Some of you might recognize the dog in the photo as the subject of several other blogs, recent and not. This is Clifford, my Welsh Springer Spaniel, known officially as American and International Champion Briarbanc Brych Red Dog, RE, OA, NAJ. I'm the person in the middle - the only girl in the photo. The two guys are Spaniel Hunt Test judges, Erich and Dave. The orange rosette is important.
The American Kennel Club offers competition for a wide variety of performance events, one of those is Spaniel Hunt Tests. I have wanted to enter Clifford in one of these since he was a little puppy retrieving his first birds. He is without a doubt the best upland hunting dog I've ever owned or hunted with in over 3 decades of hunting. The only thing that's stopped me (besides squeezing a little more time out of each day....) was his retrieving. Spaniels are required to retrieve on land and water. Clifford wants to find the birds and doesn't care too much about bringing them back. (He has Labradors to do that for him!) Yes, I tried teaching him to retrieve numerous times over the last 6 1/2 years - making me question my dog training skills - and "something" always came up and I'd put it off again.
About 2 weeks ago a message came across the local Spaniel list announcing that entries were still open but closing soon for three upcoming local spaniel hunt tests. I looked at the calendar and saw (wonder of wonders!) that two of the days were "open". I thought back to the last training session where Clifford was stealing bumpers (retrieving training objects) from the Labradors and bringing them to me. What the heck - I entered him in the two days.
A friend was setting up training sessions, one last Sunday and then one on Thursday. I managed to make both of them. The first one was semi-encouraging and semi-disastrous. He was a bit out of control and brought back 2 of 4 birds. The Thursday training session was much better. He brought back 3 of 3, and did a great job of quartering (finding the birds on land), and one outstanding retrieve.
In between days, I pulled out a bumper and played fetch with him. He was less than stellar at bringing them to me, but improved each time.
Saturday came and we headed out. His land work was acceptable (I thought) and he flushed 3 birds, one was shot and he retrieved it (!!!), one flew away behind us (no shot), and one landed where Clifford caught and brought it in. Unfortunately, the judges wanted to see a little more retrieving. They threw a dead bird, Clifford found it easily but only brought it half way back, left it and wouldn't pick it up again. Dang!
Home again, and I did some fun bumper games with him, encouraging that retrieve to be complete to me.
On Monday, we were at a different site. It was open, thick grass, and the dogs were having a lot of trouble locating the planted birds. Clifford was the next to last dog to run. His work was excellent! He found birds that many dogs had run past, and brought his required 2 all the way in to me. :-) We then got to wait several hours while the more advanced dogs did a couple other tests before we moved to a pond for the water retrieves. Clifford was, again, the next to last dog to run. He enthusiastically ran into the water, swam out to the bird and brought it back... not quite to hand, but CLOSE ENOUGH! He earned the Orange Rosette and the first "leg" of his AKC Junior Hunter title.
So here's the "hook". It takes 4 qualifying performances - or 4 "legs" - to earn the title of Junior Hunter. Now, could someone who persevered to get her PhD at age 52, stop with 25% of a title completed? I don't think so! ...then there's Senior Hunter... and Master Hunter... but we won't go there - yet.
2 days ago