Story and photographs by Troy Rodakowski
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]W[/su_dropcap]orking dogs can be found in many shapes, sizes, colors and temperaments. I remember the first bird that my old German shorthaired pointer found in the tall grass many seasons back. I felt like a proud papa watching him lock up tight on that Hungarian partridge. After 14 years of companionship, hunting and adventure, I lost my buddy to old age. As I look back on all the memories with my pooch, tears still well up in my eyes as those good times flood to the surface. That was four years ago, the day I had to put my best buddy and hunting companion to sleep.
I have now embarked (no pun intended) on a new journey with a brand new gun-dog pup. He is a relative of my old pal and in many ways reminds me of him when he was little, including all the chewing, biting, puppy messes and training that will one day, hopefully, lead to a full-fledged hunting partner.
Working dogs, as we like to call them, live for two things: 1) you; 2) the hunt or the specific job they are trained to do. Long hours of work and training pay dividends in developing the perfect companion, and this of course does not come without sacrifice from other activities.
I have hunted with several breeds including Labradors, vizslas, pudelpointers, Weimaraners, shorthairs, spaniels, beagles and many more. They all have their own excellent attributes, which makes them special and a fit for our personalities as owners. With the upland and waterfowl seasons quickly approaching we prepare our gear, and, most importantly, we prepare our four-legged companions with training and exercise. Frequent outings into the field are a must with the flame of the coming seasons burning strong. Smells of autumn wafting on the breeze invigorate the senses.
Many folks like to take their dogs to game-bird farms or ranches as a warm-up, and I think this is an excellent idea that can be very insightful when planning for a successful year. Some wildlife ranches open around the middle of August and offer great shooting and training. Hunt and retriever clubs also offer field-trial events throughout the year to keep your dog tuned and in good physical condition. Many times they even offer trial grading towards hunt championships and classifications. These are both important aspects in one’s routine to have better success during the season. “Getting a pup and even a seasoned dog off to a good start or refreshing their memory is important,” says George Dern, owner of the DK Wildlife Ranch in Crawfordsville, Ore.
Having a companion and good hunting partner is all many of us desire to be satisfied and feel accomplished with our canines. Once again, I have chosen to take on the challenge of training a puppy and watching him grow and succeed, much like a proud parent watches their child transform into adulthood.
As I go through the chewing, biting, puking, pooping and endless energy of the puppy stage, I look to the future of a partner to share memories with and sometimes wonder if I was somewhat crazy to take on the challenge once again. I remind myself of what is to come and how much I will miss my buddy being small and pretty darn cute. Dern recently reminded me, “Start your pup off slow and get them excited about birds and feathers. That excitement will build as they mature.” With fall approaching many of us are looking forward to the morning we grab our guns, gear and pooch to chase game birds.
A seasoned dog can sense the change in the seasons, and they do not want to miss a chance to please us. In fact, I have even seen that look after missing a bird. You know the one! The one that says, “Hey, I did my job, obeyed, found the birds and listened to your commands. Now why did you miss again?” Well, because I need more practice on the trap and skeet range, little buddy. As a master I hate to disappoint, and I have found that my shooting skills are not always up to par. Regardless, our furry friends keep doing their job no matter how often we might miss the target.
With any job, there is always a chance of injury, and with hunting dogs it is no different. From small scratches to broken bones, pulled muscles to being sprayed by a skunk, or worse, bitten by a snake, field dogs are put at risk each time they go out. Some dogs have even lost their lives doing what they love and were trained to do.
“We lost a dog in one of our ponds after he had an apparent heart attack following a routine retrieve,” Dern shared. It is heartbreaking but a reality we deal with as sportsman and dog owners. I know a few hunters who have lost good hounds to mountain lions, bears and the environment. It is a risk we take and reality we live with as the owners of working dogs. Accidents happen, especially in the wild.
Regardless of the breed or dog you have and are proud to call your hunting companion, we all share a similar bond as dog owners. “They are more than just pets and hunting dogs; they are a huge part of our lives, and for many of us it’s more than just a desire; it’s a necessity to have that relationship,” says Gary Lewis, author of Hunting Oregon. It’s tough and rewarding work, but worth a lifetime of love and companionship. As we watch our companions grow old, and unable to do what they love, they are just happy being by our side to share time with us. Remember, as you watch that point or retrieve with your best friend this season, make sure you are there for them so together you can keep doing what you love. Good luck and happy hunting. ASJ