Chester

Chester. Of all my Chesapeakes he was my Husband’s dog. They worked well together. Des just had a better way of handling him than me. For me, Chester was almost too much dog; I lived on my nerves when we worked together on the shoots . He was a big numbers dog; happiest when standing covering multiple guns and clearing everything that fell within his eye line without the hindrance or aid of another dog to impede his progress.

The winter of 2008/2009 , here in Ireland, was a long one.

In October the rains came. The temperate winds from the west  came in from the Atlantic raising the water levels that coincided with the high tides of the Autumn equinox. Dublin flooded, Cork city was impassable and the whole of central Ireland became marooned as the river Shannon burst her banks and shed her load farther and wider into the lands that ran the course of her length. Then the winds changed and down from the northeast came the cold drafts  of Siberia. And so, as the days shortened and winter deepened Ireland lay frozen in one of the coldest hardest winters that I can remember.

It was a morning in early January 2009 that my Husband, Des, set off loaded with gun and dog. He was to meet up with friends in the midlands hoping to get lucky with decoying the flood plains which that had formed along the the far reaches of the Shannon and her tributaries.The northeast freeze up still held most of the country in an icy grip. The winds that persistantly blew in from Siberia that winter had brought in their wake unprecedented numbers of migrating birds…..black and whites, teal , tufties and mallard, all pushed further south and in greater numbers to the more temperate climate that Ireland offered.

 

They picked their spot, the wind seemed favorable enough to keep the birds low but moving and in a position ,they hoped( as that is the word wildfowlers live by), that seemed like a good sheltered spot to draw in teal and tufties to feed.

Under the cover of darkness they spread their decoys  in an enticing pattern. Then the four guns settled down spread about the reeds that edged the field, that was once a summer meadow but was now knee to thigh deep in cold frigid water.

It is the waiting that is the toughest part of wildfowling, when you have nothing to take your mind off the creeping cold that rises from the bottom of your boots and creeps to every corner of your body. As the purple dawn emerged from the bottom of the sky  each man peered hopefully for a glimpse of a silhouette against the lightening skyline. Four guns and one dog, a Chesapeake, named Chester.

 

I know for sure that for him on that morning he most likely breathed deeply the scents of what was about to unfold and felt utterly confident that those four guns no matter how far apart they spread themselves could be covered by him alone.

It was not long before the lightening sky and biting wind forced the birds to move in search of feeding and better shelter from the relentless cold. The men had chosen wisely. The flooded field lay in the bend of the river where the birds were apt to cut across over the reeds to a narrow tributary further south.

The guns were patient biding their time until the birds came within range and one by one they fell. The shots did not deter the birds and they kept coming and falling. All the time methodically sought out and found by Chester as he worked the reeds in the chest deep water. There were long spells where he had to stand waiting on the raised clump of rushy turf behind Des as the cold water lapped around his body but his attention never wavered and his reward was another hunt , another retrieve of warm game all of which were brought back to Des.

He gained the undying respect of not only my husband that morning but also of his three hunting companions. Each and every shot bird that was found by the chesapeake was brought tenderly to hand before turning his attention to the angry grey January skies again waiting for the next one to fall.

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January 2009 River Shannon with Chester.

 

Chester had many vices, ( not least was his knack of singing while waiting for a drive to start),but  once he was given the go ahead to start working he did so with such drive, focus and energy that never let up until every bird he could possibly retrieve was delivered safely back to hand. In all his years retrieving there was never a single toothmark on a bird that he returned with. He remained respectful of his quarry to the end. That is what he thrived on and where his passion lay.

His knowledge of the birds he hunted was uncanny; one of those few dogs I’ve seen that had the ability to differentiate, in air , which birds were hit in a drive of hundreds and which ones lived to go on for another  day. He never gave up on a wounded bird no matter how far it travelled, he would follow the line to where it touched the ground then pick up it’s trail to where it inevitably dug into cover.

For a dog that was precious about entering cover at a working test in the quest for a green dummy I watched in wonder many’s a time as he belly crawled under and through bramble patches that would have tested a cocker spaniel to get that bird that he knew was in there. But so too was he clever enough to figure out that if cover had an exit point it was quicker to skip around the back and look for an easier path through. He had no interest in unwounded game, learning quickly that they took too much energy and time to hunt but in a contest of wills between diving duck and the Chessie he was always the more determined not to fail.

Shelton was his last love, he loved the freedom it gave him to hunt unhindered without being inhibited by tight drives.

And so it will be His final resting place. When the time is right we will bring His ashes and scatter them across the tailings for one final hunt through the bushes, brambles and the river that he came to know so well.

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Chester at Shelton with Des.

 

 

 

Rest In Peace Penrose Nomad

5/3/2002 – 21/9/ 2017.

 

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Training days and working test…..the end of a season of competition.

Three days after Bertie won his final Green star to gain his Irish Show Champion title we were on the road again and heading to England for our final trip of the year. Formal education has finally caught up with us, so on this occasion Des and Elly remained home.

Bertie won his final Green star at Carlow and district All breed Champ show for his Irish Show champion title.

Bertie won his final Green star for his Irish Show Champion title at Carlow and District Champ Show.

This was going to be a long one both in time away from home and distance travelled. My destination was all the way to the south of England. All across North Wales then down through the midlands where I would be sharing a cottage with my good friend and fellow chessie owner Gerlinde. She had travelled all the way from Austria the previous Sunday, with her five dogs Nico, Bella, Lilu, Vivian and Cashew, to meet up with Jason Mayhew for some training. This was also my main reason for extending the length of my trip. The opportunity to work with the dogs under the guidance of somebody else would make a pleasant change from pounding the fields alone.

I was taking two dogs, Bertie and Uisce. My time training with Jason and Gerlinde would be mostly for Uisce’s benefit. She now needed experience watching other dogs work and learning to focus in strange surroundings with multiple distractions. The working test on Sunday then, would give me some idea as to where exactly she is in training.

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Quintessential England.

The south of England is as different from Derbyshire, where we travelled to in August, as any part of the same country can be. Derbyshire is more Emily Bronte, wild and windswept whereas Sussex and its neighbouring counties are more Jane Austin. It is softer, more sophisticated in ways and utterly English; I could almost hear the clink of china cups as I drove through the myriad of  villages where old oak framed cottages clustered around cricket greens and the narrow winding streets draw you in, making you curious as to what delightful little shop lies around the next corner.

After thirteen hours of travelling we arrived weary but welcomed by Gerlinde and her gang to the cottage in Ockley village. Finding a house to accept and accommodate seven dogs in an area accessible to the training grounds was a challenge but I was pleased to find Vann Cottage pretty much  ticked all the boxes in relation to a holiday with dogs. Set at the end of a long single track the cottage stood on its own grounds with a secure back garden. A public footpath ran by the side of the house which brought us immediately to open pastureland, with no livestock to worry about and acres of wonderful old oak woodland. We could literally open the back door and step into the fields it was dog heaven.

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The cottage at Ockly, dog heaven.

There was just enough light left in the sky to take Bertie and Uisce for a much needed gallop across the paddock then once I had  fed them and settled them in the living room it was time to sit down and enjoy a steaming bowl of Gerlinde’s homemade pumpkin soup, fresh bread and a glass of wine while I caught up with her exploits in the preceding days and how she was enjoying the training.

In the three days she had been working with Jason they had changed ground each day, working on the very basics with her young puppies to more technical work with her advanced level dogs. Our plans for training were to work on aspects which we both have been struggling with our dogs. Attending the working test at the end of the week would be a lovely way to finish but it was for the training and chance to work with Jason that were our primary reasons for travelling so far.

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Gerlinde’s baby Cashew loved her week’s training.

Thursday and Friday were long, full, busy days. I was up and out of the house with the two dogs each morning at first light. Off across the fields where the tawny owl was hooting sleepily in the woods to the right and the roe deer were dancing across the chickpea crop in front of us. Back for a quick breakfast where Gerlinde had my coffee ready and by 9am both days we were on the road and joining the morning traffic on our way to the appointed training grounds.

Every trainer has a different way about how they work with dogs and inevitably each dog handler will find a person that ‘clicks’ with them to get the best from their individual dogs. In the past year I have had the opportunity to work with many trainers, some top of their field in competition but maybe not always the best teacher. Jason’s approach works for me. It is built around a simple premise of breaking down each aspect of retriever training to its most basic level and working forward from there…once each individual lesson is learnt it is simply a matter of joining the dots.

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England offers wonderful places to walk….the New Forest.

After two days of intense training much had been worked on and accomplished. There were lots of ideas to bring home and plenty of information for Uisce to digest and chew on. By Saturday it was time to take a break and have some fun with the dogs so we headed further south and west to the New Forest where I met up with my good friend Jo and her wonderful chessie boys Teague and Rana. Our paths had not crossed much this year in our travels to the UK but the New Forest was a half way point between where I was staying and where she lived so I thought it well worth investigating.

Driving rain hit the windshield as I headed southwest that morning. Too late I realised I had left my jacket at the cottage but by the time I had pulled into the carpark of The Dragon pub in Brook village it was like entering a different world, the clouds cleared, the sun broke through and there were horses everywhere and I mean everywhere. They were grazing on the village green, wandering through the local golf course and walking lazily across the main roads that cut through the national park. Every turn in the path on our walk they were there lifting their heads without concern as we passed them by with our four brown dogs. After almost two hours of walking and meeting these beautiful beasts  I can safely say that both Uisce and Bertie are  socialised to horses!

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Meeting up with Jo, Rana and Teague for a walk.

It was such a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, walking through the most beautiful countryside, catching up with a friend (one that I don’t see enough of) as our four brown dogs meandered through the woods in front of us. Then, to finish off a long leisurely lunch back at our starting point, The Dragon pub. Crufts, hopefully, will be our next meet up.

The days had gone too quickly and Sunday came round too soon. Time spent with friends and in good company always feels so. Gerlinde and I bade a fond farewell to our little cottage and once more headed south with our pack of brown dogs.
We were headed to a place near Petworth, the venue for the working test. It was a perfect location for a gathering of water-loving dogs. Set in well off the road the venue was part of a shoot where some of our club members are lucky enough to work and train their dogs. This was a managed carp farm so a series of interlinking ponds provided the perfect setting to run a test with an emphasis on water work.

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Help is always close by at chessie working tests.

One of the lovely things about the Chesapeake working tests and one of the reasons we have supported these events over the years is that there is never the same pressure to perform as there is at any variety retriever working tests. It is a friendly relaxed competition, (even though I still get nervous…), built around an understanding and love of our beautiful breed. That being said it is judged and marked as any AV retriever test would be the difference is if you struggle more leeway is allowed by the judge to offer guidance and support. Everyone that comes along is generous and open with help and advice. If your dog doesn’t do well there is always the camaraderie among fellow competitors on the day reminding you that they’ve all stood in your shoes before

The working test this year had drawn a record entry of 34. Nine dogs were from overseas. Our Judge was Mr Chris Rose who I found to be fair with both the tests set and his scoring. He made the best use of the ground available by including water work in over fifty per cent of all tests set. Uisce was a week too old to enter the Puppy class so I had entered her Not For Competition in the Novice Dog/ Novice handler class to see how she’s cope.

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Was Uisce ready for competition?

It’s been a few years now since I’ve stood on the line with a young dog at the very start of their working competition career. It’s easy to get comfortable running a dog that knows fairly well what they’re about, if mistakes are made whether they take a wrong line initially or misread what I as the handler has asked of them, they still have the knowledge and I have the ability to steer them back on course.

Although I knew exactly where I was in Uisce’s training, what her capabilities were and are and was more than prepared  to help and  to guide her through the day I underestimated the effect of factors which were beyond my control….my nerves, being around a lot of other equally young dogs who were also as excited and bemused as she was by the event, gun shot being used on retrieves etc.

She coped well, her first two retrieves were exactly what I’d hoped for; she was quiet and steady on the line for her mark, she went straight out with drive and style, found her mark without help and straight back with delivery to hand. Her first water mark, again was nice and clean just a small readjustment of the dummy on the bank but immediately picked it up and another nice hand delivery. The third retrieve caused her problems simply because it was a scenario that she’s been struggling with in training which was crossing a body of water and banking on foliage the far side; so again no surprise just an aspect of training we’ll have to build on through the winter with the help of the odd freshly shot duck or two!!

We continued on into the Beginner working test. This is quite often the trickiest level to do well in. There is generally significant age variation among the dogs entered so levels of experience can come into play. I intended to use this class again as a training experience for Uisce and if she messed up it didn’t matter. Today, for her, was all about learning.

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Positives and negatives to be taken away…

The first retrieve was a double, something we hadn’t worked on much. She did a lovely retrieve from water, struggled a bit on the land but with the judge’s permission I walked her closer to the thrower and with another dummy thrown she was off with her usual drive and enthusiasm.

In hindsight, I should have stopped there with her. When I stood on top of the bank for the next retrieve as the judge explained the test. I looked out across the pond to where the thrower was set up and thought, ‘holy cow!!! that’s long but….’ and there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? The retrieve was a seen into open water, something I knew she could do and the wind was in her favour, the only doubt was the distance. A ten metre run down the bank then into the water and at least a sixty metre swim. My gut told me that maybe today was not the day but when you’re on the line it’s difficult to walk away without trying. The shot was fired and she marked it well.  I was asked to send my dog and without any hestitation she took a spectacular chessie leap into the water and swam in the direction she had seen that dummy fall. In my head I urged her on, hoping that confidence and belief in knowing she had seen that dummy come down would pull her on. She got to within ten feet of where her target was and her body language changed. Her ears went back, she hesitated and turned left to the bank where the dummy thrower was. I have not yet taught her to push on back in water so with no ability to steer her I had no option but to pull her in. I set her on the bank and Jason, our working test secretary asked the judge if it was okay to throw a short retrieve in front into the water just to keep her confidence levels up. And again this is another reason I believe these working tests within our club are so vitally important, it’s at those times when a dog and handler are struggling that there is somebody there to step in, put the rulebook aside and do whatever it takes to make the experience a positive one for both the dog and the handler. Uisce finished her day by successfully completing a lovely blind retrieve and listening to the ‘hunt up’ whistle when I asked. Her failures on the day were my fault for putting her into situations that I knew she was not ready for, however, she seems to be the type of dog that can deal with mistakes, shake them off and move onto the next retrieve so I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with her in the future.

The competition at Open level was without doubt the highest standard I have ever seen at a Chesapeake working test. Not only had it the biggest entry I have ever seen, ten dogs, but the winning dog scored a perfect one hundred per cent on all of his retrieves. His name is Mattaponi’s Fabulous Niyol and he is still not even four years old!  Finishing just two points behind the winner was Niyol’s mother Mattaponis Matoanka. Both dogs are owned by Ms Ursula Moilliet and her husband who travelled from France to compete and boy did they mount a challenge. Lovely to watch, her dogs work with drive and style and are truly polished performers. It was  an honour to be able to run my dog alongside them.

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Bertie.

Bertie dropped too many points to finish in the top four on this day but I was still really pleased that he was awarded a certificate of merit. The overseas challenge also brought success in the other classes with my friend Gerlinde’s baby puppy, Cashew, at just 7 months winning the puppy class and Gerlinde’s beautiful girl Lilu finishing second out of a huge entry of 12 dogs in the beginner.

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And as we gathered in the fading light for the presentation of awards a skein of Canada geese flew over. They were a timely reminder that my dog’s summer of working test competition was finished for this year. Now we would turn with welcome to the mud, wet, wind and cold. Our ears listening for the call of a pheasant or on the water perhaps the whirr of wigeon wings. The winter is long…thank god, Happy Hunting everyone!!

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As a final note I wanted to say a few words about one very special dog who competed that day. His name is Echo also known as Penrose Quick As A Flash. He is nine years old and Mark, his owner, says this is his last competition. Most good dogs will have one or two seasons where they are at the top of their game in competition but Echo has seen challengers come and go and always remained at the top and even on Sunday he was still challenging for the top spot finally finishing fourth. What I think is most amazing about this dog, though, is that he is a true wildfowling dog. He has never been trained to the top level of polish that many believe is needed to succeed in modern retriever competition yet he always gets there. I hope he will have many more years working his beloved Dee estuary but truly he has left big paws to fill. In my eyes he is the greatest Chesapeake I have seen competing.

Copyright Mary Murray 2013.

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The legend which is Echo.

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!

http://youtu.be/EKNDDQ-R8o4

Retriever training with Mr Paul Toal Altiquin Labradors

I have known Paul since I became involved in gundogs over a decade ago and I’ve always admired his calm approach when working his dogs.

Colum and I have reached a point now where we realise that if we want to progress our dogs we need to improve our handling skills and not just merely rely on luck for the dogs to find the dummy. Both of us are aware that we fell short of the standard at the last working test.With that in mind we were able to gather a small group of four and booked Paul for an afternoon of training at Lough Ennell.

Our group comprised of a flatcoated retriever, a golden retriever, a curly coated retriever and a chesapeake…all working dogs attempting to play the summer gundog games.

Paul started the session with the very basics . Tips for tightening up on heelwork and steadiness.These are things I tend to get lazy about preferring to focus on lining and blinds but it’s often the small things that lose the most marks in a working test.

The next aspect was most interesting as I subsequently was told the same thing by another trainer last weekend. When teaching the hunt up command I had traditionally just introduced the whistle when the dog put its head down on a marked retrieve and worked it from there. Now retrievers are being taught to hunt up in a quartering style, like a spaniel. It’s much more specific and much more efficient. The real beauty of it is that Bertie loves this game. Already I’m seeing an improvement in his attitude to the whistle as it’s not being used to nag him but to steer him.

Moving onto improving marking skills , again he showed us some wonderful ways to encourage our dogs to mark better, to succeed and build confidence. All just little things that can make a huge difference to our dogs.

We finished the session with blind work . Again incorrect use of the whistle appeared to be one of our main problems when handling our dogs but something that was so simple to correct. Remembering to use the whistle as an aid rather than  a corrector.

I think the most important thing I gained from the afternoon was that there is always scope for learning and that retriever training is progressing and moving all the time. Paul has a very open minded and patient approach to his training which works well when dealing with novice handlers and dogs. As he worked with us that afternoon he gave a structure with which we can carry forward to our training sessions in the next few weeks.We will most certainly be calling on him again before the end of the Summer.