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.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

back to training

But with a twist... we' ve been working hard on basic obedience with both boys -- and especially the 'long stay.' As might be gathered, this is an indicator that the Mominator failed to earn either of the final two Obedience legs at the CVVC's Versatility Day two weeks ago due to his decision to 'freestyle' during the 'long stay' portion of the both tests. The VCCNE has its Versatility Day on August 1st up at Sharpe's Farm. Hopefully we can get both boys finished up with the obedience and conformation parts of their Versatility Certificates. And so, in the meantime, I have been taking the boys to the softball fields near the house while there are games being played, setting one up in front of the other, making them sit or stand in the sunshine, with the wind in their faces or at their backs, while everyone else in the park looks at me like I'm mad. It's all proofing.

The twist, though, is that we started horseback training in preperation for the fall season. We went up to our friend and pro trainer, Deb Goodie's, place upstate to do some training with her, her horses, and some birds. We'd planned to go earlier, but the weather in the northeast has been very wet -- and as a result, the grass at Deb's is wicked tall, and the ground very damp. Perfect for woodcock as it turned out, but another great reason to train from a horse.

I had wanted to start horse training to build my confidence in my horsemanship, Jozsi's comfort with looking to me and the horse for directional cues (rather than relying on my voice, my whistle, or coming back around to check in), as well as general strategy for working with a scout. It feels like there's so much to process -- happily, though, Jozsi is a better dog than I am a handler. Sadly, I didn't get any great video of Jozsi breaking away -- which is always a hoot -- but did get this clip. After running Jozsi this morning, we then ran Yogurt, The Most Awesome, to see what she might find in the undergrowth. After a lovely point on a woodcock in a thicket, Yogurt then went on to establish this point.

As you can see, the grass was deep and the quail we had put out the day before had decided to covey up in the tall grass near a pond, close to water, but safe from the air (you can also hear a frog croak in the undergrowth). To Deb's right, there is what looks like is a very small rise. What you can't see is that the undergrowth actually gets deeper, much deeper, before it drops off to the pond. It was approximately 18" taller than the average vizsla. I know this because Momo found a third quail in there about a half-hour later -- and was completely invisible even from horseback! It took three minutes to delicately plough through it without tripping over him by mistake.

Momo probably actually deserves the most credit for the two days. He was run off a horse for the first time yesterday and was definitely a little nervous. But this morning, he was all over it and a hunting fiend. He will never be a field-trial contender, but this was definitely fun for him.

And so, now, after two days of busting through tall grass and standing water, both dogs have sacked out happy, dreaming quail hunting dreams.