Saturday, April 24, 2010

First AKC Jr. Hunt Test. The Tale of Two Misfits.

My mom has been saying for a year that she wants me to get an AKC Junior Hunt Title. That’s fine with me. It means I get to go run out in the fields retrieving ducks, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

We’ve been working for a year on these special skills. As far as I’m concerned, you shoot a bird, and I retrieve the bird. Simple as that.

But for this Hunt Test thingy, you have to go through all this special protocol. You can’t talk to your dog here, but you can here. You can’t touch your dog. The old dead duck has to be delivered to the handler’s hand. You can’t say this or that. Pretty complicated if you ask me.

So, we’ve been practicing, and my mom felt like we were ready. She registered us to run today (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday) at the Atlanta Retriever Club test down below Newnan, Georgia.

Well, first off, it was raining. No, not raining. Thunderstorming, which meant everything was a muddy mess. And when you have a muddy mess in Georgia, you have a muddy mess to end all muddy messes. Red clay muddy mess!

You would have to understand my mom to see the irony in this. She can’t stand to have a spot on anything…not her clothes, her car, anything. She is a spot freak. So you can imagine how freaked out she was when her car looked like this:

IMG_0529 And this:

IMG_0528But I didn’t mind. I just sat right down in it. Ahhhh…

IMG_0525Now, let me explain about hunt test people. They are very outdoorsey people. My mom is not. She likes the water and boats, but the fields and woods and mud are not her thing…at all!

So all these people were in their camo and rain gear and rain boots.



And my mom? Well, she was in blue jeans, a DockDogs t-shirt, her Nu Balance tennis shoes, and her North Oconee High School windbreaker. Oh yeah, and her UGA visor. She stood out like a soar thumb!



And me? Well, all of those dogs has bright orange collars or camo collars or something very “field doggish” looking. What did I have on? My collar with the pretty flowers on it.

IMG_0520I know all those dogs were talking about me behind my back.

What else did my mom do that was embarrassing? Well, all of the dogs were in special, really cool field dog kennels. Most looked like this:

IMG_0513 Where was I kenneled? Luxuriously in the back of our Trail Blazer.

IMG_0509And see that multi-colored towel? Well, that was what my mom used to wipe all the mud off my feet every time I got in the car. Soooo embarrassing!

All the other dogs drank water out of their little metal pails. What did I drink out of? My blue plastic water bowl. I could hear those dogs laughing with each lap I took.

IMG_0516And then there were these little orange buildings. A couple of times my mom would drive up there, stop the car, and go inside for a few minutes.


Each time she came out, got in the car, and said, “Totally disgusting. I’d just as soon go out in the field and pee with you, Sally.” Well, Mom, what’s stopping you? Works for me.

The embarrassment only got worse as the day progressed. Later in the afternoon, we were walking down to the pond with three other ladies and this was how the conversation went:

Lady #1: Wow, will this rain ever end!

Lady #2: Maybe tomorrow?

My mom: Yeah, it’s pretty uncomfortable. I’m not a very outdoorsey type person.

Lady #2: (sarcastically) You don’t say. I think that’s pretty obvious from the way you’re dressed.

Lady #3: Yeah, you’re the only person out her in Nu Balance tennis shoes.

(All four laugh. At what, I have no idea.)

If I hadn’t have been on a leash, I would have ducked my head, turned and slinked away in total embarrassment.

To make a long story short, I didn’t pass today. I passed the two land retrieves. I passed the first water retrieve. But on the second water retrieve, I swam over to where you duck fell, but for some reason, I lost the scent and couldn’t find it.

But my mom was very proud of me. A lot of people said I looked good and showed plenty of field dog talent. They were impressed.

So I guess my mom in her Nu Balance and me in my flowered collar did okay for ourselves. We’re happy.

See you on the dock,

Sally, the Captain of Team 4 Dawg Flite

Proud members of Dixie Dock Dogs

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Correcting Dock Diving Problems That Might Develop

Often, people ask me about certain problems their dogs have developed on the dock. There are a few simple strategies you can use to get your dog back to their usual jumping status. Some are general strategies, such as:

1. Just give them time. All athletes, in all sports, have their slumps. Dock diving is no exception. The 20 ft. jumpers might jump flat for a while, then go back to 20 ft jumps or better.

2. Give the dog a break from the dock. Hold off on practice for a while. I know, I know, the temptation is to work them and practice even harder. But often taking a break will renew their spirit and passion for the sport. When they return, you'll see a different dog. How long to hold off? That all depends on you and your dog. With Sally, I'd need to hold off for at at least a few weeks. With other dogs, it might be a month or two. Keep working out with them and training on land (to keep up their condition), but no dock diving.

The above are general suggestions, but say you want to work on just one certain problem. Here are some strategies that might help:

Let's say your dog has always jumped just fine, but for some reason, he's beginning to seem uninterested and stops at the end of the dock. Try any of these strategies:

1. Change your throw toy

2. Has the water temperature changed? Did your dog have a bad experience such as slipping at the end of the dock?

3. Move him up to about the 20 ft. mark or even closer. This will help keep him focused and interested in you. If this works, keep jumping him from this spot until he's jumping well and then move him back little by little.

4. After you set your dog, walk backwards talking to your dog, keeping eye contact, shaking the toy. One word of caution: Be careful as you're getting near the end of the dock!

5. If you're doing the chase technique, switch to the place and send for a little while.

6. At practices, let him jump with some of his best buddies.
Most of all, keep it fun and playful. If you start stressing, your dog will sense this and it will only make his problem worse!!

If your dog has always had good pop to his jump and suddenly starts to jump flat, this can be very frustrating. It can take feet off of his jumps. Here are some suggestions to try:

1. Again, change throw toys or start him closer to help focus him on the toy.

2. Hold the toy at a different higher angle. Rather then holding it low and in front of him, hold it up higher and release it higher.

3. Throw the toy very short so he can catch it. This will make him jump shorter, but that's okay. Let him catch it several times. This gets him refocused on the toy and, hopefully, chasing it. Then start throwing it a little farther each time.

4. Use a hurdle for practice. Hold the toy up over and just behind the hurdle and have the dog run, jump up and over the hurdle and snag the toy from your hand.

Another reason some dogs begin to jump flat is that they have been introduced to Speed Retrieve. Some dogs cannot do both and distinguish between the two types of jumps required. This is not to say you should stop Speed Retrieve, but that you might need to work some with the Big Air jumps to get the pop back.

This problem plagues many very good dock dogs. It is extremely frustrating to watch your dog give up 2-3 feet with each jump. To make matters worse, it is probably the most difficult to correct.

First, try finding his best starting spot. This might take quite a bit of practice, moving him up and back until you find the place where he will hit on or at least closer to the end of the dock.
Another technique is change your standing position at the end of the dock. Most handlers stand facing the opposite side of the dock with feet open. The photo below shows what I mean.

10Another reason a dog might take off early is that he equates the “take-off line” with your back foot, or the foot he sees first. He will take off every time exactly where your back foot is planted.

The way to correct this requires some practice on your part. You need to change your stance so you are facing the pool, with both feet right on the edge and your back to the dog. That means you have to turn your head to look back and release your dog. That also means you might have to hold on to the pole on the side of the dock to steady yourself. Again, this will take a lot of practice on your part (to get used to throwing like that) and on your dog’s part (to get used to having your stand and throw from that position).

Please remember, no matter what the problem or what strategy you use for correct it, you must keep it fun for the dog. Dogs can easily read our affect and dispositions. If you’re having fun, he’ll have fun. Six foot jump or 26 foot jump…good pop or flat jump…let the dog have fun while you are working on the problem.