The greatest dog in the worldHow do you figure out if you have the greatest dog in the world? How can you cogitate if any dog can be called the greatest dog in the world?
By: Jim Bennett, outdoors columnist, River Falls Journal
How do you figure out if you have the greatest dog in the world? How can you cogitate if any dog can be called the greatest dog in the world?
I’ve put together a formula based on traits involving some “dog gone” good categories. For dogs those categories would be obedience, ability, temperament, love and humanness.
Obedience is simple. Does the dog do what it’s supposed to do when it’s told?
Ability is the skill of simply getting the job done but with a flare of say Brett Favre when he was really on fire.
Temperament is how the animal gets along with other dogs.
Love goes both ways, with the first being the dog’s love for its owners, but more so was the dog loved by others who only knew the dog as a friend of the owner?
And finally humanness: The trait that separates average dogs and incorporates them as full-fledged family members.
My son Josh would say his dog, Bear, was on the day he was born, more of an April Fool’s Day joke gone bad. He was the second to the last of nine pups born out of a litter that spawned greatness in his sister Spooner and brother Seon. But not Bear. Bear was born with an overbite and no tail at all making him part of my created breed known as Hunting Dockers. The breed has been around since 1984 and known to readers of this column thanks to Bing, father of the breed and other good dogs that are now only memories.
As a puppy Bear made a lasting impression on those who first met him as he flopped on his back and peed on himself. Not very impressive, but that was Bear, the shy little puppy. The second slowest of his siblings, Bear always tried harder but the physical ability was not there to make him first at anything. His Docker siblings we kept, Spooner, Seon and Delta, all had better physical abilities.
Bear was built like a fullback — muscular, low to the ground and strong. If he was on a football team he would have been a lineman or maybe a lead blocker. No glory, just get the job done.
Usually on the sidelines, we let Spooner and Seon do most of the hunting. Then to make matters worse young Bear got an ear infection that made him almost deaf and hurt his olfactory system as well. But sometimes when you lose something you gain something else.
Although he had lost some hearing and smell, his eyesight was beyond that of any dog I have ever known. You never had to watch the sky for ducks because all you had to do was keep an eye on Bear. He would let you know when ducks were coming, or if a hawk was sailing high overhead. Any shot grouse that downed out of human sight was easily found by Bear. Pheasants dropped in the middle of a cattail marsh? No problem. Being a tad slow made Bear a great grouse dog.
Then tragedy struck. Seon was lost to an accident and a short time later the same thing happened to Spooner. All of a sudden our team had lost its two star players. That left me with Delta, and Josh with Bear. Josh had trained the boys while I worked the ladies.
Josh was about 16 years old when Bear was born, so this was his first attempt at training on his own. Having grown up around dogs and watching me all his life, Josh took to training with ease and he and Bear created a bond. In fact if Bear would have had his say, they would have been joined at the hip. Bear never took his eyes off Josh. Josh took pride in sneaking up on Bear with his deaf ear and scaring him and faking the dummy toss to drive Bear nuts.
Finally Bear would give up and crawl up on his lap and lick his face. That is what Bear did best. He loved you and it showed. When Josh would go somewhere and leave Bear behind that dog would stand and stare at the door. He even tried to trail his truck down the road if I let him out too soon.
Bear was a perfect retriever; grabbing any game, alive or dead with the authority you want. Bear never messed a feather on any bird. Soft mouth was Bear’s middle name. And he was perfect in a duck blind. Always sitting still until it was his time to work. Then he was off like a shot, bringing back and gently holding birds until you took them from him, dead or alive.
Two years ago on the duck opener he retrieved all the ducks a half-dozen shooters knocked down without a miss. A friend and dedicated waterfowler, Chris Valentine, said he was the best duck dog he had ever seen. And this was Bear at age 11.
Josh and I just laughed under our breaths. Sure Bear was good, but if Chris had only seen Seon or Spooner. But Bear earned the praises that day. Josh always made Bear a place in the tent, wet or dry, and Bear rewarded him with drooling, grunts, gas and snoring that rivaled his old man. But never once did Josh ever have to get up in the middle of the night. Bear could hold it with the best of any dog.
Josh had been training our lab Magic to retrieve and I told him he might want to think about letting Bear have some time off. But Josh felt as long as Bear could go he would take him. Age barely slowed him. Bear did great and he loved hunting. I can see those two hiding in the swamp grass. As long as Josh did his job and dropped the bird within 50 yards, Bear would do great. After that ....well.
Pheasant hunting in deep snow was hard on Bear last year, but ducks in shallow open areas was still fun and easy for him. Bear was now going on 12 and it’s always hard to let an old dog stay home when they want to go.
Then Bear came down with another ear infection. I mentioned it to Josh because Bear was his dog although he was living with me. The old dog was spending most of his time in the house enjoying the care and special attention an old warrior deserved. Every morning I would wake up and Bear would either be asleep on the rug next to my bed or on the couch laid out like a beauty queen.
But when I got up that particular morning I noticed something was terribly wrong. No snoring, grunts or drool could be seen. Although Bear was lying on the rug, I knew he was gone. I sat there and looked at him and admired him. Even in death he was lying next to me as if on guard. A loyal dog to the end. My heart sank as all the memories came back.
Erin later told me that many people were hurt when Bear died. She told me of friends from school days that would stop by and be more excited to see Bear than her or Josh. Others would go out of their way to pet him and ask where he was when they stopped in. If he was gone hunting they felt bad.
Everyone liked Bear. He just had something about him. The way he would nuzzle up against you and warm you from the outside in towards your heart. He never jumped up on you. He would go if you told him but you could tell his feelings were hurt. You could read it in his eyes. Oh what eyes he had; big brown and sad but so full of love.
Bear never needed a leash. He hated puppies and liked cats. He once went canoeing with Josh and his girlfriend Megan and she said he would wait with her to cross the stream and stayed next to her when the canoe tipped over.
In the end the tears flowed from everyone when we buried Bear. I made it worse when I tossed in the little teddy bear Bear ran around with in his mouth when he was waiting for Josh to show up. We buried him on the hill overlooking the pond and placed a bench there where we sit and watch the ducks and geese fly. But now we have to spot them because Bear is gone.
But he’s not really gone. You see Bear has a son named Cubby that looks like Bear without the overbite. And he comes running up to you just like Bear did when he was a puppy. He even flops over on his back when he knows he is in trouble. But unlike Bear, Cubby doesn’t pee on himself.
Megan said it best when she said that no one loved Josh as much as Bear. Not anyone in the family or anyone else could ever love anyone that much. He was devoted to Josh and always wanted to be with him, even when he was sneaking up behind him or teasing him with a dummy. That made Bear, like your dog, the greatest dog in the world.
WILDLIFE QUIZ - When do extra turkey permits go on sale?
Answer: Check online because they are on sale now.
I want all of my loyal readers to know that there will be just one more column from me following this one. I have really enjoyed walking those Outdoor Tales and Trails with you and hope you too have enjoyed coming along for the journey these trails have taken us over the past 25 years. If you have any comments you want to share, please write to the River Falls Journal and the paper will pass them along to me.