|NAHRA – October 2003
By Suzi Cope
The first episode of "Haulin' Duck", featured our fifteen pound super hero JIB earning his WC/WCX at Poodle Club of America regional 10/7/03 in the welcome company of other Poodles. Yes, those were the big Poodles, but they were friendly and sported a variety of good haircuts.
Two weeks later, 10/19/03 the scene is very different. The silver Mini toed the line (we were requested to forego nail polish), with some other hunting retrievers. The Texas Panhandle Hunting Retriever Club encouraged us to enter their North American Hunting Retriever Assoc. test near Amarillo. NAHRA allows any pure bred dog to enter and run the test, but only specific breeds may earn titles. Poodles are welcome, but only the big ones have earned titles.
JIB doesn't care about the title, just the birds, so we went for the fun. My husband Michael was excited about seeing our dog in action after helping with our training, acting as bird boy. He took on the job of videographer and shared the twelve hours of driving.
We arrived at oh-dark-hundred Sunday morning in a remote hunting lodge, not knowing a soul. Immediately people started introducing themselves, and said the entire club was excited about seeing the Poodle work. Talk about pressure! There were Labs everywhere, and people dressed the part of no kidding duck hunters. As the sun came up we all made out way out into the countryside to set up.
Our class was "Started", which means a dog that has just started to hunt, but gets the idea, and knows what to do. Nothing fancy, but ready to go "haul duck". There were thirteen dogs entered in Started, eight Labs, two Golden Retrievers, one Chesapeake, and the Miniature Poodle.
The two judges set up the scene on a steep hill of dry dirt and scrub grasses. We had two single birds on land first. The spectators stood or sat on the top of the hill, the judges sat ten yards above the line, and the scene unfolded below us. There was a line of trees to our right about 65 yards, and the guy working there was well hidden. The gullies and big brush between us was daunting to my eye, and I sure wondered how the Poodle would handle it.
Several dogs went before us, and some did not come back with a duck. JIB was whining with excitement as I waited behind the "on deck" blind. As soon as I left the blind though, he was quiet and all business. I took up the designated position by a cedar bush and knelt beside my dog as instructed. I had only a slip line on him and he held his stay. I quacked as required, and the bird boy sounded his duck call. The duck was thrown and shotgun fired. The bird landed in three-foot tall grass and brush.
I quietly gave the command and JIB blew down the hill full tilt. His mark was very good placing him just short. He cast for less than two minutes and was on the bird. His return was a steady up hill trot, and he held that bird until about eight feet from me. At that point I asked him to take it again, and he delivered to my feet as required.
The Second was a "walk up". We had never done this in practice, and yet it seemed simple enough. I dropped the first duck in the bucket, and walked with JIB on a light line over a ridge. As we reached the top of the ridge the bird boy called from hiding below us in the brush, tossed the bird and fired the shotgun. I sent my dog and he ran down that hill, cast through the brush, and again came back up this longer hill with the bird! Mind you, by this time it was a sunny eighty-degree morning, and the Mini is really haulin' duck!
I was so proud! As I walked by the judges to drop the second duck in the bucket, one judge said, "We are all in shock". The second quipped, "Wish my Lab worked that well".
Five of the thirteen did not pass this first stage!! The third bird was JIBs' first shot flyer. I had to lie down in the grass on a hillside, with JIB in a sit stay above my head. A live duck was thrown in the air, and then between two gunners, it was shot. It landed about 75 yards from us down the hill in tall brush. I sent Jib and he fired down there in a straight line. He worked back and forth with his nose, and had that hot bird within a couple minutes. The grass was so high Michael could not find him in the video viewfinder! Back up the hill he came, so often out of sight that I could not be sure he had the duck. I was so excited that the judges had to tell me to lower my voice in a more normal hunting tone. As though there was anything "normal" about us!
Duck number three went in the bucket. We then moved to water, with six dogs. The water test lake had tall cattails at the bank. The judges made all the dogs get up on a dog kennel covered with a camouflage tarp, as a stand so they could see the water. This was in no way a concession to the Poodle, as they had done this the day before, without us. JIB went into total concentration in a sit stay on his hunting platform. I sat on a bucket behind him, and quacked as required. JIB turned and looked at me, until he heard the duck call and gunfire, to our left. He held very still watching the arc of the duck into the water. His mark was nothing less than perfect. He knew exactly where to find that bird!
My release command was followed with his yelp of delight, as he launched off the big dog crate, directly into the four-foot tall cattails. We could hear him thrashing forward, and could see the tops of the cattails moving. The line was straight toward the duck. He swam strongly to the other side of the inlet where the duck floated in the cattails at the waters edge. JIB grabbed his duck and made a 180 heading back. One judge said, "Look at that perfect line, straight out, straight back". The other added, "He swims like a river rat".
As JIB came back through the cattails, I could hear him breathing, and I could see the reeds moving, but only when he was two feet from me could I be certain he was carrying a duck. That duck was delivered to hand!!
Oh man, I was just so proud. The river rat was now clearly only a fifteen-pound Poodle, but even with his continental cut he had earned the respect of every person in the group.
The last duck was tougher because JIB saw a way to get closer on land first. He jumped off the box, ran the weeds, and entered the water through cattails about 20 yards from the duck. JIB swam straight out looking around, saw the duck ninety degrees to his right, and was on it. He tried going into the cattails again but got lost trying to work his way home. We could hear him, but that was it. He wandered around, and finally came back out into the water! I could not believe he still had the duck! He swam a little closer, and then went ashore and brought it to me!!
So, we passed, one of only six. One Golden, one Poodle, and four labs. Everybody was very excited and congratulatory. One judge said the Poodle was his first in 30 years of judging. I sure hope he isn't the last.
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