Muddy Waters

By Beacon Staff

My bird dog Doll has issues. She always steps in the water bowl.

I’m not sure what she’s thinking, but I know what she’s done while my back was turned. The evidence is right there in the bowl. Where there was once clean water, there’s now brown muck. And her feet are wet.

It happens almost every time we head out for a run or bird work. I like to fill up a bowl right next to the truck so that water is ready when our journey ends. Anyone with dogs knows they always beat you back to the truck. With the bowl already filled, the dogs are watered by the time you make it to the rig. That way you can just load up and go.

It took me a while to figure out why the dog water was always muddy. Jack, my older setter, never steps in the water bowl. Neither have any of the Labs and retrievers I’ve owned over the years. It was a mystery until one day when we were out for a run in Wyoming chukar country. I’d unloaded the dogs and filled the bowl as is my normal procedure. But before we set out I realized after the drive that I needed to water some nearby sagebrush. I took care of business, then looked back to see Doll right behind me, patiently waiting to set out, with her right front paw in the water bowl.

Mystery solved.

Bird dogs and retrievers are goofy canines. They’re obsessive-compulsive to a degree that the familiar abbreviation OCD only begins to describe.

None of my previous dogs stood in their water bowls, but there have been a few times when their relentless desire led to mishaps. I once owned a Lab who could not accept “My arm’s falling off, I can’t throw that damn ball anymore” for an answer. He was to OCD what Flathead Lake is to a cup of water.

One day we were out working along the Bitterroot River. I was tossing one of those canvas-covered boat bumpers in the river for the dog to retrieve. After a bit of work I realized that I needed to water a nearby cottonwood. So I placed the boat bumper in the crook of a branch of another tree, then proceeded to water the other.

While I was watering I heard a flock of Canada geese pick up off the alfalfa field on a bluff across the river. I looked up and watched as the birds V’ed up and flew over me, just feet above the cottonwood’s highest limbs.

While I was watering I also heard a commotion in the tree behind me, but I’d been so enthralled with the geese that I hadn’t bothered to look back. Then I noticed a change in the sound of the fluid hitting the dry leaves in front of me. I looked down and saw that my Lab, the ever eager retriever he was, had climbed into that tree, pulled the bumper down, and had then carefully laid it at my feet.

When he saw that I had noticed what he had done he started bouncing around in anticipation. Surely, he must have been thinking, an epic retrieve such as that — what with the climbing of trees and all — would be rewarded with one more game of fetch.

I don’t remember how I handled that situation. I’d like to think I heaped praise on the old boy and then picked up the bumper by the unwatered portion and tossed it into the river with the dual intentions of fetch and sanitation. That’s what I hope I did at least.

This is what dogs do to you. They’ll drive you nuts until they do something so graceful and amazing that you forget every knucklehead move they’ve made in the last six months.

The other day I had Doll out with a friend doing a little bird-dog training. Once the dogs were out of the trucks my friend filled a water bowl. While we were distracted messing with the birds, Doll found the bowl.

I didn’t see her step in it, but the muddy water made clear someone had taken a drink.

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