May 26, 2011
Letting Older Dogs Get Away With More
By Chad Love
I know this is a gundogs blog, so I'll warn you beforehand: this question is going to sound vaguely Cosmo-ish, but here goes, anyway: Does your relationship with your dogs change as you both get older? Once your dog starts that downward slide toward old age, for whatever reason, do you start letting them get away with certain things in certain situations, things you normally wouldn't?
Let me explain why I'm asking: this is my old female, Tess. This fall will be Tess's eighth season. She's well-mannered, handles reasonably well, is a decent marker, knows how to run blinds, has a good nose and absolutely lives to hunt. Like most gundogs, she has above-average potential that's always been held back by average (at best) training. In short, she's a good dog of decent ability that anyone would be proud to share a duck blind with. She's been a fantastic hunting dog, infinitely patient and understanding of my legion training gaffes, as well as a beloved family pet.
She's also, in the past year or so, started to get a little spoiled. Last duck season she started breaking at the shot, something that I never before would have allowed. But since we hunt mostly alone these days and most of what I shoot are singles, anyway, I let her. I also noticed her handling's getting a little sloppy and lackadaisical. Nothing that would ever prevent me from handling her on a blind, but definitely not as crisp or precise as it could be. It's little things, like taking an extra second or so on a sit whistle or dropping the occasional bumper before being given the drop command.
Nothing major, and nothing that a few training sessions wouldn't clear up pretty quickly, but I've noticed myself not being as bothered about it as I used to, and I think it has something to do with the fact that Tess is getting old. She's always done what I've asked of her...she's paid her dues, so to speak...so if she wants to occasionally do something she knows she's not supposed to, why not? I know that's completely antithetical to everything real trainers tell you to do, because it will just lead to more problems. And they're right. I wouldn't dream of doing that with a young dog. But increasingly these days I find myself turning into a big softie.
Is it a bad idea or is it just natural with a dog you know you have fewer and fewer future days afield with?