For the first time in my life, I was sleeping with a dog. Granted the dog was a six and a half week old puppy, barely large enough to fill the palms of both my hands. Also, I had drawn the line at bringing it into my bed. If it needed me during the middle of the night for comfort, we slept on the couch, with it snuggled on my chest. Sometimes it was the only way I was going to get some rest.
The momma dog had had 14 puppies, but had stopped nursing them cold turkey when they were five and a half weeks old. When we saw her, she was still ribs-showing skinny. She walked through while the puppies were loose and the 10 puppies still at home tried to mob her. She was frantic to get away from them. Fortunately, all of the puppies had taken well to eating dog food and drinking water. Several had found homes already.
My husband had decided he was interested in a bird dog after seeing a friend’s huge black lab in action the previous season. This 9-year-old dog, Onyx, had been adopted by his friend after being someone else’s bird dog. Onyx would launch himself off of my husband’s boat before a felled duck or goose had hit the water. He didn’t care what the temperature was or if there was snow to be tromped through. He was fulfilling his heart’s desire and retrieving birds.
Prior to that, my husband had mostly done deer and elk hunting, with a little bird hunting here and there. Then, this last year, he found that bird hunting, and specifically duck hunting, was both easier on the schedule and more fun in some ways. Bird hunting was more available over a longer period of time and it wasn’t over after one success.
With the help of Onyx, we had a succession of dinners consisting of quail, goose, and duck. Since my husband is a good cook and he wanted me to be happy with the options, he fixed everything from stir-fried goose to cream of quail soup. Most of it was quite tasty.
When he began researching bird dogs, he narrowed it down to several criteria for choosing a breed:
- Good with children (we have several grandkids)
- Considered interested in bonding with people
- Known to have strong retriever instincts
- Commonly trained as a bird dog
- Type he was familiar with (he didn’t want to be second guessing breed quirks with his first bird dog)
- Short hair
- Available locally
- Not too expensive
The next thing I knew I was out shopping for puppies! We chose three sellers with puppies ready to go and within a two-hour drive of our home. The first stop was to see 9-week old silver lab pups with pedigree papers claiming hunting dog parentage.
This was the saddest place we went. The house reeked of animal urine. The small front living room was bare except for a thin indoor-outdoor carpet that was saturated and squishy to walk on. Dogs were barking behind the two doors that came off of this room.
The seller brought in a large plastic bin stuffed full of chubby puppies into the room, which was not a big deal, except that the puppies seemed so docile and scared. When we asked if we could see the parents, which were behind those other doors, the seller couldn’t even open a door because she said we risked being overrun by one particular dog. She seemed embarrassed and defensive at the same time. Lessons emphasized:
- Buy puppies from a clean environment and with good social interactions for the dogs
- Don’t be pressured by high-handed comments by the seller
While there was one part of me that wanted to save all the puppies, I was concerned about disease from that sort of environment and they were on the expensive side. Then, in the car, my husband told me of reading how if puppies have the run of a house like that, it can be nearly impossible to house break them. We headed for the next seller.
This family was a breath of fresh air in every sense! The puppies were obviously cared for by the whole family, which included a few older teenagers. Those kids cheerfully helped corral all the females into the garage for us to play with them a bit. They were a hoot! They were friendly! They came to be petted and play and seemed very healthy. They were about half the cost of the first puppies. The main drawback was that they were 10 weeks old and we thought we would like to get a puppy just a couple of weeks younger. My husband had read that between 8 and 10 weeks was thought to be an important bonding time for a puppy. Lessons emphasized:
- Don’t get pressured into buying before you have seen all you want to see
- Good puppies don’t need to come from professional breeders
- Price doesn’t always indicate quality
- Seeing at least the mother is helpful in anticipating full size
Feeling a little like the Goldilocks of puppy shopping, I crocheted in the car as we drove out to house number three. I think we both knew this was the most likely litter for us, but we weren’t set on buying that day. Not until we saw Boo.
Boo, as we would decide later to call her, was the spunkiest of the puppies. They were all balls of energy and would come to lick our hands or chase a small ball that was tossed. But Boo stood in the middle of the kitchen floor and growled while she wagged her tail with vigor.
At first, we couldn’t tell if she was scared or being aggressive, but when we each took turns holding her, she was happy to be held. It seemed she was just the more vocal of the group. To this day, she growls ferociously when going down our stairs in the house. However, she is not a barker or whiner in general.
There were other factors in favor of any of these puppies. Both of their parents were right there and were very friendly. The parents were also hunting dogs for the owners, who went out with them regularly. These puppies were young enough to give us some purported advantages of early training. The icing on the cake was that they were a fraction of the price of the first puppies and half the price of the second ones. We laughed a bit nervously when the owners offered to sell us all of them. For a minute I thought the wife was going to say it was all or none! Lessons emphasized:
- Pedigree papers are not crucial for a personal hunting dog
- No papers should mean less expensive
- History of the parent dog(s) hunting is helpful
- Seeing the puppies interact with each other and other adult dogs is instructive
- Younger, smaller puppies are easier to hold!
Taking Boo Home
For all Boo’s spunk in the familiar kitchen, she trembled in my arms for the first part of the drive home. Finally, she fell asleep and I felt quite relieved. While she slept, my husband and I quietly talked about the fact that we really didn’t have what we needed at home for her. Sure, we had an older dog, but this baby needed a small kennel, a tiny collar, and a personal chew toy. We had just enough time to stop by D&B Supply before they closed on that Sunday evening.
Of course, Boo was quite popular inside the store. She made all the employees and other shoppers feel accepted. That’s a lab for you.
My husband vetoed a few things I was sure we needed for her. Partly, the engineer in him wants a chance to problem solve some first. Partly, I was a little carried away with my new responsibility. But we got the basics and the vigil of house-training, kennel training, and socializing with the big dog began. And that will be in the next chapter.