Oh how fast the time passes. My hunting companion and trusty retriever is now 9 years old. I remember like it was yesterday when I first brought her home. Technically her birthday is March 12 but we celebrate birthdays as birth weeks around here with my friends.
My friend Dan told me about a local Lab breeder who had a good track record with hips, eyes and quality working dogs. They are of English descent and not the high octane American field trial dog stock. They tend to be a bit heavier boned, deep chested and with a good square blocky head confirmation.I contacted them and put my name on the list for a female out of their next litter. I was partial to Yellow Labs at the time and such was my request. Although as luck had it there were only black females in the litter. That was just fine and so I began visiting the breeders when the pups were 3 weeks old. That was my first look and I had an idea which one I was going to pick. I visited each week until the 7 th. week when I finally brought Jet home. She was a little chudpuppy (as in short and plump) and I instantly fell in love.
I had her dog crate in my bedroom with a cardboard box filling more than half of it. Preparing for house breaking by using the travel kennel is a great way to teach the pup to ask to go outside to do their business. She was a fast learner and sure there were a few accidents that were my fault and not hers, typically the trainer is wrong and the dog is right. Sometimes we're just a touch slow or to proud to admit that. So the fun times of puppy hood and frivolous play were the norm with an occasional toss of the dummy. It was great to watch her antics and what made her tick. She was easily amused and such a calm puppy. It was hard to break myself away from her for work and the daily chores of housekeeping and lawn mowing etc. She let me know just how displeased she was with me when I put her in her crate. Still to this day if I leave her in the truck she voices her opinion. Mostly when there are other dogs around and she isn't given the opportunity to meet and greet them.
We started the obedience training early and she was a quick learner. When we moved onto working with the dummy and raising the bar she was not in full agreement. This is when I thought UH OH, time to get professional help. I found a trainer just a few miles away from where I lived and he taught me how to work with Jet. It was some of the best training I've ever had. Learning from the dogs point of view, and that was the key. From there on we began to learn together. Training began to take on a whole new perspective and we continued to make progress. Jet was not the typical in the water all the time type of Lab. She had fallen in the water at the breeders when she was just 4 weeks old and I think that initial experience made her apprehensive of water from there on. I had a pond at my old house for irrigation and I did everything I knew to get her excited for the water and she just never did flip the switch. She would walk in a few steps and then refuse to go further let alone swim. Back to the trainer again we went. He gave me some tips and we were back on track again.
Fall was nearing and I knew I had to see how she was around guns. I took her out to the trap club and parked a 100 yards away and sat with her and watched her response. All was fine, so we moved closer and sat in the parking lot. Again, she was not bothered in the slightest and she wanted out to play with the other dogs. Alright, I got her leash on and she hit the ground running. She had no problem with shotguns and all the excitement. It helped having older mature hunting dogs there to distract and build her confidence. Phew, a major milestone and now I was eager for the hunting season to start.
The beginning of waterfowl and Jet is 6 1/2 months old. The first year or two she wasn't having much fun and I was concerned that maybe she wasn't going to be the retriever I had hoped for.
She didn't want to swim and didn't seem to have much interest in retrieving waterfowl either. WOW, maybe I have a real nice house dog I thought. Over the first few years I was hunter and retriever. I logged a lot of miles in neoprene chest highs which is where my my dislike for them derived. I was trying to set her up for success and making the connections between BOOM, BIRD, RETRIEVE. Well, it was a slow progression and I would dump a bird out of my game bag as we walked the dikes and on our way back I would get her excited and then ask her where's the bird? Get the duck and gesture ahead of us and eventually she figured it out and started showing some enthusiasm in retrieving. This was all about building her confidence and making a big deal out of her successes. Even the small things I showered her with praise. Over time she began to show more interest and started enjoying herself. Occasionally she even made some retrieves in shallow flooded fields and then swimming the ditches for ducks. I was starting to believe that I was finally going to have a hunting dog.
By year 4 she was getting the hang of it and showing a real passion for scenting and flushing Pheasants. I spent as much time as I could chasing Pheasants and to this day they are her absolute favorite quarry, bar none! She takes on a different persona when hunting Pheasants and is as focused as any dog I've ever seen. Not only that, but if there is a Pheasant in the tules, brush or briar's she will not quit til she flushes it. Equally exciting for her is flushing and retrieving Snipe. Although we don't get as many opportunities to hunt them since they migrate through quickly most years. Another of her favorites is working the cover when there's a heavy hoarfrost and it's about 10 degrees. She comes busting out of the cover, covered with frost all but her eyes and nose. Bouncing in her step like a young pup and totally fired up with piss and vinegar. Talk about happy and joyful, such a fine example.
It has been an absolute delight to be her mom and see how she has grown into the fine hunting dog that she is today. Her swimming retrieves have come a long ways and even though she is not the strongest swimmer, she will give it all she has. From wading in flooded fields to swimming ice covered rivers for late season Whistlers, I wouldn't trade her for nothing! She is a wonderful huntress, retriever, companion and friend. My shadow, who has taught me the most about training and working with dogs. Loyal, easy to be with and this huntresses best friend. I am not sure who knows each other best, me her or visa versa. Regardless we are attached at the hip and I can't imagine not having her in my life. She has slowed down this past year and I know the day will come when I am looking for another pup. Until then I will do my best to reciprocate the love she continues to give me and take her hunting for as long as she is able and willing.
I dedicate this 100 th. post to Jet and her 9 th. Happy Birthday week!
Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt