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The First Month with the New Puppy

Puppy Love
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.

Meet Ida

Ida and Wing

I’ve always found the haphazard naming of dogs intriguing. I’ve wondered if a puppy grows into the name, filling the shape of some predetermined vessel? I like original names, probably because I have irrational hopes for my bird dogs to be uniquely exceptional. But then names different for different’s sake grind on me. People names often give me chuckle; I like a good blue collar Sam or Maggie, but find it funny when a dog and person share the same space and name. I say this having a Wyatt dog in a time when Wyatt boys seem to be making a resurgence.

A few puppies ago I decided there must be a better way to name a dog, a set of rules that would prevent the naming pitfalls that I’ve conjured: original but not too original, not based on puppy appearance destined to change over time, not so long as to create a tongue-twister or too short to be harsh on ears. The dog’s name is something that I’ll say and hear tens of thousands of times over the next decade.

It became apparent this season that I needed to start working on a new name. Time is catching my Wyatt dog. If you followed our adventures over the last season you may have seen references to his health, though I’m finding it hard to acknowledge directly. But having to carry a 75-pound hunting partner from the field on multiple occasions makes it tough to ignore. He’s still got some birds left in him which is exactly why now is the time to find his new apprentice. Because we’re not breeders, there’s no chance for our dogs’ traits to be passed down genetically. The best we can do is hope skill and knowledge from thousands of days afield can transfer from old to young.

We now name puppies for their place of origin. That can be anything from a street near their kennel, to a lake or river, or even a historic event that happened in the area. This naming convention negated the irrational stress I felt of selecting arbitrary call signs lacking significance.

Which brings us to Ida.

After making the decision to expand our pack and finding a breeding program that fit our needs, I began researching the area: looking at maps, mountains, historical references, famous residents.

The German origin of the name Ida is from the word id, meaning “labor” or “work.” Also rooted in Norse mythology Iðunn (Idun) is the goddess of youth. Apparently Ida is a popular girls’ name in Nordic countries today, but waned in the U.S. at the turn of the century. It’s a name that has history and I like that. And I’ll hope for lots of work and eternal youth from this bird dog. But of course this new edition hails from the great state of Idaho.

Her education will begin as we make our way back across the country. We’ll be hiking and camping in National Forests and exploring wild places. Hopefully she’ll be soaking up lessons from Wyatt, who I’m sure is just thrilled at the prospect of unrelenting youthful torment.


Socialization of puppies is key to their future intelligence and success. For the next 30 days Ultimate Upland will donate $1 to Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership for every individual Ida meets – people and dogs. Follow our journey as we share the progress, photos and videos of these introductions on our social feeds using the hashtags #meetida and #publiclandpup

Check out all of Ida’s latest friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


The Lab Knows

Wyatt and Pheasant

Wyatt knows he’s black. He also knows this is the color of night. He’s been able to surmise that humans have terrible night vision. During daylight hours when we take breaks from hunting, he plots. He knows most mischief will not fly in the light of day. Raiding other camps, gnawing a nearby rotting deer carcass, tapping into a hidden trash cache — all plans reserved for the cover of darkness. He’ll execute these plans silently standing right beside you within 10 yards. And he will ignore all calls unless you are lucky enough to shine a flashlight on him, which miraculously restores his ability to hear. Schemer.

I prefer a smart dog.

It’s a requirement for the way I like to hunt. No whistles. No yelling. No beeping collars or hawk calls. I want to hear the wind, the exhale of running dogs, the flush of birds and percussion of burnt powder. My bird dogs get to figure it out. They learn, adapt, become a part of this mongrel team of dog and human working toward a shared goal of bringing feathers to hand. I don’t want the dogs looking to me for direction. I want them fulfilling their purpose, breaking through linear thought to solve equations of wild birds.

Could we kill more birds if I reigned in free-running, free-thinking dogs — maybe. But then I’d sacrifice what I find most amazing; the front row seat to expansion of their consciousness. The times when bird dogs amaze themselves.

But smart dogs are trouble. And this black lab is living proof. Give him leash and he will take it. All.

Wyatt is not an alpha, not untrainable. But he is conniving. He could be broken of such habits, but always in the back of my mind there would be the question: would it break his will to become more, do more. So I don’t discourage it. It’s become an ongoing game of outsmart that we play. And he knows this too.

He has figured out what a camera is. He knows if the camera comes out of my vest there’s likely something of interest that he can put to chase. His head comes up on a swivel watching for the direction the lens will be pointed thereby revealing the coordinates to charge. I even test him sometimes when he’s really worn down, I’ll grab the camera just to see if he’s paying attention or exactly how tired he is.

This lab has grown accustomed to hunting in mixed company with pointing breeds. In general he knows that they have better noses. He realizes that by and large they are faster. But he also knows they do not ground track the way he does, especially on running birds. In open country while he hunts on his own, he always keeps one eye on the high-head, long-running canines. When they freeze he takes it as a cue to break into double time for their point. He is using pointers as a tool.

I noticed his latest evolution earlier this season. In the heavy cover of the Northwoods, seeing pointing dogs at any distance is nearly impossible. Wyatt now listens to hunters who use the command: “Whoa.” He even recognizes alternate instructions such as “go easy,” often used by friends coaching Shorthairs on moving quarry. This alerts him that the other dog might “like” his flushing assist. (Don’t worry pointer purists, I call him off birds unless a flush is wanted).

I guess I’m not shaping my hunting partners to someone else’s vision of perfection. We just hunt. Quarter-mile retrieves in the thickest of cover, out of sight, out of hearing on winged wild running birds – perfection happens, unscripted. And my only role is admiration.

I recently purchased a glowing light to clip to Wyatt’s collar at night in camp. I know he’s plotting how to disable it and return to the subterfuge of darkness.