Last Wednesday, legendary gun dog trainer, Gary Ruppel, introduced Pride into our home. Pride is a handsome, seven year old, Grand River Labrador retriever who recently lost his owner. We had been considering a bird dog for months, but we could not decide on a puppy or a started dog. My wife and I were on edge as we did not know how our dog Bo would react to another male lab on his turf. After two hours of working the dogs through their paces, and with Gary’s professional recommendation, we decided to bring Pride into our home. As Gary left our house, Pride followed, looking distraught when the door closed and the truck pulled away. As Thursday unfolded, it became obvious that Pride was incredibly stressed by his new environment. We made a concerted effort to stay close to him, trying to provide comfort during this difficult transition. Pride was now a member of the Freedman family, and we quickly felt a real devotion to his wellbeing.
A few enjoyable bumper throwing sessions on Thursday, along with a ton of tail-wagging, lead us to believe that Pride might coming out of his funk. As 4 pm rolled around on Friday, I decided to cut out of work and take Pride on a short hunt. The conditions were perfect, 20 degrees, slight wind and no one in the field. Admittedly, I was pretty excited to watch Pride execute his craft. As we journeyed into the wind, I told Pride to “hunt-it-up”. He hesitated as we moved slowly down an old creek bed toward tall bulrushes that line the north part of the land. When I slowed, Pride actually sat by my side almost telling me that he was not ready to hunt. We walked the countryside for about 60 minutes with old Pride angling at my car the entire time. Eventually his eyes told me that he wanted to leave.
As we drove home, Gary and I talked about the experience, and Pride’s perceived resistance to hunt. He told me to take him out again and say nothing in the field. I must allow Pride to follow his instincts and do what he was trained to do. Gary critiqued my demeanor, attitude and intensity, emphasizing that patience and calmness would work best for the dog and for me.
We had a great Saturday throwing the bumper and playing in the yard. Pride was settling into his new family, and was acting like a different dog. At times he actually pranced around the house with his tail pointing up towards the sky. He seemed to appreciate the attention my 6 and 4 year old boys paid to him, taking every opportunity to nuzzle into them while gently licking them on the face.
On Sunday morning, my oldest son and I headed 30 miles east towards the property that we hunt. I was not overly anxious as I felt that this trip was just another day for Pride to further acclimate into his new situation. After opening the hatch on my car, Pride enthusiastically jumped out, but seemed hesitant to move into the field. Following Gary’s direction, I said nothing to him, hoping his instincts would eventually take over. Without any commands, Pride abruptly turned and moved eagerly into the open land. He began to trot toward a large brush pile about 150 yards from the car. He moved right then left with his nose guiding us in the right direction. As he approached the mound of sticks, he slowed to a determined crawl then stopped suddenly; shoulders low and tail erect. I had been in a steady jog but stopped to set up about ten feet behind him with my gun mounted. Maintaining complete focus, Pride moved into the cover flushing the bird who quickly flew low and to my right. Given the proximity to the dog, I could not take a safe shot at the chucker. When I could not see black, I fired once missing my mark then quickly regained my composure and fired again. The bird fell about 40 yards away, and Pride was there to retrieve it for me. It was our first bird together and we celebrated. Pride, Ty and I hunted for another 90 minutes. Pride pointed to and flushed six more birds. He walked the land with confidence and purpose. It was an amazing experience to watch the dog flawlessly execute the job he was tasked to do.
For 7 years, Pride was trained, raised and cherished by the Webber family and Gary Ruppel. We look forward to continuing to love and care for Pride.