Sunday, March 30, 2008

mixed bag

oh boy... where to start. We spent the afternoon up at TMT Preserve up in Staatsburg -- and it was the first time for Scott and Ed from work to meet the two boys. I intended for them to serve as gunning crew so that I could concentrate on Momo, especially, with his retrieve -- and because this would be the format that he would have to cope with in his pending Senior Hunter tests. And I decided to run the boys independently and then hopefully bring them together to sweep the fields at the end.

Momo pulled a bunch of great points right off the bat -- and here are some nice pics of the boy in action, resplendent in his new skid-plate. And while we had the usual Roy Orbison impersonations and reluctant chukars, things were going fairly well. His first three retrieves were a little reluctant, but he eventually brought them to hand.

With the exception of one bird he just came too close to on the upwind side, he did a grand job of finding birds and holding some nice points while the crew around him organized themselves. But as the afternoon wore on, he started doing something weird which was heading out to mark the bird down, stopping three-quarters of the way, and coming back -- and when told to 'take' the bird (the catch-all command for 'fetch'), he would have to be walked out increasingly closer to the bird before he would mouth it and then bring it to you. I don't know if it was just lack of confidence, the first hunt with his dad since his time with Bob, and/or a couple of new guys around him, but it became clear that he was beginning to struggle with his retrieve.

So I put him up and got Jozsi. All I can really say is that I hope what happened was because he was just so jacked to be out with his dad in bird-fields... because it was like the wheels came off. I was mortified watching him bust birds, or hold point and then charge and pin the bird, and generally act so wound up that it wasn't that much fun to have him out. We had a couple of serious conversations -- and my two colleagues were gracious enough to cut him some 10mos-old puppy slack. But I need to do some serious structured work with him if his JH tests are going to mean anything. Because the State regarded this winter as 'severe,' preserves were able to apply for a two-week extension (which Tom has), so I'll be taking both of them back up there on Thursday.

The unexpected highlight of the afternoon, though, came on the walk back in with Momo. Tom had advised us that there were some timberdoodles in the area (but that we should not shoot at them). And lo! the Mominator got a great point on this mudbat. It was a shame to have to pick him up and take him away from the bird because it didn't make sense to me to flush a bird we couldn't shoot at. I'm quite pleased with the picture -- you can get a pretty good sense of how odd these shorebirds-that-got-evolutionarily-lost-in-the-woods really are.

So anyways, lots of work to do.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

follow-up rant

I could rant about so much, but will restrict myself to a few candid observations.

a) Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, found herself in India last week as part of a bi-partisan trip to India and took advantage of her spot in the limelight as a guest of the Dalai Lama to proclaim that "The cause of Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world." And the speech she gave in Dharmsala sadly recycles an entire paragraph of a speech she gave in November, 2005, on the occasion of his 70th birthday in which she recounts the "'magnificent gift'" of a gold Rolex that FDR gave him as a young man beginning a "valued relationship" between the United States and His Holiness.

And while she has met His Holiness at least four times now, her office has issued no further statements or speeches since March 21st.

b) Vaclav Havel, a man who knows more than a little about cultural resistance in the face of a totalitarian regime, described "...the most dangerous development of this unfortunate situation is the current attempt to seal off Tibet from the rest of the world." And that that we can only really understand the quiet, or quiescence, of Tibet as the "peace of the graveyard." The comments below Havel's piece are worth reading if only for the range of opinions.

c) It seems like something of a shame that the President of a nation often referred to as 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys' is one of few active world leaders who is actually prepared to threaten something remotely substantial -- even if entirely symbolic -- namely to boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies in his capacity as the president of the European Union. There are a few more details here at The London Times.

d) It seems that the Chinese government may have resorted to planting 'fake monks' during a highly scripted visit today by foreign reporters to Lhasa. This story from the International Herald Tribune adds some further dimensions to the extent to which this visit by selected reporters was strictly orchestrated.

As reported in the London Times Online, China, too, has made the ridiculous claim that the Dalai Lama is responsible for "planning attacks with the aid of violent Uighur separatist groups seeking an independent East Turkestan for their largely Muslim people in the northwestern Xinjiang region of China." Or maybe the Chinese government can barely contain the bubbling dissatisfaction of all its ethnic minorities and is trying to unite them to instill fear. Or perhaps yet, as Wayne Madsen has identified, this connection between Uighur and Tibetan nationalism and international terrorism was actually sown by the Bush administration back in 2002. That's a 'valued relationship' for sure. I would encourage folks to check out the UNPO, the Unregistered and National Peoples Organization, and then try to imagine what it could feel like to be an ethnic group without any significant international representation.

For my part, I do happen to believe that China relied on a selective piece of national memory to justify its invasion of Tibet, an invasion that opened up more physical living space and natural resources for its expanding population. And I have met Palden Gyatso -- and have no doubt that the oppression visited on his mind and body during his three decades of imprisonment by the Chinese government was and remains absolutely real. (I am also certain that amidst all the confusion and unrest of protest, there are predatory individuals taking advantage of the chaos to loot, steal, and cause pain to their neighbours -- whether Tibetan or Chinese.)

I do also believe that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of the few genuinely radiant people I have ever encountered (albeit in a large convention hall) -- and an astute politician whose advocation of a 'Middle Way' acknowledges that the politics of resistance sometimes has to begin with the politics of survival. Unlike the author of this story in the China Daily, and this will be the only way I could compare myself to His Holiness, I believe history is dynamic, that even things as monolithic as 'nations' alter and change (and that actively resisting such change through ardent nationalism can be just as destructive). What saddens me about all of this is the denial, moral outrage and hypocrisy that the situation generates.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

visit from royalty

The two snoozing boys are now snoring. They have had so much excitement that they can't stay conscious. We had our first visit with Brisztow Jones... yes, the real live Urban Mutt, Her Regal Majesty of the Blogosphere.... and her nephew, Baxter. If you're wondering what it's like to have four vizslas in a confined space, look no further.

While we are hardly as fancy as the Upper West Side, our two Bronx-siders know how to show a couple of visiting vizslas a good time in the woods. There was running, jumping, chewing sticks, wrestling, more running, trying to decipher the graffiti and avoiding the crazy guys on the mini-bikes. And they even let Brisztow claim one of our logs as her own sovereign domain. She seemed quite pleased with herself.

Brizstow is a cutey -- and Baxter quite the handsome fellow, too. (Incidentally, Brizstow is just a month older than Momo and Baxter just a month younger than Jozsi.) This great pic is courtesy of Karen, Brisztow's mom, and is (I believe) mostly of Baxter's crazy, monster-mouth as he runs from one human to another to another vizsla and then another.

Now I need to get the boys some formal wear so we can go return the visit and hit Central Park. Sadly, I don't think their new blaze skidplates will qualify.

Training updates: Momo and I did a bunch of blind retrieves today with a juiced up quail. I was deliberately lobbing the quail either into piles of leaves or over the other side of a log so that Momo could track the trajectory of the bird, but not see its final resting place. There was no hesitation this time at all, and so he would head out and then nose around looking for the bird till he found it. He seems to be getting confident in himself -- which was the goal. We'll do it a couple more times before Sunday when we head up to the TMT Preserve to get some actual hunting practice in. I know it's just another picture of Momo with a quail in his mouth, but it was today's quail -- and I am proud of him.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ferraris and student drivers

I thought I should post something this evening because I know (using my 'top secret' voice) that something really quite fun should happen tomorrow -- if all goes to plan, we're going to meet royalty. But there should be all kinds of pictures of that tomorrow evening.

Mike @ Living with Bird Dogs has an interesting post about his thoughts on why successful field-trial dogs aren't necessarily bad for hunters and may, in fact, be better for their respective breeds. In an unrelated note, Bill @ The Black & Tan Bombshell has some nostalgic memories of Momo (and I use 'nostalgic' to suggest that his memory is playing kind tricks), and more importantly a question about whether prospective owners can buy 'too much dog'?

As folks may know, I became a hunter after watching and learning and training with Momo -- a dog whose pedigree contains a number of strong, individual dogs, but which are interbred with sweet-tempered, family dogs who look good and like to hunt. I have no doubts that all his little anxieties come from me as his apprentice-handler. When it came to a second vizsla, we (it was really me) wanted a dog with some more 'ooomph' in its family line -- and while they are cousins through a very talented grandmother, Jozsi is overwhelmingly stocked with Rebel Rouser bloodlines. Based on his ancestors' successes, he should be the Ferrari to Momo's BMW. Here's a pic of the two sportscars after a hard day at the lighthouse.

But if we had acquired a 'Jozsi' before a 'Momo', I think we might have been telling a different story. I left Mike @ Living with Bird Dogs a comment about whether he thought paper titles also sometimes let inexperienced, or hyper-competitive, numpties acquire dogs that are beyond their abilities. I had that experience this weekend at a hunt test, when in answer to the question that Lou (one of the judges) asked the handler of a hard-running dog 'do you hunt grouse with this dog?,' the non-sequitur answer came back 'Yes, his parents were National Field Champions.' Lou's question was a subtle way to get to the fact that while this hard-running dog found birds, he was way too motivated to listen to his owner -- and that his owner's answer would net him very few wild birds and probably few hunting partners.

To answer Bill's question: yes, I think new bird-dog owners can over-extend themselves by relying on field-trial titles, especially, to purchase a new pup. Now, I don't happen to think that field-trialing is necessarily bad for dogs -- but I do think that it's not so productive for their owners. Now I know several folks who successfully campaign their dogs in field-trials and who I respect a lot -- but I also know enough horror stories to know that anything that involves human beings competing indirectly through other animate objects (whether it's race-horses or pitbulls) doesn't always turn out well. And I don't honestly care if Momo is better than someone else's dog on a given day -- but I am genuinely flattered when folks like Bill say nice things in public about my dogs.

The question about whether strong field-trial performance and subsequent breeding betters a given breed is an interesting one. I know that it's an ongoing conversation that Wendy + Chris at Widdershins have with Lisa DeForest of Upwind Kennels (and with whom they have co-owned numerous vizslas over the years). Lisa has been producing Dual Champion vizslas (dogs that excel on both the show and the field-trial circuit) since 1986 and, from what I gather from Wendy, believes that breeding from successful field-trial dogs creates a stronger, harder hunting vizsla; Wendy moderates that by saying that vizslas have always been known as close hunting dogs for the foot-hunter and that relying on field-trialing to better the breed is to diminish the 'dual-purpose' nature of the vizsla, namely to also be an affectionate human companion. All I can really tell you is that whatever balance they strike seems to work well for us. I also ventured a few initial thoughts on titles and field-trials in an earlier post here.

To respond to Mike's post: I think folks who buy bird-dogs of whatever breed should think seriously about what, where, and how they plan to hunt -- and then look for a breed and, ideally, try to see the prospective parents work. Failing that, titles will allude to a dog's potential, but if you can't drive, your Ferrari is still useless.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

all shapes + sizes

I just got back from Sugar Brook Field Trial Area in Plainfield, CT, serving as an apprentice judge for the first time at the Irish Setter Club of New England spring hunt-test. Between it being early in the season and Easter Sunday, it was a relatively small turn-out with only 14 braces of dogs running in Junior Hunter.

With the class split into two groups (A+B), it meant that me and the two judges I was apprenticing with, Lou and Carol, got to see 14 dogs -- several German Shorthairs, several Irish setters, an Irish red-and-white setter, a Gordon setter, and a couple of Portguese Pointers. None of the three of us had ever seen a Portuguese Pointer before -- and while one was a pup on his first run in birds (and didn't produce a point), the second one we saw ran well for what is a relatively short, solid dog and put up a great, staunch point in the trees.

As soon as I pulled in the parking lot, though, I recognized one handler as the guy who had run Momo's almost-nemesis back in September. And while this big German Shorthair had learned some pointing manners, his handler still hadn't figured out that if you holler a lot at a hard-headed dog and it doesn't listen to you, hollering more isn't going to do much (especially not for a dog's trainability score).

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a number of changes in the Junior Hunter requirements that will likely eliminate marginal performances from dogs and handlers. (Now, if less dogs qualify, perhaps there will be a longer-term fall-off in the numbers of folks who enter AKC hunt tests.) And while we were a little nervous that some dogs at this test might not qualify as a result of the rule changes, things were pretty cut-and-dry out in the field. Happily, the final brace featured a pair of German Shorthairs that performed just great. The upper picture is of big beautiful Baldur, while the cutey sitting in the lower picture is Ava... who especially at just 7mos old has a great future ahead of her.

All in all, it was very interesting to see this hunt test from a very different angle, this time as a prospective judge rather than as a nervous handler. If you are thinking about either hunting your dog in the woods or handling your dog on the hunt test circuit, keep in mind that your dog is smarter and better equipped than you. So, do your dog a favor, whisper it sweet-nothings, and get out of its way. (And if you're putting a dog on the ground that you know doesn't either know or listen to its 'come' command, then that's poor planning on your part.)


Before I left this morning, I did do some blind retrieves with The Mominator. Again, I juiced up a frosty quail, but this time lobbed it over a log so that he could see direction and gauge distance, but couldn't see the final drop. With one exception (where I think he could have been looking at me and missed the quail-lob), he went out and retrieved the out-of-sight quail to hand. We'll need to keep working on this in the meantime because, while he has been trained to sight retrieve, I'd love him to feel confident going out on a vector I've given him.

In his honor, here's a picture of an ad I just eBayed. It's from the December 1959 issue of Outdoor Life -- and is for Dr. I.S. Osborn's kennels in LeSueur, MN. Osborn was one of the primary importers of vizslas into the United States in the 1950s --and wrote one of the first major papers on the use of X-rays to predict congenital hip dysplasia.

"The world's finest and most beautiful all purpose shooting-dog..."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

three thresholds passed

Threshold #1: I mentioned before that Momo would occasionally blink on a retrieve during our drills if he lost sight of the frozen chukar in a pile of leaves. So I decided to take out one of the frosty quail I had in the freezer and juice it up with some quail scent. That way, if he lost sight of it, he might then realize he could fall back on his much more reliable nose to find the bird.

And so after a few short throws I tossed the little, brown speckled quail some 20ft or so down a trail (into the wind) and it rolled into a pile of brown, speckled leaves and after 15ft, he blinked and wanted to come back. But I just kept reassuring him until his nose did that little skip that says he has something tasty and off he went. And back he came. We'll keep working on this drill because while he should always be able to mark the bird down visually to a reasonable proximity, it is his nose which will get him right there.

Threshold #2: It seems appropriate that the person who inspired me to blog in the the first place, our best friend, Denise Garro, was visitor #4000 since I installed the sitemeter. Wish we had cool t-shirts like Coconino Cycles to send out, but we'll see what else we can find.

Threshold #3: We now have a couch. And two vizslas to fill it. Whoever implied that our dogs were spoiled, all I'm going to say is that even tough, rugged, working dogs need a place to put their feet up (on their owners) at the end of the day. We're actually all very pleased that we can all sit in one place.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

random trip pictures

I have now been bullied by my wife and father-in-law for more pictures from our lighthouse trip. And so here they are. We have vizslas breaking the local speed limit, at rest (and as ever, even happier to be sleeping on someone), and gleefully coming to their mother.

I sent Wendy at Widdershins a couple of pictures of the boys -- and we shared how Jozsi reminds her of her original foundation stud, Upwind Deacon's Apostle, (aka. 'Posse'). Posse is Jozsi's great-great-great grandfather through his mother, Gemini, and the father of Woody, Jozsi's grandfather who had an equally distinguished puppy bird career.

Blog notes: Folks can see the comments from Shawn Wayment in the last few posts, but I put Shawn's blog, BirdDogDocChronicles, in the blogroll. While I love having pics of Momo with chukar in his mouth, it's great to read the adventures of someone trying to find those wild, wiley, western chukar. Shawn's also got nice taste in bird-dog literature.

Thanks also to the folks at Upland Feathers - I've had their blog on my roll for a while, but on my periodic check-in noticed they had reciprocated (and that I had missed the opportunity to get some free pheasant chicks from the NYS DEC).

a quick rant

I have a day off. I am not driving anywhere, except probably to the grocery store once our new couch is delivered. It is raining. And so there's some time to make a few oblique comments about the state of affairs in Tibet.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme had an interview with (Visiting) Associate Professor Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology about the state of affairs in Tibet... presumably because Prof. Sautman's opinion runs counter to those of us with a strong, liberal tendency to dislike large totalitarian regimes that invade other sovereign nations. The podcast with the interview can be found here. Sautman makes the outrageous statement that"no state has ever recognized the independence of Tibet." This is simply fallacious -- even if one restricts oneself to 20thC history. Mongolia negotiated treaties with Tibet explicitly in collective support against China in 1914; even if the purpose of the Simla Treaties was to accede part of Tibet to China, Britain also formally recognized Tibet's suzerainty in 1914.

To Sautman, first: you can keep your job at a Chinese state university, just don't sell out an entire nation to do it. Seeing as you appear to have a flawed sense of 20thC history as is, you are probably unaware of what it means to be called 'quisling.'

I am not naive enough to imagine that the world is a quiet, static place where if we could just return to a peaceful, pre-modern state everything would be lovely. But I do get upset by hypocrisy. There are obviously at least two sides to every story -- but if we really wanted to upstream even further from the dubious claim that Tibet fell under Chinese 'rule' during the Manchu period (1644-1911), then Mongolia gets a decent claim to sovereignty at both countries. However, arguably, neither 'Mongolia' nor 'Tibet' or 'China' existed in the same geo-political ways that we understand them today. Mervyn Goldstein wrote an interesting piece for Foreign Affairs back in 1998 that summarises the modern history of Chinese-Tibetan relations.

One of the reasons Sautman pisses me off is because he seemingly fails to understand why wanting to keep his job and nobody recognizing Tibet on the international stage are related. The Western world is as nervous, if not scared, by modern China in 2008 as it was in 1951. And yet, the CIA funded, trained, and inserted Tibetan resistance fighters into Tibet from 1957 until 1968 -- as documented in John Kenneth Knaus's Orphans of the Cold War. (Here is a New York Times review.) And then the United States bailed out. If this sounds like Afghanistan or Iraq forgive me. (And sadly, this is still a more glorious history than anything my home-country of Britain can claim.)

A Tibetan student and friend of mine, Thupten, once asked me how I knew something about Tibet. And after mulling around in my head for some time, I figured out what had caused the spark. The image in this post is from the book I read as a kid, presumably in the late 1970s, that first got me interested in Tibet. After two years of looking, I finally found a copy about two years ago. The book, incidentally, is primarily about a teenager's coming-of-age in the late 1940s -- resistance to the Chinese incursion only occurs in the background (in much the same way that the Civil War frames Louisa May Alcott's Little Women without actually featuring any battlefield scenes).


George Walker Bush, however, has been expressing his own romantic notions of serving on the front lines in the war against terror. He seems woefully unaware of how he insults the very men and women he ordered into combat at the same time that he tries to compliment them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

training updates

Here's a picture I wasn't sure I'd be taking so soon -- but this is from this morning. Momo and I have been going out every couple of days to build up on his retrieve skills and keep things fresh and fun. He's doing great. The one challenge we've had is that deep-frozen chukar don't smell a lot so if he doesn't quite mark it down visually, he gets a little unsure of himself and needs reassurance to keep going out for the bird.

It's been very interesting working through this with him, in part because (and I'm sure this was how he and Momo defined their relationship) Bob was concerned that when Momo was blinking on the retrieve with me down at Cliffside, he saw that as a refusal/dominance issue -- but which I now, and while I defered to Bob's significant experience then, see as an insecurity issue. Because of my prior relationship with Momo, he seems to be working happily for me with reassurance rather than compulsion. Having said that, if Bob hadn't force-fetched him, I wouldn't be able to write this. Hopefully there'll be a lot more pictures like this.

Bill at the Black & Tan Bombshell has a few observations on 'breaking' dogs -- and for those interested in the low/no force, 'natural' training technique I would strongly recommend reading a couple of books you can see rotate through my MyLibrary widget: Ben William's Bird Dog and Joan Bailey's How to Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves.

Neil has a few reflections of his own on the way we personify our relationships with our dogs -- and it's always interesting to see that Momo and his mother really do appear to have some very similar personality traits. For anyone considering agility for their vizslas, it looks like Lael + Neil are in it for the long haul... so keep an eye out.

Looks like Rocket, too, might be about to get some agility training.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


As I mentioned before, we had booked a weekend at the Saugerties Lighthouse roughly 100miles up the Hudson from New York City. As we discovered at the trailhead, the Saugerties light was ranked #5 of The Guardian newspaper's top-5 lighthouse stays in the world. And while it is a rather modest, if not petite, set-up as compared to the #1 lighthouse in Pembrokeshire, the Saugerties light has a wonderful charm.

Not least of which charm is the fact that you can bring dogs (although you have to rent both bedrooms). The boys were very excited about all the birds hiding in the tall grasses, trees, swampy areas, and cruising on the river... swans, chickadees, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, wood ducks, mallards, as well as honking goose fly-overs. (Those are the birds I recognized. I'm sure there's more.) I've been working Momo into 'honoring,' also called 'backing,' which means that if he sees another dog on point, he whoas and holds until told otherwise. While I think he knows that Jozsi can't possibly be pointing a game-bird out here in the marshland, he has been doing a great job of honoring on command. (Jozsi has also been pulling some very stylish high-head, high-tail points recently.... mmmm..... handsome!)

There is a 1/3 of a mile hike in to the light, and if the high tide exceeds 4ft then the trail is flooded. None of the posted tides were slated to be above 4ft so we felt pretty comfy when Meg set out for the Saturday morning run with the two boys. Soon after she left, Patrick (the very patient resident keeper and maker-of-breakfast) said that there was an additional 1ft of storm surge on its way -- and perhaps I should take Meg some wellies so she could walk back to the lighthouse with dry feet!

While Meg's Sunday morning run with the boys should also have been uneventful, but after dropping the boys' two kennels off at the truck, Patrick informed me that there was an additional 1.5ft due. And so I set out with wellies again so Meg could avoid getting her running shoes and most of her pants soaking wet. We both said to each other that it was actually quite refreshing to have our schedules dictated by tides and weather for a change -- although I guess flooding can pretty much mess up our normal city subway commutes any time it wants.

But that meant that we had to wait till close to noon before the water had gone down far enough to walk out in wellies. This picture of Jas is as we're about to leave -- and you can see how much flotsam had ended up on the deck now that the water had receded. The picture doesn't show the swan who paddled by to look at the rubber-footed lunatics about to wade through the jetsamed trail.

We had two lovely meals out while we were there -- on Friday night, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Miss Lucy's Kitchen and on Saturday, now that our friends Joey, Kerry, and Jas, had arrived, we went over to the New World Home Cooking Company in Woodstock. Between those two lovely meals, we took the boys on a hike up Overlook Mountain and turned back just shy of the Overlook Mountain House ruins because we were socked in by damp, heavy clouds. The unexpected highlight of the trip was that the trailhead virtually coincides with site of the oldest Tibetan monastery in the United States, the Karma Triyana Dharmachakr. Sadly, for us, the monastery is in the midst of an expansion and their construction prevents casual visitors from dropping by to see the place for now.

This final pic is just a fun one of Momo's big nose, a crashed out Jozsi, and the awesome coal-fired column stove in the living room that kept us all toasty and dried our wet socks and towels through the weekend. There'll be more goofy pictures to follow.

Friday, March 14, 2008

quick update

Training update #1: well, I was pretty much wrong. I didn't have to use Momo's e-collar at all. Admittedly all we did today was a bunch of 'Take', 'Hold' and 'Come' with a frosty, frozen chukar... which is to say he was lunging to take the bird from my hand on command, held it like a champ, and if I walked away after calling 'Stay', he brought it right to me on 'Come.'

Now, again, with only one minor blink on his part readily corrected with encouraging words, I deliberately kept things light -- and broke everything down into two 10min sessions in the middle of a walk with just him. I wanted to take out any residual stress of being put through a strict training ritual and try to make things fun (and more realistic) by having him take and hold a bird at random points out in the woods. That seems to have worked. There's a long way to go.

Will be out of bloggery for a couple of days. If you can decipher my DOPPLR widget, you'll see that we go up to Saugerties, NY, this afternoon to spend two days at a lighthouse!! Because we wanted a weekend and because we have dogs (and therefore need to rent the whole thing), we had to book this 14months ago. Joey, Kerry + Jas are coming up tomorrow to spend the night... and as we all know now, Joey = beer. So hopefully we'll have some nice pics to share of the whole shebang.

rethinking ownership + working dogs

Janeen + Mark @ Smartdogs have a great post about dog ownership, potential infringements on private ownership by animal rights groups, and the relationships we establish with our pets (and the language we use to describe that).

Their post references an article by Jon Katz at Slate about whether we consider ourselves pet owners or guardians. Both Katz and the folks at Smartdogs express concern that we may be, in fact, doing our pets an injustice if we decide to realign our thinking and language. As Katz says:

"Seeing them the way we see ourselves—as having human thoughts and needs, human rights—is another kind of abuse and exploitation. It is cruel to crate a child, but it's often helpful and soothing to crate a dog. No human would want to spend five minutes in a kennel, yet good kennels, much maligned by deeply attached pet owners, are often the safest and best places to leave dogs when we leave home."

My own opinion is out about the degree to which animal rights groups are subtly altering our relationships, emotional and political, with our dogs. But Katz's article made me think about the training session I need to conduct with Momo, our older dog, to keep his retrieve on task. In an older post by Pat Burns, he roasts Mike Derr and National Geographic for their castigation of Cesar Millan for his use of mild coercion when necessary. As Pat summarises: "Mr. Millan's point is NOT that dogs need to be bitten or beaten to get them to behave. Mr. Millan is a very civilized trainer and not a violent man. His point is simply this: almost every dog has within it the capacity to be submissive to a true leader."

And keeping his retrieve on-task will, unless Momo has already reconfigured this set of tasks and his + my relationship differently now that Bob isn't here, most likely involve duress for both of us. Again, he knows what he has to do. He has done most of it for me -- and all of it for Bob -- and he has done all of those things with a wagging tail. But I am anticipating using his e-collar a lot, even for this first session.

It struck me as interesting that Jon Katz's first dogs at his farm were border collies, in effect working dogs... dogs who perform specific tasks in our lives because they can do them better even if they rely on us for some direction. While I would dispute one worn adage that a working dog gets soft living in a home with its owner, I am coming to realize that we may have been fortunate to own two great pets who work well in the field -- and that at least one of them needs to go through the transformation into reliable working dog who is also an adored pet.

And while I realize I may be coming close to falling into the trap that most of us, probably even Jon Katz (who seems like a very reasonable man), occasionally trip into -- of humanizing our pets and projecting our anxieties onto them and muddling what we need with what we think they need. But as I mentioned, I have seen Momo perform the tasks he has learned -- and so while I need to be clear and confident in my communication with him, I also need to expect respect from him by his doing what he knows he's been told.

I'll keep everyone posted. And I'm sure I'll be calling Bob.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(stubborn +) handsome SOBs

I have two vizslas napping in their crates after a four-hour drive back from Maryland, a bath each, and an hour-long walk during which these pictures were taken. As you will quickly determine, these are three in a swift sequence. I just happen to like them because you see how trim they both are and how nicely they cover ground.

First off, both boys look like the business. Momo has trimmed down even further, Jozsi has filled out. They look like track-stars. I will get actual weights once they've dried out after dinner, but eye-balling things, I'd say Jozsi is now taller than Momo. He's also only got one-speed: full on. Jozsi really is Mr. Enthusiasm.

7:00pm Newsflash: Momo trimmed down to 43lbs, Jozsi 'The Beast' is now 50lbs!!!

Bob and I spent an hour with Momo this morning going over his retrieve -- and I now have a lot of work to do. Momo clearly knows every single part of the retrieve, and I have no doubt that if I hadn't been there, Bob would have him retrieving everything. So, if we're going to realistically try for Senior Hunter in a month, I need to go over all his drills with him and must not let him think that I am the easy option. I hate the idea of causing him discomfort, but I know that at this point he knows exactly what he's supposed to do -- and so is just choosing not to obey me if he doesn't go out for his fetch. It's tough seeing someone handle your dog roughly -- and I don't mean anything cruel here -- just that to this point in his career Momo has done great doing things which he wanted to do (and which conveniently enough were things I wanted him to do), and if his retrieve is going to be reliable, soft words of encouragement aren't going to do it.

Lael + Neil are experiencing similar challenges with Momo's mother, Makin, although as they work with her to do agility. And as much as I loved her when I met her, Makin never had a reliable retrieve either, so I'm dealing with genetics here, too. The challenge is how to be stern enough to get the job done without toasting the dog -- to build a stronger relationship by working through challenge.

News in Blogland:
1) Kim @ Forest King Vizslas decided that Cedar and Kyler deserved to be in the 'Vizslas who can type' section of our blogroll and has just started her first blog.

2) For those of you that are interested in working (as opposed to show) setters, and especially Gordons, I just discovered that my friend Bill, a.k.a. Black&Tan, has started his own blog, The Black and Tan Bombshell, in honor of Norm Sorby's book that bears that as its subtitle.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

assorted dog-related things + beer

Toys: Today's first two pictures are brought to you courtesy of my new gadget. I blame bloggery, to some extent, but I finally entered the 21stC -- at least in terms of cameras. Our trip to Mongolia made it obvious that a) while I love slides and their richness of color and detail, b) I rarely need professional grade quality resolution, and c) slides take time to be processed and developed. And while I might enlarge one print a year to hang on our walls, the biggest I would realistically go to is a 11" x 14" or a 16" x 20". Why I listened to Dan @ shotonsite when he is so wrong about many things, I have no idea -- but between his advice and his recommendation of Ken Rockwell's excellent photography site, I sold my Contax 35mm set-up and bought my first ever Nikon. And while I may have been a slight sucker to go for the 10.2MP D40x (because more pixels don't necessarily mean better resolution), somehow getting a DSLR with less pixels than my Panasonic TZ-3 point-and-shoot didn't make sense either.

High-quality dogglers: I just got back from my whistle-stop trip to Kittery, ME, to attend my AKC Judges Seminar. It was nice to see some friends from the VCCNE -- Ivan + Marlena, Val + Jeff -- while I was up there, as well as witness the original Maine outdoor mega-store. (Incidentally, Marlena and Val were the first two judges to judge Momo for his JH.) My impression of the revisions to the Pointing Breed Hunting Test guidelines is that they are essentially good and serve to bolster the quality of the judging and therefore the quality of a dog's qualifying performance, although I can already anticipate where there will be some grumbling. For those not especially interested in the details, I've made the following smaller so you can skip past it faster.
  • Hunt Test Committees are going to probably have a hard time getting enough qualified judges bearing in mind that there are now minimum experience requirements for each two-judge panel. Again, this seems like a good idea for ensuring that, even if a novice judge has to confer with his/her judging partner, that partner will have seen plenty of dogs upon which to base their opinion.
  • There are now minimum running times for all three levels -- meaning that in a 15min JH test, the dog will be evaluated for 15mins, and for a 30min SH/MH test, the dog will be evaluated for 30mins. The days of getting one good point and flush in JH and then picking up your dog are over -- and while in several ways, MH has become 'easier' the dog now has to perform satisfactorily for the entire duration of the test. On courses that have distinct established bird-fields, dogs have to spend at least 6mins in that bird-field in JH and 8mins in the bird-field for SH/MH. (And JH dogs are now required to point at least 50% of the birds they encounter on the course.)
  • In all levels, and on courses with distinct back-courses, it is now required that birds be planted and maintained in the back-course. So, while your dog may miss them, handlers can no longer expect that the back-course is just an extended walk to help your dog get its ya-ya's out before it hits the actual bird-field.
  • Interestingly, at the MH level, handlers may now issue brief, quiet cautions to their dogs once they are on point and then release them verbally for the retrieve. Frankly, while I can appreciate old-school MH judges and qualifiers grumbling that things are now easier, I have to go back to the Field Rep's comments that the tests are supposed to engender good hunting dogs. And I know that I'm going to talking quietly to my dog when I hunt -- in part because there are going to be scenarios where the dog shouldn't be making the choice when to go retrieve a downed bird.
As you can see, I had a lovely evening after the test with the Team Vizsla -- Eastern MA chapter. Ella is the big attention sponge she ever was, and Khumbu has grown up into a fabulous, sweet, and handsome young man (who is pictured with his human mom, Adrian). And, unlike our two, they actually look like the cousins they are. But kudos really goes to Rich + Adrian for raising two very well-mannered vizslas.

Sporting Dog Advocacy: Well, I had a nice conversation with Mike Spies the other day about John Yates and the American Sporting Dog Alliance. (See, I really did do some research.) And as you can see, I have added their name to the 'Groups We Belong To' section. Mike and I seem to agree that while we may both be paranoid, the number of mandatory spay-neuter bills coming up before state legislatures (many of which appear to be driven by a 'death to pure-bred dogs' mentality) is disturbing. And that if folks in the sporting dog community aren't at least aware of these bills -- whose starting point is very often the quasi-humane appeal to reduce unwanted dogs -- we may find ourselves out-lobbied at a critical moment.

Mike has a couple of important entries on his blog: the first is a post with data from Charles Hjerpe, emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at UC-Davis, outlining the negative benefits of mandatory spay-neuter programs; the second, citing a USA Today story, reinforces the message in a previous post about potential mandatory spay-neuter legislation in CT -- that such legislation is unnecessary in order to achieve its seemingly explicit goal of reducing the number of animals in shelters.

Beer: I have enjoyed two lovely 'extreme' or mega-hopped beers. I have blogged about Lagunitas Maximus before, but wanted to try it again in proximity to tasting Stone Brewing Company's Ruination Ale. Eric and I seem to agree that a) Stone makes some very nice beers and b) that their regular IPA is relatively lightly flavored. The Ruination seems to fit nicely between their regular IPA and the Maximus. I don't mean this as a negative, because if you've got one good flavor that's arguably all you need, but having re-tried the Maximus it now comes across as being a much more complex IPA than I had initially thought. If the Ruination has a nice full-bodied dry taste to it, the Maximus has some nice warm, fruity tones in the middle. You can't go wrong with either one and if you're a lightweight like me, you won't make it through either full 22oz bottle of 7.5% strength before falling asleep on the couch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

hectic schedule

I started back at work on Monday and discovered that all my various schedule requests for March (and presumably April) have been honored. While this is wonderful, it does mean that the next six weeks will be crazy with dog-related things.

1) I head up to Kittery Trading Post on Friday night after work to participate in an AKC Hunt Test Seminar so that I can hopefully become an approved Hunt Test judge. Before January 1st, 2008, however, there was little formal structure for how one became an AKC Pointing Breed Hunt Test judge -- which, if you can imagine a Terrierman-like rant, could in theory mean that someone who has never handled a pointing dog in a hunt test could be in the position of judging dogs and handlers who were. Now, an aspiring judge has to participate in a seminar, pass the written exam, apprentice twice at the level they hope to judge at, and "handle a dog to at least three qualifying legs at the level to be judged or higher." Makes good sense to me. All the revisions to the Pointing Breed Hunt Test regulations can be found here.

Thank you to the Katahdin German Shorthair Pointer Club for putting this together. On the way back, I will spend the night with Team Vizsla -- Eastern MA chapter, aka Rich, Adrian, Ella, and Khumbu. (Rich just sent me this picture of Khumbu and his dad, Tosci.)

2) Next Wednesday, I will go rescue our boys from Bob at Cliffside. I dream about them every night. I don't care if it sounds goofy -- having those two clowns around again and taking them shooting is pretty much how I want to spend my spring.

3) With that in mind, I have scheduled to do my first apprentice judging at the Irish Setter Club of New England hunt test on Sunday, 3/23, at the Sugar Brook Field Trial Area in Plainfield, CT. Hopefully there'll be a bunch of beautiful red dogs to watch work.

4) I will take the boys hunting up at TMT Preserve on Sunday, 3/30, with Ed and Scott from work. It'll be nice to great to show the boys off and see Ed and Scott outside of work and do something that we all enjoy together.

5) My next apprentice day of judging will be at the Nutmeg Weimaraner Club hunt test on Sunday, 4/6, at the Nod Brook Management Area in Simsbury, CT. Hopefully, too, I'll get to see some beautiful grey ghosts do their thing.

6) Then our spring campaign begins -- with Momo trying for his Senior Hunter and Jozsi aiming for his Junior Hunter! At this point, I am planning to attend the Central New England Brittany Club hunt test weekend, 4/12-13, up in Belchertown, MA -- and then the Mayflower German Shorthair Club Club hunt test weekend, 4/19-20, back up at Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth, MA.

And maybe in the midst of all this we'll be able to take a mid-week break and chase some birds with either or both the Team Vizsla --Eastern MA chapter and the Team Vizsla -- Northern MA chapter. Or maybe even (finally) meet up with the fabulous Brisztow Jones. Phew!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

on a roll

1) Honor roll: just spoke to my good friend, Dan, out in Boulder and found out that their border collie, Charlotte, just earned her FDCh-S. For the ignorant like me that stands for Flyball Dog Champion-Silver... which even with my poor mental arithmetic means that Charlotte has done a fair amount of running in her four-and-a-half years. Which is probably why she looks knackered in this picture Dan sent me. For those looking for something fun to engage their bionic vizsla, flyball might just be it.

I've been catching up with my bloggery while I try to wrestle my body-clock back into alignment with my impending return to work. As ever, the Janeen + Mark at SmartDogs have made a number of useful observations in the past week or so.

2) Your canine medicine cabinet: for those of us who know just enough to know that we're probably not looking at a canine emergency (but who have the confidence to know when we're over our heads), here is the Smartdogs list of suggested items to keep in your dog's medicine cabinet. Based on their own experience, this list adds to one started by Patty Khully, DVM, at "a veterinary blog for pet lovers, vet voyeurs and the medically curious..." In an older post, Pat the Terrierman also has some suggestions for canine antibiotics. Thank you all for your help in encouraging self-sufficiency.

As ever, though, check with your vet about dosage limits, possible side-effects, and any likely necessary follow-up care.

This list supplements the Smartdogs' suggestions for a canine first-aid kit. You can of course also buy a prepackaged kit from and just customize from there.

Kim (especially): if you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or two.

3) Are we afraid of nature? Again, Janeen + Mark make a prescient observation about the state of the Euramerican world. While I have blogged that the human interaction we had with the Tsaatan struck me as somewhat banal, the highlight of the trip was interacting with the reindeer -- who were just friendly enough to tolerate you rubbing their necks, sinking your fingers into their deep, deep shaggy coats. It does concern me that as folks become increasingly urbanized, they become increasingly distant not just from 'wild' nature but also from their food sources -- even if they choose not to eat meat.

4) My vizsla is smarter than your honor student: if this isn't already available as a bumpersticker, someone needs to make one. Seriously, though, National Geographic has a nice feature on animal intelligence including the fabulous Betsy, the border collie. Sadly, no vizslas made the article because they were too busy sitting on their owners.

5) It could only happen in California: at least that's probably what a lot of us thought. Sadly, though, it seems as though there is a study afoot to explore a mandatory spay-neuter program in Connecticut. It would certainly appear that $$$, bankrupt ideology, and a lack of imagination are fueling the study. My question for Fred Acker of the CSPCA would be this: if there aren't enough dogs and cats for Connecticutians to adopt, then why don't you pat yourself on the back (even if it is undeserved), resign, and ask your board of directors to give your salary to a state that doesn't have your good fortune?

I don't know John Yates personally, so I can't vouch for him one way or the other. But I am doing my research to find out more about the American Sporting Dog Alliance to see if I will get on board -- happily I recognize one name on their board of directors.

6) More crazed vizslas: congratulations to Seeker, Jozsi's older cousin, aka Widdershins Thrill Seeker JH CC OC, who whelped 8 new puppies (4m + 4f) on February 21st. Pretty sure all these pups have homes to go to... with a sire like Duke, aka FC AFC Pointe Blanc's Rusty Miracle, those should be firecracker field dogs. Congratulations, too, to Chris + Wendy!

lost luggage

We arrived safely yesterday, although our bags (perhaps not surprisingly) were unable to make the transfer from Ulaan Baatar to JFK in time. And while it may simply be in comparison with Aeroflot, the seemingly very nice folks at Delta called last night to say that our bags should be delivered this morning.

With my body clock slightly skewed, I decided to blog a few random notes and a few random pictures that hadn't made the blog yet. Sadly, we missed Spirit Day ('western attire') at Diablo Vista Middle School on Friday. However, unlike someone else at Diablo Vista Middle School, we aren't missing a black Lexus 470 SUV. It's parked outside the State Department Store on Peace Avenue. If anyone from Woodfield Hummer in Schaumberg, IL, is checking the Regal Vizsla, we know where your dark blue H3 is, too.

If you want to buy a previously owned, but not necessarily used luxury foreign car in UB, don't worry about finding some shady backstreet to do the deal. You won't even need to change money as the prices are in dollars. Short of parking them in front of the Parliament building, they couldn't be in any less public place. Next to the cop cars.

The reason to own a luxury car is almost as goofy as the reason to own a decent roadbike... while you might find someone mechanically inclined to fix your primo-ride, finding parts and more than 200km to actually ride it would seem to be the bigger challenge. Nevertheless, the day we flew to Mörön, we passed this dude. My first words thoughts were, "Has to be a foreigner...". But no. And you get a lovely picture of Power Station #3 doing it what is does best. The air is so thick with coal dust during the winter that I have no idea how guys like this get their exercise. Rock on.

While on the thread of flying to Mörön, we did see this statue outside the Mörön airport. We gather that this must be a relatively new statue based on former Peace Corps volunteers' memories of it NOT being there around 2001. In any case, here is the story of Khainzaan Gelenkhuu, also known as 'Gongor', Mongolia's idealistic, but practically minded Icarus; here's a nice story that features Gongor from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

And here's the entire Mongolian Navy. Not sure what else to say except that it probably doesn't make a lot of sense to have much more if you can only sail 5mos of the year. Incidentally, the vertical font above 'SUKHBAATAR' is Mongolian script. Sadly, in many ways, it is only really used in official documents. This picture of the sign above the main shrine at the Choijin Lama museum illustrates the differences between (from left to right) Mongolian, Chinese, and Tibetan scripts -- and, if I remember correctly, the scripts announce the building as a 'hall of peace'.

I did my best, though, to try a few Mongol beers while we were in the country in honor of Eric's BrewLog. Most of the beers are lightly-flavored lagers -- innocuous enough and perfectly palatable with slightly more character than your average American mass-brew. When we were in Olgii last time, I remembered having a dark APU beer with our friend, Jordan... the aroma was definitely 'goat-ey,' but the actual taste was really quite good. Perhaps we had an old bottle (or perhaps we were both so filthy that we smelled of goat and were confused), or maybe the folks at APU have eliminated the 'goat' fragrance from their Kharkhorin beers, but I tried one and was disappointed. My favorite beer of the trip was the APU Borgio -- a really nice, full-bodied lager. It didn't have the bitterness I associate with some German and Czech lagers, but went down very nicely with my some-variant-of-meat-and-potatoes dinner. Incidentally, here is the APU Brewery website (sadly, it only appears to be in Mongolian, but once the sound starts up it can be quite amusing).

That's the news from here. Hope to have some dog news later in the day once the rest of the world wakes up at a normal time.