When my 8-week-old puppy comes home in a few days, I will have Brittany dogs in all four seasons of a bird dog’s life.
The puppy — which I have been referring to as Little Miss What’s Her Name — will be in the spring of a bird dog’s life. That’s when everything is new and young and possibilities abound. It’s the time for learning and discovering.
This is a special stage. It’s a chance for me as a bird dog owner to start over again — to take all I’ve learned until now and pour it into this young dog. Training mistakes I’ve made on the other dogs and training I wish I had done can all be pulled up and re-examined as this new blank slate of a puppy joins the pack.
It is important to let puppies be puppies in the early weeks, but it’s a time to teach essential lessons, such as proper bathroom habits and manners, among other skills.
This is when I dig out all of my training books, plus “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by the Monks of New Skete and “Puppies for Dummies” by Sarah Hodgson, to bone up on what I have read many times before but may have forgotten.
I always treasure these first few months because in the blink of an eye, I have a rebellious teenager on my hands. All of the lessons learned so quickly as a young pup seem to be forgotten overnight. It’s a difficult time in puppy development but we always work through it.
Quincy, at 5 years old, is in the summer of life. He has left the carelessness of youth behind him — most of the time — and is embracing maturity in his endeavors. He has become a serious hunting dog, is a faithful companion and is interested in every aspect of my activities.
I cannot make a move without Quincy “helping” me. From laundry to cleaning up poop in the dogs’ fenced area outdoors and everything in between, he is right there. Quincy on the spot.
At this stage, Quincy still has a lot of energy that needs to be channeled, so I am always looking for ways to keep him busy. Bird training season helps, as does hunting season and bird dog hunting types of competitions. But he enjoys swimming, agility lessons and family walks, too.
I also dig out the training books for a dog Quincy’s age. He has some skills down pat, but there are others — such as the retrieve — that need quite a bit of work. I am fortunate he still likes to learn.
Bullet, at 10 years old, is in the autumn of life. His prime years are behind him, but he still has energy and agility and likes to play and learn. He is a stalwart hunter — a gentleman’s close-working hunting dog with excellent field manners and skills — and I can rely on his ability to find birds and follow the rules of the hunt and the household.
He no longer competes because he doesn’t like it, but he loves to hunt with me. He and I spend hours together in the woods and fields during hunting season. Just a quick mental tune-up at the beginning of the season with Bullet to remind him of the finer points of being a finished gun dog and he is ready to go.
Sassy, at almost 13, is in the winter of life. She’s past prime for all endeavors. She is past much participation, except for an occasional energy spurt and hunting for birds along forest edges from the end of a check cord. She’s past caring that I’m calling her name or the ability to see well in fading light. And she’s certainly past the tethers of obedience or whistle.
Sassy sleeps a lot and then participates with the rest of us when she can. Once in a while, my friends and I plant a bird for her to find while she’s attached to a check cord and she feels like she’s still on top of her game.
Although her limbs, eyes and ears are not functioning correctly, there is nothing wrong with Sassy’s nose.
Senior dogs are special, and the ones that have had a wonderful life doing what they enjoy are content to be senior. No training books are necessary at this stage, just patience for reversion to some puppy-like behaviors, gentleness for a body that may be brittle with age and appreciation for a life well lived.
My job at this point is to make sure Sassy is comfortable and has good quality of life. Dogs rarely just die from old age and therefore it likely will be up to me to decide when it’s that time. Even as I know the day is coming, I treasure each positive moment with this Brittany girl I have raised, trained, lived with and loved for so long.
All too soon, winter will end and it will be time for spring again. I love all of the seasons for what each one offers, and appreciate the special bonds I have with my Brittany dogs, whose two favorite things are to hunt birds and to belong to me.
I may not be deserving of their devotion, but I certainly love the life I have built with these magnificent animals.
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.