Champ and Friends
by Dr. André Trudel
Champ was Tom's first and only hunting dog, and Tom was Champ's first and only human. Because of this, neither had any preconceived ideas about what the other could or could not accomplish.
Champ was unique for three reasons. The first is that he could do the back stroke! The first command Champ learned was "Belly up!" which meant roll over to get your belly rubbed. It was easy to teach him this since there is nothing a puppy likes better than a good belly rub. While swimming with Champ at a local lake, Tom gave Champ the "Belly up!" command in the water to see what would happen. To Tom's surprise, Champ rolled over on his back. The wagging tail kept the dog moving just enough to keep afloat. With his front paws bent over his upturned chest, the dog resembled an otter in the water. Tom immediately understood the utility of this command for hunting. When Champ was on a water retrieve and a flock of ducks appeared, Tom would yell "Belly up!" before shooting. The dog would flip over onto his back, see the incoming ducks, and if any were hit, mark the fall. It was then left up to Champ to decide on which order the fallen ducks would be retrieved. Tom and Champ did not know it was possible to train for blind retrieves. When the dog can do the back stroke, there is no need for blinds!
The second reason that made Champ unique was his ability to retrieve a dead bird hung up high in a tree. Champ followed Tom everywhere, literally. One day when working on the roof of the house, Champ followed Tom up the ladder. Tom realized this could be useful for hunting. Tom would put a ladder up against a tree in the yard, and place a dummy in the tree near the top of the ladder. When given the "climb" command, Champ would climb the ladder and grasp the dummy in his mouth. The only problem with the tree retrieve is that Champ could go up, but not down the ladder. Tree retrieves were a team effort. Tom would carry him down. Tree retrieve demonstrations lasted until Tom’s back started to give out and Champ started to put on weight! Tom always went hunting with the confidence that Champ could retrieve any bird hung up in a tree! Luckily the situation never arose because Tom did not have a ladder while in the field.
What truly made Champ unique was his friend Foghorn. In a grade school science class, Tom's son Paul hatched pheasants in an incubator. He lied when he reassured his teacher that his parents had given him permission to keep one. Tom was certainly surprised when Paul arrived home from school with a pheasant chick in his lunch box. The bird was put in a cardboard box near the basement furnace and Paul was given explicit instructions to return it to class in the morning.
Later, while watching the evening news, the family could hear a faint "peep-peep-peep". The first place they checked was the basement and the chick was missing from the box. They searched for the pheasant for the next half hour. It was the strangest search. Wherever they went in the house, they could hear the peeping. But, the bird was nowhere to be found.
Tom got a hunch. He looked down at Champ who was hupped at his feet with tail wagging, and gave him the "dead" command. Champ immediately spit out a live but drool covered chick. Champ had gotten into the cardboard box and scooped the chick in his mouth. After a stern talk to the dog, Tom returned the chick to the box. The next morning, the family woke up to find Champ and the chick cuddled together on the dog bed. Champ figured that if something can't be hunted, it should be protected. Paul took advantage of the situation and got his father to agree to keep the bird. It was immediately named "Foghorn".
Champ and Foghorn became inseparable. Each morning the two would leave the house and tour the neighborhood bird feeders. Champ played bodyguard and chased any cats that dared stalk Foghorn. For exercise, Foghorn would fly a few feet off the ground and Champ would chase him. Come nightfall, the two would march down to the basement and cuddle together on the dog bed.
Truly, there is no stronger bond than between a bird dog, his master, and his pheasant!