June 21, 2018
Over the last year, my wife Tina and I have both lost our older dogs. This means that 2018 is the year of starting over for the Dokkens. This process, which should be an enjoyable one, is not so simple...or easy. Tina and I do make it a bit easier on ourselves by trying to always have one dog apiece that is started and well on its way to being a great pet and hunter before our other dogs enter the last chapters of their lives, but I also know that's not possible for everyone. If it is, do consider it because having two dogs can make a tough situation a little better.
Anyone who owns a good family dog, and especially a good family dog that also happens to be a top-notch retriever, is eventually going to experience the devastating loss that we recently did. I am getting older, hunting over many dogs throughout my life. It's tough to lose a dog, but I feel lucky to have been able to start over with a new pup again. And my experiences have led to vasts amounts of knowledge I think you will find helpful. Not to get too Freudian here, but you've got to reconcile your emotional self with your rational self to make the right choice. There are a few ways to do this.
Shift The Responsibility
I don't know how many times someone has called me to say they lost their beloved retriever and want to get a new one. It has happened a lot, and when those bereaved folks give me a ring, they are asking for help for one of two reasons. Either they don't trust themselves to make it on their own in their current state, or they understand the benefit of enlisting a professional.
In reality, most folks probably buy into both reasons almost equally.
When you're racked with guilt and desperate to fill the void left by your four-legged best friend, you're more prone to making a rash decision. We all are, because in some ways we're hard-wired to seek out the quickest fix. That, as you can guess, tends to be a bad idea when you're dealing with a puppy.
My job in this situation is to understand the interested parties' wants and needs for a dog and find a puppy that will work for them in the best way possible. This will involve asking plenty of questions about their family life and what they expect of a dog in the home. It will, of course, involve plenty of inquiries into their hunting styles too. If they are big-water diver hunters, I'll need to find specific bloodlines. The same goes for the hunter who spends his days pond-side waiting for woodies and teal.
The most important aspect of this is something I've touched on numerous times — pedigree. The worst thing most of us can do when we're dealing with the loss of a dog is to go look at a litter of adorable, chubby-legged Lab pups. Whether they've got an ounce of drive or hunting desire in them or not might not matter to us in that vulnerable state, and the danger of making an impulsive purchase increases drastically.
If you suspect you might not be ready to do the research yourself and make an informed decision, consult some help. You won't regret it.
The Weight Of The Decision
It may seem like I pound the table a bit much when it comes to picking a pup with the perfect bloodlines, but that's only because I know how important it is. A dog is a 12-year commitment. How enjoyable those years are between you and the dog will depend an awful lot on what the dog is capable of doing, and how enthusiastic it is to do them.
A duck dog with little drive and little brains is going to be a challenge throughout its life. Can we love pups that aren't the smartest in the litter? Of course we can. They are, after all, dogs. But to draw the most out of the few dogs you'll own in your lifetime, you should seriously consider buying the best dog you can afford.
Now, I know that a lot of us can't or simply won't consider spending $1,000 to $2,000 on a dog, and that's fine. We've all heard the stories of the $50 dog that turned into a goose-retrieving machine, or the give-away-for-free pup that grew into a wave-busting, never-stop Energizer duck dog. Believing that you'll have the same experience is exactly like believing you'll win the lottery because someone else has.
You won't, trust me.
Plan to replace your lost dog with the most well-bred pup you can afford. This will bring a higher level of joy to your life in several ways. You'll experience easier obedience training right off of the bat, which is always more enjoyable. This translates directly into easier training at more complex tasks, and will come with a level of confidence and enthusiasm in your dog that is contagious. No one wants to train a dog that isn't interested in trying to learn. It's just like trying to coach a kid who doesn't want to play baseball or basketball. You can offer up all of the opportunities, but if the willingness isn't there, it's not going to happen.
When you lose a dog, do what you have to in order to navigate the grieving process. If that involves serious thoughts about picking up a new retriever pup, consider just what you'll need to do in order to have a dog that can easily and enthusiastically fill the role of your recently-departed best friend. That will involve setting aside some of the emotion to ensure your next 12 years are just as good, or better.