Finding Bertie’s ‘tipping point’.

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He didn’t mark the retrieve. We were first dog up in a three dog line up and I knew that even though he took a great line, running all 200 + yards until he was parallel with the thrower, he hadn’t locked onto the fall. Everything in his body language from the send off told me he was unsure. His nose was not going to help on this occasion either as  it was one of those dead-air Summer days with not even a wisp of a breeze to kick up scent. He was going to need my help now to find it and I knew with every whistle our chances of finishing near the top on this day were tumbling away.

I could have left it at that, put it down to a combination of factors that caused a mismark but I know my dog and have seen him pin many more difficult and technical marks than the one presented on that day. I allowed for the fact that I had two bitches in season and tensions among the males were particularly high in the days preceding competition, he was certainly distracted but had held it together in the line. I also allowed for lack of scent and the fact it was a green dummy thrown against high green trees but were there other factors?

The following week we met up with our small training group for a complete ‘marking’ session on the Hill of Tara. The ground here is wonderful for setting up scenarios of different marks long rolling hills with wide open grassland and a scattering of trees with ditches. Almost any combination can be worked on. We set up three dogs in line facing a thrower about 100 yards away throwing into short grass into the corner of the field. A simple seen. Bertie again was first dog up and when I sent him there was that same lack of committment I had seen the previous Sunday.He ran over the dummy had a quick sniff around and then instead of persisting he started to come back in!! Now I knew there was something going on.
I sat him out for the remainder of the session and he was content to sit and watch as I threw dummies and laid blinds for Stevie and Otto.
I left him off training for another week until the bitches were well clear of their respective seasons and reintroduced him to marking practice. Simple singles both long and short, keeping it light and fun with lots of praise his drive and confidence returned. I increased the difficulty of retrieve work again offering in the odd blind and diversion and was pleased to see he coped with these in the same way. Always returning to marking practice varying the distance and leaving off the whistle to allow him figure out that fall on his own.
Then one evening I happened to flick into a retriever forum and picked up on a post where a guy was having problems with his young lab marking. This particular dog had been a very reliable marker during his first year of competition but now he was struggling, even with simple marks…the problem sounded familiar. The solution offered to this handler made perfect sense. It would seem that often when a dog is being drilled to perfect a certain aspect of their training they may struggle with tasks that came easily before. I had spent much of the spring perfecting Bertie’s blindwork and tightening up on his response to the whistle. Was it possible that the pressure on him in training along with the other factors had spilled over and had affected his concentration to mark? Certainly the adjustments I had made to his training in the weeks following seemed to bear this out but I would not truly know until he was tested again in competition.
We entered the working test in Castlehoward primarily to support a very worthy cause. The event was organised by Mr Jim MacAul a stalwart around the shoots in Wicklow. It was run by the All Ireland Utility Gundog Club and all proceeds were being given to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children Crumlin.
I was only looking for one aspect of success with Bertie on this day…a good confident mark.
The mark that day involved a two dog walk up. We were second dog up. Distance was about 250 yards we were set up along the lake bank. It was short grass to start with then out across a path under a fence into longer grass then under a second fence through some rushy cover then open ground to where the dummy fell.
Our turn came. When my number was called by the judge I sent my dog. This time there was no hestitation in his run out he covered the ground with the same confident stride that brings a tingle up my spine when I watch him. Coming to the rushy  cover he caught the whiff of scent where dummies had been thrown in the novice test that morning but a quick cast around and without prompting he pushed on up the slope and picked that dummy. The retrieve, although not perfect, was a long way towards the return to the standard of marking I had seen him deliver in the past and most likely helped him gain second place that afternoon.

Second place at Castlehoward flanked by two FTCH's.

Second place at Castlehoward flanked by two FTCH’s.

Encouraged to see his form returning I stuck with an easing off on training, keeping everything light again, lengthening the marks every now and then but all the while keeping blind work simple with memory blinds along known pathways.
This past Sunday we headed west to Mohill Gun club along the shores of Lough Rynn. By the time the advanced test started in the afternoon temperatures had risen to the mid-twenties. Nothing moved to bring coolness or scent to the air. It was a single long seen with two dogs in line. Distance 250 yards+. We, again, were second dog up. Our number was called and I sent my dog. I put my whistle between my lips and watched Bertie roll on up the hill. His line was good…the dog before him had cast around and needed handling…I prepared to help him but resisted the urge to blow on that whistle…he was almost at the spot,twenty feet, ten feet and then I watched with relief as I saw him dip his head and pick that dummy.
He scored a perfect 25 that day and although he didn’t finish in the top four placings only 2 points separated him from the leading dogs.
Lost points are something I can ponder on for another day, something to work on and aim towards but today’s score was simply sweet. It taught me to trust in my dog more, to watch him and listen to him when he is giving signals that something is just not quite right or that he’s simply reached his ‘tipping point’. To know that the ‘tipping point’ is not the end but an indication to cease pushing on until the dog pulls through that period of adjustment…what do you think?

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Safe water

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Uisce’s water problems were not yet sorted, there were still gaps in  her training that needed to be filled in. This was especially obvious when I took her, as Bertie’s travelling companion, to the UK last month.

Strange water and moving water proved most problematic as I discovered when we took a walk along the River Avon.  Her desire to retrieve was, and is, strong but the difficulty was her pick up in water. She would reach out for the retrieve then the splashing and circling would start, the retrieve forgotten and a lot of calling and encouragement from me on the bank was required to entice her back to shore. Bertie was then dispatched to retrieve. Back to the drawing board. At the same time there was progress,  she was easier to recall and although she splashed and circled there wasn’t the frenetic water biting that had been there previously.

It was Jason Mayhew who first suggested that part of her problem might be related to a fear and lack of confidence rather than an obedience issue. This would change my entire perspective and approach to her training going forward. We  met up with him on that Saturday afternoon and had the opportunity to do some training. For the most part Uisce sat and watched as I concentrated on Bertie. The afternoon was the first hot one of the year and at the end of the session we took the dogs to a small pond for a welcome cool off. It was a perfect set up for teaching young dogs how to enter water with confidence. Small, with gently sloping sides for easy entrance and exit.

 

 

After watching the other dogs in the group carry out their respective retrieves I set Uisce up for one also. I hoped she would repeat her behaviour as I wanted to see if Jason could perhaps look on it with fresh eyes. She did not disappoint. The retrieve was not difficult, in she went and once again when within touching distance of the dummy the splashing started. We watched in silence from the bank for a few moments.  His suggestion was to walk away, say nothing and see what would happen. Alas we were saved that trouble by a very territorial cobb swan who chased her back to shore with more speed than she could muster. We moved further downstream and threw a small dummy into very shallow water at the edge, just to get her confidence back. Today was not the day to push on with any more water work. We both needed to reassess and reflect.

As many of you may have figured by now, I think about things a lot, particularly in relation to dog training. I try to figure out where the dog is coming from in relation to a given situation and then try to work out a mutual meeting point for both of us. My main emphasis is to make training interesting and even fun for my dogs, after all much of what I ask of them is for my benefit and not theirs so I feel there has to be a pay back of sorts for them.

I knew I had reached a point in Uisce’s water work training though, where I had guided her as far as I could. It was now her turn to shoulder some of the responsibility in figuring out what she would gain from retrieving efficiently from water. To do this I needed two things – safe water and an experienced older dog to mop up any retrieves that she was likely to lose on this particular learning curve. DSC_1075     DSC_1053

The Ramparts in Navan is perfectly set up for what I had in mind. It is an eight kilometre walk with a grassy bank canal on one side and the river Boyne on the other. The Boyne is separated from the path by a wide bank of rushy vegetation so most young dogs, if they are very water focussed, will gravitate towards the canal as opposed to heading straight for the river. I intended to make use of both, eventually.

I took Chester along as my assistant picking up dog and he was fairly busy to begin with. The first morning I took them out I tried a short retrieve into the canal from a shallow sloping bank. I never allow a young dog a first retrieve or even a second…she sat and watched as Chester retrieved. Then I sent her and as expected she did her usual pirouette in the clear canal water, round and round she swam every now and then bobbing the ball with her paw. The time had come to hand the baton to her, so to speak. I sent Chester into the water to pick up the tennis ball and walked away without saying a word. As he made his way through the water to pick it up something happened…..Uisce beat him to it, picked the ball perfectly and swam to shore.

 

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An experienced dog is often required.

And that was all it took. There were times in the coming weeks when I presented her with new and challenging situations in water that she would panic and splash but the difference was I recognised it as that….lack of confidence and instead of shouting and correcting her I would simply send the old guy in for the retrieve and recall her to shore, trying again with a simpler retrieve until the splashing became almost non existent and Chester unemployed.

Today I took her to the Boyne. I had no helper in relation to Chester, as Uisce is in season so this was to be another step forward in her responsibility. The point I chose for her to retrieve from has a bank of bullrushes so she would have the challenge of coping with current as well as an obstacle. I threw the dummy beyond the rushes so she had to swim through to find the retrieve before it was swept down river. She succeeded every time and  thoroughly enjoyed it too.

 

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Uisce, being able to enjoy water again.

My walks along the ramparts also reaffirmed for me Jason’s suspicion that she may have been a young dog lacking confidence as opposed to a true water- freaker, as apart from sending her to water for a retrieve she is quite happy to amble along the path without entering water for the sheer hell of it.

Looking back I know the time invested early on in establishing a good recall on land first, then progressing to water was not wasted. In fact it became key when the point came for Uisce to choose which direction she took in relation to her training. I know in our breed in particular there are many owners struggling with young cheaspeakes to gain control in water. I hope by following our tale it may help you to look at a different approach to moving on past this sticking point in training.

 

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Galvins on the Ramparts….not the worst place in the world to train…

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.

Early gundog training.

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Uisce aged 1 year

For a long time I was stubbornly resistant to the idea of needing a gundog to be trained to the highest level it could be and perhaps there’s still a tiny part of me that will always remain so, rather like my chessies which is why I love them so much. However, I have found I enjoy the challenge of learning to train them in a way that they find fun and exciting and in doing so fulfilling their potential as working dogs in the future.

I have concentrated on getting a nice clean hand delivery with Uisce more so than I did with my previous dogs. It was always an aspect I let slide, preferring instead to concentrate on a nice prompt return. I have also found that by separating out the different aspects of a retrieve and working on each one to it’s conclusion Uisce has been able to maintain focus and momentum without flattening out. This can be a  problem sometimes with chessies as they get bored easily with long repetitive training sessions. The sessions therefore have been shorter but more frequent something which I think has also helped in keeping her enthusiasm levels up.

Keeping an enthusiastic chessie in training is key.

Keeping an enthusiastic chessie in training is key.

After battling for the last few years with two pushy young male chessies it has been interesting to again work with the softer attitude of a female. Again something that I need to be conscious of when I move her forward to more challenges in training.

Everything in her training so far has been geared towards building her confidence even the colour of the dummy which makes it easier for her to see when sent for a memory retrieve.

I have learnt much in the year since she was born thanks to the help and guidance from some wonderful gundog trainers, from watching competition work and from assessing my own dogs work and their attitude to it.

I suppose the most valuable lesson I have learnt is that there is and never should be a time limit on how long it takes to train a dog, each will learn in their own way and in their own time. There are no mistakes just different ways of doing things.

Enjoy your brown dogs everyone and make training fun!

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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.

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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The story behind ‘ The Long Retrieve’

The short film below was first published just over a year ago. In itself it is a wonderful protrayal of a chesapeake working in the environment it was designed for. Echo has long been a competitor at the CBRC working tests and inter club team events and without doubt is one of the most exciting dogs to watch in competition. The story behind the making of this film demonstrates exactly why strength, inititive and persistance are two qualities that are invaluable in a good wildfowling dog.The following piece was written by Mark and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here :

“The task of capturing footage for this film presented several practical challenges for our cameraman who, as a non-shooting man, had never been near a marsh in his life. Thes included:
– walking long dostances carrying tons of expensive and heavy camera equipment, bags, tripods and so forth
– walking through tidal channels ensuring said equipment remained dry
– wading through knee deep mud making sure camera lenses remained mud-free
-generally stumbling around in near darkness desperately trying to keep hidden, so as not to put birds off to capture good quality footage of me wildfowling.
This was all a whole new area of filming and took, as you can imagine, several attempts to get something that we were both happy with.
During one of our visits to the Dee Estuary, I shot a Mallard whilst shooting a tide flight, and had occasion to perform the long retrieve. The bird landed 200 yards to my right, on the opposite side of a very wide tidal gutter, on an area of vegetated marsh. It was a blind for the dog as well as a very long swim against a tide which was flooding fast, towards the camera. Tides on the Dee flood very, very quickly and with huge force. i have in the past tried to stand in the same gutter to collect decoys when the tide is flooding and it is just impossible.
The distance, combined with the tide and that the fact that this was a blind, I can confidently say that Echo had never done anything quite so testing. I remember being aware of this before sending him into the water. But I knew that even in such demanding conditions, if there was one dog in the entire world I could choose to do this, I would have absolutely no hesitation in choosing Echo, with his characteristic, ‘I am going to get that bird, even if it means swimming back to Iceland,’ sort of attitude.
I got level with where I had marked the bird and sent Echo and as you can see from the film. he took a little encouragemnet to get across the tide. He looks back once or twice as if to say, ‘What across here?’ Yes please Echo, keep going. An additional difficulty was that because of the strength of the tide, when he did eventually get out the other side, he had been pushed 50 yards to the left where the bird had been marked.
I handled him into the area where I thought the bird was, then it was over to him, to use his scenting ability and persistence to find the bird. Because of the topography of the marsh, I simply could not see him when he was hunting for the Mallard and I did not know for certain where it was. So, as is so often the case when wildfowling, when shooting in difficult conditions or in darkness or half light, I have to trust Echo’s ability.What I love about this part of the film, is that once he is hunting for the duck he never looks back to me once. After eight and a half years of training and 7 seasons of regular wildfowling, it is safe to say that Echo is fully up to speed with the job description. A true gundog, he knows exactly what is required of him and is able to use his ability and initiative to hunt for and to bring the bird back to hand.
It seemed to take ages for him to cover the ground, but after a while he stopped. I cannot tell you what it felt like to be watching him when he suddenly stopped, his head went down, his tail started wagging that little bit quicker and he raised his head and I saw that he was holding a big drake Mallard in his mouth. I was elated! I knew then that it was a superb effort. I do not remember feeling too worried about the prospect of him swimming back. I suppose that he had made it across so he could make it back. As he swam back he was again pushed sideways by the tide, hence why I am walking towards the camera to meet him at the point where I thought he would exit the water. I love the fact that I give him a big stroke when he delivers the bird. Also, considering the physical effort that this must have taken, when he was walking along after all this he still looks like he is ready to do it all again!!
I was so focussed on handling Echo, that I had totally forgotten that the camera was running, and anyway, I thought that the distance we were away from the camera would be too far for a decent film. Until, that is, as walking back back I do a little wave to camera by way of acknowledgment. Inside I was doing cartwheels I was so delighted.
It is a pleasure to have this to enjoy now and to have in years to come. I think that it shows the breed in a very positive light and I am just so pleased as an owner, a handler and a wildfowler to have this film.”
Mark Greenhough( BASC Wildfowling Officer)
First published in Chessie Chat no. 92