Elvis awarded Asti’s Compassion Trophy

So proud of our big boy Elvis for being awarded this year’s Asti’s Compassion Trophy by the Spinone Club of America (SCOA). This award is presented each year “In recognition of the Spinone demonstrating superior performance as a therapy dog”.

Elvis in uniform

Elvis in uniform

We visit three facilities on a regular basis: a hospital rehabilitation center, an assisted living center, and the Idaho State Veterans Home. As a hospice volunteer, Elvis also assists in that capacity as requested.

Elvis on his therapy visit

Elvis on his therapy visit

Elvis is certified through the Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA), earned his AKC Therapy Dog title (THD) and is working towards his Advanced (ATHD) title. This is a job he thoroughly enjoys and I’d like to thank SCOA and the Awards Committee for recognizing Elvis and the work he does. I’d also like to thank all those who volunteer their time and their pets in this important service.

Elettra’s Junior Hunt tests

Elettra hasn’t tested in 3 years and I wanted her to pass another Junior Hunt Test before entering her in Senior. It was a tough weekend for her since the temperatures there were 30 degrees warmer than at home and her tests were back-to-back both days .

Elettra’s Junior test 1 – Elettra was braced with a black pointer pup that became lost after crossing a distant ridge, and we watched him run back to camp. The continuous whistling and hacking (calling and yelling) from his handler confused and distracted Elettra, and she didn’t handle the back field very well. Time was called moments before Elettra began working a bird and going on a beautiful point.

Elettra’s Junior test 2 – As soon as her first test was over, we headed for the next test. She did a very nice job of hunting and pointed her bird perfectly, so I was fully expecting her to pass even though she hadn’t recovered from her first test. She scored high in every category except “Hunting” and therefore didn’t pass.

In a hunting test, a dog must remain in the bird field and hunting for the entire duration of the test and are disqualified if they fail to do so. When I saw her brace mate, handler, and their judge leaving the bird field with 2 ½ minutes left in the test, I assumed that the dog had been disqualified but that wasn’t the case as the Brittany scored high in every category.

Elettra’s Junior test 3 – This was Elettra’s best test and I was convinced that she would pass. She ran well and hunting nicely in the back course, and it didn’t take long for her to go on a beautiful point in the bird field. The partridge refused to flush, but Elettra remained steady while I chased it around in front of her, throwing my hat and sticks at it trying to get it to flush. Unlike her brace mate who was disqualified, I left the test knowing that she had passed. Failed in the Hunting category again.

Elettra’s Junior test 4 – When I’ve tested here in the past, my dogs haven’t passed every test but I felt they were judged fairly. So by now I was a just little angry over their low Hunting test scores and considered scratching her last test, particularly since she hadn’t recovered from her previous one which was ran in mid-day heat.
Upon starting the test, Elettra ran about 50 feet before returning and walked by my side; the heat had gotten to her. When the judge told me that I needed to get her out hunting or she wouldn’t pass her test, well, that was when I gave him an earful.
I pointed out their bias against any dog that didn’t run big like a German Shorthair or Brittany Spaniel, which he denied until I repeated what the judge told me the night before and had the test scores to prove it. This line of discussion continued for a few minutes before we went on to more a civil conversation regarding dogs and hunting.
Elettra would recover enough to begin hunting once we entered the bird field, but of course she had failed as soon as the test began. Working the cross-wind, she went on a beautiful point and I rewarded her with the flush. With that, the test and a forgettable weekend of testing ended.

Doc’s Senior Hunt tests

Doc’s Senior test 1 – The kid’s not yet 4 years old but you wouldn’t know it by the way he hunts. Doc ran a very nice test but didn’t find a bird, and once again a brace mate was disqualified; yet he failed the Hunting category whether he found a bird or not, but it was fun to watch him test. I did leave the test confused over the judges’ interpretation of hunt test rules; my gunner was equally confused and debated rule interpretations while I handled Doc.
However when Time was called, the test ended, and I was walking Doc out of the bird field on leash, the Shorthair went on point. Sometimes judges will allow a dog to continue if they’re working a bird when Time is called, which wasn’t the case here; the judges should have had the handler pick up his dog and carry it away from the bird, which would be left for the next test. Instead, they allowed the handler to flush the bird, gunner to shoot it, and Shorthair to retrieve  it.
Since the dog was disqualified, it didn’t make any difference to anyone but the bird.

Doc’s Senior test 2 – Doc ran a nice test with a beautiful little Brittany Spaniel whom they had been braced with three years ago in their Junior hunt tests. I really like her, being one of the few Brittanies with high energy, hunted nicely, and still well mannered. It was also one of the few times that a brace mate wasn’t disqualified. However in this particular test, neither dog found a bird.

Mia’s Senior Hunt tests

Mia’s Senior test 1 – Mia ran an absolutely flawless Senior Hunt Test but didn’t pass because of the dreaded Hunting category. She was braced with a German Shorthair whom she honored beautifully – and no, I didn’t have to hold her collar for the honor. However the Shorthair was disqualified for breaking when the bird was flushed.
Once we hit the bird field, Mia began working a ridge about 100 yards out and went on a beautiful point silhouetted on the ridge line. It was an absolute shame that I didn’t get a picture of her. The bird flushed wild but she remained perfectly steady. We continued hunting and she went on point again, this would be the first time that I got my butt chewed out by the judge.
With Mia was on point, the gunners were waiting for me to flush and I was waiting for them to flush.
Finally the judge yelled at me, “Handler! Aren’t you going to flush that bird?”
“Sorry, I thought the gunners did that.”
Now, I’ve always been taught not to walk in front of a person with a loaded gun and that’s how we teach gun safety in the youth hunt clinics. But with AKC, you walk out in front of the gunners and flush the bird. So I flushed, the gunner shot the bird and not me, and Mia made a beautiful retrieve.
After the test, I asked the judge how she did fully expecting her to pass, but instead was told: “Yeah, she pointed and she honored and she retrieved, but she wasn’t more than 50 yards from you for most of the hunt so I’m going to fail her.”
A “call back” is when a dog doesn’t have the opportunity to honor their brace mate, so the judges call them back and set up a scenario where the dog can honor their brace mate. Since Mia’s brace mate was disqualified, she should have been called back to honor a retrieve, however we were not given that opportunity; I guess the judges felt that it was pointless since she had already failed the Hunting category.

Mia’s Senior test 2 – Mia was braced with a wild little Brittany in her second Senior test. She started strong but quit hunting five minutes into the back field when the Brittany playfully body-slammed her. At that point, Mia said “screw it, I’m done with this nonsense” and moseyed along through the back field eating grass and enjoying herself. Since I trust my dogs and know they won’t quit on me without a good reason, I just let Mia do her thing knowing that we had already failed the test.
She collected herself by the time we entered the bird field and did a nice job but once again I got my butt chewed out by the judge.
The Brittany ran out ahead of us and immediately went on point. Since we were behind the Brittany, I waited for Mia to honor. However the judge yelled: “Handler! Get your dog out of there! Your dog needs to point a bird, not back another dog!”
Apparently Mia wouldn’t be disqualified for not honoring so I took her elsewhere and she went on a beautiful point. This time I flushed the bird which the gunner dropped, and she made a nice retrieve. Both dogs should have been given the opportunity of a call-back since neither honored the other, but since they were not, I have no idea how those categories were judged .

The end of testing?

Elettra, Mia and Doc stretch their legs Friday night before the hunt test.

Elettra, Mia and Doc stretch their legs Friday night before the hunt test.

I’ve always said that the main reasons I test my dogs are: 1- hunt tests are like seminars from which I can learn, and 2- they give me a way to gauge how well I train; I also enjoy the camaraderie of hunt tests. After this past weekend of testing, I now know where I stand and I’m seriously debating on whether or not I’ll enter my dogs in another hunt test.

Hunt test camp site.

Hunt test camp site.

In the past, AKC judges have been very helpful in giving me tips for improving my dogs’ hunting skills and pointing out mistakes that I made. Therefore, I viewed it as my fault that the guys were failing all their hunt tests on Saturday. That is, until I was told by the owner of a Setter, “they don’t like dogs with long tails” (Setters), and another individual told me that these were some of the most biased hunt tests he’d encountered anywhere in the country.

Judges and handlers holding a call-back for a retrieving honor.

Judges and handlers holding a call-back for a retrieving honor.

Even though my Spinone out-hunted most of their German Shorthair Pointer and Brittany Spaniel brace mates – especially considering the number of dogs that were disqualified – they failed every test in the same category: Hunting. The criticism against them was: 1- they hunted primarily within shotgun range, and 2- did not show enough independence (from time to time, my dogs check in with me).

Don’t get me wrong, everyone testing their dogs were great people and I enjoyed the camaraderie. So Saturday night after watching my dogs fail every test, I had a lengthy conversation with an AKC judge and learned a great deal. Such as:

1- A pointing dog must hunt outside of shotgun range because any dog can find birds within shotgun range, and hunters themselves will stumble over anything within shotgun range. Since Spinone hunt at a medium distance unlike German Shorthairs and Brittany Spaniels, this was a guaranteed failure.
2- Dogs need to build muscle in order to run big, and a good way of doing that is to attach a 3-foot log chain to their neck and let them drag it around for a few minutes. Eventually they will build enough muscle that they will want to run big. While this is apparently used on German Shorthairs, don’t expect me to hook my Spinone to a log chain.
3 – But there was one Senior Hunt Test rule that I found hard to believe: the handler is allowed to hold their dog by the collar when honoring. Now, I always thought that by the time a dog gets to their Senior Hunt Test, they were a “finished” dog, but since when does a “finished” dog have to be held by the collar to honor their brace mate?! My dogs may have failed every test, but I never once had to hold their collar to honor a brace mate. I guess that makes them more “Finished” than the AKC standard.

So after watching my dogs being insulted by their test scores for two days, I ripped into the judge of my final hunt test and told him exactly what I thought of their test criteria and obvious bias. Yup, I burned my bridges big time but it sure felt good.

Stay tuned as the next three posts will summarize each of their hunt tests.

Therapy Wednesday

We have something going on every weekend this month so I took Wednesday off from work to do my therapy visits.

Mural  in Old Town Pocatello

Mural in Old Town Pocatello

I took Sophie to visit the Veterans home and stopped to take a picture of this mural painted on the side of one of the buildings in Old Town Pocatello. The artist didn’t go through the proper approval process and the historical society was going to have it removed, however there was strong support to leave it.

Elvis took the afternoon shift and had kind of a breakthrough visit with one individual. Not only was today the first time I’ve heard him speak words, but we carried on a nice long broken conversation.

It started when I began flopping Elvis’ ears back and forth, which got him laughing. That led to him asking several questions about dogs and Elvis and we visited for some time. After visiting the rest of the residents, he made sure that I brought Elvis over to him for a “goodbye” pat on the head.

Such is the power of a therapy dog.