Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Six, "Third Year: Part 4"

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section
As Blitz was growing up, my mentor through the process was my buddy Fuzzy.  While he failed me in the pheasant trial, he was there along the whole way of bringing up Blitz; advising about things like food, training, accessories, hints and other tips.  As Blitz was my first dog, this was welcome information to a neophyte like me, and I appreciated being able to learn from his experience. 

Fuzzy came upon this knowledge via his experiences with his own dog, Vic.  Vic was a husky male, going a good hundred pounds, and stranding nearly six inches higher than a Blitz at the shoulder.  Vic was also about seven years Blitz's senior, so Fuzzy had been though just about everything with Vic, whereas I was always blazing new ground.  Hence, I appreciated the insight, advice, and free schooling. 

While Vic was on the big side of the Labrador spectrum, he was a gentle giant.  In all of my years of hunting with him, I never saw any cross behavior from him with either people or other dogs - kids and puppies included.  He was just a mellow, easy- going dog which made things easier for dual dog training sessions that Fuzzy and I held with our hounds.  We were actually able to put both dogs in the same crate when transporting them when space got tight, which I'd never seen before.  We'd cram the crate full of Labrador, they'd somehow settle in, and we wouldn't hear a peep from them until we arrived at our destination. 

As rambunctious as Blitz was, Vic always tolerated her incredibly well.  Sometimes better than any of us. 

Throughout Blitz's development Fuzzy and I would take the dogs up to the duck camp for what we called "dog training."  This exercise was done on a summer weekend, and usually ended up with dogs and trainers getting soaking wet, and a beer or two getting drunk.  We were aided in this training by use of a contraptions that leveraged blank .22 shells to launch dummies for the dog to fetch.  Depending on the strength of the shell and the size of the dummy, the launcher could easily thrown dummies a good hundred yards, which proved to be beneficial for those times in which a hyperactive young dog needed to burn off some energy.  The gun-like pop of the launcher, combined with the splashing of the dummy in the water replicated hunting conditions very well, and the dogs just loved it. 

While Vic was a gentle dog, he was also a fetching machine, and lived to retrieve.  With his stature and long gait, he was an incredibly powerful swimmer, and would leave a wake that made it clear to all where he was and where he was going.  Since he had this incredible passion and drive, it was tough on him to take turns while we worked both dogs.  However, Fuzzy trained him very well to sit until he was told to fetch, and he did so dutifully.  For a dog that loved his job so much, it was a tough task indeed. 

This behavior also applied when we were in the boat while we were hunting, where Fuzzy would generously let Blitz have retrieves while keeping Vic in place.  And despite deferring to the younger dog, Vic had the patience of Job. 

The fall of Blitz's third year, the four of us were hunting an area that was in the shallow part of our lake.  A summer drought had made the lake level lower than normal, and instead of the deep areas being three feet deep, they now were a very shallow two.  Hunting that morning had been slow, and we had little to show for the time we had on the water. 

We were in the middle of some tall tale contest when we heard the distinct call of a Gadwall behind us.  On queue, the duck he moved out in front of us and circled our boat.  Fuzzy and I both were making our best duck calls, trying to entice this lonesome single duck closer to the decoys we had spread on the water in front of us.  However, something was wrong, as our quarry definitively was seeing or hearing something not to his liking.  Despite him circling us multiple times, we were unable to draw him any closer than to the fringes of our shotgun ranges.  We worked hard, calling our lungs out, holding statue still, and keeping our heads down but simultaneously trying to track him from the same frozen, head down position.  This led to a lot of "I lost him" "You see him?" "Out front now" "Lost him again" whispered conversation. 

This duck appeared to know the gyrations it was putting us through and seemed content to just tease us.  Finally, after numerous circles, he turned behind us and appeared that he'd be close enough to present us a shot.  "Get ready," I told Fuzzy, "We're not going to get a better shot than this."  He agreed, and we'd take the duck as came into range.  Unfortunately the closest he would get ended up being behind us.  That meant we needed to stand up, twist our bodies 180 degrees, acquire the target and make a good shot, all while the duck, now tipped to our presence, was flying away as hard as he can. 

Most of these types of shots result in misses, but both Fuzzy and I popped up with guns blazing, and one of us was able to break a wing and sent the duck sailing one hundred yards away into the shallowest part of the lake.  We knew the duck was barely hit, and that if we didn't get to him immediately, he'd swim into the cattails where we'd never be able to find him. 

We immediately moved in tandem, lowering the blind and making the boat read to move.  Within seconds we were under way, and were quickly in proximity of the duck.  From here I sent Blitz to retrieve, but immediately noted that she was having difficulty.  With the water being only a foot deep in this location, and with a good three feet of mud underneath it, Blitz could only make small headway.  Vic, having been called into heel by Fuzzy to allow Blitz the retrieve, watched Blitz struggling, the duck swimming away, and uttered his displeasure.  Vic had the uncanny ability to sound exactly like Chewbacca, and his groaning at the scene unfolding in front of him was straight out of Star Wars. 

I was concentrating on Blitz, trying to encourage her to find her way through the mire when we were all rudely interrupted by a one hundred pound Chewbacca-groaning dog cannonballing into the water.  Fuzzy screamed his displeasure at Vic breaking, but the old man had seen enough and was out to show the young dog how it was done.  Blitz, knowing that she now had competition for the bird, swam harder but absolutely did not move any faster.  Vic, on other hand, was able to leverage his size to find some footing on the bottom and was bounding through the water and mud.  In three bounds he was to Blitz, in four more bounds he had the duck, and about 8 bounds back and he was in the boat before Blitz even had time to turn around. 

When she did get turned around, she gave me a look like "What the hell was that?"  What it was, exactly, was our Job, our gentle giant, finally having enough.

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