I showed my Chesapeakes without coat…..

I showed my Chesapeakes without any coat!! I put my hand up and am guilty as charged.

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Even though it is written in the New Complete Chesapeake Bay Retriever ( 1994), Chapter 5 by Dr Daniel Horn :

“Coat has been the most important type feature in the description of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever” and furthermore he goes onto say :

“if exhibitors would keep their dogs out of the show ring when dogs are out of coat, it would be easier for judges to become familiar with these important Chesapeake type features.”

Soon whispers trickled down to me from those higher echelons that the doyens within our breed that sit ringside were not happy. That they were shaking their heads in despair that a Chesapeake shown out of coat would bring a disservice to the breed.

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So is it worth taking the chance that perhaps a Chesapeake possibly can be defined by more than just coat? Is there a possibility that this breed, primarily still seen as a working gundog might be evaluated equally on soundness and movement? Perhaps the overall outline and profile too separates this breed from any other? and what of attitude and expression? I had hoped that the Chesapeake could be seen more as a combination of unique breed traits rather than simply seen as a specimen with or without coat?

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I had thought long and hard about this as I pored over the show schedules earlier in the year. The window of opportunity to show Chesapeakes at Championship Shows where CC’s are on offer in the UK is very small. There is just over 6 months between the first set at Crufts in March and the final single CC available at Driffield in September.

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Time and timing are of the essence and preparing these dogs for the show season goes way beyond a quick dip in the sea the day before a show, (that’s not to say I don’t do it.. 😉 ). Diet, condition and level of  fitness are assessed on a daily basis… long before we set foot inside the show ring I will have walked and run many kilometres, doing road work and swimming, to maintain the hard core fitness that was laid down during the shooting season and build back up any condition lost. These are the things I can control to some degree but the one thing I have very little control over is the seasonal variations in coat.

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Ironically their coats were at their best this year when they needed them most but also when they weren’t been judged by them. All through the shooting season both Mossy and Uisce retained the thick impenetrable coats that this breed is known for. Their coats offered protection throughout the weeks as they worked the river duck on the Avoca and also as an extra barrier when hunting for birds beneath the gorse and brambles.

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During this period I never needed to treat for broken skin, bleeding tails, or damp, cold dogs sitting for long periods as their coats fulfilled every aspect of what their were designed for just fine.

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Then Spring came, shooting season ended and as we turned our attention towards preparing for a long season of dog shows nature decided their coats had served their purpose and it was time for them to go…

Three weeks before Crufts Mossy left all of his undercoat in a neat pile on the floor of the National Show Centre in Cloghran. I had expected it to happen but still I watched in dismay as the small brown tufts of candyfloss blew gently across the floor. There was nothing to lose at this point by giving him a bath and stripping what remained of his coat out completely in the hope that some new coat may have filled in by the time we headed for Crufts.

The next morning after a bath he was down to a very thin layer of guard hairs and skin!!! The next few weeks were a cycle of sea swimming and rubbing with a chamois. By the time we hit the green carpet on the first week in March his coat had filled in well, not at it’s full depth but enough to be rewarded with a 1st in the BASC Gamekeepers classes  under judge Ms Di Stevens and winner of the Shooting Gazette Trophy for Best AV Working Retriever Dog.

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Uisce at this stage was still holding coat nicely. She was in a post season bloom and it showed in her results. Still not 2 years old when she competed in Crufts this year, she held her own in the Open bitch class among bitches 4- 6 years her senior finishing a very credible 3rd. Then entering BASC Gamekeepers and winning  the Marsh Trophy for Best AV Working Retriever Bitch  under judge Mr Terry Bailey.

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Our dogs made breed history that day never before has a Chesapeake won either of these trophies let alone be won on the same day by half siblings.

Back in Ireland a week later Uisce won Green Star bitch, graded excellent and Mossy won Best of Breed under Gundog Specialist Ms S Taggart and Mossy followed up with a Group 4 under Mr A Mc Kiernan at the Celtic winners Championship show on St. Patricks day..

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The show season was now in full swing juggling shows in Ireland and campaigning in the UK is difficult but balancing this alongside competing and training in working tests, certainly keeps things interesting. So far, we have been over and back the Irish sea on average every fortnight since March. The weekends in between have been filled with shows and working tests on home ground, oh and a family wedding!

Along with the mileage clocked up we have brought home 2 reserve CC’s for Mossy. At home in Ireland from 2 shows he has 2 Best of  Breeds, a Group 4 and a Group 1.

Bertie, as part of the UK Chesapeake team competing in the Minor breeds in April finished with a team 2nd and he was awarded top scoring individual dog. At his first AV working test of the year he won Open class and has spent 3 days training along with Uisce at the the Bettinsons in Wales.

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As Mossy’s coat returned to full bloom Uisce’s disappeared. She is due in season in the next few weeks and her seasonal blow came just as we prepared to travel for Birmingham National in the second week of May. It was a much more difficult decision as to whether to show her without coat. Loss of coat showed her immaturity of body in comparison to her more mature competitors in the open bitch class. However, because of breeding plans her opportunity to compete could be shortened later in the summer. So a year would be lost before she could compete in the UK again.

My decision to show her and give her the chance came because as a bitch on the move she is one of the best I have had. With or without coat she is foot perfect on the move whether coming, going or side on she never breaks stride or misses a beat..Her worst result in  Birmingham, when she really had no coat she finished 3rd of 3 in Open bitch and at Bath two weeks later with coat on the return out of a class of 6  she  finished 3rd behind the CC and RCC winners.

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Now two weeks on and just in from our latest Championship show yesterday Uisce took Green Star Bitch and beating her litter brother, Ceann Comhairle, for Best of Breed at Cork and District Championship show under gundog specialist Ms K Savage.

So was I right to take the chance to show a Chesapeake without coat? Did I do a disservice to the breed? Is the Chesapeake to be seen as just a clothes horse on which to hang a beautiful coat? Or is it a breed that can be recognised as much for it’s profile, strong confident movement, head expression, strong tail and character?

Next week Uisce and Bertie are set to compete in a retriever working test…this time they will be judged on many other things but it is unlikely they will lose or gain any marks for the appearance of their coat.

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Five Days, Five Dogs and Fun…..

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This is the first time in seven years that Peader, the farmer across the road, has been able to make hay. Proper hay, the sort that is cut and left to lie before being tossed then baled and the air fills with that sweet summer smell. It has been a long time since the forecast has given such an indefinite end to a dry spell and on Thursday morning when we set out across the Irish sea bound for England with our five chessies the temperatures were set to push past the thirty mark.

Travelling with dogs in these sort of temperatures let alone competing with them is always a concern. Having the Sperrin gundog trailer with its specially designed fibre panels to keep the internal compartments cool has been worth its weight in gold over the last few years when travelling to the UK in summer heat. It was still  going to be a challenge to keep these five dogs in top form and condition to compete at the Chesapeake Championship show on Sunday as they were due to work the breed stand at the CLA game fair for the two days prior in soaring temperatures before heading northeast, so as an added precaution I packed in several sachets of electrolytes to counteract any signs of dehydration.

Arriving in Holyhead at midday under a cloudless blue sky and a shimmering mirror of heat we realised it would be better to drive straight through to the campsite at Ragley Hall rather than airing the dogs in such hot weather. It was a good decision as we passed Birmingham before the afternoon city exodus of traffic and by late afternoon we were turning into Ragley Hall estate and following the dusty path to our campsite…what a welcome sight, rising above the campsite and blowing proudly in the gentle breeze was a single English flag with Chessie motifs and below it stood the smiling face of little Dave Lowther and Lilly-Mae. As we unloaded the tent and dogs and sorted through our belongings Jackie came out with the most welcome cup of coffee ever…home from home for the next two days.

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Once we set up camp we took the dogs for a walk down through the fair where stalls were being set up in readiness for the opening next day. It was such a hive of activity quads scooting among the marquees and gazebos, everyone in jovial mood in anticipation of what the next few days would bring. Eighty thousand people a day were expected over the three days to the fair, a massive undertaking to organise but  it is laid out in such a way that it never feels claustrophobic.

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The lake that evening was filled with dogs, dogs, dogs and the odd person, the fishermen had resorted to practicing their casting skills on the lawn behind…the chessies loved it they swam and drank as they swam just with the pure enjoyment of being wet and cool after a long hot dusty journey. By the time we headed back for the campsite the sun was setting, a quick bite to eat and we were ready to crash on our slightly too soft airbed for the night….

I had forgotten that camping means rising at first light…four-thirty am to be exact the dogs started to stir when hearing fellow campers move about. The campsite was well appointed though, set beside a large enclosed field and wood it was easy to let the dogs have a long free gallop without worrying about traffic or wandering into areas they shouldn’t be in. By 7 am the cars were already starting to fill up in the public carpark across the way. We loaded up the dogs and took a slightly illegal route through the fair and myriad of marquees across to the far side of the lake where gundog parking had been allocated in the middle of a wonderfully shaded wood. It was perfect, the shade and the trailer meant that we could take the dogs in shifts to work the stand rather than having all of them there all day in the heat with hundreds of people touching and rubbing them….something that takes a lot out of the dogs. After the dogs did their morning shift of 2 hours and the parade we took them back to the lake for a swim then into the coolness of the trailer where they slept for the afternoon. The trailer, when under the shade was like stepping into a coolbox, a welcome respite from the heat of the gundog tent.

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We have done the breed stand on several occasions both in Ireland and the UK but this was our first time doing it at CLA. Now for anyone who has never done the breed stand I would thoroughly recommend it, particularly if you have bred a litter or are planning on breeding I feel you have a duty of care to inform members of the public about the uniqueness of our breed because there is no doubt they are different. You get to see that by talking to the people who come to the stand and have had chessies, struggled with them and perservered and loved the breed for their quirks; the people who’ve had them, couldn’t understand them and let them go and the people who know nothing about them but immediately think they are just a variation of a Labrador and everything a lab represents…There is no doubt it is hard work but also a lot of fun. We met up with some old friends, current puppy owners, fellow members of the chessie club and of course new people curious about the breed.

I had the chance to watch and listen to John Halstead Saturday afternoon. He certainly gives an impressive performance and his dogs are the epitome of control, however, something he said struck a chord in relation to not all dogs having the qualities required to make great competition dogs…’ you can’t polish plywood’…in relation to John he can pick and choose which dogs are going to make it to the top. From the thirty-three thousand Labradors registered with the Kennel club last year, ( another fact I learnt that weekend ), there’s surely bound to be a few stars, aren’t there? In comparison there were less than one hundred Chesapeakes registered so the pool to pick from is so much smaller…I guess what I’m trying to say is that  the last few years there has been pressure put on our breed to be competitive with Labradors in the field but when you compare numbers like those available above the opportunities of consistently having competition level dogs are going to be rare, perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on purely enjoying our breed for what they are and not turn them into something they’re not ?

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I was lucky enough to be ringside to watch two of the Irish International retriever team put in almost faultless performances at the International working test team event, they went on to win the overall competition on Sunday with Sean Diamond’s young dog finishing only 2 points behind the overall top dog in the competition.

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The sky clouded over on Saturday and a cool breeze rose from the lake. When we had finished our final stint on the gundog stand Des and I sat with my sister , Olivia, drinking Pimms and two of our chessies stretched out beside us. It had been a busy two days but such fun, I had blisters on my feet from the amount of mileage walked on dusty tracks but it was great to be able to enjoy an event that has so much to offer in terms of country pursuits. Tonight we were pulling up sticks and moving east to be on the road early for the club show. A warm solid mattress and working shower would be most welcome.

This year was the 6th Championship show for the UK Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club. The judge for the Championship Show was Mr Frank Whyte, a first time for me showing my dogs under him. The club also runs a Limit Show in the afternoon following the Championship show and the judge for that this year was Ms Tilly Thomas. The entry for the championship show this year was over fifty dogs/bitches and the limit show had just under thirty.

There is always such a lovely relaxed atmosphere at this show. Held in the small village hall at Bagington the weather is almost always pleasant which lends more of a summer picnic feel to the event. The catering this year was organised by Ms Jo Thorpe and her partner Rob and I hope will be a regular feature…freshly made rolls with crispy lettuce and mayo, homemade chocolate cake and reasonable prices.

Despite having been on the road for four days and coping with the heat all the dogs performed well with Mossy picking up the Reserve Dog CC and Reserve best In Show;  Chester winning Best Veteran in Show beating Winnie who won Best Veteran Bitch. However, it was little Miss Uisce at only 16 months old, still in Junior bitch and making her debut on the show scene in the UK who stole the show by winning the bitch CC and Best Opposite sex!!!

We had some fun during the lunch time interval between the Championship and Limit Show by running Uisce in the scurry. It finished in a three way tie with Uisce, Margaret Woods young dog and Sue Worrall’s Kes. A  late afternoon run off saw Uisce just clinching the top spot.

The limit show started, Uisce finished with second in her class so that was her done for the day. My final dog entry for the day was Bertie. He was entered in special working dog/bitch. It had been four years since he’d been shown in the UK but today was his moment to shine. He won his class and in the show line up was pulled out for Best In Show!!

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The club show is where I aimed to peak my dogs this year….trying to hold coats, which were rapidly blowing off in little brown fluffy balls everytime I ran my hand over them and keep them in condition is hard as the show season wears on. So now the routine of roadwork, sea swimming and watching weight is over for this year. Its easier, almost, to prepare them for the rest of the working test season and then when the seasons turn again its back to the woods and wilderness where the real work begins….

I’d like to dedicate this writing to the memory of Breeze, Uisce’s sister, they were big paws to fill but Uisce I feel has found her own path..xx

Final Championship Show of 2012

My show year has come to an end. Today at Bull Breeds All Breed show I entered four chesapeakes.  Three of them are Irish and UK champions and the fourth was competing at her first championship show aged seven months.This is the final championship show I plan to enter before next Spring as Thursday heralds the start of pheasant season and it becomes very difficult to keep condition  on the dogs during these months.

Our breed judge today was Ms O Murray from Ireland. She awarded Best of Breed and Green Star dog to Ir Sh Ch UK SH CH Riverrun Agus Avic( Mossy) . Reserve Green Star Dog to Ir Ch Int Ch UK Ch Penrose Nomad( Chester). Green Star Bitch was Riverrun Caution To the Wind ( Uisce ) and Reserve Green Star Bitch was Ir Ch Int Ch UK Ch Arnac Bay Winota ( Winnie).

This is Uisce’s first green star.

Mossy then went on to win Group 2 under Ms S. Walsh from Ireland.

It has been a phenomenal year. Marked with sadness through the loss of Breeze this time last year but finishing with her sister’s arrival in the show ring this year I feel incredibly blessed and humbled.

It is time now to draw breath, ease back and wade into the woods for the Winter where we will stand patiently waiting for the pheasants to come. And they will come. The real stories , my friends, are just about to begin….