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Dog days

Agriculture.com Staff 01/02/2008 @ 7:25am

We had another doggie sleepover at the farm this weekend. Some friends of our son came to do some pheasant hunting and brought along a yellow Lab named Chopper.

Chopper was handsome, well-mannered and charming, in that "let's-chew-down-a-pine- tree-for-breakfast-and-then-frolic" yellow Lab sort of way. He bumbled around the house, wagging his tail and making friends with everyone. It was all very hard on Cricket, the Rat-That-Barks-Like-A-Dog. Cricket believes that any attempt at friendship is just a ploy, a nasty trick to get close enough to my wife to steal her purse and the box of Milkbones. That attitude makes her not such a good host.

We had half a dozen or so visiting dogs this fall, which made for a very stressful season for Cricket. Not only did she have to work overtime protecting my wife, she tended to suffer from comparisons. One guy had a pair of German wirehaired pointers. I went out hunting with him and was amazed with what I saw. Each time his dogs came to a road they would lie down, their owner would walk across the road, looking both ways, and once he got to the other side he'd call to the dogs and they'd race across and lie down at his feet. A friend of mine said admiringly, "Will your dog do that?"

"Are you kidding?" I said. "My kids wouldn't even do that."

Of course, not all dogs that have come to the farm over the years have been that well-trained. In particular, I remember a couple of decades ago when a dog named Jack came over for a hunting expedition. At the time, our big slough was almost completely covered with a thick mat of cattails and absolutely loaded with pheasants. Now, hunting a cattail slough is not easy. Think of the worst thing you've ever done.

Walking a cattail slough is worse than that. There's a thick mat of vegetation, gooey mud underneath, sharp edges and smothering clouds of fluff. It's a little like walking through quicksand chewing on a pillow while being stabbed by flying monkeys.

I'd recently had knee surgery so the plan was for me to hobble around the edge of the slough and sit down at the far end while Jack and his owner did the hard work slogging through the cattails. They gave me a head start so I was comfortably in position, sitting on the crest of a hill where I was able to watch the whole thing as it happened. Jack bounded into the slough and soon picked up the scent of pheasants. He was a young dog and evidently forgot that he needed to stay close to his owner in order for the whole hunting concept to work. Soon he was flushing pheasant after pheasant, in groups of ten or twenty at a time, every single one of them far out of range.

I could hear his excited barking and see the waving cattails marking his progress, and far behind him I could see, and hear, his owner plodding helplessly along, constantly shouting, "Jack, come. Come, Jack, come." There were a few other words sprinkled in with the commands, but none I'd feel comfortable using here. Pheasants filled the air. I could have had a couple of good shots if I hadn't been rolling on the ground laughing.

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