I approached Steve a while ago with a plan to screw Ginger down tight. I've been wanting to get some good field trial performances out of her. While she's always been easy to handle, hunted hard, and retrieved great, she's been quite loose in the steadiness dept, and has insisted on not sitting readily on the flush, and sometime even scooting forward with her butt on the ground after she would sit. I needed better, sharper compliance. Last summer Steve and I worked Ginger for a couple of months prior to our club's trial in the fall, and we got her screwed down, a bit. While she was improving, she still wasn't sharp. We had a great couple of series in the trial but, we did not get called back to the 3rd. So, earlier this year, after hunting through the fall, and letting winter pass us by a bit, we started off where we had finished. My wife and I drove north with Ginger almost weekly, and Ginger was put through the paces. Every time things looked easy for Ginger, sometimes because she let us know how bored she was, we changed the rules, and upped the intensity. And every time we tested her she showed us that she understood.
Along this road to the fall field trial season I decided I'd attempt to get the 3 remaining qualifying scores Ginger needed to earn her Master Hunter title, and entered her in a couple of weekend tests in Maine and New Hampshire. Both tests proved to be challenging, but both tests also showed me how far Ginger had come along with our zero tolerance steadiness training. Our first day in Maine Ginger had a great run in the land series, and was super steady. She had 4 contacts, and planted herself sharply on every one. Unfortunately something went wrong on the hunt dead portion of the test. While she still made the pick up in the required amount of time she somehow became confused and (uncharacteristically) came back to me looking for help. I ignored her plea for help, which got her out in front again where I was then able to handle her to the bird, she was essentially re-cast, which is a mortal sin. So I found myself drinking gin n tonics early. I could have cared less, however, as I was still buzzing from how well ginger ran her land series.
Our next day in Maine was different. If I ever thought the land series couldn't get tougher, and more tricky, I would have been wrong. If ever there was a land series to fully illustrate the bond between me and Ginger, and just how strong a connection we have, this was it. Started out with Ginger having a double flush on her first contact. Not a standard 2 birds in the air double flush, but 1 bird getting out hard, and the second doing a double hop, flop within 10 feet. Ginger was steady. The bird that flew flushed towards the trees, and was shot (?) just inside the wood line. Ginger was sent for the retrieve, and went for it, rather than going after the flop. However, just as she hit the wood line another bird came screaming out, flushing down the field. Ginger was steady. I was informed that she's still need to pick up the first bird, that the bird that flushed was not the same bird. Okay. But I'd do it from my side, so I brought her to heel, and sent her on a "back". Well, sure enough she was still thinking about the second flush, so I had to stop her and call her off the poison bird twice. Then after a quick whistle to handle her close to the mark to get her back into the area of the fall a swirl of wind pulls her into the grass where she promptly comes up with the "flop". So again I have to send her to the fall on a "back", but this time she makes game, and tracks the wood line toward us where she comes up with the bird, which appears to have been a runner. The judges wanted to see a bit more, and after a few minutes another steady flush, this time into a tree. So a hand thrown retrieve ordered up, which was handled cleanly, and I was finally able to breathe. The rest of the test went off smoothly, and we drove home needing only 2 more qualifying MH scores.
The New Hampshire tests were tricky, too. The land series was held in heavy cover, as were the hunt deads, though not quite as heavy. The heavy cover made marking shot birds very difficult for the dogs, and almost every handler had to handle their dog to the mark. On the first day I was relieved to hear a splash after handling Ginger towards a mark that was over a bit of a drop off. I didn't know there was a creek just out of sight, but I was sure glad she got a bit of relief from the heat.
While everyone has different opinions about dog work, and different things they like to see, I found Ginger's water blind on the first day one of the most satisfying moments of the last two weeks. After getting the approximate location of the bird on the far bank I lined Ginger and gave her a "back" command. Ginger hit the water, and took the line like she was laser guided. Upon climbing the far bank she got a fortuitous wind gust which brought her straight to the bird, and before you knew it she was on her way back to me with the prize. I never had the need to blow the whistle and raise an arm.
Without boring you any further with the details, I can say that after our second weekend of testing we secured our 2 remaining qualifying scores, and earned Ginger a Master Hunter title. Of course, it doesn't end there. This was just a stop on our journey, and we will still be training regularly with the goal of impressing a couple of field trial judges in the fall.
Photos by JNR