Winner’s class with Kat

I made my debut in the Winner’s class for Spaniels the other day. With me was my teacher, the Cocker Spaniel Kat. She’s my bonus dog this autumn. Her owner has a few too many dogs and her extra family lives close to me, and since they don’t hunt or train their dogs I get to borrow her every now and then. A very good deal for all involved!

It wasn’t Kat’s debut in Winner’s class, only mine. Exciting, nerve-racking and a lot of fun. I’m rarely nervous when trialling, more looking forward to it, but I was definitely a bit wound up this time. A new dog, a new set up and a great wish to stay in the game for more than 15 seconds… That’s how long I lasted the last time I was at a trial, that time with Tassla.

I’ve been training with Kat for the last two months. First just sporadically, but she’s been staying with me for the last couple of weeks since her extra family is travelling. It has been very educational to get to know her and find our way of communicating and trusting each other. We weren’t a team at all in the beginning. I felt that she hunted way too wimpishly and with too much hesitance. She probably thought that I was being unclear.

But then I understood that one has to be on the offence as a handler with this lady, and began letting her go quite a lot. We’ve also been training a fair bit on grounds with a lot of game. We went through a bit of a slump when she didn’t heed my signals, but we went back to basics and got back on track again. This is a very serious dog, she really doesn’t joke around. She’s careful not to make mistakes and she has a great many lovely foundation skills since her owner is a really good trainer. However, we do things slightly differently from one another, even if we both are positive trainers and have many similarities in our training. The training session when I tried to figure out what her directional signals looked like was hilarious, but we sorted it out in the end.

Most important for me during this first start with Katten, was to feel like we were doing things together. I really wanted to get to work for both judges – that in itself would be very exciting. But in order for that to happen, you have to clear a run for the first judge without any disqualifying faults. Otherwise you’re not allowed to continue.

It felt like we were a team during the entire first run which lasted about 30 minutes. We didn’t come into close contact with any birds, but one flew past. I think it took off from all the noise we were making, moving around in the sunflower field. But it was about ten meters away from us, so we didn’t flush it. One of the shooters was alert and took the shot. We got to retrieve it and it went rather well. Kat kind of hung over the game and I couldn’t see if she was packing it up or what was going on. But the judge said that she had stood there, looking at the bird for a bit. Luckily I got my act together and blew the recall. She picked up the bird and came back in with it. So we got to go on to the next judge and would need to flush in the next run in order to get scored on all parts.

It was just six or maybe seven teams that got to go on to the second round, of the 18 teams that started (if I remember correctly). That felt really good – during our first start together we had got that far J

We were just before the next judge for two minutes, before a situation arose that was too difficult for the both of us at this time. Again, a bird flew past (I think this one came from the other dog’s grounds) and again one of our shooters took the shot. He happened to be standing about a metre from Kat. She sat at attention at his side and stared in the direction of the gun. But the shooter didn’t make the shot, so no bird fell. I didn’t notice that because I was fully occupied holding Kat with my gaze. So when the judge, who was British, said ”Go on”, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think that anything had been shot, but what did he mean? ”Go on” as in retrieve or as in keep hunting? Instead of asking, I came to the conclusion that he must mean continue hunting.

But I was a bit hesitant and probably unclear when I let Kat go again. And I should have recalled her instead of letting her go from where she was with me standing about five metres away from her. Kat made some kind of half hearted attempt to hunt but was really pulled outwards. I turned her twice, but all of a sudden I lost her. She was very sure that she was right and that I was wrong 😉 “But surely there must be game to retrieve when a shot has been fired that clearly”, she seemed to think. She completely ignored two recall signals and I was directed to run out and get her. And so I did. Her face when I moved up to her was priceless. If she could have, I think she would have said: ”But what are YOU doing here?!? Don’t interrupt me when I’m working!”

I was still happy about our day. The most important thing for me was to understand how a field trial with two dogs running at the same time worked, what challenges that might show up and what we need to keep working on in order to really compete. And I got all that information! I took home many insights that I can bring into training with Tassla, who’ll be starting in Winner’s class at some point. And I definitely got the answers to what Kat and I need to work on.

For one thing, we need to work on that shots don’t automatically mean retrieve. I’ve only had shots fired for Kat once during training, and then she got to retrieve. I would rather avoid that. I’m also going to establish a clear ”leave it” signal that means: ”Just let that thought go, you’re not going to get to retrieve it anyway”. Both Tassla and Quling have that signal. Especially with Quling, who thinks that he can solve everything on his own, it’s a really important and very useful signal.

I really need to pay attention so that I’m sure of what I’m doing at all times. And I need to be able to make decisions quicker when something happens. But all that has to do with experience, and I’m making sure to gain that. And I don’t think you can prepare for everything J But you can try your best!

There’s not another trial for a couple of weeks and until then we’ll keep working on our relationship, deciding on which signals mean what, and hone a few things that I think need to improve in Kat’s hunting. Whatever happens, I’ve been given the chance to handle her in the Swedish Championships, which feels absolutely amazing and very exciting. But we’ll enter one more trial before then, so that I can get to know us as a team even better. I have an idea of what I want it to look and feel like, and we’re working on getting there. And then we’ll lift our gaze towards the Championships in November J So much fun!

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