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'.