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Spaniels Hunting Tests: Articles

First Irish Water Spaniel Master Hunter Upland

by Elissa Kirkegard


Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? Nine year old veteran retriever and hunting dog, Gali, owned and handled by Elissa Kirkegard, took to the spaniel hunt test game with gusto. This is the way he approaches life in general and is one of the characteristics I like most about the breed. From the time he became the youngest tracking dog in the breed (attaining his TD title at 6 months, one day of age) Gali has exhibited a work ethic that is unique. He has exhibited boundless enthusiasm with his retriever work and took a 2nd place in the qualifying stake at an AKC field trial to become all age qualified. He continues to compete in the All Age Stakes and Qualifying Stakes at retriever field trials. Since May, 2011, he added to his bag of tricks and has now attained the title of Master Hunter Upland, the first in the breed.

The journey to handling the first Irish Water Spaniel Master Hunter Upland has been an interesting and rewarding experience. There have been lows and highs but I am pleased to announce that on September 18, 2011, Ch. Realta’s Galileo CD TD SH MHU QAA CGC WCX completed the five passes necessary to receive his Master Hunter Upland title at the Maryland Sporting Dog hunt test in Elkton, MD. Only 3 out of the 15 dogs entered in Master completed the test and most of the handlers agreed that the cooler, fall like weather was to blame for the “enthusiastic flushes” of the spaniels.

As we traveled to the spaniel tests in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas, the tests and grounds for the spaniel tests were numerous and varied. Sometimes, the grass was very high and other times, the area was wooded with scrub and bushes. Sometimes, the terrain was challenging and rough, requiring the handler toting a gun and trying to keep up with the dog, to perform a real balancing act! Sometimes the wind was your friend and brought the scent of the bird to the dog and sometimes, it was no help and actually a hindrance. There is a very large element of luck involved in this type of dog work with the unknown factor being the birds; whether they actually fly, whether they “pop up” or fly low, whether they are brought down, whether they “sail” for a long period before coming down, whether they “run” and on and on.

Every test and judge was different which brought it’s own set of challenges for the dog and the handler. We ran in a total of 16 spaniel tests for a total of 10 passes, to acquire our Senior as well as our Master title. Our first test was May 14 and our last test was September 18, so it took four months to move through the program. We have worked in extreme conditions including heat, humidity and hurricanes. We have both had to mold our thinking and training to understand the flushing spaniel rules and requirements. We have listened to suggestions and ideas from handlers, pro trainers, official guns and judges who have been generous with their thoughts.

Gali’s strong points are his wonderful hunt deads (land blinds), water blinds and water marks. He is stylish and obedient and receives many very nice comments from fellow handlers and judges in this area. The majority of his training is retriever training and he does excel on the retrieve.

The field work, quartering and flushing, was the most difficult for myself as a handler to understand. It seems the dogs are somehow genetically equipped to locate birds and flush them. The training, timing and execution of the sit on flush, stay sitting on shot and retrieve command confounded me. Throw into that mix, that some birds “are the dog’s bird” and no sit is required because the dog can “trap” the bird, and the steadying really gets tricky. Gali and I never did decide what the right decision was with regard to birds that do not flush. Suffice it to say, he gets a little too “independent” with low flying birds.

I am pleased that Gali gets to have his name in the record books for the “first” SHU and MHU. He joins his kennel mates, Yeates of Lisnabrogue who was the first JH, SH and MH (and IWSCA All Around Retriever) in retriever hunt tests in the breed and Mallyree Molly who was the first TDX in the breed.

Photo by Claire Podlaseck