If a dissertation was required on how to pick a pup, I would likely not earn a higher degree in dog owning.
Although I have picked a lot of pups, all but one of them for bird hunting, my choices have invariably been hard-headed pointing dogs who over time — an hour or two — turned the trainer into a trainee.
Putty, they seem to snigger to themselves, starting at a very young age.
Some of the “how to train a bird dog” books in my library say this is OK. As long as the end result is a dog fluent in basic communication and one that lovingly performs the sit, fetch, down, drop and whoa commands.
Cussing, dirt kicking, boorish threats and lack of composure are in the index under how never to act in front of your dog.
If there’s one thing training a dog will teach an owner, it’s patience. All of the books in my dog training library recite this proverb ad nauseam.
I use the term library loosely.
My dog training library is a cardboard box on a high shelf in the garage where the books are deposited top to bottom according to the year they were tossed into the box.
I have not yet found the book that says my methods are worth the price of a bag of popcorn, and my dog is still waiting for me to learn patience, testing me every day, then skulking away as if to reconsider his training methods.
He has taught me to give him treats in the kitchen, and to allow him to coyly climb into bed in the morning to lick momma’s face until she yells, Get Out!
He has taught me to allow him, after much training, to leap up and down the stairs, back and forth, back and forth covering three levels from the living room to the basement, gazelle-like but loud as a rhino.
He has trained me to let him jump over furniture as long as he doesn’t knock over the lamps, and to bark and keen like a pack of hyenas with his feet on the coffee table while glaring out the window at neighbor dogs pulling their owners briskly through the streets.
And he has been allowed to vent, after hours of playing monkey in the middle, by finally catching and then eating an entire Frisbee — sneaking up on it while it lay basking on the porch table unattended.
His teaching of course extends to the field — the most religious and significant of all arenas.
It is here, in the draws, ditches and swales, along the edges of cut wheat, hay, or the rushes and swamp grass of marsh meadows where he has taught himself to hunt.
One of his most gratifying, self-learned techniques is the hold.
When he smells a bird, he stops.
His tail shoots out, but he does not sally forth. His nose and tail are on the same plane, slightly tipped, and unless the bird moves he holds this position until snow, sleet, or, next summer’s pool party, begs me to reel him in.
Mostly, he holds point until I can waddle to wherever he is, which, for me, can take a while.
Partly, because the dog is a mile away.
It is for this point and hold, the stoic position of his breed, the staunch intentness and bristle of ruff, and the complete self control by a dog that would drag a roast off the counter in a heartbeat — if he didn’t fear harsh language — that I admire him.
He taught himself to do this.
Maybe his genes prevent him from doing otherwise.
In company, of course, I take credit.
“Man, I wish my dog would hold like that,” a pal said.
He used a whoa table, an aluminum tube with a leash drawn through it, bells, whistles, clappers and a steel collar with spikes on the inside, but his dog continues to blissfully flush and chase birds across the county like a spring wind.
“How did you do it?” My friend asked.
“Resolve mostly,” I sputtered.
It takes discipline and academics. I offered him a book from my library.
Sure, he said, do you have more?
A whole box, I told him.
There’s one thing however that is really difficult to teach, and I frankly don’t know if you’re a good candidate.
Patience, I explained.
It takes a lot of patience to train a dog like that.