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Authored Book, Articles and Interviews:

Jack Sharkey's Ten Wonderful Vizsla Years


Success Secret: Field and Obedience Training Together


Entwined Training -  AKC Gazette Interview


Preparing for Field Trial Season -  AKC  Gazette Interview


Burnout Blues - AKC Gazette Interview 


Happy Endings - Agility Article Printed in the AKC Gazette


Time for the Master Hunter Excellent Title


The Road to the Quintuple Champion


Tracking - An Unexpected Challenge


New 2008-- Purina Today's Breeder - Lady Brinkley


New  2008-- AKC Familydog Dogsport 101 - Article on Obedience


New  2008 -- AKC Gazette - Article on the Vizsla


Index - Jack's Book "Winning Ways" 



It's Here --  A New Book!!!

Winning Ways -- Training your Pointing-Breed Dog
                                           for Hunting and Competition

Table of Contents

   Titles iii

   Introduction vi

   Chapter 1: Choosing Your Puppy 1

   Chapter 2: The First Six Months 3

First Training Aid • Basic Commands • Treats & Praise • Early Influence Training • Socialization • Expectations • Yard Work • Horse Socialization • Initiation to the Gun Shot • Whoa & Stay Commands • Proper Nourishment, Health Care & Insurance

   Chapter 3: Starting the Serious Training 19

Learning to Read Your Dog • Conditioning & Building Drive • Holding Point • Check Cord Training • Teaching the Retrieve • Honoring • Stop-to-Flush • Tracking Collar • Beeper Collar • Electronic Collar • Obedience Training • Obedience & Field Performance • Agility Training • Conformation Training

   Chapter 4: Polishing Performance 47

Training Never Stops • Training With Semi-Broke Gun Dog • Off-Season Conditioning • Handler Errors

   Chapter 5: Campaigning Your Dog 57

Hunt Test/Field Trial Pre-Run Preparations • Bird Field Manners • After the Trial/Test • Change of Pace

   Chapter 6: Need for Future Challenges 59

   Summary 63



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Ten Wonderful Vizsla Years


 NFC DC AFC Hodag's Hunter UDX MH NA NAJ VC ROM & 

Quintuple Champion Legacy’s DeChartay UDX MH VC

  Ten years ago, I decided to fully 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 and then running my own company. 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 fabulous 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's 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 later 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 sporting dogs were 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 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, were also Master Hunters (MH). One of Hunter’s daughters, Don Brown’s Peeka, became a MH 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. 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 which 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 screwed-up my dog's performance. 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. I am told he is the only Vizsla ever to accomplish that feat. He was a Master Hunter, Field Champion and Amateur Field Champion 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 title. Earlier, in August 1992, Caroll Mealy handled Hunter to back-to-back five point majors for his Champion title. 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 hunt test program is proving to be just the ticket. I feel very strongly about keeping the Vizsla the dual-purpose dog that it was bred for. I am a strong advocate of the requirement for a Ch to have at least a JH title or field trial placement 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. 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 wing and 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 in March 1998. In two weekends, we had the Novice Agility (NA) title. In April, 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 in June. 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. It’s a real 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) in April, Open Jumpers (OAJ) title in May and also our 1st AXJ leg. All titles require 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 back to my boy, Hunter, and our march to the OTCh. One of Hunter’s real problems, the best I can figure, was strictly mental. He was 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. 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 best 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 also started working Hunter on my agility equipment with the hopes that this change of venue would help his attitude in the obedience ring.

    After more frustration with Hunter doing something other then his love for the field, he is now semi-retired. In both 1998 & 1999 Hunter won the Conestoga Vizsla Club's Hunting Dog Champion event. At nine years old, and not having been on a bird for since the previous year, he responded like the three year old he was when he won the VCA Nationals. It was also particularly satisfying as his win, made him the first winner of the event's new trophy in honor of his dad, Hodag's Kirby.  Two of his kids were also in the ribbons. Hunter now has over 30 AKC titled sons and daughters.

    In 1998, Chartay achieved the Master Agility title, in 1999, the Master Agility Jumpers title, and in 2000 the Master Agility Champion (MACH) title. Chartay is the first Vizsla to earn these last two AKC titles. The MACH, unlike the OTCh, is a fun title to work toward. It is non-competitive and it's all up to you and your dog. My goal was to get the Master's titles, so after that; we did it only to enjoy the fun of agility. It is a mentally active sport as well as giving the body some exercise. If you are interested in agility, please read my article, "Want a Fun Sport for You and Your Dog? - Do Agility!"

    Having trained and handled a dog to five AKC championship 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. Right now I am leading a campaign for the AKC to institute the Master Hunter Excellent title (MHX). 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, and most importantly, the amount of food, you feed your competitive dog is directly related to its performance. A dog cannot achieve its potential if it is over-weight. I use Eukanuba either performance or maintenance depending on the season. I now use newly formulated Eukanuba Senior because of its ingredients for my older dogs. I love the fieldwork 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 ten 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 my continued good health since retirement to my dogs. Both dogs and horses have very keen senses and how you feel is 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.

Article Updated: January 2001

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Success Secret: Field and Obedience Training Together

When asked by either field trialers or obedience handlers as to why my dogs have done so well, I answer that the secret to my success was finding out that field training and obedience training are very complementary. How did I find that out? By doing it! I really stumbled onto it as I was looking for a change of pace after the 1993 Spring trialing season. I decided to try obedience just to see what it was all about. Being a relative newcomer to any type of dog training (I bought my first Vizsla just four years ago), the word at that time was you must decide what you are going to do with your dog. Hunting tests and field trialing are just too different to expect your dog to do well in both at the same time. No one that I knew even mentioned the word obedience. Well, I believe I have proven that one's dog can do it all, and do it well, if you put your mind to it and have the necessary patience.

Probably the most important and absolutely critical element to success is to have a very close bonding with your dog. Because of this bonding, I have found that my dogs go overboard in trying to please. In fact they try to please too much and sometimes anticipate what you want them to do next which can ruin a good obedience exercise or field performance. However, that is a small price to pay for having a dog with a big heart wanting so much to please its master. The next element to success is having a dog that obeys your commands and this is where obedience training comes into play. A field dog is absolutely worthless unless you can get him or her to do what you want it to do. You don't pass hunting tests or get placements in field trials with a renegade dog. The dog must be disciplined, but yet show initiative and drive. The same is true in the obedience ring. Many of the exercises are very parallel to what you expect from the field dog such as retrieving on command, responding to hand signals, scenting, heeling, and marking.

As an example, this Spring I had my three year old bitch in field trials, hunt tests and the obedience ring. She had a couple of gun dog placements, passed three of five Master Hunter tests, and got her Companion Dog Excellent obedience title. Without the obedience training that we started about a year ago, I know she would not have had her field accomplishments. If I would have started her obedience training when I started her field training, I'm confident that her progress would have been even better. In your training, do you believe in consistency in your commands whether they be verbal or body signals? If you have not given this part of your training any thought, let me give you quick examples of how your dog focuses in on you and follows your commands be they verbal or signal. Recently, I was talking to a fellow competitor at an obedience trial after my boy, Hunter, had laid down for the third time (two trials in a row). This happened after I gave him the hand signal to stand while I walked to the other end of the ring to continue the signal exercise. In discussing this with a friend at ringside after the last time it happened, I was told that it appeared Hunter was taking a command from me as I walked away. Would you believe that as I reconstructed in my mind what I had done when I left Hunter, I remembered that I had dropped my left hand from my waist to my side as I walked from him and he recognized this as my normal down signal? The individual I was talking in response said, "let me tell you my story". She went on to say that after her dog would periodically stand instead of sitting when doing a heeling halt, her husband began video taping their sessions and after reviewing many performances, she recognized that on those heeling stops that her dog stood, she found herself doing a little cheat signal by dropping her left shoulder back and in doing so, her right arm unknowingly came forward and slightly across her body, which is the beginning of her normal stand signal and her dog recognized it as a stand. Is your dog taking unintentional signals from you? Think about it the next time your dog does something different from what you expected. Do you use reward or reprimand in your training as the means of getting your dog to do what you want it to do? Dogs first have to learn to learn. You do this by working on the communication channels between the two of you and there are many.

Reading your dog is especially important during bird work in the field and how he reads you in the ring is equally important. I personally favor and highly encourage use of the reward methodology. I can't tell you the number of turkey (they taste better) hot dogs that I've used in my training sessions. I cut them into small slices so I can easily carry them in my mouth. If you carry the reward in your hand, that's where the dog will focus its attention, whereas by carrying the treat in your mouth, this forces the dog to carry its head high where it can observe your eyes as well as arm and shoulder movements. Body signals are important to both field and obedience handling. Try the reward method the next time you're doing your yard work and see if it doesn't make a difference.

One other note on training. Above all else, do not end your training session on a downer. Do whatever is necessary to get your dog's tail high and wagging so you both finish on a positive note, thereby declaring it was a positive training session for both dog and handler. Remember, you are a team! What impresses judges and wins field trials? It's a dog that's under control, needs minimum handling, and is steady on its bird work. Is this not obedience at its highest form?

And what do obedience dogs need to do to perform well in the ring? They need to possess the same qualities that judges look for in the field, believe me. I took Hunter to his Utility Dog obedience title in eleven months from the day we started to practice heeling, directed jumping and retrieving, retrieving on the flat and over a high jump, and hand signals to name a few of the obedience exercises. Are these not the same requirements of a field dog? Sure they are. But you counter with, I don't want my dog to sit when he comes back on a retrieve. First off, your dog can easily distinguish between a feathered bird and a metal or leather dumbbell. If not, what judge is going to fault an otherwise snappy retrieve with a sit when the dog places the bird in your hand. Think about that.

So how do I sum up this article? If you're a field person, get your dog into the obedience world. If you're an obedience person, try the field. You'll be amazed and thoroughly delighted to discover how well your dog will adapt to becoming a winner in both areas of competition.

Article written in 1994

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Entwined Training
This article by Jacqueline O’Neil, appeared in the July 1995 AKC Gazette

Your Obedience dog may be halfway to a hunting title

How can your sporting dog earn a new title in half the time? By entering hunting tests if it already has an obedience title or obedience if it already has a hunting title. Putting old lessons to work in a new arena often enhances a dog’s skills and attitude. The result is a better performance in the original sport, with the new title as a bonus.

Field and obedience training make a perfect match, according to pointing breed hunting test and field trial judge Jack Sharkey of Alexandria, owner-handler of the Vizsla, NFC/DC/AFC Hodag’s Hunter, UDX, MH. "What impresses judges in the field is a dog that’s enthusiastic yet under control, needs minimum handling and is steady on its bird work," Sharkey explains.

He says an obedience-titled dog has a head start in pointing breed field training because it already obeys commands, handles kindly (willingly), takes directions and knows the difference between work and play. For example, sometimes a pointing dog can’t resist the temptation to interfere with its bracemate during a Junior Hunting Test, but an obedience trained dog has already learned to leave other dogs alone while working. An obedience dog has also learned to come when called, which is scored as part of trainability at hunting tests.

When preparing for advanced level hunting tests, the steadiness an obedience dog has perfected on the standstay, and its retrieving ability, could cut training time in half.

When making the transition between obedience practice and field work, Sharkey always changes his dog’s collar. He says the dog never becomes confused because it wears a different collar for every activity (everyday wear, field, obedience and show), and he always takes the time to put the appropriate collar on the dog, even for a five-minute review.

While yard work (training the dog to respond to commands at home, before applying the training in the field) is the traditional way to give field dogs their basic obedience lessons, Sharkey prefers taking his dogs to obedience school because it’s good socialization and conditions them to work away from home and in the company of other dogs. The classes also improved his handling. "The instructor called my attention to mistakes I didn’t realize I was making," he says.

Sharkey believes the benefits of entwined training are mutual because a field-trained dog also has a head start when preparing for the obedience ring. "Dogs with advanced hunting test titles work with intensity and drive," he says. "Yet they are under their handler’s control at all times and have learned to remain steady, despite the ultimate distraction of game birds. To me, that’s obedience training at its highest form."

Helping your dog apply its obedience training to the work it was originally bred for could be a challenging and rewarding adventure. The result might be a hunting test title, and it will certainly be a more upbeat obedience dog.

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Preparing for Field Trial Season
This article by Jacqueline O'Neil, appeared in the February 1997 AKC Gazette.

Snow may still be blanketing field trial grounds, but it won't be long before we see the welcome signs of spring. Is your dog in shape for the spring trials? Are you?

One man whose dogs are always in prime condition, even for the season's earliest trials, is Jack Sharkey of Alexandria, Va., a field trial and hunting test judge and avid competitor. Sharkey is the owner-trainer handler of the versatile Vizslas NFC, DC, AFC Hodag's Hunter, MH, UDX, and TC, AFC Legacy's De Chartay, MH, UDX. When I asked him what he does to get Hunter and Char primed for the spring trials, he described a simple training regimen that conditions his dogs and himself physically and mentally. Best of all, it works when the ground is too slick or soggy to safely ride your horse, and it can be used anywhere-even in the city.

The only equipment you need are a well-padded pulling harness with a D ring on each side, two bungee cords (for ease of adjustment) and two lengths of heavy, large-link chains that together weigh about 25 percent of your dog's weight. For example, Hunter weighs 60 pounds, so his chain eventually weighs 15 pounds; but during the first several sessions he pulls only 10 pounds.

Put the harness on your dog and adjust it for a comfortable fit, attach the bungee cords to the D ring on each side and modify their length so they end 12 to 18 inches behind your dog's back legs and are identical, and attach the chains to the bungee cords.

When just coming out of the winter season, Sharkey takes Hunter and Char to an area with a level surface, such as grass (if you don't have access to a large yard or field, use a park or an empty schoolyard or parking lot). Then he attaches a long lead to one dog at a time and walks behind the dog while it pulls the chain for approximately 15 minutes. "Read your dog while it exercises," he says. "Don't overdo the workouts in length or frequency. Take an occasional day off to give the muscles time to rejuvenate. When you stress muscles, they need time to build up stronger than before." Sharkey works his dogs approximately five days a week.

He gradually works his dogs up to pulling 25 percent of their weight for 30 minutes. When Hunter and Char perform it easily on a relatively level surface, he continues their conditioning on regular field trial grounds, with all its holes and bumps. Soon they are free of the lead and out hunting birds for 30 minutes while still pulling their chains.
When Hunter and Char move across the field trial grounds just as if the chains weren't on them, Sharkey starts alternating his conditioning sessions. One day he'll have them hunt while pulling chains, and the next day they hunt wearing nothing but their collars. Occasionally, he has them hunt while pulling for 30 minutes, rests them, and then lets them run in the field without chains for another 30 minutes.

Sharkey almost always works his dogs for 30-minute intervals. "If 30 minutes is good, an hour won't be better," he says. "In fact, it may be harmful rather than helpful. Almost all the trials I enter are 30-minute runs, so I want Hunter and Char to run full bore for 30 minutes. If I worked them for an hour, they would learn to pace themselves. Instead of demonstrating 30 minutes of maximum performance, they would take it easier, saving themselves for a long haul that won't occur in competition."

When Sharkey is satisfied that Hunter and Char are in prime condition, he puts the chains away. They aren't necessary during the field trial season because dogs maintain condition when they compete almost every weekend and practice during the week. Of course, if you miss a few weeks of trialing and practice, you can speed up reconditioning by digging out your chains.

Sharkey always trains as if the practice sessions were a real field trial. To simulate the breakaway, he puts a fluorescent collar around his dogs' necks just before giving the signal to start. He never saves time by attaching their collar early, and he always does it exactly the same way at practice and also during competition.

Sharkey has always known good nutrition is a crucial part of conditioning, but over the past few years he has discovered that varying his dogs' food with the season makes them easier to condition in the spring. He still feeds a high-protein diet during field trial season but now uses quality maintenance diet during the winter. Dogs and people both get out of shape during the winter, Sharkey says, but keeping excess weight off gives you a head start on spring training.

How does Sharkey get in shape for the trials? "By hoofing it," he says. "When the dogs work in chains, I'm right behind them on foot, not on horseback." In fact, Sharkey, who works his dogs in obedience and hunting tests as well as field trials, attributes his good health to dog sports. "I had serious health problems when I retired," he admits, "but all of them went away when I started working dogs. Now I weigh the same as I did right after getting out of West Point. Without my dogs, I'd probably have become a couch potato."


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Burnout Blues

This Article by Jacqueline O'Neil, appeared in the January 2000 AKC Gazette

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Time for the Master Hunter Excellent Title

Reprinted from the June/July 2000 AKC Afield


Now that you have put the Master Hunter (MH) title on your dog, what’s next? I know that many of you out there are asking yourselves that question. You’re not really interested in the field trial game and who wants to spend money for a hunt test entry with no reward even though you know that your dog would love it, as well as you, the handler, enjoying the thrill of watching your dog work. And maybe your dog is now older and can no longer compete with the young field trial studs, but can still be that solid companion hunting dog in a walking environment. I contend that it is now time for the AKC to institute the Master Hunter Excellent (MHX) title so we can keep our hunting dogs active.

The precedent has already been set by the AKC as both the Obedience and Agility Departments have instituted the Excellent (X) title in their sports. In both Obedience and Agility, identical rational was used in establishing the recently added new titles (UDX and MX); being able to continue competing the dogs even at an older age, coupled with a title that one can strive for even if your dog is not capable of achieving the Obedience Champion (OTCh) or the Master Agility Champion (MACh) title. To achieve these titles, the requirement is based on passing the event ten (10) times after having achieved the UD or the MA titles. What is easier for the AKC than saying, "Pass the MH event ten times after you have achieved the MH title and you can add the MHX title to your dog"? Not only that, think of the additional revenue for the clubs and the AKC itself. Additionally, many times, due to the limited number of dogs in the MH test, a dog from the Senior Hunter test has to be brought up to run as the bye dog. Reason is that with so few Master dogs, they are not ready to run again as a bye dog in such a short interval of time. The result, usually things happen which are not fair to the judging of the Master dog.
So how do we go about getting the AKC to establish MHX title in a timely fashion? The first thing you should do is to call your sporting breed representative to the AKC and tell this individual that you want the MHX to happen. The next individual to contact is your breed’s representative to the Advisory Committee that reports to the AKC’s VP for Performance Events, Bill Speck. I have done both, in addition to writing to Bill Speck. I am confident that ultimately this will happen, but given the bureaucracy of getting things to happen in a timely fashion, only you, the competitor, by letting your feelings be heard on this subject, will get this MHX title in place at an early date. Our MH dogs are getting older by the day, as are we, and I, for one, would like to get my dogs back into what they love to do most, finding birds!

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The Road to the Quintuple Champion

Little did I envision when I purchased my female Vizsla, Legacy’s DeChartay, nine years ago as a companion pet for my male Vizsla, Hodag’s Hunter, that someday she would make history and become the first Quintuple Champion of any breed registered by The American Kennel Club (AKC). As a matter of fact, the breeders of Chartay did not want to sell her to me, as they wanted her to go to a competition home, not just to a pet home and as a companion for Hunter. After my reluctantly agreeing to show her to at least a Conformation Champion title as part of the purchase agreement, Diane Shearer and Gregory Gollick, the breeders, thus provided me the incentive to get into the dog competition world a little deeper than I had envisioned. About six months earlier, I was introduced to the world of sporting dogs, at the behest of Caroll and Ray Mealy, Hodag’s Hunter breeders, by attending the Conestoga Vizsla Club’s fun day. I must point out that I had never trained a dog in my life and had no idea of the various dog competitions held under the auspices of the AKC. Although I found the fun day informative and learned to appreciate the versatile talent of the Vizsla, my intent was to do some hunt tests, honor Caroll Mealy’s request to show Hunter, get Chartay’s breeders to show her, and continue with my desire to play golf as my retirement hobby.

As they say, good intentions sometimes fall by the wayside, and in my case, no truer words were ever spoken. Shortly after buying Hunter’s companion, Chartay, and already having done some field work with Hunter, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated in watching the dogs perform for what they were bred to do, finding and pointing birds. This fascination soon resulted in my getting into the field trialing in a big way by buying a horse, trailer and a suburban to tow the rig. Fortunately, during this time, I also became the pupil of many different field trialing dog trainers that imparted their vast knowledge to me. Obviously, Hunter being my first dog, was the guinea pig for my novice training and handling. I learned very early on that the best field dog handling technique is minimum handling so as to not confuse the dog’s natural instincts. While I was doing the hunt tests and field trialing with Hunter, Caroll Mealy had him in the show ring. Chartay, a year younger, was out running around in the field happily finding birds, but would not present a staunch point. She had the happiest tail you ever saw while on point, but not one that impressed the judges. When Chartay was twenty-one months old, I was asked to judge a trial in Florida. My patience had just about run out with her in becoming a competitive field dog so I told my wife that unless she showed something during the next two weekends, I was giving Chartay to her as a full time pet, as I was getting myself another Hunter. Hunter at this time was the only Vizsla ever to be ranked simultaneously as a top ten derby dog and gun dog so you can understand my frustration with Chartay.

I don’t know how well Chartay then understood the English language, but she put on one of the prettiest performances one could ask for by a gun dog by winning her events on both weekends. From that time on, she became a joy to work with and watch in the field. There’s a lesson to be learned here that dogs are like children, not all mature at the same age, so therefore don’t give up on them as youngsters. One day the light will come on. All I can tell you is that I was within two weeks from giving up on a future Quintuple Champion. There’s another lesson here for breeders; reluctance to selling a dog to a pet home may turn out to be the best sale ever made!

After showing Hunter a few times when Caroll Mealy had a conflict, I was still not comfortable in the conformation ring, so I usually asked Chartay’s breeders to show her for me. Just prior to her second birthday in 1993, she still needed two points for her confirmation title so I decided to enter her in a show even though I had no handler for her. I took coat and tie along just in case. Well, it turned out that I was there by my lonesome and into the ring I went. You can just imagine the thrill I had when she was awarded winners bitch and the needed two points for her Champion title. The thrill, however, was somewhat tempered after the class was over when the judged asked me if I was going to "special" her. I answered, "no, we’re out of here". With that the judge said, "good, because if you said yes, I was going to tell you to take handling lessons as she won in spite of you". My personal feeling on this comment is that this is the way it should be. I believe there is too much emphasis today on the handlers and not on the dogs themselves. In my opinion, there are many professionally handled show champions that are not worthy of the title.

In the summer of 1993 after the previous fall and spring of field trialing activity, I entered Chartay in her first obedience trial and she soon had her Companion Dog and Companion Dog Excellent titles. Hunter was always at least a title ahead of her and had gotten his Utility Dog Excellent, Dual Champion, Amateur Field Champion and National Field Champion titles in 1993. Not to be outdone, because Chartay was now steady to wing and shot, in the fall of 1994, I took her directly to her Master Hunter title, bypassing both the Junior and Senior Hunter tests, by earning the required six passes in eight outings.

During the spring and fall of 1995, Chartay earned her Dual Champion and Amateur Field Champion titles. The win for her Amateur Field Champion title was especially rewarding to me as she was braced with one of the best German Shorthaired Pointer dogs on the East Coast. She would not let him get in front of her during the full 30 minutes of running time and just before time was called, slammed into a picture point, held perfectly for the wing and shot, and did a beautiful on-course retrieve. Chartay ended up the year in the top ten amateur gun dog rankings. During the summer months we continued with our obedience competition and starting in 1996, we concentrated on going for the Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh). Here, I had a difficult choice to make as to which dog to go for the gold. Hunter already had some OTCh points, but Chartay was giving me a more consistent performance so I decided she was to be the next Triple Champion even though Hunter was my boy and many expected him to be it. I had found it impossible to compete both dogs at that level as in the heat of competition, I sometimes forgot which dog I was working and used the wrong signal or command. Chartay was ranked both in 1996 and 1997 as the number one Vizsla by the Delaney Obedience Rating System.

On July 4, 1997 the big day arrived when Chartay won both of her obedience classes and finished her OTCh title. This accomplishment made her the first female Triple Champion in the history of the AKC and the second overall. The first Triple Champion was also a Vizsla. As the crowning cap to her obedience career, the following weekend she was awarded forty-four OTCh points in her final all breed competition. Remember earlier when I told you about my handling in the show ring? Well, the same happened in the obedience ring. A long time handler told me that if I ever expected to get an OTCh on my dog, I’d best get a new handler. I guess it just goes to show that yes, the handler is important, but it’s the dog that is being judged. So, train your dog well, have faith and confidence in your team member, and the dog will carry the day.

After finishing Chartay’s OTCh, I totally abandoned the field and started both Hunter and Chartay in agility. An earlier knee replacement found horseback riding and walking rough terrain most difficult. In March 1998, I entered Chartay in her first agility competition and within six and one-half months earned her Master Agility title, and in another six months, her Master Agility Jumpers title. She was ranked number one Vizsla for 1998 by the Front and Finish Agility Rating System. She was also featured in 1998 in an American Red Cross Training Film made for baby sitters. How did she excel in agility so quickly? The answer is that she was well trained to accept signals and commands, primarily from her obedience training, but also from her field training. All she had to do was get comfortable with performing the different elements found in agility such as tunnels, chutes and weave poles. I believe a basic level of obedience training is a prerequisite to any form of competition or to just having a well-behaved companion dog.

In 1999, Hunter indicated to me that he no longer was thrilled with going over jumps, through hoops and tunnels and just wanted play stud dog and chase after birds. I listened to him, and then found myself listening to Chartay, as she told me through her performance, that agility trial after agility trial, along with weekday training, was getting her down. She started to put her tail between her legs at the start line and many times failed to make the standard course time over a two-month period during late summer and early fall. It was then that I said a break was needed and did almost no agility for about three months. She still managed to be ranked the number one Vizslas in the agility ratings for 1999.

We began 2000 by entering Chartay in a few agility trials where she had a somewhat renewed interest, but not with the same intensity of a year ago. In April, I made the decision to no longer practice her in agility. Instead I started taking both dogs to the field for running, bird finding, and just having fun. Sometimes one does what one preaches and that is, when a dog starts to "shut-down", bring it back to do what the dog was bred to do. In my case, finding birds. One might ask, why didn’t this shutdown occur while working toward the OTCh? The answer to that is we were doing field trialing and hunt tests during their respective seasons so Chartay continually had the mix of using her natural instincts along with the obedience training routines.

Chartay found this new routine of running the field and bird work during the week and competitive agility on weekends to her liking. She once again became enthused and started to get agility placements, and more importantly, running under standard course time to accumulate the needed 750 points as one of the two requirements for the Master Agility Champion (MACh) title. On June 10, 2000 Chartay won her 750th point. These 750 points, coupled with her 30 double qualifying (DblQ’s) runs (twenty same trial day DblQ runs is the other requirement for the MACh), made her the first Quintuple Champion in the history of the AKC. During her quest of the Quintuple Champion title, Chartay won 76 AKC first place blue ribbons. What a ride this has been!

What’s next? I am with high hopes that the AKC will soon agree with my lobbying efforts to establish the Master Hunter Excellent (MHX) title so that I, along with a lot of others, can take their older sporting breed dogs back to the field for further competition and thrills. Given my dogs’ ages, and mine, we’ll leave the field trialing game to the younger studs. I believe both dogs can still do a commendable job at the Master Hunter level, and for both them, and me, to continue enjoying what sporting breed dogs were bred to do, finding birds.

Article Written June, 2000.

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Tracking – An Unexpected Challenge!

     What does one do with their dogs after they have won every American Kennel Club competitive title available to them less one? And especially if that title happens to be tracking? My answer to those that asked me the above question after Chartay finished her Master Agility Champion title last June to become the AKC’s first Quintuple Champion was, " I really don’t think I want to be following a dog on a lead sniffing around a field to find some dropped article". It was only after a fellow agility competitor came up to me and said, "Hey, Jack, you just have to put a Champion Tracking title on Chartay as that will mean she will be a Sextuple Champion. You can then change your vehicle license plate from "QUINT CH" to SEX CH"." To this comment I replied, "I have been searching for some reason to do tracking and now maybe I have found the personal challenge to do it".

Let me begin by stating that my initial impression of tracking and that which I hold today is about 180 degrees apart. The first thing that I did after deciding to look into tracking as a dog sport was to order a copy of the AKC’s Tracking Regulations. After reading through it a few times, I soon began to realize that tracking is a very serious, as well as, enjoyable outdoor sport. Tracking is not just laying a scent for your dog to follow on its way to finding a personal article, but has the ultimate objective to find a lost person using the dog’s ability to recognize and follow human scent. Just to even enter your first competition, you must have your dog certified by a judge attesting to the fact that he or she feels that your dog can pass the first level test for the Tracking Dog (TD) title. No other dog competition that I had ever entered required a Certification of Readiness. This alone ratcheted my interest up a notch or two. Even after the certification process, the pass/fail rates indicate a high degree of difficulty in achieving this first level TD title. For 1999, the pass/failure rate was 58.9%. The next level title, Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX), had a much lower pass/failure rate of 14.2%, with the pass rate for the highest title, the Variable Surface Tracking (VST) title, an infinitesimal low pass rate. It is only after a dog has earned these three tracking titles that the AKC issues a Champion Tracker (CT) Title Certificate. An unexpected challenge? You might say that is the understatement of day!

If the above pass rate statistics haven't gotten you totally discouraged, then what is the next step? I have done all of my dog activities for the fun and enjoyment of working with my dogs. Even though the thought of adding a sixth AKC Champion title intrigues me, I still strongly feel that whatever my dogs and I do together, it is because we are out having fun, that we are performing as a team, and particularly, beneficial to me both mentally and physically. To find out if tracking met these criteria, I talked to one of my agility buddies, Bernie Thompson, who along with his wife, Donna, I was told, had been in tracking for years. His first words to me were to get a harness, about a ten foot leash, pick a line in a grass field, walk out for about 30 feet with the dog watching you, drop a glove with some reward food in it, and then come back in the same path. Only then put the harness and leash on your dog. Give a command for your dog to follow your footsteps to determine if the dog is tracking your scent to get to the glove/reward or just remembering the site where you dropped put the glove. He then added, "When you have incrementally increased the distance to about 100 yards, give me a call".

I did as Bernie suggested and found that Chartay quickly understood what I was asking her to do. I really think her drive was all about getting that "jack-pot" reward upon finding the glove. But no matter, she was tracking as my later scent paths were obscured to her when I laid them. Not only was she tracking, but also Jack was getting great exercise even though huffing and puffing from all the walking to lay practice tracks and then following behind. I had started out doing tracking with Chartay and my older male, Hodag’s Hunter, but having told him earlier that he was semi-retired, he said he’d like to stay that way. This was not too discouraging because of the practicality of it all. Finding grass areas large enough in a metropolitan needed to lay multiple practice tracks is a challenge. But you can always find one, such as schoolyard. Then too was the training of two dogs with different handling requirements. I found that out when working on the OTCh titles. I would forget in the heat of competition which dog I had, and would give a hand signal meant for the other dog. This didn’t do much for our final score, so that’s when Hunter was semi-retired from the competition arena.

So now that I knew Chartay was tracking and the sport was meeting my earlier established criteria, what was the next step? Well, it was to call Bernie. Fortunately, Bernie, Donna, and Julie Hogan were about to hold a tracking seminar for which I immediately sent in my reservation. I am telling you this as I had gone as far as I could go without seeking outside help to learn all the nuances of the sport, and especially, how do I train Chartay to follow 90 degree turns? This admission for help comes only after training my dogs to five AKC Champion titles, a National Field Champion, and two Master Hunter and Utility Dog Excellent titles. Here are a few of the things I learned. The Tracking Dog test course is from 440 yards and not more than 500 yards in length with a total of three to five different directional turns, at least two of which must be 90-degree turns. The scent on the track is not less then 30 minutes old and not more than 2 hours old when you and your dog start out. During this time it is not uncommon for other animals such as deer, rabbits, and upland game birds to have crossed the track or are lingering nearby. Seeing you are following your dog on a leash at no less than 20 feet and up to 40 feet, out in a large grass field with nothing to mark the turns or their direction, except for the initial start, faith in your dog is all you have. So how do you acquire the skill and feeling to know that your dog is searching for a turn and becomes committed to the laid track rather than following ground hog, Charlie? Good question. It’s only through practice, practice, and more practice to learn how your dog responds to different wind, weather, and surface conditions while following the tracklayer’s scent. And remember we are still only on the first level of tracking. Got the challenge?

After the next few months of training about two times a week, Chartay and I should be ready to request a certification test from an AKC provisional or approved tracking judge. The certification is made out in quadruple (up to four TD title tries) and is good for one year. The next difficult step after receiving certification is to find a TD test to enter. After a review of the AKC Gazette Events Calendar, you will find tracking tests few in number, with miniscule entries accepted, and in various parts of the country. If you find that a high challenge is what keeps you going, tracking, without question, is for you and your dog. And the best part is that all dogs have a nose and can learn to track. Did I mention earlier that this is a sport that older dogs can continue to enjoy as well as we senior handlers? Chartay and I have our first tracking goal on the near horizon and look forward to seeing you "Out Tracking".

Article Written February,  2001

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