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A Diamond in the Rough

Bird Dog?

Hunters and their dogs come together in a variety of ways. For those of us heavy on cash but light on time, buying a finished dog from a reputable trainer is often the only option. For those on the opposite end of the spectrum (cash challenged but with plenty of time), a pup from good stock may be the best bet. Most of us fall somewhere in between, getting started pups or inheriting a decent dog from a friend.

But gun dogs do occasionally spring from unlikely wells. Several months ago, I wrote an article for this site about rescue programs for the various sporting breeds, and during my research I became quite interested in the work done by these groups. In the weeks following the posting of the article, I became involved with American Brittany Rescue as a foster home, keeping dogs in transit from one home to another and providing a longer-term home for dogs until a new owner became available.

One day, I received an e-mail describing a young male dog rescued from an owner who was "training him to hunt". The content of the message, which has been confirmed through other sources, reported that the dog was kept chained in the woods all of the time. His only human contact was during the few minutes each day that the owner came to feed him and fire off a couple of 12 gauge rounds to "get him used to the gun". I heard reports that the owner would put him in a cargo kennel and roll him over to punish him for running off. When the dog was rescued, he was covered with parasites.

Fortunately, he fell into the good hands of a couple who own a kennel, and by the time he reached me he was as clean as a whistle. My instructions were to work with him on the emotional end to the best of my abilities, hopefully reaching the point that he could go into a normal home without requiring special attention. Faced with a dog who was frightened by any noise, any movement, and most stationary objects, this seemed like most we could hope for. He was not house trained and did not respond to any of the basic commands, but he did answer to his name- "JJ."

During the first few weeks, I struggled with a dog who, understandably, had a severe distrust of people. He ran from a room when I entered, he refused treats from my hand, he barked at nearly every movement I made, and I could only let him into my fenced yard on a leash. The only time I ever saw him wag his tail was when my dog, also a Brittany, approached him.

One morning as I was walking him in the back yard, still on the check cord I used as a leash, a songbird flushed from the hedges along the fence. JJ took off after the bird like it was a flying T-bone. As the days passed, I noticed a similar fascination with butterflies, moths, bees, and anything else that flew, and I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he could become more than a house pet.

The most significant obstacle to overcome would be the inevitable gun shyness, but I know that under the right circumstances this can be accomplished. Lots of discipline work would be required as well as the monumental task of gaining his trust. As I weighed the pros and cons, the item that stood out most in my mind was that I truly had nothing to lose. If he could master the basic commands but fell short on everything else, he would still make a fine pet for someone, and at the very least, I intended to teach him to sit, stay, and come. I also figured that the experience would make a fine series of articles for this site; any lessons I learned could and hopefully would benefit others.

In the articles that follow, I will detail the progress with JJ, concentrating on any specific problems encountered and the methods used to address them. I encourage any questions and suggestions along the way, and I will integrate these as appropriate. Keep an eye out for the next article, which will discuss some of the initial socialization issues.

Diamond in the Rough series

Part I   Introduction
Part II   Early socialization issues
Part III   Basic Obedience
Part IV   First Birds

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