Monday, July 12, 2010

Laddie's Senior Hunter Title

[Here's the republication of a post to DogTrek and PGD on July 11, 2010. Edits to the post for this republication are shown in blue to save reading time for those who may have already read the story once on the lists.]

Hi, everyone. Laddie here. Lumi, Daddy and I are back in Maryland this morning, since driving down from Newburgh, NY, after my final Senior Hunt Test yesterday. I say "final" because I qualified in the test and got my fourth Senior ribbon, which means now I have my Senior Hunter (SH) title. The next time I compete, it will be in either a Master test or a Field Trial Qualifying Stake.

Some people wrote to Daddy today and asked for details on the test, but he's got other things on his mind, so he said I could tell you about it. I'm sure you'd rather hear my perspective anyway.

As is usual in Senior tests, yesterday's test consisted of a land series followed by a water series. They had "callbacks" after the land series, so you had to do well enough in that series to get called back to water. With 25 entries, the test had two scratches, and 18 dogs were called back to water. Fourteen dogs qualified overall.

Temperatures in New York had reached 104 degrees earlier in the week, but the day of the test was a radical change in weather. Rain came down in torrents throughout the land series, soaking everyone and, more relevant to us retrievers, virtually eliminating the scent cones which normally play such a helpful role in finding our birds. Though the rain finally stopped just about the time the first series ended, in this test, our sense of scent didn't help us very much.

Now in the descriptions that follow, I'm going to use some jargon. If anyone reading this doesn't know what a term means and would like to know, please ask and I'll be happy to explain it. Also, using Daddy's approach to writing distance estimates, all distances are approximate and conservative; that is, the distances were more likely longer than I've written than shorter.

OK, here goes:

SERIES A. Land double with land blind

For Series A, the first mark of the double was on the left, a duck thrown left to right on a sharp angle-back, and thrown from behind a holding blind and a hedgerow. The fall was at 80 yards. The second mark was 90 degrees to the right, a duck flyer thrown left to right from behind a holding blind, with the fall also at 80 yards. Both throws were preceded by duck calls from the judge and then the gunner's station, and both throws were accompanied by one or more shotgun blasts. A winger was used for both throws.

The field was covered in thick cover, varying from knee-high to chest-high on humans. The ground was uneven, and a depression ran across the entire field, so that we ran slightly downhill from the startline and then slightly uphill to the marks. A dirt road, invisible from the start line, ran up the left of the field and then across the back, so that both birds were thrown from inside the road and landed outside it, requiring us dogs to remember our training and push over the roads, rather than treating them as barriers as comes naturally.

Series A was run as a walk-up. The go-bird was the flyer, and although the flyers fell in a wide area, they all landed in thick, high cover. With no scent, some dogs, including me, ran good lines to the falls but missed the bird, and then had to run around and hunt for awhile before finding it. I was running #6, fairly early. For some reason, some of the later dogs seemed to have an easier time finding their birds. I don't know why, maybe that happens in other tests, too.

The memory-bird was the mark on the left. The line to the memory-bird was past the end of the hedgerow on the left, and I did the same thing almost every other dog did, again except for some dogs toward the end. As I ran thru past the point of the hedgerow and saw the gunner's station behind it, I was drawn to the station instead of continuing straight. It wasn't the station itself, but rather some strong attraction on the ground in that immediate area that got to so many dogs. So I began hunting short, but after a little while, I realized my mistake and went longer, got across the road, and there was the bird.

It's a good thing I didn't get too far to the left, because that was where the blind was. It was a hot blind, also at 80 yards, and also on the far side of the road. A hot blind isn't supposed to be in play unless the dog is really off course on the mark, but in this case, the suction on the line to the memory-bird was toward the blind, and in fact one dog (sadly, a Golden) did pick up the blind when she was hunting too far left for the memory-bird.

For the rest of us, the blind had enough factors to both left and right to require some handling for most dogs, but I and a few of the others lined it. When I was running back, I heard the judge say mournfully to the other judge, his wife, "He lined my blind, honey."

SERIES B. Water double with water blind

For Series B, the first mark of the converging double was on the right, a duck hand-thrown right to left at 50 yards down an embankment and a foot or two into the water, splashing among the lily pads growing there. The second mark was 75° to the left, a flyer duck thrown by a winger left to right so that it landed at 40 yards among lily pads on the left side of the pond. Both calls were preceded by duck calls from the gunner's station, and both throws were accompanied by one or more shotgun blasts.

The go-bird flyer on the left presented few problems other than having to find the bird among the lily pads. However, the memory-bird off the point on the right did cause problems. We dogs would start swimming out on a good line, but as we got closer and closer to the bird, we were also getting closer and closer to the point, and finally, for most of us including me, we would detour right and climb up on the point. Then we would hunt around on the point for awhile, however illogical that might sound, before finally getting back in the water to find the duck. Well, that's how it would go if things went reasonably well. Some dogs got out on the point and then ended up too far inland and needed help in the form of handling to get back in the water in the right place. Because of the high cover, the likelihood the dog would go out of sight on the far side of the point or in the nearby woods further up the embankment, and perhaps other factors, it was apparently quite difficult to handle dogs who needed to be handled off that point. I guess Daddy didn't want to have that happen to us after seeing it happen to several other teams who ran before us.

So Daddy made an error. I think it must have hurt my "trainability" scoring, but luckily, I still passed.

Here's what happened. When Daddy saw me veering right toward the point when running the memory-bird, he decided to handle me to the bird while I was still in the water. He had heard the judge commenting at a break that that's what he thought most Master handlers would have done, so Daddy thought he ought to do it. Actually, none of the other handlers ever did it, but of course Daddy didn't know that when he tried it. I guess it looked like a good idea, and besides, the judge had made the remark while Daddy was standing right there in earshot. I don't think Daddy wanted to look like he was blowing off the judge's expressed opinion.

Nothing wrong with handling me, and in fact I took Daddy's first cast correctly, but I didn't carry it very far, and before you knew it, I was headed back to the point.

Now I'm only a dog, so I can only guess at what happened next, but here's my best shot.

When Daddy saw me scallop back toward the point, he had a decision to make. On the one hand, he could handle me all the way to the bird. On the other hand, he could regret that he'd ever tried to handle me and let me find the bird the rest of the way myself.

The argument for taking the first option was, that's what you're supposed to do. Daddy was supposed to handle me all the way to the bird once he blew the whistle. However, when he saw me turn off from the first cast so quickly, he knew there was a good chance that the suction of the point, the poor handling conditions once I was on the point, and my accurate assessment that the bird was very close and could easily be hunted up without help from Daddy, all conspired to make it likely that I wouldn't be responsive to his attempts to handle me. So should Daddy attempt to handle me and make it obvious that I wasn't responsive in that situation, or should he just forget about it? Well, he didn't blow the whistle again until I had the bird, so I guess he felt that was the best course of action. Three people came over at separate times and lectured him about it later. :0)

After we dogs picked up both birds, we ran the second hot blind of the day, this time the water blind at 50 yards on a line 75° to the right of the memory-bird. The line to the blind cut a chord across a circular inlet, inviting the dog to run the bank on the right rather than staying in the water and swimming thru the thick patch of lily pads to the blind, and in fact some dogs were sucked to the right. Others veered left where the more open water was. As far as I know, only one dog took a good initial line and then followed it straight to the bird on the other side of the inlet, and that one dog was moi. Since this was my last Senior test, that was fitting. I don't know why, but Lumi and/or I were the only dogs to line our blinds in several of the Senior tests we've taken.

Believe it or not, now that I had run all three land retrieves and all three water retrieves, the hardest part of the test still lay before me. I had to honor the next dog, that is, I had to watch her work from a position a few yards off her right flank. I didn't have a great view of the marks, which believe it or not stoked my curiosity and actually made it more difficult for me to remain steady. But somehow I got thru it: The duck calls and shotguns sounded, the ducks splashed into the water, and the working dog was sent to pick up the go-bird. Then one of the judges said, "Honor dog released," and within the next few seconds, Daddy had my slip lead on me and we were racing thru the high cover back to the road that our van was parked on. I welcome any opportunity to run, and sometimes Daddy runs with me. This was one of those times. I think he was just too excited to walk. Since the judges had had me honor off-lead, Daddy was pretty sure I'd qualified and that I was now a Senior Hunter. We just had to wait for the formality of the ribbon ceremony later.

So that's it, that's the test, but I haven't told you the best part yet. Since we were coming from Daddy's work in New York, and would be heading back to Maryland when the test was over, naturally Lumi was in the van, too. But because she already had her SH, and isn't running in Master tests at least right now, she wasn't entered in any tests at this event. From the time we arrived in the morning, it looked like Lumi would just have to wait around all day while I took my turns running.

But when it was time for Series A to begin, the judges asked, "Does anyone have a test dog?" Daddy immediately volunteered Lumi, and they said, "Go get her, Lindsay," so Lumi got to run as test dog. Lumi hasn't been training very much and didn't do particularly well, but I was very happy for her, because she loves-loves-loves birds, and here she was getting to pick up three of them, including a flyer.

Later, when it was time for Series B to get started, Daddy brought Lumi up to the area where handlers were gathering, assuming that Lumi would be test dog for the water series, too. But they had decided to use that Golden who picked up the hot blind in Series A as the test dog for Series B, so Daddy shrugged and brought Lumi back to the van. When he came back to watch the beginning of the test, the judges told him, "We got another test dog, Lindsay, but if you like, Lumi could run as 'bye' dog. That will give the last entered dog a dog to honor."

Sure enough, Lumi, who had been the first dog to run that morning, was also the last dog to run that afternoon. They didn't need her to run the blind, but she still got to pick up two ducks, including her second flyer of the day. She was a happy dog.

Now for the best part of the best part. Lumi has only run one other test in her life in lily pads, and in that test she picked up the short go-bird, then flat refused to swim thru another patch of lily pads to get to the memory-bird. It turns out that swimming thru lily pads can be painful for a dog with arthritic hips and an arthritic wrist like Lumi.

So when Daddy saw that the water Lumi had been invited to run as bye dog on was covered in lily pads, he wondered whether the same thing would happen again. Sure enough, when she started out for the memory-bird and reached the first patch of lily pads in her way, she started to come around in a circle. Uh, oh, she's giving up, she's coming back in. But then, without any cue from Daddy, she righted her direction again and plunged thru the lily pads right back on line. Brave girl, braver than I needed to be. It doesn't hurt me to swim thru lily pads.

Now remember how I said that almost every dog had been sucked onto the point once they got close to the bird? Well, as far as I know only one dog stayed on a good line, pushed thru the last patch of lily pads, never touched the point, and swam straight to the location where the bird had splashed down. Guess which dog that was? That's right, it was the bye-dog, gentle Lumi.

I don't know which made Daddy happier: me getting my fourth Senior ribbon, or Lumi getting a chance to run all those retrieves when he'd expected her to have to spend the whole day in the van.

Sometimes fortune comes in waves. It was a good day for all of us.

Feathery wags and play bows,
Topbrass Lad of the Lakes SH WCX (Laddie)

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