Sunday, September 28, 2008

hot hot hot

Oh boy! We've had a couple of days up at TMT in the past week or so. And holy heck, I can skip hot humid weather. Way back when, Joe Spoo wrote a post about protecting your dogs in the heat -- especially when the temperature and humidity combined add up to more than 150.

Today, even though it's late September, even though the air temp was right around 70degsF, the humidity was 90+%. We had gone up there today with my friends Scott and Bob -- and Bob's lovely Llewellin Belle. I think we sweated off a few dozen pounds between us. But the heat meant that the dogs got a little addled and tired easily, the birds didn't want to fly, and we got very warm. Did I mention that there was little to no air moving?

The fact that each of the dogs made some good finds in dense cover and heavy air was pretty satisfying. We had a mixture of chukar and pheasant put out for us -- and Momo did well on the first batch of chukar despite the fact that they all wanted to run and so had to be worked two or three times each. We then put Bob's Belle down -- who after running around for 15mins decided that she was going to douse herself in the nearest deepest mud puddle to cool off. She then made two stylish finds on a couple of pheasants before going back to the trucks for a rest. The picture is of her first find in some pretty dense sorghum. That rooster was in there and eager to stay hidden.

We then put Jozsi down -- and running chukar and heat and a crazy-ass 16mos-old demon makes a volatile combination. I will say this for my Evil Boy Genius: he ranges far but is always aware of where you are; and he will stop-to-flush, but will also take out a chukar on the ground if it runs away from him more than twice. I want him to be great -- I just need to remember that he doesn't need to be and shouldn't be expected to be a Master Hunter caliber dog (yet). I'll be able to hunt him in more open ground and not-on-chukar once the bird season officially opens -- and he will be fabuloso, I'm sure.

Then Momo went down on the ground again -- and made a couple of great finds on two roosters. Sadly, the gunning team were unable to drop one of them -- and the other made like Haile Gebrselassie. Throughout the afternoon, though, I had been practicing my eco-friendly approach to bird-hunting and feel as though I have now crossed a major threshhold . To date, when hunting I prefer to shoot with paper hulled shotgun shells using fiber wads to minimize the amount of plastic I send into the countryside. I have now refined my Svengali technique to the extent that when birds don't fly, I just catch them by hand. It saves on ammunition costs and has little or no environmental impact. After taking three chukars using My New Fighting Technique, I stepped it up a notch and successfully hand-grabbed this monster. Sadly for him, he was put into one of my launchers and used as a training bird to keep working on getting Momo steady-to-fall.

We're almost there getting Momo steady-to-fall, but the thing that has impressed me so far is his drive to retrieve -- and especially on ditch-chickens. I realise that the average weight of an adult rooster is a little over 2.5lbs -- but this monster was at least 4lbs. (Watch out, Brizstow, these birds are mongo huge!) The point that impresses me is that I am asking a 45lb dog to retrieve a bird that may weigh 10% of his body weight through dense cover in hot, humid conditions. Can we ask or expect much more? I don't know -- but my big beautiful boy continues to impress me.

We're off to CT next weekend for the CVVC Hunt Test at Flaherty. Wish us luck!


In other news -- and I quote Dan's e-mail to me directly -- "So is that RichRod's gameplan.... lull the other team for a half by pretending to suck, then catch them off guard by not sucking? Inspired!" All I know is that the secret operative, and UW graduate, known only as Coffee Boy is rolling in agony.

Friday, September 26, 2008

random musical interlude

In between craving the start of bird season (and, in fact, even just more content now that preserve season has opened here in New York) and the hunt test + field trail seasons, I decided to write a few thoughts on music. This post is inspired by the recent NPR All Songs Considered podcast titled 'The '80s: Were They Really That Bad?' It's a funny hour-long podcast perhaps mostly because I happen to agree with most of the comments in it that, yes, in fact, the 1980s produced some of the most insipid, superficial popular music ever.

I would agree with the host of ASC, Bob Boilan, that so much of 1980s music was dominated by the technological emergence (and subsequent suffocation by) the Yamaha DX7 and digital reverb-heavy studio production. And yet, for all the Escape Clubs and Don Johnsons, there were still bands like Tears for Fears or even Talking Heads who could rely heavily on synthesizers and heavy studio production and still produce great records. (And they were still records, then.)

However it made me reflect on a few things I've been listening to recently. In a lot of ways, I think black metal may be the perverse cousin of 1980s hair-metal. For example, while I can appreciate the athleticism of the drumming, I can hardly listen to Emperor's highly touted Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk because the armature, for want of a better word, is so prominent. There's an element of baroque excess -- in the keyboards, in the band's colorful biography, in the album artwork. And 'excess' seems like the appropriate word because it's not as though Morbid Angel's Blessed Are The Sick is, on paper, much different -- nevertheless, I would say that Blessed is one of the archetypal death metal albums that I measure every other death metal album against. And where every drumbeat on most of the hair metal albums of the 1980s seemed entirely synthetic, Emperor embodies excess by cramming every possible bass drum beat into operatic length songs complete with sweeping synthesizers. And while Emperor is hard for me to listen to, there is still a melody and structure that emerges -- and in that way, Emperor is chaotic in a quasi-mathematical sense. By contrast, Hate Eternal, the side-project of Morbid Angel's former guitar player Erik Rutan, is just uncompromising in its seeming randomness. And hard to listen to.

However, what has emerged from all this digression is my appreciation for Johnny Cash (and frankly, the energy and insight that Rick Rubin shared with him on his final three 'American Recordings' albums). I recently heard Johnny's cover of Neil Diamond's 'Solitary Man' on the radio for the first time and think it's just awesome -- especially if you compare it to both the original and Chris Isaak's cover. Being the velveteen crooner that he is, Isaak's cover is much closer to Neil Diamond's original, smoother but lacking the goofy horn section. While Johnny's version has some sparse background synthesizer/organ/ strings in places, what shines brightly through the recording is his voice and guitar.

In the meantime, my other recent musical highlights have been:

* Jacaszek, Treny -- also first heard on All Songs Considered, and a wonderful dark, moody ambient series of compositions with strings, female voices, and assorted rumbles and pre-digital clicks and creaks.
* Opeth, Watershed -- I have been an Opeth fan for several years and loved them because they (unlike very few other death metal bands) were actually capable of handling modulation (in tempo, tone, genre) without sounding completely ridiculous. This is their newest album and has all kinds of echoes of classic rock and jazz.
* Habib Koité, Afriki -- another great album from Mali. A fabulous mixture of solo songs and more complicated arrangements with backing singers, violins, and horn sections.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

weekend update #2

We just got back from the VCCNE Hunt Test up in Falmouth, MA. It rained all weekend. Just like last year. And like last year, I spent the entire weekend wearing my Filson bibs.

The picture, though, is of Jake and his new pointer, Tessa. Back in April, I had reported about the two of them. At that time, Tessa was on-loan to him so he could get experience handling a pointing dog. It turns out that since then Tessa's breeder gave him the dog because he was doing such a great job with her. Jake is in 9th grade and involved in animal husbandry through his local 4-H chapter -- and frankly, there are a lot of adult handlers who could learn a lot from him. Tessa is still learning the ropes when it comes to birds -- but having judged Jake + Tessa, I can tell you that he got as much out of that dog as anyone could have. Incidentally, if you know how much effort it takes to tire out a Pointer to make her sleep while there are a half-dozen people and a dozen dogs in close proximity, then you know how much exercise she's getting from Jake.

Sadly, Momo did not get his final Senior Hunter leg. Despite various distractions in his heat and having completed everything else well enough, he either didn't hear or chose not to hear my command to 'whoa' and honor his bracemate -- and sadly, and certainly in my eyes, that was that. He was at least paid the compliment of being asked back to be a bye-dog for another dog. We'll head up to CT in early October to try and finish things up there.


In the meantime here are some tips for hunt test handlers:

1) Have fun. As the saying goes, frustration travels down the leash -- and if you are getting torqued about your dog's performance, you are only winding the dog tighter. And don't discount your dog before you're done with your brace.

2) Know the rules and watch some braces. Unless you have been able to train your dog to the next testing level and have absolute faith in his/her performance, then be aware of the test grounds and the rules and how to take advantage of them. In Junior Hunter, there only two kinds of scores: qualifying and not-qualifying. And so, for example, if your dog chases and mouths birds after they've been pointed and flushed, there's no need to apologize and arguably you should just shut up and let the dog do it (because it's not being judged on whether it is steady-to-shot) instead of hollering at it and having it potentially ignore you. To give a second example: if you are 8minutes into a 15minute heat and your dog has successfully pointed two birds already, then hopefully you know from watching other braces as well where the birds are least likely to be. Then politely ask a judge if you can work the edges of the birdfield and head off. That way you can minimize the chances of your dog flushing three birds inappropriately in the remaining 7 minutes and not qualifying.

This might sound like advocating for mediocrity, but also consider that in whatever way hunt tests are supposed to simulate hunting, this is still not hunting. It is highly artificial, and especially with the younger dogs generally found in JH, might be likened to inviting a kindergartner to a kids' party. So, assuming your kindergartner isn't anti-social or allergic to sugar, you are asking your young dog to work in an unusual setting filled with the equivalent of balloons and whistles while they're all cranked up on quail-scented sugar. While you may feel better about getting higher scores, you'll be more upset by no ribbon. (And keep in mind that it is really about us, as owners and handlers, at this point.) For the long run, it will be better for you and your dog if you can end on an up-note rather than potentially establish a new track of behavior that involves breaking in on birds. And frankly, if your dog is hunting up a blue streak, exploring the outer regions of the birdfield allows your bracemate to have as good a chance to find a bird as it deserves, too.

3) Say less, but say it more forcefully. I am not advocating hollering at your dog, but by contrast instead of saying 'whoa' three or four times, say it once or twice clearly. In several ways this goes back to #1: if you talk non-stop to your dog, how is he/she supposed to recognize a command from back-chatter and how is he/she supposed to know you are serious? And the more you give a command to a dog and it doesn't appear to honor that command, the lower you will score in 'Trainability.'

4) Remember your equipment: blank pistol, ammunition, and water for your dog. While the rules do allow for a handler to shout 'Bang' in the event of a misfire, you are throwing a variable into the heat that your dog may not be prepared for. Especially if it is hot, watering your dog with your judges' permission is also a nice way for a hard-hunting dog to take a little time-out.

I generally keep one vest with all the stuff I need in it for hunt tests and trials -- and a seperate strap-vest for hunting. That way I don't forget the stuff in another vest.

5) Yardwork. As cool as it is to take a young dog into a birdfield, remember that it is a quail-scented sugary cake-fest (although only mildly similar to these). It might be overwhelmed, it might become a crack-fiend. Yardwork gives you and your dog a framework of familiarity. I ask a dog to know four things when we enter a hunt test: stop and stay (which some folks combine into 'whoa'), quarter, and come. Seasoned trainers (like Dave Walker) will strongly suggest that 'whoa-breaking' a young dog is the most important piece of yardwork you can do. Working on 'stay' is certainly useful, but if you are going to do this throw in all kinds of distractions to challenge the dog -- you are after all going to ask your dog to work while it is potentially very over-stimulated. But with any young dog, pay close attention that you aren't pushing the dog too hard -- and that you don't squash the dog's desire to hunt like a fiend. Everything is a balancing act -- and I would strongly suggest that folks read Kim Sampson's recent post on Strideaway and especially the latter parts on Glen Wiese and Rich Robertson.

6) Have fun. This isn't Sudoku where no matter how tough the puzzle, everything still has just one place.


In other news, congratulations are due to Sally, Dennis and Jen. Our favorite German Shorthair Pointer had her first litter of pups on September 9th. Here is a pic of the new mom with her 6 new pups, 5M + 1F. (Incidentally, the girl is all-black just like her mom.)


I just wanted to say quickly that, courtesy of Dan @ ShotonSite posting one of the numerous YouTube videos, I just got to watch the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Saturday Night Live skit on Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. NBC has been both aggressive in shutting down the bootlegs, but ultimately gracious enough to post it on their own website for folks to watch and embed in their blogs. Funny stuff.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

sense of tradition

Here's a quick interlude to encourage folks who might not be checking out either of these sites on a regular basis. The picture is of Momo and a rather surprised bobwhite up in NH.

1) Kim Sampson, contributor to Upland Equations, has recently joined the team at the excellent field-trialing site, Strideaway, too. She has a great post on some of the great teachers and the lessons she's learned from talking with folks like Bill Gibbons and Maurice Lindley as she went through her own immersion process in the high speed world of field-trialing. Kim has a great writing style -- and this article is a great illustration of how, I think, we would all prefer to learn as trainers and handlers.

2) Dale Hernden at LoBank has another article from his 'Great Dogs and Good Men' series -- this time on Jack Stuart. Jack invented one of the first remote releasers and authored Bird Dogs and Upland Game Birds in 1983. But as Dale says, and as I think is obvious in all the genuinely great training books, "Jack may have thought his effort was a training book, but anyone who reads it will know it’s a window into Jacks heart." The book is now out-of-print, but I found a used copy on which I'm looking forward to reading when it gets to me.

I wanted to alert folks to articles like this because, in so many ways, I am a bird-dog novice. I came into all of this backwards. I feel very lucky to have found a good breeder, a great breed club, and some great hunting companions -- all of whom I plunder for information and opinions. So much of our success with our dogs is a result of the relationships we establish which is why I encourage folks to shop around when it comes to breeders and trainers -- just because someone is an 'expert' of some kind (or a dog has an alphabet of titles) doesn't mean you should have to put up with someone with marginal social skills. I've met professionals who were allegedly great with dogs -- but couldn't hold a conversation worth a damn. This is not someone I want to be working with my dogs, if for no other reason than if there's a problem down the line, I want to have the option to call them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

weekend update

The season is now upon us. Sadly, not bird season just as yet... but the Hunt Test season, at least. I took the boys up to Cape Cod again this weekend. Crane WMA is just gorgeous at this time of year, with beautiful flowers and interesting smells. You can get a nice sense of them from this pic of Ivan watering Fruska (who earned her fourth Master Hunter leg this weekend; just one more to go).

This weekend was a little different because a) Jozsi has qualified as a Junior Hunter and doesn't have the skill-set for Senior Hunter yet, b) because hunt tests drive both boys a little nuts when they do them back-to-back in a weekend, I decided that c) I would run Momo on each of the next two Saturdays and judge JH on the next two Sundays. So this weekend was the Mayflower GSP Club fall hunt test and next weekend is 'our' Vizsla Club of Central New England hunt test.

After spending way too much money on hotels and motels last year, we decided to invest in a family tent and some decent sleeping pads so we could camp out. We christened the Kelty Green River 4 in torrential rain in NH at the VCCNE Annual Meeting -- and it survived the remnants of two hurricanes this weekend. While there are some flat spots in the roof that gather water in heavy rain and more guy-lines and heavier tent-stakes would be nice, and besides watching the tent appear to inhale and exhale at around 4:30am this morning, everything worked out. While Meg has yet to test the sheer awesomeness of the PacoPad, if you are rafting, canoe-camping, or car-camping like we are, these are the absolute Mac-Daddy of sleeping pads. And pretty much dognail-proof.

We had pitched out tent in the trailer 'compound'... which meant that if we really had looked like we were going to take off, we could have bailed out into either Jeff + Val's, Ivan + Marlena's, or Manny + Stephanie's trailers. This picture is of M+S's Baron and I+M's Bella... a couple of grand, older vizslas.

So, despite intermittent showers and gusty breezes, despite a bird flushing over his head and behind him, Momo sailed through the third leg of his SH with flying colors. He is definitely a little steadier on point and reliable to stop-to-flush -- and I was very pleased with him. I am still trying to break him of going for the retrieve on the bird-fall, but a hunt test isn't the place to be doing that.

And finally, here is our first picture of Sally + Dennis's new puppy, Tucker. With Sally about to deliver her first litter of pups as well, their house is about to get really crazy. It was great to see the little guy getting his first whiffs of quail and getting all fired-up.

And so, the season is upon us! We head back up to the Cape next weekend, as well. Hopefully we'll have just as much fun!

Monday, September 1, 2008

training update

Well, we just got back from a big training day up in Bernardston, MA, with Team Vizsla -- Northwestern MA chapter -- aka Forest King Vizslas, aka Kim + Mike + Jaida, Cedar + Kyler. As ever, you try to get as much as you can from a whole day -- you may never get everything that you want, but you take what you can get. As you might imagine, scenting conditions were hard with little breeze, temperatures in the high 70degsF, low humidity,

I am now trying to get both boys steady-to-retrieve, ie. once they have pointed and a bird flushed, they need to wait to be told what happens next. Jozsi seems pretty close not to bolting on a gunshot -- whether the bird drops or not -- so he's definitely making progress. This picture is of him pointing a chukar that he had bumped inadvertently and took off -- and which we came back around for about 15mins later. It was an impressive find bearing in mind the fern coverage.

Momo, as ever, is a little too smart for his own good. So, for example, I proved to myself that he is now completely wise to both checkcords and pinchcollars when it comes to remaining steady-to-fall. I started weaning him onto the e-collar (as a replacement for the pinch-collar), but that will be the next training step to get him where I'd like him to be. And here's a picture of Momo pointing a chukar Mike had slept extremely well. (It woke up abruptly as I was hollering to Mike to come up and be ready to shoot.) On the upside, though, both boys seem to stop-to-flush and will even stay put through a blank pistol shot... but birds dropping out the sky are still a little too much temptation.

One major highlight, though, was meeting Kyler's puppies. I warn you, those faint of heart, that what you are about to see may induce a spontaneous desire to either a) own one, or b) vomit. They are barfably cute. They are 4weeks old and just starting to explore the world. They still have their adorably cute blue eyes and way too much skin. And they have an activity span of about 10mins... before they have to nap again. It's hard work growing up to be a primo hunting dog.