The Reluctant Gun Dog: Part III by Benjamin H. Schleider III
Part 1 | Part 2
...Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
--Milton's Paradise Lost
The snow fell thick, heavy, and in earnest the day after Arwen arrived. I awoke early to the dampened sounds of a snowy silence and padded my way downstairs to make the morning coffee. I savored the first sip of the dark brew from richly roasted beans and had just nestled comfortably in the overstuffed sofa in our den, when I heard the first whimper -- a whimper that I knew could only have come from Arwen. I groaned inwardly. Our newest family member was protesting a long night in a new house combined with a pint-sized bladder. Instantly Door, my bride, appeared at den's entranceway, her white robe setting off perfectly the hazel blue and green of her eyes still frowzy and full of sleep. "Honey," she said with the sweetly seductive Georgia accent that, even after all of our years together, still causes my stomach to lurch and my heart to pound, "I think our littlest girl needs to go out."
Plodding up the stairs, I went to Arwen's kennel, and without thinking, opened the door. Arwen promptly flew out and peed on the floor. "Oh hell," I muttered, recognizing immediately my mistake. I should have opened the crate carefully, pulled Arwen into my arms, carried her downstairs and out the front door, and set her down in the snow covered yard to do her business. Arwen was crate-trained, but not yet house-trained. I carried Arwen outside and set her down in the snow. She immediately raced around wildly snapping up snow at every turn. Arwen was a canine front loader gouging deep trenches in the newly fallen snow, and eating such quantities of the frozen white stuff that I knew would sooner or later have to deposit outside in the form of a yellow liquid. She was eating so much snow, that I confess that I was concerned that she might freeze from the inside out, and despite my best efforts to recall her she eluded me at every turn. It was then that I remembered her infatuation with ice cubes in Tony's kitchen, a trait that bode ill for retriever training in snowy conditions.
Cornering her against the garage and a small tree, I managed to grab the squirming little cocker. As I carried Arwen back into the warmth of the house, the little cocker nuzzled my arm and licked my hand affectionately. Door met me as I came inside, her slender fingers curled around a steaming cup of coffee, and informed me that both the government and the schools had closed; a quick telephone call to my office's emergency number confirmed that atypically my company also had closed its offices for the day. The snow was accumulating quicker than the plows could remove it, and the Schleider family prepared to hunker down.
Arwen greeted me as I replaced the phone in its cradle and turned toward the tiny cocker. But it was the most unusual dog greeting I have ever seen in my life. She had firmly wedged in her mouth one of Door's house slippers, a sock, and a rubber dog bone. That alone should have given me pause. The kicker, however, was that she was moving toward me leading with both her head and butt in some sort of bizarre U-shaped movement all the while wagging her tail. It was simultaneously both endearing and acrobatic - a motion I have never seen another dog accomplish. I began to wonder if Arwen did not face more than one issue.
Arwen came to us as essentially a started gun dog. A started gun dog, contrary to the preconceptions of many, means that she had the basic elements of obedience and field training. Arwen could "hup", or sit in spaniel jargon, on command, but not hold the position very long. She could respond, but not perfectly to the recall commands of four whistle "pips" and "here". Most importantly, she was already conditioned to gunfire, introduced to game birds, had been shot over, and could accomplish basic quartering in the field. All in all, Tony had done a terrific job of putting Arwen on the path to ultimately becoming an extremely accomplished and polished finished gun dog. Starting a flushing dog requires a keenly observant eye, a gentle touch, a firm hand, and a prodigious quantity of patience. I am to be certain biased, but I think that Tony possesses these critical training skills in abundant doses. Despite her excellent start, Arwen, as any started dog, would require years of training before she could ever become a finished gun dog.
"I resolved to let her become accustomed to her new surroundings and give this retrieving thing a try again after a few days or so. Meanwhile, I would concentrate on making Arwen feel as much at home as possible, and focus on enabling her to make the transition from crate training to house training."
I thought I would take advantage of the weather to works some indoors retrieving drills with Arwen in our basement. Given that our home is located in the suburbs, I do a significant amount of training in the basement. I had a couple of small canvas covered dummies with me, and threw one ahead of her about four or five feet. At the same time I threw the dummy, I called "Arwen" as her release command. She immediately exploded in the direction of the throw, returned the dummy to me, and dropped it at my feet. I was quite pleased, and threw her another one. She went after this one with far less enthusiasm than the first throw, briefly picked up the dummy, then dropped it, and undertook to investigate her new surroundings, the little cocker's indefatigable curiosity taking overwhelming any drive to retrieve. This was not looking particularly good. Rather than press the point, I chalked it up to canine version of jet lag, and went back upstairs with Arwen dutifully in tow. I resolved to let her become accustomed to her new surroundings and give this retrieving thing a try again after a few days or so. Meanwhile, I would concentrate on making Arwen feel as much at home as possible, and focus on enabling her to make the transition from crate training to house training.
The heavy snows meant that there were chores to do, a driveway and sidewalk to be shoveled, and firewood to be hauled to the fireplace. I attacked them all with a gusto that stems from a profound sense of personal gratification that I receive from hard physical labor. Unfortunately, however, this activity invariably takes its toll on my energy reserves much to my bride's chagrin. Exhausted from shoveling quantities wet, heavy snow from our driveway and sidewalk, tired from a taxing work week, and frustrated from my lack of success with Arwen, I treated myself to a well deserved little nap. Stretched out on the bed lying on my back with fingers interlaced behind my head, I was soon sleeping soundly. I could not have been long asleep, when suddenly in the dark recesses of my subconscious and in the midst of serious dreaming, I heard scrabbling on the carpeted stairs. I struggled to open my eyes, and as they opened blearily, I saw a white streak airborne and heading in my direction. Fantasy-like, the white object's back legs seemed to morph into horizontal stabilizers while the tail took shape as a vertical stabilizer. I swear I could almost read "Air Arwen" emblazoned on her flanks that took on the shape of a fuselage as the aircraft-like missile descended upon me. She touched down with a perfect two-point landing solidly on the essence of my manhood. Instantly, I doubled up drawing my knees to my chin as waves of pain and nausea swept over me. Completely incapacitated, I rolled on the bed as Arwen proceeded to lick the inside of my ears, mouth, and nostrils, giving each a thorough cleaning. Finally, I recovered sufficiently to manage to push her to the side. Still gasping for breath, I was able to manage through clenched teeth a hoarse cry of "Door! Help me!" Magically Door appeared at my bedside more than a little worried, and asked what the matter was. "Dammit Door", I exclaimed, "this blinking dog is trying to neuter me." It took Door a full ten minutes to stop laughing sufficiently to attend to my wounded ego. Arwen had made a first strike.
Author's note: this is the third installment in a series of articles that chronicle the development of a young, head strong, intelligent, but quirky English cocker spaniel.
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Chip Schleider is an avid amateur spaniel trainer and upland game hunter. He owns two English cocker spaniels. Chip is a marketing executive for a large aerospace company, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with a doctorate in international studies from the University of South Carolina. He lives with his wife Door and two of his gun dogs, Jazz and Arwen, in Great Falls, Virginia. Christian his is oldest son, is an Army Captain and an Apache helicopter pilot. His Alexander, his youngest son, is an Army Second Lieutenant and a Field Artillery Fire Support Officer. Both are stationed in Germany.
Chip is the co-author with Tony Roettger of Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field - copies of which can be purchased through the Spaniel Journal Bookstore. In addition, their most recent book, A Field Guide to Retriever Drills, was published in March 2008. He also writes frequently for journals catering to gun dog training.