Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Bird Dog Story- Installment Three- Trialing


Even after I was told Bo wouldn't make it as a competition field trial dog, I had hopes for him in NSTRA The National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association (NSTRA) is a group of bird dog enthusiasts that compete with their dogs. Even though it isn't "real" bird hunting, it's a lot of fun as you go head to head against another dog and handler in an effort to find and bag birds! It started as an extension of the bird hunting season to allow folks to have an outlet to work their dogs in conditions similar to hunting, but rapidly grew into a venue of its own. Anytime serious athletes (dogs and/or owners) compete, the intent always morphs into something else. I was successful with my other dogs and they had the Championship label attached to their lineage now. I was hoping Bo would be my next NSTRA Champion, but a trainer let me know he probably was more suited to the hunt. Of course, professional and well reasoned advice is typically ignored when that advice is contrary to what you want to hear. I convinced myself "the experts", while normally spot on, missed the mark on their assessment of Bo. I figured he had what it took and forged (blindly, my wife loves to point out) ahead with my plans to compete. To be successful in the NSTRA game (and "game" it is), a dog must hunt with style and intensity, point like a statue, retrieve quickly and consistently to your hand, back other dogs (honor the other dog's point) with style and obey commands. I thought Bo had the makings of a great dog even though many thought otherwise. One lesson, hard learned, about bird dogs and bird dog men is that you never talk bad about another man's dog within earshot of the owner. Even though I never heard anything, I'm pretty sure there were a lot of behind the hand
comments about Bocephus. He sure wasn't that classic, big-headed setter you see in the Orvis Catalog- he was kind of scrawny and, when he pointed, his tail was not straight up- kind of curvy at the end. But the little guy was intense! When he locked up on a bird, he went rock hard in a flash. That was a thing of beauty to me. Many times over the years a judge would comment, "I love to judge Bo, Randy, but I hate to score him!" Meaning they had to cut points because of his low tail or low stance. I kept telling the judge, "That's the way he hit the birds- he froze- solid on scent, Judge! If it was me, boss, I wouldn't penalize him for his incredible intensity!" But they marked him down anyway. It was obvious he wasn't going to win any beauty contests. Bo and I came up with a plan- the only way to win would be to find more birds than anyone else. Bo could do that. "A bird finding machine, Randy, that's what he is!" I heard a lot while leaning on the truck bed at field trials laughing and scratching.

It took a year or two, but Bo earned his NSTRA Championship. He flunked out of puppy school, but I guess there was something in the scrawny setter that had to come out- something that he had to prove. He would whine and whimper while he was on the lead waiting for the birds to be hidden in the trial field. He knew what was coming and knew it was another chance to show me that he was ready for the call. Another chance to show me he had what it took to be the top dog in my kennels. At the line, he would be calm and cool, but when the judge yelled, "Turn 'em loose!", he became that "bird finding machine" on autopilot, following that nose, going full blast across the field, checking any cover and scenting the ATV the bird planter rode to hide the birds to follow that trail to the hidden birds. He became a different dog, a high-powered trial dog. I wasn't his master at all on the trial field. I was a co-worker, a partner; and I'd better not let him down. I remember, one day, I shot at a bird and missed after the flush. Bo had to chase it down and catch it to complete the retrieve. He ran two hundred yards chasing that quail, but he caught it and brought it back to my waiting hand. "Nice shooting, Knothead!" his eyes would say. And off he would go, looking for that next bird, leaving a somewhat chastened handler in his wake. 

One day, in one of the many National trials we entered, he was advancing steadily through the days-making the cut every time they had one (only half the dogs would advance after every run). He would find that one, last bird every time he ran and advance on points. This year, we were competing close to home, so after the first day, I drove home to spend the night in my own bed and to let Bo spend the night in familiar surroundings, as well. We have some "yard dogs" around the farm, a couple of, “mostly Labs" that have the run of the place. Somehow, one of the yard dogs, a big male Lab name Yellar, and Bo, got mixed up together out in the barn. Typically, I keep these two dominant males apart. I don't know how it started, but when I got out there one of Yellar' s ears was bloody and Bo' s right front leg was swollen and tender! I was hoping the nex1: day he would be better, so I cleaned the wound, gave him some antibiotics and pain medication and put him up for the night. The next day, his leg was swollen and he was limping around the pen. I loaded him up with the intentions of honoring my competitor with at least an explanation of why I had to pull Bo out of the competition. We drove to the trial grounds and got there about thirty minutes before the start of my scheduled brace. I was explaining to my opponent about Bo, when the Field Marshal walked up and said there was no one to fill my slot. Since we were running this trial with the "beat your bracemate" advancement rules, if Bo pulled, my opponent would advance without even running. I told him I figured he'd have to beat my dog, hurt or not, if he was going to advance to the third and final day- the Elite 8. I pulled Bo out of the box and led him to the line. He was limping a little, but he was game. I was hoping he'd have it in him to at least find a bird or two so we could leave with our head's up. Also, I figured watch him closely to make sure he didn't hurt himself any more. When the judge ordered us to turn the dogs loose, Bo took off like a shot across the field and nailed a bird about 50 yards out. It must have been my imagination, but the campaigner looked taller, straighter and even more intense as I walked by him to flush the bird and shoot it for the retrieve. He dropped it in my hand and took off again across the field looking for more scent. At the end of 28 minutes of this, jumping grass thickets and rows of sorghum and pushing into briars and around pines, Bo was beginning to limp. He had three birds on his card and had the desire, but his leg rarely touched the ground anymore- he ran along mostly on three. The judge wanted me to pick him up (meaning: pull him off the field and be disqualified), but there were only 2 minutes left in the brace and I asked if we could just finish it out. That way, my opponent could say he won fairly and completely and advance on merit. The judge, an experienced National Trial Judge, approved my request and we eased through the remaining minutes- enjoying the day and just being there in the big trial. We started with 128 other dogs and were in the Sweet 16. It was a good time to take our loss and head home. The judge called "Time!" and I clipped a lead on Bo and we started back to the start line and the truck. He couldn't put any weight on the leg now, so I picked him up and threw him over my shoulder for the last hundred yards or so. We got to the F-150 and I eased him into his kennel, checked his foot (swollen and tender but otherwise in pretty good shape), gave him some food and water and some encouraging words and cranked up the truck to head on home. I was driving past the scorer's table waving goodbye to the remaining handlers, when Rick, a good friend and fellow trainer, yelled that I'd better come over to sign my scorecard to make it official. I stopped the truck and jumped out to complete this formality and witnessed a commotion at the scoring table. Evidently, the three-legged Bo managed to beat his bracemate by the slimmest of margins- 1/2 of a point out of 600+ points scored! Bo made the cut on three legs! What a tremendous testimony to his drive, endurance and class..... the old knothead was in the Final 8 and made it to the third day in yet another field trial!

(Note: Bo was checked by a vet prior to running and after, also.)  

Next:  The Big Trial

(Another note:  I'm sorry about the editing.  I've worked over the years on this book and, during an upgrade, I lost the digital version.(!) So, I am scanning with Acrobat and using OCR, etc. )

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bandit and his boy Sam.

Its a Brittany family take over 


The kennels look great! It's been 12 years since I put the old ones in.  I just never realized how much everything had deteriorated.  My first clue should have been my concern that my dogs might get out!  If that's on your mind, then you need to upgrade, my friend! Anyway, now I can relax in peace and know they  are safe.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Kennels and Dog House

Old Bo admiring his new house and kennel.  Man the kennel looks really good.  That 9 ga. wire will solve a lot of problems.  When the get the outside run fully enclosed, it will be even better.  Shown is one of the new doghouses I put together- called the K-9 Kondo.   The kit was about $90 and the new barrel was $36.  So, for $126 I have a great product- cooler in summer and warmer in winter (and less expensive than any of them).  It took me about 3 hours to do the first one.  Really good directions, except for the fact I couldn't decifer which bolts went where.  As a result, it was a little harder than normal the first time.

My Bird Dog Story- Installment One

                                                   Julia’s Bocephus- My Bird Dog Story

I didn't need another bird dog. I had two National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial (NSTRA) Champion
 Setters, already, and an everyday workhorse of a Brittany, too. I was living in the city of Marietta, GA.
 and a fourth bird dog would only complicate things. looking back, I really don't know how I happened
 upon myself squinting through a blinding Tennessee rainstorm, driving to pick up a little fur-ball Setter.
 Wade is my dog man. A bird hunter will appreciate it when I say, "I would buy a dog sight unseen from
 him." Since bird dogs take years to train and live for years after that (hopefully). it makes a lot of sense
 to start with the best pup you can get. Knowing and trusting your source is really important. I went to
 Wade when  needed a pup. Three pups over the years, in fact. Two English Setters and one Brittany
 came off his farm in the hills outside Pulaski- all of them incredibly talented, Champion dogs.
 We pulled up to the farmhouse in a cold drizzle; Wade was there to lead us out to the kennels. "I only
 have two left, Randy, but I saved the two best. The one you don't take, I'll keep!" Puppies are always
 cute, always loveable and a lot like that special little present under the Christmas tree. You look at the
 wrapping and dreams of joy and pride and special times run through your head. You can't wait to get
 your hands on it and open it up and see what wonderful times are ahead! I scooped the little, white
 Setter up and smelled his puppy breath; tucked him under my chin and made sure he got a sniff of me,
 too. At forty-nine days old, his brain just switched on. I was his momma, daddy and universe all in one.
 This was going to be a special bird dog.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Big Day Today

New fencing for the kennels, today!  I know it's strange to get excited about that, but I am.  It sure will help my mental state knowing for sure they are all safe out there! Besides, it will look so much better, too.  I went with a much heavier gauge fencing.  If you'd have told me dogs will chew through chain link (!)...... not mine, but sometimes I keep dogs for friends and work them a little.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"The sun got in my eyes....."

Bandit's first big trial was successful on many levels but fell short at the scorer's table.  He (We) came off the field with 2/2 and some pretty good scores.  It looks like we needed either one more bird or a back to make the cut.  The cut for the next run was made one dog above us.  They only take the top half to continue on .  Looking back, we have some very positive things to notice.  He was very biddable and did everything I asked.  He was energetic and intense and looked very good on his birds.  His retrieves were excellent.  I think his speed in covering the field was probably his biggest detriment.  It seemed, due to the cover, the slower and more methodical dogs managed to pick up the scent and do better today.  He's a good dog that with a little maturity may become much better. Either way, he's a great hunting companion.  We'll get 'em next year!

Oh! Pictured is Bandit's first trophy from a previous trial on the same fields.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bandit's First Run

He had 2 finds and 2 Retrieves. (2/2). They take the top half of the scores to advance to the next run tomorrow. He is right at the cutoff! The good thing is he handled very well- very good obedience and ground cover and his finds were instant lock downs. He's working well. We need to make this cut to go all the way!

Ready for The Draw

Lots of serious faces as handlers find out when they run and against whom. What a great sport that brilliant orange is a primary color!

First Day

On way to the grounds. Bandito is ready!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

K-9 Condo

I got my hardware for the condo today by FedEx.  Even though I'm tempted to use some barrels I have around here, I'm going to bite the bullet and buy a new barrel.  I just can't shake the thought of residual chemicals in the plastic.  Anyone have thoughts on that?  Will post a pic when I get the thing together.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Big Test for the Bandito

The Georgia Region Championships are this weekend in Pavo, GA.  This is National shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association stuff (NSTRA).  You have to qualify to get in this trial, with either a placement (1st - 3rd) or by being a NSTRA champion.  Young Bandit will be two in April, but he managed to go out and take a third and fourth three weeks ago on the same fields, to qualify for the trial.  I do love to run him and compete with him- "happy" is the only word to describe him.  He's a happy dog!  Whether on point, swimming for a retrieve in the pond, or humping the hills of SE Montana looking for Sharptails, he's just so biddable and pleased to be there.  Well, I've learned over the years, that an almost two Brittany male can go from perfect to "less than" pretty quick.  This should be fun!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dog Houses

My hunting friend, Glen, emailed me the other day about dog houses.  I have several varieties, some Igloos, some airline crates, etc.  He's been looking at the Dog Den 2 and 3.  They certainly look like they would perform the way they are advertised.  And, by golly, those folks are pretty proud of them, too! I would like to get some long lasting houses that are easy to clean, warm in winter and cool in summer.  Actually, it seems to me, you get what you pay for in these houses. The one that intrigues me the most is the kit for plastic barrels.  I happen to have a few of the blue plastic barrels here and think I'll try one of those and let you all know......

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kennel Upgrade

The old ball and chain found the barn the other day while looking for me.  She stumbled through dog crates, feed bags, tractor parts, dog boxes, dog trailers, training tables, old bricks, spreaders, diesel tanks, old hay bales, ATV's, lawn tractors and other essential stuff every man needs. When she finally came upon my kennels, she was mortified to notice my patch jobs where dogs have pushed and chewed their way out of the pens, etc.  So the up side is that I get new 9 ga. fabric throughout my five kennels runs and, finally, a six foot chain-link fence around the outside run!  That was the up-side.  The down-side is ........there is no down-side!  I am loving this!  I should have invited her out there sooner, but I'm afraid she'll look under the couch in my barn room and see a few shotguns.  "This old thing?  Heck, I've had this thing for years, and you know it only cost $200!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

Off Duty Bird Dog

It's a tough life after bird season. Let's see.....there's eating, sleeping, breeding, field trial, eating, breeding, eating, and finally, thank goodness, some time to rest!

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Third Breeding Complete

The breeding is complete.  Jim, Bee's owner, called and suggested one last breeding, if I had the time.  He said Bee was still receptive and it has been two days since the last time.  I grabbed up Ace and drove to Jim's to make it three in a row.  I hope she has a good sized litter, there are several people already interested in the pups.  

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Future is Now

I've been working on my follow up dogs, my next generation.  Ace is five next month, so it's time to look into a pup (or pups).  I called Beeline Kennels and arranged for a female pup from frozen semen direct from Buddy (he's gone).  She was whelped last week and I will be able to pick her up mid to late April.  That's a tremendous bloodline (Brittany men know that Buddy is a forty-two time NSTRA champion (or more) and is a great place to start when looking for bloodlines).  After all that, I also just bred Ace to a direct daughter of buddy, yesterday.  Will breed them again tomorrow and the litter will be on the gound about 60 days from now.  I'll keep one or two pups from that litter, too.  I already have people calling to sign up for pups from Ace's breeding (his grandfather was Buddy) and hope to get several females in the litter. 

So, the bottom line on all this is that I should have Ace, Bandit, Ruby (new pup) and Cap (new pup) hunting this September.  Ruby will be 7 mos. and Cap will 5 mos.  Can you say "goat rope".....  As in the past, I guess I'll track their progress by watching the flushing pheasant!  It should be FUN!

(Shown is Ace on Blue Quail in Texas)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Polishing the Bandito

With Ace in "time out", the big man on campus now is Bandit.  He's been really very good in NSTRA and I expect great things from him; however, there is one little bit of polishing that needs to be made.  He just does not care for retrieving.  I force broke him early and did not use harsh methods, and he will retrieve- begrudgingly.  So, I've been working him twice per day, every day to establish that habit of prompt and speedy retrieving to hand.  We make a game of it every morning and afternoon and I rarely need to "tap" him during that last ten feet of the retrieve when he wants to spit it out and head out again.  In fact, when he comes out of the pen, he's looking for the bird in my hand now.  We just started with the baseball diamond training (where he sits at various "bases" as I toss the bird, make him whoa until I give the directional hand signal to the bird) and he seems to really like that.  We'll see how this progresses.  Another big trial this weekend.