When a Dog is Done

Bullet Safaris

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by Nathan Askew

Seldom in life or in hunting does something work out so right that you wouldn’t change a single thing even if you could. I wasn’t sure if I would know when I was finished training my dog Cash – or when he was done training me. At what point do you place full trust in a tracking dog and just let him do his job? The moment hit me smack in the face on a plains game safari this year, and then I knew that I was done with this dog.

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I acquired Cash in April 2006. The owner was a part time dog breeder, and he had some of the best looking dogs that I had seen in Africa. He said his dogs were great in the field and could hunt anything. I took his word for it. The male dog was a large liver colored German Shorthair Pointer, a breed that continues to impress me. The bitch was a black half pit bull dog and pointer cross; she was all business with the attitude to match. I traded a Bushnell range finder for the eight-week-old puppy at a pub outside Polokwane, South Africa.

My dog’s name has nothing to do with money, although he has saved many animals for my clients that otherwise would have been lost. He is named after one of the greatest country music singers of all time – Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash’s first album was titled “The Man in Black.” Seeing as the puppy was black and my first hunting dog, I named him Cash. It seemed to fit.

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The Early Years:

Now how to train this thing…. The dogs I had experience hunting with were only good at a couple things and seemed to be lacking other qualities that make a hunting dog truly great. Some dogs could track but wouldn’t bay an animal or bark at a dead one. Others had the heart and the brains but physically couldn’t handle the terrain or the animals. So, I made a plan to turn this pup into the best companion, tracker, and watchdog that Africa… no, the world has ever seen. Admittedly, my master plan had to be amended several times, mostly due to ignorance on my part. A decent dog of the right breed should have all the tools to do the job – you just have to know how to bring it out in them and make it work for you.

I started with a pile of books and a thimble full of common sense. Cash picked up on the basics quickly. House training, general commands, and hand signals were accomplished at an early age through a simple reward system and lots of patience. As for hunting, I worked on blood training only – no birds, no frisbees – just dead and wounded mammals.

The dog went everywhere I went: restaurants, hunting camps, pubs, road trips, and of course, safaris. This went on for more than two years – Cash never left my side. We were homeless together twice in Africa we had some tough nights between safaris and so-called friends. We slept, ate, and hunted together. He even flew to the USA with me to hunt Whitetail Deer and continue his training. At this point he was catching on to the hunting, but his flashes of brilliance were clouded by puppy-like misbehavior.

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School Fees:

By the time Cash was two, we were hunting year round and across the world. Cash was with me every step of the way. The dog had a three-inch thick file of paperwork to get him around the world. He had been dipped, shipped, and inoculated for every disease known to canines. He was also implanted with a microchip and ‘officially approved’ by several different authorities. Despite all the expenses and difficultly involved in getting him through the borders, it was well worth it.

Cash was big and muscled up now. He would alert to any animal or person moving near me. If they came close, he would bark and act vicious. If they came too close, the act was dropped and the chase was on – a dog knows who he trusts, and Cash is a one man dog. I know that his bark, and sometimes bite, saved me loads of trouble while traveling through Africa. He had a fair attitude with other dogs; he was willing to play but seemed to know that they were just dogs and he was something more.

Cash now knew the animals we hunted and how to track them. Although instinct may deserve more credit for this than my training, I made it a point to work with him every day – usually with impala carcasses or strips of blood soaked intestine or skin (I kept a stock of them individually wrapped in the freezer for training). He followed a track of some sort every day. He would typically start with his nose to the ground and then gradually move his head up and hunt the wind as he got closer to his prey. I also worked with him on finding animals with no trail at all. He would work large circles testing the wind until he found the scent and then the animal. Cash knew that if it smelled like an animal then I wanted him to find it, and if it ran then I wanted him to catch it. He was strong enough at this time to catch and bay the largest of animals. If the animal was standing when he found it, Cash would attempt to take it down. This resulted is some spectacular fights between Cash and his quarry. His goal was to please me – he hunted for me and gave it 100% every time.

I watched him kill wounded impala, catch and bay wounded Wildebeest in open ground, and tackle kudu bulls in thick bush. I knew the difference between his “in pursuit” bark and his “I got this thing” bark. In these months, Cash acquired invaluable experience and a few scars. He got hooked by warthogs, kicked by kudu, and bitten by baboons. I guess some things just have to be learned first hand!

He knew what was happening on a hunt. For him it started when I began packing my bags and loading the truck. Cash would see this and jump in the truck before I could get my luggage in – he wasn’t going to be left behind. In the field, he constantly looked and smelled for animals while on the back of the truck. He would whimper at the animals and start shaking if he could see us shoot one. When the shots went off and we took too long to come and get him, he would bite through his leash and join us anyway.

At this point, Cash had trailed and found over 15 different species and recovered almost 100 animals.

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The Good Old Days:

The good days start now. I knew Cash was finished on June 17, 2009. My American client shot at a nice impala ram around 3 p.m. I saw the animal stumble to the first shot and then stand under a bush. We circled to the bush but found no blood and no impala. The ram suddenly appeared 100 meters away – apparently unhurt. I asked the hunter to shoot again and he promptly sent the bullet on its way. The impala went on its way as well. Not sure of either shot, we decided to continue looking for blood at the first spot. I radioed my tracker to bring Cash to me. Thirty minutes went by and we were back in the same spot trying to piece together the story – without much luck. I turned Cash loose and told him to “look for him” as I always do on a track. A few tight circles and then the dog disappeared. We heard him yip once and then bark like he was on it; my tracker John looked up from the dirt and said “he’s got him!” I smiled and said “maybe.” It was ten minutes later when Cash returned to us. We had not made any progress in our tracking efforts. My dog came straight to me as if to say “are you guys still messing around over here?” I checked his collar and saw a small smearing of what looked like blood. I also found a droplet of almost-dried blood on his nose. Without hesitation, I asked Cash to “look for him” and “find him.” He slowly trotted off with me in tow. Approximately 300 meters later I was at a dead 25-inch impala ram. He was hit just above the spine with the first shot (a non-fatal wound) and high through the lungs on the second shot.

Cash found the impala by himself. After he bit it and tore it up a bit he realized that the rest of his “pack” was lost. His hunting partner was not with him. He turned back to fetch me. I was a little surprised – the client was absolutely amazed. My hunting client already had a lot of faith in Cash due to an experience a few days prior in which Cash tracked, caught, and fought a huge kudu bull. But he couldn’t believe that a dog would do this; it was the first time Cash had to come back to get me.

I attribute the success of Cash to repetition in training and a steady temperament on both our parts. The dog knows what to expect from me and he knows what I expect of him. Just like people, dogs are a mixture of their nature and the nurture that is provided. I didn’t make him a great hunting dog – he had that in him from the start. I just made it possible for his talents to be serviceable.

As far as I’m concerned, this dog is done! I can’t wait to watch the rest of his career. A dog like Cash comes once in a lifetime – if you’re lucky. I wouldn’t change a thing about his training or any of the experiences that got us where we are today. Some things are just meant to be.
 
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bluey

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I like your tale ,Nathan
I know your sentiments , to the ,dog of a life time . im most fortunate to have the privillage of this twice now .
and im lost with out my old vidal .she was sixteen , when she took her last .and she would of followed me into hell ,if that's where we were heading .
in her last years she would stay behind me until we were tracking a samba deer out . before that she would show me where I was supposed to be heading.
cash sounds like a ripper mate ......all the best with your companion .
I like the ethic behind his name ,too ............
 

Wheels

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Sounds like you got a great one.

Thanks for sharing your story. I really enjoyed it.
 

siml

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Nathan, what a great story...a good dog is worth so much.
 

Bullet Safaris

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Thanks guys - that dog was/is a good one. He is older now and basically retired. Chases an occasional squirrel and a deer or two - sometime the mail man - but he is almost 10 years now. He hit the dog lottery and I flew him from Africa home to Missouri to stay with my family and then he travels with me when I am stateside.
He is deaf and sore in his bones now - he still gets excited when he sees me packing my duffel bag for Africa and has been know to sleep on top of it the night before I fly out.
He saved my ass several times and saved my clients untold $$$ in wounded animals and time. He even got me out of a few African Road Blocks...I guess it wasn't worth the chance when that Big Dog stood up in the back of the Toyota... No telling what else he saved me from when I wasn't looking!
 

Nyati

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You were lucky to find such a good dog, Nathan.

Thanks for the story.
 

Troy McLellan

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Thanks for the story. Love it
Great hunting partners and companions the lovable old muts. Glad to hear he retired and wasn't lost in the line of duty. My old best mate was fortunate enough to retire also after years of chasing hogs. Saw his days out with my Dad on a steady diet of treats and several tennis balls a week.
 

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Great story and great dog, you are a lucky man!
 

BRICKBURN

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Love a good canine tale. Thanks.

Just like every dog trainer I have encounter, myself included, learn to trust the dog. You did.

Glad he has a good retirement home. He earned it.
 

gillettehunter

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Great story. A good dog is hard to find. Sounds like you Did a great job of training Cash. A good dog can be found with a little effort. A great dog is much harder to find. Thanks for sharing your stories with us. Bruce
 

sestoppelman

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Beautiful dog for sure.
 

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What a great dog! Thanks for sharing.
 

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i dont believe any human could be as loyal and loving unconditionally forever.
your a lucky man.
 

CAustin

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Edward good to see you posting. Hope your doing well.
 

edward

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Edward good to see you posting. Hope your doing well.
things are great here,how about with you? your hunt is around the corner,best of luck,make sure you have a great clearing agent.very very important!!!!!
 

CAustin

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Hunt is last week of August. I hear you on the clearing agent. I have D&L CHB out of Chicago.
 

James Lizamore

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Great story Nathan. All the best for you and Cash...
 

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