Jim Casey owned a dog named “Casey’s” Rocket. During a weekend in the 1960s he won a double header at a Field Trial meaning he won both the Amateur and the Open. The number of teams that have won double headers is a very small elite group indeed. The next weekend “Rocket” won the Amateur and was doing well in the Open. One of the judges, John McAssey devised one of the most difficult concepts a dog might every encounter.
Rocket failed the test. The test was given the name the “McAssey Special.”
Today we call the most difficult portion of the test the Check Down Bird.
The line is located on the top of a tall hill. The hill goes steeply down for about 150 yards and then begins an upward climb of another 120-150 yards. There are no obstacles at the bottom of the hill, no water or dense cover.
The test begins when the gunner at the bottom of the hill throws a bird to the very bottom of the hill into some cover. Where this first bird lands is dictated by the light cover. It may be thrown right, left or straight at the dog. This bird is called The Check Down Bird. The second bird thrown is a flyer and thrown by the left hand gunner on top of the hill to the left. The thrower at the bottom of the hill between the two live flyer stations retires (hides). The final bird is also a flyer and is thrown and shot by a gunner who is at the top of the hill to the right and throws it to the right.
Dogs love to run, especially uphill. The handler sends his dog for the last bird down, the flyer on top of the hill to the right of the second hill. Upon returning the dog is sent for the left hand bird up the second hill.
Now comes the fun part. Use the cue “Easy”. The dog is sent to the bird at the bottom of the hill with the two gunners still standing and very visible on the top of the second hill. Very few dogs will check down or even slow down. They run straight down the first hill and without even slowing down charge right up past the bird on the bottom and run to the top of the hill. The dog has overrun the Check Down Bird.
Now that you can visualize the test, how can we teach him about check down birds? I believe in oral cues. We all do it. “Sit” is an oral cue by definition. “Way Out”, “Dead Bird” or “Mark It” are all examples of oral cues.
With a Check Down bird, I use the cue “Easy”. You start by going down the hill almost to the bottom and have someone hand throw a bird to the bottom of the hill. Send the dog using cue “Easy”. Go back about half way up the hill and repeat. Remember to use the cue “Easy”. It is very important that the dog finds the Check Down bird without hunting for it. It would probably be a good idea to repeat the retrieve several times as you move up the hill until you reach the top of the hill for one final retrieve from the top of the hill.
Now have a gunner go to the top of the next hill on the left and after the Check Down bird is thrown, have him throw a dead bird to the left. Pick up the long bird. Give the cue “Easy”. Then retrieve the Check Down bird. The dog has already gone to the place where the Check Down bird has been retrieved at least 5 times before.
Now we add a complication. Throw the Check Down bird as before. Now have the person on top of the hill to the right throw a dead bird to the right. Send the dog to the right side dead bird and then the Check Down bird.
If you get into a problem, do what you always do – Simplify. Retrace your steps to where your dog had success and repeat. Then advance the drill.
You may not complete this drill in one day. That’s OK.
Now let’s add the next complication. Throw the Check Down bird to the bottom of the hill. Have the person on top of the hill to the right throw a dead bird to the right and the person on top of the hill to the left throw a dead bird to the left. Run the drill as before. The person at the bottom of the hill retires (Hides) when the dog is running up the hill. Be sure to use the cue “Easy”.
Assuming all goes well you have taught the drill. Now it is time to TEST. Set up the test exactly as you have been doing in the drills except this is for real. Check Down bird is thrown. The gunner of top of the hill shoots a flyer to the left. The person at the bottom of the hill retires. The right hand gunner shoots a flyer to the right. Run the test. Use you cue “Easy” on the check down bird. This is a very tough test and out of 10 dogs there is usually 1 dog who no matter how many times you run the test will never catch on to the concept.
Check Down Drills do not always have to incorporate hills but it does add to the difficulty of the test. If may be quicker and easier on the dog if you start teaching the drill on flat ground. The main point is to have the two outside gunners a long distance from the Check Down Bird.
Here is another example of a Check Down drill.