This week in a text conversation with my friend Marcy Wright of Horsetooth Retrievers she was extolling the virtues of a five month old male lab pup, Norris. He is out of FC AFC Horsetooth's Penalty Shot (Deke) and Revilo's Boogie Nights (Boo). Her comment was "that like a true Revilo's dog...he's an otter. Can't keep him out of the water." My reply was that "I've always believed that's where your win trials - in the water." Marcy's reply was interesting to me "team player, gets in the water, smart, good marker. That's the big 4." Then she said: "3 out of 4 will get one places."
I've known Marcy ever since she purchased her first lab from me quite a few years ago. When she came to our place she had already been involved in canine search and rescue and had a quite accomplished mixed-breed female. Marcy would hide a coin in the grass and then command Nikki to search and find it, which she did without fail. Marcy's purpose in purchasing a lab was to further her search and rescue pursuits. However, soon after purchasing Revilo's At Full Tilt (Darbi) she became very interested in the retriever sports, with an emphasis on Field Trials.
Marcy's grandparents were involved in Thoroughbred racing and she was a "horse girl"(still is) before discovering dogs. Perhaps her prior experience with horses had something to do with it but Marcy has an eye for the dogs, and is a serious student of the game. She has successfully raised a number of puppies (including Deke) and helped guide them to become successful field trial dogs. She is always asking the questions no one else asks and gleaning information wherever she can. She and her husband Kenny Trott have a very successful training facility which has been been built through hard work and much effort. Kenny was a successful professional when he and Marcy met but gives her much credit for their current philosophy and direction. The two of them are a great team since neither of them are afraid to try new things and are always evaluating the path they are on to produce success for their dogs and clients.
So when Marcy responded to my text with what she called the big four I could not help but ponder it. As one considers each of the elements of the big four you discover that regardless of the term used to describe the characteristic these elements are very desirable and sought after in our retrievers.
Almost everyone has heard the age-old colloquialism that there is no "i" in team which suggests the necessity of a team working together. When in the field with a retriever the team is defined as the dog and the handler. I've seen some very talented dogs that felt that they could do it all and refused to respond to their handlers efforts to help them and thus never achieved the success their talent would have predicted. Conversely, I have seen less talented dogs achieve success due to their willingness to accept help from their handler.
I recall Mike Lardy sharing an anecdote about an occasion when he was running FC AFC Big River Bonne Amie I believe it was in a National. He blew a whistle on a blind and when she sat she was hidden from view so on her own initiative she relocated her sit so she could see Mike an take the cast that would put her on course. That's team work!
Any dog with a brain discovers very early in life that they can move faster on land than in water. This reality leads to a dogs tendency to cheat water and to run the shore. Even some well trained and experienced dogs will resort to cheating when they feel that can get away with it. In my experience some dogs are more comfortable in water and hence be less inclined to cheat.
Many years ago I had a dog I called Bud (FC FTCH AFTCH Damn Yankee II X Revilo's Boot Scootin' Boogie). My son Wade wanted to run Bud in a Derby Stake so I told him to go ahead. I can't remember if he'd ever run Bud before the trial or not, but if he had it was maybe only once or twice. Bud was very much a team player but I had never decheated him although he was an extremely watery dog. Wade made it to the last series of the trial with Bud and the final test had a long swim to the memory bird. The line to the bird took the dog over a log and most of the dogs that ran before Bud had skirted the log. The wind was blowing hard and it was raining when Wade and Bud came to the line. On the long swim Bud clawed his way right over the log and to the bird, securing him a second in the Derby. Wade was very pleased with his handling skills (as I recall it was his first derby as well as Bud's).
What do we mean when we refer to a dog being "smart". Canine intelligence is difficult to measure because the criteria by which we define intelligence as humans does not transfer readily to the dog world. Or does it? No one can ever convince me that dogs don't possess some level of cognitive ability. Training sessions with some dogs is like the movie "Ground Hog Day" in which everything is just a repeat of a previous occurrence. The dogs seems to have no ability to recall the concepts from the day before and you go over and over them before they get the picture. Other dogs retain information even when there are interruptions in training caused by busyness or other time demands. Obviously the latter type of dog will accomplish more over its life than the one in which everyday is an epiphany but is soon forgotten.
I remember being quite surprised when I saw Revilo's Y2K Microchip (Mike) entered in his first derby at 8 months. I was even more surprised when he won, having run an almost flawless trial. Later when visiting with his owners, Tom and Marg Murray, they described Mike as a dog who just loved to train and retained everything you showed him.
Marking ability is a trait that defines itself but until one experiences a truly great marking dog it remains an elusive concept. Dave Rorem once shared an anecdote about Gunther Rahnefeld's great dog NFTCH AFTCH Call Me Mister Independence (Spook). He described Spook as a fabulous marking dog. Dave was working with Spook at Rex Carr's and after watching this team Rex asked Dave why he insisted on making Spook do things his way. Rex said you are interfering with the dog's great ability. Rex instructed Dave to take a neutral stance when Spook returned on a multiple mark test and let the dog designate the bird he wanted next. Dave said Spook's success improved greatly when he started doing things this way. Two things happen when we insist on dictating to these great marking dogs: we negatively affect their confidence and interfere with their natural ability. Great markers are rare but you know them when you see them.
I certainly don't have the experience or wisdom of my friend Marcy but I have to admit that after her response to my text message the other day I have to concur with her insight. These are the big four in predicting a dogs success in the retriever game. Come to think of it, perhaps I have always known this but until now I just have not put it into such succinct terms as Marcy did in her message to me. I try to learn something everyday and the dogs and the great people who I have in my life see to it that I do.