Man’s Best Friend
Chad Love over at Field & Stream was in a used book shop and found a hunting-related book. As he was making his purchase he found this note on the inside cover:
Dear George Jr,
May be you won’t understand all this book just now, but you’ll understand enough for now and that is: Start in loving a dog, and understanding it, and bye and bye you’ll know how to love all the world. That’s all there is in life, and is a lot.
Grandpa Christmas, 1925
When I first read this I immediately thought of my grandfather who bought me many books over the years and always put a wonderful note inside them. Then I thought about the words of wisdom shared by this man with his grandson. Start in loving a dog, and understanding it, and bye and bye you’ll know how to love all the world. This is the story of how I learned the same lesson.
After high school I felt like three things would signify I had become an adult: a college degree, a wife and a dog. I’m happy to say I found all of them. Because I am a hunter, when it came to selecting a dog I knew I wanted a sporting breed. Since I mostly hunt waterfowl this narrowed my choices considerably. Of the retriever breeds it was an easy contest. A Chesapeake would be miserable during Kentucky summers. All that hair on a Golden would be more maintenance than I could handle. That left America’s favorite dog, the Labrador Retriever.
Murphy came home with us at six weeks old, purchased from a breeder and fully registered (Blessed High King Murphy). His parents were both from a field line and proven hunters. I started training him right away, using Richard Wolter’s Gun Dog and The Monks of New Skeete’s Art of Raising a Puppy as my bibles. He progressed quickly and within a few months we were working on hunting commands. At the age of two he was considered ‘finished’ and since then we have worked on polish and more complicated master-level training. This involves things like double-blind retrieves or multiple marked retrieves. Things Murphy will probably never encounter in the field but that present a good mental challenge for a retriever with a strong drive.
This summer Murphy turns six and has five hunting seasons under his belt. He’s a hard-working dog and there is no doubt he lives for the field. When we’re hunting together he is all business. He holds his head a little higher, his back a little straighter. He becomes stoic, scanning the skies for birds and tilting his head towards the first honk of a goose or the whistle of wings past the blind. When I cripple a bird he hits them hard and closes the kill. There is something amazing about watching a dog do the job they were bred to do and do it well. If he had zero personality Murphy would still be considered a great hunting dog by most people. Luckily he has much more to offer. The joy of hunting with him is companionship and in that sense Murphy has exceeded all of my expectations.
When Murphy was a puppy I thought about how impressed my friends would be when they saw him in action. He would be a testament to his breed and my training ability. I was so focused on that goal that I forgot about everything else a dog could be. I never thought about days where he and I would huddle under my jacket in a downpour and he would lick my face the whole time. I never thought about willingly sharing my last piece of beef jerky with him in the duck blind. I never thought about just how eager he would be to please me and how important it would become for me to return the favor by taking care of him.
There are dozens of great quotes about dogs. One of my favorites is from the humorist Josh Billings:
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
In the passage at the start of this post the grandfather talked about how loving a dog will teach you how to love the world. A lesson in true, unwavering loyalty is what I take away from my relationship with my dog. I wanted a hunting partner and I found a best friend. I found a friend that will do anything I ask of him and expect nothing more than affection in return. We should all be so lucky as to have a relationship like that. When I come home from work he is always first to greet me and his happiness brightens the worst of days. I think about how impossible it would be for me to ever be this way with even those I am closest to. My wife, my kids, my friends all see me in grumpy moments and I don’t always offer them the same commitment that Murphy offers me. Still I hope and that’s all one can do. We began our relationship with me as the teacher but lately I find myself letting him take the lead when we are in the field. Giving him that trust has been surprising and rewarding. That’s the wisdom he has passed on to me.