Gun Dog – Episode 1

It was over a year ago. I was happy with one dog. I wasn’t looking for another. I was perfectly content with one aging semi cross-eyed, pure breed, male golden retriever who wasn’t exactly the greatest retriever but I hadn’t exactly trained him to be. He would go retrieve a bird if he could see it, but he hasn’t caught on to looking up in the sky when we are shooting. Hey, I have an idea, Dakota. Why don’t you stop licking your balls for a minute and take a look up into the FREAKING SKY! I’M HUNTING HERE FOR CHRIST SAKE!

But that was all before I came to be dog sitting, somewhat permanently, my daughter’s female Catahoula puppy that, eight months later, came into heat for the first time.

I was consistent with keeping the two dogs apart, separated by a temporary cage while in the house, and let outside in shifts. I was perfect in letting one out in the backyard while the other stayed inside. I had maintained this procedure for three weeks religiously. How long does a dog stay in heat anyway, I wondered? What I didn’t count on was the random action by my son, X-man who got sick of Dakota, the retriever, howling to get out. So he let him out. It was only for a couple of minutes he said.

“You what?” I asked, incredulously, grabbing a chunk of hair out of my head. “Did something happen?”

“I don’t know but they got stuck together.” He replied.

“Oh, shit!” I wailed.

“It’s probably nothing, dad. I don’t think she’s pregnant.” My son remarked, the teenage canine obstetrician.

“I hope you’re right” I said, knowing I was wrong. And I was right.

And sixty-three days later I was trying to play birthing assistant to a very pregnant, panting dog. I had all the equipment. I had the latex gloves, I had the rolls of paper towels, I had the KY jelly in case one got stuck, I had a can of the first milk in case she wouldn’t nurse. I had towelettes and scissors and nose suckers and hot water bottles. But I was useless because the mother’s millions of years old instinct took over and she did everything she was supposed to do. Five pups later she was finished.

What I had was a group of blackish, shiny pups except for one grey and spotted black one. They looked like miniature Labradors, way cuter than human babies with all of their whining and crying and little scrunchy faces. What are you crying about you big baby? Oh I’m sorry, I’m sorry, drop and give me twenty, and not those girl pushups you tried to get away with last time.

Oh the plans swirling around in my head. I hadn’t trained a hunting dog since I was a teenager. He was a German Shorthair pointer named Brownie who could point, and find a bird in a hundred yard blind retrieve on hand signals and whistle alone. I once shot a wild band tailed pigeon that sailed far down into the heavily wooded canyon below, and Brownie raced after it. A half hour later just as I was getting sick with worry, Brownie returned, bird in mouth. Another time when we were jump shooting ducks at Grey Lodge State Wildlife Area in California, he kept bringing back ducks we didn’t even shoot.

But I had spent a lot of time training that dog. Could I do it again with less effort? German Shorthairs are not natural retrievers like Golden Retrievers are but half of a Golden Retriever’s natural retrieving ability should at least be equal to a German Shorthair’s. I mainly wanted a retriever for duck hunting and occasional dove shoots. Hunting upland game in Florida, namely quail, isn’t worth the effort unless you can get on a private plantation. The once legendary Florida Bobwhite Quail numbers have dwindled severely over the years for various suspected reasons like habitat change, limited natural fires, the type of grasses being grown, pesticides, and even such a seemingly innocuous reason as red imported fire ants eating the eggs. That’s a pity because quail hunting is really enjoyable when there are actually quail to be had.

The first few weeks I kept the puppies in a plastic kiddy pool that I had put in the enclosed porch next to my bedroom. I kept a portable heater on to keep the temperature toasty at around 90 degrees. All I had to do was feed the mamma dog as much food and water as she could ingest. The pups ate, slept and grew. At four weeks the grey and black spotted female my son named Grizzly climbed out of the kiddie pool. And then it was game on taping up cardboard extenders around the perimeter of the pool while Grizzly soon learned how to scratch at the joints until the tape came loose and she could slip between the cardboard to escape to the wood floor to take a leak. Ah, nothing like the feel of wood on your bare paws.

When they were seven weeks old, I took a trip to the feed store and picked up their first of three series of shots, the seven in one shot, and a wormer. I studied YouTube carefully on how to give a dog a shot. Always loathing shots myself, I would now have to give them one or face a big fat vet bill for my squeamishness.

I picked the mellowest puppy first, and the biggest who I named Whalen. I figured he’d be a cinch. All he ever did was lie around looking for a free meal. I carefully inserted the needle into the saline ampoule, sucked out the liquid, and then injected it into the ampoule of freeze dried serum. After lightly shaking the mixture, I re-inserted the needle and sucked out the serum.

I was nervous, my palms were sweating but it was crucial to remain calm. Animals will sense your fear and run like hell if they read “I’m about to give you a shot and I don’t know what the frick I’m doing” anywhere in your body language. What I used was misdirection. A big, fat tablespoon of peanut butter with honey dribbled over it.

I picked Whalen up set him on the counter and pushed his nose into the peanut butter. Then I pinched some skin together on the back of his upper neck and inserted the needle. Only it didn’t insert. Shit. I thought I had done it right. I tried it again but Whalen started to squirm. I pushed his head back into the peanut butter but the spoon squirted away. I grabbed the spoon and had a wad of peanut butter stuck to my fingers. Then I readjusted my hold on the puppy, smearing peanut butter all over his head. I was sweating profusely now. I picked the hypodermic up and ran it under the skin and slowly injected the shot. After that I messaged the area lightly and then put the puppy down. My nerves were shot. No wonder most people take their dogs to the Vet.

I only had four dogs to go. But they went much easier. In fact the most hyper dog, Grizzly, was the easiest. Maybe she had the thinnest skin.

They were still a little young for formal training but not too young for house breaking. I had started them at a few weeks old with paper in the bottom of the kiddie pool. Then I built a little wooden enclosure in the kitchen with the paper on one side and their bedding on the other. They seemed mixed up at first, but over time more and more of their messes ended on the paper.

I put some of the used paper on the backyard and started taking the pups out when they were about four weeks old. I had watched the video, “House break your puppy in twenty-four hours” anyone can do it.

Yeah? Apparently these pups hadn’t watched the video. It was puppy peeing mayhem once they got out of their little pen. They peed outside, and then they peed inside. They pooped outside and they pooped inside. House break? More like house wreck. And no, I couldn’t take them outside every twenty minutes during the day, I work for a living.

At eight weeks I was pretty attached to all of the pups but knew my sanity required giving some of them new homes. We had no problem finding potential owners for three of the puppies, and gave them their walking papers. Only two were left, Whalen and Grizzly, the two opposites. Whalen looked like a lab and Grizzly looked more like the classic Catahoula. I really only wanted to keep one but my son wanted Grizzly and I wanted to keep Whalen.

The first test I gave them was the bird wing on a fishing pole test. I pulled one of the frozen duck wings out of a bag in the freezer and tied it on ten feet of line on my fishing pole I never use. Oh, you think it odd that a person would keep a bag of frozen duck wings in the freezer? In case of emergency, break open bag and grab one wing.

Sitting in my lawn chair in the backyard, I flipped the wing towards Whalen. He looked interested but he was just too large and fat to push his underdeveloped muscles into action. I flipped it on top of his head and he grabbed it with his teeth. I gave him praise and pulled it out of his mouth. Then I flipped it a couple feet away. He laboriously gathered himself up and slowly walked over to it. Wow, that retriever blood runs thick in this dog.

I passed it off as his oversized features impeding his nimbleness. At this point in his growth, his ears and feet were way too large for the rest of him. In fact, if I were to just poke one of his legs and feet from around a corner you would expect it to be attached to something like a Great Dane. And his ears? More like Dumbo ears. This could be one of those freaky genetic mutations that happen from time to time. Cross breeding can be tricky.

Grizzly, on the other hand, weighing about half as much as Whalen, bolted right after the bird wing and chased it with enthusiasm. I let her catch it a couple of times and had to pry it out of her mouth as she savagely attempted to devour it.

I hate to jump to conclusions based on just one test. Brownie used to chase that damn bird wing until he was exhausted, and he hated retrieving in the beginning. I would have to find something a little more definitive to base my findings on. A trip to a Bass Pro Shop led me to find the perfect specimen. A dummy retrieving mallard duck that looked more like a raggedy doll but made more durable.

I tossed it across the tile floor at the house and the pups skidded into the door chasing it and then both of them latched on to it as they wrestled for control. They loved it. They ran after it over and over. Now who’s questioning the pedigree of my dogs, eh? They had the desire, now I would just have to shape and mold it into something resembling a retriever.