The end of March found me putting ice fishing gear away and bringing the boat home.
It’s typically a short wait for warmer weather and turkey hunting, but this year I used the inter-seasonal gap to buy a black Labrador Retriever puppy. Bringing another dog into our family’s home was no small decision. My wife and I looked around for several weeks before finding a longtime purebred private breeder in Albert Lea.
We picked our pup, Hazel, from a litter of five female Labrador Retrievers. For my daughters, this was their first time caring for a puppy. They get plenty of puppy love to go around, including chasing around the house, wrapping the puppy up in blankets and snuggling with Hazel on the floor.
For my 11-year-old elder female Labrador Retriever Bailey, it’s the maternity period she never had. She’s leading by example at feeding time, on potty breaks and in playing fetch. My wife and I weren’t sure how she would react to a new dog being brought, home but we were both pleasantly surprised to see Bailey handle it well.
We both had some anthropomorphism projections for Bailey; that she would feel neglected, underappreciated or even sad. Animal behaviorists say dogs display some emotion but not the complex feelings humans experience. Realistically, as long as Bailey’s day to day living changes little, there’s no reason for her to act or feel any differently than she had over her first 11 years in our family.
As for me, I’m getting used to it all. The purchase was something I’d had in mind for when Bailey got older. All of my hunting friends kept asking me when I’d be adding to the pack as Bailey approached and then rolled past the decade mark. I wrestled with the decision until I couldn’t put it off any longer.
The sting of losing a family companion and hunting dog would be lessened, I was told repeatedly by friends, if there is another dog ready to ease the blow. This was the appeal that settled the decision. I hunted through years without a dog and didn’t want to return to those days when it could be avoided with some pre-planning.
I’m hoping to get as many years out of Bailey as possible, including continued hunting opportunities through her golden years.
Hazel is reminding me how much work goes into training and care of puppies. I pulled out my old books, check cord and training dummies. We’re working through potty and crate training. Sit, stay, and come are in the daily vocabulary, although she’s still learning which is which.
When the weather warms, we’ll start spending time each day in the backyard, practicing the basics and having some fun finding hidden pheasant wings. I’m looking forward to spending time in the water; a Labrador Retriever is happiest when fetching over water.
Training a dog can be fun but it is also work. Training a puppy has been a reality check for where I am in life. When I went through this process with Bailey, I had no kids, less responsibility and more free time. These days the mores and lesses have flip-flopped.
I’ve had moments of maddening frustration — spending 10 minutes outside only for Hazel to have an accident on the carpet or her playfully tipping over a full water dish as I was heading out the door for work are a few examples that come to mind.
My reality check is how much patience do I have?
Am I quick to anger and to kennel the dog and inadvertently teach her that she’ll be punished when she’s put in the crate? I’ve actually learned from my gracefully patient Bailey. She’s had to put the puppy in her place on a couple occasions, which is also true for me, but she has been incredibly tolerant to bites, jumping and youthful energy.
Eleven years later, I’m reacquainting myself with puppies. They jump up on you, they bite with needle teeth, they chew on shoes and cords and rugs and door corners, and they have accidents.
But they also attract the neighborhood families to stop by and visit, they do want to make you happy even if their actions don’t always elicit a pleasant response, and they are incredibly cute with their large clumsy paws, fluffy soft hair and puppy breath.
Puppies become adults that are great family dogs and tremendous hunters. Most of all, puppies remind us all that we were all young once and needed patience, caring and someone to teach us the way.