Conversing with Dogs

by Steve on April 6, 2008


Moose: I told ya… nothing to it!

Me: Need I remind you that you could have come home with two ribbons if you hadn’t spit the birds at my feet in Saturday’s test.

Moose: Oh you were serious about that fetch and hold business?  Like to see you sit there with a wet duck in your mouth that’s just been floating in a catfish pond.

Me: Let’s go over this again: I have the gun and the whistle, you have the fur coat.  By the way, I’ve seen you put worse things in your mouth and you drink water that I wouldn’t swim in.

Moose: I’ve been spitting that rubber bone at your feet in the back yard for the last two years and you never complained.  Now all of a sudden style matters?  Let me get this straight – you want me to sit at heel and wait for you take the nasty duck out of my mouth?

Me:  If it’s not too much to ask.  The judges on Saturday were not amused when you stopped ten feet from the line to lick all the water off that duck.  They had you down for 8’s and 9’s across the board right up until it took 14 repetitions of the “fetch” command to get that duck into my hand.  You got a big fat zero in the last column.

Moose:  I think I have a fur-ball from that.  Let’s talk about what you and the missus have cooking on the grill and maybe we can come to some sort of arrangement.

Saturday was a disappointment but Sunday he managed to deliver all four birds to hand.  It wasn’t pretty but it was good enough to earn him his first pass toward an AKC Junior Hunter title.  You learn to read body language when working with a retriever and I knew Sunday was going to be different when we were waiting in the holding blind for our first trip to the line.  Moose sat patiently waiting his turn in front of the judges, his senses wired at the sound of shotguns from across the field.  Ears cocked up, eyes scanning, nose sniffing the breeze – he was on his game.  At the next volley of shots I saw a tremble run through his body.  He’d never displayed that level of excitement before.  It happened each time we worked our way up to the line.  Four times he launched from the line, nailed the mark, and got the bird to my hand.

Three more qualified finishes and then the real fun begins.  Stuff like blind retrieves, handling in response to whistle and hand signals, diversions, doubles, walk-ups, honoring other dogs as they leave the line to retrieve a bird that he watched fall.  I’ve been through it all before with the older fella but now he’s enjoying semi-retirement, batting clean-up at hunt tests and doing the easy hunts when it’s not cold enough for ice.  Retrievers are working dogs and once they are introduced to the job they were bred for you can’t keep them from it.  They love nothing more.

When we got back this afternoon the old guy sniffed all the muddy gear coming out of the Jeep and looked up at me with his sad eyes, teeth chattering with excitement and tail going ninety.  I knew what he was saying and I should have taken him along, he would have gotten a couple of freebies.  He’s happy to get the work as a pick-up dog, going after birds that other dogs failed to retrieve.  Don’t let the gray snout and old teeth fool you, he still thinks he’s a pup in his prime.


Me: This is how the old guy did it back when he was your age.  Take notes.

Moose: Pffft…

Next duck season is going to be tough: take an old friend to the field or watch Moose get his first taste of the real thing.  If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to do both.

{ 1 comment }

Scott McKeen April 7, 2008 at 19:49

A treat to read… Two beautiful dogs.

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