Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Too much drive or too little sense?

Heidi and me in the Pease River bottom in 1992. She's wearing her "It's Hell Being a Bird Dog" expression while I pull off her boots after a morning hunt. Some years, the river bottom is a carpet of sand burs. (Photo by Brad Carter)
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Patrick's blog about hard and soft dogs in general and his beloved Trooper in particular really struck home. In regard to working terriers, Patrick describes a hard dog as one that goes in teeth first and never backs up regardless of quarry or conditions. A soft dog, on the other hand, usually locates and bays the quarry until the hunter can use his tools to extract and dispatch it. Not surprisingly, over the course of a long field career, the hard dog suffers more damage than his softer counterparts.
Expanding on Patrick's description, I might call Maggie a hard dog. She descends from big-running field trial stock, and, true to her lineage, she's a very fast, wide-ranging slasher with near-maniacal prey drive. Yet she's fairly easy to handle, because she likes to stay out in front. You won't win a field trial with a dog that casts out and comes around behind you, no matter how many birds he finds. I have little doubt that if a skillful handler campaigned Maggs on the field trial circuit, she'd be competitive. She's a stylish blur, just what judges are looking for.
And she has spent much of her career sidelined by injuries. Unlike her Aunt Molly, a sturdy 55- pound thoroughbred out of the same bloodline, Maggs is a very delicate 42-pounder. Even though West Texas quail country punishes her body, she knows only one speed and one way. Hit the shin oak motte at full tilt; dive off of the 6-foot bank; run flat out over the roughest, rockiest, most broken terrain imaginable.
So she tears up a knee, and the doc orders a month-long break in the middle of quail season. The next year, it's a badly strained ligament in her paw. Two weeks of crate rest followed by a month of only light exercise. I could go on. She re-injured her paw early this season, but seems to have recovered. Still, I'm waiting for the next blown knee or serious gash.
Heidi, on the other hand, came from a solid but undistinguished line of gun dogs. Oh, there were field champions way back there, but she wouldn't have gotten a second look from a field trial judge. Yet she took a sensible approach to her job. Instead of running flat out, she covered her ground at a comfortable lope. Yes, she'd sometimes get out a quarter of a mile or so, and she'd swing around and nail a covey two hundred yards behind me, but she slowed down when she needed to and understood that it's best to ease into a plum thicket. As a result, she could hunt two long days in a row or several consecutive half-days, all season long.
Yes, we gun dog lovers owe much to the field trial folks. We have better dogs today because of competition and testing. But a field trial heat typically lasts 30 minutes and is likely to be held on fairly open, gentle ground so that judges and handlers can see the dogs.
I love hunting with Maggie. With her big heart and sweet nature, she'll always be one of my favorites. But I'll think long and hard before buying another pointing dog pup sired by a field trial champion.

1 comment:

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I did so love my Jolie for that. She placed in her second field trial-- with her handler (that being me!) riding a horse for the second time in her life. (the first time being the Britt's first field trial where she let the boy dog she was running with distract her)

That dog was pure gold, but her hard ways and wild soul are surely why she isnt' with me anymore. Ask the Bodios-- she ran with the Tazis, cut herself wide open on a piece of glass and never stopped running. An amazing little girl.

It's a trade-off sometimes, I suppose. Like a falcon-- the talented ones, the ones with fire can surely meet bad ends. It's worth the heartache to share your life with such passion, if only for a brief while.