Since the writing of the previous post of Journey earning her UDX in February of 2018, I resolved that we only show in Utility, as Journey turned 11 in June.  Utility is where many of the OTCH points are, and she only has to jump twice.  But our showing went into a rapid decline in the months that followed.  There were only a few OTCH points gained here and there, and after March, we kept failing, mostly the signals.  I’ve come very close to deciding to retire her.  I am so grateful for everything she’s given me, but we’ve just run out of time.  I have wanted this next year to be just be a “play” year for her as a 12-year-old.  She might show in rally, try barnhunt, and develop a little senior freestyle routine for the National, which will be in Bellingham in 2019.  What fun!  I began to let go of OTCH dreams, and felt full of gratitude for the great run we’ve had.

However, it was only a few weeks ago in preparation for her last trial at the WSOTC Labor Day weekend of trials, that I realized she was struggling to see my signals.  It was just little hints here and there, especially as I returned to doing signals at great distances.  She was looking right at me, but responding in often puzzled ways, going halfway down, or a sudden movement as if she thought I “said something” but wasn’t sure.  I remembered that the vet had mentioned her eyes getting cloudier at our last checkup.

What if she just couldn’t see my signals as well?  So in the last 2 weeks before the trial, I changed my signals to more outside my body, and thought about the best shirts to wear for the trial.  All of a sudden, her signals became more confident and quick.

At the 2 trials on Saturday, she passed both utility classes, winning the first one and taking a very close second in the second trial.  Eight OTCH points after months of nothing!  Her signals were crisp and confident, and she did none of the small stepping forward that has affected her scoring in the past.  I’m wondering if that movement forward was simply an effort to see me.


Sunday I wore a green shirt, which I thought would work fine against the white background.  (Saturday I had worn a dark blue shirt.)  She returned to struggling to see me, which puzzled me.  Shouldn’t the green provide enough of a contrast?

So I did more investigating and found this article:


So green could look like a washed out or dirty yellow to her!  Plus there were many slashes of light on the floor from the skylights above at the show that day.  So despite that Sunday result, I’m convinced we’re on the right track.

And so the OTCH journey begins again.  A final 27 points.  In some ways, it has felt like pushing and prodding a sleeping elephant up off the floor; I had already started to let that dream go and moved on.  It almost feels like I had to go through that letting go process to have it return so positively, putting a new spin on the Joseph Campbell quote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

So these last points, or at least the journey through them, deserves its own journaling.  I feel like we about to learn more about ourselves, Journey and I, two old ladies who refuse to let go.






Journey UDX

Originally printed in the  IWSCA newsletter in Spring 2018.  What better way to update this blog than with Journey’s UDX earned back in February?

Journey (Ch. Whistlestop Journey to Freedom [now] UDX, RN JH)  began her quest for her UDX at the Collie Club’s all-breed obedience trial in Feb. 2017, and ended it at the very same trial a year later, on Feb. 25th 2018.  To earn the UDX, the dog must pass Open and Utility on the same day and do this ten times.  Six of Journey’s legs also earned High Combined awards, meaning her combined score was the highest at the trial.  Her pass rate improved over the year, with her last three trials providing the last three legs, and all of them also won High Combined.

It’s been a journey for me too, but a longer one.  I’ve been trying to earn the coveted advanced obedience awards with my springers and setters for 20 years now, and while their spirits were very willing, their bodies often weren’t up the task.  I could see Journey’s gifts in the very first weeks of training her oh so long ago, and while our life together has been a winding road, her intelligence, athleticism and willingness have always been evident.

Her titling weekend became a true test of our ability to focus.  At 10 ½, Journey has the mental drive, but sometimes she gets tired by the end of a weekend showing 2 classes in both days.  Fortunately, I’ve recently found a great combination of bodywork and supplements to help with this, and in the previous weekend’s trials, I had been very pleased to see her energy level remain high.  So I had high hopes she could maintain focus this weekend too.

This titling weekend was also a test of my mental toughness.  With literally decades of hoping, planning, training for untold hours, and trialing, this UDX meant more than I can even put into words.  But if I let my emotions and future-tripping thoughts engulf our performance, I could undermine everything we were trying to do.  While I have a number of tools in my toolbox for mental toughness, by Sunday, with one more qualifying class to go for the title, I knew there was only one way to shut down all the thoughts swirling in my head so I could be completely present for Journey, and that was to put the entire performance to music.   While I’m not a fan of electropop, the song “Unstoppable” by Sia seemed to fit best.  And so I played the song through my earbuds before I took Journey out of her crate for warmup, sang it to us as we waited to go in the ring, and played it in my head while we were performing.  Between each exercise, I brushed Journey’s curls away from her eyes as she looked up at me, and said, “We are UNSTOPPABLE.”  And we were.


Journey’s journey continues with the quest for the OTCH, and we are well over halfway towards that goal.  Since most of the points possible are in Utility, and she already has her major wins required from both classes, she is now a “Utility specialist,” so she doesn’t get too worn down from too much jumping and showing too many classes all weekend.  With this plan, I have high hopes that we can keep showing for a good while, and that we can reach that most holy grail of obedience trialing, the Obedience Trial Championship.   However that journey ends, I am forever grateful for the tremendous gift this dog has already given me.



The First Time

There’s always the first time of taking a dog into the “real” ring that all the matches can’t really imitate, where there’s a real judge, an audience (however small), and the requirement for all the aids to disappear, at least temporarily.  I’ve learned to make these first times very targeted in my goals, and typically the most important goal is to ensure the dog is having fun, and that I think he’s absolutely wonderful.  After all, I’m planning on years of showing the dog, so setting the best tone initially is crucial.

Ruckus had his first time in regular obedience this last weekend, in the subnovice class of a UKC show.  While subnovice lacks the off-lead portion, it still is significantly more demanding than rally or AKC’s beginner novice class.  The voice and body aids have to either disappear or are greatly reduced, the judge is more physically present, and the duration of attention needed extends beyond these other classes.   (UKC subnovice does include an honor down and group sit-stay that is not included in the video.)

I’m developing a consistent system of weaning the dog off of food, toys and my voice (although they never entirely go away), and Ruckus is still working through that process. So I considered pulling him earlier in the week when we had a mediocre training day.  But that little moment of training “crisis” caused me to brainstorm some changes to my handling that made a big difference for him.  My ultimate goal is to maintain his joyful intensity in his work while also gaining precision.    The trick is to maintain duration of that attitude as the aids and rewards get more randomized.   The video below shows me that process is working!

Sure, there are green dog mistakes, like thinking we were halting when we moved into the slow, some slight lagging when he’s supposed to be driving, and botching the front after coming over the jump.  (Not my first novice dog to do that–the jumping is fuuunnn!!  Whoa, front, what’s that???)  But then he gave me a perfect finish!   Overall he earned a 196, a great score for his first time.

Overall I was thrilled with his attitude, effort and focus over a relatively lengthy period of ring time.  In fact his attention was better than I expected it would be.  Maybe he’s making that IWS training leap in understanding that I so often experienced with Journey.  We’ll enter the March UKC trial in the regular novice class, and then give AKC a try.


Fall Pictures 2017

I like to hold a photo shoot every year to commemorate my dog family.  Sometimes I get this done professionally, but this year decided to try it in the garden on my own.  I’m pretty happy with the result!

First, the 2018 obedience team!  Looking forward to lots of fun times with them next year:


Ruckus, Journey and Robbie

Next, the Irishers all on their own:


Ruckus and Journey

Then, my Gael, who was not very enthusiastic about having to stay still for so long when the fall fields beckoned….


And then the springers:


Rozzie and Reardon

Next, Reardon got a photo all by himself, just because he often seems left out of things (not that he seems to notice).  He’s still a handsome boy:


Finally, as a bit of an outtake, here’s one of Gael when she looked like she was about to take off:



Happy Fall, everyone!

Ruckus’ development from rally novice to obedience novice trialing has required a few major changes, the biggest one weaning him off my cheerleader voice.  He got too dependent on my voice in rally, which was not really his fault when I was using my voice (overusing, I think) to build up his animation and intensity.

But regular obedience trialing allows the voice only between exercises.  So we needed to gradually turn off my cheerleading voice while still maintaining his attitude.  Truth be told, I was seeing some lessening of intensity even by the end of his rally novice performances, so I knew we needed something to change.

So before this first fun match, we’ve moved to toys, specifically a frisbee that Ruckus loves.  I’m seeing much better duration and attention, and just an overall sense that Ruckus is “getting it.”  While I noticed when I watched this video that I was still using my voice a lot, it was less to cheer-lead, and more to remind him of what he needed to do.

The frisbee is now invisible in my armpit, but of course he knows I have it.  We’ll keep building duration and attention in different places, and eventually progress to the toy not on my body all the time.   I’m really happy with the progress and attitude I’m seeing here.



I’m frequently on the look-out for a “second sport” for my dogs, one that might be more freewheeling and less intensive than the obedience training we do.    This second sport needs to fulfill these criteria:

  • Doesn’t take up a lot of costly or time-consuming training time;
  • Ignites and utilizes my dogs’ instincts or drives (thus making it more automatically and quickly “fun” for them);
  • Simplifies my job as a handler;
  • Has some photo-op opportunities.

After all, we’re supposed to be having fun, right?  And what sport seems to possess all these qualities?

Dock Diving!

Actually this new sport isn’t all that new to me.  I’ve tried it out with several of the dogs over the past 5 years or so, all of whom love to swim and retrieve. But until recently, it always ended up looking like this:


Roz at a dockdiving event at Issaquah Salmon Days


When I really want it to look like this:

Ruckus airborne

Ruckus in a glorious dive off of the Cottage Lake fishing dock

For at last, I have found my dockdiving dog in Ruckus, the Irish Water Spaniel who came to visit last December and decided to stay.  Ruckus’ first formal event came at the Enumclaw shows in August at a NADD sponsored event, where he started out jumping 14′ and ended up with a personal best of 18′.   This meant he jumped himself into the Senior division in one weekend.  Quite a debut.  But more importantly, oh what photo ops there were, thanks to Richard Liebaert:


By the second time on the dock, Ruckus was shivering with anticipation while “on deck,” and his tremendous success and enjoyment fulfilled all the above critiera for me.  All I had to do was time the throw of the bumper correctly.  Pretty easy-peasy.

This inspired me to aim for an end-of-season dock-diving event in Vaughn, Washington at the end of September.  Jeff even made me a “baby dock” to use at a local lake:

Jeff's baby dock

Once or twice a week in August and September, a happy foursome of Ruckus, Journey, Robbie and Rozzie went Cottage Lake dock for practice and fun swims.  Ruckus continued to fly off the dock, while Journey and Robbie eventually got the idea, although Journey with more enthusiasm.

Then on September 30th, we drove out to the regional AKC approved dock-diving site, Brown Dog University in Vaughn, Washington:


Robbie  took the most coaxing.  Sure, he wanted to swim and fetch.  But oh, it was a long way down.  Finally he managed a novice leg by accidentally falling over my foot:

I had higher hopes for Journey.  She screeched in the van as other dogs were pulled out to jump.  She screeched more, dragging  me on the lead (my obedience dog) as we walked over to the dock.  She dragged me up on the dock and then…

Wiser, older dog common sense took over.  Why jump when you can simply sliiiide into the water?  Journey’s first “jump” (air quotes, air quotes) was 6 inches.  Then 18 inches.  Then at last 2 foot for a novice leg!


All of this high comedy was relieved by the star of the day, Ruckus, who showed the heavily lab-populated event what an Irish Water Spaniel can do:

And of course, more glorious photo ops:


And how did Roz do?  After many attempts to get Rozzie to jump off the dock, I opened the door to the ramp and let her have her swims her way.  Because we’re just here to have fun!









Rozzie, Reardon and their littermates, out of Duffy X Kani (Ch. Donahan’s Definitely in Style UD, NAJ, JH, WDX and Melchris Constitutional UD SH RN WD), turn 10 today, and I want to wish them all a very happy birthday!

This was one of David Hopkins’ experimental crossings of show and field springers, with their mother (Kani) being 1/4 field bred. While I wasn’t the breeder of record, I was very involved in the planning of this litter, and treasured every second of raising them.  Unfortunately the litter was troubled by some heartbreaking health issues as they matured, but this was also a litter of exceptional achievements.

Three out of the five earned their Utility Dog titles, with some all-breed and Specialty High in Trial wins along the way.  Two earned tracking titles.  Rozzie, Reardon and Tony, owned and loved by Sue Carlson,  were exposed to birds, and all showed strong potential.  Unfortunately, some mistakes with gunfire made Rozzie and Reardon gunshy when they were puppies, but despite that, Rozzie’s talents earned her three out of her four Junior Hunter legs before I felt the gunshyness would just be too much to overcome.   The other two girls (one in Spokane and the other in Virginia) while not participating in AKC events, demonstrated their wonderful temperaments by serving in some way as therapy/service dogs.  One visited nursing homes for many years, and the other was a special supportive companion to a young girl with an auto-immune disorder.

These achievements speak to this litter’s outstanding qualities as working and companion Springers, all of whom want to please their people more than anything.  I’ve certainly cried my tears over their setbacks, but I’m also deeply proud that they all possess the true heart of the Springer Spaniel.   Happy birthday, Shakespeare litter!