Carlotta’s Way….

On Tuesday May 5th, an hour to the day of mating nine weeks previously, Carlotta’s first puppy arrived.

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I wasn’t there for the delivery….when I had checked on her half an hour earlier before going to collect Elly from school , she was curled up comfortably in the whelping box…true to the style that had been the pattern of this pregnancy every puppy, seven in total, arrived half an hour apart after the first one. Slipping into the world almost unnoticed beneath Lotta’s tail; but with meticulous diligence were cleaned and nudged towards her teats where warmth and comfort awaited.

I’m pretty certain now that on her long journey from Argentina to Paris somebody somewhere slipped Carlotta a copy of ” The Book Of The Bitch ” by J.M. Evans and Kay Whyte. And confined in her big bright blue crate she read it from cover to cover.

This breeding with Bertie wasn’t meant to happen until next spring but a failed pregnancy with my other bitch left me in a situation where if I didn’t breed this year I could potentially end up with two litters around the same time next year, something which I did not relish. So with agreement from Mecha, Lotta’s co-owner, sought and obtained we gave it a go.

The beauty of having both male and female in residence meant there was no running to and from the vets for ovulation testing, no time constraints in relation to travel instead right on cue and with no involvement on from me, apart from holding the gate open , nature took over and the mating occurred.

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A slight filling in the flanks by week five made me slightly optimistic that the mating had been successful but she showed no other signs – no morning sickness, no discharge and definitely no ‘minding’ herself as she raced after our springer spaniel in the fields.

By week six she was still giving up no secrets. A scan was needed to enable some forward planning AND to end the agony of wasted hours staring at her abdomen, checking out the tiniest twitches and wondering, ‘well,  is she or isn’t she?’

A quick run over her tummy by my vet Paul Kelly, estimated seven which subsequently turned out to be spot on (… definitely one to remember if I’m taking bets in future)….

So now we could tentatively plan ahead.

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The heaviness of her abdomen eventually slowed her down and in her final week she was happy to take her walks at a jaunty trot, leaving the mad spaniel to chase away ahead in the woods at Killeen.

As her time for whelping approached she sought out places where she felt safe and away from the other dogs. The big bright blue crate which had carried her half way across the world six months previously was where she spent much of her time sleeping in the days prior to the arrival of her puppies. Maybe it was because it was the one place which bound her to all that had been familiar and safe in her life before coming to Ireland.

The temperature drop on Monday again was the only single clue that I could be certain labour was not far off. She didn’t pace, was never restless, didn’t dig to China and not a single newspaper was shredded in the delivery of these puppies….her labour followed in  the same calm no nonsense way that she had set out since mating.

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The most valuable lesson I learned from observing and being part of watching Carlotta and her family thrive and grow was just how valuable an “easy” whelping bitch is. The calmness and maturity she displayed throughout her pregnancy and labour followed through in the raising of her puppies.

Now just nine weeks on, all of the puppies except two have gone to their new homes. I have the pleasure of holding, squeezing and loving the final two until August after which they travel to Denmark and Germany where their prospective owners eagerly await their arrival.

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I will watch their lives with interest, wondering whether Mother or Father’s genes will shine through more and hoping we here at Riverrrun have been able to give them the very best start to lead long healthy lives loved by their families.

Thank you to all the new owners of these wonderful puppies, and my sincere gratitude to Mecha Roizman of Sailorsbays kennels who took a chance on me and entrusted me with her precious brown girl, Carlotta .

Becoming a Field Trial Groupie….

 

From the outside looking in I never had much time for field trials. As a sport it never gripped me in a way that shooting and hunting with a dog in the conventional way did.

I mean I owned a breed anyway that I believed didn’t naturally submit to a lot of the pressure that handling, control and rigourous field trial training required. The Chessies performed and worked better when left to their own devices in the shooting field.

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But then last year, while researching a piece on how to make up a Field trial champion, a Dual champion and a Full champion in Ireland, I was forced to take a closer look at a sport that in truth I had little faith or belief in; a sport that I felt had digressed away from what was required of a dog in the working field and become an elitist sport for a very tiny percentage of the Retriever world. Trials, I believed, had gone above and beyond the call of duty in relation to the level of obedience and control required to win an Open stake….. And I wondered that if trials had been developed as a template from which all working stock should be gauged, how was it that they seemed to favour one breed and more so only a certain ‘type’ within that breed ?

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What would it mean if someone were to concentrate soley on developing a Chesapeake for trialling as has happened in Labradors? Is it possible to continue to hold the middle ground and have dogs competing at high levels in both the show and field trial worlds? Or would the necessity to specialise in trials force a  breed split as has happened to many other of the retriever, spaniel and setter breeds ? And then if that happened which ‘type’ within that breed split  is a better representative of what defines that breed ? Is it the dog that adapts to work in the ever changing world of shooting and fieldsports ? Or is it the dog that remains true to a breed standard that was laid down over a hundred years ago and modified only slightly even though everything around that standard has moved on and changed?

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In the beginning I really wanted to see where the limitations of field trials lay so that I could justify reasons, I guess, as to why my own beloved breed and many of the other retriever breeds  failed so miserably to compete in them with much success.

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The fatigue of a long summer season of dog shows , gundog working tests and training days was settling on my  shoulders when Bertie and I began our Winter journey as Field Trial groupies….  I was more than  ready to pick up the game carrier, put away my whistle and follow my dogs where their noses told them go in the hunt to find pheasant.

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Instead we found ourselves following Jed, Roxy, Paddy and Ripple, all dogs I had come to respect and admire from competing against them through the summer months of working tests. We travelled to the most obscure parts of the country, in all sorts of weather and always with a middle of the night alarm call that would put the most hardened wildfowler to shame.

We only managed to follow three trials but these dogs and handlers run the circuit from September to the end of January. In the run up to the Championships in December they may compete up to three times a week…many, many times they fail in their quest to succeed but they simply move on to the next trial and try again…..that’s a lot of pressure, a lot of time and a lot of money…

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Every trial was different. The grounds and formats varied greatly. Walk up on partridge in Bracken Hill required good  marking skills and the ability to hold a postage stamp tight area and hunt. If I ever had doubts about whether a field trial dog could face cover, they were put to rest in Connolly when in the middle of the dense Coillte plantations these dogs  never hesitated when asked to produce birds from the thick mess of brambles in boggy ground. And finally the Broadmeadows trial at Slane showed that they could take on the River Boyne in full winter flow and win.

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These dogs could deal with the pressure of sitting under the guns as three hundred birds flew, fell and fluttered over their heads. They picked wounded runners mid-drive without the temptation of switching game, or haring off after another bird in flight

It seemed as if this ‘Elite’ squad of highly trained dogs could do everything but rather than being disappointed that Field trials weren’t as limiting as I had hoped; I found instead that I was drawn to the possibility that perhaps aiming towards this level of controlled precision could be an asset rather than an incumberence to my breed.

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There is such a thing as a dog having too much game sense.

Bertie was all that I had to give it a go and get a feel for this sport that I still didn’t fully understand.  I knew too well that starting a trialling career with a dog that has had six working seasons under his belt was asking a lot, maybe too much, from the outset.
There is such a thing as a dog having too much game-sense and knowing their job too well. All those winters watching birds, learning which one flew on without shot and which ones were possibly wounded, being let run in on birds that hit the ground injured before they disappeared into heavy cover or down river on a strong current. Now I was asking this dog to hold himself back, go against every single instinct he had learned to trust in pursuit of game and to hand over control completely and utterly to me.

Our first trial in November was a four hour drive to Kerry and all I was aiming for was for him to sit steady through a drive. He did,  he  sat through a drive quietly and without running in. He wrong-birded on his first retrieve but we had achieved our aim and that is all I could or would ask of him for now.

Our second trial was held on ground he has worked on over the last six years, since he was eight months old. It was a novice trial at Shelton. I entered this trial as a courtesy to the shoot captain but fully expected to be relieved of my armband before the horn blew at the end of the drive. The temptation to run in would be just too great as he knew which birds he would have been traditionally ‘allowed’ go for without being asked.

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From the deepest pit of my being I prayed that luck would come our way, that the drive would not be too long and that the birds would somehow fall everywhere else except around where we stood. They came, they flew, they fell ….everywhere…..they fluttered into the gorse in front of us and wheeled at head height crashing into the brambles behind. Somehow, by some miracle, Bertie stayed put and finally when every ounce of adrenalin had drained from my body our judge uttered those immortal words, ” you may put your leads on now and relax”. We had done it and I don’t think anyone could quite understand why, when Bertie wrong-birded on his first retrieve again I came away from the line with the biggest grin on my face.

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Mental strength and tractability, two traits I will value in future.

So in the end was I swayed? Did I find the answers to my questions?  I think I did. I discovered that only if you want it to be is Field trialling an elitist sport. I discovered a group of intensely committed hardworking people completely dedicated to producing the best dog for the ever evolving realm of field sports. Yes, field trials may have their limitations, perhaps over handling can compensate for a dog with lesser scenting ability and perhaps the retriever breeds more apt for air-scenting and those bred to work unaided will never feature in huge numbers at the top level of field trials. However, I think trials succeed best in finding dogs that have mental strength, that are tractable and that can bend rather than break to pressure.

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Trials are only elitist if you want them to be.

I found that even with our limited time preparing for trials this season Bertie’s level of competence in the field was not hindered but rather added to my pleasure of bringing him to the working field…..to have a dog capable of sitting out a drive without fear of him running after every bird that falls, to be able to call him off a bird if needed and to follow a walking gun behind the beating line without the heart stopping fear of him running through the drive is something that makes me very proud both of my dog and the breed he represents.

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Preparing for trials enhanced our enjoyment in the working field.

I can see us continuing in our field trial groupie role. We have much to learn and enjoy. My plans now include field trials in the future development and training of my dogs as even working towards a novice level will allow me to see how they deal with pressure. I will always keep their roots firmly in what they were bred for as I think, ( but I could be proven wrong again ), the luxury of having a breed that straddles both show and working worlds has kept this breed, for the most part, unchanged since the inception of its standard.

“It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)

Two men went to the marsh…..

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Two men went to a marsh, they were looking for a wildfowling dog and had been told this was the place they might find one.
Both were experienced hunters of upland game and had spent many a winters day following their spaniels across the midland bogs and thick gorse ditches in search of snipe and pheasant. They had enjoyed the high challenging birds of the driven shoot and watched with admiration the dogs that waited patiently and worked silently and almost unnoticed as they gently and tenderly retrieved the birds that fell around their pegs.
Times changed the bogs were lost to the building boom where midland villages became commuting towns. Work brought the men to the southern coast and wildfowling became their sport of choice.
The life of a wildfowler is not an easy one. Only the most dogged and determined hunter , ( some might say marginally insane ), will rise before dawn in winter, look out their window and pump their fists in celebration that a force 8 gale is blowing outside.  Bring on high tides, heavy swell, dark cloudy skies , lots of wind and the wildfowler is in his element.. Yes, the life of a wildfowler is not an easy one and the dog that accompanies him or her must be as resolute and determined to hunt and retrieve those birds as his master is.
For that first year along the foreshores in the south their plucky little spaniels coped well. On the mornings when the birds came in on a low calm tide ,and there were a good many of those mornings, the dogs rarely lost a bird in the heavy reeds that surrounded the marsh edges. It was when the full moon tides coupled with winter storms and freezing winds came that, although the little dogs worked hard, birds were lost and on one or two occasions dogs were dragged away with  strong currents and almost lost in the process.
The men  had grown to love the wildness and unpredictability of this type of hunting but realised that if they were to continue they needed a  dog with more strength and substance to deal with the high tide waters and the excruciating cold as they waited out those long hours along the marsh edges for birds to come in…..
On that morning, in late November, winter was in one of her worst moods. A north-east wind bellowed down the shoreline, rain mixed with sleet pelted hard against the windshield where they pulled in to meet their fellow wildfowling companions intent on sufferance for the hours to come.

Dogs weaved in and out among cars and humans, tails wagging, caught up in the anticipation and excitement of what was going to come. Their silhouettes and body language instantly recognisable as Spaniels and labs. Both were breeds they were familiar with and respected and admired.

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The dogs they had been told about, though, sat alone in the back of their owners open pick up truck.  Chief, the male,  and his sister Kuma were Chesapeakes. They showed little interest in the business that involved the spaniel meet and greet. Their amber eyed gaze shifted instead, between what their master was doing and out past the parked cars  into the inky distance towards the sea, noses testing the wind for any signs of what the morning’s hunt might bring. There was an aloofness and indifference about their bearing, not unfriendly, just a sense that  being here was not a social visit but a duty to their Master. With their size, broad muscular chests and thick wavy oily coats their stature and physique left no doubt that no matter how long it took or  how hard the task this pair had every confidence in accomplishing what was to be asked of them..

A call from their master and  the dogs leaped from the back of the truck with surprising athleticism for such big dogs and with tails wagging and a houndy ‘roo, roo’ they joined the procession into the marsh.

Four guns spread out below the seawall that ran in a C- shape around the marsh, breaking only at one point where the wall had long ago collapsed and allowed the tide to fill the salt marsh twice daily.

Tucked in on the southside base of the seawall there was relative protection from the relentless wind although no such respite was given from that cold driving rain. The group settled down, dug their hands deep into their pockets and waited.  The dogs sat alert facing into the wind and rain,never wavering from their posts as sentinals;  staring instead through half closed eyes off into that middle distance again, noses raised to the wind as if challenging it to blow harder.

Nothing changed that was apparent, except a slight shift in the body language of Chief and an almost imperceptible sound like a licking of the lips. It was enough ,though, to make their Master cast aside all conversation, gather his gun and peer into that band of purple half light that promised dawn was coming.

Over the seawall, silent, swift and flying low into the wind came a flock of teal. As the first shots rang out across the marsh there was just enough light to make out the silhouettes of two as they faltered, peeled away from the retreating flock and dived into the marsh in front.

A single command to Chief and he was off , over the wall and disappeared into the darkness.  Whether a bird would remain lost or be found depended on him, his nose, and his desire to use it. Darkness and the impenetrable sea wall precluded any help offered by his master. The bird was found and as he brought it to hand Kuma was sent to seek out the second bird that fell. Their master never rushed them, he had no idea how far they needed to range to find that bird but as long as they stayed out there in the dark hunting they were left to figure it out for themselves. Kuma seemed to have had a harder job finding the second bird, they could hear her splashing through the channels as she worked, snuffling as her nose figured out the myriad of scents that lay within the mesh of marsh grasses, but eventually this bird was also brought back to the bag. Both dogs again settled into their role of sentinals and watched the ever lightening skies for movement.

Sunrise never came that morning it was swallowed instead by an angry mix of grey and purple clouds and as the storm strengthened and the tide rose higher the birds moved from the mudflats in the center of the estuary to the shelter of the inland channels and streams for feeding.  His companions on either side filled their bags but alas apart from the early teal nothing came our man’s way.

The measure of a good wildfowling dog is not in the volume of birds they retrieve, ( most serious wildfowlers will only shoot what they can bring home to the pot ), but in their persistence and game finding skills of working wounded birds on difficult water.  An experienced wildfowling dog will work the current to their advantage, not waste energy fighting it  and steadily follow that bird. They know that once a shot is fired and bird down the place to look for a bird is not the sky but the water and the reeds around the water. They will doggedly pursue a diving duck until called off or the duck gives up but mostly they have to learn to be patient, to endure the harshest weather that winter can throw at them and still wait.

When the tide was at it’s highest that morning, the Chessie owner and his dogs were called to the end of the seawall by one of the spaniel men. The channel here was at it’s widest and the tide was rushing in at a bracing 4-5 knots /min. The plucky little spaniel had made several brave attempts to negotiate the increasingly strong current in an attempt to cross  the water where a pair of teal had been shot and landed on the island. A high bank at the narrowest part of the channel prevented any dog from taking the shortest route across so the only option was to face them into the current and aim for the stoney point at the end of the island.

Kuma was to be sent first, her master aimed her for the point of the island. She slid into the water and faced the current and the wind that whipped the water high into frothy peaks around her. It took her a minute to gauge the water but she settled into the current, lifted her head to peer above the waves, aimed for the island and engaged her powerful shoulders to push through that heavy current. Once she banked on the far side the north wind that worked so hard against her on her swim across now became her ally in helping her find that lost bird. As she returned Chief was sent to retrieve the second teal.

He took a similar line to his sister, pushing against the incoming tide as he made his way to the island point. The wind again guided him to the point where Kuma had found her bird but a quick search told him there was nothing there. Without guidance he hunted on, lifting his head intermittantly to test the wind for any hint of scent, retracing his steps to recheck where that bird may be or may have moved from. Then, as before, the men could see his body language change with an increased waving of the tail and nose to the ground he took off through the reeds  towards the back of the island and out of sight. The men waited, they could hear him splashing through the deep channels that cut through the marsh bed, the bird was a ‘diver’ it would take time and perserverence to bring this one to hand.

The Chessie owner had learned to trust his dogs, he knew they were serious about the role they played when hunting wildfowl with him. They had long deciphered the difference between a wounded bird down that was worth hunting for and a bird that will live to flight another day. He watched and  waited, with the same patience that his dogs had waited out the morning with him he gave his dog time to do his job.

Then the reeds on the far bank parted and Chief was there with his hard won teal in his mouth. He slipped into the water,  allowed the current to carry him across and made his way to the end of the sea-wall. He shook the icy sea waters from his thick brown coat and hesitated as he scanned the line of  fowlers and their dogs waiting on the shoreline. None, in his eyes, deserved to receive this bird save one. His eyes searched again beyond them to the top of the seawall and with one final bound and a slight wag of his tail he made his way through the waiting crowd to where his master waited.

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Chessie rendez vous in Paris

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There she sits, our little Island , tucked up in the very far corner of the north Atlantic in Europe, snug in the knowledge that for anyone or anything  entering or leaving our little piece of greenness they are going to have to be very determined and that’s if your human. Bringing a dog or any other animal into Ireland is a whole different ball game.

A four thousand mile stretch of ocean to the west and north  and a fifty mile stretch of sea separating us from another island has meant historically that Ireland’s best method of defence in keeping out unwanted invaders  has always been her shoreline.

 

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Carlotta was coming to Ireland

We Irish though like a challenge. Nothing is straightforward in our eyes, and nothing grips us more than trying our best to circumnavigate, legally that is, around rules and regulations set out by those in authority. So, when an opportunity presented itself to welcome the lovely Chesapeake, Carlotta, coming all the way from Sailorsbay kennels in Argentina to stay with us here in Ireland, that favourite saying, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, sprung to mind.

It is the Department of Agriculture that sets the regulations and rules for the transport of all animals into Ireland. They work very, very hard at keeping all objectionable diseases and parasites, most notably rabies and tapeworm in this case, from crossing the body of water  which separates us from the continent of America on one side and the continent of Europe on the other, but, for some reason, they seem to focus all their energies on preventing these problems entering by air and are not so concerned when a dog enters Ireland by sea and nobody, not even the guy I spoke to in the Department of Agriculture could  explain why this is the case ???

In most countries, apart from Ireland, a dog may travel by air in one of two modes either by cargo or as excess baggage.

Cargo is the most tried and tested method. It involves a complicated procedure of dropping a dog off in an outlying terminal building hours before departure of the scheduled flight and being handled by people who the dog is unfamiliar with to be loaded onto the aeroplane. This process is repeated at the point of destination but, in the case of a dog landing in Dublin, it requires the extra stress to the animal of being trundled off in it’s crate, loaded into a taxi, driven five minutes down the road to a specified veterinary practice, at the expense of an extra one hundred euro to the owner, where paperwork and dog are checked and finally the dog may be handed into the care of it’s owner!!! Keeping stress to a minimum ? I think not !

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We were reluctant to fly her cargo.

There is another way of flying a dog and that is as ‘excess baggage’. In this instance the dog arrives to the check-in desk with its owner, is checked in, is loaded on the aircraft and collected by its owner at the point of destination….no delays, no expensive taxi journey, no fuss.

Now a dog may fly out of Ireland as excess baggage but the Irish department of Agriculture does not allow dogs to travel into Dublin in this civilized fashion, if a dog is to enter Ireland by air from anywhere other than the UK ,(  Aer Arainn will fly pets up to 38kgs including crate from Dublin to Bristol return), it must come in as ‘cargo’.  And there is one final stinging point in this mode of transport, to fly a dog into Dublin as cargo  costs  on average over ten times, yes TEN TIMES the cost of flying a dog as baggage!!!!

There was no way around it though,  Ireland is a long way from Argentina therefore any route taken was going to require time and careful planning to ensure successful negotiation of the paperwork involved in passing an animal through three countrys’ agriculture departments. And it is the paperwork that will trip you up, if every ‘t’ is not crossed, times, dates and signatures entered correctly there is the ominous threat of either quarantine or the dog being sent back to it’s country of origin.

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Paris was to be our meeting point.

Apart from the distance there are also  no direct flights between Argentina and Ireland so no matter what way we looked at it, flying would mean touching down in a minimum of two airports. Travelling her via cargo was just not an option….too long, too many airports and too expensive. We could fly her as baggage into continental Europe but then would either have to procure an agent for the final leg of the journey into Ireland, (again messy and very expensive), or travel overland to meet her.  Luckily for both of us Mecha’s husband was travelling into Europe on business in the time frame we had planned for and better still he could fly into Paris.

By the end of the first week in September the paperwork had been checked, double checked and triple-checked between Argentina and Ireland. Carlotta was due to arrive in Charles de Gaulle airport on a Wednesday so we had allowed a four day travel window to complete the two thousand kilometre round trip which involved crossing two stretches of water, two borders, negotiating London’s infamous M25 at rush hour and remembering to drive on the right hand side once I landed in Calais.

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The rendez vous was almost upon us…

My companion throughout the journey was my good friend Marianne, she has travelled to and from the continent many times over the years with her Curly-coated retrievers and more recently her well known Krisbos Jack Russell Terriers. She was my voice of reason when I got flustered with paperwork, my co-pilot when I inadvertently drifted into the wrong lane on the French motorways and my partner in crime when we spent Tuesday evening in Paris celebrating Carlotta’s impending arrival with one or two glasses of vino, (it had to be done)…

Well, what I can I say only it can be done. Twenty minutes after the Buenes Aires flight touched down in Paris, Ignacio, Mecha’s wonderful husband, came barrelling through the arrival gates pushing a large electric blue dog crate with one slightly bemused Chessie inside. We made our way together out to where my car was parked in the airport, ( again one of THE most user friendly car parks I have ever encountered even if I don’t speak French), and Ignacio opened the crate. Out she came tail wagging, a little tired but no signs of stress. We loaded the crate into the back of the car, some last hugs between Ignacio and Carlotta and in she hopped, curled herself up and we headed off.

A pee break for Carlotta at a rest stop once we cleared the airport and then an uneventful two hour journey to Calais, where we would encounter the final check on paperwork before boarding the Euro tunnel train to England.

I love the French, nothing is a hassle unless it has to be….it took less than five minutes to check through Carlotta’s paperwork before we got that little ticket with a paw on it giving us permission to travel onto Folkestone in England. We had chosen to use the train as opposed to ferry primarily because it is the quickest route across, 35minutes and you don’t have to leave your car. Another advantage of using the Eurotunnel is that there is a two hour leeway for boarding meaning if you arrive early you can take an earlier train at no extra charge. In our case we arrived in Folkestone two hours before our scheduled departure from France.

From Folkestone we negotiated the evening London traffic on the M25 with surprising ease and made it to our hotel in Birmingham by 9pm. After sharing our scampi and fries at a local pub Carlotta jumped on the bed beside Marianne and did not budge until the next morning.

On her final leg of the journey into Ireland she had the opportunity to walk along the beach in Wales at Junction 17, where we have stopped many times with our Chessies during our excursions to the UK, before taking the ferry across to Dublin. We arrived home on Thursday evening.  Her transition into our family has been seemless and stress free, I am certain that has much to do with her upbringing and breeding but I am equally sure that allowing her handover to take place in the presence of someone she loves and trusts had much to do with limiting stress and worry for her as she faces into a new life.

So from the land of a thousand welcomes we wish Carlotta a Cead Mile Failte !

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Some footnotes…..when using this route we followed the DEFRA guidelines as opposed to the Irish Department of Agriculture. The main documents required were current and up to date rabies certificate with microchip number ; Tapeworm treatment given not less than 24 hours or greater than 120 hours before entering the UK…this must be signed by a vet, stamped, and dated and timed and is the one document that most dogs will be prevented from travelling if not completed properly. All dogs coming in from an non-EU country do not have a pet passport so they come in on an Annex II veterinary certificate. Carlotta did not require tick treatment coming in from Argentina. We were not asked for paperwork on the journey between UK and Ireland.

The long blind retrieve….

Close your eyes and cast your mind back…..it is a dark, damp wet day in late January.  The Pheasants are fewer but they fly higher, better and further making shooting more challenging and the dog work more difficult.

You and your dog are covering the end Gun in a field on his own.  The birds are flying well, breaking in small clusters and coming nicely over the guns. A strong north-west wind gives added momentum to their flight pushing them higher into the air as they lift off from the Oak wood in front. Your gun has had few opportunities as the break in cover is spread mainly along the middle guns but then sometime late in the drive his patience is rewarded. A cock bird breaks and swoops right into the wind, gliding over the tree tops he is lazy with his wing beats as he allows the wind to carry him high across the valley at an angle towards the pen and the safety of home.

Your gun, an experienced shot, watches the bird’s approach with a seasoned eye, he keeps his gun down as he gauges it’s speed and height but just as he lifts the gun to his shoulder a hen bird breaks late in front of him. Instinctively the Gun swings onto her and she drops cleanly at his feet. Your dog has her marked. Then in one fluid movement the Gun brings the second barrel  onto the rogue cockbird just as he passes to his left and with another practised shot the bird drops both legs. With wings fixed straight out the wind keeps him  high as he glides to the cover three hundred meters away.

You watch him land clumsily, out of sight in the deep cover that surrounds the pen and know his injuries are fatal and as such a priority retrieve. With  your dog’s attention still focussed on the hen-bird that lies close by you turn him away to face the cover where the wounded cock bird landed in…..

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The small white dot in the center of the picture is the dog…photo by Phil o Sullivan

Now, open your eyes and look at the scene in front of you. It is Summer and you stand on the line at a working test. It is the last retrieve of the day and your dog has run well. But everyone is talking about this one final retrieve that has been the undoing of many dogs. It is the long blind retrieve and although the season is different and the distraction of bird scent and gunshot are absent the lesson you and your dog will hopefully learn today will carry you both through the season ahead when the skills required to find a bird at distance will be called into play.

Dog and handler were set up in a narrow channel of woodland. About twenty meters in front an orange fence had been stretched across the path  at a slight angle, and just before the dog was sent a bolting rabbit was pulled across the line in front from right to left as a diversion not to be touched. Once clear of the fence the woodland opened out to a wide area of meadow grass. The run was uphill all the way with the dummy placed under a large overhanging beech tree just off the left of centre. The terrain, lack of wind and obstacles offered many challenges that needed to be considered before sending your dog.

The jump at an angle would push the dog slightly left and if let run on went quickly out of sight and difficult to get a line going in the long push back up hill. If the jump was negotiated well and the run uphill taken, then a large dip, tipping slightly right pushed the dog right and on into the meadow that ran past the beech tree and again out of sight. Distance now was a big problem as the dog had limited view of its handler in the shade of the wood channel below.

The dogs that succeeded well were those that held the middle line and where the handler stopped their dog about fifty meters out from the beech before casting forty-five degrees left and back to hunt under the beech tree.

Bertie and I succeeded but I made the mistake of allowing him continue the line to the meadow that ran to the right of the beech tree so then when I needed to pull him back to handle he struggled to see me. We lost 8 marks from 30 but to complete such a technically difficult retrieve  was better than winning any rosette that day.

Admittedly, during the winter months much of my dogs’ work involves them using their own initiative and game sense to find birds in places neither of us have seen fall and I am simply the bird carrier that follows in their wake. However, every once in a while a scenario like the one described above will occur that requires a dog to put aside his self-employed status and work with his handler as a team.

Although played out on the shooting field in winter it is through the summer months of training and working test competitions that lay the foundations of building that unique partnership of belief and trust.

Autumn is coming and we are ready, it has been a long busy summer of competition and travel. Now we are ready to put down roots, turn into the north-west wind and face the winter. The quiet and solitude of standing alone with my dog while we listen for the call of a mallard on the Shannon or the shriek of a snipe when it rises from the rushes is nearly upon us….close your eyes and cast your mind forward…..

Many thanks to Midland retriever club for setting this wonderful test.

 

The Pirate Chessie.

If I ever had any doubts that size and strength are an asset when it comes to dogs working water it was put to rest on Tuesday morning.

The Chessie Pirate, Mossy

The Chessie Pirate, Mossy

We have being taking advantage of the heatwave currently sitting over our small island of Ireland and every chance we get Elly and I will head for the beach with some fourlegged friend. This morning we took Mossy.

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Now, I have an unwritten rule when it comes to beach walks here….if a dog and owner approaching are free running their dog then I allow mine the same freedom. I have spent too many walks when Elly was small having my dogs under control, walking to heel and sit-staying while yelling at a distant dog owner to call up their dog as my own dogs have to endure some posturing male. So beach walks now for my dogs are more about meeting other dogs, interacting and moving on.

The beach is wind-down time for my dogs...

The beach is wind-down time for my dogs…

So as we made our way back along the waterline on Tuesday morning a middle-aged couple  coming towards us were running their two Labradors. They were having a grand old time running in and out of the water in pursuit of the dummy their owner was flinging into the waves as they walked.

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He had given them a generous headstart.

They were about 70 meters away when Mossy spotted the last throw, it landed about 50 meters out in the frothy water. Without hesitation the Labradors dived in after it through the waves  but this time they were about to have some extra competition.

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On seeing the throw Mossy ran the beach to where the owners stood and without breaking stride plunged through the chest deep water after the two dogs who by now  had a twenty meter head start and were closing in on that red dummy fast.

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His acceleration through the water made it look like the Labradors were simply threading water as this big brown thug churned through the waves, overtook them, retrieved the dummy, swam over them on his return and ran back towards me with his booty. 

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As I walked towards the owners to return that red dummy we looked at each other and then we looked at the three dogs milling round our legs and then we looked out at the waves and in unison we all said WOW!! that was some retrieve.

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I spent much of last weekend watching some fantastic Labradors competing at the CLA gamefair in Blenheim palace and with all due respect they are incredibly fast, agile and athletic on land work. I have read countless threads on forums over the years in relation to whether size and strength is better than lighter and more agile and perhaps again on land faster and fleeter of foot possibly has an advantage but water and in particular heavy water changes all the rules as I witnessed on Tuesday morning…..even I was surprised 🙂