Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 June Buckeye Retriever Club Hunt Test

This past weekend was the Buckeye Retriever Club's spring hunt test, at Hambden Nursery south of Cleveland. Gryff finished his JH there, earned his 1st SH leg there, and his 2nd MH leg, so I'm quite familiar with the grounds. The Ohio hunt test crowd is simply great. Great people, fine judges, excellent workers, and super grounds.

I'm bummed to say Gryff and I went out in the 2nd series of thes Master test, the 1st time we haven't gone on to the 3rd series (this was our 6th test). His morning land series was great - a walk-up triple with a double blind. He picked up his go bird on the right and the left bird with almost no hunt, and got the middle bird efficiently. He lined the left blind (which was between the left and middle marks, just outside where the left mark landed and only took 2-3 whistles on the 2nd one.

The 2nd series was deceptively simple - a water double with a diversion bird. The diversion bird was thrown when the dog was just reentering the water on the return from the 1st retrieve, AND it was thrown in-line with the memory bird. Gryff got the go bird and the diversion bird just fine, but instead of getting in and swimming past where the diversion bird had splashed, he chose to run down the bank on the left and then all around the pond to the bird. And then he didn't get wet on the return. The judges said if I'd handled him into the water (successfully, of course), it would have been okay. The pond was small enough that it simply didn't occur to me to handle. I kept thinking he'd get in, and then he was beyond where that was possible. One other dog did essentially the same thing and he was also dropped. I think the failure was a combination of zero work on in-lines since last summer and his cheaty nature that hasn't been addressed lately. He did some pretty significant cheating during the Steady Singles at the National as well as in training during the past week. Bad me for not addressing it better during training.

I do know what I'll be working on in the coming months with Gryff. WATER! Lots and lots of water. Since Ty's water is weaker, this will be good for her, too.

Ty had super land marks in the Senior test on Sunday. It was a walk-up double, with the memory bird thrown from the right hedgerow, angled back, and the go bird thrown from behind a bush, landing just to the left of a big pine tree. She walked out with nice focus out into the field, and sat promptly on my whistle. She turned well to mark the 2nd bird, and dashed off right to the bird on my cue. She lined up and delivered it well, and got the memory bird with only a short hunt. The blind was about 180 degrees from the left bird, toward the corner of the field. We had to send directly into the corner of high cover, with tempting mowed paths to both left and right. There was another mowed path in the middle. Her blind was decent, though I have some homework ideas from the experience. She wasn't sitting at all crisply, and in fact, didn't sit a couple of times. She stopped and gave me her focus, but not completely. She was standing with her body facing down one of the paths, her head turned toward me. I waited a LONG time for her to sit, and to her credit, she didn't 'auto cast' and take off on her own. I finally gave a come-in whistle and another sit, and finally got a sit from her. On my next cast, she did go into the next strip of cover and made it back pretty close to the duck. We had some horsing around in the trees, but she finally came up with it.

Here's a short video showing the land marks as they were thrown for the first dog.

Both judges complimented me when we finished the land series. I haven't watched Senior much lately, so I've forgotten the leniency of expectations compared to Master .

Water was in the dumbbell shaped pond relatively near the entrance to Hambden. She took a great line to the go bird - I was really proud of her effort there. I wasn't sure how hard she'd work on it, but I needn't have worried. She drove out to the bird through some cover and over logs and plucked the bird out of the water promptly. She did a bunch of hunting into the woods on the memory bird, but she came up with it (it was on the shore in the little pocket on the north side).

Here's a short video showing the water double. I was a bit late in starting the camera, so you have to look fast as the memory bird lands just as the video starts.

The blind was a swim across the right end of the dumbbell, with a bit of an angle entry. The duck was 10-15 yds from shore, under the left side of a bush. The start was rocky. She got in and went along the right shore line some. She took a cast that I let her carry for a while even though it wasn't superbly on line because I didn't want to totally tear down her momentum. She finally took a brilliant over back to the center of the pond (she swam like she spotted something on the far shore that she headed for), and then a great straight back almost to the end of the pond. We had some horsing around at the end, but I was relatively pleased with the ending. Her training water blinds last week weren't super confidence inducing for me, so I was happy with the results.

In the end, we did indeed pass, so now Ty has 2 Senior legs. We won't run another test until late July (Ft. Detroit @ Omega), so we have lots of time to work on the problems this weekend showed me. That's what these tests are for: showing me where our strengths and weaknesses are.

FCRSA 2010 - Obedience Day 2

For Day 2 of obedience at this year's FCRSA National, I had Gryff entered in Versatility, Ty entered in Grad Open (1st try) and the pair entered in Brace. Gryff earned his one VER leg at last year's National, and this would be our 1st time doing it since then.

Versatility has 2 exercises from Novice, 2 from Open, and 2 from Utility. When it was a non-regular class, it was up to the judge to pick the exercises. Now, there are 12 different combinations from which the judge picks. We had V4- Novice Heel Free, Recall, Retrieve on Flat, Retrieve Over High Jump, Moving Stand and Exam, Directed Jumping. What was interesting and a bit worrisome was the judge had us heel to the outside of the high jump that was on the left. We did a fast with the dog between handler and jump and I wondered if some rally or agility dogs would take it on the fast. We also did the Novice recall there. I did see one dog take the jump on the recall.

While Gryff had been decently "up" on Tuesday, he was at his jolliest in Versatility. He warmed up a bit more crisply and he worked the same way in the ring. It tends to make a nice spiral upwards, in that when he's like that, when I release him between exercises, I'm happier, which in turn makes him happier. It is something I need to keep in mind when I get back to obedience with him in the future! It all added up to a 197.5 and 1st place in the class.

Back last fall, after Ty finished her CDX, I have been aiming to show her in Utility for the 1st time at this National. But about three months ago, her signals were a mess, and her articles were still tied together, and, and, and... About two months ago, I made what turned out to be a superb decision, which was to aim her for Grad Open instead of Utility. What it meant was that I continued to train her in Utility, but without the pressure I might have felt (okay, would have felt) had we been going into Utility. Because of the field work we've been focused on, there wasn't that much time for obedience training, but it was enough to feel ready. When we entered the ring Wednesday, I felt ready for the simplified exercises required in Grad Open. She did have a no-sit on heeling, and walked back with the correct article (I haven't had a walk back since Tramp did several 20 or so years ago when showing outdoors in 90+ degree weather, so it was a bit of a shock!), but her signals were great. I used a verbal on the stand stay and on the down, but more as insurance than necessarily needing them. Her sit and come were great. Her glove was zippy, especially when compared to the slow article return. Her moving stand? Zero off! This from a girl who hasn't been quite sure about the call to heel. Her go-out wasn't quite where I wanted it to be, but we haven't proofed for go-outs towards an in-use rally ring. She ended up with a 192.5 and 1st place in the class.

The morning of the day we left on the trip, I trained some obedience, particularly some brace work. For the brace class, you do a Novice routine, but with two dogs. You are allowed to 'couple' them together with a coupler, i.e., 2 clips connected to a ring for your leash. The clips attach to each dogs' collar. I didn't use one last year because Ty kept ending up in the wrong place, and I couldn't sort her out without either physically moving her or uncoupling them. I decided that Friday morning to try Gryff on the inside, since when he is on the outside (which is how I did it last year), they were both heeling badly - Gryff forging and side-winding, and Ty lagging because Gryff was crowding her a lot. I found with him on the inside, at least he would heel well. Warming up at the trial, I tried holding my left arm straight down during the on-leash heeling, and I think it worked pretty well. All in all, the routine went MUCH better than last year, with one no sit from Ty. The only funny part was the recall - Gryff was looking over his shoulder when I called (I DID wait for him to look back, but then gave up). Ty came promptly, Gryff shortly after her. When she was almost to me, she turned around to see why Gryff was chasing her, and he ended up in a nice front with her more or less already finished.

Gryff decided to show me just how briefly he thinks he needs to do a sit stay, and was down before I crossed the ring. This cost us 15 points, and we ended up with a 180 and 2nd place. Interestingly enough, the other 3 braces were all handled by men. I don't think I've ever been in an obedience class with 75% men before :-).

So, Gryff earned 2 1sts and 2 2nds in obedience, and Ty a 1st and a 2nd. Pretty fine results, all in all.

That evening was a banquet along with the annual meeting. Ann G, who is going to be co-chairing obedience at next year's national, picked my brain about what her duties will be. I felt like I was doing a brain dump :-).

The next morning, I packed up to head home to work on final preparation for my son Ryan's graduation party, scheduled for Saturday. Friday afternoon, my husband Fritz and I headed back for the Awards banquet and final goodbyes to my many old and new FCR friends. This was my 7th National in a row, and I'm looking forward to next year's already!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

FCRSA 2010 - Obedience Day 1

Tuesday morning, the obedience was scheduled to start at 8:00 AM. Since I was co-chair with my friend Chris Van Byssum, we needed to be there by 7:00 AM. Chris and I got various trial details attended to, and all the B classes got underway on time.

On tap for today: Gryffin in Open B, Utility B and Team, and Ty in Open B. I showed Gryff in Utility B first. We did pattern III, with articles, gloves, signals, moving stand, and directed jumping. While he wasn't superbly accurate, he was doing his job. After a very nice first go-out, he looked toward the Novice ring on my right as he sat, then focused on me. Judge Sharon Redmer told me "bar jump". As I signaled and said "jump!", he started on his way, but looking toward the Novice ring. He looked like he was going to come to the inside of the jump, but he looked back at me in time, caught my still in the air signal, and veered and took the jump. The crowd went wild :-). The 2nd half of the exercise was fine. After the last finish, Sharon said "You have a guardian angel!" The end result was a -1 for a held signal, 196 and 2nd place in the class.

Next up was Ty in Open B. We've been concentrating on training for Utility, so had not done that much Open work. It showed! She did Q on the individuals, and was still sitting up on her sit stay. Then the Flat-Coat sillies over came her, and she rolled around on her back during the down stay. Here are three pictures that Cathi Winkles took of her during the Grand Roll. She is the one with her feet in the air. The 3rd one is my favorite. Her butt was actually facing her neighbor dog. I was told later that she then stood up, and that's when she was pulled out of line.

Next up was Gryff in Open B. He had a decent run, and only lost 3 points on the individuals, but went down on his sit stay. Darn. I was disappointed but not that surprised. I simply didn't put in the training time on it that he now needs.

Barb Farrah and Vegas, Gryffin's nephew, had a beautiful run in Open A. I simply couldn't get myself to watch the Open A stays, but I needn't have worried. They won the class with a grand 198.5, which put them in a tie for High in Trial. They won the runoff, which means the 3rd year of the last 4 that a different Grousemoor Flat-Coat has won HIT at the National (Gryff did it from Utility in 2007, Ty from Novice B in 2008).

To finish up the day, we did Team obedience. I put together a team of Deanna German, with whom I did Team in 2006, Barb Farrah, Linda Smithberger, and me about two months before the National. We met in Toledo about a month before the trial to practice. Neither Barb nor Linda had done Team before, but both are experienced exhibitors. We had a great time and because of our Drop on Recall success (all of my team mates dogs did it right. Gryff did the drop right, but came on the next person's call. I gave him a 2nd signal, so he did get to do the ending part with his teammates), we earned 1st place. What a fun way to end the day!

I was SO tired by this point, I wasn't sure if I'd make it back for the Ring of Honor, but after a good dinner and a rest, I made it back, and paraded around the ring with each dog and enjoyed receiving the lovely personalized medallions and big rosettes.

Bed felt VERY good that night!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Agility and Veterans Sweeps Day

Monday was my 'easy' day at the National, with only Veterans Sweepstakes to prepare for. Gryffin had turned 7 on Sunday - what better way to spend his birthday then getting to retrieve ducks and swim? - so he was eligible by one day to compete in Veterans. I ended up going over to the agility trial in order to meet Ty's MACH sister Friday and her owner Kathy. In spite of living barely an hour apart, we'd never met. I even got to watch them earn a placement in Exc B JWW. Friday is bigger than Ty but I could see some resemblance. It was great finally meeting each other and our dogs!

Another important event was taking place the next day: Kim & Sandra Hitt's brown girl, Aurora, was getting bred via AI to Gryffin. Yes, he's neutered, but I had him 'collected' before the surgery, and so we are all hopeful there will be Gryff and Aurora puppies sometime in August. Time will tell! Kim & Sandra had left Aurora in Okemos, MI at Schulz Vet Clinic for the AI and zipped to Indiana to show Aurora's mother in agility. I introduced Kathy (Friday's owner) to the Hitt's on the chance she might be ready for a puppy. I also introduced her to Valerie Bernhardt, who owned Ty & Friday's dad Woody way back when.

I eventually went back to the show site and gave Gryff a much needed bath and blow dry, so he would look beautiful for our Sweeps appearance. Ty looked reasonably clean, so I just wet her down and blew her dry so her coat would be flat.

Gryff and I had not stepped foot in the conformation ring since 2007 in St. Louis, but he hadn't forgotten. How can this dog who is lazy on his obedience fasts go so fast on the go round, 3 feet out in front of me???? I moved him too fast on the down and back, but we did make the cut, though no placement. It was really fun to see him strut his stuff. I did practice some signals and fronts and finishes while we were near the back of the line. I had to do SOMEthing constructive to pass the time, right?

Given my need to be up really early Tuesday, I did not stick around for the end of Sweeps. I wanted us all to be well rested (ha!) for obedience.

Day 2 of Field at the 2010 FCRSA National

After a too-short night of sleep, I arrived at the field HQ at 7:00 AM to pick up the supplies for marshaling. I had the honor and pleasure to share the marshaling duties with two of our most experienced field trainers, Bunny Milliken and Karen Peterson. The marshall is responsible for getting dogs and handlers to the line to run in a prompt fashion. I decided years ago that I was good at it because I have two important skills for marshaling: I have a loud voice and I'm bossy :-).

There were 27 dogs in our division (C) of the Steady Singles competition. This is an event held at most FCRSA Nationals, and the goal is to pick a winner, vs. the pass/fail judging for hunt tests. The rules more closely resemble the Field Trial rules, but I don't think I've personally read them (shame on me). The first series consisted of two single marks (all the marks are singles). The 1st mark, on the left, was thrown left to right and landed in front of a tree. It was about 80 yds from the line, through one of those crazily mowed fields. The 2nd mark was thrown right to left, down a slight hill, and was at about 125 yds.

After Karen's nearly-12 year old Sardou ran as honorary test dog, the competition got underway. Dog after dog completed the two marks with very little problem. I went to the line with Ty 1st of my two dogs, and I confess I kept thinking, "Please don't let her be the 1st dog incapable of getting both marks!" I shouldn't have worried. While her line to the long mark wasn't super straight (there were lots of cover patches she was veering around, as did several others), she got both birds just fine. Gryff did as well, as did all 27 competitors, so everyone was invited back to run the 2nd series.

The 1st series gun stations were removed, and one station was set up waaaaaaay our on the hillside (not way out by current field trial craziness, but far by hunt test standards), with 3 gunners in their white coats. The throw was an angled-in one, left to right towards the woods, at 245 yds. This mark definitely separated the experienced dogs from the inexperienced. There were the ones who ran a lovely straight line out to it, the ones that took a far less straight line, maybe hunted the old fall at the right gun station, but eventually got to the bird (Gryff was in this category), and the ones that either didn't go at all or who ran off into the weeds to the right of the correct line (Ty was in this category). Eighteen dogs were called back for the 3rd series, Gryff being one of them.

After taking a break for lunch, we moved to the Backwater club's big stick pond (a stick pond means there are dead stumps and logs in the pond, some sticking up out of the water, some submerged). The judges set up a single mark, thrown from the left shore in a big arc. Most of the throws landed just in front of a patch of reeds in the water at 145 yds. From the shore we ran from, it looked like there was a series of pockets in the reeds, but friends who went and looked at it after we were all done said it was just a big patch of reeds with many submerged logs - very hard going for the dogs. There were also a couple of visible logs near the shore where the dogs had to enter the water. The ideal line was right over those logs. Again, some of the dogs didn't go at all or quit soon after, but many were making the long swim. Almost all of the dogs appeared to see an invisible left turn sign about 20-30 yds short of where the ducks were landing, and headed in to shore. Many dogs had long hunts, most coming up with their duck eventually.

Gryff was one of the final dogs to run, and as is his habit, he got in and went 'fat' to the right - he almost always swims in an arc to his right, especially when he has to go a long way. He was doing some connect the dot swimming, checking out some of the logs along the way. I thought he might avoid that invisible left turn sign given his angle of approach, but he took it afterall. He did some hunting on the shore, but disappeared into the reeds and found his duck. He looked like he might be trying to run back to me via the shore, but I guess his conscious got the best of him and he decided he'd better swim at least part way back. His success with this mark meant he joined the large group of dogs who earned a JAM (judges' award of merit) in the Steady Singles.

Once each division was finished, the judges named a winner of that division, and an exciting runoff was held at the HQ grounds. The test dog, Karen Peterson's Po, performed the mark brilliantly. It was a long, downhill mark, with an angled entry across the corner of a pond. The three division winners then each ran the mark. This resulted in another tie between the two younger competitors, so one more mark was planned and executed. It was an exciting finish to a great day of competition.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FCRSA 2010 - Let the games begin!

Note: this is the first installment of what I plan to be a thorough write up of my week at the 2010 Flat-Coated Retriever National, held in Auburn and Albion, Indiana, a mere 2 hours from home. It is lengthy and detailed because I want to be able to look back and remember what happened.

This year, I missed day one of the FCRSA (Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America) National because my younger son graduated from high school the night before it started (yeah, Ryan!) and my husband and I both worked the 12:30-3:00 AM shift at the All Seniors All Night party.

Gryff was entered in 9 events over the course of 5 days, and Ty in 5. At least the dogs were in good shape. Me? Time would tell! First up was the hunt test on Saturday, June 5. Gryff was in the Master test (going for leg 3 of 5) and Ty in the Senior test (going for leg 1 of 4).

The 1st series of the Master test was a land-water triple with a blind between the two land marks. We were running from a hillside that was mowed in what is becoming a familiar and crazy fashion - with generous patches of cover left all over the place. The marks were thrown left (left to right, angled back), middle (right to left, angled back) and right (right to left, angled back into the pond). The test started with a walk-up, meaning the dog and handler are in motion when the first duck is launched. Gryff picked up the right and middle marks promptly, but had a bit of a hunt on the left one. He took the path most of the way to it, but then bounced a patch of cover and hunted to the right, as did several other dogs. The hill sloped down left to right, which I think was also an influence. He headed back to the left and his nose led him to the duck. The blind went fairly smoothly, with a nice initial line carrying him quite a ways before I needed to whistle sit him. When he was about 1/2 way to the blind, I realized I was holding my breath, which wasn't going to help when I needed to blow the whistle. After the blind, we moved to the honor box. (For the honor, the dog has to stay while the next dog's marks are thrown and that dog is sent.) Gryff was solid on his honor.

I watched a few more dogs run at Master, then headed to the Senior land test. It was a walk-up double, with the left bird thrown into/near a patch of cover, right to left, and the go bird on the right thrown right to left. Earlier in the week, I had worked walk-up drills with Ty, because she was having a bad time with them, and not seeing the mark fall. She had a very good long look at the walk-up memory bird, and when she returned from picking up the go bird, she refocused intently on the area of the memory bird. She had a bit of a hunt, but came up with it reasonably prompty. Interestingly, the lines to the marks in Senior were through cover patches (which many of the dogs bounced around), whereas the Master marks all had a pretty definitive path. The blind was almost 90 degrees to the left of the left mark, and Ty took a very decent initial line - something we've struggled with in the past. It was great to see her improvement. As I had in Master, I realized I was again holding my breath and had to huff and puff to be ready to blow my whistle. I was very happy as we left the line, and thought I heard one of the judges say that it was one of the better jobs they'd seen that day.

The right mark:

Close-up of the right mark:

The left mark:

The blind stake was somewhere in this picture :-):

I went back to Master to await the completion of the 1st Master series. The 2nd series finally got underway about 1 PM. Of the 32 starters, 27 were called back for the 2nd series. It was on a big pond with lots of tullies/reeds around the perimeter. It was a water double and a double blind, one on land and one across the water. The memory bird was a huge arc from the left side of the pond and the go bird was a huge arcing throw from the same side of the pond we ran from, far to our right. The water blind was under the arc of the go bird, and the land blind was to the right of the right gun station. I was the lucky 1st exhibitor to run. Gryff's go bird was fine. When I sent him for the memory bird, I rushed it a bit, and instead of heading straight for the water, he veered left into the tall cover and proceeded to hunt quite a bit on land. The shoreline tullies were several feet thick, creating a wall the dogs had to drive through. At some point, I started to handle. I honestly don't think he was responding very well to my casts, but suddenly, he got in the water and headed for the bird. I was smart and shut up :-). We did the land blind first and he even jumped over a patch of cover at some point. One of the judges said "That will earn you extra points!" I was pleased with his handling on the land blind. The water blind required us to drive the dog through the very wide and tall wall of tullies on the far shore. While we've been working on improving this skill in the past month, we hadn't worked through any that wide (I think they were at least 10 feet wide, if not more). I was prepared and stopped him before he disappeared into the tullies, but he didn't respond correctly to my next cast. I was trying to get him to drive straight back through, but he went into the tullies and started hunting. Because they were also tall, it was hard to see what he was doing. I wasn't surprised, since we've been battling this issue. I hung in with him. When he finally got to the duck, one of the judges said something about that being what he liked to see ... hanging in there with my dog and getting the job done. I wasn't feeling great about our chances of going on to the 3rd series, but I crossed my fingers and left to run Ty's Senior water.

When I arrived at the location for the Senior water, I walked down to watch some dogs run. Problem was, there was only me and one other handler left to run. Eek! I had heard a few people say it was a breaking test, which usually means the marks are short and exciting. One of the judges described the test, which looked pretty straight forward: a water double on a small pond. The memory bird was thrown from the right shore and the go bird from the dike we were running from. Once that was completed, we'd walk down the shore to the right for the water blind and then honor right there. I arrived at the line with Ty and the first bird was thrown. Drat, it landed in the heavy cover, which isn't where I was expecting it to land. The 2nd gunner started duck-calling, but Ty was intent on where the 1st one had landed and she wasn't turning to see the go bird. Then I heard another splash (I was watching my dog) across the pond... the bird boys, having thrown the 1st one poorly, decided to throw another out into the open water. Oops! Ty jumped in, I recalled her, the judge called a 'No bird'. We left the line and waited for a bit, and returned. This time, since Ty had seen two birds thrown from the right side, I lined her up to face where the go bird would land, which also let me block her some with my legs. The strategy served me well. This time, it all came off smoothly and she retrieved both birds promptly. We moved down the shore for the blind. It was the shortest water blind I've ever seen in a test (30 yds?). She looked out with confidence (no bugging this time either) and went right in when I sent her. She again took an excellent initial line. When she started veering away from the line near the end, I blew my whistle. I think she spotted the bird as she started to turn, so started to swim at the bird. I whistled again, and she stopped, but didn't look back at me but stared at the duck. I waited and waited and waited. She finally looked at me and then took my quick cast. Yeah! The honor was a bit scary - she was ready to go and moved forward just a bit, but a quick SIT command stopped her. I didn't know for sure until later, but I was pretty sure she'd passed and earned our 1st Senior pass (she did and we did).

Ty and Adele with their first Senior Hunter ribbon.

I went back to Master, and the water test dragged on and on. It didn't wrap up until about 6:30 PM. Blessedly, we were called back to run the 3rd series. I figured Gryff had to have top marks to pass. It was a land double with a diversion bird, and he did an excellent job on it. One of the judges said "Congratulations!" as I left the line. Our 3rd Master leg!

The awards were handed out at head quarters, and it was so sweet to drive back to the motel with two orange ribbons. Earning a Master pass with Gryff was my #1 goal for the week, so we were off to a super start to our Specialty.