I went to Coshocton, Ohio this weekend for the Ohio Valley Retriever Club's Master test, judged by Clarence Klaus and Bob Meyer. I could have run a test in Michigan again this weekend, but I wanted to see how we would fare away from Omega Farms, where we trained all summer.
The 1st series was in a field with lots of interesting features: hills, cover strips and clumps, small bushes, large shrubs, and some trees. We had two land blinds to start. The right blind was to the left of the middle flier station, which was mostly hidden behind a very large and tall hedge of shrubs that hid both the flier and left gun stations, and about 2/3 of the way toward the left mark. The left blind was quite a bit to the left of the left mark.
As I expected, our first blind was a bit shaky. I expected it because he's often a bit independent when we first have to handle in a test. He left on a reasonable initial line, but between the cover strips and the hill that he wanted to square, he kept getting further to the right. His first whistle sit was more of a squat, accompanied by a "Huh?" look on his face. He eventually got a nose full of the blind since there was a light breeze from left to right, and I then got a fine response to my left over to the blind. The 2nd blind was better in the team work department, though he was showing a preference for fading right on that one, too.
The marks were thrown right, left, middle (flier). The right one was thrown coming in right to left, landing in front of a large/tall bush. The left and longest mark was thrown coming in right to left, landing to the left of the huge hedge and giving a little bounce as it landed. The middle flier was thrown straight left to right. Our flier landed nicely right in front of a bush, making marking it very easy for me :-).
Head swinging has been something of an issue with Gryffin this year as we've been running more multiples. I'm very happy to say that he stayed completely focused on the right mark until the duck call sounded for the left mark. However, as soon as that duck landed/bounced, he swung his eyes back to that exciting flier station in the middle. He left on my release to the flier with hard-charging enthusiasm, flew up the hill to the bush, screeched to a stop and returned with it.
Partly because he didn't give a strong indication of preference on his return, I opted to pick up the longer left mark next, perhaps because I knew he'd gotten such a long look at the right mark. I can't quite say why I made the decision - it was one of those quick choices you make in the heat of a test. A lot of handlers had their dogs do the right mark next, followed by the left mark, and several dogs ended up getting sucked to the right blind and needing to be handled to the left mark. In any case, he rocketed away on an excellent line to the left mark, but passed the bird just a bit up wind, went past, and disappeared behind the hedge. I was concerned that he'd circle around behind the hedge and reappear at the flier station at the other end of the hedge, so kept scanning for him over that way. Fortunately, he reappeared, and after a bit more of a hunt, found the bird. His pick up was veeeeery slow - was he out there trying to give mouth to mouth??? - but he finally picked it up and delivered it. His long hunt on that showed in his heaving breathing as he delivered the bird. I gave him an extra couple of moments to catch his breath, cued him up ("Where's your mark? That's right. Good.") and sent him off. That long look paid off, and he had only the briefest of hunts before finding it. He picked that bird up much faster and delivered.
One of the judges commented that I was the first handler to handle the gun like I was out hunting. I responded that, to me, that is a high compliment, since I don't hunt, and I'm just faking it in what I hope is a safe enough manner when handling the gun :-).
The first series didn't finish until 4 pm. The 2nd series was set up in the only spot at Woodbury that I've trained at. It was a simple land/water double. We had to sit on a cooler in front of a bush. There was some fairly tall cover 6 feet in front of the line which kind of blocked Gryff's view of the land bird's fall, though he leaned in towards me to see the fall through the flattened path through the cover. It was thrown in left to right from behind a large bush, landing in some cover on a spit of land with some shallow water behind it and a big rock and trees on the right end of it. The right mark was thrown right to left off the dike that edges the pond, landing with a splash. The entry was a bit vague, and several dogs chose to run to the right of the true line to the bird closer to the shore, some even on the shore. Gryff did fade a bit that way, but not too badly. When I lined him up for the memory bird, he locked in, and when released, arrowed straight to it. Here's a picture of the memory bird in the 2nd series:
There were still just over half the dogs left (34 of 45 starters) to run the 2nd series Sunday morning, which meant we had a leisurely morning. I got mostly packed up, then went across the street to the field and set up a split casting drill. The field that appeared relatively flat in the dark actually had a nice slope to it, which meant a chance to practice angling up a hill, which neither of my dogs is particularly strong at (dogs like to square a hill, as Gryffin had done on his first blind on Saturday). I got some nice work from bored Ty, then ran Gryff on the drill. As often happens when we do drills, he started out a bit on the slow and tentative side, and then got stronger and ran harder and harder. We ended on a beautiful straight line angling across the hill to the right pile of bumpers. Good boy!
I was hoping that the concentration on water work we'd done since our last test would pay off in the 3rd series, which I knew would have to contain at least a water double, a walk-up, and an honor. Considering a week ago I wasn't sure Gryff would be recovered enough from his mystery illness to even start the test (he was ill when I got back from a judging trip to Wisconsin Labor Day weekend), I was very happy to be even getting to attempt the 3rd series.
Since I was conveniently driving by, I stopped to take a look at the set up for the Senior land series, because Ty and I are entered in our first Senior test next weekend. While what gets set up is dependent on the land or water available and what the judges decide, it's always educational to take a look. The grounds are outstanding in what they offer for testing (not to mention training). I'd love to go and spend a week camping and training there!
The 2nd Master series had finished and all but one dog advanced to the 3rd series, including us. I found where the water was going to be, and heard mutterings about what the judges were setting up, including possibly a pair of in-line marks on the left side of the pond. Having trained on in-lines on land the previous Thursday, I felt at least somewhat prepared. Turns out the mutterings were wrong :-). The swampy pond was below the road level by 20-30 feet, so there was quite a steep hill to navigate getting to the last holding blind. The test consisted of a short walk-up, with the marks thrown left, middle, right. There was plenty of separation between the middle and right mark. Here's some fuzzy pictures taken on my cell phone camera (better than nothing!):
This smaller pool is just to the left of the chopped-off cattail path visible in the next picture.
The 2nd mark fell in open water beyond the last strip of cover that was beyond the cat tail path.
The double trees on the left in this picture are on the right in the blind picture:
The test was taking 8-10 minutes per dog, so by the time the series got under way, it was after 11 AM. As expected, we got to the line shortly after noon. We did the walk up, the birds went off (rather more rapidly than in the 1st two series), and after hearing our number from one of the judges, launched Gryff for the right mark. His duck landed just in the front of a cat tail clump, and he went swimming past it without apparent recognition. He got to the next clump, then circled back behind, clambered through and got his duck. He picked up the left bird without any particular problem, and when I lined him for the middle bird, he looked out well, and charged into the cat tail path. He did a brief check when he got to the grassy strip before the open water, but then off he went for the 3rd bird. It was probably his best water triple with ducks he's ever done! Nice time to turn it up a notch, Gryff-man!
There was a dry shot to indicate the blind shot from the same station as the go-bird, and it really got Gryff up and ready. There was a decent little channel just to the left of the line to the blind to aim him at. I got Gryffin to the back of the cover fairly quickly, but had several stops and casts to get him through it and not going into the channel to the right. We also had some horsing around on the shore on the opposite side. I suspect that I would have lost control at the end of that blind 2 months ago (i.e., get the dog almost there and then have him disappear into cover high enough to not be able to handle him). After delivery of the blind duck, we went to the honor spot, and he was, blessedly, rock solid on that, watching the next dog's marks fall with interest but apparent understanding that he was done.
As we climbed up the hill to go back to the car, I didn't know if the effort was good enough to pass and earn our first Master leg, but I felt it was our best 3rd series of the 3 tests we'd run.
The 'water' was so icky (can you say smelly swamp?) that it was turning the goldens and yellow labs black. Someone mentioned a cleaner pond a short walk down the road, so I grabbed a bumper and Gryff and I went down there to rinse the worst of the muck off him. He thought fun bumpers and some more swimming were a fine reward for his efforts in the test.
The test didn't finish until just after 5 pm (!), so in the meantime, I went and found a secluded place and trained Ty a bit, teaching her a nice Master level blind via backchaining. It was nice to give her a chance to do something more than just the casting drill in the morning.
After an interminable wait while the judges decided who passed, the awards were passed out. Yes, we passed!!! That little scrap of orange ribbon with 'Master Hunter' on it (the club ran out of rosettes, so will be mailing them) shows me that it isn't a dream. It made the four hour drive home zip on by.
Next up: no resting on our laurels, we've got Hamden next weekend!