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Scott Rall: The best dog in the whole wide world


The Globe outdoors columnist

A social media person I am not.  I do have a Facebook page and follow it every once in a while.

I saw a post from Project Upland with a video of a guy with his very first dog. It followed him and the dog for about the first two years and showed how having the dog changed him and his lifestyle.

It made me think back to the first dog I had as a young adult. I have had many dogs growing up, and most of them were from the pound -- Heinz 57 varieties and all good pets.

My first attempt at a hunting dog was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.  She was a great dog that I had for only a short while. I got the dog as a gift from my wife, and shortly thereafter I got a new job that required I get to work early and stay later then I was used to. It was winter time.

The young dog deserved more attention than it was getting from me, and the future with the new job did not look any brighter. I sold that dog to friend for $250 less than we paid for it, but it was going to get the treatment and attention it deserved. It was hard, but it was the right thing to do at the time.

Next was a pound dog that ended up very sick and at age 2 had to be put to sleep. It was a Labrador/golden retriever cross. A heartbreak, for sure.

Much time passed until I got my very first AKC Labrador from Round Lake kennels. Her name was Scout. My daughter Brittany named the dog after a girl in the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have not yet read the book.

The dog was a game-changer for me. I worked on training the dog with help from a professional trainer. I did things right and in the end I had, you know, “the best dog in the whole world.”

I try hard not to brag or boast about my dogs.  There is an old saying, “Your dog’s actions speak louder than your words ever can.”  I agree.

Scout was a learning experience for me.  I made more than a few mistakes, but if you never lose your cool the dog can make up for the owner’s inexperience.

The key to training a dog is as much in training the owner as the dog. The difference between a professional and an amateur is knowing when to lean in and when to back off.  If the dog knows what you want and does not want to do it, that is the time to lean in a little. If the dog wants to do it right but does not know how, that is the time to back off, take a breath and repeat the training session a few more times.

If there is one thing I learned early on, it was that every dog is different. Folks will read a book, and if it says the dog is supposed to be doing this one thing at six weeks of age, they think every dog should master that skill at six weeks.  The same goes for six months, and so on.

Some dogs take to training earlier than others. I have seen dogs at a year that were still in the puppy stage. Just because your dog has a big body does not mean he has the big brains to go with it.

Scout was a tender dog. She always wanted to please me and it took very little pressure to get her to perform as I wanted.  She always sat on her tail. I have never seen any other dog do this. She hunted great but she also hunted slow. We would not cover as much ground as the other hunters in our group, but we always shot as many birds as they did.

Scout never barked even one time that I can remember. It was a nice trait. She also had a soft mouth. She was the only dog I have ever owned that if she caught a hen pheasant, she would bring it to me and I could let it fly away out of my hand.

All of my other dogs will give the bird enough of a squeeze that they will not survive to be released.

Scout was a yellow lab but almost white in color. She was a sorry looking sight if she ever got in the mud. She stood out from other dogs in that she could go to where a bird had fallen 30 minutes earlier and track the scent until she found it.

My current dogs are not as good at tracking a cripple as she was. I compensate for that by hunting more than one dog at a time.

Scout was a one in a million dog for me.  She was my first trained hunting dog and she lived until she was about 13.

The guy in the video was changed when he got his first dog. I am the same. My life centers around my four dogs and I have the dog truck to prove it. My movements are dictated around the needs and requirements of my Labradors.

This is not a life for everybody but it is the one I chose for myself. It’s a commitment I started back in 1996, and as long as I’m able it’s one I will keep doing.

Life with a dog is better than a life without one.