Rocky's Impossible Retrieve

As a puppy, Rocky was true to her name - she was a real sky rocket! I was deeply involved in Hunting Retriever tests and helped bring both NAHRA and AKC Hunting Tests to Washington State. Rocky's dam, Tapper, was the first Labrador Junior Hunter in Washington State, and shared the prestige of being the first JH, and also Ch-JH in the State with one of Karin Cartwright's Flat Coated Retrievers.

Rocky was brought up on hunting test training but since I was training several adult dogs, didn't get a lot of training as a young pup. Even at that she was Good. Persistant, good at marking, a strong swimmer, very trainable, that was Rocky.

She wasn't much over 6 months old when we decided to go to a test in southern Oregon. Unknown judges and a new site to us, but Max needed legs on her JH, and there weren't that many tests in those days. I think it was 1987. I entered Rocky just because.

Now, I was a judge by then and had judged all stakes in NAHRA and AKC retriever hunting tests and run most of the tests that had been held in Washington and Oregon. The first "land" retrieve in this Junior test consisted of a horrible mark that was a tough Senior/Intermediate level mark, and would have been a worthy Master/Senior level mark. The second land mark was a gimme, short and out in the open, straight down the slope, but the first - oh my gosh!

If I find the photo, it'll go up here. The dogs came up to the line around a small rise and down into a hole. From their vantage point all they could see was some scrub grass, Scotch broom bushes and trees. They could see the first bird go down in the bushes on a side hill across a gully about 85 to 90 yards away. BUT... there was a POND in the gully that became visible to them when they were partway down the hill.

The line to the bird was up out of the hole, angling down the slope to the pond, angle across the pond, angle up the steep side hill on the other side to the bird. The lone gunner/thrower was not easy to see, and was about 75 yards out. Most dogs made it to the pond and threw on the brakes. Many skirted the pond and got upwind and lost. A few skirted the pond and worked their way around and up to the bird. A few went across the pond, but squared it off and got upwind with a tough uphill hunt - including my Max, who was finally helped out by the gunner.

I felt Rocky had no chance at all. Here was a pup doing really well on straight-forward marks but with little experience on sidehills and hidden obstacles. We went up to the line and signalled for the bird. Boom! and it's down. Rocky's ears are up and she's eager to go. Back! I send her with a prayer. She flies up out of the hole, down the hill, not even hesitating at the water's edge, squared off the pond a little and exited a bit upwind of the line. On up the hill and she established a hunt, working her way up and back toward the fall. Disappeared... then here she is with the bird! Little Rocky had accomplished the Retrieve that Max the Magnificent couldn't!! Honest little Rocky brought that bird back down the sidehill, across the water and straight up to me. Wowee! What a pup.

I wish I could say Rocky passed for her first JH leg that day. Well, there was another poorly designed test on the water. The fall was right into the sun and glare of the water. She didn't see the arc or the fall. I sent her and she carried out a ways, but not far enough, and had to have help.

It was enough that day to have had the honour of running her on that first test. A test that should never be in a Junior stake, a test that wiped out 80% of the entry, a test that my little puppy completed in Rockette Style.


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