There is something rather reassuring about an obedient gun dog. Each owner will tell you that he has the very best of the breed because as we all know, dogs take after their masters and in some cases vice versa.
John's new Labrador was something else. Sitting tethered by the side of its shooting owner, whenever a bird flew over, the dog would offer up advice, tips on how to deal with the shot.
“If that one was flying backwards you'd knock its beak off,” was how it started.
“What!” said John with so much surprise that he missed at the next attempt as well.
“Why don't you take up tennis?” said the dog under his breath.
“You cheeky bugger!” shouted John and he kicked the black dog at his feet.
The Labrador learnt not to be critical just for the hell of it and because the wrath of his owner would only invite unwelcome retribution. He decided that constructive comment would be a better course of action and so began a relationship between dog and gun that made both a perfect combination in the sporting field.
Not surprisingly John's shooting accuracy improved almost at every outing thanks to the dog's considered instruction. John became a very good shot.
“You were under that by a gnat's cock,” said the dog adding “ You must move your feet. Don't be afraid to move your feet.”
John did move his feet and he swung when swinging was in order and always maintained his lead when following through the bird.
“Bum, belly, beak, bang!” growled the Labrador as John connected with another bird at least sixty yards away.
Now the normal bond between a man and his dog relies on one of them, normally the man, always holding the upper hand. The best relationship's are those where the dog does exactly what his boss wants him to without question and with total devotion. In exchange for obedience the dog receives a daily square meal, the occasional admiring glance and a pat, a rub down with a dirty towel when wet, the chance to run about in the countryside retrieving dead and more often wounded birds and periods of lengthy isolation being locked up in the back of a four by four. There are moments of sheer bliss when the owner's other half or offspring will “make a fuss” of the dog but these are as rare as the scraps from the Christmas dinner table.
When the Labrador talks, familiarity breeds contempt. And so it was with John's dog.
“You missed in front of that,” said the dog on the first drive of the day on a Devon shoot.
“Rubbish!” said John who was feeling agitated.
“I saw the pattern of the shot leave the gun and believe me you were in front,” said the Labrador in a way that John just knew was the truth.
“All right , all right,” said John and he yanked rather hard on the choke chain around his Labrador neck.
“There's no need for that,” said the dog shaking his head.
“Look. You might think you're the dogs bollocks when it comes to shooting but you're just a bloody Labrador when all said and done. Now sit there and shut up!”
Not another word was said and at the end of the drive the dog was let off the lead to go and pick up the dozen or so birds that John had despatched. The woods that ran behind his peg fell away to the valley bottom and the dog bounded off through the trees in search of his master's quarry. He didn't come back. Despite John's high pitch whistling and energetic shouting, the dog was gone.
“Well we can't stay here John.” said the host. “We've got to move on to the next drive. I'm sure we'll find him before the day is out.”
No one was quite sure how it happened. Standing at number eight on the end of the line and hidden from the sight of his neighbour at number seven, John was really out of the shooting. He had a go at something half way through the drive and at the end, after the keeper had sounded his horn to tell everyone that the drive was over, they found John slumped on the ground in a dreadful pool of his own blood with half his face blown away.
Sitting next to his master's dead body was the black gun dog.
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