It was with much pleasure that i was given the opportunity to judge the Queensland cup once again.
I have to start by thanking everyone who helped on the day which was almost everyone at the trial but specially those who gun stewarded, game stewarded and people who just helped carry gear from one run to the next.
Thank you of course to the club for the appointment and a very special thank you to Brian and Sally Pritchard for accommodating me, feeding me and lending me a vehicle. They always make me feel very welcome and at home but once again they refused to sign the adoption papers.
To the runs.
The site was a challenge to me initially to set 5 testing runs without being too repetitious. On the Saturday we set out some runs and then on the Sunday morning we fine tuned those runs and made adjustments according to wind, sun etc.
The first run: Order of Retrieve was left middle right.
The first run was a triple mark through water, on land and in water. Some handlers came to the pegs with a dry dog not prepped ready to swim. The pegs were set five meters apart and then not used in their entirety by some. Handlers did not ask questions or I believe spend adequate time at the pegs when being showed the run. There was easier access to the first tough bird up the left side, although not the most direct. Any dog that had trouble on that leg ended up on that side and the retrieve was made if the dog remembered the depth. Also the handler had to be aware of the other two birds that landed in the water were moving with the wind.
That first bird was through such heavy water and weeds etc that i almost cancelled the leg. I was also quite prepared to jump in and rescue any dog that may have gotten into real trouble. Fortunately my help wasn't required.
The second run: Order of Retrieve was blind, middle mark, right mark
The second run was also a triple retrieve. I felt during set up that it was a good idea to have another triple because sometimes due to the attrition rate at a big trial, handlers don't always get the opportunity to run triples as they are usually late in the day. This retrieve was a blind and a double mark. The dog was stayed and the blind was shot 30 degrees to the left about 80 meters out, on land. The handler then reloaded and called the dog. The long mark was thrown straight out about100 meters landing in water. The third mark was up and over the right hand ridge landing in heavy cover. As usual set up at the pegs was critical as was receiving the first bird (the blind) then relocating between the pegs to send the dog for the long mark into water. Then again to receive the second bird and set up for the third bird at the right hand side of the pegs. Once the bird was sent for the bird on the ridge he was out of sight. If the dog was set up between the pegs correctly the chance of remembering the fall and a successful retrieve was greatly increased. This also diminishes the urge to line the dog on memory birds as once they are sent you can see they remember the fall of the bird on the way out.
The third run: Single walk up in water
I set this run up because i knew it would show me the natural hunting ability of the dogs. (It would also help with the time restraints).
As the gun closed the handlers body language changed as did their dogs. The top scoring dog on this run (50 points) was Errol beautifully handled by his partner Sam who shot right at the apex of the flight of the bird which then allowed the dog to see and hear the fall of the game. This was shadowed by the gun barrel as a pointer all the way down. Thus reiterating the mark for the dog.
Once again when the dog was sent he was soon out of sight of the handler and as there was many different obstacles between the dog and the bird "fetch" was replaced with the command " in the water".
This smart handling and gamesmanship left no doubt in the dogs mind what was required of him.
The fourth run: Double rise in water
With this retrieve the dog was sent for the first mark after two shots were fired. From the pegs to the bird there were two rivulets of water, lots of fallen timber, an open expanse with a grassy knoll and then down a small bank with about a 40 meter swim. A double rise for me as a judge is as close as i like to get to seeing a retrieve turn into an exercise. When duck shooting and occasionally bagging two birds with two shots, this quite often turns into a double rise retrieve and as such deserves its place in our sport. Interestingly the eventual winning dog scored identical points on both legs.
The Fifth run: Double blind and two bird into water
This last run was truly a difficult and testing retrieve for both dog and handler. Out of the 11 birds to be retrieved during the trial, the second last bird was only the second blind of the day (although unfortunately some dogs had more blinds than others) The dog was left behind at a peg and the blind shot. The handler then reloaded and called his dog. The peg placement on this run was tight, so the view before the handler was as follows: A long expanse of water approximately 30 meters wide and 200 meters long with reasonably cover on the left bank and very heavy cover and steep banks on the right bank. The blind was approx. 130 away on the righthand bank at a 15degree angle There was no foot scent in the area as the blind was hand thrown from above. The bird landed about 4 to 5 meters above the water line in very heavy cover. There was also a spit of land running parallel to the right hand bank about 60 - 70 meters out.
From the pegs i could see the obvious dilemma of some of the handlers. Send the dog on the left bank and the slight curve took the dog away and out of sight. Go to the right hand bank it was much too steep and very heavy in cover. Therefor a reasonably straight line to the bird would channel the dog to the only easy exit on the right hand side at the correct depth and area. All four dogs attempting this retrieve, would hunt through and over the area several times before locating the bird. Such was the degree of difficulty of this leg. When the dog was returning with the blind a two bird was cast just behind the dog approximately 50 - 60 meters out landing in the water. As a dog handler and judge its always satisfying respond and mark down a two bird but then finish the retrieve, deliver nicely and then indicate eagerly the bird still to be retrieved without a line from a leg, a gun barrel, a hand or a reset at the pegs. Three of the four dogs completed this run. Unbeknown to the handlers the right hand side of the spit of land, if they had noticed was running water. If a dog was sent up that small channel it took them straight to the blind.
This was my fourth appointment in Qld and I can see that generally the dog work is improving. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and if i was to comment where there might be some improvement needed it would be as follows:
Deliveries - Deliveries seemed a bit rushed and the dog was often still moving, I find when trialing the delivery should be a calm gentle procedure which then allows the dog 2 - 3 seconds to reset and also 3 - 6 breaths and then be more ready to retrieve again and more importantly you the handler given those valuable seconds which can afford you the time to make the best decision at hand. Also its an easy five points and sometimes a not so pretty retrieve doesn't seem so bad with a nice gently delivery to finish.
Popping - The one thing that stood out to me considering it is almost the end of the trailing season was a prevalence of the dogs popping. This is when the dog is commanded to fetch a mark or blind, runs a short distance, stops and looks back at the handler. A few things spring to mind as to why this is happening. It seems to be more prevalent late in the season especially during and or after the big trials.The dogs have been worked and trained hard and sometimes physically tired. The require obedience for the stakes can also take its toll on some dogs mentally. You can see this in their body language, it can happen to beginners and national champions alike. I believe it is easy to remedy, the dogs need to be rewarded for all their hard work. I found the best way to do this was to let them be dogs, also lots of cuddles and attention in the form of praise with the appropriate tones. Of course the ultimate reward is to take them hunting, even allow them to break and have poor handovers. Accompanied by your reassuring demeanor. My dual champion super dog "Russ" would occasionally break in the swamp. He knew, i knew it and neither of us cared. the importance of the whole exercise was the bonding and the fun that we had. A confident and happy dog will always try his heart out for you.
Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all competitors.