“I have an idea!” For those that know me, these are dangerous words. It means some sort of experiment that could go amazing well or horrifically wrong. Whatever the definition, those words were put to the test one spring day in 2015 when I uttered them to Kim of Barrett Weimaraners. “I have an idea!”
We dubbed the idea Project Mika. From past experience, I knew that breeding Weimaraners for consistent field ability across a litter was not just difficult, it was often compounded by selling the wrong dog to the right home (or the right dog to the wrong home). The challenge: How, then, does Project Mika get the right dogs to the right homes?!
We decided to keep the entire litter and use NAVHDA’s Natural Ability test as one way to help us identify which puppies (the right dogs) would be best suited for hunters and further NAVHDA evaluation (the right homes). Could we hope for a future Versatile Champion in the mix? I wasn’t sure we could identify that dog at 8 weeks, but I thought we might be able to at least identify that potential by 8 months!
Kim and I have a wonderful network of Weim friends that were supportive of our idea and helped us raise Mika’s puppies so that we were able to keep Mika’s entire litter: 2 girls and 4 boys, Cooper, Cali, Turbo, Luna, Hammer and Ticon, born on August 8, 2015.
The puppies were all raised in homes and started in the field in the same way. Cooper and Cali were quickly identified as pets and adopted by 6 months old. Hammer, our pick, was showing such great promise he was in professional training by 8 months old. The remaining three puppies stayed with us as we prepared for the Natural Ability test.
The NA test is designed to test a young dog’s inherent abilities, but exposure to all the elements of the test is necessary to do well. (And for the development of a young hunting dog!) So, we exposed our puppies to as much as we could, keeping in mind that the test is comprised of seven elements: nose, search, tracking, pointing, water, desire and cooperation.
Our puppy-raisers joined our local NAVHDA chapter and participated in their training days. Like most chapters, they meet monthly during the off season to help each other train their dogs. With a mix of experienced and newer people in our chapter, our puppy-raisers were able to benefit from some excellent resources, including training help, where to find training birds, advice on training gear, etc.
By the time the Project Mika puppies were 8 months old, we felt ready to test! Since Luna was the only female in the Project Mika program at this point, there was a little more pressure on her handler, Carlos (his story below!), but along with Ticon and Turbo, Kim and I were proud to have been there that day to witness all of our homes handle their puppies to a Natural Ability prize! Thank you, Halit, Garret and Carlos! It looks like Project Mika is off to a good start!
April 24, 2016
Prado Dog Park
By Carlos DeTevis
On the Wednesday before Luna’s Natural Ability Test, I leave work early to get in one last training session. I wanted to give her every opportunity to perform well on Sunday, so one final workout on some birds and some water work. She did great on both and since we would end on a good note, I knew it was time to quit. So I loaded the dogs in the truck and headed home. As I’m driving home, I’m hoping I did enough to prepare her for the weekend’s test.
I tend to overdo things. We made a quick trip Saturday to Prado mid-morning to scope out the fields that the chapter was using. While there, I let Luna free run for 10-15 minutes (it was hot). Thinking we needed a little more practice, we make a second trip later that afternoon. I put 2 birds down for her and she was solid gold with steady and intense points. I also worked on her cooperation and recall and she performed great. No need to be concerned with search or desire to hunt with this one. A nice little bonus on the way out in that I spotted a chukar running down the road. I stopped the truck and put Luna down to work the chukar. She picks up scent immediately, searches and points the red leg. She could not be more ready for the field test. Our last stop is at a pond. I throw a stick in the water, in she goes with no hesitation. It appears she is ready for the water test also.
Sunday morning arrives quickly and I hope she is rested. I only get about an hour of sleep. I tend to never sleep the night before going hunting and this is very similar to a hunt. Where’s the coffee? We arrive at the gate at 7:00 am. Lucky for me it is only a 10-minute drive to the test site. There are trucks lined up on Euclid Avenue waiting for the gate to open. They open the gate and everyone meets just inside the park for a quick introduction and test outline. We are joined today by 2 of Luna’s littermates; Turbo, being handled by Garret Andersen, and Ticon, being handled by Halit Akgun. Also present today for support is my wife Jana, and the co-breeders of the litter, Kim Burnell and Anne Taguchi. The impromptu meeting ends and soon we are off to the field and the start of the test.
The maximum 10 dogs are running in the test, and we were drawn last to run. But because 1 dog was stuck in traffic, we will run second to last in all phases.
Tracking. We walk out with the bird runner to a big bush waiting to be called in by the judges. Luna gets the Senior Judge assigned to her and he explains how this phase works. He leads us over to the start area and points to the area where the pheasant was released. Having checked and knowing the wind direction, I remove the lead from Luna and hold her on my right side (upwind), point to the feathers on the ground, gently pull her head down and take 2 steps forward. Knowing she has a full nose of scent, I release her and we are on the clock. 10 yards out and with her nose still down she bends right, nothing. She comes back to where she had turned and goes about 5 more yards straight out, again she bends right. Now she is making a beeline to the right and I’m thinking she is way off track (from the direction they told me the pheasant ran), she goes about 15-20 yards and she locks. She is on a solid point and I’m thinking “hot spot” or a residual chukar from the previous day. The Senior Judge says, “Let her point, let’s see what she does”. A few seconds go by and not sure who moved first the bird or the dog, but in she goes and comes out with the pheasant. I call her and she returns with the bird to hand. The judges like her intense point, steadiness, retrieve and direct return. The judge congratulates me and tells me she’s the best they have seen today, and that I’ll like my scores.
It’s not quite 10:00 am and I calculated not running again until at least 2:30 pm at the earliest. I want to leave the grounds (again, home is only 10 minutes away) and let Luna and myself rest and be comfortable. We chose to stay put.
Fieldwork. As Luna and I walk out to meet the Senior Judge he tells me the judges and many others are talking about Luna, her tracking work, and that they are looking forward to seeing her perform in the field. He explains to me what I can and can’t do and tells me to release her when I’m ready. I walk her out a few yards, remove her lead, stroke and steady her. She’s standing steady so I gently tap her and she’s off like a rocket.
Bird 1. It is now late afternoon and the wind is blowing a good 10-15 mph but in no particular direction, the wind is swirling. Luna is now 100+ yards out front and she locks, they cannot see her because she is small and in tall cover. I know she is locked and on a bird and I tell the judge that she is on point. 3-4 seconds later a bird burst in the air and she is right behind chasing.
Bird 2. Luna puts on a good search and soon gets scent. With the wind swirling she does a complete 360 around the bird. She then flash points and the bird goes airborne and Luna is off and chasing again.
Bird 3. With Luna out front about 30-40 yards she picks up scent. But with the swirling winds she is not sure of location. She continues to move sideways away from the planted bird and soon gets scent again. Now she moves in and then sideways away from the bird. The wind is really confusing her. Finally with a location of the bird she moves in and bumps the bird and she’s off and chasing.
Bird 4. We continue working the field and the judge makes the remark of “Ok now let’s see her point a bird”. A quick view to my left and I spot an awoken bird. I coax Luna over and she quickly picks up the scent, creeps in and then locks with a rock solid point. The judge is very pleased and we let her stand for a good 20-30 seconds. The 3 other judges move in to view. The judge then instructs me to go to my dog. Just as I’m within reach the bird takes flight and Luna is off and chasing. She chases all the way to the fence line, about a 200-yard run. She runs the bird down and is now directly returning with it to me. On this retrieve she stops about 5 yards short of me, I go to her, take the bird and the judges make notes.
Bird 5. Luna soon locates another bird, points, and chases to a tree about 100 yards away. Again a direct return with the bird but this time she blows right by me and delivers the bird to a judge directly behind me. I guess she knows who does the scoring. I make the remark “I guess she wants you to have one also” we laugh and off on another search.
Bird 6. She locates yet another bird and it flies to the cane line on the far edge of the field and to my surprise Luna goes in to the cane and disappears. She does not respond to my return command, bad Luna. I walk over and cannot find her in the thick cane. Eventually I hear commotion and spot her chasing the bird in a cane maze. About 2-3 minutes goes by and the judge makes his way over to me. I tell him she has it trapped and he moves closer to verify. We spot Luna and the bird and he confirms she tracked it down. I pull her off and back to searching.
Bird 7. I ask the judge if time is up but he says to keep going. Luna locates and point another bird, we let her stand and then he instructs me to put a lead on her, the judge seems to be satisfied. He asks me if she likes the water and I respond with “she does Ok”. He tells me that I am going to like her scores and to be sure to take my time at the water test. Walking back in with Luna and as we approached the start area/gallery, the bird planter asked if we left any birds out there. I think he was impressed with the amount of bird finds.
Water work. It is now past 5:00 pm and it has been a long day, both Luna and myself are completely worn out. Thankfully this phase goes pretty quick. Our turn is up and we approach the entry area. I tease her with a bumper and toss it about 8-10 feet out. When I release her, she moves to a mound to the right, she enters the water and is soon swimming out and returning with the bumper. Second throw is a little further out and again after releasing her, she relocates to the mound to the right and is back in the water swimming and returning with the bumper. I ask the judge if he is satisfied and he instructs me to toss again as he wants to see a more direct entry. Bumper is tossed; again she relocates to the right, swims out and soon is returning with the bumper. The judge instructs me to leash Luna. They check her eyes, teeth, and coat and ask if she has been x-rayed. NA test is done and now we await the scores.
Scores. As I walk Luna to the truck I’m thinking (and hoping) that she has earned a Prize 1. Luna’s other two littermates get passing scores, great job by both dogs and handlers. Luna’s score is announced, she receives the maximum score of 112, let’s go home!