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.