A Decision to Make

Posted on December 26, 2012

Sorry for the delay. I didn’t have time to write yesterday, because Christmas. I was busy rejoicing, loudly. Regardless, I thought I’d post something so I didn’t miss a day.

My dad and I are going hunting in two days. We’ll be staying fairly close to town, so we can wake early, be on the hill by mid-morning, and home in time for a good night’s sleep. Our hopes for the success of the trip are fairly low; I’ve only hunted a few times, and he hasn’t gone for years. We’ll give it our best, though, and we might get lucky and find a few birds.

But I’ve come upon a tough decision. Should I bring Sawyer along? I hadn’t planned on taking him out until opening day, next season, but I’m tempted to load him in the truck and see what he can do. This article, which details good ways to introduce puppies to live birds, seems to say that I should take him along. We can practice all we like, but Sawyer won’t really be a bird-dog until he’s found (chased, retrieved) the real thing. This article, however, warns against improperly introducing a dog to gunfire. I’ve shot around Sawyer a few times with my .22 caliber handgun, but the differences between .22 and 20 gauge shotgun fire are vast. I wouldn’t want to scare Sawyer, perhaps permanently affecting his desire to hunt.

The Pros

  • Finally finding some live birds for Sawyer to chase.
  • A full day of exercise.
  • Fun for everybody (I hope).
  • Making our chances of a successful hunt much greater.

The Cons

  • I don’t have many of the tools (including an e-collar) that I should have.
  • Risk scaring Sawyer.

I think I know the answer, but I’ll ask the question anyways.


A Brief History of the German Shorthaired Pointer

Posted on December 19, 2012

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Sawyer, like every other GSP, has webbed feet. A few of my readers were surprised at that fact, just as I was surprised by it while I was researching the breed. So, for you, for me, for anybody who cares enough to be interested, but not enough to look it up, here’s a brief history of Sawyer’s breed.

In the dense forests of nineteenth-century Germany, hunters desired a companion that could fill a few different roles. They wanted a breed with a nose capable locating game at distance, enough discipline to hold (point) when game was found, and strength and durability enough to retrieve downed game from both land and water. Historians believe that the breed began as a mix of numerous existing breeds, including the Old Spanish Pointer, the French Braque, and the English Foxhound. Throughout the latter half of the century, the line was mixed with a variety of other breeds in an attempt increase breed intelligence, versatility, stamina, and aesthetics.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

In 1872, the breed was entered into the German Kennel Club Stud Book, and in 1925 a female GSP was brought to the United States, thus establishing the breed in America. In 1930, GSPs became an American Kennel Club recognized breed.

The breed is named for its ability to point. As in the featured picture in this post, a dog on point flattens its back and head and becomes very still, creating a line pointing toward game. This instinct is simply an extension of the stalking instinct possessed by many breeds. Most dogs, upon smelling something out of the ordinary, will slow down and deliberately inspect the smell. As puppies, GSPs will stalk nearly anything — a feather, a spider, a dandelion — that they aren’t familiar with. They are set apart, however, by their above-average sense of smell (to detect game from farther away) and their common sense. A GSP quickly learns that if they get too close to their prey, it will flee. They learn to pause before pouncing on their quarry, and after many, many training sessions, this tendency can be molded into the powerful tool that hunters desire.

Shorthairs are praised for their intelligence, for their strong noses, and for their ability to run long and fast, but the breed’s true merit lies in its versatility. GSPs have strong legs, thick nails, and outstanding stamina, which make them effective upland (rocky, mountainous terrain) bird dogs. They tend to be barrel chested, especially if they aren’t spayed or neutered, which helps push through dense thickets of sage. As I mentioned above, they have webbed feet and a dense, water-repellent coat, which makes them sound water dogs as well. Beyond hunting, many GSPs are trained to dock jump — something I’d like to try with Sawyer — many are showed, and some even work with military and law enforcement.

Pictured: a bird.

Pictured: a bird.

The primary complaint I hear about GSPs is that they’re too high energy. Here’s the deal, though. Sawyer runs everywhere. He never walks. We’re not even sure he knows how. This can be frustrating, especially in a home like ours with tight hallways, because he’ll come flying by and clip you in the back of the knee. It’s a pain, but not a breed flaw. In fact, their energy is what makes them effective hunters. On a given day, a hunter might hike between ten and fifteen miles, over rocky terrain and dense brush. The dog easily doubles that distance, does it faster, requires fewer breaks, and is having fun the whole time. Energy can be a nuisance, but only if it’s ignored. An energetic dog wants to be stimulated, to work, to learn.

There are several more-than-a-century-old pedigree lines in existence. Sawyer is a member of none of them, but he shows more promise every day. I can’t wait to get him out in the field.

– Matt

The Old Question

Posted on December 12, 2012

I’ve stopped myself from writing a post about Sawyer destroying the house a few times now. Each time I sit down to write a post like that, I realize that all dogs chew and scratch and tear things up, so why would anybody want to read about my dog doing it?

Well, I still don’t have an answer to that question, but damn it if I’m not writing it this time.

I came home from work, and through the window I could see that the living room was littered with torn scraps of paper. Sawyer had his paws up on the window sill, and was looking at me expectantly as I approached the door. But when I opened it, he had gone to hide in the back room, as is custom when he’s done something wrong.

It was a magazine. Nothing important this time — he’s also recently torn open a blanket, been found chewing on multiple pillows, and gnawed on a thankfully closed pocket knife — but, still, I hadn’t even looked all the way through it yet.

So I brought (read: dragged) him from the back of the house to the living room, and as he cowered below me, flattening the still-wet shreds of paper into the carpet, I was met with the old question: should I punish him?

Would you?

Would you?

My answer was yes. Eternally and resoundingly, yes. If a dog misbehaves, he should be reprimanded. I try very hard to use positive reinforcement whenever possible, but how do you praise a dog when he’s not tearing up your stuff? In situations like these, positive reinforcement isn’t an option. The choice then is to let the dog go without chastising him (thus admitting that destructive behavior is acceptable) or to respond negatively, to somehow link undesirable behavior to discomfort or fear in the dogs mind.

But punishments come in varied degrees, and knowing exactly how to react is hard. How much is enough? What specifically should be done? Does the punishment need to be physical? I think the answer to this last question is yes, sometimes. Not for every transgression, and never cruelly, but a smack on the head can be very effective because it removes all ambiguity. The language barrier between humans and dogs can be difficult to overcome, but it’s hard to misinterpret the meaning of a spank.

So I smacked him, felt the familiar twinge of regret – was that too much? – and put him outside. As I cleaned up the mess – with a rake, and with great success – I listened to him howl at the door. After shoveling the remnants of the magazine into the trash, I opened the door to let him in. But instead of rushing past me, he sat there, patiently waiting to be called in. I patted my leg, and he hurried to me, mouth open and tail wagging hard. We were friends again.

Seriously, a rake. Try it.

Seriously, a rake. Try it.

Did I expect anything different? Maybe a little. But I suppose that’s the point, the reason dogs resonate within us the way they do. Maybe they’re just a way to externalize our affection, to see it echoed, amplified. I’m nowhere near the first person to think about these things – here’s a compilation of dog quotes, some simple, some grossly sentimental. Where do I fall in that spectrum? – but, again, that’s the point. There’s a reason lists like that one exist. None of those quotes truly distill the importance of a dog. I can’t do it either, but regardless, I’m thankful to have a friend like Sawyer.

I’ve got a few more pictures of Sawyer’s household victims. I’ll just leave them here. Click to enlarge.

– Matt

Snapshot Sunday 12/9

Posted on December 9, 2012

The point of Snapshot Sunday is to remove any language from a post and let a simple image speak for itself. However, this is my first post since updating my blog’s theme, which means thanks are in order.


Thanks to my grandmother, Grace Bartel, for the new look, for your support, and for your love. I hope you like it.


I’m still working out the theme’s kinks, so please, everyone, let me know what you think in the comments section.

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