” Uisce ” meaning water….irony in a name…

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Uisce Madra gaelic for Water Dog.

 

All through the summer I worked on Uisce’s confidence in water. I took her to the lake to practise long water entries, the river to deal with currents and the canal to practise retrieves from across water and through cover. We sat in line with other dogs to work on steadiness and honouring. She learned and gained confidence at the lake and on the river very quickly. It was the canal, the narrowest of the water channels and where I would have considered the easiest of the three venues, that she hit a wall in regards to making progress.

Uisce meaning 'water'

Water entries became more confident with practise.

The problems which the canal presented had nothing to do with her inability to figure out about retrieves from the far side of the water as I had tested her on clean river banks and water ditches without any issue many times. It was so much simpler than that….it was reeds and/or elephant grass!!!!

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Her entry through the reeds and into water on my side of the canal never caused any hesitation, in fact her water entries have become increasingly spectacular and more chessie-like the more confident that she’s become. Then, however, she would swim to the far bank and just as she hit the reeds she would back off and inevitably her frustration would come through with water circling, splashing and biting. I spent a lot of my time this summer standing on banks and thinking, “okay, how am I going to get round this one? “.
Well I tried everything from sending an older dog across, namely poor Chester again, to make a path through the reeds before her, I brought cold game along to see if the scent of game would draw her through the reeds, I threw dummies just short of the reeds and then further up the bank. And with all these I did succeed in getting her to a point where she would push through on a single seen to just beyond the reeds but no way could I get her up through the reeds to the top on the other side and the more frustrated she became the more she backed off, she was losing confidence. Perhaps it was just this particular set up? Maybe she had developed a mental block about this particular stretch of water? To find out I needed to challenge her on strange water….
So last Sunday I took her up to a small lake near Slane. It was perfectly set up for what I had in mind. Clear water surrounded by elephant grass, the lake is small enough to be accessible from all sides but big enough not to offer temptation for the dog to run the bank. There was a  clean bank on a headland from where I placed the thrower, Des, to give Uisce a confidence boost to begin with.
As usual I brought along an older experienced dog, this time it was her mother Winnie who would show her the way. Des called the ‘mark’ and I sent Winnie across. Uisce sat patiently by my side, watching her mother and, I hoped, taking notes!!

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Once Winnie returned Des threw a second ‘mark’. I cast Uisce and she launched herself into the lake, she swam with confidence to the far shore but just as she came to the reeds her ears went back, she engaged the water brakes and threaded water, looking anxiously past the line of reeds but not daring to go through. I urged her on but this only served to increase her worry and she started circling. Des threw another mark into the reed edge which she swam forward for and retrieved with no problems. What to do?

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On her return she delivered the dummy perfectly and in spite of her anxiety she set herself up to go again, and this has been the pattern. The eagerness and keenness have been my indicators to try and push her past, as I see it, this small problem and execute a solid retrieve. Shouldn’t it simply be a matter of trying to find a way of getting her past her ‘block’ on grasses? Or am I perhaps reading her and the situation incorrectly? Maybe I’m expecting too much from her, she’s not yet eighteen months old, because the rest of her training is so advanced? Maybe too far too soon?

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Des’ conclusion after watching her on Sunday was simply to accept that this is her level at the moment, that with so much progress gained in the last few months that she has plateaued for now. This is quite possible and something I am more than willing to take on board.
We finished her training that day with a simple seen into clear water, something she accomplished with finesse.
As we walked back up through the woods reflecting on what we had seen I still had a niggle that I really wanted to find a way for her to learn to get past this sticking point. I didn’t want it to become an ingrained pattern.
So we’ve come up with a plan…today I will leave the dummy bag at home and again head to the lake with just my trusty thrower, Des. This time he will hold onto Uisce while I take up position on the far bank. What will she do when I call her to me? Wait and see 🙂

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Sunday September 15th 7pm.
The plan worked…we set up the recall from two separate points on the lake. The first one I stood on a familiar bank from where she’d retrieved previously but in view of the adjacent bank from where Des sent Uisce when I called her. Once she arrived on shore and sat in front of me she got loads of praise and her favourite treat. The second recall which we set up was one where I stood beyond a fresh bank of reeds and called her to me. This time there was slight hesitancy as she approached the bank where I stood but encouragement from me was enough to convince her that everything was okay.

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There is of course lots more practise needed before fluidity in this task is obtained but I’m glad we took the time to take a step back and figure out an alternative to either just giving up or worse pushing her through when she wasn’t ready. The pressure of not having to retrieve today meant that Uisce only had to focus on one thing and that was getting to me and perhaps the treats in my pocket….either way when I walk away from a training session with a happy dog I’ve got to believe we’re moving in the right direction 🙂

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Hope Valley Team Test

Vintage Massy Ferguson tractors shined, greased and oiled to perfection chugged their way along the road in convoy through the moors, their drivers waving us by in salute whenever the road straightened enough to do so. A heavy fog hung over the valleys but on the higher peaks great swathes of purple heather broke the otherwise grey morning. We were on our way, in our own little Chessie convoy, to Hope Valley Agricultural Show to compete as part of a team in a retriever working test.

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The view from the showgrounds – Peveril Castle.

Do you know what I love about agricultural shows? There is a comfort in knowing that people still take pride in the art of jam making, baking cakes, knitting and needlework to enter them in competition. The preservation of certain specialised breeds and types of sheep, cattle, pigs, horses and goats is ensured as long as there are stockmen and women interested enough to bring them out to be judged against a standard. Wandering around the back of the holding pens you see just how much care and attention to detail goes into presenting their animals in their best possible light and the judging is intense, every inch of the animal is examined…the horsemen taking it to an extra level by even having the judge ride each horse in the class. These are our heritage, I feel, skills that if lost will surely leave us poorer as a race. Which is why I feel that in our own sport working and showing our gundogs should continue to be an important part of bringing our breeds into the future.

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Showing horses.

Hope Show had everything on offer that day from sheepdog trials, show jumping and one of the most unique retriever working tests I have ever been a part of.

Eight teams, each team a different breed of retriever- a team of Chesapeakes, Chocolate Labradors, Golden retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels,Yellow Labradors, Flat Coated Retrievers, Curly Coated Retrievers and finally not to be forgotton Black Labradors.. The event is run and organised by the Northern branch of the United Retriever Club. Each team ran as a unit, made up of two novice and two open level dogs, completing a series of four tests throughout the day. The Chesapeakes were first team up that morning so not much time to think about nerves or strategies. We would hopefully set the standard for others to follow…

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Irish Water Spaniel in action at Hope.

The fog in the valleys cleared quickly to reveal Derbyshire county at her finest. Sapphire blue skies created the backdrop for the rugged ridges of Winnats pass and Mam Tor. As the day warmed up the most amazing sight of dozens of hang-gliders resting like giant butterflies on the side of the Tor could be seen before they lifted off and glided gracefully to the valleys below, allowing the air thermals and breezes to carry them in whichever direction they wished.

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It’s not always the easiest to run from the front but we started well that morning, scoring well above average and were in the lead after the first four teams ran. By the end of the third series in the afternoon we were still holding well in second place, with just the Yellow lab team stretching the lead in front.

The yellow Labrador team put in a strong challenge to immerge victors.

The yellow Labrador team put in a strong challenge to immerge victors.

The last test series was upon us and as we stood in  line for the last time I could certainly feel the pressure. The teams were piling up behind us, slowly but surely pulling back points with each retrieve. We needed a fairly clean sheet to hold our position.

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The final test was split into two parts. The first part was a straightforward mock drive incorporating gunshot and beaters. All that was required here was steadiness from the dogs. Our team of brown dogs sat impeccably throughout. At the end of the drive we were asked to put our leads back on and turn our dogs ninety degrees away from the direction of the drive. The second part of the test was explained. There were six dummies to be retrieved from across the fence in front of us. To the left was an area where the dogs had all worked and retrieved from that morning, as well as the area where they had just seen ‘birds’ fall. This could potentially draw them to an area the wrong side of the fence. There were two ‘runners’ planted at the lower end of the field on the right, if retrieved bonus points were gained. In theory, a straightforward test but its  those simple ones that allow such little room for error that can mean the difference between final victory or defeat…

The eight teams line up for presentation.

The eight teams line up for presentation.

In hindsight I would have handled Bertie differently. My intention was to get one of the ‘runners’ but he thought otherwise and pulled left from the start towards the area of an old ‘fall’. It’s always a split second decision in these cases. Of course in training I would have immediately called him back, gave a definite ‘leave’ command to his left and recast him right but in competition there isn’t this option. There were two choices running through my head the moment I saw the direction he took…let him run on to the fence, clear it and then stop him and cast right or stop him immediately cast right/angled back and then over. In that split second I chose the former and it was the wrong call. Three whistles more than I would have liked to get him back down the field to the area of the fall. He got the ‘runner’ and subsequent three bonus points bringing his final score to 18/20. Now we had to sit back and wait, hoping that the remaining teams would stay chasing our heels and not overtake.

In the end there were too few mistakes from the chasing pack we finished fifth overall and got a certificate of merit rosette. We had set  a great challenge and as we stood in line for the presentation with the other teams I felt very proud and honoured to have been invited to run and represent our lovable brown brillo butts…..maybe next year we’ll reclaim that  silver cup….

Bertie’s individual scores for each of his retrieves were :

18/20; 20/20; 18/20; 15/20+3 bonus points.

Our Chessie team.

Our Chessie team.

The time had come to leave in chessie convoy but this time we took a turn right on leaving the show grounds and followed the road through Winnats pass and up to the base of Mam Tor. We parked the cars and trekked all the way to the top with six chessies and a tough little four year old girl. It was after seven in the evening but the air was still warm. All along the path on our way to the top flying ants were warming up their wings before lifting off into the evening air. And finally we were there and it was so worth the climb. To think this great expanse of openness is just thirty minutes drive from one of the most densely populated cities in the world is a testament to how the British have valued the preservation of their rural landscape.

The view from the top of Mam Tor.

The view from the top of Mam Tor.