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Hunting with Nellie, a Retriever With Limitless Natural Instincts—and Embarrassingly Little Grace
Outdoor Life ^ | November 10, 2020 | Andrew McKean

Posted on 11/11/2020 1:44:42 PM PST by SJackson

It’s fair to say that Nellie’s boardinghouse manners obscure her finer points, and if you doubt that, then you’ve never seen her contort her body to sniff the passage of her own gas

The author's yellow Lab, Nellie, with a calf head she found on the ranch.Andrew McKean

If, as they say, people select their dogs based on shared qualities, then I apparently ­imagine myself a puckish orphan with appalling food habits and a love of the putrid combined with an overdeveloped sense of both entitlement and guilt.

Nellie is a yellow Lab who turns 4 years old next spring, and to be fair, she also has some appealing traits, which I may or may not share. She has a surprisingly soft mouth and can scent a rooster from the next township, is as athletic as a lynx, and simply won’t give up on a retrieve, even at the risk of her health. She’s obnoxiously playful.

But it’s also fair to say that Nellie’s boardinghouse manners obscure her finer points, and if you doubt that, then you’ve never seen her contort her body to sniff the passage of her own gas.

I didn’t actually pick Nellie. She found me, the way listeria finds sanitarians, after my previous Lab, Willow, died in a hunting accident. If Willow lived to serve and obey, Nellie lives to find rotting ­morsels, and then bring them home.

They say that people receive the dogs they deserve, and if I think back on my own formative years, I see bits and pieces of myself in Nellie, minus the love of eating my own vomit and smelling my own farts. I was a stray. I roamed too widely, didn’t come when called, and ran around without a leash or collar. I ­preferred experiences over stability.

Then I met the woman I went on to marry, and I became more interested in building a home and a future than sniffing around. I recall the day, when we were dating, at a county pound where I had gone to adopt a dog, that I recognized in her a sound judge of animals but also, more significantly, a person with the goodness and grace to leaven my intemperate mischief.

That was 25 years ago. Over that time, we’ve raised three children and many dogs together. Sometimes, in the quiet moments when I’m sitting on a tailgate or waiting for ducks to fly, I’ll twist the wedding ring on my finger, and I’m ­reminded of the simple joy and stability it represents. It also serves to tug me home, the way gravity pulls two objects toward each other.

These days, that peace is often interrupted by Nellie, typically doing something boisterous and borderline unforgivable. In our first two years together, Nellie’s headlong enthusiasm earned her the nickname “Dumbass.” There was the time she ate rat poison in my neighbor’s barn, the time she swallowed a golf ball (then passed it eight months later, in the most explosive evacuation you can imagine), the time she threw up two pounds of maggots hours after gorging on a dead cow.

Happily, she’s slowing down a bit and recognizing her actions have consequences, but while I’ve managed to curb her headlong drive, I do so reluctantly. Because while Nellie’s nature makes her a difficult companion and an unholy housemate, it makes her a superb hunter. And there are times when I’ve abandoned my expectations of obedience to witness a million years of canine instincts wire her to an invisible current of smells and tells that nearly always produces a bird.

In these moments I overlook Nellie’s transgressions and revel in the rare opportunity to participate in interspecies cooperation, a predator and a human hunting together, not because they must but because they choose to. If there’s been an evolution in my relationship with Nellie, it’s that while she once hunted for herself, she now hunts for both of us.


When I miss a shot, she looks back at me with disdain. But when I connect, and she lays the retrieved bird in my hands, an arc of communion sparks just quickly enough to notice before she’s off to flush the next bird.

Nellie has also reminded me of a quality that modern hunters have lost in our pursuit of the best gear, the biggest buck, or the top dog. It’s the notion of sufficiency, that sometimes it’s better to be adequate and fulfilled than hungry and driven. It can take years to recognize that settling down doesn’t mean settling.

Nellie remains a dumbass. She’s still attracted to the fetid and the funky. She still huffs her own gas. But she no longer has to inspect every malodorous scent on the breeze. She no longer strains at the boundaries I establish. She comes when called. She stays within shotgun range. I’ll take credit for some of that biddability, just as I credit my spouse with finding it in me. But I’ll also credit a piece of jewelry that connects us almost as effectively as a wedding ring. It’s an electronic collar, and in those increasingly rare moments when instinct overrides obedience, it’s an invaluable reminder to Nellie of who calls the shots.

TOPICS: Outdoors

1 posted on 11/11/2020 1:44:42 PM PST by SJackson
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To: Iowa Granny; Ladysmith; Diana in Wisconsin; JLO; sergeantdave; damncat; phantomworker; joesnuffy; ..
Outdoors/Rural/wildlife/hunting/hiking/backpacking/National Parks/animals list please FR mail me to be on or off . And ping me is you see articles of interest.
2 posted on 11/11/2020 1:51:09 PM PST by SJackson (Let me control the media and I will turn any nation into a herd of sheep, J. Goebbels)
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To: SJackson

Beef - Its whats for dinner

3 posted on 11/11/2020 1:52:48 PM PST by BigEdLB (BigedLB, Russian BOT, At your service)
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To: SJackson

Great reading and very timely.I am struggling with a new German Shorthair Pointer and I see much of myself and my farm and my dog in this well written article. Thanks for posting !!

4 posted on 11/11/2020 2:00:27 PM PST by Howe_D_Dewty
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To: SJackson

I’ve had lots of dogs, retreivers have always been my favorite. Never figured out their tendency to eat anything and everthing-from rocks & glass to the odd stick. They give new meaning to “shaking like a puppy passing peach pits”.

5 posted on 11/11/2020 2:09:12 PM PST by orlop9
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To: SJackson
I loved that article Sam. It just occurred to me, has any bird hunter with trained dogs ever given a thought to training their dogs how to sniff out Morel mushrooms in the late spring when they pop up in their respective northern states?

That could be a very lucrative business for an individual willing to lease his time with his dog to take mushroom hunters out on their hunts.......

6 posted on 11/11/2020 2:13:36 PM PST by Hot Tabasco
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To: SJackson

Pure love, ever so true.

7 posted on 11/11/2020 2:41:37 PM PST by myerson (The coup is fully out in the open)
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To: SJackson

4yrs is adolescent.

Dogs don’t learn to be humans until they’re at least 8, and usually 10yrs old.

That’s when they have mastered your entire vocabulary and can read your mind.

8 posted on 11/11/2020 2:56:15 PM PST by Mariner (War Criminal #18)
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To: Daffynition

Nellie is calling you!

9 posted on 11/11/2020 3:06:13 PM PST by Ezekiel (The pun is mightier than the s-word. Goy to the World!)
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To: SJackson

Read it, chuckled about the rat poison.

My little girl SOPHIE (Black Lab) got into one of the low kitchen cabinets when she was about 3 months old and ate a WHOLE POUND of rat poison.

Fortunately I happened to need something from that cabinet about 9:30 pm that night, I saw the torn up empty rat poison package and was able to get her into the vets emergency room.

They gave her something that made her puke her guts up and got the rat poison out of her, including some fairly large pieces of something they couldn’t identify.

They showed me the pieces and asked me if I knew what they were.

All I could say was “HOLY CRAP, SHE ATE A PAINT ROLLER”!

And not one of the little wienie rollers, a full sized paint roller.

SOPH is getting older now (15 years) but she is still my baby girl, and she loves her daddy as much as he loves her.

10 posted on 11/11/2020 3:23:29 PM PST by 5th MEB (Progressives in the open; --- FIRE FOR EFFECT!!)
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To: SJackson

We had an emergency trip to the Vet on Sunday afternoon. Our 15 week old Yorkie/Maltese (Morkie) inhaled something while playing in the backyard. She was extremely distressed and made horrible noises trying to breathe. The Vet is half an hour away, so I knew this was an issue that needed to be resolved in the car before we got to the Vet.

My wife drove while I comforted the dog (”Piper”). I decided to massage her trachea upward toward her head as she struggled. About 4 blocks for the Vet’s office the object she inhaled decided to go down her esophagus instead of her trachea. Tuesday evening she passed what appeared to be a chunk of a small tree branch.

Like the dog in the article, Piper is instinctively drawn to foul smells, all kinds of skat, mouse traps and all kinds of poisons and poisonous plants. She’ll chew on just about anything. My wife is not pleased with her would-be lap dog. I’m a hunter, so I’m training her to retrieve. She’ll be about 12 to 13 pounds as an adult. Maybe I can put Piper in my game bag and pull her out to retrieve my ducks...

11 posted on 11/11/2020 3:30:05 PM PST by Senator_Blutarski
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To: SJackson

Oh, mercy ... I guess this is what we have to look forward to. We adopted a yellow lab last year. He has a thing for tupperware lids but so far (touch wood) the worst thing he’s managed to get down was a whole stick of butter. Amateur, I know.

He is a big chicken but very loud so we appreciate that. He sounds worse than he is.

He is no help at all on the farm, but a good companion so we’re keeping him.

12 posted on 11/11/2020 3:53:13 PM PST by Cloverfarm (Pray for the peace of Jerusalem ...)
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To: 5th MEB
I said goodbye to my Molly yesterday.
She was an Irish Setter that just turned 15 October 22
She was my baby girl also.
I made sure my face was the last thing she saw as she went to sleep.

13 posted on 11/11/2020 4:23:01 PM PST by mountn man (The Pleasure You Get From Life, Is Equal To The Attitude You Put Into It)
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To: SJackson; All

I LOVE Labs! I’ve owned three; two blacks and a yellow. This author describes my Miss Lucy (yellow) to a T!

The only drawback with Labs is that it takes them so d@mn LONG to ‘grow up.’ By the time a Lab is 5 or so, you’re JUST starting to have a really good, well-trained dog.

Not many owners can hold out that long!

14 posted on 11/11/2020 7:46:49 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin (I don't have 'Hobbies.' I'm developing a robust post-Apocalyptic skill set.)
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To: orlop9

our black lad once ran into hte woods- then returned home later in the evening, sitting in the house, starts gagging- i rush her out to the deck where she lets go, and she throws up a whole deer stomach that someone had shot and gutted in the woods- how she got the whole thing down I’ll never know- but it was the grossest thing I’ve ever had to clean up and there was soo very much of it too- all down through the boards of the deck- uggh-

Had an olde English Sheep Dog once that ate a whole pair of long johns- Yep- threw em up on the living room floor-

Aint dogs grand?

15 posted on 11/11/2020 8:53:59 PM PST by Bob434
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To: SJackson

“instinct overrides obedience”

My little squirrel dog suffers that affliction.

16 posted on 11/11/2020 9:34:14 PM PST by Rebelbase
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To: Bob434
Had a retriever once who ate a sock, had to be surgically removed.

And a neighbor's lab had a crush on my two curly coats. They hated him, bit him in the flank when he'd wander over through the woods. His owner did his own butchering, so one deer season he brought over a head, like the picture. An offering I guess, didn't work. An hour later he brought over a leg. That didn't work either, but they like deer legs and wouldn't let him take it back. A dogs life.

17 posted on 11/12/2020 7:22:57 AM PST by SJackson (Let me control the media and I will turn any nation into a herd of sheep, J. Goebbels)
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