Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hunting For A Dog

The point in life has come again for me to hunt for a new dog and that’s not an easy thing to do right now. I am a dog person and being without one leaves a big hole here in the old country bunker.

My best friend and gun dog Speck passed away on June 2. She was my third bird dog so when I say she was a very special dog it’s from years of experience. For another dog to take the place of that kind of exceptional companion takes time because she is one hard act to follow. Just any dog won’t do. The first thing that needs to be dismissed in my mind is the desire to replicate Speck. As much as I would like a duplicate of her that would be asking for the impossible.

Here's Speck on point, backed up by two outstanding English Pointers

This past week the wife told me that living without having a dog in the home was getting old. She was the reason I have not started seriously looking for another dog. She had to be ready because Speck’s passing hit her especially hard. At first we thought it might be best to get a different dog in the sporting breed category. I prefer sporting dogs to all others and have my reasons.

We thought that having another English Setter may bring too many thoughts of Speck so we considered Brittany Spaniels. They’re cute, cuddly, friendly and will hunt their brains out all day long. Many non-hunters asked if Speck was a Brittany due to her orange and white coat. I also like English Pointers (look like setters but with very short hair) and German Shorthair Pointers (similar to English but much larger) because I have hunted over them many times and they are both outstanding breeds. But she doesn’t like short hair dogs.

Our dog must be a dual purpose pet, it has to be a cuddly and affectionate house pet and a hard nosed bird dog too. Many say you can’t have both but my last two setters proved that to be wrong. She told me last week that she’s ready for another dog so it's time to get started.

My friend and hunting buddy Scott recently purchased an English Setter because he was so impressed with Speck. He gave me the name of the breeder who lives about 25 miles south of Valpo. I had no idea a good breeder lived that close so I called him last week and made a date to visit on Friday afternoon.

His farm is at about the same latitude as our farm. The terrain looked familiar as we up drove to his place which was settled in the woods at the end of a long gravel path off the main country road. Scott was correct, Bob was a very serious breeder of champion setters judging by the looks of his layout. Sitting on 120 acres the farmhouse was new-ish and very clean. The outbuildings and barns were well-kept and the grounds were well groomed. Much of it was fenced in because he also breeds horses and uses them with his dogs to compete in national field trials. He even raises game birds used for dog training. It felt as if I were on a Texas ranch or an Alabama plantation. But I was at home, here in Indiana.

People who think of English Setters think of the bench variety as seen in AKC competitions. These are called the Laverack variety. They are larger, have thick long coats and long noses. They’re beautiful animals but not too bright when it comes to sniffing game birds. Besides, combing burrs out of a long hair dog would be a huge pain. The bird dog variety often referred to as a Llewellin style has been bred through careful selective breeding for their smaller, more muscular bodies, shorter hair and sharp sense of smell. English Setters come in mostly white, like Speck, or a combination of white and orange, white and black along with white, orange and black which are called tri-color. My first setter Mookie was a tri-color setter.

This is Buddy, Bob's #1 stud dog.

Bob’s dogs were unusual to me. I haven’t seen many setters that were about ½ orange and ½ white, some appeared to be jumbo Brittany’s. His kennels were clean and the dogs were feisty. Beyond the color of the coat I could see Speck in the face and eyes of these dogs especially the few that were white.

Being in a clean barn with tack and saddles neatly arranged and organized also said a lot about Bob and his commitment. I’ve been to breeders where the strong stench of urine and piles of crap alone chased me away quickly.

He introduced me to the dogs, there were about sixteen of them. He told me a story about each one and before I knew it 30 minutes had passed. Bob trapped a few quail, placed them into a pouch and took me to a field with Buddy, his #1 stud dog. It was so impressive to me being with a true professional dog handler and a dog that was a textbook field champion.

He asked what I expected in a setter and listened intently as I described my expectations as we walked along a dense summertime prairie thicket in full bloom. Buddy staunchly pointed a quail and as Bob kicked it into the air Buddy may as well have been a statue, waiting patiently for Bob’s command to break with a bird in the air. They call this being “staunch on point” and it’s such a beautiful thing to see.

When we parted Bob explained that he breeds once and maybe twice per year. This is definitely not a "puppy mill". But he had a friend about 20 miles south who had a litter “on the ground” with his female and Buddy as the stud. They are three weeks old and in another two weeks we may head out there with Bob to take a look. Bob said he would pick the best female for me.

I may have a new companion by the end of summer but if not so be it. I won’t hurry an important decision like this. It's not the same as buying anew car.

It bothers me when I see people buy a dog having no idea what to do with it. Soon the dog will become a nusance to them because it chews furniture, bites the kids, craps on the carpet and won’t obey worth a sh!t. Some buy expensive exotic breeds because they happen to be trendy and are looking for a conversation piece, an accessory. Others go to the pound or shelter and adopt mutts. I personally have no problem with either type of dog but I have some real problems with people.

Sooner or later people who don’t know what to do with a dog will give them up because the dog becomes too inconvenient for their precious lifestyle. The dog goes to the shelter and if not adopted we know what happens, it’s just so sad.

I can’t say enough about obedience training. If done properly on a daily basis the first year of work will yield a lifetime of pleasant companionship. The methods are uncomfortable for many and the time involved may eat into personal leisure hours but it is well worth it. I’ve done it and I know. What sickens me is the person who has no patience and abuses the dog. I would do unmentionable things to someone like that.

If you decide to purchase or adopt a pet know what you’re getting into and make the time to train it. If you don’t have the time take a pass on the dog and buy a cat or a hamster. Set up an aquarium or a birdcage if you want a conversation piece or a fashion accessory but please don’t own a dog.

Dogs deserve time, care and affection and in turn they give much more back. Dogs will talk to you with their eyes, ears, facial expressions and body language. In my case, my dogs help put meat on the table and I love them to pieces for it.

Dogs are not for selfish people.


Annie said...

I'm glad you're finding something that seems to be working for you.
Sounds like any way you cut it, your new addition will be one lucky dawg.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Thanks. I will be just as lucky.