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.