Be­hind the Line

Shooting Gazette - - Gundogs - by Gath­erer

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...”

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