Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Page at 7 months

I took these photos yesterday of Page napping on the big doggie bed. How did she get so big?? For the record, this is a 42 inch doggie bed, and she's now taller than her sister Devon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things to take home from our last weekend of hunt tests

Here are a few tips I picked up this weekend and some things I want to remember about my girls' performances:
  • Think about everything that happens surrounding your dog's first test. Mitch had a dog who had vomited and had diarrhea in the truck on the way to the test. It was supposed to be his first Junior Hunt Test weekend, but Mitch pulled him both days. He didn't want the pup to associate feeling crappy with a hunt test.
  • Have very good rain gear. I'm so glad I had my Frogg Toggs! I had been tempted to get camo togs, but I ended up with black and was glad I did. As Adele says, "handler black" makes you easier to be seen than camo when you need to handle.
  • Start reading Adele Yunck's blog, the Northfield Natter! Adele is an awesome trainer, and a great down to earth gal who I enjoy being around. She showed me photos she was taking and seeing them on the blog is awesome. I can't wait to dive in and learn more about Master. Congrats to Adele on Gryffin's second Master pass and getting to the water blind with Ty at her first Senior test!
  • How to be a good sport with an intact bitch. We had an incident on land as one dog left the honor and the other came in from the go bird. The working dog, an intact male, went after the honor dog, who was already on leash and who was a bitch. The working dog failed when his owner couldn't get him under control and he went after the girl several times. The gutsy girl wasn't having any of this boy's bad manners. I've seen this dog fail two other tests by going after other dogs, male and female. After the incident, a couple of intact males were more than a little interested in the ground where the girl sat on the honor. After a couple of complaints, the judges asked the club to check the dog to make sure she wasn't in season. IMHO, the males were reacting to a combination of a girl and the adrenaline from the near dog fight. I've seen this happen before and it takes a while for that energy to dissipate. However, the owner of the bitch was a very good sport. She said the bitch had been in heat last month but wasn't now, which the club confirmed. The handler also offered to run last on water so her dog wouldn't interfere with any other dog. It was a good example for me since I own two intact bitches. Again, IMHO she had every right to be pretty mad (after all her dog had been attacked repeatedly and then other handlers started to complain about her dog), but she handled it with grace and offered to run last for the other dogs.
  • Pagey showed hints of great of things to come. Yes, her obedience was bad on land, and she really hunted for her first mark; but her second land mark was better and her water mark was to die for. Her guts on that water entry was fantastic, too. This dog is going to be a blast to run in hunt tests. She's bold and stylish, and she's going to make heads turn. I just have my work cut out for me!
  • Devon ended with more positive comments from the judges. Yeah, we failed our last test and she was bad. But the judge telling me she was one of the best dogs in the entire test Sunday will ring in my memory for a while. Devon racked up some great comments in the last four weekends from judges who have all different breeds. She made me proud with amazing marking and good blind work. Even better, there is no doubt that we should push on to Master.

Devon's final hunt test of the season

Devon was entered in a one-day Senior test on Sunday. I was very worried she would not be a good dog on Saturday when Page was running. One of Devon's very few bad habits is being destructive when I take another dog out to train or trial. Devon's specialty is pulling whatever is in a 12-inch radius of her crate into the crate and shredding it. I've done a good job of creating a dead zone around her crate, but she still manages to snag a poop bag every once in a while and I find it in pieces in the crate. It's amazing how many little pieces a 1-gallon bag can be shredded into.

However, Devon did a good job on Saturday maintaining control. I think the bark collar I put on her first thing Saturday morning had something to do with her positive attitude.

We woke up to more rain on Sunday, after it rained all day Saturday. UGH, I was sick of being wet. Even worse, there wasn't enough workers for the Senior test. Our judges had to set the test up by themselves. The test was supposed to start at 8 a.m., but by 8:30 a.m. we only had 10 handlers. I grabbed a catalog and started checking people in as Marshall, and the judges asked if anyone could run a gunning station since we needed one more worker.

We adjusted the running order to work around handlers working and suddenly no one wanted to go first. I decided what the heck and I wrote myself in first. It's a good test of the dog and handler to go first, and since we'd titled the week before, I had nothing on the line.

Our judges gave us a lovely doable Senior test. As the judges proved last week, you don't have to kill Senior dogs and handlers with near-master level tests to weed out the dogs who should pass and the ones who shouldn't. This was the same husband-wife judging team who had seen Page and I on Saturday, and I was determined to make sure they saw I could train a Golden since they also worked Goldens!

Devon was solid on the walk up. She lined her go bird and locked easily on her memory bird. The memory bird was in the same spot as one of the Junior marks the day before. Devon pulled up early and turned toward the gunning station. When she reached it, she did a 180 (not before giving them a tail wag) and went directly to her mark. She hadn't done that in ages, and I think she was just getting some ya-yas out being first on the line and being cooped up the day before.

We walked over to the blind. She locked pretty quickly and took a nice initial line. It was too bad she wasn't later in the running order, or she might have lined it. She went a little right of the line, I let her carry it, but then stopped her. She obeyed and took a nice left over. However, I stopped her a little late for the back. I had an epiphany here, realizing I have been waiting to whistle when she's on the line. I need to whistle earlier and stop her short of the line to prevent her overshooting to the opposite side.

She started working back, but now was a little to the left of the line. I gave her a whistle, but she ignored it. She was getting farther left and ignored a second whistle. The third whistle she obeyed, but by this time she had smelled the bird. She never looked at me but her head was turned in the correct direction and I knew she was going to go, so I gave her the over and she hunted up the bird.

It wasn't the prettiest land blind she's ever done, but it was good enough. We moved back for the honor. Devon is solid on honors, but she pounced her front feet like she was going to go when the memory bird hit. My heart stopped, but I didn't react (I think I was numb) and she was solid until we were released. Not a bad land series for the first dog!

I went back to work behind the judges bagging birds for the rest of the land series. I love doing this job, since you can see so much of the handling and the way the test runs. That being said, I was pretty tired after another 28 dogs! At least I got lunch!

They called 20 dogs back to water. Fortunately, the day had cleared, but the wind was continuing to swirl from all directions as it had on land. The judges worked to reset the water test, telling us we'd like it better than what they had originally planned.

I did like it. It was a straight-forward double with the go bird up on the opposite side of the bank and the memory bird visible in water. The blind was almost straight across the pond, where I had "suggested" the judge put it when he was setting up (I didn't think he'd listen!).

It was not a pond I expected Devon to like. It had stumps and lilies in it. It was dark; but it did have grass along the bank. She prefers grass to set her precious blond feathers on than mud. This time we ran "in order" which put me near the end.

We walked up to the line, and Devon was ready to go. She did a good job going down into the water, swimming across, pulling up on the opposite bank and giving a short hunt for her bird. She lined up a little buggy for her memory bird, and I kept pulling her to my right thinking I was giving her the best line. I figured she would be buggy and was ready for a handle into the water, but Devon surprised me by going straight in and straight to her bird.

Wow! That was an improvement. The judge even laughed and said the reason she was buggy was because she couldn't see the bird the more I pulled her to the right because of a bush. Gee, maybe I should give my dog more credit.

So she aced the marks, and now to the blind. Devon again surprised me by going straight into the water for the blind when she usually cheats the bank. Maybe that water work last week helped! She got halfway out and pulled to a point of land to the left. I whistled for a sit to give and over, and she ignored it. Four whistles later and she finally sat. I waited, then cast her right over and she went left! Devil! That was now five refusals! I gave her two more whistles to sit and she ignored them, getting farther away from her bird in her attempt to hunt it up because she thought she knew best.

That was it - I hated to do it, but it was time. I gave her a come in whistle and called her in. She didn't deserve to get the reward and in my mind we'd already failed with that many refusals. The devil ignored me and took off around the back of the pond. She was hunting! Even worse, she found the bird by cheating the bank and coming in behind it. She finally got wet and swam back to me with the bird.

The one judge came flying out of his chair, saying, "You couldn't get her to sit! You couldn't even get her to sit!" He couldn't believe I was calling my dog in. His wife and co-judge who had been standing behind me turned and answered for me. She said, "nope, there was no way!" He went on to tell me I didn't want to see the scores we had left in the book and that she was one of the best working dogs of the entire test. He couldn't believe I'd called her in and not tried to hack it out.

Now I know what Mitch feels like when he picks up one of his dogs. There are times he's done the same thing because he knew a dog wasn't working with him. He's rather sacrifice the pass than sacrifice the training. Frankly, that's the kind of trainer I want to be. I want to be more worried about my dog's training than a Q or a pass. It's a hard thing to do, but you have better dogs for it.

In the end, I explained we already had the title and we'd been testing four weekends in a row. The judges agreed that's why I saw what I did on the blind. She was getting test wise and needed a break.

So that's what we're doing this week - giving Devon a little break. She'll get set ups on Thursday and a WCX test in a couple of weeks. But now our focus turns to tracking and agility and obedience. We'll work on refining some skills this winter and then hit it again next spring. We're definitely headed to Master, so I still have work ahead of me!

And even though I had two bad girls walking off the line this weekend, I smiled all the way to the car with both. Devon gave me a great hunt test season, and I know she loved getting her ducks. She works her guts out for me, and I can't ask for much more than that!

Page's first hunt test (and last for a while)

Ok, I know. Page is 7 months old. She's a baby! But she was doing really, really well with her training so since Devon was entered in Senior tests, I decided (with Mitch's reluctant blessing) to put her in two weekends of hunt tests.

About 10 days before the test, Page showed signs of going through a fear period. She got confused running an in and out of water mark and shied at a decoy which isn't like her at all. Then last week, she got totally confused running very simple water marks with a duck. This was enough for me to pull her from the test Oct. 3-4 since Devon was already pulled from that weekend and the test wasn't closed.

On the Thursday before the test, she ran very nice land marks, but on one land mark she stopped 12 ft. from me and didn't want to bring me back the bird. Page doesn't always want to come into heel, but she'd never just decided to keep the bird! We had a little discussion about it, and she saw it my way and gave me back the duck. Problem solved and it didn't come up again.

On water, she again got out of the water on the opposite bank on her water mark. She needed the gunner to help her back into the water. Things were not looking good for her first test!

On Saturday we were the first dog on the line. I wasn't nervous, which was good. Page went out for her first mark fast and straight as an arrow. Then she pulled up short and investigated every spot the test dog stopped to munch on the birds on the way back. After the judge reminded me to breathe, I just stood there and let her work it out. She finally did, and grabbed the bird and brought it back in.

On the way in, she tripped and dropped the bird. She was so shocked, she just stopped, looked at the bird then looked at me like, "Ooops! I didn't mean to do that!" I told her to fetch it up in a positive voice. She grabbed it and came in, but stopped 12 ft. away and didn't want to come it. The devil! After a few more commands from me, she did bring the duck to me and I caught it. Not pretty, but a pass.

The second land mark was better, but this time Page came to me with the bird then looped away and wanted to keep it. I got the bird much more quickly this time, but it still wasn't pretty. Our judges were a husband and wife team, and she said good job. He said nothing. Ooooh, I bet those scores weren't pretty!

On the way back to the car, several people said nice job and I just smiled. One woman, who I figured out was the judge for the next day, asked if I passed. I said yes but it wasn't pretty. She informed me it didn't have to be pretty. I smiled and said, "For me, it does." I decided to run her on water just to see what I had, but I knew then I was scratching her the next day. I wasn't seeing what I wanted to. My goal is more than a JH, so I want a solid dog that I didn't have.

The water test was very nice. Two splashy singles on a pond in the woods. The gunners were very hidden. I thought the bank wouldn't be appealing to run because it had a lot of brush around it. The first mark was 70ish yards and the second shorter.

Page was the second dog to the line for water, and she was beside herself. Waiting and self control are NOT her specialties. Our friend Jan with the girls' cousin Keeper said, "Oh she's so 7 months old!" At that point everyone in the gallery who was standing around said they couldn't believe she was 7 months old. I said, "yep, and I'm never doing this again!"

Then it was Page's turn. I had many visions of what she could do, but I didn't expect what she did do. When I released her, instead of going directly into the water by the path down the 2 ft. drop, she skirted along the bank a few feet and went right through the heavy cover to fling herself into the middle of an arrowhead plant. Instead of freaking her out, she clawed through this thing holding her back from her bird and once in open water, she swam straight as an arrow to her mark. Wow! The perseverance score must have been a 10!

When she reached the duck, she grabbed it, spun in the water and swam straight back to me. Wow! This was the dog I was used to watching! What a girl! Reaching the bank, she came up, dropped the bird to shake, then picked it back up and looking at me standing 4 ft away from her ... that's when she must have thought, "You know, I was the one who swam all the way out there for this bird. If momma wants one, SHE can swim out there and get one!" She took a right turn and walked 6 ft. away from me with her prize.

Nothing was going to get this puppy and her bird back to me. I knew it. The judge suggested I walk backwards, but all that did was give Page the permission to go farther from me. I apologized to the judges, got my dog and retrieved the wet duck. We were done!

There were a lot of good things about that water retrieve. She showed me what she can do and the drive she has to get the birds. I was very happy to see that water confidence. I was also happy she wasn't worried about any of the vegetation in that pond. It was a dark pond, and I can see how some young dogs wouldn't like it. Page didn't give it a second thought.

But in the end she showed me we have a lot more work to do. In talking with Mitch, we agreed she didn't transition smoothly between bumpers and real ducks. I need to get some real ducks and work back through some basics with her. From there, I plan to continue training and teaching drills.

I also want to focus on getting her steady. Just like her momma Bizzy, Page is going to struggle with self control. I saw too many awesome dogs break the honor in Senior the last two weekends not to realize I will have this problem with Page. It will be a new problem for me to work through, since Devon easily understood she was not to go unless sent.

So that's the story of Page's first and last hunt test for a very long while! Someone asked me if I was disappointed in her -- of course not! I was laughing walking off the line on Saturday. I love this little dog, and her only problem was her mother entering her too early. I'm not too proud to admit that, but I'm also smart enough not to repeat it either! We have a lot more work to do, and I'm willing to do it. She's an amazing little girl, and the next time we step to the line we're going to knock it out of the park with all 10s!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Devon gets a gift

Devon continues her role as Library Dog, and she's really enjoying it. She now knows how to lay down next to the kids as they read. As she waits for the kids, she lays in her blanket, usually with ears perked and when they walk in she keeps herself low but wags her tail furiously at them to invite them in.

Last night was particularly fun. One boy wanted to come and say hello. He petted Devon and she laid her head beside him. He told me he thought she wanted her belly rubbed, so he moved into position to do that. Devon reached out her paw and touched his arm when he stopped petting her. His mother said he could come back next week, and I told him he could read to her. He said he couldn't read, and I told him if he got a book with lots of pictures he could make up his own story and those were better anyway. He kissed Devon on the top of the head and told her he loved her when he left.

Another girl took her time and needed help, but she was able to read an entire book. She was so proud of herself, and we celebrated each time she read a complete sentence on her own. After she completed her craft, she came back in to say good-bye to Devon.

And sweetest of all was a little girl we met last week. She and her sister came into read to Devon. They both had their finished craft project, which was a dog house with Devon's name on it glued to black construction paper with multi-colored stars to light Devon's way. After the girls read to Devon, one handed me her craft project. I asked, "Is this for me?" Very sincerely I was told, "No! It's for DEVON!" Of course it was; how silly! I'm just the transportation! Devon's gift is now proudly displayed on our refrigerator where she can look at it often.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The demise of "Ian's Tree"

When I moved to this house, it had a cute little ornamental evergreen in the back yard. It didn't take long for Ian to find it and use it as his own personal toilet. He's the only one of the boys who lifts his leg, and you can see by the first photo that after the first year it was pretty dead.

Once the needles came off, Connor started snapping the lower limbs off of it. He's always loved to play with sticks, and he's been quite disappointed in my selection of tree-less backyards in the last two houses. Only a few limbs remained at the very top where Connor couldn't reach. At this point, Ian's Tree was also called Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree because it looked so bad.

So for four years, this poor stick has been called Ian's Tree. Unfortunately, Ian's Tree is no more. At 6:15 a.m. this morning, Devon and Page were having a grand game of chase in the backyard in the dark. Devon is used to avoiding Ian's Tree, but Page wasn't so fortunate. Page ran smack into the tree, breaking its base and probably seeing stars herself. After giving herself a shake, she adjusted very quickly -- she started chewing on her new toy and trying to pull it out of the ground.

I'm not sure how Ian will adjust without his personal toilet tree. He used the back fence today. If I can get him trained to go all the way around the fence, I won't have to worry about weeds growing up under it. Hummm, do you suppose I can clicker train that behavior?

Agility Class: Get on your running shoes, Mom!

After a big weekend of hunt tests, Devon spent Monday sleeping and playing with her little sister. Tuesday morning we did some water pile work where she swam across a pond to a pile of bumpers on the opposite side. Mitch suggested revisiting this drill this week to straighten up her water entrances.

Tuesday afternoon I worked and Devon napped on the daybed. At one point I got a phone call and I sat down next to her on the daybed to talk. After a couple of minutes, Devon grumbled, got up and stalked over to a spot on the floor to continue her nap.

Apparently I had distrubed the princess during her nap! Geez! What a grumpy sleepyhead!! She's never grumped at me like that before! I realized she must be very, very tired. I worried about taking her to agility class, but I decided to go and just monitor her energy level.

We were the only big dog in the class last night, so I said I'd run at 16 inches instead of our usual 20 inches since Devon was so tired. I even told them the story of Devon grumping at me. We ran an excellent level course from last weekend's Hamilton Dog Training Club trial. I led out and released Devon from the startline, only to nearly collide with her after the second jump! She exploded off the startline and she was flying! I can't recall a time when I had to run so fast with her!

Needless to say, the entire class laughed pretty hard at me. Devon sure conned me last night! I doubt she will get to run 16 inches very often, because I can't run that fast!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Memorable moments from a weekend of two orange ribbons and a title

This was once again a very fun weekend of testing. There were some funny and memorable moments from this weekend that are worth sharing. Enjoy!
  • Devon is a very compliant dog, who I call Ms. Perfect and Gayle says has a "mother-may-I" attitude. I love her attitude and it suits her. However, I'm starting to wonder if she's learning a little too much sass from her little sister Page. In the final blind before walking to the line on Sunday, she was sitting beside me and I knew she was wired. I took off the leash and was wrapping it up to put in my pocket when she got up and started to walk out of the blind on her own. In a quiet but very firm voice I told her to sit. She did. I leaned over and in a firm voice through clenched teeth whispered, "Heel, heel, sit" Devon heeled backwards to my side, sat, threw her head back and looked me square in the face and said, "BARK!" What! Ms. Perfect just sassed me! Devon never sasses me! Those birds are going to her head!
  • Judge #1 on Sunday's land double, "I could hunt behind this dog all day." Judge #2, "She just took the best line to the memory bird of any dog we've seen today." (They had seen 12 dogs to that point.)
  • Sunday Judge after Devon returns with the water memory bird up on the bank, down the roadway, through the gallery and down the path behind the line: "Don't worry, several of the Junior dogs did that yesterday." Great. None of the Senior dogs did it except Devon...
  • As we were waiting for the blind to be planted on Sunday's land series, I asked the judge if Devon could sit and hold the bird for a little while during the wait. She sat at my side looking very beautiful holding her large, fluffy male Mallard with a pretty dark green head. I was looking down on her thinking how beautiful she looked when I noticed she was swaying back and forth. I thought for a second and then looked at her tail. Sure enough, she was sitting there wagging her tail 100 mph. She was so very proud of herself holding that duck. I looked up at the judge and told him to look at her tail. He laughed and shook his head. Only a Golden, and only Devon!
  • I was very focused on Devon as she swam out to the go bird on Sunday's water double. I really needed her to get that bird clean. I was standing straight and tall and focused on her swimming out to that bird, as if I could push her there with my will alone ... Judge to me very quietly, "Uhhh, I can take the gun now." Ooops, I forgot I had it. I handed it back without a word. Maybe he thought I might use it...
  • Sunday Judge to me as Devon is swimming in with the go bird on water: "Do you see the memory bird?" Me to judge: "Yes, it's out there belly up just like my go bird was, right?" Judge to me: "Yep. How much are they charging for those belly up birds these days? $5?" Me to judge: "Nope, they're $50 if you want both of them belly up." Judge to me: "Wow, inflation is really hitting everything these days, isn't it?"
  • During the handle to the memory bird on Sunday, Devon hit some branches in the water. I didn't want her to bounce back right to the shore, so I whistled intending to cast her left to the bird. Devon stops, turns her head left to look at the bird, turns her head backwards to glance at me, ignores me and swims directly to the bird. Judge #1 in a high, mimicking voice: "I don't NEED your whistle momma, I KNOW where the bird is!" Judge #2 in an equally high mocking voice: "Tweet, tweet, I don't need you. Put away that whistle." Me to judges: "Thanks guys. You're funny."
  • Judge to me when Devon started to return to me with the water blind duck, but then decided the shore was too muddy and came the long way around the grass path: "Gee, she really is a princess about the mud!" I was soooo proud.
  • Watching Tara's puppy Lark (half sister to Page) trot proudly through the crowd at the evening banquet with her bumper after the puppy stakes. Lark earned her first of what I expect will be many orange ribbons!
  • Sitting on the ground Saturday evening with brush in hand pulling burrs out of Devon, Reba and Denver with friend Beth, who was instrumental in getting me started in dog training nearly 30 years ago when I was in 4-H. Saturday, all three dogs came home with orange ribbons making us very proud.

Devon SH!!

Devon earned her AKC Senior Hunter title this weekend by passing both tests. I am just so proud of this dog for putting it together and passing four of six tests in a row. This title once again marks a first for me; Devon has the privilege (or the burden) of being my first certified and titled tracking dog and field dog. Oh the things we've learned together!

We finally got a decent Senior test. This one was straight forward and challenging, but it wasn't a killer test that was near Master level. Both birds came from truly hidden gunning stations behind trees. The memory bird (60 yards) landed in a nice mowed path with lots of cover strips in between for the dog to break through. The live flier (80 yards) landed in cover behind a large circular area of light colored grass.

The blind (50 yards) was angled to the left of both marks off to the side and was 50 yards to a bush. The dogs had to drive between two trees then push straight over a mowed path in front of the blind.

We had to walk up to the line and sit the dog when the duck call started behind us. Several of the dogs were confused by the duck call from the line and turned almost missing the first mark down. We've practiced this so Devon only gave a head flick before turning to her mark.

She marked both birds down very well, but as soon as the second mark (the "go bird") hit the ground she immediately turned her head back to the fall of the memory bird. Hummm, now what to do?

You can pick the birds up in any order, and I knew that. However, I waited after the judges called my number (which releases me to work) to send Devon. The pause was enough to get her to swing her head back to the go bird. I gave her another split second to make sure she wouldn't swing back and sent her. Later the poor guy sitting on the honor said to me, "I thought you were never going to send your dog!" I gave him a heart attack and I felt really bad and apologized.

Devon picked up her marks beautifully. She lined up nicely for her blind. I wasn't sure how she'd handle going between the two trees. That's a lot of suction for her and I wondered if she'd power past them or get sucked to one of them. I was very pleased when she powered right between the trees. I could tell she caught the drag-back from the previous dogs and she was on a direct line.

I wondered for a split second if she was going to line the blind, but then she hit the mowed path in front of the blind and pulled right. I whistled and she sat and took one beautiful cast to the bird. Boy she made that look easy!

It was a good thing her land was picture perfect, because water was a little tense. We were in a mucky pond, which Devon hates. The water marks both splashed and were nice distances. Devon went out for the go bird, but once she got into the pond she reverted to being a princess and hating the mud.

The memory bird was near the bank in the shade so it was hard to see. She knew where the memory bird was, but she flared and stayed on the bank when I sent her. I had to whistle her to get into the water, which meant I had to "handle her to the bird." Once she was in the water, she remembered the mark, but I still had to whistle her and cast her to it. She looked quite confused, but I think our discipline casting got us through it.

Now we only had the water blind to get. It was tight to the bank, which is a struggle for Devon. She didn't want to sit on the bank with all the mud, so I had a hard time lining her up. Once sent she stayed on the bank as I expected. I had to put her over into the water, then she locked on the far shore where the "go bird" had landed. I let her swim, but then whistled her back left to the line of the blind.

Once Devon was back on the line I whistled her and had a difficult decision to make. A left back would have spun her toward the shore which I knew would make her shore up. A right back would likely have sent her back out toward where the water mark had been and where she had just come from. I didn't like either option.

I chose a left back, and she did just what I expected and got back on the shore. Three casts later and she still was on the shore but now one over gave her the blind. It was very, very ugly. All positive comments from the judges stopped when she was working the blind. I knew we were on the bubble as far as passing, but I also knew her land work had been very solid and we had the wiggle room.

The other dogs that had run late also struggled with the shore on the blind. Mitch was the last to run and he came down with two Flat-Coated Retrievers. On the way down he asked how I did and I said I wasn't sure but we'd talk later. His first dog Vince did exactly what Devon did, so I got to see the pro work and I "went to school."

Mitch kept Vince out to the right of the blind in more open water. He wasn't on the line of the blind, but it kept Vince out of trouble on the bank until he winded the bird and was cast back left for it. He did the same with his next dog, a younger and less experienced Flat Coat named Louie (who I love). Louie had more cast refusals but still got the bird. I figured his performance was on par with Devon's.

The judges told Mitch Louie did about what most of the last four dogs did. I thought that comment was interesting, because they indicated the last four dogs ran the blind differently and not as well as the first four dogs (only 10 dogs went to water). Obviously they saw a trend as they judged and took it into consideration.

In talking with Mitch later, he said the mud and muck in that pond held a lot of scent which is why the later dogs were pulling to it. This explained why Devon did what she did because she's a tracking dog and follows scent. It was a really good lesson for me to learn, and I was really glad I got to watch Mitch run his two dogs.

That night at the banquet, I was rewarded with our 3rd orange ribbon (Devon already had her reward of six ducks for the day). I'm not sure it was the prettiest pass we had, but it was a pass! In the end 10 of 15 dogs passed, with all the dogs going to water passing.

This was another very nice Senior test. The straight forward land test was double with a memory bird of 50 yards and a go bird of 70 yards. The blind was off to the right and about 45 yards. We had a silent walk up and an honor.

I ended up helping as bird boy collecting birds behind the judges for all but four dogs when I ran Devon. It is one of the best ways to watch and learn during a test, and it really helped the time pass. The dogs were wired Sunday morning, and the honor was very tough. We lost about 5-6 dogs when they broke the honor. The way the test mechanics worked, the honor dog had to wait for one gunning station to reset after the blind was run. The dogs who were high got even higher waiting and watching that gunner reset and knowing more birds were coming down.

Devon was wired Sunday morning. She came out of the truck bouncing straight up and down. In the blinds she's usually quiet and leans against me for pets. In the last blind when I took of her leash she was really sassy (see the next post for more details). I knew we were in for a ride, but I wasn't sure if I'd be driving or she would be!

Devon was controlled walking to the line. She marked both birds well and only flicked her head back to the memory bird for an instant before locking on the go bird. Luckily our honor dog held. Devon took a beautiful line to the go bird, and an equally great line to the memory bird. Because she was so wired, I had her hold the bird while they planted the blind and this kept her sane.

Devon three whistled the blind and did a lovely job. She held her honor and made the land test look easy. I knew we once again had very solid marks on land, and once again we needed them for water.

Ok, I'll admit it. I was pretty tense for land. I wasn't nervous, but I really, really wanted that title so tense would be a good way to describe me. Water was tough. It was a deep pond with dead trees and stumps. There was some debris under the water, but not much. I knew Devon wouldn't like this pond any better than the one the day before.

The water double was tight, maybe 45 degrees. The go bird was longer than the memory bird, which was tucked back into a cove on the right; that meant the dogs had to swim past the memory bird for the go bird. If the dogs got the memory bird first, it was a very difficult handle to the go bird in the middle of stumps and dead trees. I knew if Devon didn't get that go bird first on her own, we were sunk.

I lined Devon up differently than every other dog. I lined her up to the far right on the only remaining grass. I had her lined squarely up on the go bird, knowing it was the most important; I could handle to the memory bird. I also knew if she was sitting on grass she wouldn't be worried about her precious princess cream colored butt sitting in the mud.

The birds went down and I sent her on the go bird. My total concentration was having my body indicate the far bird; I even took two steps to the left behind her to make sure she swam that direction when she flicked her head right to the memory bird. Devon was an awesome dog and swam right to the bird. The first step was accomplished.

As I suspected, she once again didn't want to go back into the water for the memory bird and I had to handle her. UGH! She got to the memory bird, so we had two birds down and one more to go. Devon also made me crazy by sneaking up the bank on the way back with the memory bird and coming down the roadway through the gallery and down the path to the line behind us with the bird. I was so proud. At least she didn't set it down to shake on her wayward journey!

As I was lining her up for the blind, the little princess didn't want to sit her butt in the mud again. UGH! My stress level was going up by the second. I finally got her sent, and she flared on the bank needing two overs before I got her into the water. Once in the water she took a line to the left of the blind. I worked to push her right, but it was only slightly successful. She shored up 20 yards to the left of the blind, ignored my last sit whistle and took right directly to the blind along the shore. She knew where it was, the stinker!

Once again, the judges were quiet after the blind. Goodness she made me crazy this weekend. Talk about sweating it out! She has the judges raving about her land work and her marking, and then she does ugly water blinds and makes them start calculating cast refusals! I knew we had done a better job than Saturday and I knew we had lots of room on the water blind, so fingers and toes were crossed for the orange ribbon. And once again Devon had her reward of six ducks for the day. She was thrilled!

Well, the end of the story was at the beginning of the post. Devon passed, and the judges said we earned it. One judge said she was a great little dog (pretty good compliment since he's a Lab guy); and the other said we had to clean up some little things (gee, flaring on the bank and being a princess about mud) but we should definitely go onto Master. Of the 21 dogs who started on Saturday, 12 went to water and eight passed.

As I have said throughout this journey, I have a great dog. She works her guts out for me and we're a good team. This weekend I think she was rewarding herself a little more than listening to me, but we got the passes and we now have another first, a Senior Hunter. Now it's time to get this girl a bath -- she kind of smells!

Friday, September 18, 2009

We're off again!

We're off for another weekend of hunt tests. Devon's had a good week of training. We focused on blinds and lining this week. One thing I'd like to improve is Devon's bad habit of flaring off the line on water blinds. I hate having to give her an over into the water just to get her swimming.

I also re-learned (how long will it take me) that when Devon is spiraling down the drain and ignoring my casts giving her a correction only makes things worse. Instead, I need to calmly walk out to her, re-sit her from her last failure, walk back and recast her. This requires a lot of walking on my part, but it settles her into working with me again and it's plenty of "correction" of her. We have not yet had this problem in a hunt test (I'm knocking on wood right now), but I have had it happen several times in training. I guess I'll have to invest in hip waders for water...

I took this photo of Devon this week at a place we train. I've always thought this rock with the blue sky would give a lovely backdrop. Devon is such a pretty dog.

Page turned 7 months old on Thursday. She's starting to fill out (but has a long way to go), and she's about the same height as Devon. I think she might be entering another fear period. On Wednesday she shied away from a decoy in water that moved with the wind as she approached it. This was completely new for Page, who has always been bold or ignored decoys in the past. She worked through it and retrieved bumpers around this decoy, but she "forgot" how to get back into the water after she retrieved her bumper probably due to the decoy concern.

After some land retrieves, Page easily went in and out of the pond at another location and retrieved in and around lilies and other decoys. A friend told me later her dog didn't like that particular decoy either. She said it was lighter than the other decoys and had a pointy head and tail. Who knew dogs were so particular about decoys?

Page also accomplished retrieving a real duck out of water. It was hand thrown by me, so pretty short retrieves. Next week we'll work someone else throwing a duck in water and up on the opposite shore. I don't think this will be too hard for her. What has been our biggest challenge with real birds is Page taking a victory lap with them and not wanting to retrieve to hand immediately.

Yesterday Page got a nice TD track. After tracking, she and Devon got a massage by good friend Sheree. Both girls thoroughly enjoyed their treatment and thought if they continued to hang out on the massage table they might get more. Sheree said both girls were powerfully build and had incredible muscles. Not surprising with all the field and tracking they do!

After a busy day of training and errands, Devon again spent time as library dog last night. The library was packed last night, and there were kids everywhere! Devon was in her glory being petted and surrounded by kids. But as the evening went by, three times she laid her head next to or on the lap of a reading child and let out a big contented sigh! Life sure is exhausting for a "girl on the go!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Devon's joy

Devon's greatest joy in life is to sneak into my closet and steal my dirty socks. She's really sneaky and good at this game. Once she's escaped with her loot, she takes them to the bonus room and enjoys them. And like any good Golden, she's so proud of herself she shows me what she's done! Here's Devon enjoying her thievery. How can I get mad at her when she's so obviously enjoying herself?

Monday, September 14, 2009

From "Tweet means sit" to another SH leg!

We had a rollercoaster weekend, that started on a very weak note and ended with our second orange ribbon. Fair warning, this post is going to be long, but I hope worth the read!

The land series was interesting. We had a live flier "go" bird at around 100 yards at the base of a hill. This was a ripping good mark for the dogs. The memory bird was to the right, gunner completely hidden in a treeline. The mark landed up a hill and through a line of cover. You had to position your dog just right so he/she could see the bird land between a gap in the cover. If you didn't position your dog correctly, they'd see the arc of the mark, but not the fall. The double didn't promote switching since there was a woods between the marks.

The interesting thing about the "scenario" they give you for the test, is that they created a "remote send." They had you bring your dog to the line, put him/her on a stay, then step away from your dog about 6-8 feet. You were supposed to be taking a photo of your dog, but the birds started coming in and gunners started to shoot so you had to stop your photo session.

Devon did an outstanding job on the marks in this series. As I expected, when I walked her up and sat her then stepped away, she turned and looked at me like, "What the heck are you doing?" But I had signaled for the birds, and as soon as the judge started her duck call, Devon was all about the marks.

She took a direct line to the flier, stopped and put her head down where the mark should have been then pulled her head up. As it flashed through my mind that she should have been right on top of the bird, she took one more step forward and came up with it. The same thing must have been going through the judge's head, because she said, "I thought she took a direct line to the bird!" Yep! That's my girl!

She still had suction from the go bird down the hill when I lined her up for her memory bird; because of the separation and the cover the memory bird was tough. I usually hang onto the first bird until I send Devon for the memory bird and then hand it to the judge. However, I handed off the bird to give Devon more time to focus. This helped because when I lined her up for the memory bird, she locked in the second time. She only had a 5 ft. very short hunt for the memory bird.

We had a walk up to the land blind. Although short, the blind was challenging. It was up a hill into the same field as the memory bird but on the opposite side of the field. There was the same cover line to break at the top of the hill into the field. There was also a very obvious path 2 ft. to the left of the blind where the blind planter was going in and out of the field.

Because of the position on the blind, the gallery was only able to watch the test dog run the blind to figure out strategy. As I suspected from my previous encounter with an obvious path near a blind, the test dog sucked into this path and followed it a few feet before coming back out. This was going to be tough.

As I said later, the good news is Devon one whistled this blind. The bad news is I blew 6-7 whistles. I'm really not sure what possessed my usually compliant dog to suddenly decide she was on a duck hunt alone. She was ignoring my whistles because she was hunting up the bird. She got into the path once, but rejected it quickly, which did please me. One friend in the gallery said she didn't know if Devon could hear my whistles because they were soft, but I thought they were very loud and only soft to the gallery because of positioning.

In the end, I'll never know. Devon and I did have several conversations about "tweet means sit," but I'm not sure she was paying too much attention to me. I was convinced we'd be dropped because of the whistle refusals, but another friend said the judges discussed me before bringing the next dog to the line and they kept pointing down the field to the flier she'd lined. I held my breath for call backs, and Devon made it to water. In all 36 of 43 dogs went to water.

The water series was in a stick pond. As a young dog Devon didn't have natural water courage, but she's developed into a good water dog. I wasn't sure how she'd feel about this pond. The set up was very difficult. A longer memory bird in "open" water (with lots of underwater debris) and a short 20 yard breaky bird that dropped right in front of them.

Due to the limitations of the pond, we had to walk along a "path" which was through grass and log/stick debris in ankle deep water to send them to the blind. Handling movement was severely restricted by the land that closed in around you and the inches of muck that sucked you into the water at your feet. The honor was on a wooden pallet they placed along the shore. This pallet had open slats and moved. I knew Devon wouldn't like getting on that pallet.

We didn't start the water series until 3:30 p.m. The teen-aged gunners were losing focus rapidly. They had to be rounded up and "talked to" at least three times during this series. Things weren't starting off well, and we were around 25th in the running order.

I learned a valuable lesson about studying where I should stand at the line and watching where other handlers were standing for success. I sat Devon too far back on the shore because I was avoiding mud along the bank, and she didn't get a good look at the memory bird. Devon went for the go bird, and from body posture alone, you could tell she didn't like this pond. She was only in the mucky part so she had worse things to come!

I sent her for the memory bird, and she went but was very weak. She got 8 ft. out into the water and the gunners directly behind her (next to the line) shot off the diversion shot way too early (it was supposed to come as she was swimming in with the memory bird). Devon whipped around like someone shot at her! When she got no direction from me, she turned and swam out 90 degrees away from the bird into open water. To her credit, she was swimming in the direction of the shot.

I whistled her and tried to handle left to the memory bird, but she was clearly very confused. The judges saw it right away and told me to call her in and gave me a no bird which meant I got a "do-over." It took some doing calling her in since she knew there was a bird out there. Finally getting a bird and showing it to her on shore did the trick. The look on her face was priceless; it was, "HEY! How did you find my bird? How did it get up there?"

I took her back to the truck telling her she was a good girl and giving her some kibble as usual. However, she did know something went "wrong" out there. I was supposed to go 2 dogs back, but the Marshall was a young girl and allowed others to push in ahead of me so we ran 6 dogs later. Devon was more subdued on the line, which I thought wasn't a bad thing.

We went to the line after 6:30 p.m. (the test had started at 8:30 a.m. that morning). I lined her up much better the second time and she got a great look at the memory bird. I also got the "$50 bird" which was belly (light side) up with one orange foot sticking straight up on the air and it had a shaft of fading sunlight shining down on it. The sunlight played a factor on the line, because as the go bird winger went off, the shadow was right on top of Devon on the line. Devon hates moving shadows, so she ducked (but never moved her rear end) like the bird was going to come down on her.

Devon went back out into the pond she clearly hated after the go bird. It was a very good thing her go bird was short, because it was sinking fast. It was so water-logged, Devon had a difficult time managing it and walking through the sucking muck. She had to drag the bird in by the neck and just before shore lost it. It sank immediately and she went under past her eyes (and blowing bubbles) after it to bring it back to me at the line.

She lined up for the memory bird, got a good look at it with the sun spotlight shining on it, and I sent her on a firm "BACK." I usually send Devon to marks on her name and to blinds on a "back." However, I wanted her to be very clear that she had to go for this bird no matter how she felt about the stick pond. Devon made me very, very proud. She swam straight to this bird, over lots of debris that pulled her under. She got the bird and came right in. I heard the judges comment that she obviously didn't want to be out in that pond, but she was retrieving her birds anyway. The tone of their voices made it quite clear they were very impressed with her determination and perseverance.

On the blind, Devon again gutted it out and went for the bird. However, we were both tired and the conditions were very, very tough. I knew she had to be perfect on this blind to pass. She got two-thirds of the way out to the bird and took several handles really well. At 60 percent of the way there, it looked like she was walking on the top of a fence. She was wavering between going left and going right. Left would have taken her to the bird, and right would get her into trouble quickly. I let her go to carry as much momentum as she could get in that terrible pond.

Then she made her decision and headed right which was cleaner water and closer to shore. I blew a whistle and she ignored it. She got out of sight, and I called her in. I figured I might be able to handle her back if I could get her back in sight. However, when she came in sight I knew we were done. The look on her face said, "Mom, you told me to come in, and I'm coming in! You opened the door, and I'm charging right through it! I'm done with this pond!" I continued to call her in, and the judge came down the path to tell me she was sorry. I smiled and told her I knew she had failed and was calling her in.

As I was leashing Devon up for the honor, the judge smiled at me and said she thought my dog was going to get that blind. That was a really nice thing to hear from the judges, because I did, too. My friend was working behind these two judges and she told me later they really wanted the dogs to pass. It's really nice to hear that and makes you want to test under those types of judges again.

As I suspected, Devon didn't like the wooden pallet for the honor. It was a good thing she was on leash, or I'm not sure I would have gotten her on it. By the time we honored, we were about the 30th dog to run. The pallet was half sunken in the mud and water and moving. Devon reared up on her leash when I asked her to get on it but did comply.

Devon got lots of hugs and treats for this series. It wasn't a pass, but she worked incredibly hard for me out there and got three-fourths of the way through a very difficult test. I heard later that 22 out of 43 dogs passed on Saturday. Devon was exhausted when we reached the hotel. After my dinner (she and Page were fed at the test site), she curled up next to me with her head on my chest. She fell she was so sound asleep she was snoring!

What a test this proved to be! Each time I show up for a Senior test, they seem to keep getting harder! I arrived at the test grounds early, and even though I was dog 27 of 50 (three dogs eventually scratched) I ran 5th.

This was a long walk up, with the judge walking beside you also carrying a gun. The memory bird was an angle in at the base of a hill 3 ft. from the main driveway in and out of the property. The go bird was 90 degrees to the left in the middle of a hill. The memory bird proved to be quite a challenge, especially for the first 20 dogs because of lack of scent. I got some tips from a pro who was analyzing the test before he ran it, and they worked really well.

As soon as I cleared the judging tent, I turned Devon so she was walking straight at the memory bird. This way she'd get the best "picture" of it as it went down. She marked the go bird by turning her head and upper body 90 degrees to the left. Devon is an fantastic marker, and she lined the go bird despite not physically facing it.

I took my time lining her up for the memory bird, and I sent her on her name, but with a big voice. In hind-sight, my big voice probably drove her past the bird. She took a great line about 3 ft. to the right, but never caught the scent and kept driving. She was in very good company. Most dogs wanted to work behind the gunning station since they are used to angle back or flat birds. They also wanted to charge the hill, since that's also what they're used to seeing in training and tests.

The advice I got was to get on the whistle quickly before they got up the hill and it was a big handle. I was a little too slow on my whistle, and she got behind the gunning station. When she sat, she was to the left and behind the gunning station and the mark was to the right and in front of the gunning station.

I gave her a come in whistle, but I was nervous and it came out a muddle like one big sit whistle. I'm sure she thought, "OK mom, I got it! I'm sitting!" I gave myself an mental kick in the pants and blew the whistle again, this time truly communicating with my dog. Devon got it immediately and came in. I sat her and gave her a big right over, which she took to find the bird.

Devon came in with her mark to applause from the gallery. As the 5th dog to run, even with the handle she had done one of the best jobs of the series so far. Devon knew those cheers were for her, and she was proud of herself. One of the judges smiled at her as she walked off the line and said, "Hey there Fluffy Butt!" Ahh, the joys of having a Golden with cream-colored feathering at a hunt test.

Again 36 dogs made it to call backs. The second series was a water double with back-to-back land and water blinds, plus an honor. It's safe to call this series "meaty." The double was a "mom and pop" double where both marks come from the same gunning station. The memory bird landed on the opposite bank which was 5 ft. up from water level, through cover, over a roadway and in cover on the opposite side. The go bird splashed on the edge of the water. We had to run from a grassy area littered with goose decoys.

I had no handles left on the marks, which was the case for several handlers. I knew that memory bird was very tough, as it failed several dogs. I walked up to the area of the line and picked out the right spot to line Devon up for her marks. I even walked it a couple of times like agility!

As we walked to the line, I was greeted by the judge who said, "OOOHH! It's Fluffy Butt!" Devon held up her end of the bargain, lining her go bird and taking a line only 3 ft. off her memory bird. She got 5 ft. past it, then winded it and did a 180 to picked it up. Ok, we were headed for the blinds!

The land blind was long, with a factor of the pond to the left, a roadway to cross and a hill to charge. Devon went right off the line, at least taking the suction of the pond out of her way. I let her get past the road before sitting her, then gave her a firm whistle and a big left over which she took well. I gave her a left silent back when she got close to the line, and she took that nicely. She started to fade the hill, so I gave her another whistle, but just then she winded the bird. She ignored my whistle but got the bird. We're going to have to work on that at some point, but it was only one whistle refusal on that blind so we were still in the game!

Onto the water blind, which was the biggest challenge yet. They had to swim past one point of land with a cove behind it filled with decoys (if they got into that cove they were done) then to another point of land and the bird was on the backside of the second point of land right at the water's edge. The blind had suction from the go bird of the double which landed on the opposite side of the pond from the blind.

Most of us that got as far as the blinds, chose to run the land blind first, which is what I did. It gave the dogs even more time to have the mark fade from their memory. I couldn't believe we had made it as far as running the water mark. I was really proud that we'd made it that far, and now I was determined to give that blind the best we had to give.

I lined Devon up and sent her, but the devil flared left along the bank. I sat her and we looked at each other for about 3 seconds. I was going to get her into the water! I gave her a strong over and she took it into the water. She was swimming to the land which was the first point, and I tried one left over cast. She scalloped it (took it but returned to her original line because of suction) and I decided to let her get to land but then give her an immediate whistle.

It took me two tries, but once she got on the point, I was able to give her a left over and get her back in the water. She swam to the second point, and again pulled up onto the land to the right of blind. I stopped her and gave her a left over since she was parallel to the bird now, just up on the higher bank. She refused this cast and went back toward the blind planters station.

Now I was annoyed. I was not going to get this close to that blind and have us fail this test! She got a big sit whistle which she wisely chose to take. She got a left over back into the water, which she again took. Now I had to whistle her in, because she was behind the blind. She took this but swam left of the bird. I stopped her and gave her a right over back to shore where she should have been able to see the bird when she took the cast. I'm sure she was thinking, "Mom, you just told me to get in the water when I was up on that shore!" But when she turned and saw the bird, she was a very happy camper.

As she came in with her water blind, I counted up cast refusals. I counted two, and I was trying hard to keep myself from dancing a merry jig right there on the bank. I was just sure we'd done it. The judge came up behind me for the bird, and I held my breath. Would we honor off lead, signaling we were still in the game, or on lead clearly saying we were out? We honored off leash.

After the honor, I heeled Devon back behind the line. She decided she wanted to roll to dry off before she reached the blind where we could put the leash on. I gave her a quiet but firm heel -- I didn't want to lose this ribbon now! The judges stayed in their tent and let me leash up and walk to the gallery -- the biggest sign we had passed! The judges were good about alerting handlers who had failed that they could go home.

So at 7:40 p.m., Devon and I picked up her second orange passing ribbon. Only 19 of the 47 dogs who ran passed this test. I'm not sure if I've ever been more proud of this dog or me. This was an incredibly tough test, and we stepped up to the challenge.

I asked to see Devon's score sheet after the test. She had a 9 out of 10 on her land blind with only the one whistle refusal I noted. She had three cast refusals and three whistle refusals on water for a 4 out of 10, but it got us through. All of her other scores were 9s or 10s, with one very low score on marking because of the one handle on land and one 7 for trainability on the walk up. I'm pretty proud of those scores, since we're a brand new team to this game.

I took two big lessons home this weekend. First, continue to work the test one duck at a time. The second lesson comes from the first: stay fully focused on the goal at the moment. My handles worked on Sunday because I was focused on staying connected with Devon and committed to getting her to the bird. I didn't feel that connection on Saturday, and I'm not sure why. I do know what that connection feels like and that it produces results, so I'm going to work hard to make that connection at next weekend's tests.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Training this week

Both girls have had some good training sessions this week. Page did a couple of TD tracks, and she just looks awesome. I can't wait to test her.

Page's marking has also continued to improve. She's retrieving real ducks on marks. Today she had a hill to fight on a long mark, and she let it push her off her line. We repeated the mark to give her a second throw to help her learn to fight the factor. Amazingly, she didn't need the second throw. She fought the factor herself and took a straight line to the bumper.

Page's water marks are beautiful. She even did a mark high on the opposite bank with ease. On both land and water, she's working really hard to bring the duck into my side and sit. It's almost like you can see the wheels turning in her head as she comes in and she's saying to herself, "Must go to Mom's side and sit; must go to Mom's side and sit..." I'm glad to see her effort, because I know it will degrade a bit at a test.

Devon has had as many marks this week as drills. That concerned me until today. Before running set-ups, I did three land blinds in a completely new area. We had several whistles on the long, harder blind when she was distracted with other things out in the field. I didn't give her birds, which she found disappointing.

However, she handled like a dream on the other two blinds. This was the best blind session we've ever had. I threw marks for her to wipe out the blinds. Even so she ran them again to near perfection, even lining the longest one with a flock of birds taking off behind the blind to distract her.

Last weekend's test really took our game to a new, higher level. We're handling as a team now, and I'm thrilled with where we are. This weekend we're off to another hunt test, with Senior both days. The entry is very high, so I expect land to be tough and judging to be tight. They can't carry too many dogs to water, or we will run out of daylight. I'm not worried. We'll work these tests one duck at a time just like we did last weekend!

Devon relaxing (and Page, too!)

Devon has enjoyed her field training this summer, but she's also enjoyed relaxing, too. The first photo is how she spends most afternoons after morning training. I'm still trying to figure out when she started sleeping on my living room sofa.

Devon also enjoyed having a queen-sized bed all to herself last weekend in the hotel. I tried to explain that most field dogs slept in dog boxes on trailers in the parking lot all night, but I don't think she was listening...

And not to be outdone, Page spent some time on my bed with a bone. Really, they are spoiled when we travel!

Congrats on #7!

I want to congratulate Sarah and Esteban on their new Gaylan's puppy, Lexie! You guys are nuts, but you are also awesome dog trainers and I can't wait to see what you do with her potential!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things said or overheard at a hunt test (part 3)

Here are just some things said during the weekend that I thought would be fun to share.
  • Mitch White: "Devon is the perfect dog for you. She's your perfect first field dog. Devon is the perfect dog for you, and Page is the perfect dog ... FOR ME!" My response: "You can't have her!"
  • Me to Mitch: "Well boss, how did I do?" said on returning from water on Sunday, the only series Mitch was around to see me run. Mitch: "Sorry, I missed it." Me: "You have GOT to be KIDDING ME!" Mitch laughing: "I'm just messing with you because it's so fun!"
  • Me to Mitch: "So, how do I get a Gamekeepers window decal for my car? Do I have to earn my Senior Hunter?" Mitch to me: "Nope, you just have to ask. However, to get the nice black quilted Gamekeepers jacket, you have to earn your Master Hunter." I have the decal now, and I'm documenting this conversation so I get the jacket when I get my first MH!
  • Saturday judge to gallery on land during the dog before me: "Geez, you're a tough crowd! The guy gets the blind and you don't even clap!" Me to judge when Devon brings back the blind: "You're right, they are a tough crowd!" Judge to gallery: "Really, calp for this woman and her dog!"
  • Marshal to me before land series; I was the last dog to run: "The women are doing a better job on this series than the men are, so go get 'em!" There were only 5 women handlers both days with 22 and 23 entries. We did kill the men when it came to pass rate!
  • Saturday judge to me as he's waiting to receive bird from land blind: "She's a nice little dog!"
  • Saturday judge to me after long handle on water memory mark: "I'm sorry we can't pass you today." Me to judge: "That's ok, thank you." Judge to me: "What's this dog's breeding? I really like her!"

Lessons learned at our first hunt test (part 2)

Here's some of the random things I learned this weekend. I feel like I had "book" knowledge until this weekend, and now I have the practical experience to go along with it!
  • Scalloping isn't a cast refusal. If they take the cast for a few steps then get sucked back on their bad line, you just need to tell them again. A cast refusal is literally turning the wrong way or refusing to sit.
  • You can receive a mark back into the holding blind so the bird boy can plant a bird.
  • If you've received the bird in the holding blind and they're planting a bird AND you have a very wired dog, leave the bird in her mouth. She's not going to be thinking about going out and getting another duck when she has one in her mouth.
  • You cannot repeat verbal casts; you can only give a verbal cast once. In training, learn to break this habit.
  • The judges don't judge the return from the mark.
  • Don't point out mistakes with your dog. Devon took a huge looping return on a mark and did a fly by of the blind planter. I didn't expect this and still don't know why she did it. I whistled her several times, then gave her big voice "HERE!" commands. Someone in the gallery who is a judge said I was pointing out a weakness where the judges could mark me down in trainability. I should have just continued to whistle her and not call so much attention to it.
  • You can only send the dog once on a blind. If the dog no-gos, you can step back and handle the dog from there.
And the biggest lesson: hunt test folks are generally really great people. I didn't travel with anyone this weekend and only knew a few folks at the test mostly in other stakes. I had a great time chatting with the other handlers during the test and made some really good friends. We were all rooting for each other, and it was really nice to get smiles and cheers from the gallery.

Our first Senior Hunt Test weekend was a success (part 1)

Wow, if I could have scripted this weekend, I wouldn't have done much better than how it turned out. Ok, a "perfect" weekend would have been two Senior Hunter passes, but I was way more realistic than that!

The short version is we came out with one orange qualifying ribbon on Sunday. I couldn't be more proud of us for that! But, this blog is about the journey, so this post is about the long version of the story!

I had several goals for this weekend. The biggest and #1 goal was for us to look like we belonged in Senior. I've been around the dog training world long enough to know when a team isn't ready for whatever level they're competing in. It's ugly, and you hear comments like, "Nice dog ... too bad about the handler." I didn't want us to be THAT team.

My next goal was to make it to water on the first day. In Junior and Senior tests, you usually have a land "series" and a water "series." You have to pass the first series, usually land, to get invited to continue to play the game. I didn't really expect to pass our first test, but I wanted to play the game as long as we could. I didn't want to go out early.

From there, my goal was to pass. I really wanted to finish the weekend with one pass, but I would not have been disappointed if we didn't have a pass if the other two goals were met.

In addition to those three big picture goals, I also had some training goals I wanted to meet during these tests. First was a goal for me: I wanted to handle slowly and deliberately. I wanted to be confident at the line, give Devon lots of time to lock into her blinds, and take my time handling.

The second training goal was much harder. I didn't think going into this weekend that Devon truly understood the concept of blinds. I know she understood handling, and I think she was getting to understand there were sometimes birds at blinds. But I didn't really think she "got" the whole picture. I think she thought blinds were just more drills and not about finding birds.

My goal was that Devon come out of the weekend better understanding that there were two ways to get birds. First there are marks where she sees them fall from the sky. Then there are blinds where I show her how to get to a bird she doesn't know is there.

I think you can kind of call this goal "understanding the test." I know last year during her first day of her first Junior test, she learned about waiting in holding blinds and walking up to the lines and watching the marks fall. The next day and in all future tests she was calm and quiet in the holding blinds until we got to the last blind, and then she was ready to go. She learned how tests worked, and understanding the concepts of blinds was part of understanding the test.

So, with those goals in mind, I'll tell you how we met all of them successfully! First and absolutely most importantly, I kept my head in the right place this weekend. I viewed the whole thing as one big training session. I "worked the test" from the time I took Devon out to potty before going to the hold blinds to walking off the line. I relaxed my shoulders, took deep breaths and just focused on working my dog.

The result was only a few nerves on land on Saturday, which went away the minute I released her for her first mark. I didn't have a single set of nerves the rest of the weekend. It's amazing how you can really think better without being nervous. As a trainer, this is a fantastic place to be. I'm that way with agility and all my other sports, so it's nice to get to this place so quickly in field work.

When I lined Devon up for a very tough blind, I took all the time I needed to get her to lock. Once sent, when I had to handle her, I acted like I was in slow motion which helped my handling be smooth. Devon got the blind in three whistles, allowing us to pass land and go onto water (another goal met for our first test!).

My first test taught me that there are advantages anywhere in the running order. Lots of trialing in other dog sports has taught me that's the way competing works. Sometimes you get a bad break, and that's the way it is. On land on Saturday, the advantage was for the later running dogs. On water, the advantage was for the earlier dogs.

The gunner on the memory bird on water was getting tired and his throws weren't going in the right place. Instead of landing in open water, the birds were dropping deep in the lily pads. Devon couldn't find her memory bird, and I waited a bit too long to handle her and she got into trouble. (This was ultimately another lesson learned for me. When you have a handle on a mark left and the last mark is bad, pull that handle out early and use it!)

Even though we had too many cast refusals on that handle, Devon eventually got the bird. She did fight me on the handles, because marking has always been "her job" to figure out. By eventually getting the "prize" of the now wet by still very fluffy duck, I hoped Devon had a light bulb moment that maybe Mom knew where those ducks were hiding. This was exactly the kind of "teachable moment" I figured only a test could give us and I hoped she learned from it to get my training goal. When she came back with the bird, I told her she was brilliant and never let her guess we had just failed the test.

As we were waiting to run water, I mentioned to the marshal that this was our first Senior test and Devon was my first field dog. The marshal was shocked. She said she actually thought I did the best job of any handler on land lining my dog up for the blind. She complimented me on my patience in lining and waiting until Devon was really sure before sending her. Hummm, sounds like I met another goal! We didn't have "NEWBIE" written on our foreheads!

I thought Sunday's land test was harder than Saturday's test. This put me in a good frame of mind to continue in my "work the test" attitude. I admit, I wanted to walk away with a pass on Sunday. But the goal of working the test and coming out a better team overshadowed my desire for an orange ribbon -- really, I must be maturing!

Devon was more wired than the day before. She loves this game! She tried to come out of the holding blind three times after she heard the diversion shot that signaled the bird boy to plant the blind. I'll get to a solution to that in my next post, because I learned one. However, at the time, it really frazzled me.

On route to the land blind, the dogs had to go through suction in both directions from drag back scent from the marks and the line where we received the birds. I thought Devon was locked, but when I sent her she went 6 ft. then stopped. I had a clear enough mind to whistle her and give her a back.

That cast drove her into the scent area, and she pulled left. I gave her three right overs, which she took for a couple of steps then sucked back left. I now know this is "scalloping" and not a true cast refusal because she did take my cast initially. However, this is usually where I get frustrated with her and we start to spiral out of control and down the drain. I was NOT going to allow us to spiral out of control on this one. I was going to handle her to the bird.

At that point I whistled her for a sit, and I let her sit there and we stared at each other for about three seconds. I wanted to break the pattern. I thought, "I don't care if we fail this test right here right now. We ARE getting this bird!" Then I gave Devon an over with a big voice "over!" It worked. I broke her out of the suction to the left and she worked back to the line.

When she got close, I gave her another whistle to sit. I again let her sit there and look at me for 2-3 seconds before giving her a big right "BACK!" She hesitated for only a split second, long enough to tell me with her eye contact and body language, "GOT it, Mom!" She drove straight back and got the blind!

It was right there that I knew Devon learned the lessons she needed to from the handling the day before. She figured out the test and learned that once I blow that whistle, I know more about where the bird is than she does. We were also rewarded by going to the next series!

On water, Devon did a lovely job on her marks (although she did cheat the bank coming back from the memory bird). All we had to do was get that water blind, and our orange ribbon was in sight. However, just when I think these things, everything goes down hill.

Devon had a hard time locking on the blind. She finally locked and I sent her, only to have her "lie" to me. The stinker bolted to my right in front of me staying on land going down the path. Sorry girl, you have to get in the water! So she got two immediate whistles pushing her into the water. She did go and picked the hardest route in over a tree branch.

Once in the water, I gave her another over and she finally locked on a decoy on the opposite bank and started swimming. She was swimming a line to the right of the blind (pesky decoys), but she was swimming. I let her get momentum, then once again stopped her, waited for a 3 count, then gave her a big "over!" It worked again! The look on her face told me she had it, and she swam right to the blind and the bird.

So all my training goals were accomplished. We ran in both the land and the water series both days. We got our first Senior pass. We didn't look like newbies but hung with the big dogs (ok, the medium dogs). I worked the test and stayed calm and relaxed. And best of all, Devon learned the concept behind handling to get the birds. Oh yeah, and we got our first pass!

Today we worked some discipline casting, and Devon has never casted so well. I'm working on silent casting, so I can use my voice only when I really need it for impact. She just did everything perfectly. We've really come to a new level in our teamwork and training, and I'm so glad I kept my head and worked us to that level. We need three more passes, and we have six more tests this fall. Here's hoping I can add some more letters after Devon's name this year!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We're as ready as we'll ever be!

Well, we've come to the last training day before Devon's first Senior Hunt Test. We're ready. There's nothing more I can teach her, but I bet there are still lessons for me to learn!

One thing I learned this week may seem simple, but it's very important to me. Last week when Devon lined the blind on the set up (the second time), I saw her lock. On Tuesday and Wednesday we worked blinds. Tuesday was a bit of a disaster on land blinds, but her water blinds looked good.

I didn't want to overly stress Devon on blinds this week, but I also wanted to end on a more positive note than I thought we did on Tuesday. So Wednesday morning I set up three land blinds with birds, but I also set up a T drill. I put her back on the T and did some discipline casting just to solidify good handling. Then I headed to the blinds.

Generally, these blinds were very, very good. Devon and I got into one problem, and that's when she blew off my whistle to track my path (and duck scent) between the blinds. I walked out there and re-sat her where she should have been and walked back to handle. This was plenty of a correction for her, and we got it worked out quickly.

The big lesson I learned on Wednesday was this: Devon stops panting when she locks on her blind. She closes her mouth and is ready to be sent, almost like a mark. I know this is something new that's come in the last week, since I've not really noticed it before. I'm really glad I noticed it, because I think it will help me know when to send her.

Today our field group got together for set ups. My goal for Devon today was just to have a fun, positive time on set ups with no pressure. We accomplished that. The throws we got on land weren't where they were supposed to be, but that was just fine. Devon did a great job of marking and hunting them up. Those things happen and I sometimes have a bad throw, too! She did a good job with her diversion bird and her honor.

On water, I asked the gunner to pick up a throw in the middle of the cattails. I didn't want Devon to get spooked by something two days before a test. I shouldn't have worried. On the second throw the bumper sank! In searching for her bumper, Devon went right to the old fall with no problems. I couldn't figure out why the gunner walked out to "help" until he said, "Well, if I can't see it and you can't see it, I think it sank! How is she going to find it?" Now there's a point you can't argue with! ;-) I started to call her in, but luckily we thought to just throw her a bumper so she'd get something.

After all that, we still had a memory mark out there. Never fear, Devon still got her mark even though I asked her where her dead bird was. Really, I need to keep my head a little better when things don't go as planned!

I have to make a quick comment about Page here. She did amazing today! We worked progressives on one throw on each set up (land and water). Page is figuring out how to work past an old fall and go to where she marked it. I saw this earlier in the week when we worked progressives on a hill. Page is wicked smart, and she proved it today.

On water, she'd only seen progressives up on the opposite shore once, and her first reaction was to drive up on shore! Good girl! And whether or not they knew it, Sheree and Laurie as gunners taught Page another valuable lesson today: how to get back in the water with something in your mouth.

This is a lesson each dog must learn, and it's a hard one. I saw the confusion on Page's face and she started around the bank. But Sheree stopped her and very gently pointed to the water and said something like take it back to mom. Page again looked confused, like, "Hey lady, I have something in my mouth! I can't get back in the water like this!" But she started back toward the water and with my encouragement and Sheree's, she got back in and swam to me. Once was all she needed because the next mark was way up on the opposite bank, and Page was out, got her mark, and back in the water like a pro!

After we were finished cleaning up, Janet appeared with a card and a little purple wrapped box for me. The group got me a couple of little gifts to carry with me during the test to remind me they were thinking of me. I was really touched and got big tears in my eyes (I'm a really big softy). I got a hand-made (by Steve and Janet) rock that said "Believe." There was a story, but I think it's special it's hand made! And I got a coin with a dragonfly on one side, and on the back it says, "Sometimes you have to jump to know you can fly."

Well, we're jumping and I hope we fly! Devon's mother is from the Flying litter, and these pups are talented field dogs. As Laurie wrote in my card, we've done the work and now it's time to enjoy it. So that's my goal for our first Senior test weekend: to enjoy it.

No matter what happens, I get to walk to the line with the best girl. And isn't that all that really matters?

Some tracking for Page

Page has done the tracking circuit in the last week. She ran a really nice VST track earlier in the week. It had an interesting angle up onto the sidewalk by the building that made her work hard. She does love to check out entrances to buildings. It's funny how some dogs always do things and others don't. Devon absolutely has to check out every drain. Page will ignore drains, but cover every inch of a building entry!

Page also ran a blind TDX track with changes of cover and three obstacles aged about 4 hours. Steve laid it for me and asked if I wanted my turns marked. While I was tempted to say yes, I realized we'll be testing within a month and I should be running some blind tracks.

I'm glad I told him a blind track, because it was good for me to trust her. She did an amazing job on this track, crossing two roads and a creek. I'm glad she's a precision tracker, and this time she indicated all but one of her articles. That's still her only weakness!

Finally mid-week I gave Page a TD track. It was aged 1 hour and 40 minutes, so it was still legal TD range. I'm glad Page is still small enough for me to be able to slow her down as she tracks. If she gets much heavier, she's going to be able to drag me down on a track! Page easily handled this track and indicated the two articles I had on the track. Maybe there's hope for articles yet!

2-day field training trip to Ohio

Last week the girls and I went with two friends, Sheree and Laurie, and their dogs to train at Mitch White's in Ohio. We had a wonderful time learning more about our dogs and watching Mitch and others train.

On the first day, we did one set up in Mitch's big field. Devon is so goofy when she sees Mitch. She's like a school girl with a crush around him. Plus, he has a Thunder Launcher that Devon is equally in love with! She wants to take this thing home with her! Mitch uses this launcher for memory birds, and it almost always makes Devon break -- and Devon never breaks!

So, Devon's double was goofy. She broke because of the Thunder and the short breaky go bird. At least I got to practice what a controlled break would look like. She got a diversion bird, and it was up by a blind. When I sent her for the diversion bird, she charged the hill and got into the blind and wouldn't handle off of it. All this made me an absolute wreck! I need to keep my head during a trial, and this set up was no where near that stressful and I fell apart!

So, Devon got to run a blind through a woods. We've never done THAT before! I thought it was really rocky, and it didn't help to have Mitch and two other Master trainers get up and and sit behind me to watch us run this blind. Geez! In retrospect, I think she did better than I thought, and I got some good tips from those looking over my shoulder.

Page was really good on all three marks run as singles. The only thing I forgot to do was show her the Thunder bumpers, which are different from other bumpers. She got out to the mark, but then didn't know WHAT to do with these weird things. My failure earned me a trip out to the Thunder to "help" Page pick up the bumpers.

On her short mark, Page thought she'd launch herself at it before I released her. All four of her feet came off the ground and she flipped backwards, losing the mark. One of the gals in the gallery couldn't believe this kangaroo leap from my crazy girl. She loves her marks!

Later that afternoon, the three of us and our dogs headed to some water near Coshocton. Laurie and I ran some blinds with Dusty and Devon. Both dogs did an outstanding job, and Devon ran a difficult cold blind on two whistles. We had Ellie and Page run progressives up onto the shore, and both girls did really well. Page swims exact lines, and even though her marks were cheaty, she didn't even think about it!

Day 2 started with drills to see where everyone was. I was really pleased with Devon on Mitch's difficult lining drill. She really nailed it, and she looked lots better than she did the month before. Page did a great job on walking fetch. Mitch gave me some tips on helping with her hold when she wanted to get sloppy.

We ended the day with another set up. This set up was designed as a Senior set up with another mark and a second blind for the Master dogs. Devon did a lovely job on her marks, even getting a very long and challenging memory bird.

The blind was about 70-80 yards up a hill with a cover change. I thought she was locked, so I sent her. She angled right, and I stopped her and gave her a left over. That worked for about 4 steps and she was back to the right again. I won't bore you with details, but envision Devon ping ponging back and forth on the top of the hill halfway between me and the blind and me very frustrated.

Finally, I called her back in. I set her back up and suddenly she locked. I knew it. She sat back like a mark had fallen, and I sent her. She cleared the top of the hill on a straight line and lined the blind. Amazing!

Later in our wrap up session, Mitch told me I needed to relax, breathe and work my dog. When she starts spiraling down the drain, my job is not to go with her but to reach in and pull her out. Yeah, that's easier said than done. We're ready for Senior, but our weakness like all Senior dogs is our blind work.

Page got special permission to run a couple of Junior tests this fall. She still needs some work on marks, including progressives to learn to drive past old falls and breaking cover. Her retrieving to hand is getting better all the time as she learns the game. For a 6 month old pup, she's really amazing.

So we all headed home with our "to do" list. I'm really proud of my girls. We've worked hard this summer, and it's nice when it comes together and looks good.