Tuesday, April 20, 2010

trying to keep momentum

We had another lovely day to train this past Wednesday -- and this time around we had just my two monsters and Her Majesty, Broad Run's Ottilie of Red Oak, aka. Ottla. This first pic is from her first run of the morning and you can see how nice she is starting to look. Her parents keep her in great shape and she is really starting to establish a nice long style to her point.

For the past week or so, I have gone back to 'barrel' training with The Mominator -- although using a roughly 18" x 24" Rubbermaid storage tub as the barrel. It's small enough and light enough that he can't move any of his feet without tipping off -- and I have been both flushing and flying birds on tethers in front of him, as well as asking him to retrieve from it on command. I gather the use of either flat boards or carpet squares are used to much the same purpose in the retriever world. In any case, this was going to be his first time trying to take that lesson and applying it in the field. As with every piece of yardwork, making the transition from the backyard to the actual birdfield is the challenge -- how to help the dog transfer the learning from one situation to another.

Ottla's mom, Annabella, was kind enough to serve as training assistant for me, carrying my new favorite training accessory -- the lid off the Rubbermaid tub. In any case, the trick was to help Momo remember that while he wasn't perched on top of said tub, the expectation was the same. To summarize all his birdwork: each time he went on point, where possible, I picked up his front legs, stood them on the lid, then worked the bird -- coming back to praise him each time he did it well. Over the morning, he probably worked seven birds in this manner. Not quite perfect, but definitely better. (Although as you will read, that only solved half the problem so far.)

Jozsi is a work in progress -- but I'm hoping that I've turned a corner. And his wagging tail might be developmental after all. The previous week a friend had suggested telling him to relocate once he was on a bird but wagging his tail. And I tried that a couple of times while I was still coming up to him and he bumped the bird both times. On two other occasions, he also saw a bird in flight and chased it -- catching the first one. Thank heavens a) I don't have him in an e-collar, but b) had the presence of mind to tell him to bring me the bird (albeit in an angry tone). Which he did. That he would retrieve in a stressful situation is still a positive -- and reassuring that his retrieve while deliberately infrequently practiced on birds is probably more reliable than I think it is. But I think that by asking him to relocate I was just confusing him.

As you can see in this picture, we did try waiting out his tail a couple of times, too, which did work -- but seems to address a symptom not a cause. After he chased the second bird, though, and refused to leave it and come around, he got some old-time religion. I pinned his sorry ass on the ground and let him know I was not pleased. Nothing especially rough, but the message was clear and we got back to business.

And his next two birds were perfect, tail and all. Bizarre. Which is what makes me wonder if, in a much broader sense, this is developmental and he needed his ass kicked, metaphorically speaking. (That doesn't mean that that he hasn't also gotten confused messages from me and others which were contributing to the problem.) In any case, I also remembered that when I did barrel work ('tubwork') with him before, his tail never flagged. And so he has joined Momo, albeit on a bigger bench, getting birds flushed in front of him and flown around his head.

As ever, Ottla is the panacea to all the hard work that my two present me with. I wanted to take her round a relatively long set of edges to see if she'd be a little bolder and really hook on to the wind and the cover edge. The answer is 'not yet' -- but she is certainly an animated pup and most definitely a hunting dog. When she did get a bird in flight and chased it, I also fired my pistol at the point she was roughly 5yds away. By her second run, there was clearly no trepidation on her part.

As you can see from the pics, her tail set is getting a little higher -- and she's letting me style it higher when I can get there. The flipped ear seems to have been a theme for this time out! I forget which picture it is, but I was genuinely impressed by her willingness to stand a bird in plain sight -- now she may not have seen it when she first stacked up, but she sure as heck did after it started running away. It's a good sign though that her second instinct was not to merely break and rip it out.

Birds definitely fire her up though -- and by her second run, even though she'd already worked both sides of the hedgerow and had somewhere close to 5 or 6 finds, she was eager to keep going despite a couple of thorns to the face. This final pic is neat because Annabella managed to capture the bird in flush while Ottla stands in the thorns and brambles.


This past Sunday up at the CNEBC hunt test in Belchertown, MA, Momo was the recipient of some kind judging and passed his fourth MH leg. One more to go. But he was still creeping a little once I got up to him: however, I learned two more things.
  • Let the judge judge your dog -- meaning that it is the judge's job to assess whether your dog is good enough to qualify in the test, not you. You might have a higher expectation for your dog and you may even be a qualified MH judge -- but on that given day, it is your job as your dog's handler to concentrate on getting the best from him.
  • On that note, one judge was kind enough to point out to me that in a couple of those instances that he appeared to be taking small steps it was because, in his opinion, I, as the handler, was actually kicking cover into his face.
He did a great job in some awkward circumstances - a bracemate who had just qualified into MH the day before and who, through his own handler's error, ended up in an honoring situation where he couldn't actually see Momo and so, being a Senior dog, when the bird was flushed and shot, he went to retrieve it. And so poor Momo needed to find another bird of his own. He and I were then sent to the Outer Mongolia section of the birdfield while another bird was procured and his bracemate set up on point for him to honor. So, he did all those things and actually held steady on birds that were running around very close to his head.


And so I have now transitioned Momo to the ground in our backyard, putting a stick in front of his front paws, in part so that he sees a barrier, in part so I have a clear visual marker. The best part is that he now has room to set up in one of his nice long points -- which in turn means that the real villains in his creepy feet technique are more obvious... his back legs. I felt bad for him because I could see him trying so very hard not to move -- but a dog that never makes a mistake, never gets a correction, and as a result doesn't also get a clear picture of what isn't acceptable.

I'll keep working him like this and hopefully he'll realize exactly what I want and how much love he's going to get when he does. Wish us luck for #5!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

puppy brilliance...

It's been a busy few weeks for the Regal Vizsla -- and I apologize for not keeping the blog as up-to-date as I probably should. To summarize: we've had two more training dates with the puppies, one successful hunt test performance, one not-so-much, and two judging assignments.


Regarding The Mominator and his run to complete his Master Hunter (MH) title, we went out to the Long Island GSP Club hunt test out on the island two weekends ago. It was the first time going to the Otis Pike Preserve area and I was pleasantly surprised. While I could have napalmed the entire place to eliminate the tick population (and no, the winter didn't kill the little bastards), that's a nice grounds for a hunt test -- too too tight, enough open space to see a dog actually hunt, and a good-sized shooting field. It was a low-entry test and Momo was the only MH dog registered -- which meant that we needed to find him a suitable bracemate. Fortunately, Steve Anker showed up with one of his older dogs, Grits, and gave Momo something pretty to honor. All I can really say about his run was that he had an honor and a stop-to-flush in the backcourse, then a second honor and a retrieve to hand in the birdfield. He has been looking so nice recently and when he went on point for his bird, one of the judges said he wished he'd brought his camera. His reward was being asked back immediately to run as a bye-dog for one of the SH dogs. Three down, two more to go.

His performance at the ISCNE hunt test up at Sugarbrook was a little too short. But the lesson learned is this: you might be an amateur, but act like a professional. This is to say that in the AKC rulebook there is no definition of what a 'flushed bird' is. Some folks would argue that the bird has to take flight, others that it at least leave the ground briefly, others that if you've made a couple of genuine efforts, a visibly running bird is still sufficient; you have, after all, now produced the bird to demonstrate that your dog is pointing for a reason. The point being that if you've made genuine efforts to flush a bird that will not fly, whether by choice, injury, or exhaustion, then you might contemplate firing your gun before the bird ends up running underneath your dog and potentially causing a trainwreck. If the judge hasn't said anything or asked for more work from you beforehand, you might consider putting them in the position of deciding whether it was enough work rather than waiting for their benediction.


We have had a couple of great training outings with Ottla, her brother Murphy, and for this past week, another puppy, Nugget. I know Nugget because his father, Octane, belongs to my field-trialing fairy godmother, Joan Heimbach. (Rod Michaelson had the opportunity to meet Joan out at the Pacific Vizsla Futurity at the Kistler Ranch in Jamestown, CA.) We had actually gotten together with Nugget (who is now unofficially referred to as 'the Beastie') after the LIGSP hunt test and given him a couple of birds to get excited about.

In any event, it really is a joy to watch puppies dig deep on their genetic heritage and begin to look like bird-dogs. All three are coming along really nicely -- and after only two or three times on birds beginning to develop both hunting sense and style. All three dogs established points, some longer than others, and all three dogs went off the beaten patch to find birds in spots that they had previously flushed to.

Murphy has had the least exposure to birds, merely twice so far -- but is a very biddable dog who has already figured out that quail will head for dense cover to escape aerial predators. We broke him away for his second run and he immediately doubled back into the wind and produced this point and several others as the small covey of a half-dozen birds dispersed themselves. If it's not clear, these are evil brambles only turned away by the likes of Filson Double-Tin chaps. To see a young dog not merely point, but then pursue quail into nasty, pointy stuff like this is a great sign of drive.

Where Murphy and Ottla are 7 mos old, Nugget is still not quite 6mos old. When I saw him last out on the island, he was already using his nose and to find birds and was clearly interested, but maybe not excited per se. Since then, he has had another bird session with the folks of the Long Island Vizsla Club -- and I had already heard legend of his prowess in taking down flushing quail. In part because he is still a young man growing into his body (and in addition to his feet being huge, he is also bigger-boned than both Murphy and his sister), his general application is a little subdued. But get a bird flushing in front of him and he is off to take it down and bring it back. As you can see in this picture, he has a nice long, solid tail that should unfurl and firm up nicely as he grows up.

Ottla is beginning to look like a young bird-dog, as opposed to a pointing puppy. She is so very deliberate in her points -- and as you can see, she has a lovely top-line and her tail is becoming more emphatic. Her parents have already been bitten by the bug and so Ottla will be running in both the AWP and OP stakes at the CVVC Spring field trial in three weeks. (Nugget will be, too, but his mother will be running him in the AWP stake; we're still working on Murphy's mom.) With that in mind, we're also working on building her focus and encouraging her to run cover ahead of me in search of birds. And so we set up four birds along a long line of sorghum to draw her out and keep her attention. We have also been keeping an eye on her intensity to see if she's ready to begin formal gunfire exposure. After her first run on Wednesday taken at high speed and with great efficiency, we decided that Mario, her father, would stand in the middle of the field some 30+yds away and, on my signal, fire the blank pistol once she was chasing. In short, she showed no signs of even acknowledging that a shot had been fired.

For her final pass, we set out a couple of birds on the sorghum strip then a final one all the way across the open field -- in short, requiring her to come with me, stay focused, and then (hopefully) be rewarded with a final bird. I should also say that after two weeks of using blue scaled quail, we were using bobwhite quail this time around. Where the scalies seemed eager to run, the bobwhite tend to hunker down a little more -- and so we were planting birds rather than using the releasers that we had previously. I mention this because after she arced across the field in front of me, Ottla blew past the spot we had planted the final bird and then pointed at a thicket of the purple nasties. It was great to see both her faith in me in crossing the field and her faith in her nose in finding a wandering bird.

Her education will continue tomorrow. I am headed up to bird-plant for the Nutmeg GSP club field-trial at Flaherty and Ottla is coming up with her parents to run after the trial is over. I've arranged to borrow a horse to run her, Mominator-X, and Mr. Enthusiasm so they can all get back in a horseback frame of mind.


As you can maybe make out in this final picture, Mr, Enthusiasm suffered a long, shallow cut on one of his main pads and is currently bombing around the countryside in his Lewis boots. They are a bit of a pain to put on, but we've gotten into a routine with Jozsi and he now understands that they are a necessary prelude for him to run big. Coupled with Tuf-Foot after every run (which we apply while he's eating), his feet are recovering nicely.

You will also see that he is no longer wearing his e-collar for birdwork. As I've written here before, I don't know what I did (if anything) to have him wag his tail when he's on point (but not after you get in front of him), but if I did something with the e-collar then I'm going to take it out the equation for now. We've done a fair amount of groundwork with his pinch collar and a checkcord that I feel comfortable with him standing his birds properly. And so, now I am also trying to be patient and once I know he can see me in his periphery, I stop. And when his tail stops I start walking in; if it starts again, I stop. This seemed to work well on Wednesday. Hopefully we can get him all the way back.