By Bill Dove
Owner, and operator of Lonesome Dove’s Kennel, Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada

On a hunting trip recently to a prairie region of Alberta, a western province of Canada I made some new friends while pheasant hunting with my Small Munsterlander Bo. While crossing an open field one morning with Bo at heel we saw two hunters following a Black Lab heading towards us. Before we all had a chance to meet, a pair of hunters about 1/8 of a mile to my right put up a cock pheasant that appeared to elude their shots and flew between myself and the Lab party about fifty feet in the air and proceed to land a hundred or so yards to my left near some cover. Then I watched it run for 30 or so yards parallel to the cover before he disappeared from my view. Bo and I then heard the hunters (I later learned were David and his Canadian Field Champion Lab Blue and Mike) talking about where the pheasant had run and David was preparing to send Blue. Now I had never see a champion retriever and handler do “their thing” live. I have caught short clips on TV showing some retriever trials and I own a few retriever training books in my dog library. But now this highly specialized team was performing live for Bo’s and my pleasure. Performing as a choreographed team. There was the team leader with movements that would rival the most skilled Singapore Traffic cop and his amazingly obedient Blue dancing as if on a string controlled by the “cop”. David whistled, Blue spun and sat, arms motioned right, left or back and Blue ran right, left or back. The conductor and the orchestra were one and the music was sweet to my eyes. However, as the music played on and on it appeared the bird was not to be found. David put voice to his disappointment and frustration by announcing to Mike and myself (who was now standing at Mike’s side with Bo sitting between us) that the bird must be gone. Now I was still in awe of the display of obedience I had just witnessed but Bo was sensing something different. Bo wasn’t a Canadian Field Champion anything but he did have a NAVHDA Utility Prize I plaque hanging around his kennel somewhere and had several years in the field and marsh under his collar. I could sense his desire to show his stuff. I asked David if he was certain the bird wasn’t there if he would mind calling in his dog. For the first time I saw a competitive smirk on David’s face followed by the statement “The birds not there”. Now I don’t like to back down from a challenge like that so when Blue came in to David’s side I calmly stated I just wanted to show them a different way of dealing with this situation. I had confidence in the fact that Bo saw the pheasant flying, landing and running and that he had marked the location. Bo was simply tapped on the head (his touch release command) and told fetch. Off he ran at full speed like a stallion out of the gate. This was the world he loved and the world I had spent countless hours preparing him for and making sure he always had something to “find” if sent to search or fetch. Bo ran to the location Blue had just left and spent a moment or two working out the route the pheasant had used to escape. With a quick spin of about 30 degrees he was off at full speed on a tangent that was about 60 yards long and he slammed into a point. I glanced at David and Mike with I’m sure must have been a smile and calmly said, “There’s your bird”. We briskly walked towards Bo’s indicated location and found the pheasant about 20 yards in front of Bo in a small depression in the field. I flushed the bird, waited as it broke downwind then dispatched him and sent Bo for the retrieve. Upon inspection of the delivered bird we concluded that the bird was hit by one of the original shots fired at it but never did get a chance to discuss this with those hunters as they did not pursue the bird, possible after they saw us. Now in the conversation that us humans had after the retrieve I made certain that David was aware that I didn’t believe Bo was a better dog than Blue or I was a better trainer than David. That was not the point of my conversation or this true story. The point I wanted to make was tests and competitions are means to instil skills in our dogs that may be valuable in the hunting situation but in the hunting situation we need to trust our dogs more often. I have no doubt that Blue would have found that bird but David was controlling his nose and stopped Blue from going in any direction without his permission. The five of us actually spent the next 3 days hunting together along with several of my other Small Munsterlanders. David was able to get his first Hungarian Partridge under Coco (one of my female SM) and Mike got his first Snow Goose. I learned more about training blind retrieves and Bo and Blue just had fun.

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Updated 4th Oct 2002