10.18.2016

How to Pick a Hunting Dog, part 1

My first dog was a lab, a "purebred" AKC-registered beaut named Maggie that wouldn't fetch and shat on the grass.

Really, it was Dad's dog, the kind of dog you buy as a young father, eager to show the ropes of the world to your growing clan. Maggie - "Duchess Maggie Carbonier" was her full name - had a ton of energy and a loveable tendency to try to bear hug you in greeting at the end of a full sprint. hti sused to kock y 4 year lfd ittel sister flat on her back, which I thought was funny at the time, until I accidentally hit my own four-year old with a dog that was chasing a poorly aimed ball. You could get a concussion that way.

Anyway, back to Maggie - she used to drive my dad nuts, this dog - she could care less about a tennis ball, and loved to take a crap on our freshly-manicured Zoysia in the backyard. Dad used to chase her around with a rolled up newspaper trying to get her to fetch a tennis ball and stop shitting on the grass.

So when I got my first bird dog, it was my "own" dog with a similar eye to the coming broods of children that would soon invade our lives. I didn't know any better but I had high hopes for my young GSP, so the first thing I taught him to do was to fetch tennis balls. And the second thing I taught him was to shit over in the pinestraw and leaves behind the hollies in the edge of the back yard, and certainly not on the freshly-manicured and oh-so-inviting grass. At least that way I knew I could tell the kids "hey, careful when you go over there behind the hollies." And to be honest, he does A+ work in ball fetching, and B- work in not shitting on the grass (which is a passing average in my book).

The trouble is, when you pick a dog based on his love of tennis balls and the fact that he begrudgingly shits where he's told, you have the odds to draw a less than stellar hunter. Which, truth be told, is just what Dean is. But in the interests of full disclosure, that fits me to a t - I am a less than stellar hunter myself, so we get along fine. His nose is poor, he breaks on the shot, and he works close, not far off like the big-ranging pointing breeds are supposed to. I usually walk up birds, and don't have a horse, so working close is fine with me. The other two qualities, well, you get what you pay for I guess.

Dean has an ok nose, and ok drive. Ok drive on birds, once he's already flushed a few by accident and we've taken a break for lunch, and then he remembers what it is that birds do: smell funny, hold a bit, then fly off so the master can make the gun go bang. sometime, not often, they fall. then dean goes over to sniff them, and promptly goes back to doing somethings else, usually not hunting. i swear, this dog will retrieve a tennis ball until your rotator cuff literally falls out of your shoulder socket. but if it is not covered in lime-green-yellow felt, he doesn't want to pick it up in his mouth. weird as shit. anyway, he's the best fetching dog I've ever had, but i can't for the life of me get him to retrieve a downed bird.

I cut his balls off when he was one year old. I have been told that is what you are supposed to do to city dogs. However, I found out later to some chagrin that no stellar hunting dog has ever been so emasculated - if you are a shit-hot bird dog, you get to hunt all day and spread your seed to various females in the off season, in the hopes of fathering a second generation all-star. Alas, not Dean - he's a rare Hunting Eunuch. Which is all well and good, because he's not really very good enough at anything (except fetching tennis balls and shitting just on the pinestraw) to make him worth the time of any classy full bred bitch that I ever met.

One time I took him duck hunting at the old family pond. Well, it used to be a good duck pond - now there are so many local Canadas that they roost there year round and eat up all the mast and have pretty much pushed the ducks on down to mexico as far as i can tell. so pretty much we were going goose hunting. We got everyone out in the blind, nice cold morning just below freezing but still plenty of open water. sun comes up, big passel of geese fly over, the Benelli barks twice in the blind. Out goes Dean, diving gallantly into the half-froze water, swimming like a mad man (he loves to swim) over toward a big old bull goose, 18 or 20 pounds or more, flopping around and mostly dead already. He picks that old guy up in his mouth - at this point I am literally applauding from the blind, ego swollen with pride at the natural duck-blind talents of my versatile hunting dog. nope. he just shakes that guy back and forth for a few minutes until he's sure that it is dead, then paddles on back to the blind, climbs up and gives us all a cold muddy shower.

Dean the dog is now a bit past middle age, I guess. He's ton of fun, the kids adore him, and he's justaboutalmost calmed down his anxious bird-dog nerves enough to finally be well and truly loved by my wife. He's given me a lot of good walks in the woods and a few memorable hunts. And he's given me a lot to think about, about the role of dogs in our lives, what the really important traits are, what matters and where the room for improvement lies.