Fly fishing folks seem to like their dogs. Some fish with them, others write about them. Some do both. Well, I’ve not done much of either with regard to my dog, but I don’t want those oversights to suggest that he’s not worthy of mention. He is.
Eddie is my chocolate Lab. He’s 5 now, but it seems like just yesterday that we went to pick him out of the litter. At that time he was 6 weeks old, and just a little fella (if he was ever small- 15.5 lbs at 6 weeks hardly seemed little). Inasmuch as all 6 week old chocolate Labs look much the same, Eddie stood out and made our decision to choose him an easy one: he was the most laid-back of his litter mates, completely tuned into the human visitors, and he showed a particular interest when a pigeon was introduced. Birdiness is always a good sign when you plan to hunt a dog, and the breeder where we got him, Kingsland Labradors, produces very nice pups for hunting. They also make wonderful family dogs because temperament is a critical factor in the breeding. A dog that loves to hunt need not be, nor should they be, a hard-charging hyperactive nutcase. But a keen interest in birds is very important. Check.
I was out of town (fishing, of all things) when Mrs. UA and our kids went back a week or two later to pick up Eddie (at the time unnamed). The breeder marks her pups by shaving a spot on their bodies as a means of identifying them easily. Eddie, for example, was known as “Left Shoulder” because he was marked accordingly. All males and females are marked this way, so there can potentially be two pups known as “left shoulder”, although the anatomical differences usually make it very difficult to confuse two similarly marked pups.
It wasn’t until Mrs. UA et al had returned home with “Left Shoulder” that it became apparent they’d made off with the wrong one: our pup was supposed to have come equipped with male genitalia. After a quick and mutually embarrassing phone call, they met the breeder half way for the exchange. All was right in the universe, although I am sure the little female “left shoulder” was quite confused at the end of that day. I returned from my fishing trip a day later, happy to have missed out on the drama.
With the correct “left shoulder” now a part of our wolf pack, the bonding process began. First, we gave him a proper name: Edward Werner. Edward dates back to the old country where my great, great, great grandfather, Ernst Edward Werner, was Mayor of Gruibingen, Germany. His son was Paul Edward Werner. Then his son, Edward Paul Werner. My great uncle was Paul Edward Werner and my uncle was Edward Werner. My cousin is Paul Edward Werner. Edward is my middle name, and also that of my son: Schpanky Edward Werner. The decision to keep the Edward tradition alive was a no-brainer. For the record we rarely call him Edward, reserving that formality for when he’s done something bad, which isn’t often. Complete with his own name, it didn’t take long for Eddie to fit right into our family, and after a few sleep-deprived nights during which we called him Edward, he was completely at ease in his new home.
Helping to ease his transition may have been that we had a dog who resembled “mom”. Kate, our 11 year-old chocolate Lab, was the type of dog that, if not completely nurturing, was at least very, very tolerant of the new addition and his needle sharp teeth. Kate put up with Eddie’s antics in admirable fashion. She may have even liked the little guy, although her main focus in life was her ball.
We did not get Eddie to replace Kate, but rather to supplement her. While fit as a fiddle at age 11, Kate was showing the years and had already missed one hunting season because I didn’t want to put her through the pain and suffering that would surely follow a long, cold weekend in the duck blind. She’d have done the work happily, and paid for it dearly. Nor did I want to spend another hunting season without a dog, so we decided to get a pup in time for it to be ready for at least a gentle introduction to hunting the next fall. Unfortunately in August of that year, we were forced to put Kate down due to a very aggressive form of cancer. Anyone who has ever had to make this type of decision knows how gut-wrenching it is, and I cried like a baby. Having Eddie helped ease some of our pain. I’m sure there was a void in young Eddie’s life after Kate was gone, too, as he had grown quite fond of her in the 3 months since he’d come to be part of our pack. Never once did Kate tease Eddie about his overgrown ears or lankiness. She was a sweet, sweet dog and eternally youthful. She raised our kids and did a flawless job of doing so.
As we dealt with the loss of Kate, we poured our love and attention toward Eddie. We my wife probably coddled him too much and may have been over-protective of our “baby”, the result of which was a dog who became a wimp and pees like a girl. After we had him neutered, there was no chance at ever having a dog with any pride, and Eddie continued to grow into a big, goofy teenager who was afraid of his own shadow, or at least very easily startled by it. He liked stuffed animals and wouldn’t chew them so much as he would lick them until they fell apart. I knew he wasn’t going to have any problems with being hard-mouthed, that was for sure.
But I was beginning to wonder if he’d be able to stand up to the rigors of hunting, or if he’d even like it after having become so accustomed to being babied at home. I had spent considerable time working on basic obedience and retrieving during the summer, and Eddie showed a great propensity for learning. He certainly was interested in pleasing me and his typically laid-back demeanor was replaced by a strong desire to retrieve when it was time for some work. I no longer doubted his ability to stand up to the rigors of hunting. In October I took him duck hunting for a weekend. He was 7 months old and 72 pounds, making him already seem huge compared to Kate, who had been 55 lbs soaking wet in her prime. We didn’t anticipate that Eddie would get any larger than his father, who was a very solid 80-85 pounds but not what one would call overly large for a Lab. Nor was his mother a big dog either. Eddie was all legs and feet when he retrieved his first duck. It was not what one would call a “textbook” retrieve, but he swam out and fetched up the hen mallard in his mouth and drug her back to the blind. And he appeared to rather enjoy himself. It was a proud moment for me.
That winter came quickly as the Columbia Basin of central Washington froze early and remained iced-up all winter. Needless to say we did not get out duck hunting again his first year, which seemed to be OK by Eddie. He was kept busy being coddled, eating and growing. By the time his first birthday rolled around he was well over 80lbs, but he didn’t know it. Low self esteem keeps a person (and a dog) from realizing their fullest potential. His first year did not result in a horrible record of furniture destruction or anything of that nature, although he did eat a rock that had to be surgically removed. Yes, we kept the rock—you don’t throw away something that costs $2000.00.
Later he consumed a chess set (Edward!!!). This resulted in a phone call to the vet, who did not appear to be overly alarmed. I was instructed to watch Eddie’s stools to see that he passed all the pieces, and if he didn’t, to schedule an appointment in the next day or so. The vet also added, “There’s a chess tournament in Seattle this weekend. Take him to it and see how he does.” Needless to say I did not take him to the chess tournament, but I did follow Eddie around for the next 2 days, watching closely and inspecting every pile of crap he produced until the last chess piece was confirmed. Check mate.
The next fall Eddie retrieved Schpanky’s first pheasant, and went pheasant hunting one other time with Marck and his dog, Mo. But gradually I became less passionate about hunting, choosing instead to do more steelhead fishing in the winter months. It may have been selfish of me not to hunt Eddie more, because of all the dogs I’ve had he showed the most natural potential. He even points, although he was not bred for that– it’s just some sort of recessive trait that just happens to have found its way into his DNA. It’s pretty cool to see him lock up, even if he doesn’t know what he’s pointing at.
So, what about Eddie as a fishing dog? Well, I have taken him with me a few times to walk and wade local rivers, but he has a hard time understanding why he can’t swim while I’m working through a run. Labs are notorious water lovers, and Eddie is no exception. He’s very patient and obedient, but after a while of sitting miserably on the bank, wallowing pathetically in self pity, I can’t take it any longer and the fishing becomes a stick fetching session. Hard to deny a guy something he derives so much pleasure from.
I don’t have my own drift boat, and frankly he’s too big to have in a boat unless it were customized to accommodate a 97lb dog that resembles a cross between a chocolate Lab and a chocolate Great Dane. I’m sure he’d love to go for a float, and maybe one day I’ll have my own StreamTech Salmonfly, outfitted with a rear platform for Eddie (complete with a nice soft bed and a treat dispenser). When I’m packing for a fishing trip, Eddie lets me know that he’s none too happy about being left behind. That’s when his Catholic side shows through and he lays on the guilt, giving me a certain look. You know the look–the one where they look at you but there’s no direct eye contact? Yeah, that one.
But whether or not he does much hunting or goes fishing with me, Eddie is perfectly content to be part of the family and knows his position in the hierarchy: low man on the totem pole. He has never sought to challenge his position, either. Not once has he displayed any hint of dominance over anyone or anything, not even other dogs. He is extremely low-maintenance as long as he gets breakfast at around 7am and then dinner around 3pm (although he starts letting you know it’s chow time at 2:30 sharp. It all starts with “The Look”). He loves to fetch his tennis ball although he is not completely obsessed like Kate, who I am confident would have jumped off a 50-story building after her ball. Eddie is much more rational. I doubt he’d go off anything higher than 15 stories– he’s just not that bold.
As I’ve said before, Eddie is a big wimp who just doesn’t believe in himself and lacks a lot of gumption. My first dog was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Gunnar. His name fit him perfectly, and he was as tough as nails. When fetching in the water he would leap as high and as far as possible from the shore or dock. He was all about doing things for himself, and in doing so Gunnar was something to behold.
Kate was just an absolute maniac when it came to fetching. She would keep going and going until either my arm wore out or her heart stopped. Her heart never stopped, and while not as athletic as Gunnar before her, she did have an enthusiastic water entry.
Eddie, not so much.
But you gotta love him, and we do. There’s a lot to love, and he makes it easy with his laid-back, dorky demeanor. There’s not much he doesn’t like, although he pretends to be stand-offish with strangers until they scratch him in the right spot. He likes most dogs, especially little ones who he must see as his equal. Those dogs that he may not like, he tolerates, and in his defense if he doesn’t like another dog there’s good reason for it. Eddie is an excellent judge of character. About the only thing he absolutely hates is coyotes. He goes after his wild cousins with an uncharacteristic ferocity that can be startling. Luckily coyotes are very fast so he’ll never catch one. If he ever did he wouldn’t know what he got himself into, and it would result in the other thing he hates: a trip to the vet.
So, there’s my bit about my dog, who sometimes fishes with me, but mostly just gives me a guilt trip when I leave to go fishing. Fortunately he has a short term memory because when I return, Eddie never holds a grudge. Nor does he judge me when I come home smelling of a skunk, and believe me he knows when I’ve been skunked. He’s got the best nose of any dog I’ve ever had.