Thankful for Those Little Brown Dogs with Hard Heads & Loving Dispositions
Jameson Earns His AKC Junior Hunter Title!
Note: This article ran Nov. 22, 2018 in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper.
My nearly two-year-old Boykin spaniel Jameson is now, officially, a canine with a title. Yes, he is forever enshrined in the AKC record books as a “Junior Hunter.”
I’ve always called him by another title, “Sir Marks-a-Lot,” due to his propensity to pee anywhere he smells another dog, just letting them know he fancies himself the alpha male, the cock-of-the-walk. Uh, word of advice to the nice folks running the Back Bay-Knotts Island Retriever Club’s hunt tests in Goldvein, Virginia, last Saturday: you may want to hose off those staging blinds before storing them. Sir Marks-a-Lot of Pine Knot Manor certainly gave most of them a dose.
For those who aren’t read into the world of retrieving dogs and the many tests and trials they
are eligible to compete in, “Junior Hunter” means Jamey has good, basic skills at finding downed ducks on both land and water, can retrieve and bring the bird back to whomever is handling him. The key is “delivering it to hand.” He can’t drop it at your feet or somewhere close by. If he’s wet from swimming, he can drop the duck and shake off the water once he hits dry land, but must pick it back up and deliver it, even if you’re three feet away.
My pup has been a road warrior this fall, traveling to various hunt tests run by AKC-affiliated retriever clubs. He’s often the only Boykin in fields of more than 100 dogs, dominated by Labrador, Chesapeake and Golden Retrievers.
Dogs must pass four tests to get the junior hunter rating. He failed his first test at an event in Emporia, Virginia. He was one of the later dogs to run in the test. By the time it was his turn, the scent of duck in the field was overwhelming to his sensitive canine nose. He stopped at the first place he smelled a duck and looked diligently for the bird there. He took too long. “Fail,” said the judge.
Neil Selby, owner of Shady Grove Kennel in Remington, Virginia, is one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most accomplished retriever trainers. He has worked masterfully with Jamey off and on since the late spring. Selby handled him in his junior tests, two of which occurred while I was away on business, meaning hunting trips.
Jamey has a good pedigree, with several accomplished hunters in his lineage. He’s a typical spaniel. He’s sensitive, yet fearless. He has no compunction about charging headfirst through shrubs if it’s the shortest route to a marked bird or retrieving dummy. He’s intelligent and wants to be everybody’s best buddy. He swims like a 50-pound version of Michael Phelps.
When it’s time to fetch, Jamey becomes, simultaneously, Mr. Enthusiasm and Mr. Intensity. His eyes laser in on the Dokken retrieving dummy we use at home during training. His body becomes a coiled spring, ready to charge at the command, “Fetch.” I was amazed that, when he was just a young puppy, he seemed to instinctively want to work with me when I’d give him hand signals to direct him to his mark. We work on a few retrieves every day when I'm home.
Jamey also has a bit of classic spaniel attitude. These dogs are smart and often think they have a better idea about how to accomplish things you want done.
An example came during Saturday’s hunt tests. The water tests took place in two ponds, one only a couple acres in size. Once ready, the test administrators blow a duck call, toss a dead duck into the air and fire a blank in a shotgun. The dogs must make two successful retrieves in the pond. On one toss, the bird splashed in about 10 yards from the pond’s closest edge. Jamey could have jumped in and swam the straight line 30-40 yards to the bird or skirted the edge of the pond and entered the water at the closest point to the duck. When Selby released him to fetch, he chose the shortest, easiest path to the duck. He returned by the same route.
Now, some people like the obedience and strength of the bigger retrievers; dogs that follow orders. “Okay, boss. You want me to take the hard road, swim all the way to that duck, that’s what I’ll do.” Jamey is likely saying, “Dude, that water is cold, and I can actually retrieve the duck faster by shortening my swim. Deal?”
"Knucklehead," I muttered as I watched him while snapping photos. In junior hunt tests, though, it doesn’t matter. He just needs to get in the water, get the bird and deliver it to hand. It’s a retrieving test, not a swimming test.
Most hunting dogs wear electronic collars that can deliver varying degrees of stimulation to the dog to get its attention. I’ve heard these collars referred to as “hearing aids.” You can’t use them during hunt tests, but they help during training. Jamey usually knows when the collar is off. That’s when he eagerly fetches the dummy duck back to me, but then decides to circle close without coming to heel, sitting and readily giving me the prize. That’s just his hardheaded spaniel way manifesting itself. He quickly comes around, though. He’s just letting me know that Sir Marks-a-Lot thinks he’s in charge.
Jamey always seems overjoyed to come home following a week or more of training at Shady Grove. Not that he doesn’t like Selby, but he knows his warm, soft bed awaits and he can return to schmoozing "Mommy" out of multiple treats and extra scoops of dinner, including some homemade venison dog stew.
Jameson is my first fulltime dog. I travel so much it was as always easier to be an uncle to my hunting buddies' dogs. My mom always had dogs, and loved and spoiled them beyond compare. It was just two weeks after she died that my good friend Jimaye Sones called to tell me about a litter of Boykin spaniel puppies. He said he was getting one male named Harley and that I should get his litter mate. It just seemed too coincidental.
One thing is certain. I love that little brown dog and on this Thanksgiving 2018, I'm giving thanks for him.