Before Rupert pushed his wiry self into our lives, I thought I knew what it meant to own a dog. Feed it, walk it, play with it, and make sure there is enough room on the bed for them to sleep.
However, I didn’t know what it meant to own a bird dog. Now, a little more than three years - and three dogs - later, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.
Before Rupert, all my dogs consisted of various mixed breeds either from shelters, free newspaper listings or found wandering alone on the streets. These dogs had little to no training other than learning their name, sit, speak and lay down. Which, until recently, I thought meant we had a rather well-trained dog. As long as you overlooked the constant barking whenever the doorbell rang or the game of fetch that usually ended with chasing the dog around the yard to get the ball back…
Life with a bird dog means no more “playing” fetch. At least not as I knew it. When Scott said he was going to go through the trained retrieve process with Rupert, I thought “great, there goes my fun.” No more aimlessly throwing the ball in the backyard and watching him gallop full speed toward it, falling ass over teakettle, and maybe sometimes, if he felt like it, he’d bring the ball back. Now, fetch meant he damn well better fetch! Lame… However, as I watched Rupert and Scott progress through training - five minutes in the morning, five minutes at night - I was increasingly impressed. Rupert was not only retrieving the items he was sent out to grab - everything from Dokens to wooden blocks - he was thoroughly enjoying himself every step of the way. The look of determination and excitement that filled his eyes whenever Scott grabbed the bumpers was enough to prove to me that maybe Scott had the right idea... I hate it when he’s right.
I do have to admit, in addition to bringing back every game shot in the field, the training has proven quite handy around the house. Whenever Rupert is carrying my slippers or shoes from room to room, I give the “fetch” command in a stern voice, and he gleefully brings them to hand.
Life with a bird dog also means no longer saying “thank you.” This one might be a Rupert exclusive. Thank you is Rupert’s “out” command for when he brings back whatever it was he was sent to retrieve. For the sake of not confusing him, I now say “gracias” when he gives me kisses or drops a toy in my lap.
Life with our bird dog also means speaking in tongues. While training Rupert the “whoa” command, we soon learned that saying “no” as a disciplinary action wasn’t going to work, the words were too similar sounding. In example, Rupert would be running around the backyard, ignoring his “here” command and I’d yell out “no!” He would stop and stare at me, unmoving - whoaing. Now we call out “nein” when he does something he’s not supposed to. This is especially fun to explain to young kids who will sometimes follow “nein” with “eight, seven, six”.
Life with a bird dog means reserving space in my vegetable garden to make room for a pigeon coop - complete with pigeons.
Life with a bird dog (in training) means countless moments spent hiding in the truck as to not serve as a security blanket or a distraction. This was especially challenging during Rupert’s Natural Ability test. I wanted nothing more than to stand and watch with the rest of the gallery as Rupert sniffed out chukars, tracked pheasants and retrieved bumpers from the pond. But, I also knew Scott, and our training partner Jonathan, would never let me live it down if Rupert refused to swim or ran from the field to come say “hi” to mom.
So I sat in the truck, wringing my hands and hoping for the best, out of sight and out of Rupert’s mind.
Life with a bird dog means dead birds in the freezer. And not just the ones planned for dinner. I’m talking whole chukar, pigeon and duck. All just waiting to get thawed out and used during the next training session. Yum?
Life with a bird dog means endlessly picking burrs, pickers, thickets, seeds, sticks, and God knows what else from their wiry fur coats. One evening, I received a phone call from Scott while at work. Rupert, barely four months old, had wondered off into the neighbor’s yard, found what he must have thought was a rather interesting jumble of bushes, and commenced rolling his entire body in it. What had emerged was no longer a loveable puppy, but a picker covered monster who squealed bloody murder every time a comb came near him.
“I don’t know what to do,” Scott pleaded on the other end of the phone. “You need to come home and help me.”
With a combination of combs, scissors, coconut oil, conditioner, sheer will power, and a prayer, Rupert walked away burr free - and with a few less hairs on top his head…
Life with a bird dog means getting out of my comfort zone. This is more than vacating my cushy place on the couch for the cold, dense, injury inducing grouse woods. Regular NAVHDA meetings, training days, this website, and having two unusual breeds of dogs that everyone wants to know about forces me to bust through my introvert tendencies.
Life with a bird dog, or two or three, is a life for the better. It is a life full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what those crazy bird dogs are going to do next.