” 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 🙂

Lessons learnt through experience.

The venue for Breffni Gun club cold game test.

The venue for Breffni Gun club cold game test.

Competing, as anyone who does so knows, is a double-edged sword which inevitably falls on the side of tried and failed more often than tried and succeeded. The successes, when they come, are to be treasured. The failures are remembered for longer simply because they teach us more, making us strive to do better the next time.

The working test season, for my dogs, kicked off mid April in Cavan. A charity event, organised by Breffni gun club, it is always very well run, with plenty of help and a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The test was run using cold game which takes the dogs up a gear.

Bertie and me at Breffni

Bertie and I at Breffni

During the Winter season my dogs run pretty much off the whistle, indeed my main use for it as we work our way through the cover at Shelton, is as a location device for my dogs to find me. So although we have been training throughout spring they will never be as tight on the whistle through the first couple of working tests in comparison to dogs that have spent a season trialling.

…And it showed with Mossy when he ran novice that day. His marking was precise but he was slack to the whistle on blindwork. Bertie had a better run in Open. He was only just 3 when he won out of novice. It was probably a season too soon, we underestimate sometimes the level of mental pressure involved for the dog when competing at Open level. They need time to mature  and watching him training over the recent weeks I can say that only now he is  ready to take on what an Open test has to offer…..well hopefully most of the time.

Two out of three tests were 25/25 and 23/25. His marking was tight and clean. The water test was something he hadn’t encountered before. A teal thrown into the middle of six decoys and the dog had to retrieve the teal and leave the decoys. Simple work for a dog that is used to decoying but it’s something I’ve not done with Bertie before. It was one of those tests where a split second decision is going to mean the difference between success or failure. He had marked the fall beautifully and took a direct line into the water, on encountering the first decoy I gave the command ‘leave’ and that was it….wrong command…the dog turned off the decoys and swam to shore. I took him down to the water’s edge and recast, when he reached the decoys this time I gave the command ‘back’ he pushed on , winded the bird and brought it back to hand. Lesson learnt.

Bertie on a run out at broadmeadows. Picture courtesy of Tony.

Bertie on a run out at broadmeadows. Picture courtesy of Tony.

The second working test of the season was in Mullingar, run by the Broadmeadows gundog club it is practically an institution in retriever circles in Ireland. Traditionally it was the test that marked the start of the working test season. It is also a qualifier to pick the Irish team for the two International retriever events held at Shanes Castle and Birr Castle during the Summer. I took Bertie on his own for this test primarily because I wanted  a chance to see how he would be in a line up prior to the Minority breeds test in the UK the following week. I truly had no expectations as the field was large with 26 dogs running and many of the top field trial dogs in the country in attendance.

Listening to the judges direction before a retrieve.

Listening to the judges direction before a retrieve.

His weakest test was the first which was a diversion straight ahead and a blind 45 degrees to his left about 100 meters away over reedy grass. He took a wonderful line but I failed to use the wind to his advantage, peeping him two strides too early meaning I had to work him harder to the pick up. Still bird to hand, we were still in the running. Second test was a single long mark across typical boggy ground with high rushes. It was a three dog line up with a walk to heel, this was the main reason I had wanted to enter this competiton and I couldn’t have asked for better. He was last dog up and sat impeccably until asked to go. He took a line straight to the fall and straight back. The final retrieve of the day was the water and it was proving to be the undoing of many…

The diversion at the water test after drifting.

The diversion at the water test after drifting.

The water test was set on a lake. The wind was blowing hard now in from the north east to the dog’s right. A single diversion was thrown out into the middle of the lake to the dog’s left. The dog was then being sent for a blind across on the far bank of the lake. The temptation was, of course, that the dog would pull for that diversion in open water and all would be over. We were near the end of the field by the time it came to our turn and I had watched many dogs fail. I set my dog up and faced him directly towards the diversion. He marked it well. I turned him and cast him well away from the direction of the seen retrieve. He entered the water, started to pull left, I peeped and cast him right back…he got the message and swam on. The next challenge was to get him onto the blind which was laid at the water’s edge among reeds. If he banked it would be a harder job as the scent would be below him. As he approached the far shore I peeped again, he turned right, winded the dummy and locked on. First half complete….I called him back and at the same time looked around to see where the diversion had drifted to as the wind was carrying it down the lake at pace…thankfully it was still in open water. I handed the dummy to the judge and set up my dog. I let him hit the water at the point where he expected that diversion to be and swim out, peeping and casting left when he hit the point of first fall. He saw the dummy and again locked on. That will most likely be my retrieve of the season for him….the buzz of completing such a technical retrieve is hard to describe.

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His final score that day was 92/100. He finished overall 7th , just one place outside qualifying for the team event.

A flatcoat clears the jump in the Minor breeds team test.

A flatcoat clears the jump in the Minor breeds team test.

A week later we were on the ferry and heading east to Evesham in Gloustershire. Bertie was competing as part of a team in the Minority breeds working test. Four teams of 3 dogs all different breeds of retriever – There was a team of Curly coated retrievers, Flatcoated retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels and of course the Chesapeakes. I was excited and nervous.This was to be our first time competing as part of a team. It’s one thing competing as a single dog/handler with no responsiblity but to yourself but to be part of a team carried extra responsibilty.

Sitting out a simulated drive. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

Sitting out a simulated drive. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

The competiton that day was broken down into a series of 6 tests. Four of those six tests involved line-ups or walk up. This is an excercise that can be difficult for chesapeakes, particularly dogs that spend their winter working on their own and retrieving everything that falls but our dogs did very well. The last test of the morning was a double seen, each dog was to be taken on their own. We all breathed a sigh of relief, the hard stuff seemed to be over….the judge gave a description of the test to the entire group. It was to be a double mark retrieve. The first thrown dummy to be retrieved first, dog was not to be sent until the judge instructed. I was second up with Bertie. The judge asked if I understood the test and I assumed I did. I took the lead off and set my dog facing the left hand thrower. He marked both dummies. I waited for the judge’s command and sent Bertie on his way. He took a direct line to the fall and returned with perfect hand delivery. I took him round to my left, settled him and sent him for his second retrieve. Again there was no hesitation to the pick up and delivery was perfect. I came away from the line absolutely thrilled to bits. Then the second judge approached me…

Echo aged almost 10 our most experienced team member.

Echo aged almost 10 our most experienced team member.

It appeared that in her group instruction the judge required that the handler was to wait for her instruction before sending for the second retrieve, this was something unusual and I hadn’t encountered before. There was the possibility that although Bertie had been foot perfect he could potentially zero on that one, small, technicality and that was my fault.

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

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

….and he did, she zeroed his retrieve. I was gutted, i had let the team down and I had let my dog down. Our team finished second, 19 points behind the winners…it is an error I will never forget again. I will most likely always insist on an individual explanation if the judge gives a group description. Did the judge mark harshly? who knows? it is her perogative and I’ve got to accept it, learn from it and move on.

Our team...we fought the brave fight. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

Our team…we fought the brave fight. Photo courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall.

Work AND Show can co-exist.

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…he hides behind no mass of coat….

Today the dog that stands before you  on the green carpet  is a showdog. He hides behind no mass of coat or flashy eyecatching movement. He is a functional no nonsense breed of dog and He has come as a representative of everything that is great about the breed from which he developed.

All those noble dogs that spend their winters working hard along a frozen foreshore watching and waiting in the fading light for the geese and duck to come. A loyal hunting companion whose superior scenting abilities and tenacious spirit make him equally proficient in pursuit of upland game and perhaps most important of all a valued and trusted family member.

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All those noble dogs that spend their Winter waiting….

Stand back for a moment and take the time to fully appreciate perfection in simplicity. As you let your eye follow down along his body the story behind the dog may start to reveal itself. His demeanour , as he stands before you, is one of power and confidence. He does not feel the need to greet with the eager exuberance of a puppy. This is a working dog and although his face may still bear the scars of a Winter spent hunting heavy cover, the tools of his trade, the very reasons this breed has been made the way he has, are immediately evident….that nose that will hunt a diving duck through the thick swathes of elephant grass has wide clean nostrils,the length in his muzzle and sculpted bones of his jawline give a clue to his ability to carry his quarry with a gentle mouth. His body is fit and lean, he was not built for speed but power and stamina.  The confidence that saw him through a season of taking on the heavy winter waters, tidal estuaries or following on the tail of a wounded cock pheasant no matter how deep the cover is borne out in his easy, fluid movement around the ring,  in the way he carries his head and watches his master with an alert and happy attitude.

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His confidence is seen in the way he carries himself.

There are many who fail to see the relevance of showing dogs in relation to what is required in the working field. It is all too easy to look at the finished picture of the dog before them standing on the carpet at Crufts and see only a groomed dog presented to perfection and forget the story behind how they and their breed come to be there……perhaps then the BASC gamekeepers classes go some way to reminding us that working AND Showing gundogs can sit in the same sentence.

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Work AND Show can co-exist.

For the last three years, along with entering the breed classes at Crufts we have also competed in the BASC gamekeepers classes. It is a separate competition which runs concurrently with the breed classes. Every dog entered has to have written confirmation from the gamekeeper that they have worked with during the shooting season. The classes are big, over 20 in most cases , and they cover all the subgroups in gundogs. The vast majority of these gundogs also compete in their respective breed classes.

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Chester, competed in gamekeepers aged 11.

Mossy and Chester were the only two representatives of our breed that stood in the  BASC Gamekeepers classes at Crufts in 2013. That year out of a class of 27 dogs made up of Flatcoats, Goldens, a Curlycoat and Nova- scotias it was a proud moment when Mossy was pulled 2nd behind the eventual overall winner. It was an even prouder moment that his father Chester, at the age of 11 years, was there also and testament to the fact that age does not limit fit for function.

In 2014 Mossy and his half sister Uisce pushed the boundaries one step further in the BASC Gamekeepers classes. For the first time in the history of the breed Mossy won The Shooting Gazette trophy for Best Any Variety Retriever Dog and Uisce won the Marsh Trophy for Best AnyVariety Retriever Bitch.

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Uisce and Mossy in BASC gamekeepers Crufts 2014.

To be associated with a breed where form and function remain so inextricably intertwined is something I feel passionately about and proud that when we hand back the trophies this year the names of the two Chesapeakes also carry the titles of Show Champion and Champion.

The little black collie.

The little black collie

The little black collie

None of us know where she came from. Her story starts the morning she arrived in Tim’s yard about twelve weeks ago.

Hunger and a desperate need to survive drove her to seek out the company of humans, we think. She stood on the edge of the yard wary, extremely thin but brave enough to accept food that was left for her by Caroline. She was free to go, if she wished, but something kept her there. After two weeks of cautious coaxing she allowed Tim to rub her gently while she ate but that was all. As soon as her meal was finished she turned her back on him and disappeared, yet again, into the darkness.

Then, one day she was gone and for a full six nights and days there was no sign of her. After a week she appeared in the yard again and, if it was possible, she was even thinner and in worse condition than before. She devoured the plate of food Tim put down for her and then hurriedly disappeared back behind one of the sheds. Curious, Tim followed her and found, to his surprise, six tiny puppies no more than a few days old.

The den where the puppies spent the first ten days

The den where the puppies spent the first ten days

Winter was starting, it was cold, windy and wet but the little collie had, against all the odds, done what she needed to survive to give these tiny beings a chance to live. Her nest was the bare earth, sheltered only by a rusty sheet of galvanised tin. It was just enough to keep out the rain and wind. We were afraid to move her to a more secure location in the early days. Her mistrust of people could have made her abandon the puppies or worse move them to a location where we would never find them. So for the first ten days, until their eyes opened,  Tim did his best to re-enforce the den with plastic sheeting and he anxiously observed from a distance.

Ten days in and against all the odds she had successfully brought her little family to a point where their eyes opened and they had passed the neonate stage and into puppyhood. Tim moved them then into a very sheltered corner of the hayshed. It was quiet, secluded but most importantly, for the little black collie, it offered her still the freedom to come and go.

Little boy blue..

Little boy blue..

I have to commend Caroline and Tim, at this point. It was not in their immediate plans to adopt one dog let alone a whole family but they rose to the challenge, took on the responsibilty and discovered that although it was hard work, it is impossible not to become attached and responsible when an animal desperately needs your help.

They wormed the little collie, coped with weaning and cleaning up after six healthy, active and inquisitve puppies. They gave names to each and every one, including the mother whom they’ve called Pria and like her namesake in Emmerdale she is pretty, vulnerable but has a will of iron when it comes to surviving. They have worked on teaching her to trust, allowing her to come to them , putting no pressure on her just patiently waiting.

Dove...

Dove…

Whatever happened in Pria’s past in relation to her nervousness around people has not transferred to her puppies. So we can only assume that the timidity is as a result of social factors as opposed to something inherent in her personality. As such we are hopeful that with time, love and attention she will find a loving and loyal home.

We have found homes for four of the puppies but Pria and two of her little beauties are still waiting. We will wait until the right one comes to us as we feel after everything she did to ensure the safe passage for her babies the very least she deserves is a chance to experience some love and kindness in return. Don’t you?

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Close encounters with canines…

Uisce aged eight months

Uisce aged eight months

It is inevitable that at some stage in every young dog’s life they will encounter and have to deal with an altercation with another member of the canine species. Whether your dog is the agressor or the recipient of such, an event will ultimatley affect how you deal with the incident going forward.

Two weeks ago I took Uisce along to what was to be her last show of the year. Although only an open show it is one which attracts a big entry and this year was no different, with an entry of over five hundred dogs. She was entered in her breed class and also puppy stakes, it was her final chance to qualify for the Pup of the Year, an exciting prospect.

Uisce had already been seen by the breed judge and been awarded best of breed, she had shown well and was enjoying being out and about. I was standing ringside, chatting with some friends, when a dobermann  lunged forward and attacked her full on the face. Taken aback Uisce jumped away, something which prevented the doberman from maintaining a grip and causing further damage. As it was Uisce was left with a toothmark above and below her eye but worse still she quickly decided that this showing lark was no longer any fun and shut down. She pulled in beside my friend Katherina and refused to move.

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The reasons behind the attack make little difference, it happened and I have to deal with the effect it has and will have on her going forward. How the doberman owner deals with her dog’s behaviour is not my concern. Uisce was unfortunate that day to have encountered this particular dog, which I subsequently learnt had earlier attempted attacks on other dogs and the owner had refused to acknowledge the problem.

I washed the wound out well with saline solution, thankfully it wasn’t deep and would not require veterinary treatment. Convincing Uisce to move through the narrow passageways between rings was an entirely different matter. She bucked and pulled against the lead, treats were no consolation prize on this day. She just did not want to know. I understood her fear but at the same time I also knew interaction with other dogs, outside of her aquaintance, were going to be a huge part of her life going forward. She was going to have to figure out a way to deal with this, today however was not the day for that.

I did not leave the show immediately as I felt it was important that the one bad experience that day should be counterbalanced with plenty of good ones.  I took her into the puppy stakes ring not putting any pressure on her to perform but I wanted her to be left with a positve impression of the judge. It is much more difficult to regain a young dog’s confidence in people than it is with other dogs. I explained to the judge what had happened and like all good judges she treated Uisce with patience and kindness, talking to her while all the time going over her. I felt heartened to see that Uisce’s trust in people had not flinched as she calmly stood for the judge under examination. However, when asked to move, everything about her body language screamed ‘I do not want to be here’. After her examination I gave my apologies and withdrew her from competition. We took a walk outside and she relaxed a little but when we re-entered the show center she clammed up again. One more cuddle with my friends ringside and I decided nothing further could be gained from staying.

Chesapeakes, in my experience, have a long memory. It works well from a working perspective but the downside of it is when they happen upon a bad experience it generally means going back to the beginning and working from scratch. They are a breed that can quickly turn off showing and it is very, very difficult to motivate a chesapeake if they do not want to do something. This is why I believe in putting very little emphasis on minor details, like stacking, at an early age in the show ring. I prefer to use the ring as a place of fun for my young chessies. I knew after the encounter at the show it could be a long slow climb if she decided the show ring was not for her.

We are extremely lucky here in Ireland, in that the show centre which hosts many of our dog shows,  is also the venue for training classes during the week. It is a huge building. Noise carries far, but at training classes the space is there to allow a dog that might be feeling slightly intimidated to dip in and out as they need to. This is where I will be spending most Tuesday evenings for the foreseeable future.

I could never have anticipated Uisce’s reaction that first Tuesday evening after the show when we entered the centre. I would have expected some hesitancy on her part but she had obviously thought long and hard about her experience the previous weekend and decided that shying away from encounters like that were not for her. She entered the center, pulled herself up to full height, flagged her tail and let out the most enormous bark as much as to say ‘ I’m back’. This was a better reaction than what I’d hoped for but  ultimately I want the pendulum to swing back just a little. What I’m aiming for is a reaction of indifference to what other dogs do and don’t do. This is something she is going to have to learn, with my guidance I hope.

We by-passed the ringcraft classes that evening and headed straight for puppy socialisation with Mary Kennedy. I want to continue her education in the environment of a dog show scene but offering something with a little more focus on me and perhaps even a little bit of fun. There is plenty of time to get serious about dog showing. Right now it’s just a pleasure to see my young girl has bounce-back…

Her first week back went well and last week I took her to a second class. On this occasion I was fortunate to be introduced, by our class instructer, to a giant schnauzer called ‘Harper’. Mary felt it would be good for Uisce to experience a large dark coloured dog. She knows Harper and her owner. Uisce’s reaction was interesting. On their initial introduction Uisce dropped her head and tail but raised her hackles, clearly not sure what kind of reception she was going to receive. I felt this was an appropriate reaction as it showed a healthy respect for a dog she didn’t know and was unsure of.

There were many who felt that day at the show that I should have taken the issue further. My feelings on this, I hope, I’ve outlined above. I believe all dogs are capable of aggression and, in the world of dog showing where often dogs are passing and standing in extremely close and unnatural circumstances, incidences such as the one my young dog encountered will happen. It is my responsibility to protect my dog as best I can, be it by means of crating or benching at ringside or, if possible, standing away from crowded areas. I do not believe dogs should have to tolerate another dog invading their space, however, I do think all dog owners should teach their dogs to be able to tolerate such confined conditions without reacting.

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Tribute to my loyal friend and companion..enemy of none , friend to all..

He’s running now. The air is sweet, the sun warm on his skin. His limbs are free, his step is light. There is no weight, no pain.

He stops on a hill and looks out on a valley. His breath is free and easy, He sees his family and friends, He smiles and knows they are safe.

Their stories and memories drift to him on the breeze. Stories of the past, Stories of laughter and love. His lips twitch and smile, his cheeks dimple.

He is woven into their stories, Like the threads of a tapestry. He is embroidered on their hearts. He turns wrapping the threads around his soul.

He’s running now. The air is sweet, the sun warm on his skin. His limbs are free, his step is light. There is no weight, only love.

Posted by: Olivia Kiernan – Oxford/Meath Eire

Tiny Miracles do happen..

This piece was written last March just after the arrival of the puppies.

Everything kicked off last Tuesday. Winnie started digging. Just sporadically at first but steadily building in determination and intensity. By  Friday morning she was more than half way to Australia:).

I had waited for this day with a mixture of excitement and anxiety since last January. The anxiety, perhaps , was a hangover from the loss of Breeze last October. Something like labour would not have cost me a thought a year ago especially as I am a trained midwife.Now,I fretted and worried over everything so I thought it best to remove myself in the early stages, go for coffee and leave Winnie in peace.

I need not have worried, true to form Winnie handled everything with the style and aplomb she has coped with everything in life.. dogged determination.By 7pm on Friday evening she was again proud mum to four beautiful puppies.

This time the mix is split equally between the sexes . Amazingly, although it is a repeat of the last breeding, they are  very different . The biggest is a bitch and the smallest a dog but all weighing in at a healthy 400-450grams. I have to say I was somewhat relieved to see that neither of the bitches look like Breeze as I really don’t want to have this little girl puppy  live in her shadow.

Now  3 days on they continue to thrive gaining weight steadily and feeding with gusto. Winnie has been a good mother to her previous litters and is proving to be again. She has the right mix of concern and attentiveness balanced with the sense to allow certain human visitors close but not too close. She generally stays bound to the whelping box for the first 4 days only coming out to toilet and then returning quickly, does a head count and settles back in  . After this initial period she relaxes her guard to lie outside the box and slowly extends her leave as the puppies get stronger but will continue to clean up after them and stand for feeding right up until 8 week,if allowed.

I am thoroughly looking forward to the next 8 weeks. I generally only breed a litter of puppies to bring a dog on for myself ,which is normally about every 3 years. What had sprung from devastation last year, following Breeze’s death, has turned into a tiny miracle for which I am truly thankful.

Well done to my beautiful Winnie.

Copyright Riverrunchesapeakes 2012

The Left-Over Puppy.

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Among his littermates Bertie was the least outgoing. He was the puppy that sat back and watched as visitors came and went to the puppy pen, lifting his much more outgoing littermates for cuddles. It wasn’t a shyness or nervousness that held him back, he was the first in the litter to climb over the edge of the whelping box and explore further afield, he was just always more serious about life and what was required of him. Like an old soul in a young body.

When the puppies were eight weeks old Bertie was booked to go to a gentleman who was looking for a wildfowling dog. On the day his perspective new owner arrived, the puppies were out playing together in the garden. No amount of coaxing and encouragement on the part of the gentleman that morning would bring Bertie out from behind my legs and to my dismay, but not surprisingly, the gentleman left the puppy behind.

At nine weeks old an acquaintance, who had been impressed by Bertie’s father on the shoot in Wicklow, expressed an interest in running him on. He was a spaniel man and believed he’d enjoy the challenge of training a different breed of dog. After three weeks I rang to check in and see how Bertie was progressing. Alas, the news was not what I‘d hoped to hear. Bertie had spent his three weeks howling every time he was put in the kennel. The trainer was also a little disappointed that his new puppy was nothing like his father, and showed no interest in retrieving more than one dummy before getting bored and walking away! I thought it best to take the eleven week old puppy back at that stage before any serious long term damage was done.

Now,  anyone who’s ever given any animal a second or third chance will be familiar with what happened next. True to form, Bertie slotted right into the household. He took his position at the bottom of the pack and worked really, really hard to impress  the one person he knew would be the hardest to break…..my Husband Des.

One evening, not long after he’d returned Des took me out to the garden to show me something. The puppy sat on the edge of the lawn and watched as Des walked away from him and dropped a tennis ball, unseen. Des returned to the puppy and pointed to the ball. The puppy followed the line of his arm and off he went, straight to the ball and returning straight to hand. Again and again he repeated the task relishing the praise he got on each return. He had never been trained or taught to do any of this. He just seemed to have an innate sense of what was required and a desire to retrieve just for the reward of being able to do so .

We began then, to get glimpses of the type of dog he could become. We were excited but terrified at the same time that we would wreck him. Neither of us were experienced enough in gundog training to know if we would push him too hard too soon, or not push him far enough. In the end we decided that what we wanted most was to enjoy every moment of working this dog. We thought our best course of action would be to let him set the pace.

I would never previously have dreamed of exposing a young puppy to a driven shoot but for a phone call from a friend, who’d bought a litter sister, to tell me that his five and a half month old Chesapeake , Rosie, had just retrieved her first duck. She’d been taken out as an observer with a more experienced Labrador. When the lab was sent for the retrieve, the puppy had no hesitation but to jump in behind. Fifty yards out and the lab gave up. The puppy lifted her head clear of the water, winded the bird and locked on.

The following week, Winnie, Bertie’s mother, slashed her pad while out working the shoot. With no dog to work we took a chance.  If he was unable to deal with the pressures involved with working so many birds and became too stressed with all that was going on we’d put him away until next year. On his first outing he retrieved ten birds, all to hand. He never looked back. We allowed him his head that season, no emphasis on steadiness or whistle control. Just building confidence and letting him enjoy the experience. He had game-sense that you would expect from a dog twice his age, taking no time to figure out the link between gun and bird. He was a puppy with huge energy and drive but balanced with sense and focus which allowed him to start work as young as he did.

With his first shooting season finished  the natural course of events would have seen us commencing formal gundog training. That summer however saw our lives take a different path when our beautiful daughter Elly joined our lives. Adjusting to motherhood meant that gundog training was put on the back burner, so to speak. This also meant that Bertie entered his second season more unruly than I’d have liked but his hunting skills and use of his nose improved. His whistle work and steadiness did not!

The spring of his second year we started formal training. Never before had I experienced a dog with such a desire to learn. As with all young dogs mistakes are made. Sometimes by the dog, but more often by the trainer.   Bertie, like most Chesapeakes, did not like being corrected but neither did he sulk. He would return to my side glance up at me as much as to say, ‘right let’s try that again and I’ll do better’. He put such heart and soul into every retrieve,  He was a joy, and still is, to train.

He ran ten novice working tests that summer of his second year. Starting in early April and finishing the end of September. On average he ran in a test every second weekend. Out of them he placed in seven. It was intense but he thrived on every second of it. My heart swelled with pride every time we walked away from the line. He was one big brown dog among many small black labs and proving with each competition that it is possible for another breed to throw down the gauntlet.

By his third season and with a summer of decent training behind him,  he was developing into one of the most enjoyable dogs I’d ever had to work with. When Spring returned that year and just shy of his third birthday he finished third in an Any Variety retriever working test. I think that was one of my proudest moments in competition as it was the first time I really felt he could challenge AND indeed was worthy of challenging the best of the Labradors.

 Maturity has only improved him and we have enjoyed some memorable days in the shooting field and the world of retriever working tests where Labradors generally reign supreme. He has continued to place well in Open AV working tests, competed as part of the UK Chesapeake team and won top scoring dog at last years minor breeds team test, as well as gaining his Irish show champion title!

There is no doubt he has travelled this path somewhere in a previous life. He has never been a ‘ young’ dog in the sense of where his focus lies in relation to work. As the years have passed I’ve learned to relax, enjoy him more and not worry that I’ll wreck him if I push too hard. His drive has never lessened but training has allowed me to channel and control it more . 

I hope, in some small way, here in Ireland he has changed people’s view of what they expect from a Chesapeake in competition. 

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 Yes Bertie was the Left-over puppy, the one that never shone in the whelping box but kept his talent hidden for the right handler to come along perhaps ? and when I think back on that puppy that day I wonder sometimes who picked who, and I smile……

Copyright Riverrunchesapeakes 2012

Dipping a toe into Dog Show Judging..

I had the rare pleasure of judging at a Golden Retriever match , last week, in the beautiful grounds of Holycross Abbey. It’s not often I have the oppurtunity to stand at the other end of the leash and I think it gives me more perspective as a handler into how difficult, sometimes, judging dogs can be.

There are things you see from the center of the ring that are often invisible to anyone else except the judge but can make or break your decision between putting one dog in front of the other.

My final selection came down to two bitches. Both very different in type and both , possibly, making it to the final two dogs for different reasons… the overall winning bitch presented the complete picture , in my head, of what a Golden Retriever should be..all the right angles in all the right places, strong but still holding that feminine outline and a head and expression to die for.

I have judged a few times now and although I appreciate and can admire a dog that is carefully stacked and presented I feel that I am a person who will inevitably judge  dogs on movement. More than coat, head, tailset and expression I feel that if a dog is made correctly it will all come together on the move . When I asked them to go around for the final time both bitches were faultless…those lovely flowing lines, front and rear moving in symmetry to hold a topline that was poetry in motion..each footfall perfect. At this point with two dogs so equal the final decision, I feel, comes down to the individual dog/bitch…which one wants it more?

Many times over the past few years I have listened to people bemoan the fact that their dog should have won the challenge as they were the better dog/bitch.However, I feel when it gets to that point in the competition there has to be something that gives the eventual winner more of an edge and it has to be something more than just good movement. I like to see some sparkle , something that says ‘hey, look at me’ . So as I watched them take their final turn around the ring that afternoon she had it. I could feel it as I watched her..that imperceptible thrill and pure enjoyment coming from her as she moved around that small country hall.

Balancing working/show condition during the Summer months.

June.

We are now in the height of the Summer Working test/Show season. Each weekend brings either one or the other with some weekends bringing both.

Keeping condition on dogs at this point in the season is one of the most challenging things , I find, for a dog doing both disciplines. The early months of roadwork and sea swimming have laid down a solid base of condition and now its simply a matter of maintenence. The rigours of training, however, can take its toll on a dog and if not watched for carefully can leave them too ‘light’ for the show ring.

It is important that condition is not mistaken for simply adding weight, something which should never occur in an active working gundog.Personally, I find the most effective way of keeping and holding condition is to increase protein percentage in their food without increasing volume. I  also like to add plenty of oil in their food to keep skin and coat in peak condition. This system seems to work for me as, so far, none of my dogs have broken down through injury either through hunting season or the Summer circuit.

In addition to daily assessment of their physical condition there is ongoing work to progress their gundog training. Each working test is used as a marker with which to pin point areas that need to be worked on in training

My plans for the boys , Bertie and Mossy are progressing as outlined earlier in the year. I removed Mossy from the show ring in Ireland , for this season,to concentrate on his gundog training and am campaigning Bertie in the ring .At present Bertie has three green stars from three shows towards his show champion title. He will need another four to complete which I expect him to achieve before the start of shooting season..

Mossy has competed in two working tests and has been unlucky not to be in the ribbons. Competition is so tight at prelim and novice levels that it takes a near faultless performance to finish in the top four and at the moment he needs tidying up on his presentation.

The next two weeks will be extremely busy. Another working test to attend this coming weekend then final preparations for our next trip to the UK. This time to compete at East of England champ show on Saturday and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club Champ show on the Sunday. We will be travelling with four chessies and puppy. Chester is returning to the showring following a spell in semi retirement. He will be competing at East of England and the Club show with plans to return in August to attend Welsh kennel Club.

After an intensive morning training, last Sunday , on Lough Ennell I thought it would be nice to take a photo of some of the silverware and rossettes which they have gathered in the last year.