Behind the Line
My two black cockers are canine sports cars – wonderful but not particularly suited to daily life. Two years ago, I decided to find a more 4x4 sort of dog. So when my daughter found a promising litter in Devon, I asked the breeder what he was aiming for. “A working cocker for a working man,” was the reply. There was one puppy left – a white dog with chocolate freckles. Mr Whitey came home the next day.
On a road walk 18 months later, he suddenly retrieved a partridge from a flooded ditch. Partly because of this spontaneous demonstration of prowess, even though he was still very silly around people and other dogs, I was tempted to take him pickingup. Which was, of course, very silly of me. Luckily, I broke my leg a week later.
In January, Mr Whitey and I – still on crutches – were welcomed back on shoot days as spectators. On the last day, after the last drive, he picked four dead pheasants from tall rape.
This summer, I offered my meadow and pond to a local trainer. Seven labs and one springer turned up the following week and Mr Whitey joined in as the only cocker. The training was all about steadiness with lots of marked and blind retrieves.
The trainer then got permission for us to train on a local estate. There was lots of standing around – rather like a shoot day – waiting for our turn and watching the labs before tackling yet more fiendish exercises.
The lake was fringed with tall reeds which hid the splash of the marked retrieve. After collecting a blind, Mr Whitey ran 50 yards down the park as if he was on tramlines and disappeared into the reeds. Nothing happened. And nothing happened some more. I started to walk forward to the rescue.
“Stay where you are,” bellowed the trainer. I carried on walking. “Trust your dog. Trust your dog,” she yelled. Mr Whitey, creating a little bow wave, could just be seen setting out to make his retrieve.
After the first drive on the first day of this season the keeper sent us to look for a possible runner in another ditch. I hesitated – I mean, deliberately put a cocker in a ditch and you might not see it for a while. My trust – and all that training – was soon rewarded.
“I was tempted to take him picking-up — silly of me...”