The relationship between duck hunters and their dogs are as close as if they were blood kin, sometimes understandably closer once you meet certain family members.
A fine retriever can get you out of bed on mornings when you’d rather sleep late. The deeper you bury your head into the pillow, the heavier the dog breath in your ear. Swatting the animal on the head is like hitting the “snooze’ alarm on your clock; it buys you a few minutes, but the penalty is a wet tongue across the face.
The right dog could care less about weather. I’ve had retrievers work tirelessly through unseasonably warm winter mornings, and I’ve watched with pride an ice-covered dog dive headlong into a lake after a downed bird and keep its tail wagging above water for the entire retrieve.
Good dogs don’t mind when you miss. A great dog does-and finds a way to let you know it.
Most of the retrieving breeds make excellent family dogs, and this is especially true of Labrador Retrievers. They all tolerate having their ears and other dangling parts tugged and pulled and punched and kicked regularly by the kids and never once so much as growl at any of them. When he tired of a youngster’s intrusion, the lab simply left the room. If a child followed, he kept walking until he gave the kid the slip.
Daisy, my latest best friend, was trained to retrieve the newspaper, ours or the neighbors. She was good too, but has difficulty getting a fat Houston Sunday edition in the house without leaving a trail of supplements. While I lived in Arkansas on 3 acres, I trained her to go to the road and bring the paper back to the house. Since she had to do her business, snoop around, and check out the deer scent, I would return to my recliner with the door open and wait for her to deliver the paper to hand. Then when I moved to a NASA bedroom community, the routine was still the same. Daisy runs 20 feet to the street, grabs the paper, dashes right past me at the front door to the same recliner, waiting patiently until I sit before handing me the paper. Some things never change, and I hope they never do.
I know that animals don’t rationalize, but sometimes I wonder about a lab. How does she know when I get the striker out of the kitchen drawer, she goes to the side door where the BBQ pit is located? How does she know when I pull the toilet paper, she leaves the bathroom door because she knows I’m through? How does she know when I remove my sandals and put my tennis shoes on, she goes to the front door because she knows we are taking an extended walk? Hmm, life with a lab is a mystery.
Chip’s Pride & Joy (Joy, for short) was the greatest retriever that I ever had the privilege to own. Her father, Chip, was a national champion and local legend. I won Joy at Duck’s Unlimited in Shreveport when she was 6 weeks of age; trained by Wally Chaffin at 6 months of age; hunted before she was 1.
I’ve seen dozens of top-quality working dogs, but Joy retrieved with a style and enthusiasm usually lacking in retrievers so well disciplined. It is with great fondness that I recall Joy saving me from muddy walks to collect countless ducks and geese in North and South Louisiana and South Texas. (To Be Continued)