This was actually not Page's first Junior Hunter test. I put her in one test last fall when she was in the middle of her force fetch and she was 7 months old. She was too young and she decided she wanted to keep that nice fluffy pillow of a duck they threw for her. Now that she's 15 months old and through her basics, it was time to try again.
Saturday's test was challenging, with land marks in corn stubble with high cover. The first mark was short (approx. 50 yards) with the dogs running perpendicular to the corn rows, but there was a small rise near the line so the dogs didn't see the bird hit the ground. There were decoys on the hill just out from the line, too. The mark was hand thrown, so later dogs had a smaller arch which was hard to see with the cover.
The second land mark was longer (approx. 75 yards) with the dogs running at an angle across the corn rows and through more decoys. The dogs saw the mark land, but it was in knee-high cover. In addition to the factors making the marks challenging, the Senior Hunter test was just a few hundred yards away from us across the road. Their start time was the same as ours, and their guns were loud.
Page was catalog #8, but she ran third due to conflicts. The first two dogs had a lot of problems with the second mark, and the first dog got distracted by the senior tests' guns and left the test area. Page was definitely ready to go, and she was difficult to keep calm in the blinds. The first two dogs were black Labs. When the judge came over to ask my number, he peered over the blind to see what type of dog was coming up next. He said I'd get 15 points since I had a Golden. I told him she was the prettiest thing they had seen so far and pointed out her pink camo collar. Both judges laughed and one turned to the other and said, "This ain't her first time at the rodeo!" Page stepped on the first mark, and she only had a brief hunt for the second mark when she came up just to the left of it. Both judges were very complimentary of her land series and she got called back to water.
Page again ran third for water. She was even more excited to get out of the blinds for her second series. The water marks were straight forward. Each landed in the water right against the shore which had lots of cover. There were decoys at the water's edge, but clear paths to the birds. The edge of the pond dropped off sharply, and we were allowed to walk down to the water's edge. While it was an advantage to be close to the water to get the bird, I made the decision to stay on the top of the bank. It was the right decision for me because the grass was wet and I didn't feel like a swim that day.
Page handled the marks well, swimming in a straight line out to both of them. However, she dropped both birds at the water's edge a couple of times to shake. Then the climb up the steep bank with a heavy wet duck caused another drop on each duck. Page was quick to fetch them back up and deliver to hand, but the test environment really brings out what you have to work on!
The judges had nice things to say about Page. One said it was like she had radar for those birds, and he loved her drive. I had several exhibitors compliment her, too; it was nice that they were Lab guys. One guy stopped me and said he loved her and had never seen a Golden run like she did. He said, "She runs like a Lab!"
There were 23 dogs that started the test, 17 went to water and 16 passed. Devon got to be pick up dog for the last dog who didn't go in the water. I had the gunner assist her water blind by standing in line with the bird. She went in nicely and I whistled her once to give her an angle back when she got distracted by the gunning station. She took it nicely, and she was THRILLED to get a bird since she had sat in the van all day long.
Sunday's test was straight forward. The first land mark was about 55 yards in short cover with a hidden gunner and lots of decoys to get through. The second mark was longer through short cover and just into heavy cover, again with a hidden gunner. There were decoys but there was a nice gap through them. We had to change our line between the two marks, so it was nice practice to receive the dog at a different place. We also had to call with a duck call for our own marks. I thought these were nice junior marks sticking to the saying, "hard to get to easy to find; easy to get to hard to find."
Page lined these marks, and I was incredibly pleased with her precision marking. However, her performance in the blinds was worse (she won't relax, tries to bolt out and barks a little), and she dropped each bird once at the line before delivering to hand. The judges were complimentary, both saying she had the potential to be much more than a junior hunter.
The water marks were very nice. They were short swims (no more than 50 yards) and both splashed in open water. Page again lined her marks, but the duck was dropped a couple of times at the water's edge and on the line. As she was returning from the second mark, she had visions of swimming off into the sunset with her new best friend the duck. She paralleled the shore and I had to give her a firm "here" to get her in.
I told the judges it was clear what our homework was, and they agreed. One judge said he's seen junior dogs fail on returning that last mark because they don't want the series to end, and he was right. I knew I had to stick with her on that last duck.
On Sunday, 22 dogs started, 16 got called back to water and 15 dogs passed the test.
So Page is halfway to her Junior Hunter title, but we have some work to do. We'll be working on delivery to hand on water and steadiness in the holding blinds. Page also needs a lot more experience on ducks. She's not as comfortable carrying them as Devon always has been. Page also wants to do things at top speed, and she has to think a little more when she's carrying a duck!