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.