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He is acquiring a mind of his own, Flick is. It leads to challenges, to say the least. Stubborn, overly-inquisitive, single-minded … all apply at times.

As his physical abilities develop, the pup is testing his own limits, and ours. It’s no longer an easy transition from loose in the yard to confined in a crate. Freedom is a higher priority for Flick. As is having his way – wanting this or that, to be here or there – he’s a bit of a management challenge these days.

One must have an open mind and think a little more about his motives and how they can be made to mesh with ours. Most are still molehills but forestalling their growth into mountains is paramount.

He did sleep until 5:57 a.m. today.

 

Raising a puppy is in large part (pun intended) about scaling things down, then back up again in increments. Enthusiasm, correction, gear, accommodations, even gunshots are meted out in larger or smaller bits depending on Flick’s size and age, stage of development and many other factors.

I was reminded of this when he pointed a moth this morning. The poor insect gave his miserable life in service to a young bird dog, who has already progressed to pigeons. You gotta start somewhere.

Checkcords get longer as his tiny legs lengthen and strengthen. Commands can be more subtle, praise more subdued. Crates are soon outgrown. Dinners are bigger by the day (breakfasts and lunches too). A cap gun is supplanted by a starter pistol, light shotgun blanks, and soon, the real deal. The fingernail clipper has been replaced by a standard trimmer, the small comb by a bigger brush. It’s still a wrestling match, though.

Our walks are longer, Flick’s pace is quicker and more sure. I can see an awakening in him, a dawning, realization that fun happens in the field and birds are out there, somewhere, waiting to be found.

The magic period when everything is new and a complete surprise will soon be a memory. But until then, it is up to we humans to give little dogs the tools and experiences they will need as big dogs.

Yes, they are, puppies … safest when functioning in routine, knowing (as much as possible) that certain things happen at certain times in certain places. Then, life happens. We pack, drive, work in the field. In Montana, which is why you haven’t heard much from us for a while.

I too am a creature of habit, steeped in rituals large and small developed over years. A TV shoot bollixes all that, but a big boy can adapt. Not so, Flick. Even with the stabilizing influence of veteran traveler Manny, a jolt out of his still-developing life habits manifests itself in many ways, most not so good.

He wakes more in the night: new smells, sounds, maybe he too is affected by the time-zone change. Virtually everything he encounters is new and requires exploration/wariness/emotional energy: big men, hats, semi-trucks, tree stumps, fire hydrants, horses. Long miles and more crate time than usual throw off his little body’s rhythms.

And then there’s watching every other dog heading away from the trucks to hunt … maybe it’s instinctive, he knows it’s what he will be doing soon and until then simply can’t stand imagine why he can’t go now, today, immediately.

I think that’s a good thing.

A patient patient. Soon, Manny, soon.

A hunting trip with a pup is a challenge. Making a hunting TV show while traveling with Flick is exponentially more challenging. Add a broken-toed Manny, and it’s a wonder my fantastic crew and our host Al Gadoury of 6X Outfitters didn’t run the other way as fast as they could.

A day afield quickly becomes a study in time and motion based on bladder capacity, bird distribution, quality of shooting light and did I say bladder capacity? The little guy holds most of the cards and we step-and-fetchit when he needs a potty break. But every day, the grace period is bigger and there is a bit more flexibility in our routine (such as it is).  Having strategically-located tie-out stakes, crates, leashes and chew toys is the key to maintaining some element of sanity. Plenty of caffeine helps.

One too young to hunt, and another too crippled up to hunt, so we relied on Al’s string, in unseasonally hot weather. A lot of circle routes back to the truck for water, new dogs, and to let Flick out to pee. The little guy wants to hunt, there is no doubt. He let us know he wanted to do what the big boys were doing with yelps and cries as we trudged away again.

Manny is being a good example, enduring his forced immobility with grace. A few hundred yards here and there keep him sane and strengthen his mending toe is all he gets – doctor’s orders. The rest of the time he is a steadying influence, sighing in the next crate and sending good wishes telepathically to the little one. Soon, you will both be in the field guys, I promise.

Oh, and we shot some sharptails and huns.

Day One here at his new home, ten pounds.

Nine pounds.

That’s how much Flick has gained … virtually doubling his weight since arriving at his new pack. It’s as good an indicator of how he’s grown as anything. But by every metric, he is a different dog than when we pulled into the driveway on August 11.

Genetics deserve most of the credit. Jeff and Heidi Funke have made a science of breeding wirehairs for cooperation and drive – and the coats are pretty darn good too. The other half of the nature-nurture equation is being handled quite differently too. This is my “by the book” pup, destined for the best he (and by default, me) can be. Many of us have seen all this advice somewhere, and pooh-poohed it … or used it. Now, I am a believer:

  • Socializing with other puppies and tolerant adult dogs teaches everything from doggie manners to bite inhibition. I have fewer scars than ever, and a confident, bold-but-wise-for-his-age pup.
  • Starting early – before he comes home – is critical. Socializing, basic physical skills like running, pack dynamics.
  • Learning on Day One at his new home continues: basic obedience, learning “aagh” (my word for “no”), exercise and physical challenges, water, name recognition and eye contact, awakening the nose, bird exposure, gunshot exposure are all best absorbed in the first 18 weeks, say the experts. I agree.
  • New stuff: men with beards, leaf blowers, bulldozers, children, Harleys, truck beds (in a secured crate of course) … now is when a pup “gets used to it.”
  • Being alone – see yesterday’s post.

Yesterday with his auntie, 19 pounds.

Thanks Larry Mueller, Rick and Ronnie Smith, the Monks of New Skete, everyone who’s consented to meeting a stranger with a puppy in his arms, all our puppy class teachers, and other doggie parents who have come over to play with us.

Right now, Flick and his aunt Penny are chilling on the back porch, reveling in a cool morning the result of a much-appreciated overnight rain. It may not stop all the wildfires, but it’s had a positive effect here, as have the lessons learned from others smarter than me.

 

Alone time. We all want it. We seldom get it. But I’m now seeing the other side of the coin … how valuable training Flick to be by himself can be – for all of us.

It is a test, a mix of jealousy and puppiness that tries the little guy’s emotions. We are now his pack, his litter, and when we leave he sometimes acts as if we are packing up, going forever and leaving him to figure out life for himself. Yowling, yipping, barking are all part of the repertoire when he wants – needs – company and fears it is going away.

But we need quiet time too, without logistical or emotional demands. Even if for a few minutes, sitting still – and quiet – is a precious gift. Only in its absence do you appreciate it as much as you should. At least, when you have a puppy.

Like many parents, we use a lot of tricks: exercise being the go-to strategy for wearing out Flick and earning a few minutes of rest while he does the same. Food will occupy him for a bit, especially if he has to hunt the entire pen for bits of kibble I’ve scattered. He’s fine most times if he can see his packmates from his pen, so there is often a trio of dogs in the room. And for some reason, being alone in one of the yards is good, while being in the pen or crate is absolutely, positively, vociferously not.

So you live and learn, and every day (and night) it gets better. In it’s own way, it is good to know you are indispensable, sometimes, for a while at least.

“Hi, my name is Flick.”

If you are not taking your pup to some sort of puppy kindergarten, you are missing out. Yes, the socialization and pack skills are essential and that’s where they learn them. But if you love new life, innocence, discovery and the joie de vivre pups exhibit, you gotta go.

Sure, most of Flick’s classmates are not hunting dogs. The motley assortment of spotted and speckled puppies, long-haired and short, goofy and mystical makes for amusing viewing, certainly. But as our instructor pointed out last night, that’s one of the payoffs: pups learn that there are dogs out there unlike their littermates and parents. Sort of canine affirmative action.

At 11 weeks old, the skills we’re teaching for the most part are basic: pay attention, follow minimal direction, focus, get along. A mixed bag of dog colors, breeds and sizes is perfect for that.

But the most fun is play time. In Flick’s classes, he is the smallest pup often by a long shot. But he is a mighty doggy force. Buzzing around, saying hello to every dog, wrestling and running with a 40-pound Newfie and a 20-pound Golden … he is indefatigable. Polite upon introducing himself, play-bowing to partners of all shapes and colors. Then, let the fun begin.

I know, I know, dogs don’t have the musculature to smile. But Flick does, throughout his puppy play time.

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