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Sporting Dogs


Most all sportsmen at one time or another have had the esteemed pleasure of hunting with or alongside a well-trained dog. In these instances the hunt itself takes a backseat to the pleasure of watching the dog work and to do what it was bred and trained to do. Make no mistake about it, hunting dogs are not companions, they are laborers. They may become companions along the way, but their primary function is to work and to work hard at completing their task at hand. If in doing so, it pleases you, then all the better.

Sporting dogs come in all sorts of sizes, colors, coat configurations, breeds and temperaments. They are designed to dig, chase, point, flush, tree, bay, catch and retrieve game. They can be taught to sit directly on ice, thorns, briars and cactus without hesitation. They will, when well treated stay in one spot until ‘the cows come home’ or until they are told to move. During this time, they never even consider moving. Sporting dogs will dive head long into brambles and give no thought of their comfort or danger. They will plunge into and through icy waters with excitement and eagerness. Sporting dogs will run for miles and miles behind prey they are chasing all in an effort to bring it to you. It has been said that a well-trained bird dog will hold a point on a bird so long the birds themselves die of old age before the dogs break their posture. I have personally witnessed setters retrieving a dead bobwhite stop in mid bound to lock into a point of another bird holding tight against broom straw. Somehow distinguishing the difference in the fragrance between the two.

Without question and with little argument from those who have never witnessed such, when the good Lord made sporting dogs, he did so to demonstrate to us all the desired measure in a man. As Robert Ruark once penned, “an intelligent dog can teach a man a great deal….”  Yes it is true. Sporting dogs are here to show us how to behave.

There are some things that cannot be explained but must be experienced to understand. The first kiss from a beautiful young girl. The glance across a room from your wife when you know, that she knows. The sunrise on opening day of duck season. Sunsets in the Caribbean, and the look a dog gives you when you miss a double on slow birds going away. These cannot be explained but experienced.

Sporting dogs have a way of understanding our shortcomings, learning how to go along with our folly and to show us how to become better hunters. They see ducks well before we do and whimper to alert us. I’ve seen many a retriever lay low when the doves enter the field and crouch waiting for the command. Beagles have nuzzled the bottom of a rabbit just so we can grin at the start of the race. Somehow they know that for many of us, it’s not about the killing of game, it’s about the chase. Save the retriever who can only show off his talent when we are successful. Pointers can show off and never have to retrieve, but the Labrador, he must wait for poor shots to connect before he can plod along and do what he does best.

Yes, sporting dogs are special. They come into our lives as puppies, spend a few years training us how to behave and then, leave us as better people.

Many of my experiences with sporting dogs is on a temporary basis. I am on loan to their pursuit. They tolerate my conversations, scratches behind the ears, and gentle pats on the head when given a chance. But all in all, I am just along for the ride, to witness greatness and bask in the amazement of them doing their duty. Many a dog has tolerated me for a single day, yet I have them forever in my memory. I have hunted and followed them through hill and dale watching in amazement as they in their humility wait for me, watch me struggle to hit a grouse or bobwhite. Crouched in anticipation as doves came and left the field while I cussed at missing again. Yet there are a few that have stood out more than others. A few that have taught me a thing or two about how to hunt, and how to hunt well.

Over the next eight weeks we will look at the sporting dog and we will honor his contribution to the sport we all love. Category by category we will delve into the workings of retrievers, pointers, setters, flushing dogs, hounds and more hounds and we will see what it is about these dog that enthrall us. Hopefully for many of you, you will recall a special dog, a special moment when you too where transfixed and changed. When you came to the point that you quit worrying about drool on your coat, or hair in your beer. A time when the nose marks on your windshield brought a smile instead of a frown. When reaching into your favorite hunting coat you found the name tag from an old friend. Those of us who have hunted with dogs are better for it, those who own them and share their lives are transfixed and know that they will never be without a sporting dog, that somehow, someway it just isn’t the same unless it is shared with one of the creations that best exemplifies us.