Think of your hunting buddies. You’ve had a lot of great times hunting with them, haven’t you? Now, you didn’t get to select your hunting buddies based on set criteria, did you? If you did, well, that’s just a bit creepy. Of course if we did do that then I might get rid of the one guy who always seems to borrow my stuff, but I digress. No, we don’t always get to choose our friends and, likewise, we don’t always get to choose our hunting dogs. To be honest, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Like many of you, I poured over breed pictures, descriptions, and articles on different dogs before selecting the next dog breed I was going to get for my future waterfowl retrieving machine. I was going to get a big, stout dog that could swim all day, run down wounded geese, and carry my waders back to the vehicle. Okay, that last part is a lie. I have my wife for that. But as I suspect happens with so many hunters out there, fate had another plan.
I had been fairly set on getting a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, but a phone call from my sister got me thinking otherwise. She had a Golden Retriever pup that she had rescued and the female needed a home. Not a big deal to me, as I once had a Golden, who was also a “found retriever” that had worked well up until an accident cost the life of the dog. So we went and got her and named her “Kenai.”
Passing the test
When we made the final decision to bring the dog into our family, I had a good feeling about it. She was a very “birdy” pup. Getting her to retrieve was easy and she was always willing to chase birds in the fields behind the house. Here’s where it gets funny. She stopped growing at around three-fourths the regular size for a golden.
Suspicious and since it was time for some shots, I asked the vet to do a genetic test. Sure enough, she isn’t a pure golden, but instead she is half-Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Not the big, burly, goose grabber I had envisioned at all, but I was good with that too. A Toller is a breed I was very interested in, and she was a great dog.
Genetic testing is not cheap. I spent right around $150 to find out about Kenai’s linage. But it can save you some headaches and is a step in finding out if you have some concerns about your dog. Some breeds are prone to certain aliments and there is the possibility of allergy concerns.
The bite worse than the bark
There is an issue that can bite you when deciding on a “found” pup. It may not do what you want it to. I am a firm believer that when you make the decision to adopt a dog into your life, it is there for the life of the dog.
A while back after the untimely death of my Golden, my wife talked me into adopting an older retriever mix. She was a retriever lab mix and was a gentle, well-trained dog, which fit in great with our family. However, she wasn’t going to retrieve anything. There was nothing I could do to coax her into even going after a tennis ball, let alone a duck. She was a loving family dog that passed away of old age, and we miss her.
When we select a hunting dog, we tend to choose traits that we like and desire. When you accept a “found” puppy, you may very well not get any of those traits you’re looking for. You have to be ready to accept that the situation might not be perfect. If you can’t handle that, the best thing to do is have that hard heart and say “no,” to bringing the dog into your life from the beginning.
As you might expect, I’ve found some traits in my new dog that I hadn’t expected. Besides being a good retriever and a smart dog, Kenai has proven to be very good at upland hunting. In upper Michigan, where we live, we have a good number of ruffed grouse. Kenai has proven to be very good at flushing them from heavy cover. And she is a smaller bodied dog, so it works. A large-bodied dog, like I had planned for, wouldn’t be nearly as effective as she is proving to be.
She’s also less prone to overheating and some other issues big dogs sometimes have. Another plus is that we have a small baby in the house and the smaller dog means less chance of “smooshed” baby. Always a bonus.
She has had some issues, as laid out in the article on Retriever Rehab. She also had an issue with “playing” with the neighbor’s chickens. And when I say play, I mean kill. I still think the chickens started the fight.
Puppy picking–it’s not easy
Hard Core hunters usually want to know the breeder and the parent dogs of their retrievers, and with good call. You want to know the health record and the temperament of the animal. Why have to train the dog that much harder? Training dogs is not easy to begin with.
Occasionally, however, good dogs do find you. Shelters and online marketplaces like Craigslist can lead to good dogs too. Know what to look for. If you’re dealing with a puppy, make loud noises to see the puppy’s attention span. See if the pup’s temperament fits your personality. And of course, make sure your family is ready for a new puppy. I’ve thought several times about getting another dog to go along with Kenai, but my wife helps control my “puppy fever.”
I’m still thinking of getting a Chessie to have as a Hard Core hunting dog. I mean, look at Diesel Dog! I even tossed around the idea of getting a Newfoundland. I mean, They are natural retrievers, with labs having been bred off of them, and they are big. A Newfie could retrieve the biggest geese for me and, if need be, tow the boat back in. That would be a heck of a find, wouldn’t it? Now to get my wife to go for it.
Diesel Dog image courtesy Hard Core Decoys, other images by Derrek Sigler