KIWI TRAVELS TO USA .
By Margaret Cotten
In April 2003 I attended a seminar and test held by the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Club of America. This was held at Baraboo, near Madison Wisconsin.
My first stop was at Omaha, Nebraska where I was looked after and shown around by Tracey Nelson of Iowa. Omaha is on the border of Nebraska and Iowa.
Tracey owns two GSP, Jesse and Jake. Jesse is more the type found here in New Zealand whilst Jake is what I’d term the Moesgaard type being smaller and quick with the white & patch coat. Being early spring the hunting season was over but Tracey showed me the public lands and CPR grounds she hunts, really ideal pheasant habitat. In one area we stopped for a look see around 4 or 5 whitetail deer ran out the trees and bounded away over the farm fences. Canada geese were seen here and there like we see ducks.
The area we were in had gentle loess hills, dirt hills once formed by a glacier. The farmland mainly grew crops of corn, Milo and soy, again perfect for pheasant.
I was fascinated by the old red brick institutional buildings and the narrow 2 storey farm houses, often with large silos behind them.
With an upcoming NAVHDA test, on my last day there a small group of Versatile gundog owners gathered for a final practise run through. Sadly the weather turned sour, in fact the only wet day of my whole trip. We retired to the Skyline Sportmens club for drinks, a bite to eat and a friendly chat. The walls of the club were adorned with prints of hunting dogs, mounted deer heads, antlers and bear skins. My favourite was the moose head over the TV room fireplace. I really should have taken a photo.
Then I was off to Wisconsin where Dr Ed Bailey was giving a seminar on how pups and dogs learn, and how best we can shape this to our advantage. This was the first part of a new training book Ed is writing for the club, it will fit in between the puppy learning book How to Help Gundogs Train Themselves written by Joan Bailey, and the old NAVHDA green book The Training and Care of the Versatile Hunting dog written by Bodo Winterhelt and Ed Bailey for the training of adult dogs for tests.
The seminar was held on Friday and was followed by an extremely informative question and answer period. I’m not sure of the exact number who attended, but it must have been near 60.
The WPGCA is a breed improvement club, the dogs are tested and only those proving adequate in all facets of work and of satisfactory conformation and temperament are used in the breeding scheme. The tests were held on Saturday. Ed and I had a little trouble finding the test area, but not as much as Ed had driving from Toronto where he got stuck in the wrong lane past Chicago and ended up getting to Madison via Milwaukee.
My choice was to see the Natural Ability tests for dogs up to 16months of age, though ideally I’d have loved to see the intermediate and older dog tests as well. The NA judges were happy to have me tag along with them, and I was privileged in they allowed me to join in the discussion on each dogs performance.
Each dog was individually worked through a field of longish grass and how they hunted the terrain was evaluated. The other entrants (4 per group) followed along in the background where they wouldn’t interfere with the dog working. After about 1/4hr the running dog was called in and sent back to the “gallery” to follow along and another dog called up, but first the judges all got together and discussed what they had seen. There were 4 judges plus apprentice judges.
Any information pertaining to the dogs was relevant, for instance one dog was suffering from a gastrointestinal disorder. When it was found the owner had neglected to bring water with him, others shared their water and it really picked this dog up. Another had broken a leg as a little pup, and then later swallowed an object that required surgical removal so it missed quite a bit of early opportunity on birds. Whilst this was taken into account it was still the dogs performance at the test that counted most. When a judge commented on a facet of the dogs performance or behaviour it was thoroughly discussed, it was important that a final consensus on the score was reached. Each dog was called to hunt up to 3 times, so the search would be divided into three lots of discussions and the final score worked out from what was seen over all the ‘runs’. Some dogs could improve as they went along, others could pack it in –you get the idea? Each dogs reaction to gunfire was noted.
Near the end of the first run a bird planter would put out 2 Bobwhite quail and mark the spot with a bright tag. This was for the dogs to find and point. The judges knew the dogs would not treat the birds like wild game and this didn’t come into it, the birds were used for the sole purpose of seeing if the dog would point, and later to track a running pheasant.
Nose was judged here also as well as whilst the dog was hunting the field, but the main criteria was to get the dog to point and see if it would hold point or deliberately run in to flush the bird (uncooperative) as the owner walked up. If the dog did not find or point the bird it was given another opportunity later. In fact if the dog did not point the quail a pheasant was held up in the air and, whilst the dog was not looking, let fly out into the field. When the pheasant had time to settle down the dog was sent out to search and find it, in this instance with the desired result
Each dog was given every opportunity to show what it was capable of, rather than “if it didn’t do that it’s no good.” The dogs that really shone were those that had been hunting wild birds all season, rather impressive numbers of birds were quoted getting me all jealous.
For the track of the running pheasant the dog was taken out of sight of the bird. The pin feathers on one wing were pulled, and in a lightly wooded area with a clear view of the first 20 metres or so and then cover for the pheasant to run into, the bird was put down (not rubbed on the ground) and released. The judges spread out and clapped hands and folders to herd the bird away so it didn’t double back or cut around. A few feathers were left at the start of the track with a hat or other marker. The dog was brought out and shown the start of the track, I felt most owners didn’t do a good job of this, and then let go. The dogs all took off out to the side, ran about, came back, sniffed the track and then went out again. I suppose if they stumbled upon the bird they would get another run later.
How quickly the dogs hauled themselves in and returned to follow the track was noted, the quicker the dog figured to stay at the scent area and work it out was taken as their ability to “change gears”, and be in control of their temperament. The dogs did not have to find the pheasant, just show they could concentrate on a track, though the dogs that followed the track to the bird, found it, caught and retrieved it were scored higher for obvious reasons.
If a dog kept leaving a track, not proceeding forward along the track, the senior judge would walk the owner forward 5 to 10 steps to encourage the dog to go forward along the track. This of course reflected on the final score unless the penny dropped and the dog began to track well.
After each track the judges discussed what they had seen, the good and bad of each performance.
The discussions were involved, each dogs attributes and failings were thoroughly covered, but each dog was given every opportunity to show its best, and the best that it showed was what was given main consideration.
The water test was very basic; the dogs just had to go happily into a small pond twice. All did.
The conformation examination was thorough, especially the teeth. The dogs were trotted out and back, their length to height ration noted, coat was graded, teeth counted, angulation mulled over. Whilst temperament was considered in the field, the main note was during the examination with all the judges handling and hovering over the dogs. All the dogs were relaxed and did not mind at all the group of strangers leaning over them and handling them.
That night a dinner was held where the judges presented the prize scores to the owners.
I had a grand time and the WPGCA members were friendly, welcoming and went out of their way to assist me and share their club activities, and knowledge of dogs, tests and expectations with me. I thank all for their wonderful hospitality.
Margaret CottonMain Page
Updated 18th February 2003