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.