No One to Blame But Yourself

Geoff and Dallas - Double Header MH Weekend
Geoff and Dallas – Double Header MH Weekend

This year we had a VERY successful season at AKC Hunt Tests, with both Spaniels and Retrievers. After passing 51 of 53 Hunt Tests, two tests stand out in my mind. For those of you that know me, I will give you one guess which tests they were… you got it, the two tests I did not pass. In both cases, I found myself coming off the line thinking to myself – “You have no one to blame but yourself.” While I know that may seem a little harsh, both tests related to a simple mistake made days and weeks prior to actually running the event.

By the way, both dogs that failed were my own personal dogs, not client dogs — so I really had no one to blame but myself.

What was the simple mistake? Well, believe it or not, it comes back to the most basic of all commands — SIT (or HUP for Spaniels). You see, it’s like this. Both tests were failed due to the dog, not 100% complying with the SIT or HUP command. The first test was at the Senior Hunt Test watermark. Jazzy, an eager black lab, simply jumped forward before I sent her. The second test was in the Master Hunter land series, where Dallas jumped forward on the fourth shot of a missed pheasant – leading to his early exit from the competition. Some could say that they both had controlled breaks — where they corrected themselves and didn’t actually break — but I knew better. Before the judges could break the news to me, the shotgun was broken open and the slip lead was out of my pocket. So why didn’t they sit perfectly still like they had done thousands of times before? And why did they choose this occasion for such an indiscretion? Well, it comes down to this — “A dog is never going to be more consistent than you are.” When looking back at the days leading up to the test, both dogs showed signs of breaking. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 — but the signs couldn’t have been any clearer.

Let me explain. Whenever I take a dog out of the kennel I SIT/HUP them before opening the door to go outside — in the days and weeks leading up to the test, both dogs were getting a little sloppy on such a simple command — their butts would start moving a little as I opened the door. Maybe they wanted to be the first to the truck. After all, this was test season and that means lots of birds. Do I blame them, no! Do I blame myself, YES! I should have seen the writing on the wall. Heck, it was like someone sprayed graffiti on the wall of the White House. If only I had maintained my standard and stopped these bad habits from forming in the first place. Could of, would have, and should have… Long and short of it. Little slip-ups eventually turn into big slip-ups if not addressed. Remember this, “Everything a dog does is a habit set in motion.” And of course, “You have no one to blame but yourself!”

I can’t tell you how many times a Hunt Test or Field Trial Marshall will say, “I know you’re running multiple dogs today. I would be happy to find someone to hold one of your dogs while you run the other so we can get through this event faster.” Thank you, but no thank you. When I take a dog out of the truck in an environment as exciting as a Hunt Test or Field Trial — I want to be in that dog’s head and the only one to blame if things go sideways. I don’t want commands as basic as SIT/HUP to slip minutes before going to the line. “A dog is never going to be more consistent than you are!”, especially in front of judges and at a Test or Trial.

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