Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Earning His Keep

It is snowing!!! In fact, we've gotten about a foot or more of snow here in Helena, MT, which is definitely a blessing. Cutter doesn't look all that enthralled about the whole thing but with the snow comes the ducks. With the ducks, he get's to do what he lives for. That is, as long as someone in the blind can hit them. Yesterday that was Bryan Conquergood because I've entered my mid-season slump. Yep, that's right. I couldn't hit the broad-side of a barn yesterday and that's the look I get from Cutter when the gun goes off and nothing drops out of the sky.  
Like I said though, Bryan had a pretty stellar day and we did manage to get a good number of ducks and geese and to be fair, neither one of us went O'fer and Cutter did get plenty of action.
I feel like I need to relay a story about yesterday that could have ended up tragic but illustrates the importance of training and maybe even a little hard love with your dog in the beginning. I never really wanted to use a shock collar on my dogs but found that I was doing more yelling at them than praising because I had a hard time controlling them when they got onto a bird. Even when I knew it was a lost cause, Chase; Cutter's predecessor, had absolutely no quit in him and would literally put his life at risk before giving up on a retrieve. It was often scary, incredibly frustrating, and to be honest, also incredibly embarrassing as I look back on it. So I took a different approach with Cutter and yesterday was proof that all the hard work and sometimes uncomfortable sensation that comes with a stern shock every now and then was 100% worth it.
I took a little walk to try jumping some birds after sitting in the blind for an hour or so with nothing happening; just to try to get something moving. Cutter was with and we did jump a handful of mallards in the main channel of the river. I dropped one greenhead that still had quite-a-bit of fight left in him. The duck got into the main channel and headed downstream. I was kind of curious how Cutter would handle it and I really didn't want to leave a wounded bird without putting the effort into retrieving it so I let him go after it. As Cutter got further and further downstream and the black speck that was his head sticking up above water got smaller and smaller, I started getting that sick feeling that I may have pushed a little too hard and allowed him to get too far away chasing that bird so I blew the whistle.
I've worked quite a bit on training Cutter with the shock collar combined with the whistle and he definitely knows what that whistle means but now a quarter mile downstream and chasing a wounded duck, who knows how he's going to react?
I made the decision to go back to the blind to drop off some gear and then head downstream after him, knowing if he didn't give up on that bird or didn't hear the whistle, I might not catch up with him until midnight. And then, I might not even catch up with him at all. Again, that sick feeling crept in and I started wondering if that was the last I'd see of him.
Before I went back to the blind, I blew the whistle a number of times but I never called for him. I knew the chance that he'd hear my voice was highly unlikely. However, the whistle will carry a ways and it was really my only hope.
I ran back to the blind, dropped off what I needed and then headed across the channel and up on the opposite bank to where Cutter was going. The channel was deeper than I thought and I did get a little wet but I started to panic a bit and knew I needed to get moving if I was ever going to catch up to him. I jumped up on the bank and started hoofing it downstream but something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye and as I looked back, there he was standing on the opposite side of the channel I had just crossed, heading back to find me. He had heard the whistle and turned back and had I just trusted that he would do what he was trained to do, I'd have saved myself a half-mile of running back and forth and I'd be dry. A small price to pay though and a valuable lesson.
Keep 'em where they live...

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