Carrowbawn working test.

 

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Summer in all her luscious lovlieness had arrived and as my car wound its way up through the hills behind Ashford county Wicklow, I rolled down the window and inhaled that wonderful coconut scent of wild gorse in bloom. The wind scorched fields and bare trees of a very long cold Spring had gone. Now it was as if nature had opened her box of paints and spilled them in delightful disarray all over the countryside.

I turned the car off the road, shifted down gears again and climbed on up a narrow track which took me into the farmyard of Mr David Barron’s home, Carrowbawn. This was the venue for today’s working test. Organised by the All Ireland Retriever Club under the capable guidance of Mrs Jean Johnston and the Judges were Mr J Perry and Mr E Lennon.

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If everything went pear-shaped in regards to dog work, disappointment would soon be forgotten when I gazed out past the flowering gorse to the expanse of Irish sea below. It has got to be one of the most breath-taking venues to hold a working test.

The first test that afternoon saw us sitting in an eight dog line up for a simulated drive. This type of test is becoming increasingly common and it is an aspect of Bertie’s training which I have worked hard on throughout the past year. So far this Summer we have sat through 3 such tests and  he has coped well. He used to have a habit of counting dogs and creeping in anticipation when he knew it was his turn but so far this year his line manners have been impeccable, no moving and quiet. Today’s test would take  him to the edge though.

The dogs faced a plantation of conifers separated by a low stone wall. Once the drive was in progress beaters came through the woods toward us, shots were fired and dummies thrown over the wall in front of us. As if that wasn’t enough two bolting rabbits were then released in front of the dogs. One dog, sitting next to Bertie, was caught off guard with this development and ran in. Bertie lifted his rear but moved no further and remained in suspended animation for the remainder of the drive. This was purely a test in steadiness with no retrieve required.

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The second test was a blind and diversion….with a twist. The dogs were taken one at a time. We stood on top of a hill. The field below was bordered by a stone wall, with banks of gorse. There were spots in the wall which were possible for the dogs to get through BUT the test was set in such a way that the only realistic route was through a gate directly in front of your dog, the blind was laid in the top left hand corner of the second field about a hundred meters on from the gate. The complication was the extremely tight angle between the gate and where the diversion was thrown among a cluster of decoys, just feet from the gateway. There was not the option of casting your dog left  to avoid this temptation as there was a second blind to be retrieved up a track behind gorse and along the wall after the first had been retrieved.

This was going to be tricky. I inhaled deeply and cast Bertie directly to the gate. As I anticipated, he did what I would expect him to do in the shooting field and clear game as he came upon it. He was taking a line directly for those decoys. I let him have his head until he was within ten feet or so then blew him up and cast him left. He wasn’t convinced at first and took another few strides towards the decoys. I stepped on the whistle again and with a very definite cast left he  went through the gate. I pushed him straight back up the hill, then stopped him and cast him left again. He caught the scent on the wind and found the dummy. That retrieve alone was sooo worth it. The second part was easier, casting him well clear of the decoys he took the line well left of the gate disappeared behind the gorse amd emerged with the dummy.

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Third retrieve again consisted of a double blind but straightforward and no problems. There’s always one though, isn’t there? The fourth retrieve that afternoon was the one that saw the undoing of many…..

Again we found ourselves on top of that hill. This time the blind was laid across the wall and up to the right of the second field. Directly in front of us was a lovely gap in the wall, perfect for sending your dog through then cast right and he would use the wall to push on up the hill. However, on this occasion three dummies had been placed in clear view just beyond that gap and they were not to be touched ( I also found out later that there were dummies laid behind the wall which were not to be touched). I knew this time the momentum  carrying him downhill and straight through that gap would be too much to stop him in time so I opted for the alternative. It wasn’t possible to send him straight to the corner as the field was bordered with a thick bank of gorse. I sent him to the edge of the gorse and then cast him right up a track that ran along the wall. At this point it was impossible to see my dog, I hoped he would appear at the top of the field where there was a low section in the wall and I could send him over. He reappeared at the bottom of the gorse, I cast him again and urged him with a verbal ‘get-on’ to re-enforce what was needed. It worked. When he appeared at the top of the field I sent him over the wall, a little hunt up and he found the dummy. I exhaled and laughed in relief and disbelief…I truly love what this dog does sometimes….

Fifth retrieve was a long single seen and finally after a long hot day our final retrieve was a water mark…a really lovely way for all the dogs to finish on a good note.

Bertie at the water. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

Bertie at the water. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

 

 

We got lucky that day, Bertie finished second but my satisfaction came more from succeeding in two very technical retrieves. Chesapeakes are a breed that like to use their own initive. They don’t like to be told too many times which direction to go in relation to gamefinding, once is generally enough. Indeed it is certainly where they excel when wildfowling and that ability to figure things out for themselves is often a handicap when applied to working tests. What I love about this dog is that he still manages to retain that chessie attitude as you saw  in relation to going forward for that diversion because he believed that was the right thing to do at the time BUT he is willing to forgo that urge to do what I wish without caving if over-handled and that is what makes him different.

Safe water

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Uisce’s water problems were not yet sorted, there were still gaps in  her training that needed to be filled in. This was especially obvious when I took her, as Bertie’s travelling companion, to the UK last month.

Strange water and moving water proved most problematic as I discovered when we took a walk along the River Avon.  Her desire to retrieve was, and is, strong but the difficulty was her pick up in water. She would reach out for the retrieve then the splashing and circling would start, the retrieve forgotten and a lot of calling and encouragement from me on the bank was required to entice her back to shore. Bertie was then dispatched to retrieve. Back to the drawing board. At the same time there was progress,  she was easier to recall and although she splashed and circled there wasn’t the frenetic water biting that had been there previously.

It was Jason Mayhew who first suggested that part of her problem might be related to a fear and lack of confidence rather than an obedience issue. This would change my entire perspective and approach to her training going forward. We  met up with him on that Saturday afternoon and had the opportunity to do some training. For the most part Uisce sat and watched as I concentrated on Bertie. The afternoon was the first hot one of the year and at the end of the session we took the dogs to a small pond for a welcome cool off. It was a perfect set up for teaching young dogs how to enter water with confidence. Small, with gently sloping sides for easy entrance and exit.

 

 

After watching the other dogs in the group carry out their respective retrieves I set Uisce up for one also. I hoped she would repeat her behaviour as I wanted to see if Jason could perhaps look on it with fresh eyes. She did not disappoint. The retrieve was not difficult, in she went and once again when within touching distance of the dummy the splashing started. We watched in silence from the bank for a few moments.  His suggestion was to walk away, say nothing and see what would happen. Alas we were saved that trouble by a very territorial cobb swan who chased her back to shore with more speed than she could muster. We moved further downstream and threw a small dummy into very shallow water at the edge, just to get her confidence back. Today was not the day to push on with any more water work. We both needed to reassess and reflect.

As many of you may have figured by now, I think about things a lot, particularly in relation to dog training. I try to figure out where the dog is coming from in relation to a given situation and then try to work out a mutual meeting point for both of us. My main emphasis is to make training interesting and even fun for my dogs, after all much of what I ask of them is for my benefit and not theirs so I feel there has to be a pay back of sorts for them.

I knew I had reached a point in Uisce’s water work training though, where I had guided her as far as I could. It was now her turn to shoulder some of the responsibility in figuring out what she would gain from retrieving efficiently from water. To do this I needed two things – safe water and an experienced older dog to mop up any retrieves that she was likely to lose on this particular learning curve. DSC_1075     DSC_1053

The Ramparts in Navan is perfectly set up for what I had in mind. It is an eight kilometre walk with a grassy bank canal on one side and the river Boyne on the other. The Boyne is separated from the path by a wide bank of rushy vegetation so most young dogs, if they are very water focussed, will gravitate towards the canal as opposed to heading straight for the river. I intended to make use of both, eventually.

I took Chester along as my assistant picking up dog and he was fairly busy to begin with. The first morning I took them out I tried a short retrieve into the canal from a shallow sloping bank. I never allow a young dog a first retrieve or even a second…she sat and watched as Chester retrieved. Then I sent her and as expected she did her usual pirouette in the clear canal water, round and round she swam every now and then bobbing the ball with her paw. The time had come to hand the baton to her, so to speak. I sent Chester into the water to pick up the tennis ball and walked away without saying a word. As he made his way through the water to pick it up something happened…..Uisce beat him to it, picked the ball perfectly and swam to shore.

 

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An experienced dog is often required.

And that was all it took. There were times in the coming weeks when I presented her with new and challenging situations in water that she would panic and splash but the difference was I recognised it as that….lack of confidence and instead of shouting and correcting her I would simply send the old guy in for the retrieve and recall her to shore, trying again with a simpler retrieve until the splashing became almost non existent and Chester unemployed.

Today I took her to the Boyne. I had no helper in relation to Chester, as Uisce is in season so this was to be another step forward in her responsibility. The point I chose for her to retrieve from has a bank of bullrushes so she would have the challenge of coping with current as well as an obstacle. I threw the dummy beyond the rushes so she had to swim through to find the retrieve before it was swept down river. She succeeded every time and  thoroughly enjoyed it too.

 

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Uisce, being able to enjoy water again.

My walks along the ramparts also reaffirmed for me Jason’s suspicion that she may have been a young dog lacking confidence as opposed to a true water- freaker, as apart from sending her to water for a retrieve she is quite happy to amble along the path without entering water for the sheer hell of it.

Looking back I know the time invested early on in establishing a good recall on land first, then progressing to water was not wasted. In fact it became key when the point came for Uisce to choose which direction she took in relation to her training. I know in our breed in particular there are many owners struggling with young cheaspeakes to gain control in water. I hope by following our tale it may help you to look at a different approach to moving on past this sticking point in training.

 

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Galvins on the Ramparts….not the worst place in the world to train…