I had a great time photographing the NCNC's Spring Draft test yesterday! It is amazing watching these dogs work not only because it is a chance for me to see my friends and their dogs receive a draft dog (DD) title, but because these dogs love to pull! Just picture 9 dogs jumping and running around, waiting to get hitched to the cart to start off on the haul route!
As the test photographer I have to be able to get shots of the dogs in action without disturbing or distracting the teams so it's a bit tricky depending on how the dog reacts to you and the sound of your camera. I had a really hard time on Sunday because it was cloudy and there was a lot of shade so all the black dogs seemed to disappear in the photos, and I also used shutter priority which bumped up the ISO too much so I was bummed that my better compositions didn't work out quite right. Here's a tip I learned on Sunday: if you photograph tests walk the courses with the dogs so you get an idea of where your best shots are going to be coming from and have a chance move obstacles out of the way before the test starts. I had an ugly garbage can in the way of what could have been some amazing shots otherwise.
But, as my friend was saying on Sunday photographing the tests gives you a chance to see the bonds and the trust that the handler and the dogs develop during training that you don't necessarily see in conformation. This bond comes from a mutual understanding of your dog's strengths and weaknesses, and getting "in their head" to recognize subtle cues and gestures that you give each other along the way. (It's like the look you give your spouse when you ready to leave a party- you know, that look.) It's how your dog reacts to the tone of your voice when you give a command and that you are proud of them for giving their heart and soul throughout a test. A good draft dog team is so exciting to watch because the commands aren't harsh or repetitive, just firm and short with a quick response from the dog. You can definitely tell who has been training and who hasn't!
The Newfoundland is a working dog and if you own one then you know that they just want to be with you, in your home, where they can be ready for any job or adventure you ask them to join in on that day. It's like having the best boyfriend/girlfriend in the world because all they want to do is make you happy. Originally they were bred for carrying fisherman's nets out of the water, or hauling logs to the mill so that working instinct is ingrained for most Newfoundlands. Foyle had an early retirement from his working career, but he still loves to swim and always scans the water for people to rescue- just in case of course. He was only hitched to a cart a few times but seemed to love it and worked very well until his knee surgeries took him out of the game. Around the house he is on couch patrol until the mailman comes (so sorry, really!) body blocks for the dachshunds when necessary, and is always up for carrying his treat ball everywhere!
If you would like to learn more about the NCA Draft Dog title please see their page. The test coves a team's ability to maneuver through a course that would resemble real-life situations. It tests the team's ability for control and strength, and a dog's willingness to use its natural abilities. It's a great way to make new friends and build a bond with your dog that will last forever.!
Here's a link to all my other pictures taken that day: NCNC Facebook page