Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Utility Test’

Uncle Buddy is the example: now, to approach strategically so he holds still on the flush.

Some things just make sense, whether you hunt with dogs or not. This is one of them.

If your goal is to have a steady dog that holds his point even while a bird rattles into the sky, this might help.

Dogs seem to be curious creatures. Unlike cats, curiosity probably won’t kill the dog, but it could cause him to break on a flushing bird if he feels like he’s being squeezed out of the action. On top of the others I’ve mentioned, here’s another good reason to be strategic about approaching a pointed bird: obscuring his view of the action could encourage him to move so he can watch the proceedings … even when you want him to stand sill.

This was driven home to me in a training situation just yesterday. I’d set up the bird in a launcher so it was hidden by tall sage. I brought Manny in crosswind, and he stopped at the first whiff of pigeon, front leg lifted in anticipation of the joy to come. Unfortunately, he was pointing scent that had wafted through yet another tall sage, so when the bird lifted he couldn’t see it. At the flush, he jumped left as if on springs, back on point when he landed. From his new vantage point, he could see the arc of the flying bird.

There was no intent to break point, or chase the bird. He simply needed a vector on it so when time came to retrieve he’d know where to go.

Yesterday it was a sagebrush. On other days, it’s been me. And there’s the lesson. By marching straight in on a bird, we are effectively blocking our dog’s line of sight. Holding a point with adrenaline flowing and guns blazing is hard enough. It’s understandable that any smart dog would want to know where the flying bird is headed – after all, if things go well, you’ll be asking him to “fetch it up.”

Read Full Post »

We got lucky here. Now, we’re practicing to make things more perfect.

Of all the things my new friend and NAVHDA judge Bob Farris pointed out on a recent visit, the most gratifying was how steady Manny was on flying birds. Not rock-steady, of course, but better than many of the other aspects of the Utility test. And I’m pretty confident he’ll get better, especially with the help Bob extended to us.

Bob acquainted me with his version of the ‘gut hitch,’ a variation on Rick and Ronnie Smith’s half-hitch around the dog’s waist. The basic concept is that a dog will stop – and stay stopped – when he feels pressure on his flank. The hitch applies it.

Bob’s rig goes from waist to collar, attaching at both points. A checkcord is clipped to the rail-like cord and gives the handler an easy way to apply that pressure to the flank. A tug, particularly upward, stops most dogs in their tracks. The advantage to Bob’s version is the dog need not drag the entire cord, just the hitch portion, which remains off the ground and attached to his waist and collar. When you want to stop him, simply attach the checkcord and tug.

No, it’s not really that easy, but the tools make it easier. Now, to put theory into practice.

Read Full Post »

This was easy. Now, let’s hit the water.

I summarized to my wife the biggest challenge of a NAVHDA Utility test this way: you must train to the test, and you must use “tricks” to chain together the skills needed for each portion of the test, or you will not pass. It’s no wonder NAVHDA offers handler’s clinics – most of us will never understand the training challenges of this complex series of events unless broken down into components and trained for in bits and pieces.

And they are not the obvious, A-to-B-to-C string. There is a considerable amount of dog psychology and cheerleading (so to speak) in getting from start to finish. Understanding what really counts is a lot easier when you can pick the brains of experienced, wiser mentors … luckily, I have one.

The duck search portion of the test is my current nemesis. Problem number one: a dog doesn’t naturally know that there’s a bird in the water somewhere. You must convince him of that, then chain it to the expectation that he must seek it out and bring it back. Thanks to NAVHDA trainer and judge Bob Farris, I now have a series of exercises to prepare him mentally for the task.

Lucky for me, Manny is bird-crazy. Bob can use that to chain together the components of a successful duck search starting from Square One. First objective: get him to the far bank, where any search should begin. That’s a few steps from where we are but it’s coming together.

So for us, we begin with a swim for a visible, obvious bird in the water. Then get Manny to swim farther for the bird, possibly with the incentive of a rock splash, and then farther, with a bird thrown beyond the rock splashes to get him across the pond.

Then, let’s take him back from the water, possibly behind the truck, but make sure he knows there will be a bird, maybe show it to him before he’s taken away. Then, add a track on the far bank to get Manny to search beyond the expected hiding place. If necessary, have someone there to encourage him verbally, possibly toss a rock or two if he needs it. Eventually, he will find tracks all around the dry land, and with luck water, too. With the confidence of knowing there is a bird in there, we hope he will maintain the motivation to search high, low, and in between  …  for ten minutes come test day.

Read Full Post »

Good boy ... now "leave it" for later on the retrieve. Much later.

Manny backslid on the one part of retrieving on which we weren’t solid: a real bird, brought to hand without um, “tenderizing.” Yesterday, his retrieves were energetic and enthusiastic. Using my Real Bird Bumper, he was scooping, making a U-turn, and racing back. When a pigeon was substituted, the wheels came off.

Thankfully, I figured out why, in record time.

Immediately before, we’d been working on steadiness, close-in birds flapping and flying in front of a dog that had been too long in the kennel while was in New York making shows. The adrenaline was gushing in torrents in Manny’s little doggy body. When the retrieving practice commenced a couple minutes later, and CRUNCH.

It only took one night to sleep on it before it hit me (at about 4:30 a.m. to be exact): Divorce flushing, flying live birds from retrieving … completely … for a while. Most of us have had a corollary drummed into our thick skulls for years: training a dog to expect a retrieve upon every flush (or shot, for that matter) is verboten. The worse you shoot (like me), the deeper you sink into that mire. Manny is showing me that the less mature a dog, the farther apart flushes and retrieves should be, literally. So for now, we will put time – and distance – between the two skills.

Today, it worked. I’m still playing it safe, leaving my pigeons in the loft after they clock out on their flushing job. Our retrieving work will be limited to Real Bird Bumpers with chukar wings taped on. Not real, but real enough.

Read Full Post »

"Dogging it" after an especially long workout in Manny's younger days.

Funny, you think you’re doing pretty well in the fitness department, then with a jolt, you’re reminded that you’re not as buff as you thought.

Nope, not me. I know I’ve got a long way to go before my pants are loose and knees less stressed from that extra weight. Let’s just get that out of the way once and for all.

But it’s also Buddy and Manny. They are magnificent, mystical hunting machines, fine-tuned for their purpose. But my wife remarked today at how Buddy is looking slimmer – and (slow on the uptake) I noticed it too. You know how it is, when you’ve lost a belt-hole’s worth of weight … everyone compliments you. Left unsaid is that it was noticeable, i.e., they discerned a difference between your heavy persona and your (temporal, usually) less-heavy version. (My wife is jealous of how easily I can lose weight until I remind her that I usually find it again.)

It made me think: all these months of running one dog, then the other to avoid confrontation halved the length of each dog’s workout. Yesterday’s long romp among the rimrock and bunchgrass drove home that point. Manny’s tongue was dragging, and Buddy was walking alongside me for the last half mile or so. Me, well, if I could walk alongside myself I would … and my tongue was at least figuratively dragging along with my feet in the volcanic dust we call soil here in the high desert.

We could all use more of those kind of workouts. For next hunting season, but also for the simple, 30-minute bit of fieldwork Manny will have as part of his Utility Test this fall. Adrenaline, stimulus overload and his handler’s stress will amp up his average speed and a little bit extra in the tank will serve him well.

Thankfully, daylight saving time is here (have you re-set your clocks?). Longer days mean longer workouts … and we aim to take advantage of them.

How about you? What gets you – and your dog – in shape?

Read Full Post »

The desired result.

What a weekend. Some news, I can’t share quite yet. But some I can:

1. The weather here has returned to spring-like, snow melting in rivulets at the low spot on each trail, and blessed daylight lasting longer every afternoon. I had to carry water today on our training runs.

2. It appears Manny and Buddy have worked through their dominance issue. We ran together in the glorious sunshine three times, finally getting up to the high spots I’ve been unable to climb when cutting the run times in half to rotate dogs. Not a speck of aggression … in fact, almost a return to Manny’s puppy-like curiosity at his great-uncle’s actions. Grateful thanks to breeder/trainer Jeff Funke and behaviorist Ed Bailey for counsel.

3. Watched Rick and Ronnie Smith’s “Silent Command” DVD and I am most happy with the initial results I’m seeing.

If you know the NAVHDA Utility Test, you know a dog must be steady to wing, shot, and fall. (A recent sad story from Illinois drove home the advantage of a dog that doesn’t bolt at the shot. Add the basalt cliffs we hunt for chukars to the test requirement and I’m a believer.) Getting Manny there after two seasons of chasing on TV will be a challenge.

But the half-hitch Rick and Ronnie espouse may as well be attached to a magic wand. Unlike the Smith’s neck-oriented “point of contact” for going with or coming to you (as they say), it is put to the flank for standing still – “whoa.” You may as well have nailed my dogs’ paws to the whoa table for as much movement as they demonstrated. I got a little cocky and hitched both dogs in a point-honor scenario and the magic rope solidified each without an inkling of temptation to dishonor the bracemate. This was also true on retrieves … each dog watched calmly as the other brought a pigeon to hand, and vice-versa.

I know better than to draw too many conclusions from a weekend of experimentation. But so far, thumbs up.

PS: Got to meet Dad/Uncle Delmar Smith at Pheasant Fest and had a good time reminiscing about the rodeo world, of all things. While we rightfully revere Delmar for his dog training insights, he may have become more famous with his recent National Public Radio appearance where he was noted for his work as a rodeo “gateman,” the guy who opens gate and sends calves out to their ropin’ destiny.

Read Full Post »

Yah, but can he deliver for the test?

The check went out yesterday. We are committed. Manny’s NAVHDA Utility Test is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 7-9. What a way to celebrate our wedding anniversary! (Thanks in advance, honey, for letting the dogs and me head north the next day.)

We in the west have fewer NAVHDA chapters than our compadres east of the Mississippi. So, we have fewer tests. But most of us are used to epic drives, and this will be no exception. We’ll test at my chapter’s home grounds, near Chehalis, Washington … five hours’ drive on a day when there are few state troopers pointing radar guns at you.

Advantage: I know the grounds pretty well. Disadvantage: The ranch was also the site of our Natural Ability train wreck a year ago. At least there is nowhere go but up.

The test grounds boast lush fields, a stretch of woods to test Manny’s ability to tighten his range in thick cover, and a tailor-made pond with plenty of brush to hide a duck for the all-important search portion of the test. The owner’s home overlooks the whole scenario from a tree-covered promontory, and you know he’s got to love watching so many versatile dogs, so often. I often sneak halfway up the hill on which his place reposes to watch other dogs course what may as well be a hunting amphitheater.

Every test is nerve-wracking. When you’re playing on your home field, the bar is raised another notch. Luckily NAVHDA is populated by supportive colleagues who love their dogs – and other peoples’ too.

Get in. Hold on. Fasten your seatbelt. Pray for benevolent judges.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: