The news landed in my inbox this morning. August will be frantic.
That’s when I pick up the new addition: a puppy.
The email included a photo of the exhausted mother, a beautiful Orange Belton, nursing her litter. The English setter pups are mostly white, but a few have faint patches hinting at their future coats.
I’ve planned to add a dog to our operation for three to four years, but I kept putting it off as changing jobs led to a chaotic period requiring three moves. Doll handled it with aplomb, but for a puppy it might have been too much.
We’ve just gotten past the point of delaying any longer. Doll will be 10 in July, and while she turned in one of the finest hunting seasons of her life in year 9, she’s likely only got a couple good ones left in her. The double digits are bonus years for a hunting dog, especially a large one such as my 70-pound setter.
I don’t mean to suggest imminent doom, but my old girl is acting her age. If we’re just hanging around the house, which we did a lot this spring, she’s usually on one of her beds. There’s one in the living room and another in the bedroom. Her main source of exercise is walking between them.
She shakes it off once we’re in the field, however. We were out working one of our favorite hunting spots a couple weeks ago, and she was back to her usual ways, running five miles for every one I walked. She even pointed a quail, and the flush gave my non-hunting daughter a taste of bird hunting.
But those field workouts are on hold. We’re now in the middle of nesting season here, so the birds need their space. It’s tick season too, and they’re bad this spring.
Also, as the summer solstice approaches and the temperature increases, Doll’s tank drains quickly. Her intolerance for heat has probably been the most dramatic sign of her advancing age. Those September hunts when the needle hits the mid-70s are beyond her limits now.
While I’m sure Doll would have loved the companionship of a teammate years ago, just as my first setter, Jack, was clearly happier when Doll came along, there has been a blessing in these last few years of one-on-one time. Doll has matured into a near-perfect companion. She hasn’t chewed up anything valuable in ages, she waits patiently by the door to be let out, and when I do let her out, into my currently unfenced yard, she walks over to the vacant lot next door to take care of her business.
Then she returns, waiting patiently by the door until she is let back in. Even just a year or so ago, I never would have considered letting her outside without a fence. She would have been long gone, hunting the city streets as soon as I turned my back.
We’ve settled into a pretty easy routine, all of which will soon change when the little terror arrives. I’m not worrying about them getting along. Doll is well socialized and quite friendly around canines of all sizes and demeanors and has demonstrated a broad tolerance for putting up with insufferable puppies. She’ll even wrestle with them a bit, though these days she’d prefer to be left alone on her bed.
Our fall is going to be a busy one, filled with training adventures. The new pup will quickly need to learn her two most important commands: “whoa” and “find birds.”
That’s “stop” and “go” in bird dog speak.
We’ll get to “fetch” eventually. In this regard I expect my veteran of nine, going on 10 hunting seasons, will provide by example all the training the youngster will need.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.