Hunting buddy Clarence Dies says he once had a retriever that was so smart she would go on alert when she heard a gun safety click off. She knew that meant her owner was getting ready to shoot at a duck.
My dog Buddy has the same keen instincts. Well, sort of. He goes on alert when he hears dog food being dumped into his bowl. The rest of the time he spends snoozing in front of the fireplace.
Buddy is a 14-year-old black Lab who's terrified of the water. After our granddaughter Makayla picked him out of a puppy lineup, we brought him home and led him down to the creek that runs behind our house. We expected Buddy to go bounding down to the bank and dive in.
Instead, he ran the other way.
He's never out-grown his water phobia. We have to tie his leash to a tree to give him a bath.
We can't decide if Buddy's extremely dumb or extremely smart. On one hand, it seems odd that a Labrador retriever -- bred to plunge into icy water and retrieve ducks -- refuses to go near the water.
On the other hand, maybe that shows how smart he is. Why would anyone want to jump into freezing water when they could be curled up on a warm, cozy rug by the fire?
When we got Buddy, I imagined him being a faithful outdoors companion over the years, at my side in the woods and on the water. It hasn't turned out that way.
Buddy doesn't care much about the outdoors. Maybe it's his allergies.
During his younger days, he'd occasionally chase a squirrel in the back yard, but you could tell that his heart wasn't in it. After chasing a couple of squirrels up a tree, he realized the futility of his efforts and gave up.
Again, does that mean he's extremely lazy or extremely smart? He quickly figured out that he wasn't going to be able to catch a squirrel, so he quit chasing them. Our neighbor's dog Lucy, on the other hand, has been chasing squirrels for years -- and of course has yet to catch one.
Does that mean she's a determined little mutt, or just a slow learner?
Even though Buddy has been a bust as an outdoors-dog, he's earned his keep as a watchdog. Its not that he's vicious and would attack an intruder, understand, but he's coal-black and sleeps on the floor -- so there's a chance a burglar would trip over him in the dark.
I tried to train Buddy to retrieve, and to snap him out of his fear of water, but it was futile and frustrating. A time or two I threatened to take him to the pound, but he knew I was bluffing. Every time I raised my voice he'd wag his tail and look at me with those soulful brown eyes. The "training session" would conclude with a tummy rub.
Buddy's my dog, for better or worse, and I've quit hassling him about his shortcomings. He's 14, and you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Shoot, I couldn't teach him new tricks when he was young.
So he gets to doze on the rug by the fire on cold winter days, while other Labs are outdoors plunging into frigid waters and retrieving downed mallards, ice-crusted and shivering.
Maybe it's my imagination, but it looks like Buddy's smiling.