Thursday, December 15, 2011

missing in action

Apologies to the faithful followers of the Regal Vizsla for my absence. On the one hand, we've been busy and any time spent outside with birds and dogs is good time spent. Since I wrote last, we've been to a couple of trials, taken our annual trip to western Maine to chase rumpled grouse, and started to break Jake. All in all, a pretty busy schedule.

The first few days of November we went over to Flaherty to support the Mayflower GSP Club's first field trial in many years. Congratulations to all the folks there who contributed to making it a well-run, enjoyable event. Momo did his usual, not-quite enough horsepower performance and we both had fun; Jozsi ran in an uncharacteristically odd fashion, was honest but didn't look great on his birds, and took 3rd in ALGD; Jake suddenly decided he likes to run.

The transformation of this little pup from the excited little gun dog who ran at Conestoga to the horizon-seeking demon was remarkable. I was genuinely surprised. And very very happy. He showed his intensity, his application, and his handle and left me just remarking at how much he must have inherited from all the great dogs behind him. My plan for developing him has been pretty simple: establishing a handle on him, giving him just enough birdwork to see what his style looks like and to keep him hungry for birds, and to break him to the gun. I did enter him in a JH stake and I will say no more than he got hosed. But the intent had been to see if he would stick with me without singing him too much, to run him with a bracemate, and to reassure myself about his being broke to the gun. In that regard, he exceeded my expectations.

Know the rules: you may not be able to change a judge's mind, but you'll figure out quickly whether you'll run under him or her ever again. After the fourth invalid reason for his non-qualification, I realized the judge was either not looking at my dog or had forgotten the standard for Junior Hunter. I do believe there is merit in JH for any pointing dog, whether they are going to be trial dogs or hunting dogs -- and my plan had been to get Jake broke to the gun and then run him while he was wicked young just to get him fired up and used to running with a bracemate. From his first trial down at Conestoga to his JH run, he has shown no interest in his bracemates whatsoever. But with the summer getting all messed up due to the Wallow Fire, Jake's development was a little out-of-synch with the plan, and with the JH title really being a means to an end, his 'not-qualifying' run was disappointing and will probably be his only run at that title. In short, I got a pointer because I like their style and, frankly, I wanted to see what it would be like to try and raise a potentially all-age dog. And trying to handle a young dog into a small birdfield four more times for the sake of a introductory level title doesn't fit the plan in the long view.

*******

After the Mayflower trial we headed up to Widdershins to pick up Miss Capo and take her for a ride in the Luxury Cruiser. It was hard to imagine that it had been four years since we were there the last time when I went up to pick up Jozsi -- but it was great to see Chris & Wendy, to see all the renovations they've made to the farm, to get reacquainted with Munro (the ridiculously ripped cat), and to meet the goats, cows, and sheep. We headed over to our usual spot around Oquossoc and waited to meet up with our friend, John DeSantis, and his great young vizsla, Luna. Unlike all four previous years, the weather was in the 50s with bluebell skies -- no hint of snow or rain in the air -- and it proved to be a real challenge when it came to finding birds. Luna ran over a bird in our first cover which I shaved some feathers off, but which otherwise left unscathed. And then we hit a drought. We saw a few other birds, but I don't think either of us fired our guns in the next day and a half. I felt bad for John who could only stay 36hrs, but I guess this is why they call it hunting. The picture here is of Luna standing behind a couple of trees scarred up by fresh moose scrapings.

Nevertheless having five dogs to run, I left with a whole new-found appreciation for pro trainers like Joe McCarl who specialize in field-trial cover dogs. We were certainly able to pair some dogs: Momo, Luna, and Capo are pretty evenly matched; Jake & Jozsi seemed like it could work nicely, too. I wasn't smart enough to get data off my Astro to figure out what I actually walked, all I know is that I walked for four hours straight the first afternoon and then had two seven hours straight days after that. What I did discover was that pairing Jozsi and Jake was akin to dedicating profound faith in the battery life of the Astro and the ability of the whistle to penetrate grouse cover. Our little dancing pirate clearly enjoys a little competition -- and Jozsi was not up to the task. In the cover I shot 'Grousezilla' two years ago, John and I watched Jake tow Jozsi out past 500yds before Jozsi clearly realized he was further out than he felt comfortable. After another hundred yards, and realising he was about to crest a hill, I hurriedly chanked up the path and ultimately needed the e-collar to get his attention. I don't want to imply that Jake was blowing me off, I genuinely believe that he couldn't hear me in his excitement at that distance -- but again, with all the work I've put on him developing his handle, and getting him used to the e-collar, he knows my touch well enough to know the difference between being punished and being cued and showed up shortly thereafter cheesey grin on his face and happy to see me.

(Of course, as we all walked back to the truck, in much the same spot that I missed an easy bird two years ago, John and I were caught entirely off-guard by a grouse that had sat tight through two dogs running past it but which popped off as we walked by in conversation. We quickly christened this the 'FU Bird'. I resolved to come back for it the next day with Mominator and The Princess.)

John then left and I resolved to find more birds the next day. I took Momo out early by himself, carrying my precious Grant sidelever, hoping to find birds still on their night roosts and hoping to extend the life of this beautiful gun. We found nothing in the strip of cedars along the path, no trace of the bird Luna had flushed the day before, but as I rounded a corner where Dudley and I had both missed a bird over Momo four years before, there he was 25yds ahead pointing with a 90degree bend in the middle. I snuck toward him, cocked the hammers, and when nothing flushed, I relocated him. The bird must have left its roost shortly before Momo got there and kept moving as I came up because as we then headed off in a new direction, we heard the bird flush off to our left.

Jake had actually had a spectacular point on a grouse the day before, looking just marvelous all the way through the flush (which I can only credit to the genetic payload that he carries from his mother's side and especially his grandmother, 7xCH Hard Driving Bev). But I felt bad for Capo who had, so far, failed to have any bird contact. This picture is from our failed attempt to find a new cover, but it was a neat downed tree and a good place to take a quick break. Sadly, the closest she got was a nice honor on a stopped-to-flush Momo after we went back for the FU Bird. Jozsi redeemed the team the final day, too, stopping-to-flush on a grouse in what I call Momo's Rain Cover and then repointing it in a tree with wonderful intensity. We were past being terribly sporting at that point and one tossed branch later, the bird came down -- it's crop full of clover leaves like all the birds we've taken in November. The sad statistic was that in the indian summer weather we had a total of 9 birds moved in two-and-half-days.

*******

After a couple of judging assignments, the first weekend of December meant our Connecticut Valley Vizsla Club all-walking trial -- and the joys of bird-planting and hosting the raffle and trying to fit in running the dogs between all that. Although a little out of sequence, to summarize: Momo wasn't going to be a contender anyways, but got picked up early somewhat uncharitably; Jozsi acted like a complete ass and I didn't need to be told to pick him up; and Jake ran like a real champ. And won. All I can say is that we'd put the work in and he and I have figured out our timing so that I can let him make a good cast, anticipate a turn in the course, and then sing him around without having him necessarily lose ground. And so, with a win in both AWP and OP, he is done with Puppy stakes and the process of breaking him begins.

My plan is not to run him in Derby till I feel like he is virtually broke -- and then either till he has his Derby points or till he starts obviously misbehaving and acting on his own behalf (whichever comes first).

*******

Since we all came back from Arizona, I began working with Jake just using his regular leash and collar to get him used to the idea of a small tug as a cue to stop and stand still. (This is in addition to the more general, good citizenship kinds of routines where he isn't allowed to leave his crate or step through the front door until told and to stand to be wiped down when he comes in from a run in the woods.) We have since transitioned to the checkcord and pinch collar as part of his regular yardwork -- and also to the whistle as a cue to stop-and-stand-still. For us, the whistle cue to stop is an important one in our life here in the Bronx where we never know when we might need to stop and/or corral the dogs when we encounter a deer/a paintballer/a drunk/a park ranger/someone looking for random stranger sex. In any case, we've also begun to overlay the e-collar over both the whistle and the pinch collar in preparation for his actual birdwork.

And that began this past Wednesday. We were lucky to have both Jeremy + Jackson and John + Juli + Dustin. While Jackson and Dustin are still puppies, Juli is a MH qualified dog and a great candidate for Jake to learn what 'working behind' means. He's already shown some fairly natural inclination to stop-to-flush (which he actually displayed earlier that morning on an exultation of mourning doves) and to honor (which he did rather humorously on a birdhouse in his first trial down at Conestoga). But now it becomes about combining natural inclination and structure. And he did a great job -- and while this is a wide-angle lens, he has already figured out the cues for either a situational back (on the humans) or an actual honor (on Juli) even at some distance. Exciting stuff, for sure.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

work finally paying off?

Since I owned up to not being the calmest dog trainer on the planet, a whole lot has gone on. First of all, Her Majesty, Widdershins Skypoint Capo, came back from Arizona after Bill was kind enough to finishing breaking her for me. As with Jozsi's return last year, she flew direct from Phoenix to Newark through Continental's PetSafe program and arrived in fine shape. As one indicator of what kind of environments she was being kept in before, during, and after her flight, the waterbowl that Tamra had frozen for her was still three-quarters solid when I picked her up.

Once again, the headline you'll never read: "Healthy female vizsla arrives safely at Newark airport!"

With The Road Crew reunited, I immediately loaded them into the Luxury Cruiser and headed up to TMT to get in a morning's training before turning right around and heading south to the Conestoga Vizsla Club trial down in Clear Spring, MD. We met up with Jeremy and Jackson again and immediately began by running the little liver dog through his paces. As you can see in the picture, he is showing a great nose and some very nice style at 12wks of age. Once again, he got to make a retrieve with the birds not wanting to fly in what was a 90% humidity morning. His future is very promising.

Then we put down Her Majesty in an effort to remind her that even though places and faces had changed the rules had still applied. In this way, I feel spoiled. I know how Bill trains, I know how the dog was broke, and I know how to keep her honest and maintain the training so that at whatever point it will become second-nature to her. And as I've said to a bunch of folks in the last couple of weeks or so, the beauty of the West method as practiced by Bill Gibbons is that, even if she messes up, there's no hooting or hollering. I had said this to Jeremy before we went out, to think about how different what he saw the previous week and what he'd see with me working Capo would be. And he did. As should be expected, she tried to bust in on her first bird, got corrected, broke on the shot with her second bird, got corrected, and then stood like a million dollars through all the hoopla of trying to get two running birds into the humid air. Not a word was spoken. All we got to watch was a jacked-up 19mos old vizsla working birds.

With the West method what I've come to realize is that in the absence of any handler theatrics, even if the dog is imperfect, all the focus remains on the dog. Whether you're a hunt test judge or a field trial judge, or simply a guy watching someone else's dog hunt, your eyes never come off the dog standing, you're never distracted by a handler pleading, cajoling, or bullying their dog. Jozsi ran next and while there was still a little tail ticking till I got to him, he stood his birds beautifully and honestly despite having plenty of opportunity to roll out of sight and commit a felony or two. Momo, too, did a nice job -- this great point in truth being a long, long sight point on a pair of birds walking together some 40yds away. Jeremy and I spoke about this, about dogs' color-blindness relative to humans (not that it really helped us last week as we walked right past the hen quail buried in the dead leaves and then noticed Jackson had stopped and was pointing it), but that their eyes have proportionally much higher percentage of of rods in their eyes and a much higher flicker rate, or refresh rate, giving them a much higher ability to detect even small degrees of motion in the world ahead of them.

Luisa or Janine: if I've somehow gotten this piece of canine physiology wrong, please correct me in the comments below.

We then hauled ourselves down to northern Maryland to the Indian Springs WMA. I hadn't been here before and was a tad concerned that it looked pretty compact for running trials at. Compact it is, especially for anything closely resembling a true All-Age stake, but there are enough fields and edges that each stake could be run on a slightly different course -- and with Blair Lake on one side and a rising ridge of hardwoods clearly in the early process of turning, it was a beautiful spot. All the same, while some cutting and management had clearly taken place, it was clear that it had been a warm, wet spring and the cover was very high in places. And while the temperature cooled while we were there, scattered showers were largely interrupted by rain all weekend. It was a great weekend to have an abundance of long riding coats -- but despite the weather, the dogs all did well sleeping in the Luxury Cruiser and I was perfectly comfortable sleep in the back of the truck under the cap.

Jake did a nice job in Open Puppy, showing no signs of being at all unnerved by being handled from a horse for the first time nor any indication of interest in his bracemate -- both great for a 7mos old dog. As I've said previously, my initial want for Jake's development was to build a relationship and establish a handle and then encourage him to run far and wild. And while his range was moderate, he dug into cover when he felt the need, would pop out to the front at appropriate times, and handled like a charm. It was a very nice start that earned him compliments if not a ribbon in a fairly large puppy stake.

For her first trial, Capo also more than acquitted herself -- handling nicely even with a relative stranger. By the time we got to the backcourse, she had really started to open up, rolling out along the eastern woods line. She then disappeared and the judge and I both knew that she was standing someplace -- and then she reappeared and brought me a feathery present, directly and gently to hand. We had run out of course and so the judge alerted me that we could turn back -- at which point, she promptly nailed a point looking like the Million Dollar Baby. The judge gave me the option of collaring her and trying to flush the bird, but I elected to treat the whole situation as if she were a truly broke dog. She stood through the shot and then broke and retrieved her bird to hand. This earned her a 3rd place ribbon, a nice testament to a very promising dog.

While I would have loved her to have acted completely broke, she is still a mere 19mos old. And the best part about the whole situation is that I know exactly how to review the lessons she learned this summer and so we did so on Monday morning after the trial, again progressively improving from grabbing the bird, to breaking on the shot, to standing high and tight all the way through. While the picture above shows how nicely she'll self-stack, this is how she sets up on birds, too.

Open Gun Dog was the actually the first of the stakes the Road Crew ran in and it was raining softly throughout the stake. Jozsi ran in the very first brace and on a course that the judges were not entirely sure of to start with. I think having to make mid-course corrections actually worked in our favor because if there is one thing that I can rely on all my dogs for, it's to handle for and with me. His bracemate was picked up for an infraction around the 5min mark and that, too, probably worked in his favor -- or, at the very least, and in contrast to Momo, causing him no detriment. Jozsi doesn't need a bracemate to make him run hard and so we did our best to look like a well-synched team. Birdwork was at a premium for the entire stake and Jozsi established the precedent by not making bird contact till the 28min mark. There was a little tick in his tail as I rode up to him which disappeared by the time I dismounted. The bird went up, all was in order, I took him on, the brace ended shortly thereafter. On the Jozsi scale it was about a 7.5 out of 10, but truth be told it was also only his second, clean broke dog run. And I was pleased.

Momo went out in the fifth brace and was braced with another lower-powered dog. Both hunted nicely, but neither really got out there. With time coming on, I took Momo back to the same spot that Jozsi found his bird and he made contact, too. His bracemate honored him, all was in order, and the brace ended shortly thereafter. I was pleased with him -- and while I knew only a few dogs had made it round with birdwork to that point (and did all day, in fact), I doubted he'd end up with a ribbon.

But the highpoint of the day was hearing Jozsi's name mispronounced as the winner of the OGD stake at dinner that night. I have deliberately not run him a lot in the last two years because I don't need to try and show a dog that I am not proud of -- and while I would rather he fail gloriously than lay down the mundane, I also didn't need to keep paying entry fees just to watch him blow me off. But to have him take a four-point major towards his Field Championship after carrying the day from the first brace despite strong performances from some local favorites was a real treat. The bittersweet moment is that I no longer have the opportunity to call Lisa DeForest and tell her how proud I was. But I am grateful to the Semper Fi crew for letting me join their toast and remember her in the process.

*******

This past weekend we went to the Finger Lakes region of New York to celebrate our wedding anniversary and so that Meg could test herself one more time in a ridiculously long running race, the CanLake 50. The race features both a 50mile and a 50K race, the 50K folks joining the super-crazy around the 19mile mark. Unlike the previous 50K she did two years ago, the CanLake 50 is all on roads and follows a counter-clockwise route around Canandaigua Lake and compared to her previous race relatively flat (a mere 2200ft of ascent as compared to the approximately 5000ft she experienced the previous time). One side-effect of this was that Meg bested her previous 50km time by over 3hrs! As she'll say herself, she's not fast but she'll get there -- a great illustration of why the tortoise will beat the hare. At the end a number of folks commented on how well she looked during the race.

I pulled a hammy slightly doing a trail run with the League at the awesome Wesley Hill Nature Preserve in an attempt to get them exercised between meeting Meggers at the aid stations at 9.6miles and 23.7 miles. I love places that state that 'dogs under full control' are welcome, not 'dogs on leash' but dogs under control. A good argument could be made as to whether field trial dogs are actually under 'full' control, but I like the logic that says that a dog on a leash is not necessarily under full control either. In any case, the League ran there three days in a row -- and heaven knows, Jakey loves running in the hardwoods. And I am glad that I had an Astro and that he has a handle on him. Zoiks. He needed a whole day to recover from all his exercise once we got home. But here is a nice picture of him looking out on Honeoye Lake early one morning. I don't know if the Iroquois have a word for fog rising off water, but from living in Portland, OR, and kayaking on the Columbia, I remember that in Chinook the word is 'skamokawa'.

Monday, September 26, 2011

don't hand me no lines...

I have a confession to make: I lose my cool sometimes. I went training with a couple of friends last week, got upset at Momo's shenanigans, and lifted him off the ground by the scruff of his neck, took him 15yds, put him down and heeled him back to the truck for a time-out. Wasn't pleased. Especially with myself.

I'm owning up to my mistakes in public because, like all the other sophomoric mistakes I've made, I hope others will recognize potential error in what they're doing and hopefully not have to go there. I do also believe that sometimes and some dogs do require a more physical intervention -- what I called 'leverage' in this article about my first month with Bill Gibbons -- whether it's spinning a dog during the breaking process like Bill, Dave Walker, and Maurice Lindley do, alpha-rolling a dog, or indeed pinching a puppy's jowl under its teeth when it tries to gnaw on you. Some of these physical interventions provide the dog with a literal sensation of what it feels like for them to keep doing what they're doing, some really are about asserting yourself as the top of a hierarchical social order, and the various forms of 'leverage' are much more about providing just enough of an external cue to prick the dog's consciousness, remind it of its working relationship with you, and ask it to merely repeat what you have shown it and which it has demonstrated numerous times (which in the West method is almost exclusively to stop-and-stand-still).

But this was not one of those times. I can make excuses about the dog, but the fact is that aside perhaps from taking a time-out, this wasn't the way to correct his behavior.

While I was out with Bill this summer, I would watch him intently while he was working dogs with the checkcord and pinchcollar -- short of actually wearing them myself, I was trying to see his 'touch' on the dog. As I wrote in the Strideaway article above, Bill uses a different pinch-collar a little differently than Dave Walker, in particular. Neither is necessarily better, although I understand clearly why Bill does it his particular way. As opposed to the combined pressure and acoustic cue that Dave Walker describes, Bill is pure pressure -- but it took almost two weeks before I could see him apply it. When a dog had stopped, but moved slightly to the side when the bird was flushed -- as Bill would say, it knew it couldn't go forward so the motion it wants to make comes out in a different direction -- he would reset the feet using the pinch-collar (and the tail if necessary) to reset the dog. He would chastise me when I did it, saying that we're not trying to dump a dog like it's a load of dirty laundry, that we need to show it respect. I've already admitted here that I used a heavy hand last week, but what I'm trying to convey now is that I was trying desperately hard to mimic what Bill was doing but somehow he was seeing me do something a little different. The best I could translate what he was physically doing was that he was pivoting the dog in a single fluid motion rather than lifting and turning (and potentially 'dumping') the dog.

Touch is learned through experience.

What I realised even as I was hoiking Momo off the ground was that I was frustrated, frustrated with the call from work that told me someone had managed to blow-up a deal I had been working on for several days, frustrated from what felt like a lack of help from the folks I was with, and frustrated at the high humidity making the johnny-house quail run rather than pop nicely. As for the lack of help, I realized that I also hadn't given enough information to my helpers for them to be useful. Now again, I've been that helper before, presumed to know something I've never been shown or had explained to me -- so you would think I would have figured that out! But the point of this post is to say that it is important to train to a plan each day you go out and make sure everyone who is supposed to be taking part knows what the plan is. Keep in mind that you may be working with people who are very well intentioned but have no idea what they don't know and shouldn't therefore be expected to ask for help.

Train to the plan and stick to the plan. One of the reasons Momo is less than immaculate is because he was trained by a complete novice using whatever method made sense at a given time. There was no long-term plan or vision: I had no idea what I was training towards. The same applied to some extent with Jozsi: I realized I had a really nice, powerful dog but had no idea what my long-term goals were and therefore how I would train to that larger, overall goal. I'd already made some mistakes with him and tried to apply what turned out to be poor advice before I came to the West method. If you have a long-term plan, you can then do two things: figure out the overall strategy for getting there, and break it down into more manageable chunks.

So, for example, I hope Jake will turn out to be a great broke dog capable of competing in a variety of different trial formats (ie. walking, HB, maybe cover dog, but certainly quail trials). If he never shows the ooomph to be a great trial dog, he will still be a stylish hunting dog and loved all the same. Style is critical for the FT game and a dog should be broken in a way that maintains that dog's style to the highest degree possible. In my opinion, the West method is that method. Now I've never owned a pointer but I do know his pedigree and what he might be capable of in terms of run; we also live in a city and while we have access to more space than most, a dog without a handle is likely to end up in serious trouble. I have therefore spent the majority of my initial time with him developing a handle on him, birdwork has come second, and breaking him to the gun has come third.

While I may well still run him through a Junior Hunter title, it will be to stoke the fire, encourage the run, and get him used to the brace format -- it will not be before I've started any significant steadying work with him. I debated whether to run him at the Cape, and even at the Westminster Kennel Club hunt test this past Sunday, but I have seen how long it takes to rehabilitate a gun-shy dog -- and so, running him without feeling like he has enough gun time on him really doesn't make sense. I have seen nothing to make me nervous about him, but I have no control over other handlers' gun manners and have been standing next to, judging, a very experienced hunt-tester inadvertently fire a gun close to another dog's head when it raced in from our blindspot having ditched its handler elsewhere in the birdfield. The long-term goal has to outweigh the short-term fun.

And this same logic has to apply to each training day: for example, if you want to work on your dog not breaking at the shot for the retrieve, how do you plan to stop it if it does break? Is it conditioned to stop with an e-collar command? Do we need a checkcord, even if the dog just drags it while it locates the bird? If the dog appears to be steady with a pop-gun, should we then test it with a 209 primer in a shotgun? Will we, and if so under what criteria, shoot an actual bird for the retrieve? And if I'd taken the same time to initially talk through what I wanted to achieve with Momo with my two helpers as I did with each of their dogs, if I'd taken that time to put the dumb work phone-call out of my head, maybe I'd not have gotten so pissy with the Mominator.

*******

On the upside, the shock of my over-reaction created a need for a time-out for me and The Mominator. I have been working on a few things with Mr. Enthusiasm and, if it works out, I'll post more about it. But I knew I wanted to test him with small coveys of johnny-house birds to give him lots of scent to work through in a finite area and potentially get over-amped on. Again, Jozsi knows his cues and I can stop him with the e-collar so that part of the plan was all set, too. (I know I'm writing here about training to a plan: the thing to keep in mind here is that Jozsi has had at least two different plans and one set of bum advice worked on him. So I'm being a little coy about what I've been experimenting with because the problem isn't the West method, as an example, but that various other things were already ingrained in him before we got to it.)

And as much as I anticipated correcting him, he looked as good as he has in a long, long time. I mean, really really good, like exciting, dynamic, and honest good. The kind that makes a judge sit up. Again, there were still a couple of tail issues which we've been working through for well over 18mos -- but even when there was still some tail movement, the magnitude of those, too, was diminished and at the invitation to move up and relocate, everything went super solid. I was so very pleased with him.

*******

The other major highlight of the morning was taking young Jackson out for his first introduction to birds. Jackson is from my dear friends, Jennifer + Dennis Hazel, bred from their truly wonderful bitch, Sally. I had no doubts recommending them to Jackson's owners, Jeremy + Katie, and was so pleased to hear that I was going to be able to keep tabs on one of their dogs. Jackson is all of 11wks old: he tracked and found this johnny-house bird all by himself -- to the point that we were still walking ahead when I realized he had stopped in his tracks behind us. He held long enough to get this and a couple of other pictures before ripping out the bird. But I'd say his future looks pretty rosy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

just geting warmed up

It's hard to believe it's been over a month since I posted last -- and heaven knows,things are going full steam ahead already. Hunting season may not begin for a couple of weeks, but the hunt test and field trial season has already. The League and I just got back from a great weekend out on the Cape at the second annual VCCNE/Mayflower doubleheader hunt test. None of the Gentlemen were running (and more on that), but I had volunteered to gun for both clubs and judged JH for Mayflower on the Sunday afternoon. The League did a great job hanging out at theLuxury Cruiser for most of the day, but making good use of the cool weather at dawn and dusk to stretch their legs and work the leftover birds. The first picture is courtesy of Julie Smith and shows Momo using his usual Jedi Mind Trick on Gordon to get the attention he thinks he is entitled to.

This was the first weekend of taking the Luxury Cruiser for a weekend event and sleeping in the back of the truck. While space was a little cramped, it seemed to work pretty well -- especially after I'd resuscitated my Coleman two-burner stove and had remembered to bring all the accoutrements to make a solid cup of Turkish coffee. With the good weather, having the stake-out chain really made things a lot more enjoyable, I'm sure, for the League -- and having dogs that are used to it makes it
a lot more enjoyable for me, too. Jake's ability to just roll with whatever is happening continues to amaze me.

Taking a step back or so, it's been a great month to really get to know Jake. As frustrating as the summer was
for everyone remotely affiliated with the Wallow Fire, not being able to run him frequently or expose him to birds foralmost two months had me wondering 'what if'... and heaven knows, his sister Dot won her first Puppy stake the day she turned six months old. But the fact is that there is a time for every dog -- and I think we have plenty with the Dancing Pirate.

Living with three hunting dogs has proven interesting: we have definitely had to institute a more regimented schedule for us and the Gentlemen. After their breakfast (Momo and Jozsi just get a small handful of kibble after their morning run, Jake still gets a solid cup-and-a-half in the morning) and after their dinner, they have crate time to let them digest and to give us time to get our own food. Once we've eaten they get supervised playtime, although last night was the first night that Jake actually abandoned wrastling either Momo or Jozsi and came over and lay down on me on the couch, much to Jozsi's chagrin.

In an attempt to let Meg get a normal run in first thing in the morning and to give me the chance to really work on developing a rapport and a handle on the Jakeasaur, I've been taking him out by himself in the mornings and really letting him run in the woods, albeit with both an e-collar and an Astro. There'll be a few words on e-collars at the end, but I have been frustrated by the Astro's sometimes inability to combine correct range anddirection. I did purchase an extended antenna for the DC40 collar and I see now that the long-range antenna that comes on the new Astro 320 is now available as an accessory upgrade for the older 220. I have not been necessarily looking for more range, but more accurate communication between the collar and the receiver, and to that end have also experimented with re-tuning the frequency between the two units. In theory, shorter wavelengths (and therefore higher frequencies) can pass between obstacles more easily and with less corruption of the signal. And so I re-tuned the Astro to its highest frequency range; oddly, Garmin doesn't tell you how to do it in their manual, but it can be found in various places including here. Those two changes did make some difference, although at this point I can now tell that we have pending thunderstorms when it loses some of its normal accuracy. Having the Astro really lets me work on encouraging Jake to range and cast even after I've lost sight of him -- which in our woods is often soon after 30yds out. On our trail system, he does have some favorite spots that he really likes to explore -- and being able to not panic, and instead keep singing him out once he's hit 100yds+ is a real bonus.

He has had one run at Flaherty already, but the grass was so high in the spotwe went to that he couldn't hardly range and was suitably exhausted and abraded after his time on the ground that he slept wonderfully that night. He did also get to run at Crane this past weekend -- and it was pretty great to run him on wild-planted birds and watch how he dealt with new types of cover and tons of old scent. After his first bird contact, he certainly kicks it up a notch and, as a result, having a pretty good handle on him already is a bonus. In addition, I have been able to get my Evil Empire set up and birds acclimated to their respective drums. Today was the first day I released a couple from each barrel and left the recall doors open -- that a hen was already waiting to go back in when I went to open one of them. Hopefully this will be the first of many successful recalls -- I really do think it makes a difference using wild-planted birds, especially if you have stocked your johnny-houses. The two areas we need to work on with him are breaking him to the gun and running from a horse. I'm waiting till he is chasing, not merely following, the bird to the point that he is about to grab it to fire the gun. I've been able to do it a couple of times with a 209 in a single-shot .410, but one of the challenges in the place I train is that it is in the woods and if a bird flies behind a tree where Jake loses sight of him as he chasing, he'll just stop and either try to get a scent or come around in search of the next one. Again, there's a time for every dog and doing it right the first time means not having to take more time to rehabilitate a gun-shy dog.

He met Jen + Dennis's horses at Crane this past weekend, but time just didn't allow for me to take him for a jaunt and I'm hoping to have that opportunity this coming weekend. But this is the beginning of the season, the trial and hunt test season as much as hunting season -- and I'm looking forward to judging for theWestminster Kennel Club hunt test at the end of the month, then heading down to Conestoga to judge their Hunting Dog stake with my good friend, Michele Dowd, along with running all the members of the League as well as a newly-returned Miss Capo. The Road Crew reunited!

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For some reason, it seems that the debate over e-collars has risen to the top again, maybe only in my world, but Pat Burns also felt the need to write a detailed (and to my mind, balanced) post about e-collars as a training tool. And from an e-mail exchange with
Janeen over at SmartDogs, she said this: "Good working dogs, those bred to do specific jobs brilliantly well, have incredibly strong behavioral drives that both work for and against their human partners. When those drives are emitted as dissenting opinions they put the true working dog at odds with the job he was bred to do and there is no reward strong enough to break that focus." Janine remains one of very few folk who I know who has actually researched the 'research' about e-collars. But like Donald McCaig wrote in a comment to Pat's post: "But there is a substrate of the pro and anti ecollar argument that quelches rational discourse."

As for the guy who yelled at me last night for running my dogs off-leash at dusk in the park who got to watch a pointer turn on command 15ft from him without using the e-collar (but still having it as back-up): bite me!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

thwarted

The short version of the story is that after a phone-call from work asking if I could come back earlier than planned, I did. After seven weeks in Phoenix in a holding pattern and no concrete assistance from the USFS till literally the day I left, it was an easy decision to make -- and made easier with the support of Bill. As he said, if he'd had 25 dogs to break and no other help, it might have been a different conversation -- but as it was, and in this economic climate, a job is a job.

I certainly learned a bunch of things, albeit mostly things I hadn't planned on. Namely, that I don't think I'll be becoming a professional trainer any time soon -- any residual glamor or romance that might have remained from last summer has dessicated and blown away. This is a tough life for the best of people, especially for a pro who is campaigning dogs and on the road for large chunks of time. I've said it elsewhere, but if I go to a trial and see a pro there with their family helping out, I'm immediately impressed. After seven weeks, I did learn that I could probably enjoy owning and operating a boarding kennel -- which is useful for Meg and me to keep in mind for our next move. I also learned that, in an ideal world, a pro owns or works directly for an owner who owns their training grounds -- being at the mercy of a federal agency as well as natural phenomena like fire will test the patience of a saint.

As a testament to the kind of class act Bill is, though, he did offer to keep Capo in AZ to finish her getting broke -- which was a huge relief to me because of the four-member Road Crew she was the one dog getting worked and making progress. And so we will wait till mid-September to see how much progress she's made. Now that they're home, all three of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are enjoying very regular exercise and the opportunity to get back in shape for the fall.

Despite 36hrs of food-related turbulence between NM and TX, the drive home was actually quite pleasant. This first picture, though, is from the initial trip up to Bill's temporary camp the morning I left, hauling my and his remaining dogs up to him in our trailer, aka. The Luxury Cruiser. Driving up into green scrub country with a beautful Arizona sunset in front of me almost made me rethink the decision. Instead, I took an extra two days to come home, stopping off first of all in Magdalena to see Steve + Libby. The drive between Springerville and Magdalena was interesting because while I could see little direct evidence of the fire which consumed over a half-million acres, semi after semi barreled down the road laden with hay. With a significant amount of the ground cover burnt off and the arrival of monsoon season, the next concern for the USFS were run-offs and mudslides (like those that wrecked homes in Flagstaff after the Schultz fire last summer) -- and bales were arriving by the truckload to try and anchor the top soil and channel water.

We stopped over in Alvord, TX, again at Lary + Ann Cox's place. A late start had meant that we initially overnighted just outside Childress but I managed to find a rails-to-trails site just outside Estelline to let the League stretch their legs. (As I read this Wikipedia entry, I realise that I was lucky not to fall prey to one of the worst speed trap towns in the nation!) This picture of Jake is just a testament to his confidence and increasing strength as he powers through brush. He's certainly already got a ton of road miles and experience in different terrain in his short life so far: he was hauled from Alabama to Pennsyslvania as an 8 or 9week old even before this trip, and has already run in the low deserts around Phoenix, the higher deserts and pines of Flagstaff, the grasslands of northern Texas, and the mixed woods and grasses of Virginia plantations. Spending time with Lary is a great excuse to sit and talk about dogs -- and he also made arrangements for the two of us to lunch with WC Kirk, handler of the last setter to win the National Championship, Johnny Crockett, back in 1970. I wish I hadn't been trying to overcome the last of my turbulence to be a little more talkative -- but it was still fun to listen to all of WC's various stories and suggestions. "Get a good-looking horse and learn to ride him well. If you have to do a little horse show to take the judge's mind off something else your dog might be doing, then so be it." (Or words to that effect.)

Before leaving Alvord, I got up early to run the League on a section of the LBJ National Grassland and between the rising sun, lower temperatures, and the beautiful countryside, all four of us had a great time. Certainly to me, the name mistakenly implied something more like palouse -- when in fact, grassland in Texas can take a variety of forms. My guess would be that the portions of the LBJ that I saw on my visit most closely resembled 'Post-Oak Woods, Forest, and Grassland Mosaic.' The important features for me were that there were woods that presented edges, if not the kinds of prominent field and pasture lines commonly found in the northeast. There was certainly room for a dog to run, but real cover for a dog to hunt (and potentially get lost in) -- it made me want to come back during trial season to see how good dogs and handlers negotiated it. As you can see from this picture, there are also stock tanks -- and all three of the dogs paid a visit. One of the traits I like about Jake is that he will water himself if he's feeling hot, including dunking himself in ponds; Jozsi will do it to some extent; Momo not really -- his genius is pacing himself so that he can hopefully establish a pace he can easily maintain for several hours.

We hauled our way over Arkansas and into Tennessee -- where the giant wall of humidity hit us. Blah. This might have been where both the Astro and my cell-phone got a little hinky and are now both headed for some hammer-therapy. In any case, the sad part was that we reached Memphis on a Sunday night which meant that as we headed to Grand Junction the next morning, I knew the Bird Dog Foundation Museum would be closed. Needless to say, though, I stopped by and enjoyed the Walk of Champions and the flushing quail tableau featuring and dedicated to John Rex Gates, Mr. Thor, and Crossmatch. I also did what any decent bird dog nerd would do and visited the Ames Plantation not far up the road. It was a little odd driving up to the main house and recognizing the stables, kennels, and clubhouse just from watching several of Brad Harter's great National Championship DVDs -- although they, like the rest of the grounds, look a little different at the height of the growing season than they do in February. The plantation is primarily administered by the University of Tennessee and I guess the administrative assistants are used to idiots like me asking if its okay to walk around the back of the Main House to see the steps. As the picture shows, yes, it is. Leaving aside the much longer history of what was originally the Jones Plantation, evidenced by the family cemetery fairly close to the house, it's still a little unnerving to think that every National Champion since 1915 has been posed on these steps.

We continued on our merry way, eventually winding up in southern Virginia, passing Cloverdale Farm on the way to visit another vizsla friend, Don Brown, who manages a private plantation in Clarksville. The sad part about that drive-by was the knowledge that Mr. Leggett had sold the grounds recently, apparently to a developer. I had set things up so that we had a short drive to Clarksville so that, in turn, we had time to relax at Cedar Grove and let the League get some well-earned exercise in. The grounds at Cedar Grove are set up to allow the owner to enjoy quail hunting in Southern style, either dismounting from a well-mannered walking horse or from a mule-drawn buggy -- and Don breeds his vizslas accordingly. These are not stretch-for-the-horizon field trial dogs, but dogs able to sustain a well-paced hunt for an entire morning or afternoon without being changed out. And he gets paid to spend the same amount of time and diligence maintaining the grounds by thinning trees, and carrying out controlled burns of understory, and planting warm season grasses, sorghums, and other varieties of beans and seed plants as food sources. It's certainly not easy work, but it's a heck of a nice spot to raise and train bird dogs. Here's a picture of our giddy fool enjoying some cooler weather and friendlier cover to let loose in.

In the meantime, it's back to work and enjoying time with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Birds are ordered for the Evil Empire and hopefully we can start training these guys again soon.

Friday, July 8, 2011

slow bake and a craving for rain...

...not down here in Phoenix necessarily (although we have had our share of incredible weather phenomena, and our haboob in particular). Bill tried to explain the particular combination and sequence of things like relative humidity and dewpoint that we need in Phoenix so that we might reasonably anticipate rain in the White Mountains -- but as many times as I read the definitions of these things, for some reason I can't figure out how to interpret these numbers.

While the Wallow Fire is now 95% contained, the developed campgrounds at Big Lake, Greer, and others are scheduled to open again this afternoon, and InciWeb will no longer be posting any updates on the fire's status, we still don't have any updates to tell us when we can leave the Valley of the Sun. As far as we're concerned, we're on 24hr standby. But with the opening of the developed campgrounds, hopefully general access to the Apache Forest will come soon.

In the meantime, we continue to train a little north of Phoenix -- getting up at 3am to get everyone loaded and to be at the grounds to start at 5am. It certainly can be beautiful as hopefully this picture shows. Taken at roughly 5:30am before the direct rays of the sun, it felt relatively cool -- but it was already 88degsF and by the time we were done at 8:30am, it had already broached 92degs. For where the dogs are now in their breaking process, it's actually important not to try to do too much irrespective of the weather -- but especially for the dogs that get run later in each session, we have to pay particular attention to their demeanor because of the additional stress factor of temperature. Besides the pretty colors and striking backdrop, I realise that this picture also has one of our carded, training pigeons in the right foreground. Carded pigeons are a huge part of Bill's system for breaking dogs (and while I don't agree with everything in this article, it's more right about more things than most). (Lacking the kind of open spaces that Bill has to train with, Maurice Lindley uses homing pigeons and launchers for much the same effect.) But going up to the mountains means that we set up our larger johnny-houses for quail (and maybe chukar again this year), and our smaller 'Evil Empire' johnny-houses on what will be our horseback course. In the progression of things, dogs will get broke on carded pigeons, then have the lessons re-affirmed on johnny-house quail, and if they've progressed quickly, then get turned loose and run from horseback. (In the meantime, the horseback courses will get used by the already-broke dogs in camp for conditioning and polishing.)

A quick word on what 'broke' looks like in this system: a customer came by this week to pick up his dog, a started dog he'd bought sight unseen and, looking for a broke dog he could take hunting almost immediately, he'd sent the dog to Bill for three months of training. He'd never seen his dog before, he'd never met Bill, and he's had several good dogs from several reputable folks before -- in short, he was not a novice to bird dogs. We have also been blessed with a crop of very spooky, healthy pigeons -- and so the first thing he saw was his new dog stop-to-flush, high and tight, without command on a bird that took us all by surprise. He then went on to point two more birds and had the third shot for him -- all in order and all without any vocal command. He was stunned. He asked Bill if he'd bought a miracle dog: "No, they should all do what he just did. He just looks particularly pretty doing it." This is to say that in several ways, Bill's breaking process relies on dogs being exposed to honoring and stopping-to-flush at the same time as being steady-to-fall. In fact, using Capo as an example, I would guess that she has been asked to point perhaps 4 birds in a month, but has been exposed to roughly 20 stops-to-flush or honoring situations.

In other news, Jake gets bigger and bigger. Taken over the Independence Day weekend, I love this picture for his high tail, goofy smile and his loping stride. We also got confirmation that his official registered name will be Seabank's Dancing Pirate. Meg and I decided that we'd like to start naming our own dogs with out own kennel name (hopefully in anticipation of moving and actually having outside space for our dogs) and Seabank was the name of my maternal grandparents' house in Campbeltown. 'The Dancing Pirate' was the name of a very early Rita Hayworth movie in honor of his mother, Hard Driving Rita.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

holding pattern

First of all, I may need to come up with a new collective name for the congregation of dogs formerly known as Team Vizsla -- Bronx Chapter so I have a good shorthand moniker for Momo, Jozsi, Jake, and the fourth member of our road crew, Capo. And maybe, especially because I've been reliving my appreciation for Motörhead, The Road Crew may in fact need to be it.

We left New York and headed south for the Conestoga Vizsla Club Fun Day -- where I judged several dogs for the Field portion of their Versatility Certificates, and where Momo got to see his brother, Tavish, for the first time since they were littermates. As you can see, they share more than a little resemblance to each other.

I had then planned to long-haul it directly from VA to west TX in one giant 23hr leg. The reasons for considering this were that, with four dogs in tow, any fewer nights I could spend smuggling dogs into hotels would be a good thing. (Even pet-friendly hotels rarely accept more than two -- and for good reason.) And while I am sure the dogs would have adapted just fine, having two dogs in crates on my back seats, and two more dogs in wire crates in the bed, plus all the stuff I need for three months away from home, I wanted to minimize the possibility of any negative associations with road-tripping -- although arguably Jake has more road miles under his belt than most other dogs his age. The primary reason for making Woodson, TX, our destination was also two-fold: Woodson is the home for Jones Trailer Company where we were picking up our new dog trailer, and fairly close to Alvord, TX, home of Christie Saddlery. I've spoken to Lary Cox pretty regularly since I first started getting involved with trial dogs -- and, in person, too, he is one of the true gentlemen in this sport and a real master craftsman. He was kind enough to let me and The Road Crew recuperate for a day before we made our next jump to Magdalena, NM.

In the meantime, we'd already started to hear the news and get the phone calls from Bill that there was a serious fire in the White Mountains. As of writing right now, the Wallow Fire has become the largest fire in Arizona's history and while 51% contained, there is still a lot of dry fuel on the ground, unpredictable winds, and no start in sight to the summer monsoon season.

Even though it was no longer en route, we dropped down to Magdalena to see Libby and Steve again, to enjoy a home-cooked gourmet meal, drop off some more ammunition for the Sidley that I'd since found in the garage, and catch up on gun and dog gossip. When I got there, I knew that that US60 to Springerville was already closed and there was a solid pall of smoke off to the west. After a fabulous dinner of mushroom risotto, the examination of firearms new and old (Steve's new Ithaca, my Holloway &
Naughton), spirited conversation, and a breakfast at the Magdalena Cafe, I headed east and north back up to Albuquerque to skirt around to Phoenix via Flagstaff. The wind had clearly changed direction and the soot and smell of the Wallow Fire were clearly discernible some 170miles away.

It was nice to come through Flagstaff and spend an extra day with
Denise and Steve -- and for them to also finally meet our dogs. Having a fenced-in yard, a dog trailer, and access to public land to run the dogs was a real blessing. I hauled the dogs over to Marshall Lake to give them all room to really stretch and was really pleased to see both little Jake and Capo really get their legs under them and handle for me. This picture is of Momo and Capo watching a random pair of ducks hidden in one of the few damp, marshy spots -- and I love her intensity and style. She's taken to life on the road and to training like a real treat.

For now, at least, then we're based down in Phoenix and getting up at 3am so's we can get to our training grounds to start at 5am. For now, at least, Momo and Jozsi are making do with kennel life and getting run twice a week; Capo is part of the regular training string and coming along really, really nicely; and Jake gets to beat up on two of Bill's puppies every night. We did take Jake, Tina, and Fey out on Sunday to let them all stretch their legs and get used to handling and going with us. Tina and Fey are from a repeat breeding of Hytest Skyhawk and Tekoa Mountain Phoenix ('Remi') that produced Bill's two, nice Derbies, Jack and Jill. They are roughly a week younger than Jake who turned 4mos old the day we were out. I love this picture of Fey thinking she's about to ambush Jake who's in full tilt. (She failed.)

All of The Road Crew have been getting used to the various prickers, stickers, lizards,
jackrabbits, mourning doves, and decomposed granite underfoot and in front of them. Figuring out how to extract a cactus spine from a pointer puppy's tongue was an interesting, novel challenge -- I imagine he'll think twice about trying to lick spines out of his foot pads. Nevertheless, he has been showing both really nice initiative and an attentiveness to me that is reassuring in lots of ways. This picture came out really nicely with the arm of McDowell Peak in the background and the simple colors of the sky, path, mountain and dog.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

a couple more updates

After almost a week with us, both our regal vizslas have realized that the little, long-tailed terror is here to stay -- and in that realization have decided to welcome him into the pack. Jozsi, in particular, was a little intimidated by the whirling white fireball but, with reassurance and encouragement from us, has embraced his role as big brother. For all his little quirks, Momo has always had both a strong sense of self and control -- and as such, has given Jake appropriate feedback since Day 1. But three-dog group-play in our living room is quite the sight to see. We're still structuring their days pretty heavily with solid spells of crate time in part because while accidents in the crate have been non-existent and accidents in the house have been minimal, we are still hyper-vigilant about Jake's puppy ADD taking over in an instant as the need to relieve himself suddenly crops up in his juvenile consciousness. Here is the little prince with his new favorite pacifier! What a handsome chappy!

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that Jake had never worn a collar till he came to us -- and now he wears one constantly. (You can see in the picture that while we had an old one of Jozsi's that would go tight enough, I had to make a zip-tie retaining loop so he couldn't chew it.) It struck me that this was something that he should get used to because his initial training cues will come through a collar, whether for yard work or field work. A friend told me that Delmar Smith had told him that when the pups were very little, he put tiny collars and cords on them, just long enough that if they didn't hold their heads up, they would trip themselves. In any case, we're working on having him wait to be told to come out of his crate, to stand and wait to be told to go through the front door, and to stay to the front when we're out walking off-leash. He's doing great. Jerry Kolter, incidentally, also starts his pups out young on a stake-out line also to acclimatize them to neck pressure -- preparing them for leash work. I also much prefer a stake-out chain to a minefield of individual stakes, and while I don't know if I'll have a legitimate chance to chain out our dogs before heading to Arizona, they will all spend a good chunk of each training day waiting their turn on the chain gang.

What I didn't mention about Jake was the primary reason we got this particular pointer at this particular time. After seeing some nice dogs at the 2009 Northeastern Open Shooting Dog Championship, seeing more at Bill's camp last summer (including Harold's beautiful bitch, Sage), I knew I wanted to own at least one pointer in my life. And unlike vizslas, there are no shortage of pointers -- which are arguably the Ford F-150s of the pointing dog world -- and so I wanted to wait for a special breeding. While Jake's mother, Hard Driving Rita, has yet to earn any major field trial wins, she contains the genetic code of two phenomenal grouse and woodcock dogs -- Joe McCarl's Hard Driving Bev and Frank Lanasa's Centrepiece -- who between them have accumulated at least 12 wild bird championships. I don't mind saying that I have been in love with Jake's daddy, White Powder Pete, since watching the 2008 National Bird Dog Championship DVD. And everything else I've learned about Pete, especially, tells me that he is something special -- an all-age dog who is also used as a quail plantation guiding dog, a pointer who would as happily as any vizsla sleep on your bed with you. Pete ran his seventh and final National Championship this past February shortly before his pups were born -- and William Smith, who scouted for Colvin Davis this time around, has written a nice tribute to Pete's trial career on Strideaway. (The pictures of Rita and Pete are both borrowed from Chris Mathan and The Sportsman's Cabinet.)

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In other news, my official report for the Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic appeared in the May 7th issue of the American Field and which has also recently appeared in full on the Strideaway site.

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And in a pleasant repeat, I heard the segment of NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" from September 25, 2010, and recorded on location in Oklahoma City that featured Delmar Smith as a celebrity guest. What a hoot that man is!

Monday, May 16, 2011

forgive the absence

So much has happened in the last six weeks and it's time to come clean.

While we were in Sweden, Jozsi was bred to Mike & Kim Barry's Rogue, also a super nice, hard-running dog who, like Mr. Enthusiasm, will hopefully blossom into a great trial dog. I kept quiet about it because it was the first litter for both of them -- and I wanted to be sure everything had gone right before announcing my grandfatherly pride in my boy. As of this evening, I believe all the puppies (which were born on April 25th) are spoken for. But here's a great picture of Rogue, taken by Jaida, nursing her three boys and three girls. At this early point, Blue Boy seems like the earliest iteration of his father both in terms of looks but also in terms of his fondness for taking Jaida's hands in his mouth.

We also had our CVVC Spring Field Trial ten days ago. Momo ran in AGD and did a fine job -- unfortunately his greatest display of manners also meant that his race, such as it is, was also cut shorter. He stood perfectly through his bracemate stealing point and then grabbing the bird, but in the absence of a bracemate, his run shortened and while he got round clean with another find and a stop-to-flush, I was pleased with him but knew he wouldn't get put up. Jozsi's run in AGD was short, but he got picked up for an honest mistake after relocating too close, so I was disappointed but not displeased. His run in ALGD later that day was, frankly, and I know he's my dog, virtually everything I could have asked of him. He flowed great, checked covers, and handled like a dream. I took him around his bracemate twice to avoid a possible honor situation -- the first time gave me an opportunity to run him down a line I'd always wanted to try with him and which few dogs ever attempt. And he did it beautifully. But sadly, he took himself out at minute 29 when his bracemate raced in, 'honored' touching him, then broke on the bird, and Jozsi went with him. It was another illustration that you need to proof your dog for as many scenarios as possible and that you can only pray that your bracemate is as well prepared.

The other detail I've been keeping fingers crossed about was our decision to bring a third dog into our house (and he will be a house dog). It has been in the works for at least a half-year, but we now have a pointer in our house. I may need to rename this blog, but I want to reassure my loyal readers that we will always be a red-dog house. But I like how pointers do their job, too, and I'd rather get one than try to make my vizslas be pointer-substitutes. And so, welcome to Jake! We're now into Day #2 and things seem to be going well -- although, much to the chagrin of our two, we're trying to make the transition easier by starting with a lot more structure which hopefully we can relax as they all find their place. But for now, lots of structured crate time, lots of structured play time, and LOTS of exercise.

Speaking of crates, but maybe I'm late to the party -- but after talking to several friends, we bought a MidWest Life Stages crate for Jake. After having one dog who cribbed on the wire, I have been wary of them and, heck, you can't fly with them, so where's the versatility? All I can say is that whether it's the internal divider, whether it's the fact that he was hauled up here in a crate from AL to PA, or the frequent exercise, but we've had no crate accidents so far. He even slept seven hours without waking me up to go to the bathroom last night. So, for now, at least, I'm loving the Life Stages crate.

Momo is being a really good older brother, putting Jake in his place in appropriate moments and with the appropriate amount of wrinkle-face. Jozsi is unsure what he's supposed to do just yet. Bearing in mind we still call him 'Big Puppy,' you would think he'd recognize puppy energy as non-threatening and just put him in his place. But in addition to fathering puppies, this will be another part of his maturation process. But Jake is enjoying his new brothers and feels quite comfortable jamming along with Momo on the trail --except when his puppy ADD takes over and he has to sniff flowers or ponder the meaning of life in a tree. Pardon the crappy cell-phone picture, but it's also been raining here for a gajillion years.

And the next detail that has been in the works for a little bit is my intent to go back out to Arizona to work with Bill Gibbons -- except this time, it will be for the entire duration of summer camp. I leave here June 4th, head down to the CVC Fun Day so that in addition to seeing a number of our Confederate friends, Momo can see his brother, Tavish, for the first time since they were littermates! And then not back to NY until mid-September.

Monday, April 4, 2011

congratulations + training updates + plans

Before we go any further, a hearty congratulations goes to my FTFG (that's 'field trial fairy godmother'), Joan Heimbach, and FC Fieldfire's Spark of Genius SH, aka Geena, aka the G-Funk Endurance Express. Handling her own dog, Joan and Geena took on the rolling, muddy course of Blake Kukar's Circle B Farms in Somerville, TN, at the VCA National Gun Dog Championships. I mean no disrespect to Mark Spurgeon and Ruger, a truly great dog I feel privileged to have watched and who has now won the NGDC three times in addition to the NAFC, but Mark doesn't have a medical exemption from the AKC that allows him to carry a walking stick if need be or have the services of a horse handler (in addition to a scout). In short, Joan handled Geena to third place and I am in awe of both of them.

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On the way back from the Armstrong-Umbel, I did stop off at Zukovich Game Birds to pick up a new flock of quail to repopulate my Evil Empire. For a variety of reasons and with the kindness of Tom Mackin, I finished a fourth barrel and did move the empire over to TMT Hunting Preserve. With the NY preserve season coming to a close in ten days or so and with Tom's business largely shifting to sporting clays shooters, it was a good time to get the barrels and birds installed so that by the time they have 'cooked' long enough and gotten habituated to the safety and security of the barrels, we can start training them to recall without worrying about hunters inadvertently bagging them.

I've set up the four barrels in mostly mix hardwood glades which should start to leaf up and offer more aerial cover from predators, but which don't have a huge amount of ground cover. In my ideal training world, I want to be able to see my dogs from a distance, have no problem with a dog sight-pointing, but as importantly want a good flying bird to be able to see the dog -- and pop if the dog starts to move and pressure it.

Folks have asked me for detailed plans for each of the barrels, none exist as such. Besides a 55gal drum, the two core pieces of hardware are a Less Mess watering and feeding system from Quality Wildlife Systems and a decent, framed recall funnel like this one from GunDogSupply. Each drum needs three doors: two roughly 4" x 4" ground floor doors, one with the funnel installed; three-quarters of the way up, and on the side away from the recall funnel, there needs to be a flight door (roughly 7"w x 4"h). You will also need latches, hinges, and either a snap-link or a lock for each of the doors, two long carriage bolts to lock the caps on the Less Mess tubes and prevent raccoon filching, a pair of handles to carry the whole thing easily, some right-angle braces to support the 'sun-deck' and the floor, some solid wire-meshing, a ratchet strap to lock the thing against a tree and stop it getting toppled, and then a rivet gun, a jig-saw, and a drill (with a 1" circular cutter as a useful accessory). Cut out the bottom of the drum, flip it over, and then work from the top down. Install the Less Mess feeders, cut the doors, put in the 'sun-deck' by the flight door (I wouldn't suggest having it extend more than a third of the way into the interior), install the recall funnel, then put in the suspended mesh floor. (In case you are wondering, the other lower door is for sticking your hand in and spooking the birds through the upper flight door, if they don't immediately seize that opportunity when you open it.) Finish carpentry this is not -- and I am no handyman genius.

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Bob and I went up to TMT yesterday to see how his younger setter, a rescue I might add, got along and to give Momo and Belle some tag-team fun. Eva looks like she's come with a few gun-shy issues, but we have a plan for her and hopefully we can convince her that birds are a lot more fun than she thinks.

Bob will be the first to tell you that Belle isn't hardly trained and at ten-years-old not likely to suddenly get trained. This is to say that she'll break point while you're moving in on the bird, will break on the flush, and steal another dog's retrieve. But she backs like a fiend. Sure, she'll move when you go to flush the bird for the front dog, but she gets herself stopped and focused like a champ. This was a great photo opportunity on their penultimate bird. And thanks to Bob for the pictures.

We then took a final swing in a spot we'd been before to try and pick up the first bird that I missed -- when we'd just had Belle and Eva on the ground. And Momo got to show his own honoring style even when all he could see was the feathers of Belle's tail. Despite a charging setter, I managed to safely take the chukar down for Belle to retrieve.

We had put down a couple of quail to see if we could get Eva excited, but she seemed reluctant so we didn't force it. And while I had hand-planted them (and want to be careful about getting him on birds that might not be fully awake), I then put Mr. Enthusiasm down briefly. He ran over a bird unexpectedly, stopped-to-flush like a champ, and was then sent on. He ate up the field we were in and started to dig into the denser cover to fulfill his quest for coturnix. He nailed another quail in a thicket, tail looking like a million dollars, held while I thrashed around after the pitter-patter of quail feet, then went back to him and relocated him. Shaboom. I got the bird up, fired the gun, then sent him up the hill away from the bird. And he lived up to Bill's description of him as 'industrious,' finding a running chukar left over from someone else's hunt. Again his manners were good and I took him back to the truck, very encouraged. Once we get the Empire up and running, hopefully we can get the final polish on him and start trialing again.