Sit! Stay! Swim?

Richard Donkin trains his dog to go fish­ing

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Casting About -

IDO A bit of shoot­ing now and then and al­ways ad­mire the skills of those who know how to bring out the best in a work­ing dog. It’s why I pre­fer walked-up shoots to driven game. Dogs make the day com­plete. I’ve had dogs for many years but have al­ways cho­sen ter­ri­ers over shoot­ing dogs such as labradors and springer spaniels. Ter­ri­ers are less bid­dable than the shoot­ing breeds but they come in hand­ier sizes when most of the car boot has to make way for fish­ing gear. My lat­est ter­rier, Pippa, a Jack Rus­sell bitch, is first on the list when pack­ing for a Scot­tish sal­mon trip. She’s al­ways there when a fish comes to the net and she’s had to be­come as pa­tient as I am, en­dur­ing lean pe­ri­ods be­tween one fish and the next. But she knows what’s go­ing on, of that I’m sure. While I wouldn’t de­scribe her as a barom­e­ter, she seems to know when there’s a good chance of a take, sit­ting qui­etly and in­tently dur­ing those pe­ri­ods of con­cen­tra­tion when I’m ex­pect­ing a fish. Just as so many an­i­mals are tuned in to the weather, I won­der if dogs can be tuned in to fish? The two may go to­gether. My old friend, the late Bill Fog­gitt – we used to call him the Thirsk weather sage – said his cat would dance around in a de­mented state when there was a prospect of thun­der. We know that sal­mon re­spond to changes in baro­met­ric pres­sure, so who is to say that dogs don’t recog­nise this, too? It took some time to train Pippa for the bank­side. The first part was ac­cus­tom­ing her to the water so that she was com­fort­able jump­ing in, swim­ming and get­ting out. It helped that many of her best friends are labradors. When she saw them en­ter­ing rivers to re­trieve sticks, she de­cided she wanted a piece of the ac­tion. Af­ter get­ting her into the water, the sec­ond part of the train­ing was get­ting her out. In the early days she would whine if I waded far into the river. On one oc­ca­sion I was a long way out on the Tweed when this lit­tle white sub­ma­rine came pad­dling past me. I had to steer her back to­wards the bank with my rod tip. The other prob­lem was get­ting her to stay in one place. Be­fore she came to un­der­stand that “Stay!” meant stay, she would roam up the river, of­ten check­ing on a fish­ing com­pan­ion be­fore Richard Donkin is a jour­nal­ist and has fished in Nor­way and Ice­land. His favourite river is the Aberdeen­shire Dee head­ing back to find me. You don’t want your dog roam­ing, and nei­ther does any­one else if there’s live­stock around. These days she sits on the bank and moves down­stream at my own steady pace. An­other prob­lem is keeping her safe if I’m fish­ing from or close to the bank. In the early days she was in­ter­ested in the fly, as­so­ci­at­ing its pro­jec­tion across the river with the ac­tion of throw­ing a ball or toy for her. Af­ter the odd tan­gle, how­ever, she soon learned the haz­ards in a swish­ing fly-line and to­day she stays clear of the cast. I have one friend whose labrador was so spooked by the fly-line it re­fused to come down to the water, but that’s rare in a gun dog. Labs and spaniels are so con­fi­dent and strong in water that they’re usu­ally ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with ro­bust flows, but I’m al­ways edgy if I’m close to a river in spate when Pippa is with me. There are not many places that de­feat her, but I’ve had to catch her float­ing past once or twice when she’s fallen in from a steep bank and been un­able to get out. My pre­vi­ous ter­rier was a Westie who de­cided that water was for drink­ing and noth­ing else. He was good at stay­ing where I asked him to stay but far less ad­ven­tur­ous than my cur­rent dog. I some­times think she would be hap­pi­est if she could watch the fish­ing while perched on my shoul­der, such is her de­sire to be close to the ac­tion. I wish I could take her shoot­ing but I think that might be an ask too far. The last thing you want on a shoot is a dog run­ning riot. You don’t want that on the river­bank, ei­ther. Train­ing your dog for the river should em­brace three essentials – water con­fi­dence, an un­der­stand­ing that she must not run off or chase other an­i­mals, and the need to stay close with­out en­ter­ing the water. Pippa re­acts well to the whis­tle and, when she’s with me, I al­ways carry it so that I can give com­mands from a dis­tance. She seems to know now when it’s okay to swim and when it’s not, and she knows to be quiet, too. All in all she’s be­come the per­fect river dog. I miss her on trips abroad. In fact it’s of­ten a deal breaker if I find ho­tels and ac­com­mo­da­tion that won’t take dogs. Fish­ing is a coun­try pur­suit and dogs have al­ways been part of the coun­try way of life. They add so much to the river and make for a life less soli­tary.

“I was a long way out on the Tweed when this lit­tle white sub­ma­rine came pad­dling past me”

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