September 3, 2020
I’ve known a lot of dog owners who will swear they either own or have owned at one time or another the smartest dog in the world. Most of these proclamations need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Jim, my old bird-hunting buddy from 40 years ago, always had a good bird dog, so it was a pleasure to be invited to accompany him and Sally on weekend hunting trips. Sally was a Brittany spaniel that could always be depended upon to find any covey of quail within a 3-mile radius of where you let her off the leash.
She would come on a solid point and wait for however long it took you to catch up with her and get within shooting distance. Once you were in position, she’d break the covey and then proceed to hunt singles for the next hour just as diligently as she pointed out the covey.
Searching high and low
One Saturday, at the end of a hunt, Sally was nowhere to be found. We searched and searched for her for several hours, to no avail. Darkness finally forced us to go home, but Jim assured me he would find her the next day. The next afternoon, he called to excitedly report that he had, in fact, found his beloved Sally.
“I found her about a quarter mile from where we last looked,” he proudly stated, “and, Jerry, she was still on point, right over a covey of close to 20 birds!”
This brings me to the subject of the dog that currently owns me.
Bernie (no, she’s not named for the politician, but rather a shortened name for her breed — Bernese mountain dog, crossed with an Australian shepherd) came to live with us about seven years ago. She replaced the best cow dog I ever had, but because of her mixed heritage, my expectations for her were very low. I was just hoping to get a dog that I might be able to train to be a reliable protector of the farmstead, and be someone to ride along with me as I checked cows and calves each day.
Over the years, Bernie has far exceeded my expectations. She’s become a constant companion and a pretty decent cattle dog, while alerting us to any uninvited guests, whether they be human or animal. Unfortunately, she has been afflicted throughout her entire life with chronic ear infections. I’ve taken her to the veterinarian more times than I’ve ever taken any animal in my life, and continue to consistently administer oral antibiotics and eardrops as if she were my child.
In the past few weeks, I’ve begun to suspect that she has lost most, if not all, of her sense of hearing. When I call for her — if I am out of her line of sight — she doesn’t come, and that’s not like her. Fortunately, I do believe she understands sign language.
One morning, when she came to the front porch where my wife and I were sitting after breakfast, Judy simply pointed to the edge of the porch where she had a leftover bowl of gravy. Bernie ran over and devoured it.
That evening, when a few calves got too close to the cattle-guard entrance to our yard, I pointed toward them and Bernie immediately ran down and chased them away and back into the pasture. When the faithful dog returned from her task, I simply doubled up my fist, and my companion gently touched it with her paw as if to give me a “fist bump” for a job well done.
I’m just saying, my dog is pretty smart.
Crownover farms in Missouri.
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