It's Not All About the Puppy Breath (Pt. 1)
Gracie's Journey, Part I
"Want a dog?" my husband had asked me one day. This was not a question that I had not heard before. The only difference was that he meant now as opposed to later. We had discussed getting another one at some point but had always felt that the timing wasn't right. His work schedule took him away from home three weeks at a time and my job took me out of town three days every week. We felt that the dog would not be getting adequate care and even though we lived on the lake, our yard was not fenced in so we had no way of maintaining control. It's when you've lost control that bad things start to happen. My husband is an avid duck hunter so his dream has always been to get a hunting dog. I won't hold him back but I can't help but think that he hasn't thought this thing through. You see, I am not a hunter. I do not understand the concept between the dog, the birds, or the theory behind the combination of the two but according to my husband, this pup was coming from what people would consider a good blood-lined dog which meant that this puppy came from top-of-the-line parents and that made her a prospect of becoming a good hunting dog as well. He felt the investment would be worth it. Who was I to say no? All I was seeing was a new puppy. My husband's reasons were nothing more than a blob in the back of my head.
Don't let this 'CUTE' face fool you.
We named her Gracie, AKC and UKC name "Saving Denny's Grace." I loved her from the moment that I met her. She had all the qualities that you would expect a puppy to have. The puppy breath, the clumsiness, the curiosity of everything around her and those invisible butterflies that would distract her at any given moment. I loved them all and yet no amount of cuteness would ever prepare me for what would someday come. I knew that her days were numbered. She had a job to do and someday we would have to send her away to her trainer. My job was to make sure that she got to enjoy those puppy moments before her work began. There was no denying that she was a daddy's girl from day one. There was nothing that this puppy would not do to please him. She had his heart in the palm of her paws. The mom, meaning me, was pushed to the limits. I was tested daily, ignored more often than listened to, and she made sure that I knew who was in charge. I was constantly on my toes and on high alert because as time went on, she got bigger and with size came speed. What once began as quick races to catch up to her soon turned into full fledge sprints. It didn't take her but a few weeks to turn into "HELL" on four legs with a cute face. Don't get me wrong, she had her moments. At the end of her day, she turned into my "CUDDLEBUG." She was and still is a happy puppy and just loves people in general. She is a meeter and greeter and just adores everyone that she comes in contact with.
Lead training begins.
I am not new to puppies and how to train them, however, training a hunting dog takes a different technique that I know nothing about. It involved structured commands along with a whistle. I know that her future trainer will eventually teach her bigger and better things but my job was to teach her the basics. Obedience is crucial to a puppy's development. It teaches them boundaries and grows that relationship between the alpha person and the dog. The hard part is trying to balance the two when this little bundle of cuteness knows that Dad is the coach and Mommy is nothing more than just a member of the team. I was getting frustrated because all I was doing was chasing my tail. My patience was tested every single day and I felt defeated every single night. I kept thinking: how could something so cute drive you to the point of insanity? That was when I was told to get a long lead, roughly 30 feet and preferably a ski rope. It was light enough for the puppy to drag it around, yet it couldn't get tangled up in things. The goal here was to be able to maintain control by using it to my advantage. When the puppy takes off, you have just enough feed to run up on it to step on it while commanding the word "NO." There were a few airborne moments but it didn't take her long to figure out what that lead was all about. "NO" became a word that she quickly came to understand. That became the best advice that I had ever gotten. That lead became my best friend and I made sure she never left home without it. After a while, the need for the lead became less frequent.
As she's gets older, the days are getting shorter and we soon realize that in another month, we will be sending her off to a trainer for four months. A lot of scenarios cross your mind when you come to realize that her journey is about to begin. For example, we all know that she will not be the same puppy when she returns and the question that will continually lie in the back of my mind is: will she even remember me when she does get to come home? One of the things that I enjoy about a puppy is watching them grow and become their own little furry person. She was just developing her personality and becoming really fun to hang out with. Her most passionate thing to do was swim, of course—all labs do but she also enjoyed her evening cruises on the boat as well. That became a daily ritual for us. My goal is to keep her reality real before the training begins. What happened next changed all of that for me.
Enjoying a Ride on the Boat
I am all about the puppy and enjoying all of those moments; however, I am constantly being ridiculed for not knowing the process. I guess a bird dog needs what the hunter calls "that drive." She has to want it. My husband felt like she didn't have it. To him, she was a lazy hunter. She was stubborn, she didn't like her training sessions, and she lacked focus. To me, she was just a 4-month-old puppy being pushed too hard. That was when the pigeons came in. Don't worry, no pigeons were hurt during this field trial. In fact, I let them go when their wings grew back. I still see them flying around today. The goal here is to let the pigeon go while the puppy chases it and catches it. It took only two tries before her whole personality changed. Had I not seen it myself, I wouldn't have believed it. I soon knew what everyone was talking about. Gracie had changed. I saw a side of Gracie that I had never seen before. She was so driven that she would have done anything for her training dummy, including jumping off the pier into the lake. That was when I knew that my baby girl would not be coming back the same way she left. I needed to enjoy these last two weeks because this was it.
A Short Time After the Pigeons
The time has come. We finally got that phone call and today is the day. Our last day together. Tomorrow she will begin what she was destined to do. It is a little bit hard for me to take in and sad at the same time. As I write this, she is into her second month of training. Although we can't bring her home, we were able to visit and watch a session. She is different but I still saw her good qualities—her zest for people and her loving heart. She still loves to please. She has blossomed, matured, and grown into a beautiful puppy. It was good to see how much she has progressed and how much her hard work has paid off. Did she remember me? She was in work mode the whole time that I was there so she was focused; however, when training was over and it was time to play, it wasn't until I said her name that she knew it was me. That made me smile.