Operation Canine Terror

By Beacon Staff

My dogs had their annual meltdown on the Fourth of July. You can’t really blame them, what with Kalispell sounding less like a sleepy mountain town in the Rockies and more like I imagine Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War, for that night at least.

The Independence Day histrionics are understandable, but that doesn’t excuse them the other 364 days of the year. Jack, my 9-year-old English setter, gets just as freaked by the sound of distant thunder. And I mean distant. We’re talking see-the-flash-over-the-Missions-and-count-to-20-before-you-hear-the-feint-rumble distant. This from a dog who hardly notices the report from my 12-gauge when I fire off a round a few feet from his head when we’re chasing quail.

That’s the power of bird scent I suppose.

Fortunately, I crate trained my dogs as soon as I brought them home from the breeder. There were a few trying nights when whimpering puppies kept the house awake, but that kennel box is now both dogs’ safe zone. If there’s a kennel in the vicinity with the door open, that’s usually where Jack will curl up to rest. Crate training has saved both myself and my dogs a lot of stress when disturbances in the sky, man-made or otherwise, spoil the peace.

Jack didn’t like the .22-caliber blanks I used to fire off during training sessions back when he was a young dog either. He’d look back at me as I’d pop that cap gun at the wild Huns we used to train over, and – despite the challenges of interspecies communication – clearly let me know that he wasn’t impressed with the sound effects. He’s always known the difference between training and hunting, and his tolerance level goes way up when I’ve got the big gun out and mean business.

My 2-year-old setter, Doll, on the other hand, isn’t bothered in the least by things that go boom in the sky (the Fourth being the exception). When Jack gets spooked by thunder and starts running around the yard barking, Doll seems to assume it’s play time and runs circles around the old guy trying to incite the canine equivalent of a wrestling match. Right now her only real quirk is an obsession about making sure she is the only dog being petted. If I reach down and scratch the old guy’s ears, Doll quickly inserts herself between the two of us to make sure it’s her ears that are getting the required attention.

Speaking of quirks, I realize setters aren’t water dogs, but they can be a bit ridiculous at times. If I try to get Jack to walk across the recently watered lawn he’ll do so only with major coaxing, and then he’ll look like a total goof the way he tries to get across the wet grass while never putting more than two paws down at once. Again, out in the field it’s a different story. I’ve seen him plow through water up to his chest in full pursuit of a downed pheasant, then come running back bird in mouth, and his white hair caked in mud.

Once when I took him on a fishing trip to the South Fork up around Spotted Bear I thought I was going to lose him when he decided to cross the river to chase a water ouzel. He’s older and has put on a few pounds since that day. But back then, when he was still in his prime, that dog was so lean I thought we was going under once he stepped into water over his head. He was dog paddling vertically, with all his energy directed toward keeping his nose above the surface. I thought I was going swimming that day to rescue my bird dog before he was washed down into Hungry Horse.

But then, these are the things we do for friends. Even if I’d gone swimming that day I’d still feel like I’m getting the better end of the deal.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.