Chessie rendez vous in Paris

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There she sits, our little Island , tucked up in the very far corner of the north Atlantic in Europe, snug in the knowledge that for anyone or anything  entering or leaving our little piece of greenness they are going to have to be very determined and that’s if your human. Bringing a dog or any other animal into Ireland is a whole different ball game.

A four thousand mile stretch of ocean to the west and north  and a fifty mile stretch of sea separating us from another island has meant historically that Ireland’s best method of defence in keeping out unwanted invaders  has always been her shoreline.

 

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Carlotta was coming to Ireland

We Irish though like a challenge. Nothing is straightforward in our eyes, and nothing grips us more than trying our best to circumnavigate, legally that is, around rules and regulations set out by those in authority. So, when an opportunity presented itself to welcome the lovely Chesapeake, Carlotta, coming all the way from Sailorsbay kennels in Argentina to stay with us here in Ireland, that favourite saying, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, sprung to mind.

It is the Department of Agriculture that sets the regulations and rules for the transport of all animals into Ireland. They work very, very hard at keeping all objectionable diseases and parasites, most notably rabies and tapeworm in this case, from crossing the body of water  which separates us from the continent of America on one side and the continent of Europe on the other, but, for some reason, they seem to focus all their energies on preventing these problems entering by air and are not so concerned when a dog enters Ireland by sea and nobody, not even the guy I spoke to in the Department of Agriculture could  explain why this is the case ???

In most countries, apart from Ireland, a dog may travel by air in one of two modes either by cargo or as excess baggage.

Cargo is the most tried and tested method. It involves a complicated procedure of dropping a dog off in an outlying terminal building hours before departure of the scheduled flight and being handled by people who the dog is unfamiliar with to be loaded onto the aeroplane. This process is repeated at the point of destination but, in the case of a dog landing in Dublin, it requires the extra stress to the animal of being trundled off in it’s crate, loaded into a taxi, driven five minutes down the road to a specified veterinary practice, at the expense of an extra one hundred euro to the owner, where paperwork and dog are checked and finally the dog may be handed into the care of it’s owner!!! Keeping stress to a minimum ? I think not !

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We were reluctant to fly her cargo.

There is another way of flying a dog and that is as ‘excess baggage’. In this instance the dog arrives to the check-in desk with its owner, is checked in, is loaded on the aircraft and collected by its owner at the point of destination….no delays, no expensive taxi journey, no fuss.

Now a dog may fly out of Ireland as excess baggage but the Irish department of Agriculture does not allow dogs to travel into Dublin in this civilized fashion, if a dog is to enter Ireland by air from anywhere other than the UK ,(  Aer Arainn will fly pets up to 38kgs including crate from Dublin to Bristol return), it must come in as ‘cargo’.  And there is one final stinging point in this mode of transport, to fly a dog into Dublin as cargo  costs  on average over ten times, yes TEN TIMES the cost of flying a dog as baggage!!!!

There was no way around it though,  Ireland is a long way from Argentina therefore any route taken was going to require time and careful planning to ensure successful negotiation of the paperwork involved in passing an animal through three countrys’ agriculture departments. And it is the paperwork that will trip you up, if every ‘t’ is not crossed, times, dates and signatures entered correctly there is the ominous threat of either quarantine or the dog being sent back to it’s country of origin.

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Paris was to be our meeting point.

Apart from the distance there are also  no direct flights between Argentina and Ireland so no matter what way we looked at it, flying would mean touching down in a minimum of two airports. Travelling her via cargo was just not an option….too long, too many airports and too expensive. We could fly her as baggage into continental Europe but then would either have to procure an agent for the final leg of the journey into Ireland, (again messy and very expensive), or travel overland to meet her.  Luckily for both of us Mecha’s husband was travelling into Europe on business in the time frame we had planned for and better still he could fly into Paris.

By the end of the first week in September the paperwork had been checked, double checked and triple-checked between Argentina and Ireland. Carlotta was due to arrive in Charles de Gaulle airport on a Wednesday so we had allowed a four day travel window to complete the two thousand kilometre round trip which involved crossing two stretches of water, two borders, negotiating London’s infamous M25 at rush hour and remembering to drive on the right hand side once I landed in Calais.

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The rendez vous was almost upon us…

My companion throughout the journey was my good friend Marianne, she has travelled to and from the continent many times over the years with her Curly-coated retrievers and more recently her well known Krisbos Jack Russell Terriers. She was my voice of reason when I got flustered with paperwork, my co-pilot when I inadvertently drifted into the wrong lane on the French motorways and my partner in crime when we spent Tuesday evening in Paris celebrating Carlotta’s impending arrival with one or two glasses of vino, (it had to be done)…

Well, what I can I say only it can be done. Twenty minutes after the Buenes Aires flight touched down in Paris, Ignacio, Mecha’s wonderful husband, came barrelling through the arrival gates pushing a large electric blue dog crate with one slightly bemused Chessie inside. We made our way together out to where my car was parked in the airport, ( again one of THE most user friendly car parks I have ever encountered even if I don’t speak French), and Ignacio opened the crate. Out she came tail wagging, a little tired but no signs of stress. We loaded the crate into the back of the car, some last hugs between Ignacio and Carlotta and in she hopped, curled herself up and we headed off.

A pee break for Carlotta at a rest stop once we cleared the airport and then an uneventful two hour journey to Calais, where we would encounter the final check on paperwork before boarding the Euro tunnel train to England.

I love the French, nothing is a hassle unless it has to be….it took less than five minutes to check through Carlotta’s paperwork before we got that little ticket with a paw on it giving us permission to travel onto Folkestone in England. We had chosen to use the train as opposed to ferry primarily because it is the quickest route across, 35minutes and you don’t have to leave your car. Another advantage of using the Eurotunnel is that there is a two hour leeway for boarding meaning if you arrive early you can take an earlier train at no extra charge. In our case we arrived in Folkestone two hours before our scheduled departure from France.

From Folkestone we negotiated the evening London traffic on the M25 with surprising ease and made it to our hotel in Birmingham by 9pm. After sharing our scampi and fries at a local pub Carlotta jumped on the bed beside Marianne and did not budge until the next morning.

On her final leg of the journey into Ireland she had the opportunity to walk along the beach in Wales at Junction 17, where we have stopped many times with our Chessies during our excursions to the UK, before taking the ferry across to Dublin. We arrived home on Thursday evening.  Her transition into our family has been seemless and stress free, I am certain that has much to do with her upbringing and breeding but I am equally sure that allowing her handover to take place in the presence of someone she loves and trusts had much to do with limiting stress and worry for her as she faces into a new life.

So from the land of a thousand welcomes we wish Carlotta a Cead Mile Failte !

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Some footnotes…..when using this route we followed the DEFRA guidelines as opposed to the Irish Department of Agriculture. The main documents required were current and up to date rabies certificate with microchip number ; Tapeworm treatment given not less than 24 hours or greater than 120 hours before entering the UK…this must be signed by a vet, stamped, and dated and timed and is the one document that most dogs will be prevented from travelling if not completed properly. All dogs coming in from an non-EU country do not have a pet passport so they come in on an Annex II veterinary certificate. Carlotta did not require tick treatment coming in from Argentina. We were not asked for paperwork on the journey between UK and Ireland.

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The long blind retrieve….

Close your eyes and cast your mind back…..it is a dark, damp wet day in late January.  The Pheasants are fewer but they fly higher, better and further making shooting more challenging and the dog work more difficult.

You and your dog are covering the end Gun in a field on his own.  The birds are flying well, breaking in small clusters and coming nicely over the guns. A strong north-west wind gives added momentum to their flight pushing them higher into the air as they lift off from the Oak wood in front. Your gun has had few opportunities as the break in cover is spread mainly along the middle guns but then sometime late in the drive his patience is rewarded. A cock bird breaks and swoops right into the wind, gliding over the tree tops he is lazy with his wing beats as he allows the wind to carry him high across the valley at an angle towards the pen and the safety of home.

Your gun, an experienced shot, watches the bird’s approach with a seasoned eye, he keeps his gun down as he gauges it’s speed and height but just as he lifts the gun to his shoulder a hen bird breaks late in front of him. Instinctively the Gun swings onto her and she drops cleanly at his feet. Your dog has her marked. Then in one fluid movement the Gun brings the second barrel  onto the rogue cockbird just as he passes to his left and with another practised shot the bird drops both legs. With wings fixed straight out the wind keeps him  high as he glides to the cover three hundred meters away.

You watch him land clumsily, out of sight in the deep cover that surrounds the pen and know his injuries are fatal and as such a priority retrieve. With  your dog’s attention still focussed on the hen-bird that lies close by you turn him away to face the cover where the wounded cock bird landed in…..

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The small white dot in the center of the picture is the dog…photo by Phil o Sullivan

Now, open your eyes and look at the scene in front of you. It is Summer and you stand on the line at a working test. It is the last retrieve of the day and your dog has run well. But everyone is talking about this one final retrieve that has been the undoing of many dogs. It is the long blind retrieve and although the season is different and the distraction of bird scent and gunshot are absent the lesson you and your dog will hopefully learn today will carry you both through the season ahead when the skills required to find a bird at distance will be called into play.

Dog and handler were set up in a narrow channel of woodland. About twenty meters in front an orange fence had been stretched across the path  at a slight angle, and just before the dog was sent a bolting rabbit was pulled across the line in front from right to left as a diversion not to be touched. Once clear of the fence the woodland opened out to a wide area of meadow grass. The run was uphill all the way with the dummy placed under a large overhanging beech tree just off the left of centre. The terrain, lack of wind and obstacles offered many challenges that needed to be considered before sending your dog.

The jump at an angle would push the dog slightly left and if let run on went quickly out of sight and difficult to get a line going in the long push back up hill. If the jump was negotiated well and the run uphill taken, then a large dip, tipping slightly right pushed the dog right and on into the meadow that ran past the beech tree and again out of sight. Distance now was a big problem as the dog had limited view of its handler in the shade of the wood channel below.

The dogs that succeeded well were those that held the middle line and where the handler stopped their dog about fifty meters out from the beech before casting forty-five degrees left and back to hunt under the beech tree.

Bertie and I succeeded but I made the mistake of allowing him continue the line to the meadow that ran to the right of the beech tree so then when I needed to pull him back to handle he struggled to see me. We lost 8 marks from 30 but to complete such a technically difficult retrieve  was better than winning any rosette that day.

Admittedly, during the winter months much of my dogs’ work involves them using their own initiative and game sense to find birds in places neither of us have seen fall and I am simply the bird carrier that follows in their wake. However, every once in a while a scenario like the one described above will occur that requires a dog to put aside his self-employed status and work with his handler as a team.

Although played out on the shooting field in winter it is through the summer months of training and working test competitions that lay the foundations of building that unique partnership of belief and trust.

Autumn is coming and we are ready, it has been a long busy summer of competition and travel. Now we are ready to put down roots, turn into the north-west wind and face the winter. The quiet and solitude of standing alone with my dog while we listen for the call of a mallard on the Shannon or the shriek of a snipe when it rises from the rushes is nearly upon us….close your eyes and cast your mind forward…..

Many thanks to Midland retriever club for setting this wonderful test.

 

Bettinsons’ beckon….a weekend training the dogs in Wales.

 

Sunrise on the Brecon becons, Wind has played a major role in sculpting the landscape.

Sunrise on the Brecon becons, Wind has played a major role in sculpting the landscape here.

 

Wind…. it’s influence was everywhere last weekend in Wales. It was a gentle breeze as we crossed the Irish sea from Rosslare to Pembroke on Thursday morning; it had sculpted the oak wood that clung steeply to the valley sides as it rose behind our rented cottage;  it made my eyes water and left my face raw and tight after a day standing exposed on the Welsh moor where we trained the dogs with Mark and Jamie.

Wind it’s effect was clearly visible all around and it is an element everyone, me included, involved in working gundogs is always aware of but until last weekend I had truly underestimated it’s value as an aid to improving my handling in gundog work…

 

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The knarled trunks of the oak trees shaped by wind.

The Bettinsons’ have International recognition as trainers and after spending three days out on the Welsh moors where dogs and handlers are put through their paces I can understand why.

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This is tough ground to work a dog over.

It is rough, tough ground to work a dog over. Wide open moorland that is cut through with  narrow winding gullies and for the three hours we spent walking slowly in line down through the shallow valley the ground changed all the time but  the wind was a constant companion. Even when it was barely there it had a bearing on how a line should be taken and how a dog worked. Every command, every ask and all conversations in relation to setting your dog up before a retrieve revolved around thinking about the fall, using the natural landscape to help your dog succeed and finally, always, always, checking the wind.

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Uisce in action.

Mark’s words still echo in my head and will possibly for a long time to come, “…leave him be Mary, he’s right for wind“….and when a dog is ‘right for wind‘, that, I discovered, is when the magic happens. There is no battle of wills between dog and handler then, it becomes a much more fluid and organic partnership and, because the need to use the whistle becomes less frequent, the response when it does come into play is much sharper. The result is that the more often this sequence happens the more confident the dog becomes and the more they are willing to give.

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Walking up the moors.

Chessies, as we’ve discussed before are independent thinkers with a highly developed sense of smell. This is something which is a great asset when trying to find a wounded duck out on the water or in the reeds after dusk has fallen, it’s a trait I would never like to see being bred out of them just to make them more manageable for trial work. However, from time to time, even a Chessie has to learn that sometimes his Master may actually be able to help him recover a bird or two and so, learning to take direction and listen to whistle commands is  a vital part of a process that will improve that working relationship for both parties.

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In my limited experience as a handler of Chessies  I have found that they are quite compliant companions when whistle use is short, sharp and to the point, but it is when you start to bully them with the whistle that they tend to shut down and that is when they will blow you off to find the bird on their own terms or give up and come in. Finding a way of learning to use the natural elements more and handle less would surely result in a more productive working partnership.

 

 

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Where you cast a dog to will be influenced by ground and wind.

So, as we made our way slowly down the shallow valley that first morning and I listened to that lilting Welsh accent in my ear, I began to get a clearer picture and learn that casting for a blind retrieve wasn’t so much about straight lines anymore and more about using the fall of the land and wind direction to allow the dog to work with more freedom to find the bird on its own initiative.

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It was difficult to assimilate at first, similar to when I learnt to shoot. Just as following through on a flying target and pulling through to allow for wingbeats, pellet spread and wind takes practice, equally I found, allowing for land fall, distance to retrieve, and wind is going to influence greatly where you originally cast a dog to. Sometimes,  this meant taking in an extra twenty metres or more to allow for these particular elements to come into play but, for an air-scenting breed, that dislikes being held up by too many commands from base camp, when his handler figures this out it must be like manna from heaven.

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By the third morning the pieces started to fall into place and, when we took our place in line, each and every aspect of his work was seamless, looked easy and was pure poetry to watch. I understood  the difference then between novice and advanced level dog work….a talented dog in novice will do well with a poor handler but to succeed at advanced level takes not only a talented dog but an instinctive handler, one that has to touch his dog with the least amount of pressure to get the job done. They, both dog and handler, make it appear easy, perhaps because rather than battling the elements they are both using  the tools that nature provides….a dog’s nose, the ground they work over and  our friend the ‘wind ‘….what do you think?

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That superior scenting skill is an immense asset when used in conjunction with wind.

 

 

So you want to train a Chesapeake?

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Beneath that wavy double coat lies a steely determination to get the job done.

Dear reader,

So you think you’d like to train a Chesapeake?

How hard can it be, right? After all, most likely, you’ve grown up around Labradors all of your life, possibly trained quite a few by now and you’d like the challenge of maybe trying something a little bit different?

How different can a Chesapeake really be? You’ve heard they can be challenging, strong-willed and stubborn perhaps?  but a firm hand should be able to sort that out, shouldn’t it?

And apart from that fabulous dense wavy coat they look so similar to the traditional strong Labrador of what you remember from childhood that you know they will train just like any other retriever, right?

….and that my friend is where you will make your first mistake.

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Looks almost like a Labrador, so how different can they be?

You see I’ve been there, done that, worn the T-shirt.

When our first Chesapeake came into our lives  13 years ago I truly thought we were just taking home a wavy coated version of a chocolate Labrador.

I did all the right things, bored him to death by taking him to ‘proper’ gundog training from a young age where I followed instructions from those in the ‘know’ and he learned to sit in line for hours on end and learned to watch other dogs retrieve, take lines, be reprimanded physically and verbally for infractions such as running in or not returning quick enough.

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It wasn’t long before his Labrador peers that had started the same time as him were moving on to greater things, they had an aptitude for taking correction and direction stoically and without fuss. Trying to teach Chester in the same way produced drama, stubbornness and downright refusal. Simple things like telling him to enter a bramble patch to hunt for a dummy resulted in flat out refusal, yet he would hunt the ditches at home on the mere whiff of a rabbit or pheasant.

In fairness to Chester, (and I commend him for this), in spite of all my nagging and pushing  to a large extent he played along and did as I asked but the spark and drive that I saw when he hunted freely at home evaporated the moment I sat in line at a working test. He compounded what many, in Ireland, thought of Chesapeakes at the time….slow, ploddish and indifferent to dummies.

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Labradors, much more appeasing in general.

There was something about all those curve balls he threw at me though that made me smile, no matter how much I tried to enforce my will on him he was determined to do it his way and I loved him for that. If you ever need a lesson in humility get a Chesapeake and run him in competition ‘cos sure as eggs he will find some way to bring you back to earth.

The day I gave up trying to train Chester to become a working Labrador was truly the day my relationship with this breed moved into another level.

I threw away the ‘rule book’ that says all retrievers can and will be taught in the same way, forgot any fancy notions of competing in working tests and went out and had fun with my dog. In training I allowed him ‘run-in’ on dummy retrieves. I let him parade and race round the field with it, got excited when he raced back with dummy to hand, used treats and experimented with clicker training.

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Chester 1st Open UK CBRC Spring working test.

I kept my training sessions short and light, incorporated them into our walks instead of formulating long static sessions. On the odd occasion when some drill-work was required I punctuated it with play-breaks or moving ground.

The single most important thing I learned during this time, however,  is that this breed, the Chesapeake, needs acknowledgment for a job well done. Whether that acknowledgment comes in the form of an affectionate pat on the head, a much prized piece of liver or an all out ‘yippee’ and roll around in the grass the choice is yours. To get them to play your game your way they like payment but the best thing for you as a trainer is that you get to break and bend the ‘rules’ and have F.U.N….

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You’ve got to be brave enough to break the ‘rules’.

In their book ‘How dogs learn’ Burch and Bailey devote an entire chapter on the importance of acknowledging breed differences when applying training methods stating :

” Breed differences, the individual characteristics of each dog and variables in the way they are trained, all play important parts in successfully teaching new behaviours…”

When you understand this and apply it in training,  it is a tool that can be used to huge advantage when trying to get the best from your dog. All of those wonderful traits that make a Chesapeake exactly what they are and differentiate them from other retriever breeds, were what I wanted to bring forward and keep, as well as a trained gundog. To do this successfully I realised I, as a trainer, had to change in my approach to training more than my dog.

If you are the type of person that likes control and a dog that will bend to your bidding then perhaps a Chesapeake is not the breed for you. That strong-minded, independent thinking dog with a phenomenol nose was bred that way for a very good reason. When hunting heavy waters at dawn and dusk a dog with a very strong desire to hunt and retrieve with little direction and repeatedly enter cold water was and is required above all else. That same independence in thinking is often seen as a handicap when trying to teach the finer points of handling.   Try to ‘break’ that strong mind to fit into your regime of training and you will surely fail, frustrating both you and your dog. However, if you are willing to understand and apply the heritage that this breed brings with it and change your own approach to training then and only then will you and your Chesapeake break boundaries in training.

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some success winning WD, WDX and WDQ in the same day with Winnie and her son Bertie.

Less than a year after ‘correcting’ myself as a trainer Chester won the Open Class UK Chesapeake Bay Retriever Spring Working Test and in subsequent years I have enjoyed some success with Winnie  and her sons Bertie and Mossy. Uisce, now just 2 years, has probably benefitted most from my changes and approach to training. I’ve certainly enjoyed the journey we’ve shared so far but I am still very much on a learning curve. Working tests give me focus for training and although the breeds differ I have learned a great deal from watching some top Labrador handlers compete with their dogs.

Getting down and dirty in the working field though is, without doubt, where this breed excels. When I can throw off the shackles of lines and whistle work and just let them be what they are meant to be, a strong, solid, beautiful Chesapeake, that is when everything about this breed finally makes sense.

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The working field is where this breed makes sense.

As yet, I have not focussed on field trials. It takes a certain type of dog to compete in this very specialised sphere. Of the many hundreds of labradors bred with field trials specifically in mind each year only a tiny percentage manage to compete with any sort of success. That’s not to say that it’s not possible for a Chessie to compete but to do so would, I believe, take the breed in a whole other direction….for better or worse I can’t say….it’s just not in my breeding plans at present.

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Beautiful, intelligent, powerful but most definitely not the breed for everyone.

So do you still think you’d like to train a Chesapeake?  For those of you who still feel this is the breed for you please, please take your time. Ireland is a small country with an even smaller population of Chesapeakes but a disproportionate number end up in rescue or seeking a second home between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Choose a good breeder and keep the lines of communication open for help and advice when needed or, at the very very least, seek advice and help from others experienced in the breed.

Good luck in your search whatever path you choose.

The training day…

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our dogs will always try, we just need to show them the way..

If we ask the question when training our dogs ‘How can I help my dog now ?’ it changes our whole perspective and approach to training. Everything from the very basics of heelwork and steadiness to the very limits of teaching lines and blinds becomes more of a team effort rather than a push-me pull-me battle of wills.

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Mr Jason Mayhew with new friend Fred..

This question formed the core of Jason Mayhew’s training day on Saturday. He reminded us at each step and stage of training that:

1. We should look for the smallest try and work with it.

2. Ask ourselves what we can do to help our dogs ?

3. Investigate…does my dog know what I’ve asked …test it, and if it doesn’t then its okay to move back a step.

Subsequently you will find it allows both you and your dog breathing space, time to think about what we are asking of them, their understanding of that ask and perhaps most importantly realising that it is okay for our dogs to make mistakes when learning.

The training ground

The training ground.

The ground was provided for the day by Mr David Barron. David has always been generous with providing ground for clubs to run working tests during the summer and also as a venue for people to meet and train on Friday mornings. When I approached him and asked him earlier in the summer he set about building a professional level gundog training ground for the day….

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In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have envisaged what he was able to  create  in such a short time frame. Remarkably he had managed to procure possibly the only flat field on the top of a mountain!! Bordered by deciduous wood there was everything needed in relation to gundog training…white flat grass to start young dogs off on, then falling down into rushy cover. The field is a  wide rectangle, perfect for walk up. He had cut a winding channel through the middle and perpendicular to this runs a fence the whole width of the field, topped with timber and secured with sheep-wire. At intervals along the fence he has put slats of timber to enable the handler, when teaching a young dog to jump, to remove a level. He has left in the few willow trees scattered throughout the field which again are perfect for lining to a point and hunting an area of cover and all of this is set amongst the outstanding beauty of the Wicklow mountains.

Finding a trainer with an interest in all breeds and every level of handler is important.

Finding a trainer with an interest in all breeds and every level of handler is important.

I have known Jason for many years from when we started in Chesapeakes roughly around the same time. His main interest has always been in competitive working tests and field trials. He competed with his wonderful Chesapeake, Sage, to novice field trial level before taking the leap and buying a yellow Labrador, Georgie, to trial with…from here he has developed his training techniques and skill which is reflected in the success he is currently having with his young dog Flint on the working test circuit this summer. He has worked with most retriever breeds and spaniels. He has run breed specific training days for the UK Chesapeake club and also  training days to prepare gundogs aimed at passing their show gundog working certificate as well as tutoring individuals ambitious to field trial.

Building a relationship.

Building a relationship.

I had asked everyone attending if they had something they specifically wished Jason to focus on and problems ranged from lack of focus when in company with other dogs whether this was lunging or lack of interest in retrieving, dropping and shaking out of water, spinning when sent on a blind retrieve, running in, not listening to the whistle and from the handlers point of view they wished to know how they could improve their handling..

Helping a dog by improving handling.

Helping a dog by improving handling.

The morning was split into two novice groups where Jason was able to start at the very beginning of gundog work by reminding us that instilling strong foundations in close work such as heeling and lead control will pay dividends and is really vital in helping our dogs when progressing onto distance control.

teaching steadiness.

teaching steadiness.

The second group that morning were slightly more advanced dogs, dogs that may be running prelim/novice working tests. It was in this group he met Monty, a beautiful young yellow lab whose owner was struggling with him running in. Jason asked him to remove his lead and kneel beside his dog putting his hands lightly around the dog’s chest, just enough pressure to hold the dog still. Then a retrieve was thrown and as expected Monty tried to push through his handler’s hands. Only when his dog relaxed, just for a fraction of a second, was he allowed to let him go. When he did run in Jason asked him to simply follow his dog quietly, slip his lead back on, walk back to where they both started and begin again. He again challenged us to ask the question, ‘do I need this fight now?; when our dogs our learning should it be a battle? After three or four attempts Monty was sitting quietly with very little pressure and no lead as he watched other dogs work.

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The day brought together retriever breeds from all spheres.

We learnt how to use wind to our advantage by locating the channel of scent when a retrieve is thrown, we focussed on strengthening our casting and reading our dog’s body language when sent on a run out. There was a lot to take in but I felt time was given to everyone.

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We broke for lunch and David invited everyone, if they wished, up to his house or rather as most of the guys now lovingly refer to as ‘the Man Cave’, with its vaulted ceiling straddled with heavy timber joists, stone fireplace and a huge billiard table taking center stage surrounded by old comfortable couches it oozes masculinity…but immediately feels homely and welcoming , inviting you to sit down, stretch out your weary legs, relax and talk. It was a chance for everyone to mingle, reflect on what had been taught that morning and speak to Jason in relation to any queries they may have had in relation to what he spoke about.

Almost all the retriever breeds were represented.

Almost all the retriever breeds were represented.

The afternoon was an opportunity for everyone present to have a chance to try out the magnificent piece of ground which David had developed. I was able to hang back, watch and take in the wonderful sight of so many beautiful retriever breeds gathered and eager to learn on this single piece of ground. Goldens, a Flatcoat, a Curly coat, a Chesapeake and of course the noble Labrador were all accounted for. Each discipline was represented from the show dog, the picking up dog to the field trial contender and every level of handler from very novice to those from the trialling world.

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Making use of the jumping fence on the new ground.

These people and their dogs made the day and without their presence it would not have been possible. The numbers that attended showed a real need and desire among handlers in the working retriever world in Ireland to learn and progress. Gundog training is an evolving sport, constantly changing with new and better ways to get the best from both dogs and handlers. Although most gundogs will inevitably bring up the same problems in training, each individual breed needs to be handled in a different manner. This is where selecting a trainer becomes crucial. One who has a specific interest in dealing with all spectrums and levels of gundog and not just those aspiring to field trial. Perhaps just as importantly being able to engage and link in with the handler in communicating their message and in this therein lies the secret….

waterwork

waterwork

A huge thank you to my husband Des for acting as Jason’s assistant on the day as chief dummy thrower and launcher.

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

Carrowbawn working test.

 

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Summer in all her luscious lovlieness had arrived and as my car wound its way up through the hills behind Ashford county Wicklow, I rolled down the window and inhaled that wonderful coconut scent of wild gorse in bloom. The wind scorched fields and bare trees of a very long cold Spring had gone. Now it was as if nature had opened her box of paints and spilled them in delightful disarray all over the countryside.

I turned the car off the road, shifted down gears again and climbed on up a narrow track which took me into the farmyard of Mr David Barron’s home, Carrowbawn. This was the venue for today’s working test. Organised by the All Ireland Retriever Club under the capable guidance of Mrs Jean Johnston and the Judges were Mr J Perry and Mr E Lennon.

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If everything went pear-shaped in regards to dog work, disappointment would soon be forgotten when I gazed out past the flowering gorse to the expanse of Irish sea below. It has got to be one of the most breath-taking venues to hold a working test.

The first test that afternoon saw us sitting in an eight dog line up for a simulated drive. This type of test is becoming increasingly common and it is an aspect of Bertie’s training which I have worked hard on throughout the past year. So far this Summer we have sat through 3 such tests and  he has coped well. He used to have a habit of counting dogs and creeping in anticipation when he knew it was his turn but so far this year his line manners have been impeccable, no moving and quiet. Today’s test would take  him to the edge though.

The dogs faced a plantation of conifers separated by a low stone wall. Once the drive was in progress beaters came through the woods toward us, shots were fired and dummies thrown over the wall in front of us. As if that wasn’t enough two bolting rabbits were then released in front of the dogs. One dog, sitting next to Bertie, was caught off guard with this development and ran in. Bertie lifted his rear but moved no further and remained in suspended animation for the remainder of the drive. This was purely a test in steadiness with no retrieve required.

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The second test was a blind and diversion….with a twist. The dogs were taken one at a time. We stood on top of a hill. The field below was bordered by a stone wall, with banks of gorse. There were spots in the wall which were possible for the dogs to get through BUT the test was set in such a way that the only realistic route was through a gate directly in front of your dog, the blind was laid in the top left hand corner of the second field about a hundred meters on from the gate. The complication was the extremely tight angle between the gate and where the diversion was thrown among a cluster of decoys, just feet from the gateway. There was not the option of casting your dog left  to avoid this temptation as there was a second blind to be retrieved up a track behind gorse and along the wall after the first had been retrieved.

This was going to be tricky. I inhaled deeply and cast Bertie directly to the gate. As I anticipated, he did what I would expect him to do in the shooting field and clear game as he came upon it. He was taking a line directly for those decoys. I let him have his head until he was within ten feet or so then blew him up and cast him left. He wasn’t convinced at first and took another few strides towards the decoys. I stepped on the whistle again and with a very definite cast left he  went through the gate. I pushed him straight back up the hill, then stopped him and cast him left again. He caught the scent on the wind and found the dummy. That retrieve alone was sooo worth it. The second part was easier, casting him well clear of the decoys he took the line well left of the gate disappeared behind the gorse amd emerged with the dummy.

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Third retrieve again consisted of a double blind but straightforward and no problems. There’s always one though, isn’t there? The fourth retrieve that afternoon was the one that saw the undoing of many…..

Again we found ourselves on top of that hill. This time the blind was laid across the wall and up to the right of the second field. Directly in front of us was a lovely gap in the wall, perfect for sending your dog through then cast right and he would use the wall to push on up the hill. However, on this occasion three dummies had been placed in clear view just beyond that gap and they were not to be touched ( I also found out later that there were dummies laid behind the wall which were not to be touched). I knew this time the momentum  carrying him downhill and straight through that gap would be too much to stop him in time so I opted for the alternative. It wasn’t possible to send him straight to the corner as the field was bordered with a thick bank of gorse. I sent him to the edge of the gorse and then cast him right up a track that ran along the wall. At this point it was impossible to see my dog, I hoped he would appear at the top of the field where there was a low section in the wall and I could send him over. He reappeared at the bottom of the gorse, I cast him again and urged him with a verbal ‘get-on’ to re-enforce what was needed. It worked. When he appeared at the top of the field I sent him over the wall, a little hunt up and he found the dummy. I exhaled and laughed in relief and disbelief…I truly love what this dog does sometimes….

Fifth retrieve was a long single seen and finally after a long hot day our final retrieve was a water mark…a really lovely way for all the dogs to finish on a good note.

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

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

 

 

We got lucky that day, Bertie finished second but my satisfaction came more from succeeding in two very technical retrieves. Chesapeakes are a breed that like to use their own initive. They don’t like to be told too many times which direction to go in relation to gamefinding, once is generally enough. Indeed it is certainly where they excel when wildfowling and that ability to figure things out for themselves is often a handicap when applied to working tests. What I love about this dog is that he still manages to retain that chessie attitude as you saw  in relation to going forward for that diversion because he believed that was the right thing to do at the time BUT he is willing to forgo that urge to do what I wish without caving if over-handled and that is what makes him different.