November 12, 2019
By Drew Warden
One thingthat never ceases to amaze me is the destructive capabilities of an otherwise unengaged Labrador retriever. Anyone familiar with that lovable, lumbering breed knows immediately what I mean. Those who aren’t are both lucky … and horribly deprived.
I mention this because duck seasons are open, or about to open, across much of the country and, this past winter, my dad received a new Lab puppy as a gift. He’s a sharp-looking chocolate Lab named Duke.
After getting Duke, I think my dad’s realized why many folks have children relatively young. They’re a lot of work, require a great deal of energy and can, at times, be very frustrating. The same is true of puppies, particularly Labs from hunting stock.
My dad loves duck hunting. He’s done it for many years. His father owned Labs, and they always hunted with them. So, he’s familiar with Lab antics. Still, it’s always different first-hand, and Labs often find ways to outdo themselves.
It must often be a challenge for them: “What’s the most heinous, ridiculous thing I can find and obliterate today?” Socks, shoes, shirts, plastic bottles, chair legs, fallen tree branches ... the list goes on and on, and seemingly nothing is safe from their exploring maw.
Several months back my dad told me a story about something Duke had done. Like many young dogs, he had an affinity for socks. So, one day my dad came home from work and was going to change clothes to take Duke outside. Because Duke often pounced on socks when they hit the ground, my dad shut the door to the back bedroom to change and left Duke standing on the other side.
Here’s how that unfolded.
Human mindset: “Stay out here for a minute so I can change, and we’ll go throw your ball around outside.”
Lab mindset: “You shut the door to change socks in peace; that’s fine, I’ll just chew through the adjacent wall so I can pop in and say hello.”
My dad heard Duke trying to gnaw through the drywall before anything too serious could happen, but now that wall bears a scar, a reminder of what a determined Lab can do.
Each week, my dad and I usually talk on the phone. During the call he’ll give me an update on training progress, as well as any tales of odd new items Duke has found and shredded.
While there are some impressive ones, he still has a long way to go before taking our family’s destructive Lab crown. That honor, to date, belongs to Casey, one of my grandfather’s hunting dogs.
As the story goes, my father and his cousin, Gary, had been woodworking in my grandfather’s basement, which also had a workshop. In the basement, there was a small dog door usually blocked from inside by a piece of wood to keep Casey out. After working a bit, my dad and Gary took a quick break to grab lunch upstairs. They accidentally left the board closing off the dog door over to the side, which allowed Casey to come inside. When they returned minutes later, destruction greeted them. Casey had shredded Gary’s favorite sweatshirt to tatters, crunched his flip-phone in half and left a corded car polisher a gnarled mess.
These chewing habits, of course, extended to the duck blind. Plenty of carelessly placed gloves, hats and jackets fell victim to his destructive jaws.
Casey was the epitome of a bull in a china shop. He was a tank, with four big paws and powerful, driving legs. Each morning I hunted ducks with my dad and grandfather, he’d heave his hulking body into our flat-bottomed boat with all the grace and poise of a bear cannonballing from a high dive. Then he’d look at you with what I can only describe as a Lab’s version of a smile, a goofy expression and a wagging tail, reminding you just how great it was to be awake and in a cold aluminum boat at 4 a.m.
Yet these same characteristics—the drive to hunt, the boundless enthusiasm, even the steadfast stubbornness—were what made Casey a great duck dog. I hope this is true for Duke, too. That part of his training at least is going well I think. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be impressed by the stories of carnage.
If you hunt with or have owned a Lab, what is the most ridiculous thing he or she has destroyed? I’m curious to know... for scientific purposes of course.