Learning Something New

This year on the annual “Great Pheasant Hunt” the weather was more cooperative.  Saturday was sunny and chilly around 38 degrees to start the day.  Too windy, with sustained winds around 20 miles an hour, but it was dry, no rain or snow.  Not too bad all things considered.  AJ and Charlie were beside themselves with energy and excitement for the upcoming event.  Orso was just along for the ride, as usual.  No interest in hunting, just happy to be with us. 

Even though we’ve been pheasant hunting for decades, Mitch for almost five decades and me for twelve years, every year we either learn something new or a better way to prepare for hunting.  Because we don’t get the opportunity to go hunting as often as we would like nor do we work the dogs as much as they need to stay at the top of their game, the first day has always been very chaotic.  The dogs have so much pent up excitement at finally being able to do the one thing they were bred for, hunt birds.

Fifteen minutes into our first morning, we always tell each other that next year we need to come up a day earlier than everyone else to wear the dogs out a bit and never do.  This year was no different, but now we’ve added a twist, next year we plan on getting set up about an hour before the others and work the dogs away from where we plan on hunting, so as not to chase off any pheasant that may be loitering in the area.  We definitely don’t need any more handicaps. 

This brilliant idea came to me watching the dogs the second morning totally out of control running through six foot plus tall dense prairie grass, losing sight of them almost immediately.  I stomped down the hill and up to Mitch, poor unsuspecting soul, and said, “I have a thought.  This area is too hard to manage the dogs with all of this energy.  We need to slow them down.  I think that we should take them across the draw to the open hilly field and run them to burn off some of their exuberance.  What do you think?”

Mitch was experiencing as much frustration as I was and quickly agreed.  We both knew that there were birds laying low in dense grasses and didn’t want the dogs to scatter them.  So we called everyone out of the prairie grass, called the dogs and regrouped.  As expected one was missing.  AJ was nowhere to be found.  I told Mitch to hold on to both Charlie and Orso while I tromped off to find AJ.  Orso, thinking he was going to miss something immediately started wailing so I told Mitch to let him come with me.  I found AJ heading back to the cars having lost us.  After getting all of us together, Mitch explained our plan and off we headed across the electric fence that we always forget to unplug until one of us remembers the hard way.  Everyone else that hasn’t touched the fence yet laughs at the victim, really glad it wasn’t them. 

Even though it was only 40 degrees, the dogs found the pond at the bottom of the dam a refreshing swim.  Brrr.  Hydrated and renewed, the dogs bolted off up the open ground.  We started yelling, “Whoa!” as soon either Charlie or AJ got too far ahead of us.  The plan was to keep both of them working close to us.  Orso wasn’t a problem never straying too far ahead, as I constantly clomped him in the jaw with my heel.  He prefers to let me clear a path, less effort on his part. 

After walking and working the dogs from one end of Todd’s land to other, we succeeded in taking some of the out of control excitement out of them.  We decided it was time to head back to the tall prairie grass and give it a thorough sniffing.  The dogs worked wonderfully and rewarded us with two more birds.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

The Mom Voice

Everyone knows it, everyone has heard it.  Everyone has felt the power of it. The Mom voice.  It has nothing to do with volume.  It isn’t even determined by sex.  Mothers and fathers both have the Mom voice.  Most of the time the Mom voice is spoken at normal volume, maybe even softer than normal.  The tone and timber are what is used to make the Mom voice so powerful.  It’s a no nonsense tone with such finality in it that makes the recipient cringe in terror.  I used it on my sons when they were growing up.  Nothing made them stop and take notice that I was not fooling around with them, more than the Mom voice.  When used, even the most hardened adult succumbs to it. 

I use the Mom voice on Mitch occasionally.  He hates it.  He would rather I screamed like a fish wife and throw a rant than to look at him and speak to him in the voice.   Mitch has said it makes him feel like a kid again that had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  Even the dogs know the Mom voice.  I use it on them when no one will listen and it’s a free for all.  I used it tonight when the wrestling got out of hand with dogs careening off the walls, leaping on and off our bed, totally out of control.  After the Mom voice came out dogs scattered.  AJ laid down by my chair, Charlie and Orso made themselves very scarce, going to lay down in the bedroom.  All is quiet for quite awhile after the Mom voice. 

It’s good to be Mom.

Ah, The Quiet of the Early Morning, Not!

Where is a large bird of prey when you need it?  We’re on vacation this week, which means we get to sleep in past our normal 2:45 am wake up call.  Sounds wonderful, but only in theory.  In reality we have a neighbor that owns two very obnoxious “squeaky toys” with four legs.  They were up and at it barking their heads off at 4:15 this morning.  I know because I looked at the clock.  I laid there for a few minutes thinking all sorts of evil thoughts of different ways of their demise.  Of course, I could never actually follow through with any of my mental wanderings, because ultimately it’s not the dogs fault.  The blame rests squarely on the owner’s shoulders.

Maybe he was lonely, I don’t know, but getting a dog requires a lot more than just being a cure for loneliness.  You have to interact with them, a lot.  There’s training, training and more training. Affection and lots of exercise.  We have labs, and labs have a ton of energy and if left to their own devices, can get very hyper and destructive, mostly from boredom.  Everyone that comes to our home always comments on how laid back they are.  Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have giant rugs here, these guys can destroy a room in no time (and have) if we would let them.  Our neighbor even built a doggie door for them so that he didn’t have to get up to let them out.  Which means now he has even less interaction with them.  He fenced off a tiny little area in his yard for them to run around in. Maybe a six square foot area.  He fenced it off with a garden fence, something my dogs wouldn’t even notice as they walked through.  So now these two loud obnoxious animals rush outside at all hours and bark incessantly. Amazing how something so small can be so loud.  It is beginning to grate on my last nerve.  Even my dogs are tired of their irritating rants.  On our walk yesterday, Charlie turned and started to charge at the dogs with hair raised down his back.  I was almost tempted but I was sure there might have been witnesses.

I’ve even tried to make up to them with no success.  No I really don’t want to see the dogs dead, just quiet.

A Short Insight to Charlie

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.

Our Not So Happy Family

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.

Buddy (part 2)

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.