Canine Reality Tour

Trust your dog's nose

Photo by Han Jiao

Photo by Han Jiao

The reason we have bird dogs in the first place is because of their superior nose and ability to detect live or dead game birds. The dog’s nose doesn’t lie but I recall with embarrassment a couple of times when I didn’t believe that and should have.

When I teamed up with a four legged partner, she took me on a canine reality tour that left me wondering why dogs bother to hunt with humans at all. My tour guide was a yellow lab who retrieved waterfowl and worked in the uplands, finding, flushing and retrieving grouse and woodcock.

There was the time I scratched down a woodcock in heavy cover. The leaves were still on the trees and neither of us had marked the fall precisely. We walked toward the area where the bird fell and I expected the dog to run her normal search pattern till she struck scent and came back with the bird. Instead, she sniffed my boot and sat down.

“Fetch!” I commanded. She looked up at me as if it were the first time she’d heard the word. I told her again and this time I meant it. She ran a little circle and sat down again by my feet. We repeated this little routine three times, each time cranking up my blood pressure. She was turning into a boot polisher right before my eyes. I wondered if I’d stepped in something she liked, so I looked at my boots and there between my size tens, mostly covered with old leaves and perfectly camouflaged with its dead leaf plumage was the woodcock.
Sheepishly, I picked it up. The dog’s tail wagged and she lifted her brown eyes to meet mine. Those eyes could have said, “How about thicker glasses, pal?” Or “Nothing gets by you.” There was none of that. Just a happy “Now you’ve got it. Let’s go find another one.”

Another time, on a duck hunt, I took a poke at a mallard drake winging over head and broke a wing on the bird. It didn’t come down flapping as they usually do. This sly duck compressed itself into a fist and punched into the water like a canon ball ten feet from our side of the swollen creek. We never saw it surface. I assumed that it swam under water to the cover of the bulrushes lining our shore. Supernose swam to the splashdown area and I directed her with hand signals into the rushes. She disappeared into them and crashed around in there for a long time. Finally she emerged on the bank with no duck.

I ordered her back into the rushes where she dutifully ran another search, less enthusiastic than the first. She came out with nothing. I couldn’t believe she was giving up so easily. I sent her back in. She laid her ears back in the manner of disobedient dogs, jumped in and churned water heading for the opposite shore. No amount of whistling would turn her back. On the other shore, she disappeared into the rushes. I yelled and whistled and got so steamed up my glasses fogged. She put me on “ignore” while she goofed off chasing around and giving excited little yips.

It was five minutes before she had the gall to show up on the shore again. What next? There in her mouth was a mallard drake! I scratched my head in profound confusion. Only when I noticed the steady breeze on my face from across the river did the coin drop. By the time the she got back with the duck, I had it figured out. Oh, I’m sharp! That clever duck swam forty feet under water to the opposite shore where it surfaced out of sight in the weeds. After fifteen minutes, its scent had wafted across to Supernose. At that point she rightly concluded that I knew nothing and she’d better follow her nose if she wanted to get a duck in her mouth.

My wife tells me that whenever I put a gun case in the car and head out without the dog, she wears a track in the floor with her pacing – the dog, not my wife. I used to believe she was anxious because I was out happy timing without her. But, I was out to lunch with a mega meal on that one. She paces because she knows that my nose is a mere face ornament compared to her detection instrument and that I shouldn’t be out hunting with such a handicap.

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