Skip to main content

In Terms Of Excellence

In Terms Of Excellence

Good dogs, given a chance, usually come into their own, but not always when we expect them to get there.

Low clouds scudded over the man and his young spaniel, and scattered raindrops tap-danced on the earth around them. On the eastern horizon, thin blades of sun sliced through the breaking clouds and shimmered on the wet grass. A rooster pheasant cackled defiantly in the distance.

"What's it going to be?" the man asked the pup fidgeting at his knee. "Are you going to do your job?" The springer's half-tail swept arcs in the grass, while his eyes angled up to watch the man. The dog had a brainy look, but the man wondered if he would ever discover what was really behind those bright, captivating eyes.


He touched the dog's finely cut muzzle before releasing him with a finger-snap. Then he slid shells into his shotgun's tubes and whispered, more to the running clouds than to the sprinting dog, "Let's see where your head is today." He had trained for excellence, but now he was prepared for much less.


From the moment the pup poked his nose out of the airline crate and licked the man's hand, he had been a trainer's delight, an ideal blend of independence and spirited cooperation. The man took it slow with the pup and tried not to repeat mistakes made on other dogs. He had a clear picture of what he wanted from this springer, and he didn't intend to risk it by pushing too hard, too fast. He did not have to teach the youngster the meaning of game--desire for birds was hardwired into the pup's brain, and for months the man fueled that drive with pen-raised quail, then pigeons, and finally wild birds. The pup dealt with them all like they were old friends.

Then the pup's learning curve had frozen. He had absorbed training drills with ease but, suddenly, seemed to hit a mental wall. For several days, he would run solid patterns, then during a simple exercise he'd ricochet over a quarter section. He would be steady to flush but break at the shot on one bird, while on the next he'd reverse himself.


On identical retrieves, he would make a clean pick-up, then completely miss the next mark. The springer had yet to link the elements of a bird hunt--find, flush, and fetch--together into a chain without losing it at some point. The man's dream of excellence had become a reality of frustration.


"A dog will come into his own on his own schedule," was a bit of wisdom an old trainer had shared with him years before. "None of them are the same, and you shouldn't force what isn't there yet. If you've trained a good pup properly, he'll put it together, though maybe not when you think he should and usually when you don't expect it."

A breeze flowed down out of the shredding clouds and rumpled the grassland. The quartering dog caught the wind and angled to work it head-on. Within 50 yards he made game and took off on a pheasant's twisting track toward a drainage ditch thick with swampy growth.

When the dog hit the edge of gun range, the man blew a sharp whistle-note to stop him; the springer slid into a sit and waited. A finger snap sent him off. The pup lost the trail, made a sweep back into the grass, found it again, and followed it into the cattail-choked ditch.

The rooster flushed, with the spaniel grabbing for feathers, and hooked to the side, away from the man. He crumpled the bird into the waving grass, then turned to look for the springer, prepared to see him anywhere but where he was--half-hidden by cattails, hupped at the point of the flush. The man let him sit for a moment, focused on the bird's flight line. At his name, the pup rocketed out of the ditch and a minute later delivered the pheasant to hand.

The man stroked the dog's shoulder. "Not the best bird work I've seen," he said, smiling, "but I'll take it." Reality was that the pup had done well, and the man knew it but would not allow himself the luxury of seeing it as the defining breakthrough.

During the days ahead, he would ponder the details of what happened; of his role and the springer's, of how expectation and reality can be so far apart, of how he had hoped for everything and gotten little, then--as the old trainer had predicted--expected little and received a gift.

For now, though, it was enough to kneel under the building sun and tell the springer that he was the best thing since canned peaches. It was enough to look into the dog's exquisite eyes and think, once again, in terms of excellence.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 6

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 6

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 6

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Deep frying is a great way to maintain moisture in game birds that tend to dry.Southern Fried Grouse & Quail Recipe Recipes

Southern Fried Grouse & Quail Recipe

Brad Fenson

Deep frying is a great way to maintain moisture in game birds that tend to dry.

A gun-shy dog is created, not born, and once the damage is done, gun-shyness can prove impossible to cure.Introduce Your Pup To Gunfire The Right Way Puppies

Introduce Your Pup To Gunfire The Right Way

Gun Dog Online Staff

A gun-shy dog is created, not born, and once the damage is done, gun-shyness can prove...

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will ensure a safe and comfy home for your favorite hunting buddy.How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel How-To

How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel

Jerry Thoms

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will...

See More Trending Articles

More Training

One man's trash is another man's treasure.Using Pigeons for Training Bird Dogs Training

Using Pigeons for Training Bird Dogs

Mark Chestnut

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

You can learn a lot about what your dog is trying to tell you if you take the time to listen to it.What the Barking Dog is Telling Us Training

What the Barking Dog is Telling Us

Ed Bailey

You can learn a lot about what your dog is trying to tell you if you take the time to listen...

It's a great option for anyone with limited space and training time.Professional Training for Your Bird Dog Training

Professional Training for Your Bird Dog

Bob West

It's a great option for anyone with limited space and training time.

It's all fun and games until your dog is learning hard-to-break-habits.Stop Teaching Your Gun Dog These Bad Habits Training

Stop Teaching Your Gun Dog These Bad Habits

Ed Bailey

It's all fun and games until your dog is learning hard-to-break-habits.

See More Training

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now