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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Miss Missy Never Misses Her Mark

It wasn't exactly your normal idea of training a duck dog.

The female chocolate Labrador retriever was bred in the Lost Corner Kennels of A.W. Harrell.

Harrell, who lives between Jacksonville and Mayflower in northern Pulaski County, has produced some of the best duck-retrieving dogs in use in Arkansas.

He would be half-proud of the 75-pound, lean and fast recent mother of a dozen brown puppies. But there was a small problem.

P.J.'s Chocolate Missy jumped out of the pickup as soon as her crate was opened and hit the ground running straight for the White River.

But an exciting distraction stopped her dead in her tracks.

It wasn't your ordinary road-kill chicken, the sort of personality-less white creature that falls off a Tyson or Hudson truck in the Ozarks.

The distraction was a high-dollar chicken, the sort with a variety of colors and a variety of moods to match. It was clucking and scratching the ground contentedly, probably finding a wealth of insects that aren't available on the high ground where its owner ought to have kept it that fateful day.

Missy didn't so much stop dead in her tracks as spin 90 degrees to the right and accelerate down the dirt road paralleling the river. The chicken gave up a couple of tail feathers but got airborne in time to avoid major damage.

The river was wider than the chicken remembered. Or maybe that chicken had never encountered anything on four legs that can swim as fast as Missy.

Whatever the explanation, the chicken casually eased into the water about half-way across the river and started a liesurely swim to the western shore. Missy flew as far as she could off the high embankment and hit the water swimming considerably faster than the chicken.

Missy spun 180 degrees in the water and headed to shore with her prize firmly but gently locked in her jaws. She climbed the slick bank as though it were an escalator and dumped the bird at her master's feet.

He grabbed her collar just in time to keep the 4-year-old retriever from heading down the road to search for more chickens.

The chicken's feathers were ruffled, but it stayed in the position Missy placed it until the dog had been led 40 yards away and put on a leash. Then the bird gingerly arose — seeming more embarrassed than injured — and darted into the thickest part of a nearby cane brake.

Nobody wants a dog to chase chickens, unless there is a really good reason to do so. But Missy's efficiency at the chore was such that everybody watching the performance seemed in awe. What she did was similar to what she may have to do during the coming duck season if a wounded duck falls in sight.

The rule among retriever trainers is to thank a dog when it successfully retrieves anything, even something it ought not to have picked up. The dog is giving a person an object and in that sense is doing its job.

Teaching a dog to leave chickens alone but to fetch up doves, quail, ducks, geese, pheasants and woodcocks isn't easy. The only solution is to insist on a level of obedience that will allow the person handling the dog to stop it with a whistle or scream at any time and at any distance.

Missy needs a bit of work in that area.

Fortunately, there'll be plenty of training time before duck season begins in November.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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