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!