Its a Dogs Life which isnt so bad

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It doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that we bird doggers are different. Most folks remember beginnings and endings. They remember their first day in a new job when they couldn't find the coffee or the bathroom. They remember packing up a box with their belongings on their last day and walking out the door. Everything in between usually just blends in, but not for bird doggers. We remember the beginnings, the middle and all the way up to the end.

We remember momma whelping a litter. Now and again it's a short process. Other times it takes a while. We remember the first opening of those tiny eyes, and their view out into the world. First steps, first solid food, and first time leaving the whelping box to step on grass. It's a wonderful process, every time, all the time.

Repetitions make the master, and so we begin. Repetitions of yard work include come, heel and walk with me. Then come patterning drills and long stints on woah barrels. A lot of it is mundane, but we don't care. It rolls up to the time when we cut those dogs loose and they are free.

Sure young dogs test boundaries, and when they we'll rein 'em back in. Dogs that ignore whistle commands and head for the hills are put back on a check cord. Dogs that jump off barrels get picked up and restacked and styled. Sometimes the process is as interesting as watching paint dry, but we don't mind. Those reps serve a purpose. They build bird dogs. We remember those times because when a dog does it right we remember it forever. First time, last time, and every one in between.

Sometimes it's tough to stay positive, but boy is it important. Losing your temper does no one any good, least of all when anger is directed at man's best friend. When a dog pushes me to the limit I take a deep breath and think of a radio interview with Jimmy Johnson. The legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys was asked how he increased offensive production so much that he was the coach of the 1990's, and he was brief. "Most coaches yell at their players when they make a mistake," Johnson said. "The coaches yell 'I can't believe you dropped the ball.' I switched it around. I'd calmly say 'next time, catch the ball.' That worked for me." Who knew that Coach was a dog man? Thanks for the training advice, I thought I was going to hear about football.

It's sometimes easy to take those middle years for granted. The consistency, repetition, correction, and praise that turned a young dog into a solid performer can be easily overlooked. We never take it for granted when a big running pointer disappears from site and we find him a half hour later locked up on point. They do it all day, every day, so often and with such grace that we're used to it. The air conditioner in the summer is different. When the unit quits on a hot day we realize that we took it for granted. But not our dogs. No sir, no ma'am, we never take them for granted. That's life in the middle, and it's why we all celebrate it.

There is nothing like having a tired bird dog lie on your feet to get close to the fire. There is nothing like having a bird dog wallow in a fresh cow pie just prior to kenneling up. And there is nothing like having to mix hydrogen peroxide with dish soap and baking soda to remove the smell of a skunk-sprayed dog. They are all part of the process and it is good.

Later in life, our best friends slow down. Their backs start to slope, their hips tighten up, and their pace is more leisurely than aggressive. We know what that's like for we feel it, too. Run them in shorter, easier areas, supplement their nutrition, and rehydrate them with electrolytes. The dog that once loaded up with a jump now needs a bit of help. Old age is part of the game, and it's one that we feel, too.

W.H. Auden wrote 'in times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.' It doesn't matter if your dog has a long tail like a pointer or a docked tail like a shorthair. Those tails wag in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Just like ours if we're lucky.


About the Author

Tom Keer
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Tom Keer owns The Keer Group, an outdoor marketing company which works perfectly with his freelance writing career. He casts his four English setters in Northeast upland coverts and Southern quail fields with fortunate regularity. Hes been lucky to be surrounded by people and dogs that are much smarter than him. Visit him at or at


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