Some dogs present a challenge. Gentle work and plenty of patience turn them into bird dogs.
Story and Photos By Jerry Imprevento
When it came time to get a new pup, I knew I wanted to get another Irish Red and White Setter (IRWS). I also knew it was time to get involved with NAVHDA. I had been going to my local chapters, Hudson Valley and Rock Tavern, to take photographs of the incredible versatile dogs that were in these chapters. Now it was time to put down the camera for a while and get involved. Having an “off-breed” to work the NAVHDA Testing system would present some challenges, and many of my buddies who ran more traditional versatile breeds raised eyebrows at my choice.
I was lucky enough to have wonderful IRWS breeders that were members of the Rock Tavern Chapter. Chris and Tami Orcutt own Magairlin Irish Red and White Setters. After meeting some of their dogs and speaking at length with them about my intentions, I made the decision where my pup would come from. My boy Finn was born in June of 2018, and he came home that August.
Now to be clear, I’m the furthest thing from a trainer a human being could possibly be. My early attempts at training Finn on my own would have made a great “What Not To Do When Training Your Versatile Dog” video.
Fast forward eight or nine months. A good friend and accomplished Handler/Trainer/Breeder of Merit, Rick Affuso, was trying to help out with Finn. Rick saw some glimmers of hope, but knew Finn… and I… needed professional help. Rick suggested I reach out to a talented young man, Jordan Wells of J. Wells Kennels. I contacted Jordan, and he came down to our local training grounds to evaluate Finn and me.
After about three hours of watching Finn work and my attempts at handling him, Jordan was upfront about what he saw in both of us, with no attempt to flower up where we were as a team. I knew we had the right trainer, and the real journey began.
I had labeled Finn a soft dog. From the first time I had put a check cord on him and he lost his mind, to the introduction to a dead duck that saw him run in the opposite direction. Once Jordan started working with Finn, it turned out Finn was the opposite of soft.
The process began of putting a foundation on him. Once Jordan was satisfied with Finn’s Foundation Training, we took Finn to the field. He had pretty good drive and actually loved to retrieve. With Jordan’s training methods, Finn’s steadiness and force fetch went rather smoothly.
Our real challenge with Finn was swimming. A dog can’t be deemed a NAVHDA dog if it can’t swim. My attempts at getting him to swim came early on, before reaching out to a real trainer. New levels of frustration were gained trying to get him to swim. He would rarely commit to actually swimming, but he loved to frolic in shallow water. And boy, did we try to get him swimming. We tried birds and ducks. Cheetos and potato chips were used. Nope, wouldn’t fall for the junk food. My buddies with pudelpointers and GSP’s were getting a kick out of watching me plead with Finn to get in the water.
Once again it came down to Jordan’s knowledge and abilities. When he watched, enjoying himself at the water’s edge, he wasn’t concerned at all. It actually came down to the force fetch. When bumpers were tossed (no more junk food was used during training) he no longer had a choice. It was his job!
All the time and effort are paying off. Finn is the only IRWS to earn a Prize I at his Natural Ability Test, and the only IRWS to earn a Utility Prize. He earned a Prize III, but I made some mistakes as a first-time handler. I also knew Finn would have challenges at the Duck Search. He was just over two years of age, so I was still incredibly proud of him.
Finn has another pretty wonderful accomplishment. He recently earned his AKC Master Hunter Title. He’s only the third Red and White to ever achieve Master Hunter, and the only one still living… and he’s still not yet three years old. Finn and I still have pretty big goals. We’re looking for that UT Prize I this season, and then head off to New Mexico in 2022, so he can try to become the first of his breed to become a NAVHDA Versatile Champion. This “off-breed” dog is a challenge, but I wouldn’t change a second of any of it.
This story originally appeared in the June 2021 Issue of Versatile Hunting Dog.