It’s the holiday season and outdoor catalogs are jamming the mailbox, which means it’s time to start folding the corners of the pages. I’ve got my eye on plenty of good dog stuff, including a dummy launcher and a training bag.

But, to be honest, the best dog-related gifts I’ve received have all been total surprises–and they’ve had nothing to do with training. Earlier this year, I wrote about the traditional Catskill flies that Field & Stream fishing editor John Merwin tied for me from the flank feathers of a wood duck that Pritch retrieved on her first hunt. The flies are works of art tied by a dear friend, and they catch fish.

For my birthday my wife gave me a first edition of Where the Red Fern Grows, a book that I’ve loved since I was a young teenager. I credit the book for jumpstarting my passion for dogs and my passion for reading. The first edition that my wife found has the date “May 22, 1962” written in a beautiful penmanship inside of the front cover. I often wonder if it wasn’t a gift for someone else before it eventually reached me.

And earlier this week a friend stopped by the house to deliver a surprise gift she had picked up at an antique store–a set of 1940’s coffee cups each with a different gun dog motif. There’s a Brittany flushing Mr. Bob, a Golden retrieving a duck, a Springer posing in the fall woods, and a pointer locked up. (See photo.) As I’m a sucker for days gone by, I’m curious about what sort of fellow owned those cups and how many dogs were kenneled outside of his kitchen window or sleeping at his feet as he sipped his morning coffee.

When I finally do hit the lottery and buy the land where I eventually will build my hunt camp you can bet those mugs will come with me. But for now, those old cups will remain in my kitchen, and, like the flies and the book, will serve as a reminder of good dogs and good friends.

Are you hoping for anything special for you or your pup this holiday season?