Thursday 5 April 2018

Trust Your Dog

"Trust your dog", were the last words of advice given to me from a fellow handler as Trooper, the German Shorthaired Pointer, and I headed out for our second of two field tests at the 2017 Field Tests hosted by Vizsla Canada on Sept. 30/Oct. 01 in Deroche, B.C.

Trooper, at the time, had no previous exposure to game birds even though he was already 2-1/2 years old. On the Friday before the actual tests, we participated in a training day and our pup got his nose on to some real live game birds for the very first time. Other than the drizzly wet weather, it was a great day of learning and hanging out with other dogs & handlers. However, the lasting memory I went home with that day was that of Trooper busting a planted pigeon during a mock run and chasing it across the vast field while I fumbled to get a whistle to my lips. I had just missed stepping on the check cord and away he went, hell bent on catching the bird and completely ignoring my repeated recalls. As I eventually brought him back in, one of the instructors half jokingly mentioned to me, "That...would be a fail." However, everyone assured me that it's better to have that strong desire in a dog than to not. Still, I wished he would have gone on point, even for a moment.

The next day was a test day and we arrived early with my intention to get in some "training" before our run. I was quickly advised that was against the rules in place as a Canadian Kennel Club sanctioned event. So we waited. I took the opportunity to use the situation for some "wait" training, a very important lesson for a dog to learn. When it finally was our turn to go, Trooper was busting at the seams to run. We went out in the field and he ran like, well, he ran like a GSP with a lot of pent up energy. Fast and far with exuberance and some reckless abandon. He did find some birds. However, he bumped and chased them. Failure. Not the result I was hoping for and by now I was feeling pretty hopeless about achieving our most basic goal of pointing on game. Everyone who was interested, wanted to know how we did and I had to tell them that we failed. When our supporters reminded us that there was still another day to go, I facetiously replied, "Ya, but it's going to take a miracle."

During the ride home and well into the evening I questioned our purpose. Why were we subjecting ourselves to this failure? I mean, we didn't have a vested interest in earning titles to promote our stud value or a breeding program. We weren't even hunters. We were just a guy from the suburbs who had long romanticized about pointers in the field and his wannabe bird dog. What were we doing here? Do we even belong here? After considerable deliberation, I came to this conclusion. We were doing this because this is what the dog was bred to do. This is what the dog loves to do. This is what the handler loves to do. With all these thoughts racing around in my head, I drifted off to sleep.

Morning came and it was another rainy one. I awoke with the decision that I was going to enjoy whatever the day had to offer and approach the next test as a training opportunity. We had a good placement in the running order so we were in no rush. After a little breakfast, we loaded up the truck and headed out on the 1/2 hour drive to Deroche. While we drove, I recalled a conversation that I had with someone about the belief that dogs take what they learn and process it while they rest. "Maybe that will happen with Trooper," I thought to myself, optimistically.

When back at the test site, I followed behind a couple of teams in the gallery with my DSLR and snapped some photos. I was also invited to come watch the water retrieve portion of the Field Dog Excellent tests where I also snapped some pics. (None of which are published here. Only photos that I snapped with my phone are on this blog.) Follow the link to my Facebook page for those. :)
CKC Field test 2017 Deroche, B.C.

I was still having some difficulty with the timing of everything i.e. when to get ready and get to the start line, so as I wandered around with my camera, the thought of missing our run was creeping around in head. I was assured by the event coordinator, Heidi, that she would never let that happen.

And then, it was time. Time to adorn the blaze orange hat & vest and head to the start line. While we waited for our start, I noticed the dog was relatively calm. We sat and watched the team that was working the field in front of us. He was alert with ears perked up and nostrils twitching. There was silence. The clouds were parting and a beautiful rainbow appeared over the test field. It was a magnificent moment in time, but as per CKC rules, we were not allowed to have a cell phone with us during our test so I couldn't take a photo. Story of a photographer's life right there!

The judge called us down to the line. Trooper politely heeled and waited for the leash to unsnap from the collar. I tapped him on the head and gave him the "okay". He bolted off with that infamous GSP enthusiasm and I encouraged him to, "Go find the birds buddy!" A few hundred yards or so into the run, I looked down in front of me for an instance and when I looked back up, I saw Trooper was on to something. Then I realized he was on point! It wasn't a point with the greatest style or anything but the intensity in his face told the story. I raised my hand in the air and proclaimed to the judges, "We have a point!" I approached him with the "Woah" command (it was less of a command and more of a request) and a couple of "Good boy" praises. One of my initial thoughts was, "I wish I had a camera!" I was pleasantly surprised that he held steady until I got up next to him and in position to flush the pen raised Chukar that was basically right under his nose. Critics and afficiondos will have their say about that, but for us, it was an exhilarating and monumental moment.

The flush didn't quite go as planned, but the bird eventually got in the air and I fired off a shot with my starters pistol. The dog gave chase and I had more difficulty with the recall but we got back on track and finished our run with a couple of more moments that I wished I had a camera for. Like the part when he was trucking through some marshland where the water was about 2-3 feet deep. I remember thinking to myself, "You're never going to find birds in there, but you sure look awesome powering through that stuff!"

At the end, I received some words of advice for future training and development from our judge and was assured once again about Troopers potential as a bird dog. "You got nothing to worry about", he stated. I was so happy and elated after that inspiring run. It felt like such a big step in the right direction and I certainly didn't expect a ribbon but to receive one was like "icing on the cake".

One ribbon is nice but it takes three to earn the first of four titles. 1) Field Dog Junior. 2) Field Dog. 3) Field Dog Advanced. 4) Field Dog Excellent. We have another test weekend approaching quickly on the weekend of April 21, 2018, this time hosted by the B.C. All Breed Pointer Club of which I am currently a member of. Unfortunately, I have to miss out on the training day, but I am looking forward to meeting others and having some fun on the test days. Hopefully, Trooper remembers what to do and can progress towards his Field Dog Jr. title. I trust he will.

Howard demonstrates Chukar handling.

The art of pigeon planting is explained by Terry.

Handlers get some sage bird planting advice from Howard.

Handlers and their dogs get ready for their practise runs.

Two handlers and their dogs appear diminutive against the backdrop of the training field.

"Wait" training.

More "Wait" training.

Dressed in blaze orange and ready to go have some fun. Time for a selfie!

A souvenir from a very rewarding weekend.