Defining a “good bird dog” is complicated. What makes a good bird dog for me may not make a good one for you.
For me, a good bird dog has energy, intelligence and drive. She is trainable and has natural instinct. She has the correct structure needed for her to have endurance and agility in the field and woods. She is a trusted companion for hunting and for everyday life. And she likes affection.
My good bird dog’s favorite pastime is hunting, although she likes to do other activities with me as well — from recreational walks to fast-paced dog sports to snuggling under a blanket in the recliner with me.
She is part of the family and lives in the house. She sleeps in my bedroom. Her primary relationship is with me, but she also has relationships with the people closest to me.
You may wonder why I’m bringing this up now. It’s simple. I am waiting for a puppy from a Brittany litter of five boys and four girls born on St. Patrick’s Day.
Looking at a video taken of the whelping box confining nine neonatal puppies squirming around deaf and blind to the world — eyes and ears do not open until several days after birth — I wonder which one will come home with me. And how does one choose?
There is some information in the early stages of life in the big world. Some puppies have a lot to say and vocalize. Others always win the battle of the best spots at the “milk bar.” And it seems like some are always on the move.
Although interesting, most of that information can be tucked away in the back of your mind and its pertinence measured later as the puppies grow and their personalities emerge.
Sometimes I do not have a gender preference when choosing a puppy, but I do this time. I need to think about the health of the rest of my pack, which consists of an aged female, an aging male and a male in his prime. Knowing what I do about each existing member of my pack, I have decided another female is most likely to maintain pack balance.
That narrows it down to four.
This is really the only decision I can make at this point, until the puppies start walking around and interacting with each other after their eyes and ears are open and they are steady on their feet.
Littermates establish hierarchy within the litter, and their reactions to different stimuli such as sudden loud noises and a bird wing can tell you a lot about their future adult tendencies. Final decisions should wait until the pups are at least six or seven weeks old — and in some litters even older. By this time, the pups’ personalities are developed enough to determine if they are good fits with the potential owners’ expectations.
Right now, there are things I like about all four of the girls. They are all active, sweet (what baby isn’t?) and beautifully marked. A couple seem a little more independent than the other two, but we will see. It’s too soon to make those judgments.
Whatever pup I choose, she is already family. My Brittany Bullet is her grandfather; Quincy is her second cousin; and Sassy is her great aunt.
Meanwhile, I have begun to prepare for a new baby in the house. I am:
1. Digging out and sanitizing the small crate I use for very young pups. She will be in her adult crate not too long after coming home, but the smaller crate is more reassuring for the first weeks. Also, there will be no room for the puppy to establish a bathroom area in the smaller crate, as she possibly would in a larger one. If I have a larger crate, I fill one end of it with something such as a box.
2. Gathering up the child gates from their storage places to be used to confine the puppy to certain areas of the house that are easy to keep clean while she is being housebroken.
3. Cleaning out the dog toy boxes of things that could be choking hazards or have outlived their usefulness. I do this occasionally anyway for the adult dogs.
4. Making sure there are plastic guards inserted into outlets and there is a system for keeping the puppy out of the cabinet where I keep household cleaners.
5. Checking the dogs’ fenced area for gaps or holes near the edges that could be escape routes for a young pup.
6. Unpacking puppy-weight long lines and other puppy-sized equipment carefully tucked away after Quincy outgrew them.
7. Making a list of what I need to buy — new crate bedding and that special soft toy she will sleep with as a young pup and that will be hers alone for the rest of her life. And puppy toys and food of course.
I’m sure all of my pack will help me teach our new puppy the ropes of living in Hermon. Come to think of it, that may not be a good thing.
Julie Murchison Harris is community editor at the Bangor Daily News. She is widowed and shares her life with three Brittanys: Sassy, 12, Bullet, 10, and Quincy, 4 — in an old farmhouse in Hermon. “It’s a Bird Dog’s Life” is published every two weeks.