What sportsman hasn’t dreamed of owning the perfect hunting dog? Oh, to be the owner and trainer of the dog that points every bird in the field and flawlessly completes every retrieve, to have one with manners, style and the heart of the rouge. To own such a dog is a reward few of us will find more than once. But, we dream. And if we are serious in our quest, the precious few years of our lives are spent searching for such a dog.
Paw Paw, Michigan is known for it’s fine vineyards and I hoped that it would also be the birthplace of fine gundogs. Thanks to Mapquest, the drive of three hours to get there from my home went by in a heartbeat. Before I knew it, my wife, Jody, my oldest son, Peter, and I were making the short walk with the breeder from the garage to his kennel. The moment of truth had arrived. Would we leave for home empty handed, or return with the package?
There are thirteen pups in the litter, but I would have only two to choose from. The others were already sold before hand and the breeder was keeping one for himself. In phone conversations, before our arrival, he had told me I had a male and a female to choose from. From his descriptions of them I was almost sure the female was the one I wanted.
As we all walked towards the kennel, the breeder told me things had changed since I spoke to him two days before. A couple that was going to take a male had changed their minds and took the female I was hoping to see. They had picked her up just hours before our arrival. I was a bit discouraged when told of this, but decided to look at the two remaining dogs he was offering.
It was early March, with snow still on the ground. The bright sunshine reflecting up from it that afternoon made my eyes squint. As we entered the kennel-building door, I was pleasantly surprised; it was heated. “This was a man committed to the care of his dogs,” I thought to myself. It was a good sign. I heard the scampering of canine feet in front of us as my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside. I looked down into the first pen and saw Heidi the Griffon with her wiggling 12 week old pups.
The breeder pointed out the two pups I was looking for, but in the swarming pack it was tough to keep them separated in my line of sight. He entered their pen and plucked up one of them and passed him over to me. I just held him for a few minutes and tried to memorize his markings. (Oval patch on the left side only.)
This first pup melted in my arms and was content to be held. His ears laid back and he licked my hand. I handed him back over the side and concentrated on him after he was placed back with the others. He was a very mellow dog, willing to follow behind the others or sit off to the side, out of the way. He appeared to be a very trainable dog, in my unprofessional opinion, the perfect gentleman. Here was a dog that would lie at your feet in front of the fireplace and be a loyal friend forever.
“Now, which is the other one?” I asked. “I think he’s outside in the run.” was the reply after a quick scan of the pen. “The pups are just learning how to use the portal door”, he added. And I’m thinking, “The second pup knows how to use the portal and is willing to go outside on his own, a very independent dog.” About this time pup number two comes back inside thru the portal, jumps up and tries to snatch the brown jersey glove off the breeders hand. He picks him up and hands him over to me.
This one doesn’t try to get away from me, but there is a difference in his attitude. He is watching everything happening inside the pen and looks at all of us as we speak to each other. His ears are up and alert.
He’s somewhat bigger in size than the first pup and has a chestnut tee shaped marking. The “top” of the tee wraps from side to side over his back just behind the front shoulders. The “tail” of the tee goes down his back just short of the round patch of the same color surrounding his tail. It’s symmetrical and gives him a “balanced” appearance.
After I checked his teeth and bite, I handed him back to join the others. He wadded right back into the middle of the chaos in the pen amidst the others and then resumed his attack on the jersey-gloved hand of the breeder. This guy was busy!
I tried to guess what this pup would amount to and was daunted by my vision. Here was the biggest pup of the litter; which many will tell you to avoid. He was an independent spirit and quite obviously the wild-child of the litter. He’d at times, probably be stubborn and maybe a tough one to train. Granted, there is a great depth of intelligence in his hazel eyes, but there was also that “attitude”.
His owner and trainer would have to earn this dog’s respect. With intelligence comes the sensitivity that a heavy hand or boredom could ruin. I think the future trainer of this pup would see days of rebellion mixed in with days of astonishment at the pup’s progress and instincts. And only if the trainer faithfully devoted many hours working with him, would he be a disciplined hunting partner. Right or wrong, because of all of the above, I chose this dog.
The breeder loosed Heidi and my pup in the yard to race around while we did the paper work inside his home. As we did this, he brought us up to date with what brand of food he was using and which shots had been given. The removal of the dewclaws and docking of the tail was already done. Peter took a few pictures of Heidi and the pup while we finished in the house.
Returning outdoors, we found Heidi investigating the yard; with my pup in tow. After taking a couple more pictures, I scooped him up and thanked the breeder once more. We drove out of his driveway and back thru Paw Paw towards the highway. My first journey with a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon had begun.
Naming a dog is always fun to do. Some people will name a dog before they have seen it, but I like to take a day to try and pick a name that fits it or reminds me of the day I got it. Watching the pup wobble back and forth as he walked across the truck seat made me think of the name “Rocky”. It suited him well, and with a suggestion from Jody, we added “Boy” to the name to get “Rocky Boy”. (Beatle’s fans will understand where that comes from).
The first month with Rocky at home was made up of the usual puppy training. For the most part it went fine and it continues to this day; two months later. Rocky seems impervious to cold weather and will lie on and in snowdrifts without a care. Since the first week at home, he will point our Siamese cat and mourning doves in the back yard.
Once the bad weather broke, about mid-April, I started taking him for runs in open fields and wood lots near our home. I live in a suburban area, but there are corn stubble fields and weedy open places to do this. A few pheasants and rabbits live there and I hope our paths will soon cross.
Right from the beginning, he would range back and forth in front of me, just like we were hunting. Without much work, he looks back to see where I’m at and will adjust his direction to mine if I turn. I bought a whistle to try and have used it only for recall because he keeps tabs on me in the field all the time. All of this must be his instinct kicking in because I had little to do with it.
Rocky and I take road trips in the truck every chance I can find. The conservation club I belong to owns a large track of land with a small lake and wooded areas between the shooting ranges and buildings. This is a great place to go for important lessons. We’ve gone there at least once a week from the beginning.
The first trip was with Jody and we parked the truck near the skeet and trap ranges to get Rocky used to shotgun reports. This didn’t seem to phase him a bit, so we walked him just behind the shooters, closer to the shooting and the response was the same. Jody walked him about as I shot a couple of rounds of skeet and then we called it a day. A very good day, I might add.
The next few trips to the skeet range were different. Jody stayed home and I took Rocky’s food with me. I walked him near the ranges for a bit and then fed him directly behind the skeet range. Of course, the shooters had to all say hello to him and it was all very good socialization time. But, these trips I introduced something different. Rocky was put in the truck (where he could always see me) and I shot a round of skeet. There was some barking at first because he wanted to be with me, but after the first two stations of skeet, he would lie down and be quiet. I was trying to teach him that there would be times he’d have to do this.
Finally, we had some higher temperatures and I took Rocky to the club to introduce him to water. The breeder had not done this and I was only waiting for a decent day for it. The backside of the lake has a walking trail leading to it and we strolled down it with Rocky on his long 25 foot lead.
When we reached the lake I just let him walk along the sandy bank to sniff and check it out. We followed the bank for about a hundred yards and I stopped and set down, letting Rocky step into the water, but still on the lead. He’d run thru puddles in the fields near home, but this was something way different!
I let him get comfortable with the surroundings (still on the long lead) and looked for a stick. Finding one, I walked down to the edge of the lake and after showing it to him I tossed it into the lake, a few feet from the shore. He ran right in and brought it back without any fear at all. I slowly started to toss the stick a little further out into the lake each time and finally, when the point came where he’d have to loose footing on the bottom, did he hesitate. The waves brought the stick in closer, shortly, and he picked it up and we were done. Until I had some hip boots, this lesson was finished.
Two weeks later, Jody, Rocky and I were in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the U.P.) for the opening of trout season. The second day there, I pulled on the hip boots for lesson two of the water-dog-fun time. Again, a nice stick was our practice dummy. After a few tosses from shore I threw one into deeper water to try to get Rocky to swim. He raced into the water and pulled up short of leaving the bottom to swim. I was about to go in when he pushed off and swam out to grab it and turn to head for shore. This was one of the small moments we wait for.