Final Championship Show of 2012

My show year has come to an end. Today at Bull Breeds All Breed show I entered four chesapeakes.  Three of them are Irish and UK champions and the fourth was competing at her first championship show aged seven months.This is the final championship show I plan to enter before next Spring as Thursday heralds the start of pheasant season and it becomes very difficult to keep condition  on the dogs during these months.

Our breed judge today was Ms O Murray from Ireland. She awarded Best of Breed and Green Star dog to Ir Sh Ch UK SH CH Riverrun Agus Avic( Mossy) . Reserve Green Star Dog to Ir Ch Int Ch UK Ch Penrose Nomad( Chester). Green Star Bitch was Riverrun Caution To the Wind ( Uisce ) and Reserve Green Star Bitch was Ir Ch Int Ch UK Ch Arnac Bay Winota ( Winnie).

This is Uisce’s first green star.

Mossy then went on to win Group 2 under Ms S. Walsh from Ireland.

It has been a phenomenal year. Marked with sadness through the loss of Breeze this time last year but finishing with her sister’s arrival in the show ring this year I feel incredibly blessed and humbled.

It is time now to draw breath, ease back and wade into the woods for the Winter where we will stand patiently waiting for the pheasants to come. And they will come. The real stories , my friends, are just about to begin….

The story behind ‘ The Long Retrieve’

The short film below was first published just over a year ago. In itself it is a wonderful protrayal of a chesapeake working in the environment it was designed for. Echo has long been a competitor at the CBRC working tests and inter club team events and without doubt is one of the most exciting dogs to watch in competition. The story behind the making of this film demonstrates exactly why strength, inititive and persistance are two qualities that are invaluable in a good wildfowling dog.The following piece was written by Mark and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here :

“The task of capturing footage for this film presented several practical challenges for our cameraman who, as a non-shooting man, had never been near a marsh in his life. Thes included:
– walking long dostances carrying tons of expensive and heavy camera equipment, bags, tripods and so forth
– walking through tidal channels ensuring said equipment remained dry
– wading through knee deep mud making sure camera lenses remained mud-free
-generally stumbling around in near darkness desperately trying to keep hidden, so as not to put birds off to capture good quality footage of me wildfowling.
This was all a whole new area of filming and took, as you can imagine, several attempts to get something that we were both happy with.
During one of our visits to the Dee Estuary, I shot a Mallard whilst shooting a tide flight, and had occasion to perform the long retrieve. The bird landed 200 yards to my right, on the opposite side of a very wide tidal gutter, on an area of vegetated marsh. It was a blind for the dog as well as a very long swim against a tide which was flooding fast, towards the camera. Tides on the Dee flood very, very quickly and with huge force. i have in the past tried to stand in the same gutter to collect decoys when the tide is flooding and it is just impossible.
The distance, combined with the tide and that the fact that this was a blind, I can confidently say that Echo had never done anything quite so testing. I remember being aware of this before sending him into the water. But I knew that even in such demanding conditions, if there was one dog in the entire world I could choose to do this, I would have absolutely no hesitation in choosing Echo, with his characteristic, ‘I am going to get that bird, even if it means swimming back to Iceland,’ sort of attitude.
I got level with where I had marked the bird and sent Echo and as you can see from the film. he took a little encouragemnet to get across the tide. He looks back once or twice as if to say, ‘What across here?’ Yes please Echo, keep going. An additional difficulty was that because of the strength of the tide, when he did eventually get out the other side, he had been pushed 50 yards to the left where the bird had been marked.
I handled him into the area where I thought the bird was, then it was over to him, to use his scenting ability and persistence to find the bird. Because of the topography of the marsh, I simply could not see him when he was hunting for the Mallard and I did not know for certain where it was. So, as is so often the case when wildfowling, when shooting in difficult conditions or in darkness or half light, I have to trust Echo’s ability.What I love about this part of the film, is that once he is hunting for the duck he never looks back to me once. After eight and a half years of training and 7 seasons of regular wildfowling, it is safe to say that Echo is fully up to speed with the job description. A true gundog, he knows exactly what is required of him and is able to use his ability and initiative to hunt for and to bring the bird back to hand.
It seemed to take ages for him to cover the ground, but after a while he stopped. I cannot tell you what it felt like to be watching him when he suddenly stopped, his head went down, his tail started wagging that little bit quicker and he raised his head and I saw that he was holding a big drake Mallard in his mouth. I was elated! I knew then that it was a superb effort. I do not remember feeling too worried about the prospect of him swimming back. I suppose that he had made it across so he could make it back. As he swam back he was again pushed sideways by the tide, hence why I am walking towards the camera to meet him at the point where I thought he would exit the water. I love the fact that I give him a big stroke when he delivers the bird. Also, considering the physical effort that this must have taken, when he was walking along after all this he still looks like he is ready to do it all again!!
I was so focussed on handling Echo, that I had totally forgotten that the camera was running, and anyway, I thought that the distance we were away from the camera would be too far for a decent film. Until, that is, as walking back back I do a little wave to camera by way of acknowledgment. Inside I was doing cartwheels I was so delighted.
It is a pleasure to have this to enjoy now and to have in years to come. I think that it shows the breed in a very positive light and I am just so pleased as an owner, a handler and a wildfowler to have this film.”
Mark Greenhough( BASC Wildfowling Officer)
First published in Chessie Chat no. 92

Liebe Chessiefreunde…greetings from Germany

….And now my chessie friends let me take you on a Bavarian adventure….

Last Friday morning I left my home at the ungodly hour of four thirty in the morning to catch a ‘red-eye’ flight to Munich. I was travelling alone and dogless to attend an International Chessie Weekend. This was my first ever trip to Germany. Many thoughts raced through my head as the plane headed East. I really did not know what to expect. Facebook had initially piqued my interest in this event. Many of the chessies I had become familiar with through looking at photos would be there. What would the dogs be like? Should I have brushed up on my school german? Should I have packed my wellies?


The weekend had been arranged by an enterprising group of people from both Germany and Austria. There was much to look forward to. Friday was a day of meeting and greeting involving some light training in obedience and gundog work.  A WD, WDX and WDQ were scheduled for Saturday with Mr and Mrs K Lindstrom from Sweden to judge. Sunday was the show specialty with world renowned breed specialist Mrs Betsy Horn Humer and her Husband Rupert from the USA. With over seventy chessies entered it was truly going to be a meeting of the nations.

I was collected from the airport by Judy Sichler and her guest for the weekend Mrs Janet Morris. I have, of course, known Janet since I first became invoved with Chessies as she bred our boy ‘Chester’.  Judy also owns a young bitch that was bred by Janet, Penrose New Penny, who won Best of Breed at the World Dog Show this year.

Once clear of the Munich traffic we headed South onto the Autobahn. My first surprise of the weekend was that cars can actually travel at two hundred km per hour without taking off !!!. Anyway, it turned out these European drivers are fairly competent at driving these speeds so I soon relaxed (a bit…) and we chatted about dogs and what we were likely to see in the coming days.

When we turned off the main road and the car wound its way up  a single track through thick deciduous forest I started to feel we were truly in Bavaria as I had imagined it to be. The trees gave way every now and then to reveal small fields with cattle grazing. On and on we travelled taking us further away from civilisation and deeper into the woods. Then ahead of us, in the clearing, appeared the most charming wooden framed house complete with timber barn and outbuildings. We had reached our destination and base for the weekend’s events. A great expanse of green pasture rolled away in front, stretching into the distance where a boundary of thick mixed wood forest stood. This was backed again by magnificent mountains. Incorporated in the outbuildings was a small bar and coffee shop, where an endless supply of cakes, snacks, hot coffee and other beverages were available at all times.

A lot of thought and attention to detail had gone into planning even the finer details of the weekend. We were introduced to the very amiable Florian, our host for the weekend. Nothing was too much trouble. He truly embodied Bavarian hospitality. My attention was immediately drawn to the beautiful blue check cravats that each committee member wore with their own unique logo of a chessie carrying a pretzel. Each evening meal was planned around a different theme and based on site which would keep everyone together and offer opportunities to meet new people. As a foreigner attending with very little knowledge of the native language I have to commend the huge effort by everyone we met to try to converse in English. I know it made all of us English speakers feel immediately included but I also enjoyed the chance to practice the German that I had not used in over twenty years and was delighted to find that by the end of the weekend I could understand some parts of conversation.

People and dogs were mingling and as everyone gathered for lunch there was a real sense of excitement in the air. Even the light rain that had started to fall, couldn’t put a dampner on things although I knew then I should have brought my wellies…

After lunch dog owners had a variety of training agendas to choose from. Ursula Moillet took a group of novice and young dogs to do some basic gundog training. Betsy  took anyone that was interested in doing some rally obedience and Gerlinde Boross took a group that wanted to give their dogs some experience on retrieving game in preparation for the following day’s WD. As observers, Janet, Judy and I chose to follow the last group.

As the rain got heavier, we settled ourselves under some tall conifers at the edge of the grass. Janet supplied me with a pair of over-trousers and opened her pop-up catering shop. So with a hot cup of tea in one hand and biscuit in the other we were ready to watch the dogs.

It soon became apparent to me that the dogs were different from what I was used to seeing in the UK. Most of the handlers were novice or they were hunters and this was their dogs first time competing in a situation involving other dogs and distractions. The dogs’ gundog work was very raw but their focus on their owners was incredible. There was an interesting combination of steady but keen dogs, and although handlling at a distance was sometimes a problem there was no doubt that these dogs had a desire to retrieve and work. Sometimes they did not mark well and cast around more than would be acceptable in the UK but my understanding is that in many tests on the continent a dog is given a lot more leeway to hunt than we are now allowed to do in the UK and Ireland. Once the pick up was complete they returned smartly to their handler and presented the bird with precision then sat by their handler ready to go again. One dog , in particular, caught my eye that afternoon – Curt- only a year old but the potential almost made my eyes water…

As the evening drew in we made our way back to the welcome warmth of the bar. The evening’s entertainment was centered around a barbeque. It was a wonderful chance to meet and talk with some of the owners of the dogs I had seen train earlier that afternoon. Once everyone was settled and fed we all piled into the little room adjoining the bar and Betsy presented a seminar on the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed standard. It had been a few years since I’d had the opportunity to attend one but every time I do so I learn something new. Each time something else sticks in my mind which hopefully will carry me forward in my knowledge of the breed.

The long day was taking its toll and bed now beckoned. Gerlinde loaded us into her van, set her GPS and we headed towards our lodgings.

Day 2.

Saturday dawned brighter and with the promise of some drier weather. After a light breakfast we headed back towards Florian’s place. Our route this morning took us away from main roads, through tiny hamlets nestled among the hills. With the mountains again in the background it really was chocolate box scenery.

The entry for the WD was over twenty dogs so after a quick cup of coffee all competitors, judges and observers made our way across the fields for the start of the first test. For the next couple of hours I was able to become completely engrossed in watching the dogs  work and taking photos.

Unusually on Saturday there were two Curly Coated retrievers and two Labradors competing. To those of you reading who are not involved in chessies you may well wonder what was so unusual about this. Well the WD/ WDX /WDQ are run under the auspices of the American Chesapeake Club and were designed to encourage the working side in our breed. I enjoyed watching how the other breeds fared with the challenges of working more on their own inititive and less on the whistle. It certainly levels the playing field among the retriever breeds.

Now there are many times when those of us who compete with dogs have been in a postion where our dog fails to understand what we want it to achieve. It is usually something simple. Something that they have done many times before and normally at a point in the competition that is crucial to how both you and your dog finish. It is at these times, I think , the truly great dog handlers excel. Midway through the WDX competition on Saturday this very situation occurred.

The water retrieve was run on a pond set in the middle of the wood. Being the time of year it is, Autumn, the surface of the pond was covered with leaves of all colours. Added to this was the fact that the pond was heavily stocked with fish who didn’t appreciate the disturbance of their habitat and regularly popped up to investigate. What appeared to be a straight forward double mark on water held many tempatations and diversions for many of the young dogs.


The young black curly coat took her place at the edge of the pond. She watched and marked both birds thrown but just as she was about to be cast a fish jumped to her right. The WDX is the most difficult of the three levels as the marks are longer but once the dog is cast you cannot help them. They are expected to mark and remember. She ran the bank  towards the area where the fish had risen. Still unsure  her owner took her back. The judges allowed for the diversion and she  cast her dog  again. At this stage the young dog had lost her mark as the bird was hidden in the shade of the overhanging trees. She was going to fail. Most handlers would, at this point, either give up or bully their dog to the retrieve. Although all of us know better. Nerves take over. Neither course of action will help the confidence of a young dog. Silence surrounded the pond. We had watched this young dog throughout the morning and I don’t think anyone wanted to see her go out. Then her handler did a wonderful thing. She knew she was out of the competition but she wanted her young dog to succeed. She had every confidence in her dog’s ability. So she called her to her side. Everything about her body language told her dog that it was going to be okay. She, the handler, would show her what to do. She stroked her, played with her and settled her again. Then cast with a more definite tone and the little black dog launched herself into the water. She was off and as everyone held their breath she took the line with ease to the bird and made her way back, delivering to hand beautifully. A ripple of applause broke out from the gallery. It is a moment I hope I’ll remember when teaching my young dogs in the future.

Dusk was falling when we made our way back once again to the little bar and were greeted with smells of sizzling roast pork. The day had been a good one. Conversation bubbled out around the farmyard , log fires burned, musicians in traditional dress played well in to the evening and a clear sky promised an even better day for tomorrow.

Day 3

At last the sun shone to show off the best of the Bavarian countryside. The cold nights were bringing out the best in the autumn colours on the trees. The show specialty was the final event of the weekend. Held outdoors, which I always think shows chessies to their best advantage. Many of the dogs I had watched compete over the previous two days were also entered on this day. So it was interesting to see how their working ability might transfer to the show ring. One thing I did notice was that those dogs that showed drive, pace and a good work ethic also showed this attitude inside the ring. They may not always have had the strongest conformation but their personality showed through.

I am delighted to announce that my good friend Gerlinde won Best in Show with her boy Nico who I shared a room with for three nights!!

I had much time to think back on the weekend as I waited in Munich airport for my flight home. It was an experience I am so glad I did not miss out on. I had travelled with the faint hope that I might see something different to what I am used to seeing in this part of Europe. I met some wonderful people and dogs. What I set out to look for I think I might just have found…..

Riverrun Caution to the Wind, Uisce, aged six months.

Uisce is now six months old. In many repects she has now reached a major milestone in her life. She is now at the age when she can officially compete.

Although it will be a while yet before she will be ready for gundog competitions, her career as a showdog is already underway. Over the summer, once she reached the age of four months, she was eligible to compete at baby puppy level at some championship shows.

These baby puppy classes are an excellent opportunity to allow a young puppy enter and experience the hustle and bustle of a championship show without any pressure.

I am hyper critical of my own dogs , throughout their development, and only when they enter the show ring or compete at a working test  can I really justify any glimmer of hope that they may be something special or not as the case may be.

The judges have been positive and given good feedback so her future in the show ring looks promising.

I am happy that, like her sister before her, she has been blessed with a fantastic personality. Uisce is every beings friend whether it’s animal or human. She is easy to have around other dogs whether she knows them or not and we have had plenty through our doors in the last few months.

I have been consistant with her basic obedience and now have an almost perfect recall. Heel work on lead is good and she will sit and wait for short periods. I have remained cautious around water and until I have a perfect land recall I will remain so. This is something I will be working on throughout the Winter months.

From a working gundog perspective she shows potential and that is all I believe you can really tell at this age. Until the pressures of formal gundog training are applied in the future it’s impossible to know otherwise at this age..I have taken her along with Zoe while dogging- in and have been happy with her reaction . She is not overly ‘birdy’ so does not get over excited when a bird rises in front of her.

Essex weekend 2012

If you mention Purleigh Barns to anyone involved in Chesapeakes in the UK , they will inevitably smile and drift into fond reminisence of past events. The home of club members  Richard Playle and Tilly Thomas it is quite possibly the most perfect location to run any dog related event. As the following tale will likely demonstrate…

We arrived last Friday night after battling traffic across the breadth of Wales and England.  It had been fourteen hours since we left home in Ireland. We were relieved to turn off-road and see the lights of Purleigh Barns at the end of the track. It is a home where one instantly feels at ease. The type where you feel you can flick on the kettle, sit back and  kick off your shoes. After airing the dogs we were welcomed in, settled around a table, fed a warm wholesome meal and within half an hour I could feel the tension ease out of my shoulders and relaxation blissfully descend. Talk turned from traffic to what we expected over the coming weekend.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny. I rose early and headed out to walk the dogs. The farmhouse is set well off the road and sits surrounded by pasture land. No cattle or sheep in the immediate fields surrounding the house gives the added bonus of being able to excercise the dogs without worrying about roads or livestock. This was an  invaluable  asset since after travelling the previous day they really needed a good blow out to stretch and relax.

By early morning more chessies and owners had arrived and soon the little garden at the front of the house was filled with tents. Friends and acquaintances that we hadn’t seen in years, along with some new faces gathered in Tilly’s kitchen to enjoy the endless supply of bacon butties and sausage sandwiches.

The morning’s activities started with a  novice gundog training session with Mr Jason Mayhew. I have been lucky enough to attend training sessions given by three different trainers this year and have been pleasantly surprised to find that each trainer brings their own special skill. Therefore, rather than conflicting they have complemented each other in their advice and techniques.

Jason has a talent for getting his message across in a very empathetic manner. He listens to each handler, what they do and want from their dog and builds on that. He also has extensive experience in having worked and competed with chesapeakes. He understands their quirks and foibles and therefore unlike most trainers who have never dealt with retrievers outside labs he has the ability and confidence to work round specific problems.

Late morning and it was time for an agility session, organised by Tilly. Everyone was encouraged to join in and they did. Young and old, novice and experienced nobody felt left out.

The afternoon offered a choice of activities. Jason took a group for advanced gundog work, Marilyn took an obedience group and Kirsty gave a demo on dog scootering (not as easy as it looks..I had a go..).I think the entire day was a wonderful opportunity to see just how versatile our dogs can be and no matter what activity you choose as long as both you and your dog get enjoyment from it by spending time together then that is surely a good thing.

We ended the afternoon by taking the dogs across the fields for a gallop. Puppies and adults, dogs and bitches it was lovely to see a group of brown dogs mixing and mingling freely in the late Autumn light.

A full house gathered in the kitchen that evening, spilling out into the garden to enjoy the barbeque. Analysis and post mortems of the day’s events discussed with the aid of a glass or two of wine.  Talk and thoughts turned to the following day when we would head to the salt marshes for the penultimate event of the weekend, the CBRC Autumn working test


To understand chesapeakes properly, what they were bred for and how they work, the salt marshes in Essex are the closest you can get to near perfect habitat. Channels that are heavily silted with thick mud and treacherous tidal currents it is a place where a strong dog is not a luxury but an absolute necessity. Intimate knowledge of tides, times and terrain is also essential.

The ground we would be competing on today is a managed retreat. It is an area of incredible beauty but with a dangerous side if not treated with respect. The sea wall almost completes a circle except for one point where the sea has been allowed to breech. Within this area, which was originally farmland, the land has been allowed to return to it’s original state. Oak trees that were originally part of the landscape have succumbed to the rising levels of salt and stand with their blackened branches rising skyward on the horizon. Thick beds of sea grasses, formed in swathes, matted together thus making the going heavy as you have to lift your legs rather than push through . The broad basin which now forms the floor of the retreat was made up of thick black silt that pulled relentlessly on the legs as we walked through but within half an hour this same area was completely filled with thigh deep water as the tide rushed in through the sea wall breech. As I stood on top of the sea wall , that morning, it was easy to imagine just how tough a terrain this would be for a dog to work in during the winter months.

There were twelve entries in open. Our judge was Mr Phil Askew, a labrador man that field trials his dogs. He had no experience of chesapeakes working. The plan for the day was that each test would progressively bring us further along the sea wall, finishing at the point where it was breeched. It was here that we would meet high tide  and a test had been designed to test the open dogs skill in tidal waters.

The tests set were fair and really showcased the dogs strength and game finding ability. It was not ground where speed was of the essence although dogs with drive did stand out. Due to the height of the vegetation the chesapeake’s ability to air scent (as opposed to ground scenting which labs are good at) really came into its own. Most of the tests had an aspect of realism in that it would have been extremely difficult to retrieve a duck without the aid of a dog due to the many tidal channels that cut through the retreat.

For the past couple of years the top honours at Chesapeake working test events  in the UK have been shared by a small  group of dogs and up until this past weekend this group have never all competed against each other. For some reason or another up until now there had always been at least one missing. Today in the Open test they were going to battle it out on the marshes.

The first test in Open was a double. A dummy thrown into a tidal pond to the right of the dog and handler, then shot fired at a ninety degree angle to a blind approximately seventy yards away. The blind was to be retreived first. The tempatation here, of course, is for the dog to pull for the dummy which they could clearly see on the pond. Most of the dogs completed both retrieves without difficulty but the cleanest retrieve at this point had been done by Mark Greenhough’s Echo.

The second retrieve in open brought us out to the sea wall breech. The tide, by now, was at its highest point. The basin , where we had been standing for the first retrieve only half an hour earlier, was now thigh deep. The channels were now also covered making areas even deeper. This is where knowledge of the terrain is vital. The retrieve was to be a single blind across a channel which was seventy yards wide and up on to an island with water that was moving at a rate of 5-6 knots. The only other access to the island, other than swimming , was via a narrow path which only Richard and his friend knew as it was under water!! We watched as Richard’s friend steadily made his way across, feeling and prodding the ground with his stick. I have to admit I was relieved to see him making his way to the higher ground on the island. His job was to lay the blind.

The first dog was sent. It is difficult to describe my admiration of these dogs when watching them make a retrieve in these conditions. Watching them take on the current as they make that swim across. Seeing the strength in those front shoulders and their ultimate confidence that they can do this. There is no panic. They feel completely comfortable in this type of environment and you know just why wildfowlers trust them to do the job they were designed and bred for. Then when they bank that head lifts and they can pull in scent from such a huge distance.

The top five were pulling clear at this point as we headed for what was to be the final retrieve of the day barring the need for a run off.

Back along the sea wall the tide was now receding. As quickly as it had filled it was as if someone had pulled a plug and the water trickled away. The retrieve was to be a single seen approx one hundred yards into a channel of water. However by the time the first dog had completed their retrieve and the second dog lined up the channel was fast becoming a mud bank. Again the strength of these dogs came to the fore pulling though such heavy mud, sometimes sinking up to their bellies in pursuit of the retrieve.

The judge then called forward two dogs for a run-off. It was to be  Sue Worrall’s Kes and my Winnie. We were called up to an area where earlier the beginner dogs completed a retrieve. It was to be a seen with the dogs sent from the top of the wall across a  channel, then a bed of sea grass, then another channel through a boundary of dead oaks where the retrieve was thrown into mixed grasses. Both dogs completed the retrieve in almost identical fashion. The judge was satisfied . We made our way back along the sea wall towards the cars. It had been a test that had promised much and delivered. No matter what the final results I was happy my dogs had managed the terrain and worked well.

There was a real sense of excitement as we gathered in Richard and Tilly’s garden and waited as the judge and working test secretary checked the final scores. The tension was eased with the abundance of delicious salads, quiches and cakes spread across the table in Tilly’s kitchen.

The final result saw age and experience, Echo, get the upper hand over the young pretender, Bertie ( owned by Des and I ). Echo proving once and for all that he has been a worthy winner over the past few years. That is not to take away from the fact that the overall standard meant that the top five dogs were only separated by a total of six points.

In summation the judge complimented the standard of dog work and handling. He was impressed by the drive and style of many of the dogs on the day.

I guess to some field trial purists the chesapeake can often be protrayed as a headstrong, cumbersome retriever when working against field trial labs on open ground. However, if you take the time to acknowledge their work on the foreshores and estuaries around the UK and Ireland you may learn to value and respect their unique set of skills which they bring to the sport of wildfowling.

For anyone interested in taking a weekend in Essex and are looking for accomodation with their dog Purleigh Barns is open for business 01621 741 274