Posts Tagged ‘field trials’

Yep, plenty of Real Bird Bumpers are ready for Manny's UT training.

“Pottering” is an old-time word describing someone messing about with their plants, re-potting, and other garden-shed er, potting shed-related tasks. It was not all work; as Merry Olde England (where the hobby reached its apex) was chock-a-block with humdrum chores that morphed into hobbies (poor buggers – where else would pinning insects into picture frames be ‘fun?”)

My pottering was in the right place (our garden shed) but had nothing to do with plants – unless “planted birds” qualifies.  That humble structure has been transformed into my dog-training headquarters. And with Manny’s date with a NAVHDA Utility Test looming, it was time to get my gear together, ready for an intense spring and summer.

Don’t you have your own version? Varying with the season, it might be reloading, or gun cleaning. It could be poring over catalogs or helping in your club booth at a sportsmen’s show.  It might be exactly what I was doing – messing with gear that might –  or at least you think it might – help your dog excel next season in the field or at a test or trial.

The seemingly mundane task was full of bright spots, starting with Manny’s peaceably sharing the yard with his mentor Buddy without one whit of dominance behavior or aggressive posturing. (Many of you know that’s been an issue since the pup got huskier than his great-uncle.)

When not over my shoulder, my new Jaeger leads have their own hooks in the shed too.

The balky #2 bird launcher needed nothing but a new battery. A little gun oil on moving parts, and both were poised to help teach steady to wing-shot-fall. A few test launches on both dogs proved their functionality. New tie-outs installed along the fence near the training table. Bumpers and dummies arrayed on the shelf that formerly harbored terracotta and trowels. My go-to steadiness tool, the balsa-wood windup airplane, flew straight and true after a quick adjustment to the tail.

The Garmin Astro 320 is now handy instead of buried under hunting gear, my Tri-Tronics collar chargers are plugged in constantly and in a place where I’ll actually use them daily.

I found the training shotgun, sling and blank ammo, and they too performed to expectation with a couple pops for the doggies … who stood straight and true alongside each other … which might have been the best part of the whole day.

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Where's the water, boss?

Believe it or not, here on the desert we have a lot of water. Irrigation canals, stock ponds, a few trout streams and if you head for the hills, alpine lakes. But finding a piece of water for the NAVHDA utility test? A tall order.

It’s gotta be a good acre or more in surface area, and swimming depth. But more importantly, it’s got to have a lot of brush, reeds and other cover for a swimming duck to hide in and a searching dog to work through.

Therein lies the rub.

The Natural Ability test required Manny to simply swim after a bumper twice. I sought, and got, permission to use a couple nearby ponds and even the puddle on BLM land held enough water most of the training season. But they reflected their desert environment (pardon the pun) in that they were sterile … no brush, no cattails, just a pristine surface. The “duck search” portion of the Utility Test requires ten minutes of aggressive work among the reeds and rushes, mainly swimming. That’s a lot of watery brush. Or brushy water. No self-respecting rancher wants that stuff in his stock tank.

I’m asking around. Got a few leads. One of my training club members has a line on a marshy patch of that trout stream I mentioned. A friend has a neighbor who built a “technical pond” for retriever training … whatever that entails, I’m hoping it has brush and I’ll get invited.

Google Earth might be of use identifying others. And other dog club members may be of help. I hope.

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"Natural ability" he's got. Maybe even elegance. It's all the other stuff we need to work on.

“Easier said than done” is more than a cliché. Just look at the NAVHDA test rules if you don’t agree. A dog that passes, let alone earns a Prize I in the Utility Test would be a worthy hunting companion anywhere, anytime, on any game.

And that’s the challenge. As the new year gets rolling, so do we.

Training, of course, is critical. This is not a test of fundamental “natural ability.” That train leaves the NAVHDA station at age 16 months.  From flawless retrieves to a civilized partner in the blind a dog’s gotta do it all, well.

But poise just as critical. A dog must be cool and calm when necessary, then kick in the afterburners when required. Add three judges trailing him, an oozing, loudmouthed gallery and gaggle of other dogs waiting their turn, and it’ll test any dog’s intestinal fortitude.

Manny was cool and collected from Day One. On his first visit to the vet, he occupied the high ground of the exam table like it was his own, lying down and crossing his front legs while surveying his new territory like a just-crowned monarch. But as with everything, only practicing for a test will be good practice for a test. I hope to recruit a crowd of helpers/observers.

Water is another story. Few of my wirehairs have had what some call “water love.” Partially my fault, as here on the desert it’s hard to find enough to become comfortable with it. The pup will swim the English Channel for a bird, though. In front of judges, we’ll see. And sustaining a duck search for 10 minutes will be as much an endurance test for Manny as it will be an emotionally wrenching ordeal for me. I almost lost Buddy to a long water retrieve a couple seasons ago and will do everything to avoid a repeat.

One of the problems that my career may have exacerbated is Manny’s steadiness on flushing birds. For two seasons on Wingshooting USA, he’s been allowed to break at the shot and start his retrieve. (No snide remarks on the quality of those, please!) Now, I’ll have to un-teach that, instead working toward rock-steadiness from flush, to shot, to fall.

There is an obedience component to this test as well. Steadiness at the blind in the face of multiple gunshots and dropping birds is one example. We have to walk – at heel – a little obstacle course. And our nemesis in the Natural Ability test was cooperation after Manny picked up a bird. He’s got to bring it right back, without passing “Go” or collecting $200. (As opposed to deconstructing it in front of three patient judges like he did last test.)

None of it will be easy. Dogs – and humans – have good days and bad days. I think I’m ready for the unavoidable natural and human-caused goofs that are out of our control. It’s the other ones I’ll be preparing for … And you?

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Awaiting their turn at the test!

Awaiting their turn at the test!

(First, have you voted on my  TV show theme yet? See below when you’re done with this post.)

Just back from helping at our local NAVHDA chapter’s Natural Ability test and as usual, am energized and motivated as well as a little sunburned. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (go here) is a fast-growing group with very clear and sound goals: create better bird dogs through training and sharing of breeding-critical information; and make better bird dog owner-handlers.

Designed for dogs 18 months of age and younger, the NA test is simply that: an assessment of the pup’s natural traits in areas that will ultimately be developed into finely honed hunting skills. That’s not to say you unclip the lead and cross your fingers, as one of the traits being tested is what NAVHDA calls “cooperation,” or a willingness to work with – and for – its handler-owner. But it’s also not about how a good trainer can turn a puppy into a hunting robot. (more…)

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