This season is going to be a fun one! This is the year that Lady, my 7-year-old Labrador will hit her prime. Over the next few seasons, she may begin to slow down, get sore, have an attitude (we can all relate to that as we age), but this year is going to be her apex. The offseason has been a time of polishing obedience training, learning new things as we hone in hand signals, and a time of bonding. I feel as if Lady is primed for the season of her life and I cannot wait to find myself behind a lens capturing each memory.
Now let me be transparent, I am not a professional dog trainer. Most trips to the field leave me asking more questions that before and I have not major dog training revelations outside of one key word, “patience.” The reason I have so much anticipation for this season could be the added amount of free time this year, but I believe it is because of my patience in my expectations of Lady. I can remember the early years where I clenched to the lead and collar with every gunshot hoping she would prove to be obedient and not break. I remember taking my gun, knowing that I would not be pulling the trigger because the dog was my focus. Patience has proven to be the most exciting aspect of dog training because this year, I get to see the delayed gratification of hunting with an old friend. There are no new tricks, no new training methods, just me and Lady in the blind. I am not sure if professional trainers would agree with my theory, but this year, Lady is my friend more than my retriever. She knows what needs to be done just as well as I do. Who am I to correct her when she has almost as much experience in the field as I do? Each hunt, I trust and rely on her just as much (or as little) as she relies on me.
This season is exciting because I am hunting with my best friend.
This season brings excitement because of the reality that starting next year, or maybe the season after, I know that a sad transition will begin to take place with each passing hunt. I know that this year will be the last year that we equally rely on each other and the next year she will begin to rely on me more and more. This year, the hunts are about two best friends pushing each other to be better. In the near future, each hunt will be about making sure my best friend gets one more retrieve.
As I think back on over 500 retrieves (this may not be impressive to you, but for us, I am dang proud of each and every retrieve) and wonder how many more years of “prime time” Lady has, I cannot help but smile. I refuse to get sad because, in this moment, with this old dog, we are looking forward to the best year yet. I don’t know what the years after will look like… but we will take life as it comes.
If you have a pup and your first season is coming, remember to be patient. The primetime is coming, and it is worth the wait. If you have a best friend on four legs that is nearing that age of 7-10, know that I am with you and enjoying every retrieve. If your dog is getting older and each retrieve is a blessing, remember these years and rest assured that you both gave it your all! In every stage, I hope you feel the same excitement that I do! This is going to be a great season!