After a long winter and little outdoor training, We were thrilled when all the snow melted. Sadly, the early spring rains and cold temps also did not make for optimum training. Winter did allow us time to get our trained retrieve and collar conditioning completed.
The trained retrieved also known as the force fetch is a necessary tool for the field dog. Although many will argue that a “positive” retrieve with a clicker will produce the same results, few of these trainers leave the obedience or agility rings. Unlike some field trainers, however, I do teach hold first with a dumbbell and other objects. In addition, I teach fetch with a clicker so that the dog understands the word before introducing the ear pinch.
Reagan has a wonderfully biddable personality and her grandma’s smarts so the training went smoothly. Many trainers can get through the trained retrieve within 2 weeks, but I was in no hurry with the cold so we probably took more like 2 months.
We spent the spring working marks whenever possible and it was mid to late april before we started in water work. With young dogs, I hesitate to put them in cold water unless they get in and swim on their own.
Our first hunt test was a UKC test put on by our “local” retriever club, Backwater, in northern Indiana.The UKC Hunting Retriever tests are much more laid back than their AKC counterparts. Entries can be taken the day of the test but their are limited spots. AKC allows for unlimited entries but has a closing date usually 2 weeks prior to the event.
Another difference between the two registries is that the upper levels(seasoned and finished) require the handler to shoot a pump gun with primer shells. AKC requires that you carry and shoulder a gun at the more advanced levels, but it is a wooden gun. UKC is very strict on gun safety.
Reagan ran the entry level known as started. It is 2 single marked retrieves on land and 2 singles retrieves on water. The dog does not have to” deliver to hand.” In other words, the dog is required to bring the bird close to the handler(within reaching distance) but is allowed to drop the bird at the line. The dogs can also be lightly restrained by the collar unlike the upper levels which require the dog to sit at the line with no collar.
UKC only uses fresh killed birds(ducks) and AKC allows “shot flyers”. Flyers are live birds that are released and shot as a mark. Flyers are very exciting to most dogs and they know the difference. Many a steady dog will break and manners can become less civilized at the line when flyers are involved. Another downside to flyers is the inconsistency of the mark. Some birds are shot later or earlier making the location of the fall vary between dogs. In addition, some birds are overshot or still alive which can be a difficult task for a young or inexperienced dog.
Since this was Reagan’s first experience at a test, I left her Dad Keaton at home . He LOVES the game and to have him stress up in the van seemed unfair if he was not entered.
We got to the grounds early to walk around and relax. Even as a pup, Reagan loved to travel and was thrilled to see so many people and other retrievers. The weather was in the mid-90s and humid. I had new high powered fans by Ryobi with rechargeable batteries and plenty of water and shade to keep her cool.
The judges were very supportive and very conscious of the hot temperatures. They set up reasonable marks and made sure the dogs did not have long waits in the holding blinds. A holding blind is a large”curtain” that is staked in the ground to prevent the next dog in line to watch the marks coming down.
Reagan sat quietly in the holding blinds and at the line. Without a short lead, I am sure in her eagerness to work she would have tried to drag me to the line . She had some small hunts on a couple marks,but used her nose and common sense to find her birds. Because she has been collar conditioned to come and force fetched, her returns and deliveries were clean.
We came home with two pretty blue and black rosettes and her first two legs toward her started hunting retriever title. I felt it was a great experience for both of us and I look forward to our journey together in the field.