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.