By Suzi Cope 
October 2003

The little cry of pleasure that escaped Jib as he was signaled to retrieve his first bird during the WCX test this week was a reflection of the joy we shared.  This experience was a treat for everyone present, and many that would have loved to be there.  What a delight to see a dog encouraged to do what his genes have been whispering to him all along.  The fact that CH KALLISTA’S SILVER SAILS ALOFT is a  fifteen pound, 14.5” tall, male silver Miniature Poodle, just made it all the more enthralling.

I learned early with Jib that his only limitations are my time and attention span.  The more I taught, the more he wanted to learn.  I took on the task of teaching him the skills for a Working Certificate Excellent because the challenge appealed to me.  I have no hunting experience, and did not have instruction from a trainer.  The Internet and books were my source of educational materials.  I discovered the Poodle Club of America had been conducting Working Certificate testing for ten years, and only two Miniatures were among the 63 qualifying tests.  The more advanced Working Certificate Excellent test had been offered for seven years.  Twenty-three Standard Poodles, and not one Mini had passed the WCX.

Now I had a goal and Jib had yet another venue of fun.  I entered the PCA regional and Bluebonnet Poodle Club shows in Montgomery TX for October 7-8 2003.  The first step was training a reliable retrieve to my fanatically happy natural born retriever.  This is the first dog I did not force fetch.  I used a clicker method of back chaining found on the web site.  With clicker and weenies I soon had a reliable retrieve of a standard obedience dumbbell.   It was simple to extend that to bumpers on land and in water.  I always used a command for retrieve and never voiced that command during play retrieves with other toys.

The moments I laugh most about now are the smart Poodle issues.  The day he decided to play keep away, I just turned my back on him and walked back into the house.  He was looking in the door as if he’d lost his best friend.  That was the last time he pulled that trick.

By June we had a good solid retrieve at plenty of distance and I was thinking of the details we had not addressed, namely gunfire and birds.  I contacted a birddog kennel I had driven past about an hour from home.  Mike Pirtle works primarily with Brittany Spaniels, but his wife Bonnie talked him into allowing the Poodle on the property.  Mike’s skepticism evaporated gradually as Jib held solid through the starter pistol and happily picked up his first frozen quail.  I told Mike I’d be back in a week to try a fresh killed bird, 12-gauge shotgun and retrieve to hand.  Sure enough, Jib retrieved a pigeon to hand and instantly understood the sound of a 12 gauge was his favorite song.

We were out of the country for the summer, and returned in September with little time to polish his act.  Fortunately the Internet helped again with my discovery of the Versatility in Poodles web site and the Hunting Poodles email list.  Several people offered advice, and one turned out to be close enough to offer assistance in person.  Jacquelyn Taylor had the experience of training her Standard Poodle Charlie to not only the WCX, but also a Senior Hunt title in AKC.  She met me at a local park and checked out the Mini.  Her summation was something like, “He is really birdie, but you’re a long way from ready for a WC”.   

Three weeks before the test Jib carried his first duck.  Mike Pirtle suggested we call Gay Houser a Lab trainer, and beg for a shot flyer.  Gay let us on the property, and was soon smiling about the little guy with the good nose.  He would not, or could not deliver the duck to hand, but was plenty happy to retrieve.  Once again, I said, “I’ll be back in a week”.  We worked with a huge mallard dokken duck, several frozen birds from Gay, and oversized bumpers, as I demanded the delivery to hand in exchange for the click and treat. 

Ten days before the test we returned to both Mike and Gay for birds, gunfire, and Jib’s introduction to doubles.  Of course we had every conceivable issue crop up, from switching, to bank running.  However, the mini was doing, as we say in obedience, the essence of the exercise.

I clung firmly to the description of the WC as a test of the Poodles’ instinct.  It is not a hunt test, and not competitive.  It is designed to show the dogs’ desire to retrieve waterfowl.  Requirements include two single land retrieves of approximately 50 yards into light cover and two single water retrieves.  The dog must not be fearful of guns, but is not required to be steady at the line or deliver to hand.  I felt strongly that Jib could and would pass this test, barring a handler error.

The WCX however is a test of memory.  The dog must remember where the first of two birds has fallen, while the dog retrieves the second bird.  This double on land and again in water, also requires steady off leash line work, delivery to hand and an honor.  The WCX was our dream plan.

We were warmly welcomed to the PCA regional by organizers Sheree Melancon and Susanne Nash at the site near Montgomery, Texas.  There were seven dogs entered in WCX and three of them were also in the WC test.  Every competitor and the judges were friendly and helpful.  It was a pleasant morning and the crowd of spectators was easily managed, all four of them.

I was instantly intimidated by the fact that WCX was to precede WC.  The judges briefing included our instructions to approach the line off leash, not release the dog on the first bird until given the judges signal, and to honor the next dog to the line.  Honoring requires the dog to sit and hold his ground, off leash, while the next dog retrieves its’ first bird.

We were last of the seven.  I saw the first dog (a titled Junior Hunter) break on the first bird.  I watched a dog that had forgotten where the memory bird had landed.  Then a couple of dogs worked beautifully, and it was suddenly our turn. 

I walked Jib off leash on a heel command from behind the pickup truck used as our starting blind.  In the video, I see he actually was heeling, but I was too nervous to be sure at the time.  We stopped at the line, with the judges Vickie Christiansen and Doug Nelson standing behind us.  The honoring dog Zeke was off to our left with handler Brenda Ryan.   I asked Jib to sit, and gave him the stay command just before signaling to the judges that I was ready.

Bang!  To our left from behind a blind came the first shot and a duck thrown in the air, landing on a small rise in mowed grass.  Jib silently held his position as I shifted slightly to my right.  Bang!  The second shot was ninety degrees to our right, further out, and the duck was tossed in tall grass.

Vickie quietly called our number seven from behind my back, giving me the go sign.  I passed the good news to Jib with a crisp “take it”.  I believe he holds his breath from the beginning, as the gleeful first breath that escapes is surely a cry of delight.  He barreled full tilt straight to the correct location and jumped into the tall grass.  It took him less than five seconds to find his first duck.  He tilted his head back to keep the duck clear of the lawn as he ran hard to return with his prize.  As soon as he was in range I performed a flawless “Junior Grab”, by taking the bird from him before he could even stop and think of dropping it!

I passed the bird behind me to Vickie and asked Jib to return to a heel position and sit facing the area of the memory bird.  When he was settled and looking in the correct direction, I gave him a hand signal point and “take it” command.  Jib peeled out again heading for the little hill and the duck he certainly remembered.  He had to make a five-foot correction to the left when he smelled the duck, but was very certain it was his.  He worked to pick up the mallard monster and came back at a run.  I was overjoyed to succeed once again in my junior grab!  The judges were laughing and cheering!  The other competitors and spectators were applauding!  I wanted to kiss my dog, but we still had the honor to somehow manage.  The pressure was really intense.  I knelt next to Jib on his off leash sit stay, and whispered in his ear, “Stay, leave it, stay, and leave it”.    Jib held as a gun was fired, a bird was thrown, and another dog had the pleasure of retrieving.

Half way to a WCX, we were called to the line for the WC land singles.  I was pleased to have Jib wear his beautiful leather and silver buckled “bird haulin’” collar.  Better yet was the slip cord I attached!  Once on the line, it was clear to me that he was going to hold his stay regardless of the leash.  He retrieved each single rapidly, though he dropped each and had to pick them back up and readjust the load.

The water portion of each test was held in a small pond.  I knew my dog would enter the water, but with a pond this small, I also knew he would run the bank excessively calculating the “best” approach.  The rule for the tests requires that the dog enter the water on both retrieves.  There is no rule about bank running, and the decision is up to the judges ultimately as to a dogs’ pass or fail.

Two of the seven WCX entrants were eliminated on the land portion.  The five remaining dogs headed for the pond.  Only two of the four ahead of Jib passed the test, before we were called to the line.  I walked him off leash once again, and settled about five yards from the shore facing the long end of the keyhole shaped pond.  The gun was fired and a duck was tossed from the blind into the water about four feet from the far shore near the end of the pond.  Jib held, as I swung slightly left for the second bird.  The shot was from a blind at the head of the keyhole circle and the duck landed mid pond near the cattails on the far bank.

Doug signaled “dog”, and I gave Jib the “take it”.  He drove for the Go bird, and entered the water quickly in front of me.  His beginning swim strokes were “turbo swim”, which he uses in moments of great excitation.  As he closed on his duck the style smoothed out to a strong forward motion.  He grabbed his duck and headed for the nearest bank, at the top of the keyhole.  My recall pleas went entirely unheeded.  I was very concerned that the combination of a heavy wet duck, weedy mud bank, and a long bank run, would ruin our chances.  Jib pulled his duck out of the pond and ran back the entire way without a stop.  Soaking wet he looked half the size he had during the land retrieves!

My junior grab worked again and I lined him up for the fourth and final retrieve.  I was really concerned now that he would be getting tired, though I know he is in fantastic cardio vascular condition.  Which is funny, as the comment most often heard from the judges behind me during this was, “the little guy has got so much heart”!  

I sent him to the long end memory duck, and as expected, he started a careful measuring process.  He ran the bank to the end of the pond, up onto an asphalt roadway, jumped a concrete ditch, and came down a 25-foot steep bank to the waters edge.  However, he did not hesitate to enter the water, grab his duck and make a quick trip back to the bank.  I was holding my breath as he hauled his duck up the bank, stopped to shake, picked his duck back up and made the top.  Jib stopped, duck in mouth, and looked for me.  I called him and he started running back for the road.  With the duck obscuring his view, he tripped in the ditch and dropped his bird, picked it back up and kept running.  By the time he rounded the end of the pond and was running toward me on the grass, everybody was cheering!  I was calling him and encouraging him to keep running.

The video footage and photos are wonderful, and truly amazing as I made the final junior grab, judge Doug behind me is spiking an imaginary football.  Everybody was grinning!  The first Miniature Poodle Working Certificate Excellent!!

Jib earned his WC immediately after that, and then we literally ran to the obedience ring where he debuted in Novice and earned his qualifying first leg with a 188.  The next day we earned a second WC and a fine 190 score in his second Novice obedience leg.  The third show day I was finally paid back for the Poodle over achievements.  In the Novice Obedience ring Jib ran several “victory” laps during the heel off leash.  I figure he deserved it.

Suzi Cope