Sunday, May 31, 2009

lots and lots of highlights

There's been a lot going on over the last two weeks or so. I'll try to be brief.

First of all, it's hard to imagine that two years has passed, but Mr. Enthusiasm, our own Widdershins Upwind Jozsi, turned 2yrs old on May 15th. And for his second birthday he got... X-rays! and dilated pupils! We decided to keep Jozsi intact to see if he turned into half the dog we thought he might based on the great dogs he has back there in his pedigree. And frankly, he's a good enough dog that he really should contribute to the breed by producing pups -- and our breeders have agreed to remove his limited registration status from his AKC registration. We have no plans to become breeders ourselves, but we've let folks know that he could be available in the future. But first he had to pass his OFA hip and elbow evaluations and his CERF eye exam to minimize the prospect that he might transmit joint dysplasia or heritable eye diseases. The CERF exam provides immediate results, the OFA evaluations can take 2-3 weeks. I am an anxious parent and so I overnighted his X-rays to them, and called them after 2 weeks. In as much as anything can be in a dog whose nicknames are 'Crackfiend' and 'Mr. 200mph', he is normal and therefore an eligible bachelor. And we have some interested parties... V-Harmony is in full effect! (The picture is from this past Friday. Nice lip curl!)

Speaking of V-Harmony, we got to see Vizsla Superstar, HRH
Brizstow Jones (and Karen and Glenn) the following weekend. As ever, she is lovely and sooo very excited to get out into the rough tough Bronx, to run with her two loyal troubadors of fun, and smell new smells like a gajillion left-over paintballs, the random guy under the bridge cracking his 11am six-pack, and all kinds of other things I'm glad human noses can't smell. And so here she is... Air Brizstow!

I just got back from taking the boys up to the Hudson Valley GSP Hunt Test up at Flaherty. I wanted to run Momo on Saturday in his first attempt at Master Hunter (MH) to see how all our spring training had gone and had volunteered to help out as a line marshall for Sunday. And being up at Flaherty, I took the opportunity to bring a bunch of quail to use as training birds for both Mominator and Mr. Enthusiasm (who also needs to keep working on his honor). We got two great training runs on on Friday -- and I have to admit I was really pleased with how the two guys did together. Momo really seems to have figured out the honor and both boys were looking pretty damn still on their feet. I think this is a great pic, one of several in fact from the afternoon.

Then Saturday came around and Mominator was up. We were the third brace of MH and my suspicions were confirmed by reports from the first braces that, in addition to any birds that had been planted, there were also sufficient numbers of quail left from field trials passed that the first two dogs encountered coveys of quail. I had a game-plan to work the marsh edge away from the trees as soon as possible, knowing that the likelihood of encountering birds was slim. However, as soon as we entered the backcourse proper, Momo made an impressive find on a quail in dense undergrowth, dense enough that while I could hear it scurry I never saw it till it flushed. Then his bracemate went on point and Momo did a beautiful honor. We then managed to get away from the trees and out into the sunlight and headed out for the birdfield. Along the way, our bracemate encountered the previously mentioned coveys of quail and despite some fairly impressive self-control finally got picked up after a quail got up in front of her face, sufficiently close to poop on her nose, then fell to the ground again, sliding down her leg -- and while she never moved her feet, she leant around and picked up the bird in her mouth. Sadly, a no-no.

We made it to the birdfield where Momo immediately located a chukar. Sadly, said chukar had gotten soaked from the long foliage and the night-before's rain. Even though I hoofed it up, it barely flapped, plopped into the grass about 4' ahead and could be heard digging for China. I checked with the judge that I could pick the bird up and toss it, and then resumed ferreting around for the bird. I finally dropped to a knee to scoop it out off the weeds -- and apparently at that point, Momo stepped forward about 4-5'. I didn't know this till after the bird had been shot and he'd retrieved it -- so it was a shame to know he was done early. Nevertheless, the lesson here for me is that if I have to do it again, I won't turn my back on the dog again to try and grab a bird... not because I don't trust him so much as to give him a clear view of what's happening. While we were ultimately unsuccessful, I feel very pleased with the boy and can keep training for these kinds of scenarios. If there can be such a thing, the nice part about MH is that it's so easy to screw up that there's almost no point in getting anxious. While good, consistent training will help stack luck on your side, it's hard to train for unprepared bracemates, covies of birds both wild or planted, and the particular performance penchants of individual judges. As an indicator of how difficult MH can be, while no one thing screwed up every dog, not a single dog of the eleven that tried out for MH on Saturday qualified. And this included the winner of the AKC's Pointing Dog Championship, Sioux.

And finally: so how hard does your dog run? Both Saturday and Sunday mornings, I was up at 5:15am to run the dogs on the grounds for a little short of an hour to get them all conked out for what would be several hours in their Taj Mahal dog box. This morning we got back to the tent and the truck and I got their breakfast out and noticed this. Sadly, I took the clip on my cell-phone so it's a small picture but hopefully you can still make it out.

video

My dog runs so hard that steam comes off him!! Here's to Mr. 200mph!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

smorgasbord

ere's an assortment of pictures from the weekend. We were up at the PANE Field Trial at Flaherty, giving Mr. Enthusiasm his last run of the spring season. We knew we had the first brace of the morning at 7am and so got to the field nice and early to arrange for horses and locate my trusty scout, Dennis. So the first picture is of the sun clearing the trees while horses chomp their breakfast.

The conditions were almost too good to run a dog: relatively dry air, cool temperatures, and a breeze. I say too good because I could feel it gusting -- and gusting makes pinpointing birds a little harder for the dogs and makes the birds on the ground a little squirrely and less likely to stay put.

This bird, on the other hand, could hardly be called squirrely. It might have been completely lovestruck mad -- but this grouse kept wandering out of the treeline and circling a complete string of vizslas and German Shorthairs, driving them sufficiently crazy to merit the pro whose dogs they were to kennel them up and resolve to try and chase said grouse into a new neighborhood. It was a monster bird -- and yes, I took this picture from about 6ft as it ran around a horse trailer.

We headed out on our brace at about 7:15am and Jozsi broke away like a madman. We've been working on phasing out the handsignals that can be convenient for foot-handling and translating them into hollers and calls -- and he seems to be getting the hand of it. Even though he runs hard and is beginning to nicely extend himself in front of the horse, he has a great handle. Sadly, though, he only had 15mins of glory... in a 30min stake! He had found two birds already before he cut into a swampy area and, as Dennis later relayed, but which I guessed from watching a bird pop out, he then located a third which started running in front of him. He relocated once, then it flushed and then he broke to chase for a few steps. While his stop-to-flush is normally pretty reliable, this is still pretty good progress for the wee madman. But his time was up. Nevertheless the judge really enjoyed his 15mins and was very complimentary about his range, his responsiveness, and his general state of being 'broke.' He was actually a little surprised that Jozsi was still eligible to be a Derby dog.

Which brings us to this picture from this evening. Once again, I stacked him on a lower set of benches, maybe 18" high and a little rickety, and made him stay while I taunted him with two quail hooked up to flight limiters. Arguably the best training moment was during his first stack on the benches when he tried to step forward to get in on a quail that was flapping on the ground -- and the bench tipped. I then re-set him gently and taunted him some more. (I stake out the other dog near the benches so he can see the other and hopefully pick up both the good behaviors and the corrections second-hand.) After rotating Momo through a session on the benches (in which he did great), I then put Mr. Enthusiasm up a second time -- and he stood rock still for probably three minutes or more while I flapped the birds in front of him, around his head, and then ultimately picked them up and put them back in their pen. They both really are good, good dogs.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

training day of sorts + update

I had picked up some quail over the weekend (and had forgotten just how big a stink even a dozen of the little creatures can create) and decided to take Momo and Jozsi up to Flaherty to do some training.

I have been gradually working on getting both boys absolutely steady-to-shot, ie. field trial ready with not a single movement of the feet whatever happens in front of them. Momo developed a creep after he was force-fetched which is, I think, him not wanting to bump the bird, but instead anticipating the flush and the retrieve -- which he now loves. Jozsi has always been pretty steady -- and is now having it rigorously enforced.

I have been setting the boys up in turn on the tailgate of my truck and 'stacking' them (which I gather is the technical term used in conformation shows) and making them stand. I'm not worrying about getting their heads 'high and tight' at least for now, but letting them know that moving their feet even a little will get a correction. For now, at least that correction is just me stepping in and physically re-setting them. Once that seems entirely ingrained, we'll start adding the e-collar.

Once we got to Flaherty, I wanted to run the boys loose and plant birds behind them -- and then re-run the course with each one in turn. The picture is of the two of them immediately afterwards -- Momo's face covered in mud, Jozsi wondering when he gets to run again. He did the first 45mins in his Christie's harness pulling 5lbs of welding cables.

Sadly for me, today was Jozsi's day-of-the-month when he seemed to be completely off-kilter. I call him a 'spaniel' when I'm miffed at him, as in "If I wanted a flushing dog, I'd have bought a...". So on his second run, this time by himself, he found three birds but snapped at and took three steps on the first bird, ran in too close on the third, and ran over the third (probably without scenting it, in all honesty). His only redemption at that point was the stop-to-flush. Better that he gets it out now than at a trial.

I then put Momo down. As much as I love Jozsi's unbridled energy, I love the Mominator. If there are birds in the field, he will find them -- and he did. We walked the same course backwards this time -- which to Jozsi's credit again, I realized that the wind had not only changed since we put the birds down, but had also increased slightly. And so, while Momo had the benefit of better scenting conditions, he also found a couple of birds that I hadn't put down, that were left from other trials or training expeditions. He ended up with four finds -- and, as ever, I am trying to gently bully him into standing completely still on point. As we discovered with his force-fetch, though, sometimes his stubborn streak supercedes his sensitive side -- so while gentle repetitions will often do the job very nicely with Momo, I'm anticipating that a short, sharp shock might end up being what is required to seal this deal.

(Interestingly, I think he has figured this out for when he honors. On his last few honors, he has stood without moving, despite me working Jozsi in front of him. A trainer-friend thinks that vizslas are a lot more context-sensitive than German Shorthairs, for example, who tend to be a little more hard-headed but for whom once the concept/command has sunk in, it is universally applied. For her, the good news regarding vizslas is that, if you are running into boggy ground with a skill or teaching technique, you can often just re-evaluate and reconfigure your teaching technique and simply change the command word. I've discovered this with Momo who likes to overthink things -- and for whom 'whoa' became an overly complicated word.)

I decided to take Jozsi out one more time so we could end on a, hopefully, absolutely positive note. I stacked him up on a narrow plank, 'stayed' him, and then tried to torment him into moving his feet by kicking around, firing my pistol, and then by flying a live quail around his head on a string. He didn't move. I think he thinks I'm mad. I may be.

Jozsi has his final field-trial run of the season in Amateur Gun Dog on Sunday at the Pointer Associates trial. Dennis is going to scout for me on his fancy new horse -- and I will scout for him for Sally's run in Open Gun Dog. Wish us luck.

*******
Training update #2: this pic is from this evening (Thursday) taken on my cell-phone. Here's Jozsi perched on two saw-horses literally shaking with intensity at the quail I just flew around his head a few times and landed on the ground to rest. Interestingly, both boys when stacked up on the saw-horses put both front feet on a single plank. Both boys know the routine by now, but just get soooo jacked up once a live bird makes an appearance.