Dot’s 2020 VGP

Sat 10/10
We met about 7 at the BRC clubhouse and got paperwork started.
Only 2 dogs – Dot and Justin Morales w Uber dog we’ve been testing with since VJP. Justin was an excellent partner to run a VGP with and just 2 dogs should make it go quicker.
Traveled to the same ranch/preserve as last year. Deep in the E TX piney woods but perfect for VGP.
70s and foggy. I hope the temps stay down.
Started in the big field by the dammed pond.
Dot is Dog 1 – that’s nice.
Field search 4/4 
Dot started warm and quickly heated up. She covered big areas with occasional detail searches and pushes into deep weeds and sides. I asked and was told to handle her as if we were hunting. I bent her a time or two to move her along and placed her by me when I was told that was all that was needed. Probably 5 minutes duration. I scored 4/4 and that was right. I was very pleased with her first event as one of her strongest and she appeared cooperative.
Stobern Independent Forest Search 4/4
We searched the deep East TX forest below a very large tank dam/water control structure. Tall trees, scrubs, and brambles.  Just like next door to our house so that’s good. Judge asked if she’d go into the brambles and I said probably around them. We stepped off a dirt road a few steps and he said “Start her”. Dot started out sticky and I was worried. She worked up and down the road laterally for 2-3 minutes. Good detail and circling but just width, no depth to where the other judges were. I moved a little each time she checked in. She did respond to hand signals on each check-in but returned shallow twice until she decided to go deeper. Huh. Duration 10 mins total. I guessed 3 maybe 4 and was awarded a 4. This was the start of the stress.

Coming out of this, Dot was tired and wet but still eager. We were fortunate to have a large lake behind the dam so I watered her several times during the day. She also hunted a bit on the shore and I think that was a little stress reliever.

Rabbit Drag 4/4
The rabbit drag was back up on the hill in the forest with more brambles. We had a slight breeze up here though. She started slower and more deliberate than I’ve become used to and I was concerned. She went nose down and came back out just fine a few minutes later. I alerted her and the judge when we first made contact on her return and she acknowledged. Then, she turned hard right and the judge said “don’t say anything”. She went about 10 steps and then took the easy path back to where we were. She sat & delivered like a champ. I guessed 4/4 and was right.
One of her faults out of HZP was her tendency to parade on the delivery. I’d taught her to deliver at my side and that created situations where she could parade around me with game in her mouth. That was difficult to correct without sending the wrong message. She wasn’t bad but she was 9/10 on Manner of Retrieve in HZP and I wanted to fix that. We both worked hard on front delivery and it paid off. She still likes to slide into a side delivery if I don’t give her the signal for front delivery and that’s actually what I want. I was very proud of her (and me) for getting that done the proper way.
Blood Track 2/4 
We drew the short straw and went second. We spent time in the shade being calm while Justin ran. Blood has always been a challenge for us. She doesn’t like it and I got a really late start doing it properly after improperly training her to track twice before. I was hoping for a clean run but we both made some mistakes. Here’s what I remember because it was more than a little foggy
  • We got a good start – she was on track and I was spotting blood.
  • I called out and dropped cotton on every spot I could find. I knew I could call myself back to the last blood without penalty. I used this tactic 3 times that I remember.
  • I knew I was called back once but wasn’t surprised to find out it was actually 2 judge callbacks. Later, I found out I was within a single stop of getting the dreaded 3rd callback. Whew!
  • I can tell when Dot is tracking and not tracking. When she turned not-tracking I stopped her and went searching for my last blood drop, put her down, and then I searched for the next spot to get a direction. Once I got that, we restarted.
  • It was hot and I was sweating like a pig. One time Dot even took some water from my hand! She was hot, too. I did get frustrated but caught it quickly so I could get my head back in this game. That helped.
  • At least twice, maybe 3 times, she tracked me right into the damn brambles! I’m 16’ behind her on a leash and by the time I get the wrongness of the situation in my mind, we’re tangled in catclaw brambles. I got scratched getting us out of those messes.
  • We found one wound bed but it didn’t mean much to either of us. Probably should have downed her and found the next blood myself. I knew she was weaker on turns than a line.
  • I did notice the general direction changes and knew when we were on the typical third leg. I also started noticing more paths and the tendency of the blood trail to follow the paths.
  • I also learned at this time that when Dot was not trailing blood, she was actually tracking box turtles. She finally found one close by – before she could drag me through the brambles again – and I learned what she was after.
  • Now I could keep her on the path and off the turtles!
  • I went back to the last blood, put her down, found the next blood, and restarted her.
  • Within 50 yards her head came up and I knew she’d scented the pig.
  • Thankfully, she did put her nose down a time or two more so that it wouldn’t be so horribly obvious.
I was ever so grateful to get there and get the leaf. Dot was glad to be finished, too. Goal achieved.
I guessed a 3 thinking we had 1 call back but was not surprised to find out we had 2 of them.
Thinking back on it, I was glad to be done with blood. She didn’t like it and I didn’t either. But, she’s a monster searcher so can I teach her to combine her talents using a bringsel? It’s worth exploring.
Close Forest Hunt 4/4
Dot likes to run big and I typically give her up to 100 yards at the ranch because I have a GPS on her. We trained in the woods using a CLOSE command that caused her to bend in my direction to stay in sight. I layered this on top of her other bend commands such as the buzzer and the bend whistle. I thought we were mostly ready and might get dinged for calling her back too much. We walked into the deep woods full of scrubs and brambles and began hunting. The judge told me to hunt her as I normally would and he’d let me know if I over handled her. I bent her maybe 3 times when she got out of sight for more than a few seconds. She seemed to know the game after the first CLOSE command and worked accordingly. Duration maybe 5 minutes. I guessed 4/4 and was pleased with her work.
Coon Drag 4/4
We did the coon drag while we were still in the deep woods. I watched a judge drag the coon off into the bush and out of sight. I was told to start her and she took 4 steps on the track and disappeared into the woods. I’d seen pups fail to retrieve on this and Dot had pulled this trick herself once recently. I was a little nervous. But, she did her work and delivered like a champ. I guessed 4/4 and was grateful for no incidents.
Back up out of the deep woods behind the dam and into fresh air and breezes. Also a good time for a quick dip in the pond.
Point and Steady 4/4
Dot hit the field like a champ – big running bird searches are her favorite. She gave a nice search and went birdy behind a hay bale. The judge said she’s pointing and then she relocated to where I could see her. The bird flushed and as I watched, she stayed steady. I was so entranced with her performance that I forgot to fire a shot for testing steady to shot. When I turned from admiring my dog, all 3 judges were scowling at me. “You have to point another now”, they said, “and remember to shoot this time, OK”? Ha! It’s like a do-over in sporting clays – another try for free! After her first steady, I wasn’t worried – she knew the game. She pointed again, relocated once, and then held nicely while I stomped around trying to find the bird. She held again when I kicked it. I waited for an extra heartbeat or two to make sure she stayed and then fired the gun. She held on the shot just fine as well.  So proud! We trained hard for this but it’s been since June that she’s seen live upland birds. I guessed 3 maybe a 4 because that first bird could have been seen as a bump. The judges were generous and awarded a 4.
Retrieve of Freshly Shot Game 4/4
The judges placed the quail and sent us in. Dot quickly found the quail and pointed. She relocated several times but wouldn’t go in to pick it up. After some time, the judges told me to walk up and release her. I issued a mild “Go On” and she didn’t budge. I tried it again and she didn’t move. I gave her “Get It” and she pounced it, (loud squeak from the quail here), picked it up, and then delivered like a champ.  I guessed 3 but the judges awarded a 4 and we were grateful.
Duck Drag 4/4
The duck drag was laid similar to the rabbit drag in that’s the territory we had to work with. Dot performed almost exactly like her rabbit drag again – very deliberate going out and delicate coming back. I can only attribute it to the massive amount of dewberry briars on this place. I appreciate that she’ll take the care to avoid injuring herself. She delivered like the champ she is and I guessed 4 and was right.
We are done on this side of the ranch/preserve and into the really deep East TX piney woods for the water work.
It is a long way back on 2 track roads with rickety bridges and mud holes. We finally circle vehicles in the only clearing around 3 ponds. A judge mentions that one of the ponds is a 4H pond.
We trained in CenTex in a dry summer and didn’t have much training water – much less something this nasty. We counted on our 4 early teal hunts in September to give us the water work prep we needed for this test. I hope I was right in this strategy.
The 4H pond, where the searches will be done, is a couple of acres with submerged logs, a moderately clear center, and 5-20 yds of giant lily pads with half of them dead stalks and stems from a previous 2’ higher water level. It’s nasty!
We know cattails but not lily pads.
Search No Duck 2/4
We picked the best spot we could find to launch where I’d have some room to move and help her. I knew this would be tough for her. If these were only cattails, we’d be on our home field. She took to the water initially on command but soon circled back out of the lily pads and stems. The movement of the dead overhead stalks when touching underwater stems was just too much spooky for her. She went in several times for me but wanted back out quickly. On the other hand, most of her training ducks were pasture ducks and she’s learned to search the edges first. She covered approximately 75% of the edges from the bank with some forays into the water in the weedy corners. She brought her best game, best as she could, to a new tough place.  Hopefully, we’ll do a duck search here and she has some lessons ready. They called time and I guessed a 1. At least she hit the water on command! The judges graciously awarded a 2.
I noticed that I was feeling a bit frustrated and she was being a bit ornery. We were both tired. It was nice to rest while the other duck search happened.
Gun Sensitivity Retrieve 4/4
This is old stuff and she did as expected with a perfect delivery. I guessed 4.
Blind Retrieve 4/4
This is also old stuff too, but she can ignore or turn a line given to her. I gave her a line slightly upwind on an almost perfect crosswind and she honored it. She quickly found the scent and then delivered perfectly. I guessed 4 and was right.
Indépendant Duck Search 3/4
This test was on a pond similar to the previous Search w/o a duck. We had a little bit of downtime between the events and this would be the last one of the day. Dot rested and watered but was interested in the duck quacking as the judges got and then placed them in the pond. That’s a good sign because it’s late in the day, she’s tired and we know how to do this but she could sure use a little motivation right about now. I scouted the pond a bit and selected a better spot to start. Dot took to the water and then proceeded to search the pond. She avoided the lily pads again, but covered the pond outside them and then worked from the shore and went deep into the corners and pockets until she winded the duck. She produced it, they shot it and she delivered.  I guessed a 3 because she didn’t spend enough time in the water. The judges awarded her 3.

I was pleased with her water work as she performed exactly like she’d been trained and worked on our ponds. She was effective on this pond and I appreciate how she figured it out. I also appreciate that she is more tentative entering the water rather than big splashy entries but that’s just me.

Tomorrow’s Tests include
  • Fox in the Box
  • Down Stay w Gunshot
  • Steady by Driven Hunt
  • Off leash obedience on the road
  • On leash obedience in the forest
We’re both tired and I’m grateful for what Dot delivered today.
We declined the offer to eat supper and went back to the hotel, ate quickly and went to bed.
Sun 10/11
We met early at the clubhouse with the goal of finishing quickly. Only 5 events for 2 dogs and all can be run from here without any travel or much setup.
On Leash 4/4
We walked on-leash up the road and back through the trees with different paces and multiple stops and turns. We walked by trees on the left and right on the return. We practiced this and use it frequently so she was fine if a little edgy as usual. I guessed 4.
Off-Leash 4/4
We then walked a similar path off-leash with more emphasis on varying paces, direction changes, and stops. She does this really well and was a 4.
Down/Stay Gunshot 4/4
I put Dot into a DOWN and walked off 50 steps out of sight. I was told when to fire each of 2 shots. We’ve practiced this extensively and she was fine. 4
Fox in the Box 3/4
This was Dot reminding me who’s really in charge when it comes to what happens on the ground. Dot has done a countless number of these with a 95% success rate at home. She even got in and out of this box when we arrived on Friday. The only hickey was that we were using a borrowed coon instead of one she’d killed as we’d trained with. But, she’d done fine with this same borrowed coon on the coon drag the previous day so I thought this was a lock. I sat her, walked to the box, dropped the coon, walked back, setup her up and sent her. She went to the box, jumped right in, and proceeded to sniff around for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 30 seconds. She then jumped out of the box and came and sat by my side. What????? The judge said, “that cost a point, resend her”, so I did. But, I gave more emphasis on the command this time. She did this one just fine and earned a 3.
Driven Hunt 4/4
We were placed next to the woods where several people would pass by in front of us in the forest out of our sight. They would be hollering, banging on pots, and firing gunshots. This simulates waiting for game to be pushed out by beaters. This event is almost impossible to practice unless you have a training day. We didn’t but we’d worked on this as much as we could at Texas Dove Hunts. There’s a lot of noise and confusion there and she would be steady down beside me. But, she could see all that and she couldn’t see them this time. I was so nervous I almost forgot to unleash her which would have cost a point. Dot was fine and earned a 4.
Dot’s teeth checked fine.
We were awarded a score of 290 with a Prize 3. I was pleased and proud. Better yet, you can actually see our partnership while we hunt together.
I spend the entire 5 hr ride home doing nothing be replaying our VGP in my mind so that I’ll always have a rich set of memories. What a fantastic goal and journey.