Training – But Whom?

This is the second excerpt from the story about Buddy, my first hunting dog.

Next, we bought a canvas-training drop, a cylindrical object about ten inches long with a loop on one end. The loop would enable us to sling the drop without handling the body and ruining the scent.  Besides, I didn’t want to touch the drop after it had been sitting in pheasant-body fluids.  Next came the gross part.  Mitch put the drop in a large Ziploc bag with the pheasant wing parts and sealed the bag.  He left it for several days up high, on the top shelf so the stink (oops) scent would soak through the drop.  Personally, I can’t imagine that any dog would want to put something so smelly and probably foul tasting in its mouth. I was wrong.  Buddy thought that the drop was the next best thing to sliced bread. I have since learned that the grosser, the better, for a dog.

Mitch started off by throwing the drop about 15 to 20 feet away, (I didn’t want to touch it), then I would let go of Buddy’s collar and tell him, “Okay!” and point at the direction the drop was thrown.  Buddy did great at the going and finding the drop, but still didn’t understand, “Bring it back”.  So we had to devise a way to get Buddy to come when called.

I came up with what I thought was a simple, brilliant idea.  My plan consisted of tying a lightweight nylon rope to Buddy’s collar.  Then Mitch would throw the drop.  I would give Buddy the release command and as he would run after the drop, I planned to feed the rope so that it would trail behind him.  When he grabbed the drop, I would start reeling in the rope, at the same time calling, “Buddy come!”

I figured that if we repeated this several times, then Buddy would start to come back on his own.  That was my plan, really simple, the only thing I needed was for the dog to cooperate.  Well, when I tried to tie the rope to his collar, Buddy kept grabbing and biting at the rope, thinking that this was a great game.  The rope got all tangled up around my feet and hands.  As I pulled the rope away from Buddy and told him, “No let go,” Mitch threw the drop, thinking I was ready.  Buddy took off after the drop and so did my ring finger on my left hand.  The rope had wrapped around my hand and finger and I had no choice but to follow also.  When Buddy finally stopped and I untangled the rope off my finger, I stood there in the middle of the yard crying out loud like a little kid.  I had a pretty deep rope burn across my finger and it bled a lot.  At least it bled a lot to me.

Mitch kept saying, “I thought you were ready, I’m sorry, I thought you were ready.  I’m so sorry.”

So to this day, we have a retriever who doesn’t retrieve – at least not on command.  So much for plan A.  Now I think I know why nobody claimed Buddy. 

Another thing we needed to find out about Buddy was whether or not he was gun shy.  It makes it tough to hunt in the field with a dog hiding in the back seat of the car because he’s afraid of gunfire.

We decided to take Buddy out with us to shoot some clay pigeons and see how he reacted.  We finally had a success in training.  Buddy wasn’t the least bit gun shy.  In fact Buddy loves guns so much that when you pick up a gun he starts running back and forth in front of you panting with excitement.  Then if you don’t start moving quick enough for him, he starts barking a high pitched shrill, plaintiff bark, as if to say, “Get the lead out!  Let’s go!”  When Mitch threw the clay pigeons and if I missed, which happened often, Buddy would run out to hunt for and find where they dropped.  When he found one, he would bite it in half.  Yuck, eating baked clay, only a lab!  Then he would come back to us and start the whole process over again, run around like a loon and bark at us.  There’s nothing like a quiet day outside.  Next up on the training agenda began actual fieldwork.  Since the retrieving idea of mine turned out to be such a rousing success, Mitch’s mission became a challenge to come up with a workable plan.

Buddy still didn’t come when called unless food was involved, and that presented a bit of a problem.  Mitch explained that the labs he hunted within the past had a tendency to range too far in front of the hunters, so when the dog flushed a pheasant, the bird was harder to shoot because of the distance between the bird and the hunters.  He wanted to keep Buddy closer to the hunters while he ranged back and forth in front of them.  So Mitch sewed (yes, he can sew, quite well by the way,) a 30-foot leash out of the same material used for leashes you can buy at the store. 

Making our own turned out to be a good thing, since Buddy has chewed through about 4 leashes by now.  Buddy likes to carry his leash in his mouth when he’s walking, and when something is in Buddy’s mouth; it’s just natural for him to chew on it.

We drove to a friend’s farm to let Buddy experience a taste of fieldwork training.  We attached the long leash to Buddy’s collar, got out the training-drop and a shotgun for Mitch.  Mitch explained that Buddy would range along in front of us with the leash dragging behind.  This way if Buddy got too far ahead we could run up and step on the leash and stop him, plus dragging around a 30 foot leash would slow him down some.  Then as we walked along in the fields, Mitch would throw the drop out in front of Buddy and then shoot the shotgun in the air.  This would be to simulate shooting a pheasant in the field.  Gun go off, bird drop, Buddy retrieve.  Sounds simple!  Okay sure.  I’ll give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen?

It slowed him down a little, but you try running up on a runaway dog that weighs about 95 pounds now and oblivious to everything around him but his nose.  Then I have to try to stomp on the black leash dragging back and forth in the underbrush.  I’m really glad nobody had a camcorder out there.  I didn’t realize how many different ways I could fall down.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this story so far.  Come back for more.