Lessons Learned from My Hunting Dogs

I suppose there are a lot of reasons why hunters own a dog. Certainly it can be argued that hunting with a dog is the epitome of conservation…meaning that game shot stands a better chance of being game found and retrieved. Yet other hunters choose to have a dog as a partner, almost like another kid in the family. To these folks the dog probably represents at least someone in the family that will listen to their commands.

But I own a hunting dog for other reasons. Certainly there’s the companionship aspect as well as the conservation component, yet I look at my hunting dog as more of a teacher. I think there are so many lessons that can be learned from a canine that aren’t easily learned anywhere else in life. In fact, I dare say this might be a better world if more people paid closer attention to their interaction with their hunting dogs.

No matter how upset or disappointed I become with my dog…they will always come to me looking for affection and, perhaps by some stretch of the imagination, forgiveness. If I’m upset because the dog flushed a bird too far ahead of me…they will listen to my chastising comments, but then turn around and continue on with the hunt. In other words, in my dog’s eyes I am the most wonderful person in the world. Oh sure, I’m guessing they would rather not have a raised voice scolding them…but their commitment to me will not let the words further effect their day. Heck, they are outdoors enjoying smells and the sights of paradise. Why would they let anything ruin the day for them? They realize, too, that at the end of the day…they will still get a dish of food and a tender scratch behind the ear. It always works this way…and it always should.

Positive Attitude
You know I have never walked out to the kennel and found my dog in a bad mood. Even when she was crippled up and needed surgery to repair a torn ACL in her joint…she still wanted to play and jump around (albeit on three legs). I know there have been days that my hunting dogs have not felt up to par, but I also know that even if the dogs could speak to me I would never hear an excuse. Indeed, if I need a pick-me-up all I have to do is go for a walk with my dog…and she soon reminds me that just being alive is reason enough to be happy and excited.

Hard Working
Have you ever hunted hard all day almost to the point of exhaustion? Chances are who gave up first…you or your dog? I’m betting it was you. As I think back I have only had one hunting dog who knew when to call it quits. He would go back to the truck and lay waiting for me to finish. I actually thought it was rather cute…and I didn’t come down hard on the dog because by the time the dog gave up I was usually already thinking those very same thoughts. Yet most of the hunting dogs I have known would keep going and going and not quit until they were forced to quit. When you consider that a typical hunting dog covers 3 to 4 times as much ground as the hunter, it’s pretty impressive to watch that kind of ambition at work.

Life and Death
Perhaps one of the biggest and toughest lessons I’ve had to learn in life was dealing with my dog’s mortality. That in turn forced me into thinking about the mortality of everyone I love, including my own. Death is never an easy subject…but it seems to be made even more gut-wrenching when the decision of continuing life rests squarely on your shoulders alone.

Five years ago this month I was faced with the decision euthanizing my hunting dog, Knight. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. The whole process taught me that a person should never be put in a position to have to decide the life and death of a loved one, particularly if it can be avoided. Afterwards, I then made certain that with my aging mother we had all the legal paperwork in place so I would not be faced with the anguish alone again.

Certainly a hunting dog isn’t going to teach you all the lessons directly; you still have to give meaning to all those little experiences. Yet, when you take the time to extrapolate each lesson from a hunting dog, you’ll soon discover why this special canine has long been known as “man’s best friend.”