Our next trip was to Michigan for a test at Omega Farms. Omega farms is a working cattle farm in lower Michigan . The owners and property managers have also been working the grounds in hopes of it becoming a premier dog training/trialing site.
This test was appealing not only because of the beautiful grounds, but the judges’ panel. All the judges owned and trained flatcoats and were familiar faces to me. I knew they would give ALL breeds and handlers a fair chance.
Unfortunately, the hunt test game is primarily a Lab dominated sport . To a lot of pros and judges, it is the ONLY breed and the only color is black. The flatcoat is actually an older breed than the lab and was known as the Gamekeepers’ dog. They were used to pick up all the birds, wounded or dead, that were left by the pointing dogs handled by Royalty on the estates.
We had a large entry of 72 dogs. If the test is advertized over 2 days, the club holding the event must split the test if over 60 dogs. However, the test can also be advertized to run over 3 days which allows the number to not be split until 120.
Susan and I had planned on going up a few days earlier to train with a friend and his 3 flatcoats. He has a pup sired by Keaton out of his Master Hunter bitch, Dixie. Jim and his wife Sandy live in an adorable log home set out in the woods of MI. Jim has access to several private grounds near his home.
The first day we worked on land marks and blinds . The property had nice rolling hills and adequate cover . In the suburbs of Indianapolis, we have few areas to train with cover and virtually no hills.
Jim had also brought flyers(live birds). Flyers often increase the excitement for the dogs and may lead to “breaking” or losing the memory of other marks. Not all tests use flyers. The use of flyers can also mean less predictability on where the fall lands which means that the test may be a little different for each dog.
Keaton, like his mother Disney, is wired to break. Breaking is a term that means the dog went for the retrieves before being released by the handler. In AKC hunt tests, it is the judge who signal to the handler that you can send your dog. The judges will often call your dog’s number or just say”dog”. Most handlers send their dog by calling the dog’s name. This prevents your dog from confusing his release command with another dog’s command. At the master and senior level, your dog is required to honor another dog’s work. It would highly unlikely that there would be another “Keaton” running right after us!
You will often see young dogs or inexperienceds dog be uncertain about picking up freshly shot birds or wounded birds(cripples). The experience of the gunner and weather conditions can also affect what type of bird the dog might get for his retrieve. Some fly off and some land running! Chili’s flyer never saw a shot and took off running. Chili saw the running bird and started looking for something else. Once coaxed that this was the correct bird, he fetched it up willingly. Keaton’s bird was successfully shot, but landed 20 feet from where it was supposed to land. This made his marks closer together and harder to find.
Keaton and Chili struggled a little with the cover, but work it out well so we were very pleased.
The next day we used a large pond for a down the shore double and a blind. This can be a very tough concept . This is a hard picture for the dog to understand as both marks look very similar coming off the shoreline. All the dogs wanted to go out past the memory bird and had to be handled despite running the memory as a single first.
Jim had a golf cart which was quite handy moving equipment and reloading the launchers. I felt more comfortable with the golf cart than the ATA, but still managed to get myself in trouble. As I got off the cart to reload, the cart decided to keep moving and plowed into the launcher before stopping . I was horrified as both golf carts and launchers are not cheap and I didn’t have the money to buy either. Thankfully, all was intact -just a tangled up mess. Lesson learned: make sure you lock the brake when you decide to walk away from your cart!
The day of the hunt test was exceedingly windy and the judges wanted to do a flyer on the first series. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring the flyers down, the judges decided to scrap the flyer idea. The first series was a delayed triple with the middle bird being a poison bird to a land blind. A “poison” bird is not a bird that was given a toxic substance, but one that the dog is not to pick up until directed.
Behind the middle bird(the poison) was a thick line of cover that went downhill toward the blind. The land bird was to the right of the middle bird across a road in cover. I was able to no Keaton off the poison bird and handle him to the blind. As he returned with his blind, he had to sit for the double marks off to the left and right. He was steady, marked the birds and then was allowed to go for the poison bird. He got off line and into the cover. Being an inexperienced handler, I let him go into the cover hoping he was would wind the bird and pop out of the cover. When he continued to hunt, I attempted to call him in, but he could not hear my whistle(or chose to ignore it). Eventually, I got him out of the cover to the bird, but I was dropped for “losing control of the dog.”
Another lesson learned: You have the tool to keep the dog out of trouble by using a handle. I was too late on the whistle and we were out.
I did stay the rest of the day to watch other dogs and handlers run and see what the second series was all about. It was a wiper double with both marks landing on the shore, but set up along a pond divided into 2 parts with a peninsula. Then there was a double blind: one to the back of the memory in the water and one in the second section of water along the back shore line. The second blind had a long land entry to a narrow body of water with an island off to the right. It was easy to lose your dog around the island . Other dogs wanted to skirt around the edge of the land and had to be handled into a small deep body of water. The bird placement was excellent and really made you think.
Overall, I had fun despite our fumble in the first series. What I like most about hunt tests is being with other people who enjoy the sport and dogs as much as I do.