Failure? Not really.

To begin with the end-we did not pass the leg.

We passed the field stage, and the hunt-dead stage, but failed at the water retrieve.  She went into the water, swam to the bird, nosed it then turned around and came back to the shore. 

Now that I have THAT out of the way:

The weather was picture perfect for a spaniel hunt test; misty-rain, wet dogs and waxed cotton.
We arrived at the hunt test; made my introductions and even got to finally meet a fellow spaniel runner with whom I've been having an email conversation for several years.  He ran a beautiful Welsh Springer Spaniel in the master level that really showed great style and ability.

The field consisted of a rough section, maybe 3-5 acres in area. Two gunners on either side, and a couple of chukka salted throughout the length.  If I had to critique I'd say:
  • The guns were not having their best day. I can imagine how it feels to miss that first bird knowing that everyone is watching you, not to mention that the dogs performance is hinged on your performance.
  • The field was the same for all the stages: junior, senior, and master.  This means that the field was a probably a bit saturated with both dog and bird scent. (TO BE FAIR-the weather predicated this decision, and I don't question the judges. It's a critique, not a criticism) 
To be fair; I've worked with Emmie to be my gundog, not  a hunt-test competitor. I've used the hunt-test guidelines as my training guides, but she's a pet and gundog first, a competitor second. So participating in a format where I keep her in her kennel for a couple of hours and then run one 3-5 acre field is not a really fair evaluation of her abilities.  I do think I probably could have done a better job in a lot of ways-firstly I should have given her a chance to warm up before the run-or at least burn off some of her energy.  In a hunting situation I know she will take a few sweeps of her pattern before she settles into a working pace. I account for that-but there is no allowance for that in either a field trial or hunt test.

We  worked the entire field with no finds.  I have to say-she looked great and I felt good about the way she was covering the ground. Everyone, including the judges, thought she was running really well.  But like I said, no finds. Maybe it took her running the field to work out a little energy.  The judge called us back to the beginning and she ran the field again and came up with her two finds in textbook fashion:
Again, the guns were not having their best day so neither of the finds resulted in a retrieve. As part of the test standard, the judge gave her the opportunity to retrieve a hand thrown bird:
Which she did with aplomb.

I drove away from this test dejected. After all, we didn't pass the water retrieve. I could physically feel my body collapse a little when she refused that bird. I'm quite certain my family thought that I would go into a deep depression if we didn't pass this test.  And maybe I would have a few years ago.  But I'm a dad now-and I don't want my daughter to think that failure is when or why you quit anything. I want her to know that failure just shows you where you need to work on something.  It's good to have failures occasionally, as it keeps things in perspective.  Emmie's made that retrieve MANY times when we were in the field. I would have no qualms about taking her to the exact same pond, shooting a duck and know that she would retrieve it.

So what to do?

I'm an instructional designer and an educator.  I see a performance gap and I intend to close it.