For some time now I’ve been planning to add another setter to my current two-member hunting team. I hate to say it, but my English setter, Doll, is getting up there in years. It’s not that her retirement is in any way imminent, but there are signs enough to remind me her hunting days will end before mine.
For starters, her left front paw is giving her heck. It doesn’t seem to affect her when we’re afield, but the day after she’s a bit gimpy. I’ve avoided scheduling back-to-back days to compensate. She also seems to recover quicker if I boot her up. Lewis Dog Boots. If you own a bird dog, these are essential gear. And I don’t mean that as a shameless plug. There’s nothing else like this sturdy rubber footwear on the market.
You either already know about them, or need to.
Speaking of gearing up, I wish for Doll’s sake I had also slipped on her protective skid plate before our last hunting session. I left it in the truck, and my girl paid the price. Not that she made a fuss about it or anything. The day after our trip, as I patted her down for burrs, I noticed something on her chest. It was a cut, nearly 2 inches long, clean through the hide.
Barbed wire. Doll, like most hunting dogs, plows through this scourge with reckless abandon. There isn’t much of it where we’ve been hunting, and little cactus or other “biting” vegetation either, so canine body armor seemed unnecessary.
The surprise was that I hadn’t noticed sooner, considering the severity of the cut. Doll hadn’t offered any signs, audible or otherwise, of injury. Remarkably, it didn’t bleed, at all. And she hadn’t fussed with it. I should have given her a closer inspection the evening of our hunt, but Doll hadn’t given any sign something was amiss.
She’s mellow that way. Even at the vet’s office, she was so mild mannered they skipped general anesthesia. Instead, they applied lidocaine to the wound along with gentle scratching behind the ears. That was enough to keep her calm while they stitched her up.
For the record, Doll would probably hunt hard, all day, even if she lost that sometimes tender left leg altogether and her belly was criss-crossed with barbed-wire lacerations. She doesn’t leap from the truck and then look at me with the expectation I’ll break out the body armor. She gets out of the truck ready to hunt. But she now has eight hunting seasons under her belt, and a little prevention will hopefully ensure we get plenty more together.
Jack was my first English setter, and I waited too long to add Doll to our team. They hunted together only one season. Doll was still a pup, and as is sometimes the case for setters, she was a bit of an airhead that first year. I’m not sure she picked up a lot from Jack, who really was on the downhill side of his career anyway. Jack’s medical issues wiped out their second season together. By season three he was gone and Doll and I were on our own.
Others tell me May-December hunting dog teams are a great way to train a pup. The well-schooled older dog shows the youngster the ropes, and even imposes a bit of discipline when the novice screws up.
That’s not how it worked for Jack and Doll. Jack wasn’t much interested in working with another dog, and frankly, that first season at least, I wasn’t convinced there really was a hunter inside Doll fighting to emerge. At times I feared her inner dog was a lapdog.
Since, she has exceeded every expectation. I think she’s due an apprentice while she’s still spry enough to teach.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.