September 1, 2014

Elyria
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One Great Dog

I think it was Mark Twain who said, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” I don’t know if he hunted, but it sounds like something a hunter would say about his dog.

Just about any dog can be a good dog, but in a lifetime a guy is lucky if he has one, maybe two great dogs, and Jaeger was mine. I remember pulling up to the breeder’s kennel in Rogersville, Missouri. I had to stop in the drive and wait for a flock of more than twenty wild turkey to get out of the way. This must have been an omen of things to come, two souls with hunting in their hearts were about to meet.  I really had no business with this breeder, I couldn’t afford her dogs, and I marveled at the sire’s pen. You never saw such terrific dogs. One magnificent weimeraner whose height should have been measured in “hands” walked up to me in a friendly way. I patted my chest inviting him to jump up and on his hind legs he looked me straight in the eye, well over six feet tall. His name was Jaegermeister (which means Hunt Master in German).

Maybe she sensed I was the right match for this dog, or it was because I had experience with the breed, but the breeder let me have one unregistered pup for a steal. The mother had chewed away his umbilical and it left a scar on his belly, so he wasn’t worth papering, but it didn’t affect his champion breeding. So, flawed as he was, he made the perfect match for his flawed master and I gave him a shortened name after his giant father, Jaeger (Hunter).

j4I was determined to make Jaeger a decent hunting dog and set out a diligent training schedule. It turns out, diligence wasn’t necessary at all. Give him a rabbit scent, and down went the nose, he was on rabbits. Give him a pheasant scent, and down went the nose, let’s find some pheasants. Hardly did I ever have to break him from following the wrong scent and he’d instantly work with any other dog like he’d been doing it all his life. We worked out a set of hand signals and I trained him to respond to one particular whistle I had so he would ignore a dozen other dog handlers in the field and only respond and retrieve to me. He was like a machine, a hunting machine.

Maybe the best times were the times when I was hunting alone with him. He’d point and hold on pheasants so motionless that I sometimes lost him in the cover. He’d go after rabbits in places where a beagle wouldn’t go, emerging from the thicket with bloody ears and thorns all over his face, rabbit in his mouth and tail wagging. He’d put the rabbit down, soft mouth, and look at me just begging for the command to go back and get another. Often he’d drop a rabbit or pheasant at my feet and put a paw on top to hold it down so it didn’t crawl off; he’d sometimes retrieved live game without me ever firing a shot!

I always took him fishing with me, he was never happy being left behind. One day at Brill’s Farm pond near Pittsfield I watched Jaeger very slowly creep chest deep into the water and stand motionless peering into the water. As I stood on the dock with my fly rod, I couldn’t figure what he was doing, and then I saw it. About three feet in front of him was nice smallmouth bass on its egg bed. Jaeger was pointing on a fish!

Byron&JaegerEventually, so many happy years passed and I had to say goodbye to Jaeger.  So, I’m writing this for some friends who have arrived at that sad day when they had to part with their own “one great dog” and I know there isn’t really anything I can say that will make these days easier for you. But in time you’ll put the pain behind you and celebrate going on with another dog, having been made a better person, better in the field, and better masters for having been one half of a great team.  That’s the gift that great dogs, leave you. Don’t let it go to waste, share it with another deserving dog.