July 13, 2014

What makes a good handler

Luckiest Man Alive put on a seminar with Pat Burns this week-end at our place in Colorado.  Pat Burns is a very well known Field Trial trainer that has retired from training dogs and is now doing seminars around the country full time.  He has trained many famous dogs and is known as being a great dog man.

One of the round table discussions at the seminar was "What Makes A Good Handler".  It made for very interesting and lively discussion.

One thing that was at the top of the list was a handler who knows how to deal with adversity.  What happens when the dog goes for a different bird than the one you sent for?  How does a handler deal with a dog that didn't take the cast(s) on the blind?  How does the handler deal with the "red zone"...or the last 10 or 20 yards of the blind?  What does one do when a dog wants a different bird next then the one he/she SHOULD go get in order to complete the test more easily?  How does one pull out a bird that the dog didn't see thrown?  These are all examples of dealing with adversity when running a Field Trial.

I remember a trial I ran in Kansas where I was in the last series with a dog named FC CFC Backwater's Boomer.  It was a big water quad and a test that I felt was right up Boomer's alley.  Boomer will get his own blog post one day.  There were 2 long birds, a short retired bird and a flyer last bird down.  After picking up the flyer, I sent Boomer for what I thought was a fairly straight forward short retired and he decided to go out, after I sent him, and get one of the difficult long retired birds.  This is where I had to deal with adversity.  I had to think on my feet and decide which of the two remaining birds to get with Boomer.  LMA has taught me to generally "leave my problem for last" and I chose to satiate Boomer's need to punch and picked the other long retired bird to get third.  He proceeded to get that bird nicely and we just had the short retired left to pick up.  I did not give up, but beared down and decided to get to work and convince Boomer he now had to check down after punching 3 times...and Boomer LOVES to punch.  I set myself up on the mat correctly, used the mat to my best advantage and talked Boomer into that short bird.  He went out and pounded the bird.  Boomer and I placed in that trial (I think fourth?) and it was a success.  But I remember that moment because when I came off line, LMA said to me "you're now a dog handler".  That made me proud.

If your dog doesn't see all the birds...don't admit defeat, but bear down and pull that bird out.  If your dog isn't winding the end of the blind where you think he should, get to work and put him in a position to wind it.  If your dog isn't giving you the cast you want, what cast can you give to get it?

Can you think on your feet?  Can you pull it off when everything doesn't go perfect?

Think about that next time you go out and train.

July 8, 2014

Tough Decisions

I recently had to make a tough decision.  I washed out Hattie.  Particularly hard for me because I washed out Ahti as well just a year or so ago.

Hattie is out of a fabulous breeding and sometimes genetics don't work as we hope they will.

Hattie was an absolute delight to raise, but I was always worried about her.  She never did like to retrieve, even as a puppy.

I have mentioned in previous blogs that when I raise a puppy, I let the puppy set the pace.  I have had puppies with little desire to retrieve (Rip) turn into retrieving maniacs and puppies who were retrieving fools (Ahti) lose their desire as the play turned into work.  I don't worry about pups too much if they have low retrieve desire when they are young, and I didn't worry about Hattie until she was 5 or so months old.  But when I still could not get her to retrieve by the time we started force fetch....that was a worry...

When something was thrown for Hattie as a puppy, she would race out and race back....but never bring back what was thrown.  She had no interest in picking anything up whether it be bumpers, ducks, toys or anything else.

Luckiest Man Alive and I assess 3 factors when evaluating dogs: desire, trainability and marking ability.  When one of these 3 things is very low it becomes incredibly difficult to advance the dog to an All Age level.

We trained Hattie all the way through the yard, but knew the writing was on the wall.  I was hopeful that she would turn around, but she never did.  Hattie just didn't have any passion to retrieve thrown objects and no amount of my yearning for it was going to make it so.

Luckiest Man Alive and I trained Hattie's mother and she has a tremendous amount of retrieve desire.  Hattie's grandmother is my wonderful Darbi, who loved Field Trials up until her retirement last year at 10 1/2 years old.  Hattie's father was a High Point Open dog in the US and is known for his insatiable desire.  Hattie's littermate has already placed in a Derby at 14 months old.  She had all the right genetics and the right start to life, but sometimes it goes the way it goes.

I have no desire to force a dog to do something it just doesn't want to do.

In my travels yesterday, I met Hattie's new family in North Dakota.  She left to go live in Minnesota with my brother's best friend from college.  You see, my brother now has Ahti and his friend had been waiting for a dog "just like Ahti".  Hattie now has a big house, a yard and two kids to play with every day.  I cried when we drove away but this is what is best for Hattie.  It's not that they will love her more then me, but they can offer her a more active life then that of living in a Field Trial camp with a dog that doesn't Field Trial.

Hattie's new family.

I'll see you soon sweet girl.