They called him Scout which would be Erkunden in his native Germany homeland. Here it could be abbreviated to “Erk!” in English. Scout is a deep-chested, waist-high Don Johnson of a dog whose flanks, hams, and forelegs were flexible sheets of hard muscle. His silky fur the color of latte coffee and long torso support a big head, massive canine teeth and slightly goofy light eyes with dark lids. Think Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Scout’s primary person, for nobody could really own him, went to Germany to get him as a puppy since there were no long-haired Weimaraners in Canada to be had. Weimaraner is a difficult word to say or spell, sending me to the dictionary as readily as words like diarrhea and incorusicate, which may not be a word at all. Scout is equally as difficult to describe and seems to be assembled from equal parts wind-tunnel, quarter horse, angora goat and wolf apparition.
How do the Germans breed one dog to dash in and take hold of an angry180 kg Russian wild boar, chase down and kill fleet roe deer, delicately point and retrieve pheasants, swim in icy water to deliver ducks to hand and be a good home companion animal? These are the kinds of spousal expectations most new husbands manage to dash before the honeymoon is over. Maybe they should have named the do-everything Scout “Leatherman” since “Swiss Army Knife” would have had him chasing Julie Andrews across the Alps.
Scout is what dog trainers would call “sharp” a term that has nothing to do with his innate cleverness, rather, relates to prey-drive and commitment to carrying through on the mission and commands. Sharpness is not to be confused with aggression because Scout is an affectionate dog around the house and he loves visitors. Frankly, with his larger than life personality, he would have been a perfect Fraternity House mascot.
Sharpness is the prey-drive committment that causes dogs to pick up the 50th goose with zeal, pursue a badger underground, or continue biting a porcupines’ back for five uninterrupted minutes. When on game, sharpness seems to make them impervious to pain (or instruction) be it a shock collar, torn ACLs or an ear ripped open on barbed wire. Sharpness can lead a dog to the obsessive idea that all furbearers smaller than a loaf of bread need to be crushed and have their hides methodically stripped off. Those of us who hunt with Scout must never forget that house cats and skunks are smaller than a bread loaf.
I have seen Scout skid a grown man horizontally across wet grass to engage with a skunk. I normally leave skunks alone but our duck hunt would not proceed until stinky fellow (the skunk, not my companion) was dispatched andI figured a load of #4s was the kinder inevitability for the skunk. I would have selected larger shot for my hunting companion. I summarily shooed skunky over the hill and regretfully smote him while justifying this as removing a nest predator from a waterfowl production area. It was only later, mid-stride on a long goose retrieve, that Scout encountered the delicious scent plume of Pepe le Pew. The goose was instantly forgotten, because olfaction wins like rocks over scissors, and he cut hard to upwind despite our shouted commands AKA death threats. What we saw next was unforgettable; a savage kill-shake of black and white blur that looked faintly like a nun in a blender. Skunk viscera was lofting up above the knee-high grass followed by a quick victory roll then a proud head-up retrieve to us. This caused a lot more shouting in several different languages that he no doubt took as humans barking praise at his feat. He rode home in the truck bed and now years later, on damp days, the decoy sack still produces a rising aroma of recollection.
Though neighborhood cats justifiably feared for their lives, it was unthinkable that Scout would ever harm a human. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that the Postal Service delivery lady was not human. Scout had greeted, then warned her off, then repulsed her daily intrusion on his territory for years but the front door prevented the consummation of their trial. Then one sunny day when he was on the front porch, she had the audacity to walk directly up the sidewalk. Scout didn’t go full skunky on her but must have figured his only option was to nip her thigh. Postal workers don’t like that very much and Scout got a ticket and a fine. The irate mail carrier insisted on dropping her trousers to show the contrite dog-owner evidence of the red bite mark but reportedly all he saw was her leopard print thong. I suspect Scout would hunt a leopard. Once.
Scout’s education included some professional training that for a while had him pointing and delivering dead birds politely to hand. The best dog commands are given in curt and unmistakable one-word statements; come, sit, stay, etc. Scout’s favorite of those was “Scout, Etc.!”. For some reason, Scout’s trainer decided to use German commands so instead of “In” or “Kennel”, one has to say something like “Scout! Unterplatz!”. It makes it a little difficult to hunt with a gun in one hand, a leash in the other, and simultaneously operate an iPhone with Google translate. Scout’s other education comes from the lady of the house, an Italian school teacher specializing in special-needs children. She who teaches with reason, compassion and explanation essential for behaviorally challenged kids. While these skills are very useful in talking to our group of hunters, Scout’s uptake is unquestionable. For example, here is a typical lesson she might direct toward Scout for stealing a visitor’s shoes (a favorite Scout pastime):
“Scouty, you need to understand your area of responsibility and how your actions affect other’s. In this house we operate on the basis of respect and responsibility. Have you considered ways to apologize? Thank you for your attention, now if you have learned your lesson, eat this piece of pepperoni.”
She knows he is a genius because he always eats the pepperoni of understanding.
All lessons aside, Scout’s real mission in this world is running. Everything else comes second. On an October pheasant hunt I took Roxy out while my friend was going to hunt over Scout. We were fumbling around the tailgate donning vests, unsheathing shotguns and plotting a route. Roxy was nosing around a nearby brush pile for a cottontail and looking at us anxiously to start the hunt. We figured Scout could warm up his hunting legs too. Now one doesn’t just open the crate for Scout, it is more of a Cape Canaveral affair, reminiscent of Monty Python’s launching cave rabbit.
As I swung open the kennel door I swear his feet didn’t touch the ground for the first truck length. Scout has a distinctive running style that gobbles terrain at a ferocious rate and he can hold a steady 40 km lope alongside the truck for miles. Here, he decided to strafe a few hillsides as a warm up. Interestingly, he would sometimes overshoot roosters from upwind and when they finally decided to flush, it was too late, Scout had already passed over them. It reminded me of people on the beach when an F-16 does a low pass. The jet is invisible on its approach, overwhelming for an instant and long gone before their feet return to the sand. If he catches bird scent however, he will stop so abruptly that his scrotum appears briefly between his front legs. We watched helplessly as traumatized roosters popped into the air like so many bottle rockets on the horizon. Whereas Roxy’s domain is a 40 yard circle around the guns, Scout’s sphere of influence is more like the Kentucky Derby track, measured in furloughs, and taken in at a similar speed.
On this morning, we stood agog wondering how we would tell Scout’s Edmonton household that we last saw his tail disappearing over the county line and they could pick him up in Calgary if they hurried, central Montana if they dawdled. However, today there was a bonus distraction; three beef cows had illegally slipped through a small hole in the fence and onto the tall grass of the wildlife management area. Roe deer, boar, cattle, what’s the difference to Scout? He went deaf and made a bee-line. The bovines worst nightmare in dire wolf form closed at 40 kPH causing 1000 kg of animated chuck roast to hit the fence at full speed, greatly enlarging the hole and ripping a fence post out of the ground. They were back where they belonged though. Distant hunters could not understand all the shouting and running and must have thought the hunting was great over our way.
Scout is a fine and committed retriever, tall enough that he lunges through potholes where Roxy must swim. His haul last season was over 250 ducks and geese, each given a distinctive keel-crushing bite to ensure they were dead. Sometimes they also needed to have a strip or two of skin and feathers ripped off as he has seen his master do so often. Sharpness manifests in funny ways.
Scout is a very affectionate and interactive dog. When we sit at the kitchen table he likes to place one crushing paw in your groin, stand up and tower over you. Kind of hard to ignore but if you do, a gentle face-rake with his claws will draw your attention to his smiling panty face. He has more personality than one would have thought possible to pack into a single hunting dog.
I have heard that dogs don’t absorb good hunting habits from other dogs, however, bad habits transmit easily. Scout has the love and admiration from Roxy that is unnatural. He is her siren, Moroni, Jim Jones, or Donald Trump and he has her unquestioned fealty. If I return home after just petting Scout, Roxy gives me a good ecstatic sniff down, then she is beside herself with wet-nosed wriggly joy merely over his scent. A perpetual honeymoon no doubt associated with feathers, water, gunfire and all else that is holy in her world. Those two dogs have almost got us trained to their liking and I wonder if we are capable of learning this joy of life from them.