|It’s amazing how even one year can make a big difference in
a hunting dog’s abilities. I hear stories from hunters/clients each year about
their aging dogs. About how last year their dog was a hunting machine, but this
year he is only a shell of himself. About how in the past their dog would track
down and come up with wounded birds that they thought for sure had given him
the slip, but now he no longer has the intensity, or tenacity he had last
season. Unfortunately, old age
catches up with all of us fellow hunters.
A few dogs, and a bunch of people, fight it but in the end
Mother Nature wins. The best we can do is to adapt to the circumstances and It’s
usually the human who has a hard time adjusting. In contrast, dogs have very
little problem accepting their limitations as they age; they just seem to know
how much their bodies can handle and work with what they’ve got. That’s one of
the thing I admire about dogs, “they play the hand they are dealt, usually without
Most hunters, because of their loyalty and devotion to their
dogs who have given so much in the field, will eventually learn to tolerate the
animal’s lack of prowess for the hunt. They find themselves making adjustments
in their hunt style or hunt environment so that the old fellow can still have a
good time and be successful.
Qualities I admire about humans are compassion and
understanding. After all there’s nothing wrong with giving your aging dog a
little extra time to dig out a difficult winged bird, especially when the bird
has dense cover in which to hide. Still, it’s necessary to be prepared to walk
out and do whatever is necessary to keep the old boy looking for that bird. At
this age he needs a bunch of encouragement. There is no doubt that the extra
time needed by your dog to chase down and retrieve cripples will cost you a few
incoming birds, but hunting with a dog is well worth missing a few birds.
Hunting without a dog has never been an option for me.
So fellow hunters be kind to your old dog. Don’t use
rigorous discipline with him for improper behavior in the field. Forget the
pressure of his younger days. Building confidence and simplifying work best.
Putting up with your aging dog’s problems can be difficult,
but as long as you are mentally prepared to deal with his inevitable decline
and his inadequacies in the field you should just continue hunting the old
fellow. On the other hand, if you feel that you will be impatient or unfair
when dealing with old dog problems, you should consider bringing along a puppy.
Another choice is to purchase a trained dog for the upcoming hunting season and
retire the old guy. Never forget to appreciate all the old fella has done for
you. Only you will know when he prefers a silk pillow to the duck blind or field.