Hi, friends! As I’ve mentioned before, we have two black lab retrievers that are being trained as hunting retrievers. Here are Gump and Ruger…
Labs have an innate drive to retrieve, and they will all be excellent at playing fetch, but there’s a little more to it than that when it comes to retrieving birds. When you’re hunting, there are guns firing, there are multiple birds falling that the dog needs to keep up with, there are other distractions, there are wounded fowl, and all of that means it’s very important that the dogs be obedient, and know exactly what their role is in this situation. The last thing a hunter needs is a dog that flies out while guns are firing (risking getting shot), or moving around in the blind and knocking guns around (risking everyone getting shot), or not paying attention to where birds are falling, meaning they are unlikely to find any of them to retrieve, especially if they are wounded and able to get away.
So, long story short, when we tell people that our pups are in training and that it’s a multiple month process, there’s a lot more going into it than just the dog can fetch a bird. Lots of dogs could fetch a bird and bring it back. But not every dog that is good at fetch is a true trained bird dog. 🙂
To begin with, Steven started training Ruger when he was seven weeks old. He began with simple obedience, and worked up to retrieving basics, like “force fetch”, which basically trains the dog to fetch something and not let it go until told to. He made it through all of this, and was ready for some more advanced training, and potentially competing in trials.
Then, sweet Gumpers came along five months later and he got a little spoiled (by me… He was a great snuggle buddy!). And trying to train both of them simultaneously was a little hard. Gump’s personality is sweet and laid back, while Ruger is intense and focused, so this, coupled with their age and skill difference, made Gump a little ambivalent to retrieving for a time (because he would get burned every time). If Steven worked with him one-on-one, he did well, but here’s the reality– Steven had a limited amount of free time, and working with them one-on-one was hard. Gump’s obedience was decent- all pictures I have of him during those training sessions look like he’s being straight up tortured, but he still did pretty well.
So, around the time Gump was 6 months and Ruger was 11 months, we decided it might be time to get them some formal training. We sent them to a trainer that was recommended by our breeder who lives in Rockwall, a suburb of Dallas (which was semi-convenient because Steven’s brother lives near).
They started out with the basics- basic obedience. Ruger was good with this, so his was just solidified, and Gump perfected this as well. They were there for about a month and a half before we went to visit and found that Ruger’s allergies were at an all time high, and he had lost the majority of his hair on his underside and legs from scratching. We asked to take him home to get a steroid shot for treatment thinking that we would take him back, but we both knew in our hearts when we pulled back into our driveway that we couldn’t take him back. We started him on a new allergy treatment that meant he needed to stay home for monitoring, so Steven continued his training, and we left Gump with the trainer for a divide and conquer strategy.
So, from mid April to the first week in July, we would take Steven’s one day off a week to drive 2.5 hours to Dallas to work with Gump for about thirty minutes, and then drive 2.5 hours home. Sometimes we had other things going on in Dallas, so we were able to kill multiple birds with one trip, but basically if Steven had time off, we knew where we were going. We would take Ruger with us each week, and let the boys work together once Gump finished his obedience training.
At home, Steven had got Ruger to the point that he could “mark” multiple retrieves, meaning Steven would throw out several dummies, and then tell Ruger what order to pick them up in (which means Ruger has to pay attention to each of them fall and then remember where they are). The purpose of this is to direct him to a wounded bird first when they are out hunting. He will hold dummies until told to let go (even when coming out of the water– which was a challenge at first!). He is basically ready to go hunting– we’re just waiting on September 1! His one and only vice would be that he loves retrieving so much that he’s not good at sharing. He would rather go get every single bird and not let Gump get any!
Over the last few weeks, we went to Dallas and worked with Gump, but didn’t see the huge strides we were hoping for, or expecting to see. He was originally scheduled to come home at the end of July, and the trainer pushed us back a month to the end of August. This left no time to work with them together before dove season starts September 1, plus it meant another month of going to Dallas every weekend. As an upper level now, Steven has more weekends off than the previous year, but they aren’t really consecutive, so there was chance there could be a few weeks there that we wouldn’t be able to visit, which would possibly prolong things even more.
We have a few other exciting things going on around here (I promise we will share soon, just not quite yet!), so when we went to visit the weekend before last (July 8), we found ourselves debating bringing him home with us that day. Now, we are masters of split second, spur of the moment decisions. Gump himself was a spur of the moment decision- we looked in the backyard one day, said Ruger needed a brother, and we were on the waiting list for a puppy later that afternoon. Boudreaux was a spur of the moment decision– we were talking about bullmastiff puppies on New Year’s Day, googled for litters, found one, then went to pick him up. So far, we have yet to regret one of the decisions, and find that when we are discussing things like this, we know we are going to get there eventually, so we just cut out the extra time.
We had been discussing bringing him home for a little over a month, but knew the timing just wasn’t quite right. Steven was slammed working in the ICU for most of June, and we were expecting Gump to be finished with his force fetch by then, so we just held out. And then, two weeks ago, I think we just knew that the timing was right. So, he got sprung early!
We’ve had both of them home for about two weeks, and it’s been crazy, but good so far! Steven has made a lot of adjustments with how to go about Gump’s training, and has found a lot of success with these changes. Now, since coming home for just a short period of time, he is able to hang on to dummies, both on land and water, and has a real fire for retrieving that we hadn’t seen from him before. He seems to be the epitome of not doing something unless it’s fun, so Steven has worked really hard not to put too much pressure on him, and he is flourishing. In just one week at home, he went from being a little unpredictable, skittish, and scared to retrieve, to now consistently holding the bird until told to drop, finding a bird when directed to it, and staying steady until told to retrieve.
All this to say (and I know this is the WORLD’S LONGEST POST ABOUT OUR DOGS!), the boys are back and are ready to go!
We hit one little snafu in the last few weeks. The night we were leaving to go to Dallas the last time, I noticed that Ruger was lightly bleeding all over our house. Upon inspection, I found that he had a deep cut on the high pad of his front right leg (like up by his dew claw, except they’ve had those removed). When Steven got home (expecting to throw stuff in a bag and hit the road), I asked for ace bandage and once he looked at it, he said it needed stitches. At 5:15 on a Friday afternoon.
We went to the vet, and saw a fill-in vet since ours was on vacation. He recommended hydrotherapy (aka- wash it out every day), and that was it. That lasted a whole five minutes because the poor thing was bleeding everywhere! I had to take him in the next Tuesday for vaccinations, so our regular vet took him the next day, put him under, debrided and sutured it for us.
Then, this past Saturday (less than a week from Ruger’s “surgery”), Steven had Gump out at the park we always go to, swimming in the pond they always swim in. They have literally gone to that park every night this week to work one on one. At one point, Steven noticed that Gumpers was limping, and then found he had a large, deep cut up into his foot pad on his left front leg. The best we can tell, there must be broken glass along the edge of the water, and they both caught it when they were on the side they don’t usually go to.
Mind you, this is a public park, and this is a public park fishing pond. There shouldn’t be glass containers of any kind in the public park, but this was a sobering lesson for me that not everyone makes good, kind decisions, and not everyone is considerate of others, and not everyone follows the rules.
Steven brought him home immediately, and we tried to clean him up, but he was gushing blood. Luckily, we had wrapping supplies from Ruger, so we got him wrapped up and made our first (and hopefully last) trip to the Emergency Vet Hospital.
It is a good work they are doing there– they work all night and all weekend when regular vets are closed. But holy moly, their good work is NOT CHEAP. We paid over double what we paid to get Ruger sutured (which was also not cheap, but cheaper by comparison), and this was after declining a series of unnecessary bloodwork and IVs. But, we are so, so thankful for them because they took good care of him, and got him put back together. He’s been hanging out in the house the last few days with his little limping club foot, kinda loopy on pain medication. Ruger is very offended that he’s no longer the number one patient, and Steven isn’t sure what to do now that both of them need rest rather than retrieving. The good news is that everyone will still be ready to go for September 1!
And if you are still here, God bless you! You’re the real MVP! Thanks for stopping by!
Linked with Erika for Tuesday Talk!