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Rounding the Corner.

THE MIXED FLOCK of plumed-out late season gadwall and wigeon swung for the last time, cupped, dropping into the deep trench of the seep ditch. We started knocking down birds, dropping four clean. The water was tight but the deep brush vast; I knew there would be a hunt after the hunt in the thick willows studded with pointed beaver-cut punji sticks waiting to stab feet. Wind-blown tumbleweeds filled the rest of the ditch Velcro-tight.

The sides were 20-plus feet of vertical. I looked for a way to climb down the other side to help Luna, my yearling Lab. But she was already at the bottom, bulldozing around. She brought the first two all the way to hand, and plunged back. I assumed the youngster would need help and skidded down the dirt walls on my butt, heels dug, trying not to fall. I should've waited.

"She's got another one!" yelled my brother-in-law as she emerged from brush too dense for humans to penetrate. A bull gaddy, then a wigeon, Luna blasting through ice with zeal. Darren was tickled, having seen her grow up, and today, arrive. My heart pounded with pride and a little surprise. A travelling editor with three young kids, I'd never trained her beyond basics. Meat dog. The year prior, she was timid with cold water and cripples. On a local pigeon shoot, she'd lost interest on a day I'd hope she'd get 100 retrieves.

Tom Dokken smiled when I told him about that pigeon hunt over dinner at SHOT. "You overwhelmed her," he said. "First hunts, have someone else shoot and you just focus on the dog, shoot just a few, then put the dog away to keep their interest high." The pigeon hunt was too much.

Day to day, my bigger issue is that Luna is wound tight as a logging cable, chews like a beaver, and gets so ramped up she'll snarl her lips back before jumping in the house. She was built to be a ballistic retrieving machine, a guide's dog, and without sufficient outlet for her high-octane heart, she is a handful. I hadn't much thought about temperament prior to getting her. Like any hunter, I just wanted a powerhouse Lab that'd burn a roostertail across sheet water while breaking skim ice. With dozens of field trial victories in her British lineage, she is exactly that (ColMorg Kennels, if you need--and can handle--a bad-ass retrieving machine). She doesn't whine, she's tireless, incredible nose, steady, a flashy hunter and as trainable and eager as they come.

But most of us honestly need a dog who can do two-dozen retrieves, then chill out with the kids. I got the familiar call recently while at SHOT Show.

"Luna just blew through the door," said my wife Breezy. "She knocked over Loch (my 1-year-old) blasted over Rori (3-year-old), tore across the carpet and up the stairs, scratched the hardwood floors .. .it's so hard when you're gone."

A gorgeous over-energized cheerleader on Red Bull, this dog. Yet she comes in my office and flops, snoring. My trainer buddy says the spasticity is all anxiety. She's a spun-up racehorse on Derby day, not a dude-ranch trail-ride horse.

Help is on the way, a new dog product aimed at chilling out pups like Luna. Karl Gunzer with Purina says Calm Care probiotic supplement targets dog anxiety (review coming). I love Luna, and know she'll mellow with age. But if a supplement can help chill her grits a bit in the interim, I'm in. If not, I'll be spending it to get my wife some calming meds of her own.

We had some glorious days this year and it is always a huge moment when a pup rounds the corner to real gun dog status, be it a racehorse guide dog running 60 days a season ... or just an under-trained yearling whose instincts take over one day in a treacherous seep ditch.--Skip.Knowles@outdoorsg.com
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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S CALL
Author:Knowles, Skip
Publication:Wildfowl
Date:Mar 16, 2019
Words:657
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