Selective memory is a close ally to puppies. Recollection of puppy breath and cuddles gloss over the challenges of house training and toothy destruction. Adorable naps and puppy eyes erase the boundless energy and predawn bawling. It’s been six years since the last puppy, which has been plenty of time for revisionist history to mask the trials of young bird dogs.
The truth is, I didn’t want to be back in the puppy business. The setter, old lab and I were just getting into a groove afield. I had grown confident that no bird was safe within 10 miles of our nucleus. I felt like we could walk into any area and make upland game materialize regardless of the conditions, a deadly crew.
But the years are catching our old boy, Wyatt. The moments of flushing and retrieving brilliance are still there, just slower. The distances he can cover shorten and the after-effects of a hard day linger more pronounced.
This is the time for a puppy before all that experience together afield is confined to the dreams of an old, hobbled dog curled on the couch. I’m convinced that Wyatt can share the secrets he’s learned in a canine language that will transcend training.
And this new puppy is an opportunity to reconcile all “the next dog I’ll.” The thoughts collected and stored from days afield where something could have gone better or smoother, a different outcome if only the dogs would have known more.
Socialization, travel and exposure have been the focus over this first month. Ida, the retriever pupil, has already seen 13 states and traveled over 5,000 miles on the road. She has met more than 500 people and dogs. She’s hiked four miles at elevations over 10,000′, camped multiple nights, been eyed by gators, swam in icy rivers and fallen asleep by a campfire.
Of course she’s also pissed on the floor, tortured Wyatt with constant ear biting, busted through a screen door, leapt from heights taller than her abilities. All moments to be quashed once she retrieves her first wild bird this fall.
Puppies’ brains are like sponges at this age. We do a couple short training sessions each day, no longer than 15 minutes. She’s been able to pick up the basics: sit, stay, and retrieving while learning the vocabulary we use around the house and afield. Her eyesight continues to improve and I notice her now tracking birds in flight. We try to keep everything a positive learning experience with lots of praise and treats for reinforcement.
The puppy business has been pretty good. In the mornings Ida comes rambling upstairs all legs and a full belly. She jumps on the bed with an excitement that will not be contained for whatever the day brings, as long as it’s with you. That attitude is infectious and a great reminder of the joy when everything is new and present.