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John DeMott and Spitfire in 1983.

As a rule, I did not formally teach young dogs to do blind retrieves - unless I was finishing off a dog that was to be a gundog only. I always wanted a dog that would sort things out as independently as possible. I saw that dogs that had a lot of formal work on taking lines for blind retrieves would often look to the handler for directions when a bird was not found. This was certainly not what was wanted in trial dogs in North America. Besides that, I often would not know exactly where birds were to retrieve. Most of the guns could only give a general direction of where their birds fell. After a drive, I would send a dog off in the general direction of a bird. If they didn't go far enough, I would walk up and push them on again. The dogs soon learned to take simple lines without becoming too dependent on me. Spitfire soon could easily take lines of 20 to 30 yards. In most cases, this was all that was needed.

It was at the beginning of her second full season that her expertise at taking lines changed greatly in magnitude. We had a father and son come the first of September to have a few days of walking up native partridge, hares, and a bit of wildfowl shooting. We had the good fortune of having access to some stubble fields on a farm, just a few miles away, where geese were flighting to feed. The farm bordered a large reservoir that was more than a few miles long and about a mile across. It was a pleasant, late afternoon when geese began pouring into the field. During the excitement, the young boy hit a goose heavily in the body. It peeled off from the group and headed towards the reservoir. We didn't see it come down, but knew it must have been mortally wounded. Normally I would have gone after this goose right away, but geese were coming in so quickly that I couldn't. At one stage, I could see three groups of geese in the distance flying towards the field. In the opposite direction, I could see three groups flying away after having been shot at. It was a spectacular sight that I haven't seen since.

About 30 minutes after we saw the wounded goose peel off towards the reservoir, Spitfire, the young boy, and I headed in the direction we last saw the goose. The water was a few hundred yards away. When we got to the shore, there was a man fishing. He said he had seen a goose come down into the water in front of him. The breeze was blowing down and across the reservoir. We headed in the direction that the fisherman said he had last saw the goose. We found another fisherman who had seen the goose and headed in the direction that he last saw it. Some further distance along the shore, I finally saw something floating towards the middle of the water. It was only a speck in the water, but I figured it must have been the goose as nothing else could be seen on the water. The boy suggested that he would swim out and get it. As I didn't want to be coming back with no goose and no boy, I quickly told him to go back to his father in case any more geese came.

"I have always felt that Spitfire taught me far more about what a Spaniel could do than I ever taught her what a spaniel should do."

I would try to get the goose with Spitfire. I didn't think that I had a hope in hell of getting that goose, but had to make it look like I was trying. I told Spitfire to "go back". She jumped into the water, swam about 30 yards, and started to circle - as she had done before on many duck flights. I shouted, "go back" several times. Suddenly Spitfire stopped circling and headed across the reservoir. I kept shouting, "go back" and Spitfire kept going in a straight line across the reservoir. She took a perfect line to reach the speck floating in the water. I would have liked to know how far Spitfire swam that day, but it is difficult to estimate distances across large bodies of water. I know that Spitfire was a powerful, fast swimmer and it took several minutes for her to get out there. It looked like she would have swam to the far shore if she had to that day. I would guess she swam 400 - perhaps as much as 800 - yards. As Spitfire was approaching the speck, I hoped it was the goose and not some debris floating in the water. I saw her lunge towards the speck. I then knew it was the goose. Eventually she got back to shore with a Canada goose that seemed to be as big as she was. It was by far the longest water retrieve I have ever seen a dog make. She never was required to make a retrieve like that again. Since previously, Spitfire had only made blind retrieves of 30 or 40 yards at the most, and she had no experience in swimming across large bodies of water, I found the completion of this retrieve unbelievable. This was the first time she showed me that what I thought to be impossible was not impossible for her. Spitfire seemed to have the ability to figure out how to do things, without being taught how to do it.

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