Let's be honest, there are precious few advantages to getting as late a start doing something I love as much as training Lincoln and entering a world I knew little if anything about before bringing him into our family. I admit to lately and occasionally fantasizing about how I'd rewrite my life narrative if I had to do it all over again. Some things I wouldn't reconfigure even a little. I got ridiculously lucky on the spouse and life partner front. I'd put the quality and depth of my family and friend relationships (and the quality and amazingness of those people) up against anyone's. But, if I had to do it over again, I do often think I should have gotten a dog many years ago and maybe worked dog training or animal care into my undergraduate education somehow to better prepare myself for a life-long cherished hobby or perhaps even a different career path. I'd have gotten an earlier and more serious start in some of the outdoor pursuits that now fully capture my imagination, time, and resources. But, life is life, seldom unfolds according to one's own necessarily myopic and / or limited planning, and I'm enormously grateful this one brought me to where I now am and who I am now. Who's to say not having a dog for much of my life didn't prepare me even better to love the one I now have, to enjoy with a greater appreciation and care? Who's to say we'd have lucked out and gotten a dog as wonderful and absolutely perfect for us as Lincoln if we'd made the plunge years earlier?
If I'm being very honest with the man in the mirror, maybe an older, wiser Robb was better prepared for this new enterprise than any younger version of myself. Having a little more patience and long-term discipline and diligence, of the sort that sometimes comes with age, is certainly a way in which that's the case. Not unlike my physical vision's deterioration in these middle years, I can see objects far off better than I can see them up close, at least without assistance, and I think I can see the long view with a little more precision these days and I don't sweat the up close and right now in quite the same way. That certainly advantages a puppy and new dog trainer. I can see that training him is not a victory that can be claimed in a day, or a week, or a month, but will be literally years in the making and actually will be a task never fully completed for as long as we both live. But, I'm more than just okay with that. I put one foot in front of the other, repetitively and consistently, and celebrate when he responds in kind by putting one paw in front of the other (or keeps them perfectly still, as the case may be!). "It's all about the journey, not the destination" becomes a lived and appreciated and pondered-over reality and not just some throw-away platitude. I know my time is short and limited with him and I therefore cherish the simple time spent together as much as I thrill at his breakthroughs and progress. I can't imagine feeling as much as I do now that way when I was a teenager or in my 20s. I'm proud to say that age has actually taught me some patience and bestowed the wisdom to enjoy the moment to moment and the miracle and wonder of life's light and easy breezes that so often can be missed alltogether in the preoccupation with the Sturm und Drang of one's youth.
The other great advantage to my late start is the primary focus of this post and the series it introduces: that I'm finally at a place in life with some discretionary income to invest in some material supports of the great lifestyle change that is getting a dog for the first time and starting out in upland bird hunting. Heather and I have started the conversation a few times: "Between training classes, equipment, food, toys, etc., I wonder how much we've spent, total, on this boy of our ours ..." We have to date always willfully cut that conversation short when we realize we really don't want to know the answer in cold, hard, numerical absurdity. That said, there are a number of items we've purchased or invested in which feel worth the cost and that we certainly wouldn't have been able to pay for as rapidly even a decade before, so are especially grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from now. Coming at all these things with the eye of a beginner, each of these services, expertise for hire, or things is a marvel of thoughtfulness and good design or are places or expertise or services I'm fortunate enough to experience via close proximity or referral suggesting the return on investment even at great distance or effort. In these dog days of summer, when heat and humidity are the scourge of efforts to find abundant training time and good-flying birds, and as I'm now a couple of years into this grand new adventure, I thought I'd review a few of these items in occasional installments of a series for the benefit of anyone starting out, where I would say the money spent is matched - or often exceeded by - the value gained.
Caveat Emptor Note: Every beginner, dog, and situation are different, but while my recommendations may not be always universally applicable, I'm as a rule not compensated in any way for these reviews nor are my purchases offset by sponsorship - I am not reviewing items provided free for review unless I specifically note that fact prominently in the review. So, in other words, I'd suggest the items I'll be presenting for consideration and my appraisals may be taken at face value. Where I don't provide a prominent disclaimer otherwise, they are simply items/services/expertise I've purchased at full retail / full cost, or with the assistance of some seasonal / promotional sale, same as anyone else, and about which I've experienced no buyer's remorse following said purchase. Finally, following my Southern mom's dictate that if I can't say something nice, I shouldn't say anything at all, I'll try my best to avoid mentioning at all the products or services for which on balance that hasn't been the case.
Stay tuned for the first post in review series: Dog (and owner/handler) Trainers!