Sunday, December 27, 2009

happy new year + a few highlights

I hope my family reads this blog. I hope they realise that a) the reason I didn't write half as many blog posts this year is b) the same reason Meg and I haven't sent out our New Year's cards yet. I work in retail... it would appear that the economy is in some state of recovery.

In any case, between the heavy weather that nailed the East Coast and a couple of seven-day weeks, it's been difficult to keep up with the training routine that I had almost established with the boys. And so what happens when you take our two boys out for the first time in two weeks? Lots of imperfect, a few shades of ugly, falling in love all over again, and some nice omens for the future.

With Momo, it drives me nuts that he does the 'difficult' things (like the honor and the retrieve) well, but still insists on catwalking now and again. With Jozsi, however, I realise that all his extra-stepping isn't cockiness but uncertainty. I don't know where this comes from, but I know that if I walk up on him and his tail is rock-solid, he can see the bird as well as smell it. He just needs more birds and more reassurance.

While both boys popped a bird or two (and a bird that flushes because they took an extra step is an even better teaching tool than me nicking either one with the e-collar), they both showed why we love them dearly. Momo has a great nose, a great retrieve, and needs little to no work on his honor and he loves to hunt with you. Jozsi, on the other hand, only knows how to hunt really, really hard -- he was running hedgerow covers like a crazy man, handling at complete ease at 300 yds -- and today also showed some inkling that he knows what an honor is. And so, here's to our boys...

*******

This is also the time to acknowledge a few great musical highlights of 2009.

Khaled: Liberté: I was so relieved to hear this album. I can carry grudges for a long period of time, and somehow his US agent convinced him to release a 'friends' album five years ago that was, to my mind, an abomination against God. I don't care how great Carlos Santana is, but I can never hear him play guitar without hearing Rob Thomas. And I loath Rob Thomas. In contrast to several of his previous albums which were hampered by too many synthesized sounds and over-production, this is stripped down -- and leaves with you with a much greater appreciation for Khaled's talent and for Algerian music, both modern and traditional.

Buika, El Ultimo Trago: last year's album Niña de Fuego was great. With the addition of Cuban
piano player, Chucho Valdes, the arrangements are a little richer -- but nothing eclipses Buika's smokey voice.

Rosalia de Souza, D'Improviso: I know only a little bit about Brazilian music and it seems like a fair amount of it is produced for export -- a little too sweet, a little too cheesey. This is a great mixture of upbeat and downbeat, crisp, clean, and I'm still listening to it every day. And here's one of my favorite tracks:




There are also some interesting Top-10 lists at NPR's All Songs Considered -- and Scampwalker at Eight More Miles has a bunch of picks I have never heard of either.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

trials and tribulations

This past weekend was the CVVC's December walking trial. We had so (too) many dogs last year that we petitioned to expand it to a two-day trial -- and managed to enroll 103 starters for 8 stakes. Zoiks! I know we turned away some folks and wonder if the level of interest was because we are both the last trial of the northeast season and because it was a walking trial only. In any case, it was great as a member of the trial committee to see both familiar faces and a fair number of new ones, too. It was also great to work with a committed team of fellow volunteers to make everything go smoothly and with as much fun as possible!

With training still in full session for both my boys and Meg able to keep them at home, I was able to give a full two-day commitment to helping keep the trial moving along. It would have been lovely to have them there for them to meet friends, but I couldn't have relaxed quite as much or focussed on the tasks at hand... namely organizing the raffle and bird-planting.

And bird-plant I did, all from horseback and, with just a couple of braces' exception, all off a wrangler's horse named Travis. I've ridden some scary-ass wranglers' horses in the past -- but Travis was great. 'Great' is a relative term... he isn't Cypress, Larry, or PC... but for a wrangler's horse forced to put up with a multitude of mixed-ability riders for long hours and low pay, he did great as a bird-planter's horse. For the less-familiar, horses have to fulfill a variety of functions at field-trials: gallery horses, judges' horses, scouting horses, bird-planting horses, and handler's horses. Arguably, a gallery horse just needs to be able to stop, start, and follow the rest of its pack (although one should never entirely presume that a gallery horse has been desensitized to gunfire); in most cases, a judge's horse needs to be comfortable at the front and willing to go off on its own with its rider (ie. not be 'herd-bound'); the same is true for a bird-planter's horse, although the horse also needs to be desensitized to the flapping, cheeping quail in the birdbag on its back; scouting and handling horses cannot be herd-bound and must also park out, ie. when the rider has dismounted and dropped reins, the horse needs to stand still and not wander off. In short, a field trial horse needs to be pretty skilled, if not merely familiar with the game itself.

I did encourage at least one newcomer to come check out the whole field-trial game... and why not with a Puppy? After coming to the VCCNE's Versatility Day back in August, John came down from Portland with his Luna for the Open Puppy stake on Sunday. Luna is a recent pup from an Octane and Seeker pairing and I can see both dogs in her. While she was heavily outnumbered by older, bigger, GSPs, she did well for her first outing -- and I hope John will stick with it at least till our Spring trial!


And if I am not going to be running dogs at a trial, I am pretty content to ride a horse instead. And so I spent 12hrs over the next two days atop Travis (mostly), trotting along with the judges in each stake, and fast-balling quail into the cover. One of the highpoints was a compliment on my horsemanship from someone who has since become a friend. In any case, Tom was one of the first folk to encourage me to handle Mr. Enthusiasm from a horse but for whatever reason, hasn't really seen me ride in 5-6mos. It was a nice bonus on a cold, blustery morning.

I did have my first unscheduled equine dismount, however. Travis and I had taken a cast off to a likely spot to drop a bird (after some 5hrs in the saddle, I might add) and, once done, he decided he wanted to canter back to the rest of the group. No problem. However, he caught a front hoof, dropped a shoulder, and in that moment of clarity I realized I was going to forward roll off to the side into the marshy turf. Which I did, back to my feet. I would have done a full gymnastic arm-raise, but the horse was now loose and didn't need to be spooked further by the Russian judge raising the '10' scorecard. Someone in the group gathered Travis up; he and I reassured each other we were both fine and still loved each other; and off we went again for another hour or so.

Gin at High Mountain Horse encouraged me to share the following: at Nationals I was riding horses I knew and who knew me and got in the (bad) habit of riding in a ballcap. I realized my horsemanship had significantly improved during Nationals as I survived my horse being spooked by another that had broken free and was running wild -- but spooked so hard it broke its curb chain (and thereby rendered the 'brakes' largely inoperable); a horse that slipped in the mud and went to both front knees before getting up; and another that reared as I was trying to mount. After that week of incidents but no mishaps, Audra and I vowed to start wearing our helmets again. As Gin said in e-mail to me:

"I don't ride in a helmet, but rarely run around like you do. Head injuries are all too real with horses... Horses do trip! And when we fall, our head does tend to be the first to touch down. I really, really want to keep my brain. If I start endurance running, I'm investing in a helmet. My brain is worth it."

And that's all I have to say about that.

*******

Mercifully before the truly crapulent weather beset us today, I did manage to get a nice training day in with the boys at our friend Andrew's property upstate to keep them honest. And both boys did well. I am grateful to have found a quail breeder who, however he does it, raises spooky, well-flying quail. And I am pretty much planting the birds with little or no dizzying. I know my boys can find birds, but the fine-tuning I'm looking for is how they deal with running birds, wild flushes, and bumps.

Andrew was able to come out for most of it and serve as a gunner for The Mominator during his two big runs. It's nice to have a second set of hands, especially when they're deft with a shotgun. Here's Momo with Andrew in the background ready to drop the quail. What's interesting about the two boys' personalities is that Momo might get too close to a bird and pop it unexpectedly, but will immediately re-calibrate and rarely pop another. Jozsi seems to stand off his birds pretty well for the first round, then gets a little cocky, and then always manages to bring it back around.

This picture is from Mr. 200mph's first run of the day, and as much as I love The Mominator, watching The Beast eat up ground and then stick a point at a skid is just a thrill-ride. On his first run of close to 45mins, he found and handled a half-dozen birds including this lovely high pose roughly 10yds from the birds. He is now getting to a point where, if I lose sight and then sound of him, I know to sing his praises and just start looking for him standing someplace.

His tail hasn't quite settled yet, but we've begun to hit a nice groove where he knows what will make me happy. While this is arguably a mixed blessing, but his stop-to-flush is much more reliable than not -- and in the two instances where he thought he would take a step to be absolutely sure, my spooky quail got up, flushed and ruined his party without me having to do anything. On a couple of instances, he did establish a point in dense hedgerow cover and I couldn't produce a bird for him - presumably because the bird had run on hearing me approach -- and I was able to send him on to relocate. And while he didn't subsequently find one of those two birds, as importantly he didn't let his fiery personality get the better of him and try to tackle a bird on the ground. This is also progress and a sign that his young brain is beginning to mature and settle.

Hopefully the weather won't close out our training season too soon. Things seem to be coming together for both of them!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

more training

Since getting back from Nationals, we've been in something of a hiatus. The weather has been bad on my days-off and I don't hunt in public hunting areas on the weekends -- at least none near here. And so, I've been a little slow in getting back on the training wagon with the two monsters.

I've been working on a couple of things: on Momo's tendency to creep a little when you walk in to flush a bird, and Jozsi crashing birds by getting too close, either because he's uncertain about a bird's location or because he wants to see it fly. And of course, he's two years old. Which is to say that I've been trying to figure out if its uncertainty or cockiness on his part. Here's Momo showing an unprecedented piece of self-discipline as the brace of quail ran from in front to directly behind him.

And so we've done some launcher work with both boys -- and been lucky to find a quail breeder fairly close by whose last two batches of birds have been energetic and spooky -- and as importantly fairly close to a friend's property that we can train on. The best part about our friend's property is that it used to be sown for arable crops and so while there are some really nice hedgerows and lines of cover, it is largely flat and open. So I can see Mr. Enthusiasm even when he's 300 yards away. No matter how carefully I handle them, Jozsi, though, is also smart enough that you can only do so much launcher work in a day before he'll just blink the launchers, knowing that they will rarely result in much fun for him.

I decided to put out quail in pairs without launchers this time -- and he made four awesome finds, standing off his birds a respectable distance with a nice high style. For every solid point, he gets lots of love and praise. I'm hoping this will just gently reinforce that a solid point, a flush, and a gunshot will come to equate 'good times' for him. On his second run after one good find, he then ripped out one bird in a hedgerow and then failed to stop-to-flush; after no praise, I sent him off in a different direction and watched him rip out a second bird 300yds away with no stop-to-flush. I called him to me and then made him stand in the middle of the field while I walked the 400yards back to the truck before calling him to me. In my frustration, it was the mildest thing I could think of that would be the least-fun for him. Wanting to end on a postive note, I put out another pair of birds for him. I think he inadvertently spooked the first bird, but stopped to flush, and I then worked the second bird for him without incident.

This is him waiting to be broken away for another cast. You can never fault his energy or application -- and heaven knows, he's kicked enough mud up in my face that I break him away from in front. But here are a few reflections:
  • I realize that no matter how gifted he was as a young dog, Jozsi has still not had the volume of birds that Momo did by this point in his career. He needs birds to teach him his lessons.
  • He is a great example of a dog almost spoiled by his Derby career. While he had at least one genuinely great broke-dog run as a Derby, he also got to pop a few birds here and there and that had to confuse him as to what the end-goals are.
  • He therefore needs clear positive and negative signals -- and while I will use the e-collar to signal to him that he should have stopped-to-flush on a bumped bird, it will not be used as a punishment for a flushed bird. (I'm using the word 'signal' to mean that the e-collar sends a cue that is an extension of the snap of the buckle on the no-pinch collar.)
I think I will go back another step with him next time -- checkcord and no-pinch collar overlaid with e-collar -- go through one solid rep and then go to just the e-collar. And in addition to praise, I will also pick him up immediately and put him in the truck when he commits and infraction (as he should expect in a trial). My thinking is that he needs a reminder that being 300 yards away does not mean he is now too far from accountability, and that an infraction will result in his fun being ended. And that good performance equals praise and more fun.

And while he is most definitely a work-in-progress, and as much as he can frustrate me, there is nothing like watching your dog sprint a field, break through a cover line and disappear, and then as you clear the same cover line, see him standing a bird in the next coverstrip. He breaks my heart, for better and for worse.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

400yds on the left...

I got back last night from the VCA National Field Trial at Cloverdale Farm in Danville, VA. The farm was also the site for this year's AKC Gun Dog Championship -- and a number of dogs that had competed there were back to try for the National Field and/or National Amateur Field Championship titles. The first picture shows the breakaway from up at the clubhouse at Cloverdale -- and for five of the six days we were there, this was a typical morning. Light early morning frost would give way to sunshine and afternoon temperatures in the low 60s with winds ranging from light to strong; the first day of the NFC, though, started late in the hope that the steady rain would diminish. It didn't until lunchtime. Thank heavens I had decided to pack my riding coat.

From what I gather, though, a number of handlers were surprised at the difference in conditions from spring to late fall. There seemed to be a lot of high cover that made keeping track of hard-running dogs difficult and an energetic scout a requirement. Interestingly, even when conditions seemed ideal, no dogs seemed to be racking up high numbers of finds -- which made several of us wonder if all the broken cornstalks, dust, or pollen were really masking the bird-scent. The exception, I gather, was Ruger's seven finds during the second series of the NAFC, a run which earned him the title. This awesome picture is courtesy of Kim at Forestking who actually got to see his second run in the NAFC; she has just added a post of her own, too.

Being at a National event, especially without having to worry about my two crazy red-boys, was a great opportunity to put names to faces -- both human and canine -- and to see what national level competition looks like both in terms of the quality of performance and the techniques and tactics of professional and amateurs alike. But all of this took place against the backdrop of Cloverdale Farm and the generosity of the Leggett Family. They have dedicated the farm to hosting national level competition and were able to provide corrals, electrical hook-ups, and a beautiful clubhouse to support the competitors. I had heard this story (in the first paragraph) from the 2006 AKC Gun Dog Championships, but was amazed to see Mr. Leggett on the grounds every day checking in with folks, riding braces, and taking photographs. He lived up to his reputation of generosity and kindness by loaning Mike + Kim his truck while they took theirs to a garage in Danville to have some work done. A classy gentleman and host, indeed.

There was a social hour on Saturday night hosted by Lisa's best friend, Joyce, in Lisa's memory and I had taken a couple of pictures of Jozsi with me to show her the dog Lisa and I had enjoyed several happy conversations about. The bonus was being able to show them to Jozsi's father's owner, Betty Rozanek. She was so pleased to hear that one of Smokey's sons was bringing us so much pleasure.

If there can be any doubt as to where the fun of field trialing comes from, I hope this video conveys it. The clip is from the second series of the NFC -- the first qualifying series of both the NFC and NAFC was 30mins, the second series for those dogs called back after laying down a championship caliber performance was 45 mins with the first bird shot on course for a retrieve -- and featured Wayne & Trish James's Tzeitel and Jim Gingrich's Jack. I forget exactly why, but the gallery had gone on with Jim and was crossing the back loop of the course. It was still relatively early in the morning and the frost was melting and steaming off the grass -- and all of a sudden Jim gets a glimpse of his dog. And so the normal flat walk pace of the trial picked up as we all tried to get in on the action.



If riding a smooth-gaited horse in the crisp early morning to watch a bionic dog or two doesn't sound like fun, then trialing is not for you.

It was interesting to see how some dogs did or didn't make the transition to actual cover, meaning that it seemed like some of the hardest running dogs were so committed to running edges that they ran themselves out of contention; others got so caught up in hunting every edge that they either appeared to potter or were lost in one of the many cover-strips. Howard Shultz's Stormy was one example of a dog right on the edge of too-much speed -- it paid off for Howard in the NFC, earning him a 3rd place, but Stormy was out of touch for too long in the NAFC and was picked up for time. If I remember correctly, the same might have happened for Lotto, last year's and this year's repeat NFC.

Besides getting lots of horse time (and yes, that's me in my all-blaze all-the-time jacket -- the picture is courtesy of Grace Ann), the first real highlight of the week was watching Rogue run in the Derby. She ran like a dog possessed, covering ground like she knew exactly what she was supposed to. Carrie and Mike Syczylo have done a great job with her in the last six weeks -- and loved her enough to arrange with Mike & Kim to repeat the breeding that produced her. Uncharacteristically, during her run, she had two unproductive points to go with her two productive points that effectively put her out of the ribbons -- but as we discovered the next day, this might have been because she was about to go into season!

I did also get pressed into service to serve as a scout for Marcia and her nice dog, Topper, in the NAFC -- although sadly his run ended prematurely after bumping a bird. However, the real highlight was serving as my friend, Joan's 'horse tender.' Joan has been blessed with several good dogs, and one arguably great dog, Octane; between skiing and horse-riding, Joan has also survived a number of good accidents. She has a medical exemption from the AKC that allows her to have a 'horse tender' in addition to her scout -- and clearly the gallery for Ocky's run had never seen a tender in action before. And so, while she was working a pointed bird, her scout would gather up the horses, then grab the dog, and the tender would whip out a mounting stool and give Joan a boost to get back in the saddle. I earned the nickname 'Chair-man' for that.

But being out with Joan, all so very pleased that Octane had made it round the course clean and with birdwork, really reminded me that no matter how big the ribbon, all of this silliness has to be about having fun with your dog. Thank you, Joan!

Monday, October 26, 2009

a blind judge and a kind judge

I took the boys up to the PANE Hunt Test at Flaherty this past Sunday, and was able to run Momo in the Master Hunter stake before I started judging the Junior Hunter stake. As the title suggests, it wasn't pretty and I was genuinely a little surprised, but Momo successfully earned his second MH leg. I don't know if he just performed the skills that the other dog didn't much better (like the honor and the retrieve) and so the judges either overlooked or were feeling kind towards Mr. Creepy-feet-- but as soon as the test was over we started on launcher work with both boys. Two down, three to go.

Essentially, with both boys, I want them to a) stand off their birds further and b) have the birds teach them that once they have established point, any movement will trigger a flush. And a moving dog and a flushing bird means no shot, no retrieve, and no praise from Pop. And launcher work can also teach the dogs that movement after the flush is unacceptable. As the folks over at Steady with Style have pointed out, there can be several contexts a dog should understand that require him to stand still even in the absence, perhaps especially in the absence, of a verbal command. A bird that gets up in clear sight ahead of a dog, whether on point or not, is one of them.

My previous challenges with launchers were that I hadn't figured out a) the better ways to use them, b) the better ways to store them, and c) the better ways to lay them out in the training field. And so, in the past, the dogs would get too close because they couldn't easily scent what was in there and so any forward movement on their part would bring them too close to the launchers which might in turn be dangerous or frightening for them. However, if you have a good breeze, wide open cover, multiple birds, and a clear training plan... surprisingly, things can work quite well! My solutions were to a) keep all my launchers, bird bags, and some random wings in one big decoy bag together and to only handle them with my bird handling gloves on, b) to either stash a birdbag with some birds in a little further upwind from the trap, or c) set up multiple birds in one launcher, d) or set up duplicate launchers in one location, or e) use a combination of regular launchers and one of Brad Higgins's Remote Releasers.

Even with all this planning, you still need good flying birds. On the downside, Brad's remote releaser will not eject a bird into the stratosphere, but they are both wicked quiet and a great, safe way to ensure that your actual launcher has additional birds around it to create a nice pong for the dog. And, as we discovered, if the bird is pressured, it will get up and away like no slept or dizzied bird. Launchers, to my mind, still have a use -- but I am glad I invested in one of these, too. So, long and short, I think we're already starting to see the wheels turn in both of their brains as they recalibrate their behavior based on the bird... and not on me hooting and hollering.

*******

Momo is officially a woodcock dog. Last Thursday we hunted in both New York at Stewart and at Flaherty. We had hoped for pheasants in both places but only saw one rooster that Momo and I tracked and chased and flushed twice in waist-high weeds. I'm not sure if the lack of birds in NY is a side-effect from our governor's ill-informed, initial decision to close the Reynolds Gamebird Farm -- but I was a little surprised to only encounter a single bird. As for Flaherty, we were able to meet up with our friend, Rick from Marricks Vizslas, and his older dog, Baci. I've been fortunate to judge another of Rick's nice dogs, Latte, a couple of times. Sadly, there were several guys with howitzers out in the likely spots when we got there so we chose to train and chase whatever quail might still be left out in the woods.

In any case, while I actually foot flushed this bird accidentally, and somehow managed to hit it, Momo found it and retrieved it for me. I have been fascinated by this evolutionarily lost bird, a shore bird that somehow found itself marooned and now lives in transit from woody marsh to woody marsh. And as Hank, our favorite epicure at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, also discovered with its relative, the snipe, these things are small and beautiful with their peculiar shaped heads and long, graceful beaks. Unlike Hank, I don't have the patience or skill to prepare them with quite the same diligence. My criterion for hunting is that I will eat what I kill. But if a) it takes longer to prepare it than hunt it, and b) there's not enough of it to eat without some kind of elaborate recipe that defies the space-time continuum, I may not shoot at a woodcock again.

Now the grouse we took in Maine, however... I may try a variation on something I had at a nice Mexican restaurant the other night, although instead of huitlacoche I may stuff the breasts with shiitake mushrooms, then bread and fry them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

endurance exemplified

Our dogs' fitness is rarely in question... because my wife, Meg, runs them twice a day for a minimum of 8miles each day. As much as it benefits them, Meg needs to run. On the other hand, I haven't had that compulsion in a long, long time. But Meg enjoys it and, to her credit, has completed a handful of marathons. So, feeling the need for a specific goal and having read such tomes as Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man, she decided she'd like to try an 'ultra' -- and doing a trail run had to be easier on the joints than a regular road race, right?

Here's a short clip of the start beside lovely Shepherd Lake. Everyone happy, cheering, excited, and clearly in blatant denial. I don't know if this fellow finished, but he seemed to think it was going to be fun, too. (Sadly, as of Sunday evening, we have discovered that this fellow didn't.)


So she entered the inaugural Mountain Madness 50k. Bearing in mind that race promoters like to amp things up to sell their event, and New Jersey doesn't really have mountains, how hard could it be? 'Sick-o-saurus Rex' is the answer to that question. Here's Meg running down a typical trail on the way to Aid Station #4 at mile 17 or so. We were chatting with another runner who was accompanying his wife on her first 50km who said that he, after now having finished 6, was convinced this was the hardest one he'd ever done.

And so, approximately 9hrs 20mins after she started, my crazed wife crossed the finish line back at Shepherd Lake. And yes, as you can tell from the flash photograph, darkness was absolutely closing in. When I wrote this first, we believed she was the last person to finish. But now (Sunday evening), we have discovered that she was 66th of 70 folks who completed the course; 30 starters did not finish. Congratulations and thanks to Tim + Branwen Ellis and friends for sticking around the extra 20mins or so to cheer Meg's arrival.

In conclusion, Meg rocks.

********

On Tuesday, I opted to go up to the Northeastern Open Shooting Dog Championship up at Flaherty. Deb had decided to enter Yogurt in the competition because, as an hour-long championship stake, it would be a great training run for her in preparation for Nationals. Being an American Field-sanctioned event, Yogurt was the only non-Setter or Pointer in the race. This is to say that American Field events place an even higher premium on speed, stamina, and range and, with certain exceptions, don't require the dog to demonstrate a retrieve. And frankly, Pointers and Setters will generally on average display those characteristics to an even greater degree than the average 'other' pointing breed. So I was keen to see how a great vizsla would do against a field of long-tailed white dogs.

And the answer is... pretty darn good. Unlike the AKC, there is often prize money given out both to overall champions and to the best dogs on each day. Yogurt finished 3rd on Tuesday, just missing the money, and according to the judges 11th overall for the championship. Yogurt was probably helped by having Sherry Ray Ebert as one of the judges, simply because Sherry has handled and judged other continental breeds and understands that a vizsla's style is no less intent than the ramrod tail of a Pointer or Setter.

I have to admit, though, that while I thought Yogurt had run well, I hadn't seen any of the white dogs put up a performance that was light years beyond hers. Until the final brace of the day. I feel genuinely blessed to not only have seen Mike Tracy and Luke Eisenhart handle those dogs, but to have seen the race that Lawless Lady and Erin's Backstreet Affair laid down. And contrary to the stereotype that perhaps AKC-folks perpetuate these were dogs that ranged hard and far and still had a handle on them. And just stood their birds like it was perhaps the only other thing they knew how to do. Which it might be, but holy mackerel! watching those dogs go through that routine 10 times each during the hour and still finish with gas in the tank was wicked impressive. The final picture is of Lady with her owner, Jane Donze, and handler, Mike Tracy and scout, Alex Smith. This picture, though, is from her win at the Spruce Brook Bird Dog Trial this spring.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

chasing pah'tridges

First of all, congratulations to Jane at The Literary Horse for being the 20,000th visitor to The Regal Vizsla. Jane's blog constantly reminds me not to take all this horse business too seriously.

It's been a busy couple of weeks or so at work and, after waffling like Brett Favre for several weeks, decided I needed to get out of Dodge and go chase grouse sooner rather than later. And so while I apologize for not convening the Momo + Jozsi's Second Annual Invitational Grousehunt, my general psychic state couldn't deal with hanging around in New York City any longer.

Over the weekend, I did head up to Flaherty to run Momo in his next MH attempt at the Connecticut Valley Vizsla Club's Fall hunt test on the Saturday, judge JH on the Sunday, and in between hopefully scout for Yogurt at the PANE Field Trial which was being held on a different part of the grounds. The weather was horrible and Momo fell foul of a wet, running chukar and moved too much to mark it as it literally ran circles around him. The judges asked to see a second honor out of the other dog and so Momo found another bird and then made a 40yd+ blind retrieve. Didn't get him back in the game, but it was a nice bonus. Judging JH the next day was enjoyable, although scenting conditions were tough for the dogs and a number of dogs weren't able to find a qualifying bird until the final minute or so. I will probably write a subsequent post on JH handling because it was very interesting to see how folks dealt with their dogs seemingly not performing at their usual level.

We then jetted up to Oquossoc to visit with old friends from when we used to live up in downeast Maine. The two previous times I have hunted grouse up here, I've come in the first week of November -- and it was amazing to see all the fall colors ringing the hills and lake. We had heard various tales of the demise of the ruffed grouse in western Maine -- but happily found plenty of evidence to the contrary. My friend Dudley and I hunted separate spots in the same general location and the final box score for two days came out at 34 flushes (including one woodcock) with three grouse taken. And for the first time, too, we saw not one but three large ungulates like this young fellow out for a morning wander on the main road.

I had really wanted to bring the boys up here to let the wild birds teach them a lesson or two. The last two years I learned quickly that the November birds were skittish and took the bells off the boys to allow them to at least get feasibly close to their birds. My update on this hypothesis is that Maine grouse are skittish, period. Of those 34 flushes, perhaps a quarter were genuinely pointed by either dog; a fair number of flushes were merely heard as they blew off into the far-away in response to a dog cracking a branch or moving brush too quickly.

The challenge of course now became how to keep track of a moving dog in heavy undergrowth, especially if the dog has decided to point. I try to be really quiet in the woods -- and use a very gentle mouth whistle to alert the dog where I am. At one point, Momo had cut in to some evergreens and I could no longer see him, so I whistled him on... once, twice, and then a third time. He then barked and a grouse flushed with the noise. I felt terrible. We both learned our lesson the next day -- I whistled quietly, heard nothing, and decided to step gently toward where I'd last seen him. I stepped over a downed tree into what looked like moss, but cracked a good sized twig in the process. I was a good 10yds away from the pair of grouse that flushed in front of poor Momo, banking up and away through the mixed maple and pine trees.

The video clip below is what happens when you try to video a crazed two-year old trial dog minutes after he's had his first grouse shot for him. I had wanted to bring him up to Maine so that he would hopefully get a wild bird education and learn that he was the not the master predator he imagined he was. While I can't say that he ever fully established a point, he learned very quickly what he was looking for and got very adept at his stop-to-flush. And a dog standing still does get his first bird shot out of a tree if need be. Not glamorous. Not particularly sporting. But a huge stimulus for a young dog.



I would speculate that tales of the minimal number of grouse are being perpetuated by 'heater hunters,' the old-timers who like driving up forest roads and shooting birds from the window of their jeep. Nevertheless, as you can see, there's not a whole lot that's easy about hunting grouse in Maine -- and early season means more leaf cover for birds to fly behind. And while Tuesday was a beautiful day, Monday was a classic Maine fall day... if you don't like the weather, wait 15mins. As you can see, Momo and I had to hide under a tall fir for 15mins of hard, hard rain but soon after, he got on point just over the shoulder of a slope. I saw him point, but as soon as I walked in to him, a bird flushed and flew up and across me. And miraculously, I made a competent crossing shot. Incidentally, upon dissection, all three birds we took were primarily eating maple seeds -- both regular and the larger striped maple -- unlike the clover and ferns that they seem to prefer come November.

Momo's second bird can only be described as beautiful. I kept the fan -- and now that we are home, I can tell you that the feathers are a solid inch longer than those on from the grouse we took two years ago. And whether male or female, this bird also had a full complement of black collar feathers. Sadly for this bird, it flushed ahead of Momo's point as I hollered to Jozsi, flew into a tree, but then lifted off again as I was walking in and Jozsi was barrelling back. And Momo got to make another perfect retrieve. Here's a picture of two happy vizslas on a cool Maine afternoon... you can see that, in my optimism, I had put a Tracker collar on Jozsi so I could locate him in the unlikelihood that he could stand a point out of sight.

The birds had the final laugh, though. As we got within 50yds of the truck, walking down an overgrown timber path, Momo scooted right and peered over a berm to get scent. A bird flushed up over him and flew down the path directly in front of me. I fired both barrels and probably missed underneath both times. However good you feel about yourself, a grouse slaps you for even approaching hubris.

Here's to good friends, good dogs, and beautiful, wild birds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

scrapbook

Here's assorted random notes from the last ten days or so.

First of all, we got a little bit of culture by checking out Rodrigo y Gabriela perform at Terminal 5. Being dog-people (which means early risers and therefore not that cool when it comes to late nights on the town), we only caught the first hour... which was still amazing. The picture was taken on my cell-phone hence the low-res glory of it. What you can't see is that they had various video cameras set up on the stage and one handheld down in front which they would project onto the back curtains.

In addition to just being cool, you could actually see just how crazy Gabriela's hands were working. It might actually be fair to say that she plays rhythm to Rodrigo's lead guitar, but that completely understates what 'rhythm' means in this instance. In addition to all her fretwork, she was tapping, beating, and whomping her guitar. Pretty fabulous. I'll guess they were saving 'Stairway' for the encore, but we did get to hear their cover of 'Orion'... and I will stick my neck out and say that Gabriela is a better drummer than Lars Ulrich, too. They have their own website with details of their new album 11:11 and their US tour. If you can, check them out.

*******

Our friend, Michelle, at Broad Run Vizslas found this pic in the archives. We've now confirmed that the dog is FC Upwind Sitka ('Prinnie') -- and here, too, are Bob Seelye and Lisa DeForest. I was lucky to inherit a pair of tracking collars from Lisa's estate -- and every time we strap them on, we see her name on the ID tag, and we miss and remember her.

*******

Dave was kind enough to send me notice of the original petition, but he was equally nice to send me notice that the petition requesting a formal apology from the British Government for the prosecution (and untimely death) of Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computer science and a brilliant codebreaker, had in fact been successful. His work in breaking the German Enigma code during WW2 arguably shortened that struggle immeasurably.

The petition was put together by computer programmer, John Graham-Cumming. As he states in this recent piece, this was a simple case of human rights.

The formal apology can be read here on the 10 Downing Street website. Surprisingly, perhaps, the apology came while the petition was still open.

*******

We were lucky to meet Nancy Whitehead this past weekend and pick up a copy of her book. She is a hoot and the book is fabulous.

We were also lucky enough to get out on some training birds at TMT this morning. While hardly Nancy Whitehead-quality, I think this is a nice picture of The Mominator with a nice high head point on a chukar. As you can tell, the cover is high -- the air was also thick and barely moving, so this was an atypical point for the morning. These weren't conditions to really let the birds teach Jozsi a few lessons, so I turned Mr. 200mph lose in some of other fields in the slim chance that he'd find a pheasant or two left over. Sadly not, but you can never fault his energy or application.

I'm living for the first frosts of October.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

glory + great new resource

Here are a few pictures from this weekend's hunt test weekend out at Crane WMA near East Falmouth, MA. As mentioned before, we had split the weekend with the Mayflower GSP Club -- and I was the chairman for our test, so could only run Momo on Saturday, but serving as the ferry for the SH/MH judges on Sunday I got to see all the birdfield work as a bonus.

The pictures are in chronological order. And first of all, we get to celebrate the first successful step in Momo's next journey. He drew the first brace on Saturday morning -- and somehow miraculously the rain broke just long enough to run all the dogs. Saturday saw 1" of rain fall, although all told between 10pm on Friday and 8am on Sunday, it was pretty close to 2" of rain total. The short version of Momo's run was that he did everything he needed to. I would love him to stand as completely still as Jozsi, and will keep working on it with him -- but he ended up honoring three times (there was a backcourse find, then a missed bird in the birdfield, and then a final set-up), and did a beautiful retrieve. He now has his first leg of his Master Hunter title.

In a lot of ways, I have come to realize that MH is a rather zen experience. You obviously try to train your dog to the standard, but the standard is pretty tight and there are any number of variables that can cause a hiccup. Very few judges are looking to fail a dog, but the fact is that most of the guidelines are pretty spelled out. You can't control how birds fly, how prepared your bracemate is, and what the weather will be -- and the standard requires a minimum of hacking from the handler. And so, knowing that the dog needs me to be calm too, I just try to go with it. After trying to rush into Senior Hunter, I realize that rushing invariably does more harm than good and creates stress in an arena where your dog should be having fun. I am convinced the same is true when it comes to the transition from Derby to adult stakes for young field trial dogs.

The second picture is of our friends' GSP, Timber, returning with her bird to finish her retrieve -- and after honoring her bracemate, successfully completing the final leg of her MH title. Frank and Sam have done a nice job getting Timber all trained up. The third picture is of Mike running Kyler for her second succesful leg of MH, too... such a pretty point in this picture. Her run illustrated one interesting element of the SH/MH retrieve, though. Keep in mind that while they cannot handle the dog in any way, the gunners work for you, the handler; one of the judging criteria for the retrieve is that the dog has to retrieve the bird in a condition fit for the table. As the Guidelines spell out: "Mouthing is a serious fault in a hunting dog. A mangled bird is not fit for the table. Any dog which renders a bird unfit for consumption cannot receive a Qualifying score." (my italics) And so, what happens if a bird is blown apart in mid-air and already rendered unfit for the table? The following is not set down in the Rulebook, but in my experience is a fairly consistently adhered to practice amongst judges in the northeast, at least.

The onus lies with the gunners and you, the handler, to determine whether that bird is fit to be retrieved -- either because it was completely missed or because it was blown to bits. While every retrieved bird will be examined by a judge for damage due to a hard-mouthed dog, a gunner has the responsibility to alert the judges that a bird may be too heavily damaged -- and the handler an ability to express concern to the judge about the condition of the bird before he/she sends his dog. Because you may not have judges who are as concerned for the dog as Kyler did. Her first bird was cleanly hit and Kyler was sent for her retrieve. Uncharacteristically, she spat out her bird twice before coming back to Mike without it. He collared up his dog, convinced she had blown the retrieve -- only to have the judges ask for the bird, examine it, and deem it 'too dead'. She then got to go out again and make the point in the picture and make a perfect retrieve. The moral of the story is a) don't give up on your dog, and b) keep in mind how you can advocate for your dog through your awareness of the guidelines and rules.

*******

With getting the best out of your good dog in mind, I am very pleased to see that, with the help of some friends, pro trainer Maurice Lindley has put up his own website, Steady with Style, that includes a downloadable training manual. Like Bill Gibbons and Dave Walker, whose websites are already on my blog-roll, Mo learned his trade from the legendary Bill West. If there was a single 'approach' to birddog training that I wish I'd known about before I started messing around with my two, it would be the West method. Our next puppy will get schooled that way. As I have said before, at this point, Dave Walker's Bird Dog Training Manual remains the book I go to -- although I was excited to see that Martha Greenlee is publishing a book of Mo's methods that is due out in December 2009.

Friday, September 11, 2009

a few random thoughts

In the midst today's tragic anniversary, I have to find a silver lining. And while it might be news to her, the attacks on the World Trade Center made me realise that just maybe I was falling in love with my wife. Like many people, I know where I was that day and I remember who told me to turn on the television. I was in Portland, OR; my wife-to-be was in Manhattan.

My darling brother has started a blog of his own, too. And his wish for peace, that today of all days, if we could somehow not kill anyone especially in a cosmic war, is one I wish for too.

A week ago, I became a published poet -- of sorts. And managed to sum up almost nine years of my life in seventeen syllables. Dissertationhaiku is an awesome site -- a really great idea, and a nice way to remember a lot of sweat and tears.

*******

We are about to head up to the Cape for a weekend of hunt testing. Our club, the Vizsla Club of Central New England, has split its weekend with the Mayflower GSP Club, and being the chairman for this fall's test, I can only run The Mominator tomorrow morning.

But here's a little canine foothealth for you. We don't have to deal with things like speargrass or thorns up here in the Bronx, just the usual broken glass, random bits of metal, and the like. (Having said that though, the worst unexpected offender we've encountered in the city is broken acorn cups. Those are wicked sharp.)

I do generally start treating the boys' feet with Tuf-Foot. It has iodine and pine-tar in it, so it cleans and kills nasty stuff and forms a nice protective coat. Bill Allen over at Strideaway wrote a piece about pad-care that seems to endorse both of these ingredients.

However, after Jozsi sustained a couple of either sprains or jars on his front feet, a friend suggested getting him a rigid boot that might provide him with some extra protection while we get him into race shape. And as goofy as they look, we went with these boots from Lewis.

They take a little time to get on and off, but if you do it right, your dogs' feet will get great protection. We've used them three or four times now and once he has them on, Jozsi is off to the races. You would never know that he currently has a 1" cut on one of the main pads on his right front foot. As much as I don't like to make too much fun of the boy, watching him get used to them was pretty amusing. He has a nice gait as is, but adding those boots to his front feet was like watching a Tenessee Walker during the Big Lick. Just that little extra weight has him picking up his front feet like a show pony... till he breaks into a run of course.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

rocketships

We were up in Oxford, NY, this weekend for the first field-trial of the season hosted by the Hudson Valley Brittany Club. The Lost Pond grounds are a working preserve owned and maintained, I gather (but I may be wrong), by the folks who operate Grouse Ridge Setters. And they have a really nice set-up, with well over 1000 acres groomed and maintained for bird cover.

I wanted to go up there to give Jozsi a dust-off and see where he was at, to run Mike + Kim's Rogue for them, and to get plenty of saddle time in. While I don't know anyone at the HVBC, I knew some of our usual cast of characters would be there running dogs or helping out, too. This first pic is of Dennis + Jen's rig as the sun set on Friday night; you can still make out the groomed feed strips and one of the many ponds on the grounds.

The first run of the weekend went to Jozsi. There were only two adult horseback stakes -- and with Brittanies required to win at a Brittany-club-hosted event to claim their Field Champion title, I decided to enter him in Open All-Age rather than Open Gun Dog to be sure he kept finding his range from a horse. All-age dogs are essentially expected to run and range with greater independence than regular gun-dogs. I didn't really know what to expect comparatively, ie. how his performance would measure against a potentially experienced all-age dog, and I was really pleasantly surprised. The short version of the stake would be that he ran and hunted objectives really nicely, maybe came in a little too often for a true all-age performance, had one unproductive and one clean find.

I think the judges may have thought I cautioned him into a point for the unproductive before he was actually sure of the bird. I, on the other hand, know what wagging tail and a low head means and so will swear that he had located a bird, that it was running through low undergrowth, and that he was fractions of a second away from going to get it. And I sure as hell wasn't going to relocate him. From what I gather, in the still air and bright sunlight of the late morning, a number of dogs weren't able to produce any finds. He needs work to get him styled up, but it was his first clean adult stake and I am proud.

Then came Rogue's run in Open Derby. This was to be her first run as a Derby dog, even though she is still 13mos old and eligible for Puppy. And while she is compact like her mother, she is built for speed. This little dog has drive like crazy and I enlisted Deb Goodie to serve as my scout and hopefully keep me and Nutball out of too much trouble. This second picture is of her at the breakaway -- and I think you get a good idea of what this dog was here to do. She ripped it up. Her instincts are really good and it was so great to see her power some edges. She did get a point in about 3/4 of the way round, and then, mercifully after she had popped that one, came around and realised there were more in the same spot and so re-pointed. And then went to the races. It took about five minutes to get her back but we managed to get her heading in the right direction. Then as the judge called time she bombed into the woods and was eventually driven out by Deb after standing quite beautifully, apparently, on a woodcock. All of that earned her a 4th in her first Open Derby!

The third picture is just funny and is from before our Open Derby run. Come Sunday morning, I had a feeling it might happen, but when I saw the course for Open Puppy, I realised we might be doomed. While they hadn't planted birds for it, the course featured a tight loop that ran awfully close to a series of heavily wooded, but groomed bird fields. We initially lost her in there for about five minutes before enticing her back, but as we looped back around she went back in and we couldn't get her back out in time. She, sadly, ran herself out of contention.

Jozsi's run in Amateur Limited Gun Dog (which was a walking stake) was sadly a mere 4mins of glory. To give him a tiny bit of slack, he had spent most of 6hrs in his crate waiting to run. And his first 3:50 was awesome. He ran a beautiful line that I hadn't seen another dog run that day and, perhaps not surprisingly, found a bird in a spot no-one else had either. It was probably 50:50 whether he bumped the bird because while he was making birdy, he hadn't also set up in any way. In any case, a bird popped, he stopped, but started up again. And that, sadly, is all you need to end an otherwise promising run.

The final picture is of Bob and his dog, Belle. Not my regular friend, Bob, and his dog, Belle, but another. In any case, I think it's just a nice picture. This is in many ways what trialing is about. Friends messing about with dogs and horses, having a good time (especially when the weather is good) and trying not to take anything (and especially yourselves) too seriously.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

what happens when...

... you put a hard-running, just-smart-enough, intact, 2yr-old male vizsla on birds for the first time in almost a month? You'd better be paying attention.

We had a productive day of training up at Deb Goodie's on Thursday. Our trial season will start next weekend and I felt a strong need to give both boys a tune-up. And to his credit, Jozsi actually only behaved like a total jack-ass once. And happily, even on the occasion, the quail were sturdy enough to get out of his way. He's a strong dog who knows that if he can get the jump, he stands a pretty good chance of grabbing a bird. Some dogs like to make birds fly. However, any time Jozsi bumps a bird, I genuinely believe it is his prey drive not his chase drive that is kicking in.

This pictorial interlude is brought to you by Lyza.

Training with someone else who knows something about dogs is a blessing -- whether they're a pro or not. As much as I have been taking the boys up to Deb's recently, I woud still advocate for amateurs doing as much of their own training as possible. This is where we might have the advantage on the pro -- having a domestic relationship with our dogs and therefore potentially having a little more time to dedicate to yardworking our dogs. Deb also has horses and birds. But she was also able to spot something with Jozsi which I had noticed but couldn't figure out the context.

He can find birds. When you're working a bird in front of him, he is solid as a rock. But often, unless the bird is in the open in front of him, he flags his tail. In a lot of dogs this can be uncertainty about where a bird is (and for Jozsi I had often thought it was because a bird was wandering in front of him and he hadn't gotten it pinned). What Deb hypothesized was that his wagging tail was actually an indicator of his desire to pounce in... he knew where the bird was and was priming to go get it. Assuming this is the case, the question now becomes how to train for it.

My prescription is to do several things:
a) do some more bench work with Jozsi but with me behind him, ie. with me out of his range of vision, but correcting him nonetheless whether with by picking him up and re-setting him or with a pole (to style up his head and tail);
b) when working birds in his range of site, to stop moving if he flags, but to give him plenty of praise and move directly in for the flush when he firms up;
c) continue 'warning' him with very low stimulation on the e-collar if he tries to move anything when I am working in front of him.

The irony is that he may have been more solid, maybe even more 'broke' (although his footwork, tail- and head-set are all much better now) when he was 13-17mos old than he is now. But then again, he ran great as a puppy, but he is a beast now. What I also needed to hear from Deb is that he is doing what 2yr-old boy vizslas do... testing limits, sometimes quite subtly. In that regard, he is perhaps just merely being sophomoric.

*******

In other news, we received official notification that Momo may now be referred to in official communications as Widdershins Momchil SH VC. While he is a deceptively tough dog, his is not this VC, but rather his Versatility Certificate. Jozsi also received his certificates to say he had finished up both the Obedience and Conformation requirements for his.

But looking at the serial numbers on their certificates, I was surprised they were so low. Since the Versatility Certificate program began in 1982, less than 300 dogs have earned that title -- Momo's certificate number is #281. (Incidentally, Lisa DeForest earned two (if not three) of the first six VCs issued in 1982.)

What was more interesting were the serial numbers on each of the boys' respective Conformation, Obedience, and Field certificates. Jozsi was the 600th dog to have earned the Conformation certificate, Momo was the 368th dog to earn the Obedience certificate, and the 418th dog to earn the Field certificate. I guess I was surprised at how many people have started the VC program but either don't or can't finish it. While the highest number in Conformation might reflect folks with show-oriented dogs trying to embellish their dogs' versatility, the answer could be as simple as Conformation requires the dog to do little more than meet the breed standard (and not bite the judge). I was pleasantly surprised that more certificates have been issued for completing the Field portion than the Obedience portion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

greetings from the Orkney Tourist Board

We just got back yesterday from a week in bonny Scotland, visiting my parents and surprising my father for his 70th birthday. My folks have lived in Orkney for almost 10 years now -- and from the first moment I visited them, I fell in love with the place. I feel especially blessed that I got engaged and had my marriage blessed in Orkney.

My parents live in the northeast part of Mainland, the largest member of the Orkney archipelago, in the parish of Birsay. Like much of Orkney it is enjoyed a long and vivid history and is home to a broad array of wildlife, from seals to puffins. After a quick Google, I discovered that Toadsnatcher had visited Shetland and Orkney recently and being a little more scientifically minded had actually kept a nice tally of all the plants and critters they'd seen. The Brough of Birsay is linked to the mainland by a tidal causeway and has some tall cliffs on its west side that provide some excellent aeries for guillemots, razorbills, and skuas. The puffins, sadly, had left in the previous two weeks to head out to life at sea again but I did manage to get some nice pictures of fulmars soaring off the cliffs.

The Brough is also home to Ruth Rosie's Teas & Tabnabs Snack Van -- which is awesome.
Homemade soups, cakes, and even if they are flavor-enhanced with salty sea air, magic bacon butties! We met a guy who happily drives 35mins from Kirkwall to enjoy a nice, fresh baconbuttie with a lovely ocean view. Just round the point from the Brough parking lot is Skipi Geo (in Orkney and Shetland, a 'geo' is a narrow inlet or gully) marked by this whale rib and vertebra.

Like many island communities -- Sicily, Cyprus, or the Sea Islands along the South Carolina and Georgia coastline, for that matter -- they have been home to a deep, rich vein of human history as populations came, went, settled, and passed through. One of the monuments to Orkney's rich human history is St. Magnus Cathedral, begun in 1137 and designed and built by the architects of Durham Cathedral. I feel additionally blessed to have heard my parents sing and my oldest cousin play the violin in this wonderful, red,
sandstone auditorium. (One of the unusual traits of the cathedral is that, while consecrated for worship and an annual maintenance fee paid by the Church of Scotland, it is owned and maintained by the burgh of Kirkwall. And as such has enjoyed and still enjoys a variety of secular purposes.) But on this visit home, I wanted to get the special, behind-the-scenes tour of the cathedral, up into the galleries, the bell-tower, and ultimately onto the balcony outside, high above the town. Sadly, I can't find the contact phone numbers or schedule for the tours which are generally offered twice a day, BUT the virtual necessity is to book in advance. Each tour can only take five people, all of whom need to be comfortable in narrow, stone spiral staircases and at ease with heights. While this picture is clearly from ground level looking east toward the altar and choir, being able to see the building from on high adds an even greater sense of the lofty aspirations of Norman and Gothic ecclesiastic architecture.

Our unexpected highlight of the trip came on our final evening as we came back down from the Brough. Call me a freak, heaven
knows my wife did, but I can spot a red-dog from 400yds! And gravity just got me there faster on the downhill. I'm sure there are exceptions, but vizsla people are just plain nicer. And smarter. And better-looking. Like their dogs. Aster (named after the very pretty sea aster flower) was visiting Orkney with her human companions, Judy and Alistair. They were so nice we invited them to my parents' house for tea.

Red Girls? Where were you?


Sunday, August 2, 2009

small celebrations in order

My apologies to the loyal readers at The Regal Vizsla. As will be apparent shortly, we have been concentrating on both training for an event -- and due to unexpected medical emergencies elsewhere ultimately chairing the same event! But here's a nice picture to start of our two, after their run the morning after everything had wrapped up. I had deliberately tried to stage it to look like a nice picture I took last year.

Our original club, the Vizsla Club of Central New England (who is in the midst of rebuilding our website and so no links for now), has its Annual Meeting and Versatility Testing in the first week of August up at Sharpe's Farm in Hopkinton, NH. The Vizsla Club of America offers vizsla owners the opportunity for their dogs to earn a certificate that attests to the dog's intelligence, good looks, and ability in the field. Dogs need to acquire three passes each under three different judges in each of Conformation, Obedience, and Field. It is possible for a dog to 'test out' of any or all of these areas if it has already earned a title in one of these fields.

For example, while Momo earned his first leg of the Field portion this time last year, since then he has also earned his Senior Hunter title whose requirements exceed those of the Versatility. And so we have applied his SH title towards his Versatility Certificate (VC). We had hoped to finish up his Conformation and Obedience legs at the CVVC Versatility Test in June, but as noted here, he had some lapses of concentration in the Obedience portion. Actually just two. Big ones. Jozsi, too, had the opportunity to finish out the Conformation and Obedience portions of his VC this weekend.

And all that stuff involving making them sit behind an active batting cage, sitting in the rain, in the bright sunshine, on wet and dry grass, with the wind in their noses or on their backs, while dogs with no manners abandoned their owners and ran up to them, paid off! Both boys did well in what has to be the longest three minutes of anyone's life... as you try to not freak out while your dog contemplates why it is sitting in a line with four other dogs on a warm sunny day. And so, happily, Momo has completed the requirements for his VC!!! And all Jozsi needs to do is all the stuff he thinks is fun anyways. Wendy + Chris's Seeker also collected her final Field leg to finish her VC, as well! Happy happy joy joy! While this picture is also from the morning-after run, it's just a nice picture of our two in action.

As a club we had also decided to run something called 'Hunt Test 101' to expose our members to the requirements of the AKC Hunt Test program, complete with experienced judges and live-firing where appropriate. I had rounded up some seasoned judges who both knew the rules, and also knew how to encourage newcomers -- and despite the heat, we got 14 dogs through all of that, too! Busy busy! But it was great to see a bunch of old friends -- like Manny + Steph, Wendy + Chris, Val + Jeff, Ivan + Marlena -- and also some new ones.

Friday, July 17, 2009

dogs + horses + dogs +...

We spent another two days upstate at Deb Goodie's place, running dogs in front of horses and identifying places to work on in our training once we're back home. We did get to see Marisa and her great dog, AFC Cliffside's Run'In On Hi Test, aka Tess. Tess has drive like crazy and lovely manners. Here's a great picture of her at full-tilt fresh off her breakaway. Whooooooooweeee!

As with our last visit, the real highlight was watching Momo have two energetic runs in front of the horse. I have no aspirations to make a trial dog of him -- but he has now come to equate horse = birds = fun and as a result has developed a nice breakaway. He may not be as bold as Mr. Enthusiasm, but he has a great nose, good bird manners, and loves to do well for his dad. Jozsi had an awesome run on Wednesday afternoon with three solid finds, but a great first find on Thursday morning, but got a little squirrely as he squared up for his second bird.

The interesting point for us to consider with Mr. Enthusiasm is what might be going on in his head in such situations when he gets birdy, initially stops, but then angles around before either stopping himself or whoa'ing on command. (I should point out that I don't normally 'whoa' a dog during birdwork, figuring that the dog has the genetics and the self-discipline to know when to stop itself -- and I don't want to create a dog that is nervous about messing up when it comes to its birdwork.) But in this scenario I had called 'stay' as he started to move for the second time.

To deal with the second part first -- of the dog apparently disobeying an obedience command that he is normally very good with: Deb did point out that vizslas, in her experience especially, are very context specific and so if I gave him a command out-of-context, ie. telling him to stay while he was actually moving, perhaps that was why he had failed to acknowledge it. Nevertheless, how you train for that is determined by what may be going on with the first part.

And so to deal with the first part second -- of a dog seemingly moving after establishing a (first) point: Kim Sampson (of Upland Equations and Strideaway fame) wrote the following on a bulletin board we both participate in: "For me it comes down to reading the dog's intentions. And, there is a huge difference between a dog self-relocating because he loses "contact" with a bird, and a dog relocating/repositioning just because the bird is moving. I want the first scenario, don't want the second. Watch the dog in enough different situations and it's pretty easy to tell the difference. I think it's fair to correct a dog for movement if his intentions are to get closer for the sake of getting closer or in an attempt to catch the bird." The emphasis here is that 'contact' means scent contact.

One of my challenges is that I have seen Jozsi deliberately take out birds, either wet birds he knows can't fly well, or deliberately bump birds in the open. Again, not all by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to see that there is a pattern to his behavior. But having said that, and while delicately disagreeing with Deb about Jozsi's second bird of the morning, this appeared to have been a dog losing contact with the bird (which he couldn't see and was masked by thigh-high grass) and merely relocating to get a better angle across the wind to re-establish contact. But I should think about adding some launcher work into our training repertoire to both discourage Jozsi from working too close, but also to work on his stop-to-flush.

The other nice part about getting up to Deb's twice in two weeks was being able to get some horse time on one of her horses, PC, and really start to feel like I knew how to use the horse to the full advantage (effectively to learn the subtleties of the horse's brakes and accelerator). The other nice part was getting to ride one of Deb's other horses, Dakota -- who is both a Missouri Fox Trotter and a gelding, as opposed to Deb's two other horses (which are both Tennessee Walkers and mares). Being able to find and maintain their smooth foxtrot or running-walk was just fun all by itself.

This picture is just for fun, of the boys waiting to get out of their Taj Mahal. Being an insulated box under a truck cap, it really does stay at least 20degrees cooler in there. We had temperatures up around 80degress and the (black) truck was parked in open sunlight -- but each time I took a dog out they were cool to the touch.

So we're going to keep working on our basic obedience in preparation for our upcoming VCCNE Versatility Test on August 1st up at Sharpe's Farm -- but also reminding Jozsi of his 'stop' command (which I use a whistle for and overlay with the tone on the e-collar) and styling him up by reminding him to keep his head high once he has established point.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

a friend's passing

We received sad news this morning that our breeder, Lisa DeForest, passed away last night after several months from a not-fully-understood, but debilitating illness that had left her increasingly weak and struggling to breathe.

She was a quiet person, never one to brag, although she had plenty of reasons she could have been forgiven for. Over her career as a breeder, she produced two Dual Champions -- Selkie (1986) and Jason (2001) -- and provided the dam or sire to at least four others. Selkie was by all accounts a remarkable dog and was the first (and may still be the only) vizsla to win both the National and the National Amateur Field Championship in the same year, 1988. Lisa also produced the 2005 National Field Champion, Mason, a dog that she herself handled to a 2nd in the 2005 National Amateur Field Championship and a 3rd in last year's National Amateur Field Championship -- from which this picture is taken; he also took 2nd in the last year's National Gun Dog Championship. Lisa was committed to producing hard-running vizslas, believing that field-trialing performance was a reliable indicator of a dog's intensity, stamina, and style -- and Skip Wonnell's Vizsla Field Trial Database has forty dogs that have earned trial placements listed in it that bear Lisa's kennel name, Upwind.

Our two boys share a common grandmother, Wylie, who while not strictly an Upwind dog was co-owned by Lisa and Wendy Russell at Widdershins and took 3rd at both the National Field Championship and the National Gun Dog Championship in 2003. Lisa and Wendy collaborated on a number of breedings and co-owned a number of great dogs together -- and while our dog, Jozsi, was whelped at Widdershins, I feel as though it was more than good fortune that Lisa happened to come by when I was picking him up. Another of the genuinely great dogs she contributed to is Yogurt -- it is genuinely sad to know that we lost both Yogurt's owner, Patrick Cooke, and Lisa within a year of each other -- and I was amused to hear from Deb Goodie this past weekend how Patrick chose such an unusual name for his dog. I gather that he had been at a trial following a brace that Lisa was handling one of her dogs in and while everyone has their distinctive holler, Lisa's was "Yo! girl!" Patrick misheard it and subsequently decided to name his dog 'Yogurt' in honor of that performance.

I spoke to Lisa quite frequently this fall and winter about Jozsi's progress as a Derby dog and even as she found it increasingly difficult to gather air and talk, you could always feel her pride in knowing that one of her dogs was doing well and having fun. We joked in December that she was looking forward to watching him at Nationals some day -- and that she hoped we'd be sharing the podium with her. Whatever happens this fall, it makes me sad to think she won't have that opportunity -- at least not down on the ground from horseback. Hopefully the afterlife looks a lot like a trial ground that you can enjoy with all your great dogs.