Life with Liz: Dog training gets serious
Desperate to talk about anything besides COVID-19 right now, so I will fall back on the one thing just about everyone can agree on: the family dog. When we got Duncan, we were looking for more than just a lovable family pet. The WH really wanted to get back into hunting with dogs and spent a lot of time researching the right breed that could balance being a loyal family companion with being a hard working hunter.
I do feel like I need to take a small detour here and explain the choice we made to get a dog through a reputable breeder, as opposed to adopting or rescuing a dog. If we had been looking for a family pet, we absolutely would have gone that route; however, since we were looking for a dog with a purpose, working with a breeder was the right option for us at this time.
We spent about two years researching various dog breeds and figuring out what the right fit for our family was, and then spent another year researching and interviewing breeders until we found the one that was a good fit for us, and then waited some more until she felt she had the right puppy for us. So far, none of us are disappointed in how things worked out. But every family should pursue the option that is right for them, and every dog out there deserves to have a loving home.
Duncan is going on a new adventure soon. He’s going to start working on his hunt tests. Now, I’m not a hunting dog expert, so this is also a whole new adventure for me, too. This is much more the WH’s thing than mine, but I’m going along for the ride.
It sort of reminds me of when the WH signed the boys up for wrestling, a sport that was completely foreign to me, and by the end of the boys’ first matches, I still had no idea what I was watching, but wow, was it exciting!
For those of you who also have no idea what any of this means, in the simplest terms, from what I gather, these hunt tests are simulations of actual hunting situations that dogs might find themselves in, and they are scored by how predictably they behave and if they are ultimately successful in tracking, treeing or flushing whatever it is they’re supposed to be hunting. I will be sure to provide a more detailed explanation after I understand it better myself.
Up to this point, I had no idea what kinds of simulated dead animals they sell on the internet to encourage this type of training. I also had no idea that G and the WH were saving assorted parts of the critters they’d harvested over the last year to make their own “toys.”
The other day, I almost threw out what I thought was a soggy pile of leaves that had accumulated in the corner of the porch. Luckily G was there to stop me from throwing out what was assorted pheasant parts that were poorly attached to a throwing buoy. The thing had been in Duncan’s mouth so many times, it was virtually unrecognizable, and very, very, very gross.
One of the other delights of this process is the medium-sized bag that in a previous life had held fishing tackle but has since been repurposed to hold every possible thing you could need when you have a dog on a mission out in the wild. First and foremost is the first aid kid, complete with tweezers and a large blanket for porcupine quill removal. Then there are a few different collars and leashes, including the GPS tracking module. Add in a decent bag of snacks, a few assorted training aids, and of course his portable watering station, and at the end of the day, I’m surprised this sport doesn’t come with a caddie like golf does.
Come to think of it, maybe this is why the WH is so insistent that I go to the hunt test with them. Perhaps I am the caddie, and I don’t know it.
The WH has been working with Duncan since the day we brought him home, and Dunc has quite a few good hunts under his belt already, but since we sent in his registrations, the training has gone into overdrive. This has had remarkable benefits on the domestic side, as well as in the field.
A lot of the literature on this breed says that they will start to mature around the age of 2, and since that is right around the corner, I assumed that his mellowing out and extreme obedience were finally falling into place. Then I realized he was exhausted, and most of the time, a tired dog is a good dog.
He was also getting to do “his thing” for several hours a day. He was on a much more rigid schedule, and he was constantly being held to the highest standards. It was a lot easier for him to behave when he knew what the expectations were.
One night the training session ended early, and I could tell there was a lot of frustration in the air. The WH came in shaking his head. There were a few expletives, and a quick explanation that “that dog” wouldn’t do a darn thing all night. One look at “that darn dog’s” face, and I could see that he clearly was not at all repentant that he had misbehaved. And, just that quickly, the next day, the two of them had one of their best sessions ever, and he followed the letter of every command he was given. Duncan’s mood swings have earned him the title of Teenager No. 3.
I’m looking forward to watching him in action, much like I enjoy watching the kids participate in their sports and activities that they train and practice for, and hopefully find success. I know the certificates and ribbons that they can earn if they meet all the requirements won’t mean a thing to him, and they’ll probably just get filed away in the same keepsake boxes that I have the kids’ treasures in, but I do know he will enjoy three days of doing the things he was born to do, with his favorite person, and he will get to meet a whole bunch of other new dog friends. As for me, I’ll be working my new job: dog valet.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.