Leader of the Pack
The dogs, it almost goes without saying, do a stun- ningly good job. Another morning finds Stewart, me, and my eighteen-year-old son, James, down in a skeet field, a 16-gauge over-and-under shotgun racked open and dangling from the crook of my left elbow. With us are two fully finished Wildrose dogs, Deke and Indian, who can’t wait to get busy. There will be clay-pigeon shooting and, in the midst of it, bumpers for the dogs to retrieve, fired across the overgrown grasses.
“By the time one of our dogs is fully finished,” Stewart says, “it should be able to factor in all sorts of distractions and stay on task. That’s the goal.”
The shooting starts. The dogs stay put; they’re sitting without leads by Stewart’s knee as shotgun blasts pulverize disks of orange flying clay against a blue morning sky. Finally, a bumper is fired, falling far downhill in the tall grass. Stewart waits a second. The dogs—one black and one yellow—begin to vibrate subtly. Stewart turns and steps away from where the bumper landed in the field. The dogs follow. Stewart turns back toward where the bumper landed, perhaps eighty yards downhill in the field.
“Teaching and reinforcing calm and patience in them is huge, it’s just huge,” Stewart says. He looks down at the two dogs near his knee.
“Deke,” Stewart says. The black lab tears into the field: a full-out sprint. It returns about forty seconds later, carrying the bumper.
As Stewart removes the bumper from the dog’s mouth, he’s praising Deke and rubbing the dog’s ears and chin, telling him how good he is. Watching Stewart and the dogs working together in the morning light is a thing of beauty. It’s men and dogs, living side by side, via some agreement both species cut thousands of years ago that is still going strong.
In the filtered morning light, the dogs are ready for more shooting. More fun. And, I must add, so are the people.