for the teeter. She surprised me by going right on it, but she did bail off when it didn’t tip where she thought it should. We worked through it and after a few minutes, she was repeatedly going over it. What a good girl!! She’s not confident, and the teeter is not full height (it is probably higher than 16 inches). However, she was willing to do the obstacle, and she was happy and only minimally stressed, and that’s all I really want from her.

After we played on the teeter for while, I moved back to the A frame and then the dogwalk. She was confident on the dogwalk but did take the ups and downs a little slower than she had before the teeter. I plan to work the teeter and the contacts tomorrow and Friday, then give her the weekend off (due to the hunt test) and start in again next week.

I’m really confident now that she’ll do the contacts full height. I’m also confident that she will eventually do them in other places. My only anxiety is with the speed that she’ll do them. I’m really hoping she speeds up her performance with confidence. I just have to have the faith that with time and confidence her speed will improve!

2008 AKC Agility Invitational

Ian qualified for this year’s AKC Agility Invitational in Long Beach, CA, by being in the top 5 dogs of his breed in agility. I’m so very proud of this accomplishment. When he started doing well in agility, my goals shifted to earning his MACH and getting him nationally ranked. I was thinking more top 25, but Ian has been in the top 5 since July 2007 (and he was #6 in the previous qualifying year).

However, I sent my regrets that I will not be attending this year’s event. Ian was invited last year in the second round of invitations. Last year he made the FINALS and was on National tv. The fact that he was even invited to this event was beyond my wildest dreams, and to be in the Finals was probably his career highest moment. You can read about our adventures here.

However, with gas prices so high and the amount of time I’d have to take off work, I’ve decided for at least this year to give someone else the chance I had to make a weekend they could dream about forever. And we had such a perfect weekend, I think I’d like to keep those memories just the way they are.

I’d love for there to be another Belgian Sheepdog in this year’s Finals. I’m pulling for Susan Anderson and her Belgian Sheepdog Ring to make the finals this year. Susan is such a wonderful person, and she is a huge part of my happy memories of last year’s event. Susan and Ring were 5th after the first day of qualifying, but an unfortunate off course in round 3 eliminated them for consideration for the Finals. I’d love Susan and Ring to make the Finals this year since she had the class to cheer me on and support me all the way to the Finals last year – and that support continues still today. There’s no classier competitor than Susan Anderson!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Devon’s first “taught” permanent blind

Devon is just doing great on her lining drills. This morning, I set out three sight blinds in the field I tracked Ian in. I went out 40 yards since the cover was higher. Mitch said 50 yards in tall cover and 80 on short grass. Last week she did 55 yards on short grass, so I wanted to make this a challenge. However, sight blinds really aren’t a challenge for Devon any longer! She nailed them and was perfection on each one. After she picked up two at each location, I figured there wasn’t any reason to do more, so I headed to the permanent blind I set up for her.

Mitch showed me at our lesson 2 weeks ago how to “teach” blinds. I found a nice tree all by itself in a fence line at the far end of a field. I walked it out from the opposite fence, and it was 75 yards. I put 5 bumpers at the base of the tree. When Devon was ready, I set her at our starting point. I thought she marked the tree when she was sitting next to me, but I didn’t want to try her cold. Instead I walked the line about 1/3 of the way out, turned, and called her to me. I repeated this at 2/3 and then at the base of the tree and she got her bumper. Then, I did the reverse so she could bring the bumper back to the starting point, again stopping at 1/3 of the way back and 2/3 and calling her to me.

Then I lined her up and asked her “Where?” She immediately locked in on the tree since she remembered the other bumpers there. I praised her, talking her into it, and then sent her. She got about 55-60 yards to the tree and turned back to me to check. I gave her a quick, “BACK!” with my hand up and she spun and raced to the base of the tree for the bumper! She ran back, and I knew she was pleased with herself.

We repeated the blind, and she again started to turn back about the same place, but before I could finish my “BACK!” she turned and ran to the pile. This time she raced back to me a very pleased look on her face. On the third time I sent her, she ran confidently all the way to the blind, picked up the bumper and RACED the hardest she’d run back to me. She was SO PROUD of herself for working that little problem out.

I can’t wait to go back to that field and put some bumpers back there and ask her for the permanent blind. I really think this lining stuff is coming along! I’m so proud of both of us for working on this and doing well!

Today’s track with Ian

Ian just kicked butt tracking this morning! He’s really got the game. The minute I picked up his tracking harness, he started screaming and spinning in his crate. He would barely stand still for me to put his harness on and then was dragging me through the field to the start flag. I’m absolutely going to have to get gloves to work the line. He’s going to cut my hands to ribbons with that line the way he pulls and the speed at which he works the track and circles.

I had been worried I did something too hard for him today. I laid a 90-yard track with no food; I aged it 15 minutes. The grass was damp and the humidity up which was good. I thought he was being slowed down by the food drops, and I was right. He dragged me down the line, and I had to keep all my weight back to keep my balance. Had he ever given me slack in the line, I would have sat on my butt. He only stopped twice and when I said, “Where’s your track?” he got right back to it. I think he worked that line in about 1 minute flat, and he wasn’t off the line much at all.

I let him out to 10-15 ft. on the tracking line and he handled it will. I think I’ll keep him at 10 ft. for a while until he’s more seasoned and near ready to certify.

He’s going to be an amazing tracker. He’s showing me the clear drive for a TDX. I’ve already seen him snuffle scent on hard surfaces, which I didn’t discourage since there was no obedience in his future. I’m just really shocked at how fast he’s taken to this sport. I knew when I got him he had performance potential, and he continues to impress me. I still don’t know if there will ever be a CD in his future, though. However, it would be nice to have three VCD dogs…..

Connor’s tracking

Connor continues to delight me with his tracking. Today I laid him a bit of a challenge. It was 365 yards and had two long legs at the front. The first leg was 110 and the second 125. Both of these legs went along a pond that was sunken well below ground level. This pulled the scent toward the pond (and Connor wanted to swim). The third leg was 50 yards, and the last leg 80.

I hadn’t intended to let it age so long, but I got caught up in working Ian and Devon, and it went 1 hour and 15 minutes. It didn’t really matter. Connor was bouncing and wiggly and ready to track. I think he really bounced down the first two legs. It was cool this morning, and he was just having the best time of his life! He was happy and playful and silly, but he was TRACKING!!!

He did suck down to the pond several times but came back up when I said, “Where’s your track?” He worked the turns nicely, preferring just to take them as he tracked and not circle. He did circle once, but that was more to make sure he was right on very short cover.

I really feel like certification and a TD are in sight. I have to be as happy and calm and fun as I was the last two times we tracked. That has made all the difference to him. I’m not “correcting” him for snacking (and there’s less poop here) so there’s none of that stress. Instead we’re just out having a great time, and he really is having fun!

Keep talking, Mom! I'm coming to the sound of your voice!

The only time I panicked last weekend during the hunt tests was as Devon was coming in from her 100 yard mark on land on Sunday. As Devon came up the hill, she started to slow and looked like she was going to stop and drop the bird. She was about 20 yards from me. I gave her a firm “here, here!” and she started to me again slogging through the high cover. That’s when I realized what she was going to do. I'm sure she was planning to stop and reposition the bird. She had a very awkward hold on the duck and it was in very tall cover. She had picked up the bird by the breast, but at an angle with its head down and butt up. She had taken the straight line back to me through the tall cover, and as she came back, the bird had slipped so its butt was against the side of her head and one wing was covering her eyes. By the time she came to the top of the hill, she could barely see! I think she just wanted to reposition the bird so she could come in better and actually see where she was going! The poor dog was like, “Ok, Mom, but keep talking so I can come to the sound of your voice!” At that point I was feeling a little guilty for my firm tone with her!

Of course training buddy Steve was taking pictures and he knew the whole time what was happening because of the telephoto lens. He was able to get these shots and harass me about being mean to my dog. I guess that's what friends are for!

Monday, September 8, 2008

PA hunt test, day 2

Well the second day of our hunt test was truly a TEST! We were in a large alfalfa field where the cover was almost to our knees. The first mark was off to our left, about 60 yards. The second mark was 100 yards down a valley and up a hill, landing on the face of the hill near the top. When the judges set the test and scented the area on the second mark, they had the mark landing on the top of the hill. However, the test dog ran past the mark and disappeared of the back of the hill. The judges didn’t want our junior dogs out of sight, so they changed the angle of the mark lower so it landed on the front face of the hill. The only down side was this was not the area scented, and many dogs ran to the scented area and had a big search.

Devon acted like she did these marks every day! She put her two front feet on the first mark, retrieving it so fast I barely had time to remember to put my whistle in my mouth. On the second mark, she exploded from the line and down the hill at top speed. As she came up the hill she sucked into a row and was now headed more than 45 degrees off the line and to the left of the bird a good 30+ yards. I held my breath. As soon as she was parallel to the bird, she made a 90 degree right turn and put her two front feet on the duck. She picked it up and raced back to me.

As Devon came up the hill, she started to slow and looked like she was going to stop. She was about 20 yards from me and you'll have to read the next post to see what happened next. She did come into me with the bird and give a perfect retrieve -- she's such a good girl!

I was so proud of her on these land marks, that I had tears in my eyes! What an amazing accomplishment for the two of us to run land marks like this when I certainly had no idea what field was about before I got Devon. She has the ability, and it was just incredible to watch it come out. I put her leash on her and I’m sure I had a big stupid grin on my face. From behind me I heard, “good job” and “thank you” from the judges. “That’s it!?!?!?” I wanted to say. “You just saw a brilliant performance, and that’s all the enthusiasm you can produce!”

After I got her to the van and gave her some more kibble from her breakfast and toweled her off, I headed to the woman in the vehicle next to me. She ran a Golden earlier in the series and I could tell she knew what she was doing. I asked her if the judges always were this quiet! Basically she said yes unless you do something bad. She said she was a judge and she really enjoyed talking with the junior handlers, but not all the judges gave a lot of feedback.

In the course of the conversation, she said she was from Buffalo, NY. I asked if she knew Mary and her dog Brita. She grinned and said yes, and you could tell she was putting something together in her mind. I said that Devon and Brita were littermates. She said that as she watched Devon run her marks, she had thought how much Devon looked like Brita. Later as we were talking more, she said it wasn’t necessarily their resemblance, but it was their mannerisms and movement as they worked. It was so funny because that was the same thing I thought when I saw a video of Brita doing agility. It was like watching Devon even though the two dogs are different colors and have slightly different builds. They do share similar facial expressions.
Of our group, Zoe was the biggest heart attack of the morning. When she went to the long mark, she searched and searched. Being a Champion Tracker, we expected she’d nail the mark. However, this is one time her nose did her a disservice. Zoe marked every single bird fall there was in the junior test that morning, and likely the senior test the day before. She was so cute when she indicated, “oh here it is!” then would look down and no bird! After more than 90 seconds of searching, she stopped and looked back at her mom like, “Are you SURE something is out here?” but she went back to work. Her persistence paid off and she FINALLY found the duck. The judges said to Janet, “you can breathe now!” and she turned and said, “no kidding!” Janet was about to collapse from all the adrenalin that raced through her as Zoe searched!

We only had 25 dogs on Sunday and with the scratches Devon ran 9th in the order when she was actually dog 12. We were done with our land marks by 9:40 a.m., and we were off to water. Steve wandered over and watched them set up the water marks. When I walked up and said, “How do they look?” He said, “Splash, splash.” Both were in the water! The first mark was 45 yards and the second about 50 yards.

We had to walk down to the edge of the bank and I set Devon up to the left of a bush on the edge of the pond so she could see the duck land. She looked straight out to the water, and then you could tell she was annoyed with my placement because the bush was in the way as she scanned the bank of the pond for the gunners. It’s amazing to see this dog work the set ups! I remember during her puppy testing, Gayle said she was equally environmentally aware as people oriented, and that the environmental awareness would help me in the field work. She wasn’t kidding. Devon heels to the line and her head is scanning the whole field. She picks out her gunners whether exposed or hidden before she even sits on the line.

For the water marks on Sunday, she looked past that “stupid” bush and identified the gunning station and you could see her relax. I took off the leash and called for the bird. She watched the bird from the time it was launched until it landed, then swam straight for it when she was released. She repeated this on the second mark. She never considered cheating the bank.

The only trouble she had on these two marks was at the bank going out. The long grass had been pushed into the water, and apparently it dropped off rather quickly. Devon didn’t like wading out into the wet, underwater grass, acting like she was stepping through oatmeal up to her body. She kicked free on the first mark and it looked like she had some problems kicking out of the grass into the water. Later Steve said Archie found a stick that was right in that area, and we decided Devon might have actually gotten tangled in that stick, too. However, she never turned back and kept her eyes on her duck the whole time.

Coming in on her second water mark, she was starting to sit in heel and she dropped the bird. This was shocking to me since she’s never done that before. I was about to scold her when she shook the water off. She usually holds her duck or bumper until I take it and then shakes. However, I wonder if she was getting tired after her second day of testing and forgot. I let her shake then said, “fetch it up” and she immediately did.

So this time after two great water marks, I put Devon’s leash on and told her did a great job and gave her a big pat. My effusive judges didn’t say a single word to me as I left the line – not even thank you! Luckily Janet and Beth were in the small gallery and they were cheering. The AKC rep who had spoken to me earlier also watched me run and said we did a great job and was all smiles for me.

After receiving our second orange ribbon, I went to the judges to check my scores. This was something the judges on Saturday seemed unwilling to provide me. I told them it was my first ever weekend at a hunt test, and I wanted to know if there was anything specifically I could work on. The first judge looked at me with a totally blank look. I told him I had a Golden, and we were dog 12. He went for his book because he didn’t remember us. He opened the book and said we scored all 9s and 10s and he had no notes on me at all, so we must have done a good job. The other judge over heard us and I repeated my request. He also gave me a blank look and turned to the first judge. When the first judge said my scores were 9s and 10s and he had no notes, the second judge echoed the first that we were doing fine.

Goodness! I guess if I want a judge to tell me I did a good job and clap for me, I need to go back to agility!

On Sunday, all four dogs got orange ribbons! We were so proud of our group and our dogs. We’ve worked hard and we really had fun. I was also able to say, “I TOLD YOU SO!” to Beth as we left the grounds. I told her Reba was ready for a JH and she just needed to work on her deliver to hand. Beth did an excellent job of catching this weekend!

Devon was exhausted, sleeping in a tight ball all the way home. She didn’t even want to get up off the floor to go to bed! She gets Monday night off for a job well done this weekend. I couldn’t be more proud of her!!!

Connor, the spokesperson of the group

While Devon and I had a “girl’s weekend” at the hunt test, my parents had Ian and Connor, in addition to Reece and their dog Holly. On Sunday morning, my mom (the main dog caretaker) woke up late. She quickly took the dogs out, got ready and was working on breakfast with my dad in the kitchen before heading out to church. Connor started barking at her from the living room. She told him to be quiet, his breakfast was coming. He continued to bark insistently at her. Thinking he was just demanding his breakfast, she scolded him again telling him he’d have to wait until they were done eating. As Connor continued to bark at her, she turned and realized Ian had peed from one end of the kitchen to the other, as he was running to the door having to go out. Apparently in their rush that morning, Ian hadn’t quite done everything he needed to do!

As soon as mom realized the issue, she rushed Ian outside and then cleaned up her kitchen. Connor was now quiet. Connor tried his best to once again serve as spokesperson for the group. I can now translate Golden Retriever for you: “Hey lady, you better turn around and look at the black dog! You’re gonna be in trouble if you don’t look over there at Ian. I’m telling you, you really should stop eating and look at the stupid black dog. He’s running back and forth, and I know him and he can’t hold it much longer. Oh, I told you so! Hope you have some shoes on!”

Our first hunt test

Devon and I took a road trip to Pennsylvania this weekend with our friends Beth and Reba (Golden), Janet and Zoe (Golden) and Steve and Archie (Golden). This was a test Devon and I have looked forward to since we delayed her hunt testing last fall and her injury pushed it back this spring. Let’s just say the 6 hour drive was worth it!

Devon was 11th of 31 dogs in the Junior test. Our land marks were quite simple; I told Steve and Janet we’d set up training that was harder than this (and sometimes even on purpose). The first mark was about 75 yards up hill thrown by an exposed gunner (for those non-field people that means he was not hidden behind a blind, not that he was indecent). The cover was mowed tall grass and when the duck was thrown you could see it on the ground from the line.

The second mark was 35 yards just over the crest of a small rise next to a pond. The dogs couldn’t see the fall, and there was a set of tire tracks that drew the dogs up the hill. This was probably meant to be a deceptively hard mark. Most of the Junior dogs handled it well, but I could see a hard charging Lab pounding right past that fall on up the hill. Many of the Junior dogs did over run it but came back to it.

Devon handled these marks with ease, and she walked to the line pretty well. My only unease came right before the one judge called me out of the blind to the line. He looked me over, then turned and consulted with his co-judge and the apprentice judge. Then he turned and called me from the blind. Now this made me uneasy. Clearly something about me or what I was doing wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what it was. I walked to the line and set my dog up and they didn’t say a word.

As I said, Devon looked like a pro going straight to her marks and returning to heel position each time. It was done in a snap. I turned to put on her leash, and the judge said, “We think your shirt is too light in color. It’s OK for us, but other judges wouldn’t like it.” I had nothing to say. I had a light olive t-shirt on and it was the exact same color as the shirt the judge was wearing! I told him I could pull another shirt on before water, and he said no it was OK for today but I shouldn’t wear it again. Ok, I can follow direction! The weather turned cooler during the day anyway, and I put on my black pullover for the water series.

Speaking of the water marks, they were a little more complicated than the land. First, we had to sit on a bucket as the marks went down. The first mark was straight across the pond with the duck landing in tall grass on the bank. The second mark was angled to our right with the duck splashing in the water. The second mark was very cheaty (meaning it was tempting for the dog to get out of the water on the bank near the bird and run the bank back to the handler, versus turning in the water and swimming the line back to you).

We had to walk to the line and sit on the bucket with the dog next to us. When we signaled to the judges we were ready for the bird, one judge who was next to the dog also sitting on a bucket called to the gunner with a duck call. The gunner called back with a duck call, then threw the bird and made the gun shot as the bird was in the air. Once the bird landed, the judge behind us released us (called out our number) and we could send our dog from the seated position or stand to send the dog.

Since Devon had never been sent with me in a seated position, at first I thought I’d stand before sending her. Then I realized my standing could distract her from looking at the mark, and I didn’t want that. Considering how much she loves to retrieve ducks, I decided to stay seated. I got her out of the van a little early, and I sat on the edge of the van, called her into heel position and threw a bumper a few feet from her. Devon thought it was odd that I did this, but she retrieved the bumper fine about three times. This increased my comfort level with my decision to stay seated.

I should not have worried about Devon on these water marks! She was so ready to get more ducks that I had to hold the leash with both hands as she tried to drag me to the line up. To get to the water marks, we had to go through the woods and line up in the woods. Devon and I had quite the discussion about her remaining in heel position all through the woods. Coming out of the last blind, Devon tried to drag me to the line, but I hung on and demanded she sit in heel. She was somewhat controlled going to the line, but I certainly do not have a well-mannered dog any longer! She wants her birds!!

When I walked to the line, I walked in front of the bucket and remained standing, asked her to sit, took off her leash and put it in my pocket, took her collar and then lowered myself to the bucket. I figured if I was seated and I asked her to move into heel position she would be confused and it would stress her from her job. This was the perfect strategy, because other than a head check I don’t think she even realized anything was different.

The duck call from next to her to start the mark also didn’t faze her, especially when she heard the call from across the pond. She nailed this mark, barely off the line going out by more than 1-2 feet. She also nailed the more cheaty mark and only shored up 4 feet from where she should have on line. I thought they were excellent marks! When Devon moved into “heel” to give me the second bird, she sat on my feet facing out clearly suggesting she was willing to get more ducks if someone would just throw them out there for her!

Of our group, the girls ruled the first day. Devon, Zoe and Reba all passed their test. This was Zoe’s fourth pass since she had three from last summer, so she earned her JH on Saturday. This was Reba and Devon’s debut and they both did great. Unfortunately Archie had problems on the first water mark. He was confident on land and dragged Steve to the line on water. He worked hard to find the bird, but in the end never did. None of us can figure out what happened, but we all know things happen at a test that throws the dogs. Archie is still a winner according to Devon and probably Reba. I think his sister Zoe will never change her mind that he’s a “dumb boy.”

After receiving Devon’s qualifying ribbon, we headed back to the hotel. Reba, Devon and Beth napped and I showered. I moved Devon over on the bed and she laid her head on my stomach. When we got up for dinner, I had a small drool mark on my shirt – she was really sound asleep! I brought back some of my steak from dinner as her reward, and she loved it. A very successful first day and I’m sure she was dreaming of more ducks the next day!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Connor's awesome track -- there is hope!!

Connor had the best track ever tonight! It rained here this evening, a nice thunderstorm after 20 days without measurable rain. I took the opportunity to try a new field I suspected would be awesome. The grass was over my ankles, and with the fresh rain was great. I hadn't planned on a full length track, but when I saw how good the field was, I went for it!

The track was just 440 yards long with 4 turns. I laid articles after the first and second turns and rewarded him with treats from me for finding them. Connor was so excited to track, he was bouncing out of the van! He was so wiggly I had to struggle a little to get his harness on. This was new! He tracked me to the start line, which worried me a little since it was a long walk to the start!

Also, I tried something new carried over from my field lesson this week and picked up from Steve and Archie. When Connor didn't nail the turn and showed the first sight of loss of scent, I asked him, "Where did it go? Where's your track?" in a fun, silly voice. This really made him search like it was a game. On the second turn he took two clockwise loops before he came up with the track. I was really able to read him tonight, which was awesome!

Connor lost some of his bounce halfway down the third leg, but he never gave up. He actually settled in and tracked. He found all of his articles and just did a super job. I think this was the best track I've ever seen him run! I was so proud and I'm now quite hopeful for a certification!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Devon's field training

Our hard work on lining drills paid off today in our lesson with Mitch. He set up three sight blinds for us in his big field with varying cover. He had two on the sides that were about 35-40 yards and one down the middle at 50 yards. Devon came out, saw all three buckets and lined every one of them! Mitch's response was, "Well, I should have made that more challenging for you!" From there he showed me how to set up more sight blinds, teach blinds and set up permanent blinds. We also did some "over" drills that Devon nailed so he said for me to work out to piles that were 40 yards on center.

After seeing what Devon could do, Mitch told me to get my paper, and he'd list out my homework for this month. Here's the funniest part of the conversation from there...

Mitch: Ok, we'll get her Junior this month, then get her Senior in the spring.

Deb (slight panic in her voice): SPRING? How about next FALL?

Mitch: Spring. She'll be ready.

Deb: June?

Mitch: Ok, at the June Hambden tests, but I want her to be done with her Senior in June so she can work Master set ups through the fall and do her Master the following summer.

I felt like I was negotiating a new allowance or taking out the family car! At least I think I remember that part about working the Master set ups right. I was still in a little shock about her being ready for Senior by spring! In fact, Mitch went on to say that if for some reason she doesn't get her JH this month, it's really not worth getting since she's already working Senior stuff.

Wow! I know we've been working hard, and I know she's really eating this stuff up, but I'm just thrilled Mitch thinks she's doing so well! Oh, and I told Mitch he couldn't have her for her Master because I couldn't let her go. His response? Through a hidden smile he said, "Yeah, I already figured that out!"

Ian's back to being Mr. Consistent!

Clearly the weave pole issue has been our Q rate problem. Ian was 5 for 6 this weekend and never missed a single set of weaves. I could not be more happy!! Other than falling off the dogwalk on Friday morning, he was dead on. This is when he's super fun to run. This is what a "post-MACH" dog feels like. You're a team, you know how to handle and you're confident in each other. Ian earned 30 MACH points in three days and we only have 52 more points to go to qualify for the 2009 AKC Nationals. We have 5 more weekends (two of them being 3 days) to earn those points and I think we will do it just fine!