Billy and the Field Trial

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This dog was born to hunt, with or without you.

[by David Gowdey]

HE WAS BORN IN APRIL in the middle of a high-mountain snowstorm. His mother, Annchen, was taking a break from delivering her first and only litter, when she asked to go into the backyard and relieve herself. As she stooped down, out popped Billy into the snow. I rescued him immediately, holding him inside my shirt against my body to keep him warm and shield his still wet body from the falling snowflakes. I took him quickly into the warmth of the whelping box, where Annchen soon followed and licked him clean. Once that was finished, he snuggled in with the other pups none the worse for wear. I didn’t know it at the time, but as he plopped into the snow, he also plopped into my heart, where he still holds a place years after his death.

I named him Wilhelm von Geldie as befit the most recent offspring of a noble line of hunting dogs. However, such a moniker was way too long and formal for a little pup, so he became Billy. After a few weeks, after they get big enough, all shorthair puppies begin to peek over the edge of the whelping box at the big, wide world. Some do so when Mom steps out of the box to stretch her legs—worried that she might not return. Others do so even when Mom is in the box with them—looking with curiosity at a whole world laid before them. Of these explorers, the bolder ones will be the ones that first try to “go over the wall.” It always happens sooner than I expect. I’ll check in to find the head count one puppy short, recount, and then notice the culprit tugging at my shoestrings.

From that point onward, you are fighting a losing battle in keeping the pups in the whelping box. Raising the sides may buy you a few days or a week, but at some point, your Houdini will climb over, and by showing the way, train his brothers and sisters to do the same. There is a certain point where the whole thing looks like a mass jailbreak—with inmates scaling the walls and running in all directions. Billy was the first in his litter to clamber over the box sides, a natural ringleader.

I had kept Billy and his sister Rosie from the litter. As is common with female GSPs, Rosie progressed faster in her training. She was a solid pointer and an excellent retriever at a time when Billy was still gangly and short of attention. However, the one thing that was notable about Billy, even early on, was his nose, which was well above average. He would pick up the scent of birds or retrieving dummies from much farther away than Rosie—even though Rosie was an excellent hunter with a nose that would be called outstanding by most. At six months, she was a solid young hunting dog that held her points and was a reliable retriever—while Billy still had a lot of puppy in him. Three months later Billy had not only caught up, but that nose made him an even more effective hunting dog than his sister.

He had grown into a beautiful, strapping young shorthair—long of leg, powerful hindquarters, a strong neck, and deep chest. Strangers used to comment on how handsome he was. He was also a sweet dog—happy to sleep on my lap and chest, gently snoring in my ear. In addition to looks and natural talent, he was also smart as a whip. He had the whole package, and there were times when I thought about his potential, it made me short of breath. He was well on his way toward being the kind of dog that experienced bird hunters dream about, but we still had a bump or two to overcome.