Lough Bawn Working Test

Lough Bawn has long been held in the hearts of all who compete with retrievers in Ireland. Nobody can quite recall exactly when they started to be run there but almost everyone has had the experience of running their dog there. I’m not around long enough to remember the original hostess Mrs Tennyson, by all accounts, she was quite a character but the house still holds a certain charm that beckons you in and invites you to relax and enjoy its surroundings. It sits comfortably overlooking the lake with lawns spreading out like a giant picnic blanket before it. The current hosts have continued the family tradition of going to extraordinary lengths of making all who organise and attend the event feel most welcome. This is helped by the congenial atmosphere which the secretary, Mrs Jean Johnston, and her very capable committee provide.

Today I was again running two dogs. Mossy in preliminary and novice and then Bertie in the afternoon advanced test.The grounds provide a range of cover and landscape but are compact, which makes for good viewing from the gallery and ease of movement from one test to the next.

The first test in preliminary consisted of a two dog walk up with a single seen. Mossy did this test well scoring 30/30. Next a single mark into cover with shot fired. He scored 18/20. Finally onto the water again a single seen for which he scored 16/20. Total score 64/70 was not enough to put him in the ribbons. On to novice and his first retrieve here was a single mark into cover with shot, the distance of course longer than in preliminary. The next retrieve a four dog walk up and single seen. Now, one of Mossy’s problems last year was unsteadiness in line. This was his first opportunity to sit in line with four dogs and he was last dog up. I am relieved to say he sat quietly and steadily throughout. He needed handling on both retrieves in novice which would again knock him out of the top placings.

Lunchtime gave me the chance to take Uisce to the lake. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and she entered the water of her own accord and swam around like a little otter. The working tests have been wonderful oppurtunities for her to mix and meet all sorts of people and dogs and I can see her growing in confidence each time I bring her out.

After all the practice I did with Bertie over the last two weeks with jumps and marking sods law neither featured in yesterday’s working test!  This was a test which required precise and experienced handling.  Poor handling meant that dogs over-ran and needed to be handled at length to the required area. This in turn made the dogs’ run look clumsy and unstylish.

The first test Bertie ran was a long single blind uphill into woodland. No shot but a bolting rabbit on return. There was no clear or straight track and although the handler could clearly see the patch underneath the tree where the dummy was laid it would be easy to lose the dog in the heavy cover en route to the area. Bertie succeeded in spite of my overzealous whistling. In hindsight I should have let him take his own line until parallel with the dummy then cast him either left or right. This was a mistake I repeated again at the water. Instead of trusting my dog to enter the water I fought against him and pushed him back along the bank where he lost confidence and momentum. The result of which meant walking down to the water and sending him from the bank. When I asked two of the judges afterwards what I should have done both agreed that his earlier water entry would have been their course of action. My dog listened to each command I gave, however, in their opinion, I was giving a combination of incorrect hand signals and commands.

In summary, Lough Bawn delivered on location, hospitality, and patient judges. I came away though feeling through my inadequate handling and my failure to trust my dog more, that I let him down and for the first time felt truly out of my depth when competing against more experienced handlers

Walks with the dawn chorus


6am starts have become the norm in the last few weeks. This is my busiest time of the year in relation to my business as such I find early morning the best time to work alone with my own dogs. So before Des goes to work and Elly wakes up I head for the Hill of Tara. Just me , my dog and the dawn chorus.

After the working test last weekend it’s now time to turn my attention again to the show ring. We have two shows in the UK next weekend. We will be travelling with four dogs. Chester, Mossy, Winnie and Uisce( her first big trip abroad).

Looking at each of the dogs I’ll be showing I’m happy with the overall picture at the moment. Luck has been on my side with regards to Chester and Mossy’s coats, for some reason they blew them in early Spring,( possibly because of the warm spell in March), and are now in full coat. Winnie, bless her, is still trying to grow coat since she had the puppies so she’s coming along for the social side of things and to show Uisce the ropes…

Competing in the UK takes time, commitment and money. Trips are planned a long time in advance. The last thing I need  a week before a show is a dog going lame . So this week excercise is kept within fairly safe parameters of road work and running on soft ground. Gundog work at the lakes is shelved until next week for any of the dogs going into the ring. I don’t worry about such restrictions when competing in Ireland as cost and time are not such immediate concerns .

Bertie now has a gap between shows so it gives me an oppurtunity to concentrate on little things that are a problem in his gundog work. I have worked consistently throughout the Summer on his heelwork and sitting still in line, ( he had been creeping while waiting for a retrieve) . Both heelwork and steadiness are much improved as the marks for walk up at the last two working tests reflected. Jason, our WT secretary, had given me an excercise to work on to tighten up his hunting pattern and it has turned into one of Bertie’s favourite games, he loves it , and happily is now putting his head down and working a tighter area when asked. He had been ranging too wide.

This week Colum, Mariann and I have booked an afternoon’s training session with Paul Toal . What we hope to work on is our handling skills. It should be a fun afternoon.i promise a full report after Wednesday..

Will the real working gundog please stand up?

Apparently I’ve been deluding myself into believing that my chesapeakes are ‘working gundogs’. You see, this morning I made a phonecall to a magazine Editor. It was a follow-up call to an email I’d sent in last month when I was looking for feedback on my blog.

His lack of interest was due to the fact that although my dogs work and compete at advanced level in working tests they do not field trial and as such, in his mind, nobody would be interested. Oh, and there was too much emphasis on their show ring success in my writing..

It does make me wonder what I’ve been spending my Winters doing for that last decade.  All those days picking up on two shoots when my dogs have come home bloodied and torn and brought countless birds back to the game cart. The day when my winning Crufts dog  covered four guns on the lakeshore in freezing conditions and entered the water again and again to retrieve every bird shot bar one.Afternoons’ roughshooting when they will track and trail a runner and return only when it is found. I have taken my dogs as the sweeping up team after a trial when their ‘Field trial stars’ took the podium for honours while the ‘Hunting handmaidens’ searched and found what was left behind.

When I started writing this blog in January it was to open peoples’ minds to the fact that there are real working gundogs throughout the shooting world that can also hold their own in the conformation ring..  On a level playing field  ie. the real working field, any one of the Minority Retrieving breeds can match the Labrador for Gamefinding and retrieving ability. When you strip away the finer points of Field trialling each of these noble breeds can stand alone and be counted. They are all trainable, maybe not to the nth degree that Field trialling requires , but more than enough to achieve the balance between a dog able to use its own inititive and a dog unable to locate a bird unless whistled directly to it.

As a person who both actively works and shows her dogs I have seen more prejudice against dogs that show from people in the working field; than I have from people in the showring to dogs that work.

I hope , for the sake of the future of our Retrieving breeds, that the attitude of the Editor I spoke to this morning does not reflect the attitude of Shooting people in general.It is equally important that our Gundogs retain their conformation in order to fulfill the working role they were bred for. Working ability alone is not good for the health of any breed.

It was my first rejection, it stung a little..but I am grateful for his feedback.

Remembering Breeze..grieving the loss of a young dog.

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In my minds eye I can still see her. Trotting along the tramlines in front of me in the cornfield behind the house. I can feel her still warm fur when I buried my head in her coat that afternoon at the vets. Her gaze, the particular markings on her coat and her bark have all been engrained in my memory.

Breeze was born on January 16th 2011. I had planned this litter for a long time. Believing it to be Winnie’s last litter I looked around for a very special dog. A dog that would bring the unique package of temperament, trainability and good looks.I found it in Gunner.

After a lot of correspondence and mountains of paperwork  between the repro centers in the US and here in Ireland and the department of Agriculture and Customs the semen landed safely in Tipperary.

Winnie came in to season  a few months later and by five weeks post insemination it was obvious she was pregnant. I was ecstatic, I could hardly believe it had worked. All the time, effort and stress worrying about paperwork and whether the straws would get damaged in transit was worth it. Especially when I saw those four tiny puppies for the first time.


Just one bitch with her three brothers. One bitch was all I’d ever wanted from this litter. She was to be my little piece of Winnie and I don’t know whether it was because I knew, right from the start, that she would be staying with me or just because she was what I was looking for either way I fell for her the moment I met her.

Just like most girls who grow up with brothers Breeze was more than able to hold her own in the litter. Her brothers were a very relaxed trio and let her have her way, most of the time.She was the biggest in the litter at birth with the boys catching up once they were weaned.

The Summer arrived and Breeze was growing into a beautiful active young dog with an inquisitive mind. She was soft and gentle around Elly quite happily following her around the garden. She mixed easily with any dog that came to visit and stay, large or small. Like her mother she discovered her love of water and nothing pleased her more than wading through the waves at Julianstown beach.

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Just under six months.

In July we travelled to the annual CBRC club show . It was her first time to travel such long distances and she took it in her stride, relishing the long beach runs and country walks that are in abundant supply in the UK. On that occasion she was just short of six months , too young to compete at the show but she enjoyed the attention she got while sitting ringside.

In late August we took another trip across the water. This time to South Wales.It was a double weekend. We were to compete at a working event on the Saturday and attend the WKC championship show on the Sunday.It was a weekend that surpassed all my expectations. Breeze’s mother, Winnie and her half brother , Bertie had a phenomenol day by passing all three levels of WD, WDX and WDQ in one day. The next day Breeze made her show debut and at her very first show she won Best puppy in breed, her mother won RCC and her half brother Mossy won his first CC and BOB! It was a weekend we will treasure for a long time and never forget.


The Welsh Weekend. From left to right Mossy, Bertie, Breeze and Winnie.

Then things took a strange turn, Breeze got sick.

She came in from the garden one evening in early September. I thought there was an odd sound coming form her throat. She didn’t seem unduly distressed, no panting or coughing. I felt along her trachea and sure enough there was a definite lump. My first thoughts were that she’d been chewing sticks, she was just at that age. I took her into the vets that evening and like me the vet could feel the lump but wasn’t particularly concerned as Breeze wasn’t showing any signs of distress. She kept her in to sedate her and have a closer look at the lump.

A couple of hours later I received a phone call from the vets with news I was not expecting. Breeze had been sedated but the swelling, whatever it was, had closed around her larynx and prevented them from getting an airway!! Thankfully, on this occasion, the vet had just spent six months working in anaesthetics at our vet college and was eventually able to pass a tube meant for a cat down past the swelling. She was given antihistamines, steroids and antibiotics and kept for observation overnight. The lump never showed up to be anything conclusive. We assumed it to be a wasp sting as she’s been eating apples in the orchard and the wasps had been particularly aggressive last Summer.

In the weeks that followed, though, a recurring pattern started to emerge. on two further occasions Breeze presented with drooling, lethargy and difficulty breathing. Diagnosis of possible poisoning to a viral infection were the only things the vet could come up with.  Apart from a very slight rise in her white cell count and a low grade temperature nothing showed and  after 24 hours on antibiotics each time she would bounce back and be the normal young active dog we knew and loved.

After our third vet trip with nothing conclusive we changed vets and a bronchoscopy revealed that three-quarters of her chest cavity was filled with fluid. Where it was coming from and what was causing it remains a mystery to this day. My vet’s main priority was to remove the fluid as quickly as possible. At last I felt relief as we had some sort of a diagnosis to guide us with possible treatment.

Alas it was not to be and two days later I lifted the phone to the vet to be told that Breeze had passed away. Until the final hours before her death she gave absolutely no indication as to how sick she really was.

between visits to the vets she competed.

I have grown up with dogs and loved and lost many through out my life. Just the previous February I had lost my beautiful hunting companion Ria at the age of ten years old and even though I grieved her loss I could look back on her life and know she’d had a full and happy one but Breeze’s death affected me more than any other dog I’d ever lost. I went through the full rigours of grief. Questioning myself again and again as to whether I’d done enough. Could I , should I have spotted something earlier. I was angry at the junior vet for being so dismissive. I felt that I had let Breeze down by not doing the best by her but most of all I just missed her. The hardest thing in the weeks and months that followed was moving forward as everything in the near and distant future had my plans for Breeze worked into it.

I remember going to the first show I had entered just a couple of weeks after she died. Opening up the letter with her number and name on it was one of the most difficult things I’d had to do. I wore her number that day, under Mossy’s. I remember bursting into tears when an aquaintance asked me how the puppies were doing. Poor girl didn’t know what to do, I’ve since apologised.

Time is a great healer and life has a funny way of dragging you along with it. Sometimes, rather reluctantly. Winnie came into season . Des and I then had to make one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever had to make regarding the dogs. This bitch who had given us so much in her life could we ask her one more time to produce a litter of puppies? It wasn’t that she wasn’t fit and able it was more to do with the fact that after losing two dogs in one year we were terrified of losing Winnie also. We also knew this would be her last oppurtunity to have a litter of puppies and the thoughts of letting that pass and later regretting it made our decision for us.

And so the story has come full circle. The last of the C litter puppies goes to his new home tomorrow and we have been blessed with a beautiful little girl puppy whom we’ve called ‘Uisce’ meaning water.

My memories of Breeze are still fresh and sometimes she floats across my mind so unexpectadly it makes me catch my breath. I wonder what she’d be like now. How she’d have gotten through her first Winter as a working dog and how she’d have developed as a show dog. I still miss her but my memory of her is very specific to her and I am grateful that Uisce , so far, is very different.I’m looking forward now to sharing a whole new set of adventures with her.

In praise of the working gundog.

This is a story in praise of the working gundog. We all know them and of them. They are the foot soldiers of the gundog world. The ninety-nine per centers that are owned by Tom, Dick and Harry who regale us with their dogs’ exploits. We smile indulgently but smugly choose to only half believe the owners biased opinion of their ‘fantastic’ working gundog.

We may enquire as to whether this superb dog has any field trial awards or even been placed in a working test? If the answer is ‘no’ then that is all many of us want to or are interested in knowing.

I have one of these working gundogs. His name is Chester. He is a Chesapeake. I have had dogs before him and have had dogs since him but none could or can equal his skill as a gamefinding and pure working gundog. His  real talents never lay in the competition field although he has had his fair share of success there also in working tests. As a field trialling dog he was too noisy. A real shame as he is a fantastic handling dog with the softest of mouths. Both of which he has passed onto his progeny.

This year will be his tenth shooting season. He has never missed one due to injury and as can be expected there are many tales and adventures I could share of our Winters’ together.

Today , though, I want to tell you a story of a day Des took Chester when he went shooting along the shores of the Shannon.

It was the 10th of January 2009. Des had been asked to join a friend of ours, Pat, and three of his friends for a morning’s decoying on the Shannon. It was a cold one, frost lay heavy on the ground and the edges and shallows of the river were iced up where they spread out the decoys. The temperature was well below freezing. For one reason or another Chester was the only dog there that morning. The thing about decoying is that you never really know what to expect. It could be a slow morning. The likelihood was that this particular morning was expected to be, as it was mid January and by that time in the shooting season calender the Shannon Basin is generally well plundered. One dog should have been more than adequate.

The boys settled down and waited. As daylight dawned the action began and continued for several hours until a halt was called at about mid-day. Bird after bird had to be retrieved from the icy waters. Again and again the chesapeake hunted for and found each bird brought down. Many times having to swim through ice and rushes to find wounded birds. It was so cold that although Chester initially waited in the water for each retrieve, he had to be moved on to a clump of rushes to avoid the risk of hypothermia. In the end the bag was 47 duck, a mix of Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pintail, and Gadwall. A few birds got away that fell injured a distance away while Chester was returning with a bird, some were picked afterwards but two or three were probably lost. Chester worked himself to a standstill which was where a combination of exhaustion and the cold meant he couldn’t continue and he wasn’t asked to, he had retrieved probably 30 of the 47 birds, breaking through ice for many until Des decided Chester had done more than enough. A combination of the wind and currents meant that the birds shot afterwards were drifting into an enclosed area and were picked up afterwards from the boat.

Chester has put in many more working days since then but unless you’re one of the lucky ones to stand with him on those mornings you will never fully appreciate the value of the true working gundog. The dog that may whine while waiting to retrieve. The dog that may run around a bush rather than through in pursuit of a retrieve. The dog that may not be completely steady to gunshot. He is the dog, however, that will work tenaciously and tirelessly in pursuit of his quarry and bring each and every one back gently to hand and fit for the table.

So the next time Tom, Dick or Harry regales you with tales of their amazing working gundog. Stop a minute and listen more carefully he may just be the type of dog you’re looking for.

The travelling Irish and four Chesapeakes..

For the third time this year the car was packed and we took the ferry across to the UK. This time we took the trailer as we were travelling with four chessies.

The weather was grim as we crossed the Irish Sea with no promise of improvement for the weekend.

Our first stop when we reach Wales is generally JCT 17 on the A55. There is a fantastic dog friendly beach here. It gives the dogs a chance to have a good blow out and  a swim after the long journey. This morning it was completely deserted, only a mad Irish woman and her brown dogs were brave enough to take on the deluge of rain that was pouring from the heavens..

After towelling off the dogs we pushed on to Husbands Bosworth where we would be staying for the next two nights. It’s a really pretty little village , quentisentially english with no shop just one pub. We were staying in The Old Hall, an Elizabethen house with a fascinating history and a very welcoming hostess. Well set in off the road and surrounded by parkland it was perfect for travelling with dogs.  Carolyn, our hostess, outlined some walks where we could run the dogs safely. After unloading the car we took the dogs for a long walk through the village and down along the tow path . We ate at The Hall that evening, something we appreciated after our long journey as we would have an early start the next morning.

Saturday morning we were up and on the road by 8.30am heading to Peterborough to the East Of England Champ Show. We had entered Chester and Mossy. Both would be competing against each other in Open Dog. This is a show we’ve never done before and it was just luck that it happened to coincide with the same weekend as the Club Show. There were six chesapeakes entered. Three dogs and three bitches. Our judge was a Mr R Morris, who I’d never shown my dogs under before. Judging that day was slow as all the rings had to be moved indoors due to flooding. It was late afternoon by the time judging of our breed started. I was happy with the way both dogs behaved in the ring and delighted when Mossy won Best Dog and BOB and his father, Chester, won Reserve Dog. We waited on for the group and although Mossy showed well we didn’t make the cut.

On our way back to our accomadation that evening we stopped at a lake outside Peterborough and took the dogs for a long walk through meadows and rain. We settled and fed the dogs back at the Old Hall and walked down the road to the local pub for a bite to eat.

Now Des and I have long been fans of the English pub scene. We love the old cluttered charm that exists in many of them. You get the feeling when you enter one of these establishments that you’re walking into someone’s sitting room.You immediately relax , settle down and let the evening unfold. The food is always comfort food , exactly what the weary traveller is looking for. The Bell pub, I’m pleased to say , was exactly one of these pubs that we love. The entertainment for the evening came from the land lady with the purple hair and her immaculatly dressed daughter . Poles apart in looks and personality but complemented each other perfectly as an effective and efficient team for running a pub.

There seemed to be some sort of area pub quiz going on and every now and then the phone would ring. The land lady would answer in her loudest voice and so would pursue a lengthy discussion as to whether it was the right or wrong answer. All food and drink orders were put on hold while this exchange took place. Silence would descend throughout the pub as we all craned to hear and waited to see if the correct answer had been given. It was heart stopping stuff…

We walked back to our B&B. The rain had stopped, sheep were bleating in the park as we wound our way up the lane and everything looked promising for the show next day.

So our final show of the weekend also happened to be the pinnacle of the UK CBRC Show calender,  the Championship show. More importantly a chance to catch up with friends and aquaintances. It always has the atmosphere of a lawn picnic and almost always has fantastic weather. Although this year’s forecast had not been the most promising it turned out to be a beautiful Summer afternoon.

There were over fifty dogs entered under breed specialist Mrs M Woods. Mossy entered in Open Dog  won his class. Chester entered in Veteran dog also won his class. In the line up for the dog challenge both dogs moved and showed well. Today it was the turn of the Old Fella , Chester. He won Dog CC and Best Veteran in Show. It was a very proud moment for Des. Of all our dogs Chester is his.  Mossy won Reserve Dog CC. Winnie won Veteran bitch class but was beaten by Chester for Best Veteran. Although she had very little coat and is only 16 weeks after having puppies she has regained her figure, moved well and most importantly enjoyed herself in the ring.

We also brought Uisce for the weekend. This was her first big trip . She took everything in her stride. Tried her best to keep up with the adult dogs on walks, lapped up the attention at the show and travelled without any problems. Photos courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall Watersplash photography.

Uisce ( Riverrun Caution to the Wind ) aged 17 weeks

This is the age , I think puppies look their worst. Half way between puppyhood and adulthood , growth spurts can throw their legs, head and movement all over the place and you wonder sometimes where the puppy that had so much promise has disappeared to. Around this time also they start to drift away from their reliance on you and become much more independent. Disappearing on walks and ignoring recall in favour of satisfying their own compulsion to hunt, chase and play.

While Uisce is quite like her mother in regard to her growth pattern and has kept a very even growth rate so far , she is definitely testing the boundaries in relation to basic obedience. I , persomally like to see some independence coming through at this stage . I like them to range out from me and don’t put much restriction with regards to keeping close while out walking. If I need her to stay near to me I keep her on leash and reward   her by allowing her to run free again.

She follows her mother closely on walks . Smelling what Winnie smells. Copying her body language when hunting. Her mother still, more than any other of my dogs, teaches her  about life as a future gundog.

Zoe, my springer, is for playing with and Chester is her comfort blanket. Slowly but surely Uisce is being absorbed into the pack , finding her feet and taking her place.Most of the work I do with her  at this age is based around socialisation . Every oppurtunity is used to expose her to different situations, people, dogs noises etc. She is taken in the car with me on a daily basis. Sometimes in the company of one of the adult dogs but also on her own. She needs to be comfortable in her own company and confident to deal with situations without the back up of other dogs.

It’s difficult to tell how much potential she has a gundog yet. She readily carries anything in her mouth. I use a variety of objects when I throw puppy retrieves from cloths, tennis balls, plastic bottles and their favourite thing crocs! Retrieves are kept short, in a small area and are only thrown once or twice a week.

She is sitting and waiting well, has been one of the easiest puppy’s to teach to stack for the show ring. Although I will need to teach her to be slightly more animated… Again this is something I don’t get concerned with at this age. It is much more important that she enjoys her time in the show ring . I don’t care if she lies down, rolls over , bounces instead of trots. As long as she is haiving fun inside that ring then that can only be  good. Once she gets to Open dog level then we can get serious.

I have her entered in her first Championship Show next month in Baby Puppy Class..let the fun and games begin….

Nothing like a Chesapeake Water Entry

Wednesday evening last saw Colum and I at the lake again. We worked on water marks with a long run in .The above photo was taken as Mossy entered the shallows and took a perfect line to his retrieve.An interesting observation on his attitude to blind work. When lining him for a land blind he has developed the habit of spinning before his run. Of course this has the effect of completely throwing him off line and results in a knock on effect of having to handle more. I have to confess to allowing him away with this up until recently quite simply because I didn’t know how to correct it.

I have been following Paul’s advice over the last couple of weeks and calling him back in immediately he spins and only allowing him run on if he doesn’t spin. I ‘ve stopped using the whistle for these infractions , just calling him back to my side until he gets it right.It’s working and whats even better is his attitude to the whistle is vastly improved, I guess because I’m not using it as a nagging tool..

When lining him for a water blind there is never a spin but taking direction on water ?? Now that’s a story for a whole other day..