Dogs are smart. If you don’t believe that, simply witness the next stock dog trial held in your community or go bird hunting with someone who owns a really good bird dog and learn, firsthand, about the amazing skills and loyal dedication of a trained dog.
I’ve known about the intelligence and determination of dogs ever since the 1950s when Ole Red, a shepherd-coon hound cross, would go out into those north Arkansas, free-range woods and meadows and retrieve our small herd of dairy cows for their evening milking. He performed in all kinds of weather, 365 days a year and never asked anything in return except for a kind word and a pat on the head. I was only a toddler at the time, but I heard dad brag about him my whole life. Today’s highly trained Border Collies put Ole Red to shame in terms of style, but the outcome is the same – cattle gathered, all while saving the farmer a million steps.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of observing outstanding bird dogs that could find quail in terrain that was difficult for a rabbit to traverse, yet eventually we’d find the dog ‘locked on’ a covey or single and he’d probably been frozen on point for several minutes before we got there, not moving a hair on his body until the command to flush came from his master. That, my friends, is artistry.
I’m also constantly amazed when I watch a seeing-eye dog lead his master safely and effortlessly in and out of traffic and a maze of building entrances and exits, exactly where the vision impaired human needs to go. The same amazement is evident as one watches bomb or drug-sniffing dogs or Bloodhounds on the trail of a missing child. The diversity of the breeds of dogs performing these tasks are as varied as the jobs themselves and should leave us all astonished.
On a trip I took last weekend, I learned about one more special kind of dog. I spent the day with an old college buddy up in northeast Missouri. At a local diner, we sat with the wife of another acquaintance. When my buddy asked her where her husband was, she replied that he was at the farm practicing with his “antler-dog.” Thinking I had misunderstood, I asked her to repeat it.
“Antler dog,” the wife carefully articulated. I was dumbfounded.
She said that her husband collects antlers that have been shed by deer, out in the woods and fields, using his specially trained Labrador Retriever. She also, with raised eyebrows, explained that her husband had paid “a lot of money” for this animal, but it seemed to be a good investment since her spouse uses the antlers to make decorative tables and lamps that sell for extremely high prices to rich people who want an interesting conversation piece. I’m sure my lower jaw hit the table.
I guess it makes sense that a dog could be trained for this purpose. My own stock dog, Grizz, will retrieve every bone, skull, hide and hoof within a three-mile radius and bring them to our front yard as if he believes I am collecting them. After all, we have dogs that will retrieve sticks, ducks, newspapers and an assortment of other items, so why not antlers?
After returning home, Grizz and I walked down to the barn where I fetched my trophy rack from last deer season, a single 3-point tine. We loaded in the truck and drove down to the woods where I gave him a good, stiff smell of my trophy rack. I threw the antler as far into the woods as I could and then ordered my faithful companion to, “go get.” After about ten minutes, Grizz returned with the front leg of a calf lost during last winter’s blizzard. He ran right past me on his way to the house, depositing the hide-covered bone on his already enormous pile of body parts.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’