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Ten Wonderful Vizsla Years


1997: This article by Jack Sharkey was originally sent to us June 1995 and updated August 1997. See more pictures of his dogs by looking into the Dual Champions and Triple Champions. Chartay finished her OTCH title on 7/4/97 to become the newest AKC Triple Champion. Jack wrote us in 2002 letting us know that he can now be reached at Sharkey Home Page

Seven years ago, I decided to retire and find a change of pace after 35 years of government service from being an Air Force pilot to an Assistant Administrator of the Veterans Administration. In searching for that change, I remembered a good friend who had owned a Vizsla that was a great field dog, but more importantly, a tremendous house pet and companion. Although my wife, Bette, wanted a black standard poodle, I perused the advertisements for a Vizsla. Finally, one day a Hodag Vizslas ad appeared, so I called Ray and Caroll Mealy to find out about their four-week-old Vizsla pups. Given directions, I talked Bette into looking at them. After three visits, Bette said she had fallen in love with the runt of the litter and wanted him. Subsequently she overheard me talking to a vet about the selection of a runt and to this day claims the only reason we have Hunter is because she selected him. Since I had already decided that I wanted a Vizsla as my retirement buddy, her choice obviously was my choice.

About two months went by when I received a phone call from Ray Mealy saying the Conestoga Vizsla Club was having a Fun Day in Southern Maryland and invited me to bring Hunter down from Alexandria, Virginia to see what trialing was all about. Since I never heard of field trialing or hunt tests, never owned a hunting dog or even hunted since I was a kid in Wisconsin, I accepted the invitation as something to do for the day. Little did I know then that I was about to be hooked. Since the Fun Day proved quite exciting, I purchased a Pathfinder with a large crate to haul Hunter around. The now razed River Hill Shooting Preserve in Maryland was recommended as a good place to train. There I met Del Seelye who further interested me in the campaigning of a gun dog. Soon thereafter Ray Mealy said if you're really going to get into the sport, you need a horse. Enough said, horse and trailer were purchased. At the end of the first year, I bought a second Vizsla, Chartay, to keep Hunter company (I believe it is important to mention that both Hunter’s and Chartay’s breeders were hesitant to put their puppies into a pet home and reluctantly sold me their puppy. Could this be a possible lesson for all breeders?). As you can now guess, the Pathfinder became too small so in February 1992, a Suburban was purchased and in July came the slant load trailer with dressing room. Is this story beginning to sound familiar to a lot of you out there?

Thanks to great breeding (Five VCA Hall of Fame and eleven Dual Champions in the last four generations); my pal Hunter was a natural. His grandfather, Del Seelye's Willie-Gina's Windjammer and his father, Ray Mealy's Hodag's Kirby, are also Master Hunters (MH). One of Hunter’s daughters, Don Brown’s Peeka, recently became a MH also prior to her third birthday. This lineage may be the first in the Vizsla world, if not all of the sporting dog world, to be the first ever four generations of Master Hunters. Speaking of Master Hunters, I am of the strong opinion that when a dog achieves the title of MH, the AKC should recognize that accomplishment by recording the dog as a Master Hunter Champion. To achieve the MH title, a dog has to pass a standardized test six times (five times if already a Senior Hunter). My reasoning that AKC should award the title of Champion to the MH is because I believe passing the standardized test six times is at least as hard or harder than getting the field or amateur championship. Granted the title is not competitive, but the dog as well as the handler has to be "on" for every test. The very limited number of MH supports this contention. Many times situations may occur in field trials where all the dogs may have an "off" day and still championship points may be awarded. Additionally, every requirement must be met to pass a hunting test including honoring whereas in field trialing, a dog may never have to honor to achieve the title. An "off" dog in the hunting test results in a failing score! Not necessarily so in field trials. Also, the giving of placements in hunting tests as is done in the obedience ring, which is also a graded pass or fail, would add greater excitement and a more competitive spirit to the hunting test program. I believe I have disproved the theory that if you put your gun dog in hunting tests, its run necessary to win field trials will be shortened up. It's all in how you train your dog. I have had the good fortune to meet and become associated with a number of ardent gun dog trainers who were more than happy to share their knowledge with me. However, every trainer has a slightly different method of training and because I took something from everyone, all of my associates got upset at various times as I didn't do it exactly their way. Most importantly, what I did, I did consistently and I believe set the foundation for the relationship between my dogs and myself. The bonding between dog and handler is critical to success whether in the field or in the ring.

I believe I had a greater learning curve than the dogs. Besides working with other trainers, I religiously rode the gallery or walked the hunting test events to observe other handlers and their dogs. I also watched and talked to the judges after the stake/test was over to get their view of my dog and what I could do to improve both of our performances. Judges are more than happy to talk to you, but you must take the initiative.

Most importantly, you must learn to read your dog. I can't tell you the number of times I have fouled up my dogs. Actual experience is the only way to learn. Each and every time I go to a trial or hunt test, I learn something. Many times you must commit the handling error so the next time a little bell goes off in your head as a warning. Frequently things happen too fast to have to think about what you're to do. It's a reaction to a situation. So don't worry about making mistakes; just don't keep repeating the same ones. In spite of my being a novice handler, Hunter was simultaneously ranked as a Vizsla Top Ten derby dog and gun dog prior to his second birthday. He was a MH, Field Champion (FCh) and Amateur Field Champion (AFC) prior to his third birthday

I am also a strong advocate for most new people to the sport to start out by attending a Fun Day that most clubs hold once or twice a year or enter a Hunting Test. I believe this route is much less intimidating, especially for individuals who have never ridden a horse, not that a horse is mandatory; but they are a big part of field trialing. I am happy to say that I have observed a significant increase in the number of female handlers in the hunting test arena within the last few years, with many of them moving into field trialing after their realization of "Hey, I can do this and it’s a lot of fun".

I will have to admit that the show ring and I do not get along too well although I handled my then two year old bitch, Chartay, for the last two points needed for her conformation champion (Ch) title. Earlier, in August 1992, Caroll Mealy handled Hunter to back-to-back five point majors for his Ch. Although I practiced for the show ring and had to get into the ring only a few times, I've had show people comment to me that "It's nice to see a field person in the ring". I personally would like to see more show people and their dogs in the field. I believe the hunting test program is proving to be just the ticket. I feel very strongly about keeping the Vizsla the dual-purpose dog that it was originally meant to be and advocate the requirement for a Ch to have at least a JH title to participate in a Specialty Show Best of Breed competition.

Looking for something to do during the summer of 1993, Hunter and I entered our first obedience trial. I had believed that field training was a world of patience, but I now think obedience may take even more because the dog isn't having fun chasing after birds and making retrieves with feathers in its mouth. Ten to twenty minutes of training is about all you can ask of your dog and those minutes are awash with praise after praise, coupled with many treats for doing well. I always carry treats in my pocket and reward for all good performances in the field or in the ring. Hunter finished his Companion Dog (CD) title in three tries and in August, achieved his Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) title. I also put a CD title that same day on Chartay. In October, Hunter won the 1993 VCA National Field Championship (Dog World Award), the National Specialty Field Trial Dog class, and was a finalist in the Best of Breed competition. He finished 1993 as the Vizsla #1 Top Ten Open Gun Dog. Are Vizslas versatile or what!

1994 started off with real bang. In April, Chartay, finished her CDX title and also in April, ten and one-half months from Hunter's first CD pass, and just eleven months from the day he and I started obedience training, Hunter achieved his UD title (Dog World Award) with a first place finish. Early in 1994 I had decided to go directly to Master Hunter with three year old Chartay as she was steady to shot and in October, we finished her MH title in eight tries.

1995 further proved my theory that obedience training is highly complementary to field trialing and hunting tests and should be gotten into when the dog is still a puppy. There still are a number of naysayers out there, but I challenge them to present me with a good argument for not attending obedience training with their field dog. The proof: In January, Hunter became the first Dual Champion (DCh) to earn the relatively new AKC Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title and in the spring had his best field trialing performances ever. Chartay, also in the spring, became a DCh, earned her UD title, her first UDX leg and four points toward her Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh) title. The entire fall was dedicated to doing fieldwork with both Hunter and Chartay ending up as Vizsla Top Ten gun dogs. Chartay also earned her AFC title by winning an amateur stake at a very large German Shorthair Pointer trial. Who said Vizslas can’t compete with the shorthair and pointer crowd?

1996 started out a bit slow as a result of a total left knee replacement at the end of 1995. Since I was pretty much limited to level ground, I worked the obedience arena with Chartay finishing the ten legs needed for her UDX title along with a few more OTCh points. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really able to get the dogs in prime condition for the VCA Nationals in October as my horse and trailer were also casualties of my knee replacement. A small recreational vehicle replaced the suburban, as it was more suited to obedience trial traveling.

1997 started out with my focus being on achieving Chartay’s OTCh. Hunter was put out to stud dog pasture as he just shut down in the obedience ring. The consensus was that he was jealous of my close working with Chartay. On July 4th, Chartay finished her OTCh and Triple Champion (TC) titles with a real bang. She not only finished, but she took High in Trial (HIT) and High Combined in Trial (HCIT) in the process. Chartay thus became the first female and most titled TC in AKC history. There are only two TCs in the AKC and both are Vizslas! In quest for the OTCh, Chartay had four HITs, seventeen HCITs and fifty UDX legs. Two weeks later in her final all-breed obedience trial competition, she scored a 198 in Open B and a 197 in Utility B for two firsts, winning a total of 44 OTCh points (100 is need for the OTCh title). As they say, practice makes perfect. The OTCh title is practice, practice, and more practice as it basically comes down to fronts and finishes. Do I recommend all handlers going for the OTCh? Definitely not! Once all the obedience titles below the OTCh are achieved, definitely go to some other sport such as Agility to continue having fun with your dog. The OTCh is possible, but requires serious dedicated work as well as a heavy dollar investment. The Vizsla, as well as any short-haired dog, is significantly at a disadvantage and has to be almost perfect in the ring to beat the so called "obedience dogs". Long hair on fronts and finishes is a big plus. A judge cannot judge what he can’t see. This fact is equally true in judging dogs in the field.

Chartay and I entered a beginner’s agility class in October 1997 and participated in our first agility trial on March 7, 1998. In two weekends, we had the Novice Agility (NA) title. On April 18th, we finished the Open Agility (OA) title with three first place perfect scores. We did fail a couple of times on the way to the OA title so that kept our egos down a bit. We excitingly passed Excellent Agility on our first try, also with a perfect score, but I have to admit that there were a number of failures before we finished the Agility Excellent (AX) title on June 13th. Between my old bones not being able to maneuver the course fast enough and Chartay not trained to work away from me that well as yet, we missed a number of passes due to being over the time limit. Working away from the handler is a problem with most obedience-titled dogs going into agility. Most of our practice sessions from here on out will be with her working away from me listening to my commands and watching my hand signals. It’s a thrill to see the experienced handlers work the course with a minimum of running to direct and control their dogs. A new AKC agility titled sport, Jumpers with Weaves, is exciting both for the participants and the spectators. It is very fast and demanding on both handler and dog, as there are no contact obstacles for the handler to catch a breath and time to figure out where to go next. We finished the Novice Agility Jumpers title (NAJ) on April 25th and Open Jumpers (OAJ) title on May 16th and have our 1st AXJ leg. All titles take three legs until you get to the Masters Level and that title takes ten passes. In the Masters Jumpers and Weaves track, there are no faults, wrong course or over time allowances. In other words, it must be a perfect run. Agility is a great team sport, truly a lot of fun, and is attracting more participants every week. Most trials are filled within a few days of the opening date.

That brings me to my boy, Hunter, and our continuing march to the OTCh. One of Hunter’s real problems, the best I can figure, is strictly mental. He is wonderful when the mood stikes him, but absolutely terrible at other times. My job is to make it fun for him and keep him up in the ring. In practice, he is like a 6-month-old puppy, but he knows when it is competition. Back in January 1998, I lost 10 OTCh points because of having fun with him in the ring after all the exercises were finished. Needless to say, I’m still very upset over that penalty for trying to keep him "up" in the ring. This is one of the reasons that I think the Obedience Trial rule makers had better take heed and bring obedience back to having fun with your dog or everyone will leave for Agility or to some other "have fun with your dog" sport. Tremendous numbers already have, as it is for fun that you work and play with dog, not to have some judge, similar to many others I am confident, that hasn’t shown a dog in years, take away 10 OTCh points for dog misbehavior (2 point deduction). This penalty assessed after the exercises were finished and leaving the ring. In April/May 1998, Hunter picked up 17 more OTCh points for a total of 28 and 2 more HCITs. I recently started working Hunter on my agility equipment and we are about ready to hit the Novice Agility trials. Hopefully this change of venue will help his attitude in the obedience ring.

Having trained and handled a dog to all three competitive titles, how do I rate the degree of difficulty in achieving each title? You have already read how I feel about the Master Hunter title. I do not want to demean any title because all titles are difficult to achieve. They are also something to be very proud of, but in terms of training time required, the Ch is the least work with the OTCh being the hardest on part of both dog and handler because of the performance perfection required. To achieve the Ch, one only competes within the breed and with non-champions. For the FCh, normally one must win in all-breed trials as well as closed trials in order to win the necessary points. Additionally, normally finished champions do not compete in the regular stakes, but in limited stakes, thereby making it easier to win points. However, this is not a mandatory as it is in the breed ring and some breeds do run their champions in the regular stakes. To attain the OTCh, it is almost entirely done at all-breed trials with OTCh dogs also competing for the points. There are no separate classes for obedience champions, so if one loves the sport and wants to continue trialing for fun or top point accumulation for the year or lifetime, all competition is with the non-champions and other OTCh dogs. To become an OTCh, one must beat the normally two to six OTCh dogs entered in the same class to get either a first or second place from which the points are determined.

I am a strong advocate of using a pull harness with two progressively weighted chains, attached by bungee cords, to build up the dog’s muscles and endurance. This method of training can be done in a schoolyard or just using the sidewalks to get both you and dogs in shape for the hunting test or field trial season. The food you feed your competitive dog is also most important. I use Eukanuba either performance or maintenance depending on the season. I love the field work and I believe the dogs most enjoy it also as they are out there doing what the dogs were originally bred to do. I can hear the arguments now. Hey, you're retired and can spend a lot of time with your dogs. That's true, but why are my dogs so consistent in their performance? I believe a big reason for their consistency is that they understand when we are at work. I emphasize "when we are at work" because dogs need to know when they are out to play or going to work. The collar they wear tells my dogs this. For each different activity we do, they wear a different collar. Believe it or not, Hunter even has a different one for stud dog activities. Even if we practice obedience for only ten minutes, I change collars. A pain, yes, but again consistency in training is critical if you expect your dog to be consistent when it's working. They need to know what is expected of them, under what conditions and when. You tell them this through the collar you put on them. I also believe in using my Tri-Tronics remote training collars for very specific training conditions both in the field and the ring. I use the lowest momentary stimulation level, which is no more than a tickle, but just enough for the dogs to recognize they are being corrected. I find this method more professional than screaming at your field dog or collar jerking in obedience training to achieve the desired response.

How do I sum up these past seven years? It's been more than I could have ever hoped for. My philosophy has always been that I would rather be lucky than good. I have found dog and horse people to be the finest down to earth people I have ever met. There's competition among all participants, but everyone shares in the winner’s joy. I have made new friends all over the United States and Canada. My dogs have taught me patience, how to be more observant, and how to relax. I attribute the upswing in my health since retirement to my dogs. Both dogs and horses have very keen senses and how you feel is almost instantly transmitted to them and they react accordingly. Remember above all, this is a sport we do for fun. When you are not having fun, your dog also is not having fun, so it's time to stop and do something else. Your dog will love you for it.

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