Dulcie is on one end of the spectrum. She wants to go to work every day. A morning walk before a shoot day looks like this -
Pip is the other end of that spectrum. On shoot days, Pip works and will happily retrieve everything -- but at her own pace. Pip has the speed and urgency of a pensioner counting out change in a long grocery store queue. Pip finds a bird, and she'll get there when she gets there-
I work the girls as a trio, usually in a "one spaniel and two retrievers" combo. I'm not skilled enough to run four effectively. I cover my deficiency with the excuse that it gives each dog a day off in turn.
The Pip-Dulcie-Quincy combo
Do you know the saying about young boys? One boy is a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all. This should apply to working dogs too. Individual personalities mean that some dogs work together, and others distract each other. Quincy and Spud play all day together, and see a shoot day as just a "pheasant finding" extension of their daily games. Ditto Pip and Podge. This is fine as long as birds are eventually brought to hand, and no one even thinks about a game of tug o' war - a venial sin in the shooting field (and one which has happened to all of us).
The Dulcie-Quincy-Spud combo
Podge is currently doing a solo gig in the beating line with Monty, our new apprentice underkeeper. Podge will work for any handler - a rare and appreciated trait in a dog. She knows her job, and will stay with whoever takes her out of the kennel in the morning.
There is an even more special dog on the shoot. He belongs to one of our favourite clients. Merlin is a black lab with PRA. He lost his sight at a very early age. He's about four now.
Merlin and his companion Jasper
And he retrieves his owner's shot birds -
I love this video for the genuine feelings that both owner and dog reveal in this one small act.
We're all looking forward to the 2014-15 shoot season, and a job for every dog.