Like most dedicated bird hunters, I own and train bird dogs. I’d like to take credit for the outstanding dog work I’ve received over the years but for the most part I’ve been smart enough to get out of a good dog’s way.
The road has not been easy. Throughout my dogs’ lives I’ve had to deal with disruptive forces that worked to undermine the training and discipline I’ve instilled in them. The leader of these disruptive forces has a name. It is Debbie, my wife.
I suspect that many of you have experienced similar tension in your house but perhaps a few lucky ones may still benefit from my own tale of woe.
It started with our kennel. It is a comfortable 8 x 20-foot concrete-floored kennel surrounded by an 8-foot fence with three heated houses. For several years, everything was fine, but then we had a couple weeks of below zero temperatures and suddenly the world turned on its axis.
“Misty is too old to spend the night out there,” I was told of my 10-year-old pointer.
“It never gets below 65 degrees in the dog houses,” I responded. “It’s only 68 in our own house.”
Logic didn’t matter. Misty had to come in. I finally acquiesced. Misty could join us in the house but the younger two had to stay outside.
“That’s not fair,” my wife explained.
“They are hunting dogs,” I said. “They don’t expect fair.”
Ha! That was 10 years ago and two generations of hunting dogs have since grown to maturity in our house, without spending more than a few nights in the kennel.
In my defense, I held the line against giving the dogs the run of our house. They were still not allowed past the laundry room and into the living areas of our house. And that restriction held until a particularly boisterous New Year’s Eve celebration in our neighborhood sent two dogs skittering down our hardwood floors and into our bedroom.
I was about to erupt when my wife said, “They’re just scared of all the noise.”
“What noise?” I wanted to know. “A few firecrackers? These dogs stand motionless when 12-gauge shells explode a few feet from their ears all the time. How can they be afraid of some far-away explosions?”
The answer to my question didn’t matter. So we compromised. The dogs got to sleep in our bedroom on New Year’s Eve … and on July 4 as well. Ever since.
One of the easiest ways to ruin a good hunting dog is to allow it to beg for food. Not long ago I wandered by the kitchen in time to see our German shorthair pointer, Silky, slink guiltily back toward the laundry room and away from Deb, who was in the process of cutting up chunks of meat for a stew.
“What’s happening?” I asked, in a kindly yet insightful voice.
“Don’t interrogate me!” my wife responded.
“I wouldn’t think of it,” I said. “But I wonder what Silky is chewing on?”
“Oh, all right!” she said. “It was one little bit of trimmings. Maybe two.”
“Ahhh, I wondered whether she seemed to be looking a little more longingly than usual at you.”
“She loves me.”
“I love you, too, but unlike Silky, my affection for you is not directly related to food.”
“I don’t know. You get pretty romantic when special foods are on the way.”
“We are talking about hunting dogs, not me and besides … what is that smell? Is that chocolate chip cookies?”
She smiled. I melted. And in that moment I realized that my wife’s disruptive force does not just ruin bird dogs, but bird hunters as well.
Pat Wray writes about the outdoors and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org