The following weekend we had ANOTHER test up in Albion In. This is our “local” retriever club and the only AKC hunt test held in Indiana. I don’t normally like to run tests back to back because not only do we spend all week catching up with work, but it leaves us little time to train for any problems which may have shown up at the previous test.
I also enjoy this test because it is held close to my friends, Janet and Fritz Krull. They own “Whisper”, Disney’s only daughter. I usually stay at the Krull homestead which is on Lake SeaCrist in Leesburg. It is a scenic peaceful place and the dogs love the fact that water is only 15 feet from the back door.
We arrived Thursday evening after work around 8 pm. There is more posted on the Reagan Diaries about the pups experience away from home. Since it was a Double Master, the first test started on Friday and ran through Saturday. The second test started Saturday and ran through Sunday.
My normal routine for a hunt test involves finding a school yard or park and letting the dogs run off some excess steam. This was my first mistake of the weekend. The weather was cool and the winds were swirling. Our section was running in a reclaimed Coal Mine owned by the Amish. A lot of our helpers were Amish men and children who worked hard all day for us.
Our first series was a triple with a flyer , a double blind, and an honor. The high winds were creating havoc for the gunners. Sadly, multiple shots were required to bring down the birds. In addition, the series was “within a bowl” and the duck calls and gun shots echoed off the high dirt walls. The marks were tight and close . For “breaking” dogs, you can’t get a whole lot more exciting than that!
I walked Keaton around the grounds to try and desensitize him to the excitement, but he was ready to rock and roll. We try to stay out of the closest holding blind because he like to “sing” . Vocalization is a tough problem to resolve and corrections often escalate the behavior. For Keaton, I try and place him in a down stay and reward quiet relaxed behavior.
We were pretty late in the running order so he had to sit in the van for at least an hour and ½ listening to the gun shots. I made my way to the line with Keaton who wanted to retrieve NOW. The first bird was thrown down an incline toward a bush from left to right. Then the middle bird came left to right. By this time, Keaton had jumped out in front of me 2-3 feet and was ready to go for it. Then they started shooting at the flyer. After the 4 or 5th shot, Keaton had had enough and starts for the second bird. Once you signal for the birds, you cant talk to the dog until he picks up a bird.
Rules clearing states that dogs are not to be released until the final bird is down and the judges call your dog’s number. Knowing that we had already failed and determined NOT to reward him with a bird , I called him back in(firmly). We honored on lead.
Since we were toward the bottom of the running order, the dog in front of us still needed an honor . They needed a “by dog”. Basically, this dog needs to sit for the marks and then be released to give the “honor dog” a chance to stay or go. I volunteered Keaton to work as the by dog. It gave me a chance to tell him to SIT for all the marks.
Well, we were done for the day so I stayed to watch the next series which was the land/water combination as a walk-up and the memory bird was a flyer. The wind again created difficulties not only with bringing down the birds, but location of the fall. The wind often caused the bird to float to the right in the water making it close to the memory(first bird) mark. As a result, the dog may think it had retrieved a bird in the area and hunt elsewhere .
I left midday and spent the rest of the day hanging out with my friends at the lakefront. I also put Keaton through his steadiness drill in their backyard with the help of Janet and her neighbor. Tomorrow we would have a different strategy !
I set the alarm early and headed out to a park a mile from the Krulls to let Keaton run. It was still dusk, but we could see the paths and Keaton ran, sniffed and pottied. I made him come in frequently with whistle recalls and slowed him occassionally with whistle sits(he was wearing his e-collar). We also worked on some basic obedience heeling and a short stay. After 30 minutes with a more settled dog, we headed to the the grounds for master.
Saturday was a busy day for the club. We had 2 master stakes finishing from friday, 3 new master series , a junior series and a senior series. As a result, we were missing greater than 50% of our dogs/handlers at other stakes. I was suppose to run 25 but ended up running 2nd! In this game, you have to be prepared to go earlier . I thought it would be better if I went when there were fewer dogs and people milling around.
The first series was meaty. It was a land triple with a blind and an honor. It was again a tight triple. The difficulty of this series was the terrain. There were large strips of cover in a the field with moderate winds and light rain. Often dogs will skirt around cover and “get off line” to the mark making the bird harder to find. Even if the dog takes a straight line thru the cover, he can lose his”picture” of where it fell and need to put on a hunt. If the dog hunts an area, but does not come up with the bird , he may “switch” . A switch is when a dog hunts an area then gives up his search to go to another fall area and hunt. Many judges will either severly penalize the dog for perseverance or drop the dog from the series. It is an option for the handler to handle the dog if it leaves the area. MOST, but not ALL judges will allow 2 handles /dog but not 2 handles in 1 series.
Keaton picked up all his marks clean, but did put up a good hunt on the middle bird. His blind was adequate which was my fault for not having a good sense of the depth of the blind. We were carried to series 2! This series took till mid afternoon. The second series didnt start till around 5 pm with only a few hours left of light and a club party at 7. By the time they got the test set-up, we ran only 7-10 dogs. I would run on sunday. The logistic of this set-up included a long walk and mutliple holding blinds and another BIG set-up which was time consuming.
Sunday the weather was much more agreeable. Still it was cool, but sunny and lighter winds. This was a land/water triple as a walkup with a double blind. We had 2 marks on water and 1 on land. The double blind included a down the shore water blind and a land blind off to the back of the gun on the right.
Keaton again picked up the marks cleanly and was steady. He 1 whistled the land blind and handled beautifully on the water blind taking every cast . We were in the 3rd series. Since we had limited help at our stake, I offered to take birds from the judges for the first two series. This is the best seat in the house to watch the dogs and handlers. It was a great learning experience. In the first series I had the extra bonus of taking cover under the judges’s tent avoiding the rain!
One of our judges wanted to set up another triple for the final water series. He compromised with his co-judge as she had an 11 hour drive home and we had already had a couple tough series to see the dogs run triples. We had a down the shore double. UGH, I thought. This is a tough concept as both birds land near the shore which often makes the falls look very similar. In addition, there was 1 lone decoy that could lure the dogs off line. Surrounding the water’s edge was dense, tall cover. If your dog drove up on shore you could lose him . You cant help a dog that you can not see nor can a dog hear well as they run through the cover.
They also increased the excitement of the test by calling from the line. Keaton was steady and went for the go bird. I lined him for the memory and he looked out correctly and I sent him. His line was good, but he saw the decoy which caused him to shore alittle early. I was ready to blow my whistle, but as he got out of the water, he winded the bird and dove around the bush to pick up the mark.
We had our second ribbon!