We got Charlie as a puppy and with us has never known a day as an outside dog. His daddy was a great big chocolate lab and his mom was a little German shorthair. Needless to say he was an accident. Charlie is small by my standards. He weighs about 65 pounds (5 pounds too much) and favors his mother in appearance. Long shorthair ears, short hair and pointer shaped head. Charlie got his chocolate coloring from his dad. He was such a happy puppy that loved all things. He would run through the house with his ears flying back. He had this wide eyed look of wonder, until he was attacked twice by a neighbor’s dog. Since then he has hated that woman and all of her dogs. Her dog set him on a path of animal aggression so bad at one point, we considered euthanasia. We contracted a dog behavioralist who helped us learn to spot the signs of aggression and how correct them. But we still are very vigilant with Charlie around other dogs and people.
As a hunting dog, Charlie is an excellent hunter. He has a great nose, a beautiful point and fast as the wind. Plus he has the energy to boot. We have to continually call him back because he will range out too far and flush a bird almost in the next county. He makes me look good in the field by his intensity in searching out the bird. The dog never stops hunting. Even at home on walks, he is always on the hunt.
We have a hunting trip coming soon and have been working to get into “hunting form” again. This past summer was such a hot one, we let the refresher training slide. I think Charlie will be in fine form, with the cooler weather, his energy level has increased.
I didn’t want Orso, I didn’t even want to go see him when Mitch said, “Come on we’ll just take a look see.” We had AJ and Charlie and I was quite happy with just two dogs. Orso was a rescue that one of his co-workers’ son had and needed to find a home for. He was 10 months old and a huge brown clumsy, lovable dog. Very calm and just wanted someone to want him. So we took him home. Charlie hated Orso on sight. We thought that Charlie would come around in a few days and all would be calm. Not so. The attacks just got worse. Orso would look at Charlie, or just walk into the same room as Charlie and the fight would be on. Orso would yelp and scream and Charlie would rip into him. These attacks were not just a show of force or putting Orso on the bottom rung of the pack. Charlie wanted him dead and gone. Blood was usually drawn on Orso. One day I tried to break up an attack in the yard and Charlie bit my hand drawing blood. Mitch grabbed him and slammed Charlie to the ground and held him there until everyone calmed down. That was when I told Mitch that something had to change. I didn’t want to come home anymore. Not to the tension and chaos. I was done.
The dog behavioralist our vet recommended turned out to be a godsend. On the first visit she just sat at the kitchen table and talked to us, while watching the dynamics of our inter-relationships with each other. She helped us realign our pack, spot the signs of eminent danger and how to counteract and prevent the fights. The change didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work and vigilance on our part to spot the signs of impending doom. We are still very aware of Charlie and the “psycho” switch. Without her, one or more of us wouldn’t be here today.
I started hunting as a means to an end. I had no longing or any real desire to carrying a gun and shooting at some wild animal or bird. That would probably entail having to go to the bathroom at some point and I don’t do outhouses or au “naturalle” in the woods. It’s flush toilets for me. I was once called the “Queen of hold it”. “Hunting” conjured up images of smelly men dressed in camouflage sitting in the woods waiting for a victim to come within scope range. My ex-husband had once told me that deer hunters would spray deer urine on them to mask their own scent. NOT ME! So after the divorce and when I started dating my future husband, who is an avid upland game bird hunter, I began to rethink my earlier opinion of hunting.
I showed an interest to learning to hunt for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to spend more time with Mitch. When we started dating, I was obsessed. I was insecure about our relationship, and figured that the more time I spent with him, the more he would see what a “fine catch” I was. Dumb, huh?
I think Mitch was skeptical, but never really said anything, he just threw himself totally into the task of teaching me to wing shoot with a shotgun, to walk in the field carrying my gun and be completely outfitted.
The high point after the first trip when I all carried was a camera was being there with Mitch from the first bird killed to the long drive home. I wasn’t hooked yet, but I was getting there. After ten years of going hunting with Mitch, I think that when we’re there together, we truly are a team.
I have always laughed and poked fun of some pet owners. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those pet owners that pamper them, give their pets special treats, dress them up like people, paint their toe nails and basically fawn all over them. Don’t get me wrong, I love our dogs dearly. We have spent so much money at the vet’s office, that each year our goal is to NOT get the annual Christmas calendar. And each year we get a new calendar. We feed them carrots for treats and I make frozen yogurt pumpkin pops for them as a cold treat. But I think we finally became one of “those” pet owners.
Orso, our chocolate lab, a.k.a. water dog, does not particularly like water. He doesn’t go swimming really. He might go in up to his chest or swim out and back a few yards when he’s hot, but that’s all he does. He absolutely abhors the rain. He will stand under the eave of the house and refuse to go out in the yard to go pee or on walks, he’ll walk next to me under the umbrella, just to not get his head wet. He’s not interested in retrieving anything on land or in the water. When we go pheasant hunting, he usually walks at my heals. Last week we were at our friends’ house for a play day with their two dogs, which entails a walk to the public access boat launch for an afternoon of swimming, tag and a good game of wrestling. Tied up to the dock was an old aluminum runabout. No one was around and Orso walked right up to the boat and jumped right in like it was his own. We had to pull him out a couple of times fearful the owner would show up.
The rest of the dogs decided on a game of tag, but Orso wasn’t interested. I turned around looking for him and there he was sitting at the back of the dock wagging his tail waiting patiently for a pontoon boat to come in and tie up to the dock. He wanted to get on that boat so much. We talked another friend of ours into taking Orso for a boat ride on his pontoon boat. Our friend asked if Orso would try to jump in the water and Mitch told not to worry, Orso wouldn’t jump in. He walked back forth looking at the other boats in the water. Mitch opened the gate to the front deck and Orso walked out and sat down totally at home afloat on a boat. That was the best day of his life.
Some of my favorite hunting memories with Mitch are when it’s just the two of us after everyone else has left and headed back home. It’s usually afternoon the dogs are getting tired and have slowed down. It’s almost like taking a long walk and reconnecting with each other. There’s no pressure to shoot better than the others in our group. No matter what anyone ever says, there is always some competition. Call it pride or machismo (even in women), being better at what you’re doing than the next guy is very important. Maybe even more for me. I’ve always been extremely competitive growing up, and now taking up hunting later in life, a male dominated sport, I feel like I have to prove that I can hold my own and out hunt the rest of the group.
But when it’s just Mitch, the dogs and me, I can relax and enjoy the day. We can laugh at each other’s missteps or in my case, when I trip over some invisible rut. I think that one of my favorite memory was just the two of us on the last day of one hunting trip in the late afternoon. We had just finished working a stubble field and were standing at the end discussing our lack of success. Mitch re-packed his pipe and had just lit it, when Charlie flushed a rooster up to our left. Mitch rushed to shoulder his gun to get off a shot and in the process, shattered his pipe. He normally has his pipe sticking out of the left side of his mouth, but in his haste to not miss a shot, he forgot to move the pipe over. Added insult, he missed the bird. Luckily, no teeth were broken. I laughed so hard, I thought he might shoot me just for general principles.
Buddy was probably the easiest dog for anybody to own. It only took about three days to housebreak him. Even at a year and a half, Buddy was very calm and didn’t jump up on people. I’m only 5’2″ so having an eighty five pound dog jumping up on me always ended with me on the losing end. I’m not saying that Buddy was perfect, but he was very close to it for me. He always had a happy expression on him face. Buddy loved to be around people. He wasn’t pushy or overtly “in your face” like some dogs, he would come up to people to greet them and get petted, then go lie down and just be near everyone. Just in case there might be food and just in case someone might drop something his way.
Buddy went everywhere with us. In the car, he would stick his head out the window into the wind as far as he could. Buddy would open his mouth to taste the air and the wind would force the skin on his muzzle covering his mouth to flap up and down. People would drive past us and be laughing at the sight of this huge yellow head hanging out of my Pontiac Grand Am and towering over the top of the car. He filled up the whole back seat.
Mitch decided it was time to start working with Buddy and his hunting skills. We got a pheasant wing (yes, a real dead pheasant wing) from his brother. Why anyone would keep a dead pheasant wing with the feathers still on it in their freezer is beyond me, but his brother had one. Mitch wanted to see if Buddy would be attracted to the scent and bring out his hunting instincts. Mitch would let Buddy smell the pheasant wing then go and hide the wing for Buddy to find and then hopefully retrieve bird wing back to us. Buddy liked the smell of dead pheasant, what self respecting dog wouldn’t like the smell of something dead? Personally I can’t think of anything worse than putting a fresh or rotted dead animal in my mouth. But evidently these are things that dogs live for.
The hiding and the finding worked great, but the retrieving, not so good. Buddy wasn’t real keen on coming when called. He would come only after he was good and ready. So I came up with a “brilliant idea”. Let’s tie a lightweight rope to his collar which I’ll let play out as he runs to go fetch the bird wing, then when he grabs the wing we’ll call “come” and bring him back pulling up the rope that he is tethered to. Great idea in theory, not such a great idea in practice. I tied the rope to Buddy’s collar and while I was trying to get the rope untangled, Buddy was grabbing the rope and pulling at it. I was pleading with him to stop, “No Buddy no.” Well all Mitch heard was “Go”. So he hid the wing, Buddy went charging out in the yard to find it and I went along for the ride with the rope wrapped around my hand. I was certain that the ring finger on my left hand had been amputated. I cried like a little girl.