I’ve been around a LOT of sporting dogs in my life. A. Lot!
From our waterfowler’s standards (Labs and Goldens) to so many upland dogs I couldn’t begin to remember all their names.
I’ve duck hunted with Beagles and Brittanys, German Shorthairs and Boykins, and especially (and most often) the Labs and Goldens. Dogs are one of the best parts of the hunt, and somewhere along the line, I started to notice they fit into certain categories.
This is my best guess at how they breakdown . . .
The Clown is one of my favorites. I once had a dog I took to the dove field early in his career. No major training, as he was still young, but I wanted to expose him to some shooting and feathers in a “real” scenario, plus our millet was still high, and I felt like his nose would lend a hand to lost birds.
Finding birds was no problem. Keeping him from eating them was. At least the first 4 he found.
I was livid. At first. Then I got so tickled at the feathers he was coughing up and the howls from my buddies as he kept doing it that I couldn’t stay mad. (Side note – we did dial up the training regimen after that, and it never happened again).
This is the life of the Clown owner. Falling out of boats. Falling asleep in the blind. Retrieving stuff you didn’t shoot (a dead ibis one time, a converse sneaker another) . . . Most of the time he’s great, but, at about an average of once a trip, he does something so ridiculous you just chuckle.
The Noisemaker cannot help it.
He just gets so excited that he’s in a duck blind, and there are people there, and quacking noises, and maybe, just maybe, ducks.
Until he sees the birds lock in. Then he starts to ramp up his vocalizations. It’s like a beagle trapped in a Lab’s body. Whimpers and whines and quells and screeches echoing off the timber and blind like you’re in a Hitchcock soundtrack.
Usually, a few birds on the ground will calm them a bit. Wear your ear plugs until that happens.
This guy is the silent opposite of the Noisemaker (if you ever end up with a combo Noisemaker/Wriggler, just leave the pup at home and call him a “mutt”) . . . He just can’t sit still . . . On the platform, off the platform, pacing around his spot in the blind.
Cover is a must for the Wriggler. And maybe the dog version of Xanax.
The Pet is the favorite of kids in the blind.
He rests his head on their knee. Maybe it’s the hunter with the best snacks, or, as we term it, the weakest gazelle, the one most likely to give in to his big brown eyes begging for a treat.
He really wants a head scratch, and he wouldn’t turn down a belly rub. At the same time, he’s raring to go when the guns report.
It’s amazing to see a dog that can transition from a master-level couch potato into a lean, mean, duck fetching machine, but it’s not as rare as you’d think.
Given their overwhelming desire to please their owners, the Pet is definitely in the upper half of the list of dogs . . .
We’ve all hunted with this dog.
In fact, I’ve seen nearly every dog on this list fill the role of the Splashdown . . .
You know the dog . . . A pod of divers locks into the deeks . . . You roll a low grunt into your call and they’re dead before the first shot is fired, that’s how easy this is going to be . . .
The dog knows it too.
With the first shot he’s off. No line necessary. He understands that shots have been fired, ducks should be dead, and he needs to find them. Now.
His lines may be perfect, or perfect circles . . . It doesn’t matter – whatever he lacks in skill, he makes up for in effort.
Were he a baseball player, he’d be the scrappy shortstop that’s all field and no hit who just knows he’s gonna hit one day.
I’ll roll with him.
This is the dog we all aspire to own at some point in our lives. To date, I’ve been blessed with two – one Brittany that pointed, flushed, and retrieved to hand two weeks after we picked him up from a classified ad, and one Lab that took pin-straight lines to every duck, never missed a retrieve, never broke early or flared a bird. The Natural is the reason we’re in it. To see the work and the companionship . . . The Natural may be a Pet, or a bit of a Clown, but that happens outside the blind. Once he’s in work-mode, he’s all business.
It’s said that every man will own one great dog in his life, of all the dogs he may own only one will achieve that mantle. For most hunters, that dog is the Natural.
This isn’t to say he isn’t trained – but, with him, training is more like tuning. He’s the best point guard on the floor, a quarterback that understands coverage – he never breaks early, always on time. He seems to understand wind. His eyes are always skyward.
We love them all – the noisy ones and the perfect ones . . . The ones that make us laugh and the ones that make us smile.
Waterfowling is as much about camaraderie as it is the harvest; we have breakfast, we chat during lulls in the action. And our dogs are as much a part of that circle as the people are.