WON Landing Page March 2022

Retro WON: 5 Things to Consider Before Bringing a Bird Dog Home

There was a time in my life when a dog ran toward me, and I’d fear for my clothing. Dogs were wonderful creatures in my mind, but they were also smelly, slobbery, and covered in hair. My first dog, a chocolate Labrador named Jack, epitomized the hazards of dogs to fabric, whether it was clothing, linens or upholstery. He left Jack-shaped marks on the beige sofa and muddy footprints on the white shag rug. Ten years and 10 dogs later, my house has been renovated and retrofitted around the house manners of hunting dog breeds. Here are 5 things to expect when you’re expecting to allow a bird dog (or 10) into your home:

Please don’t remove shoes

Owning dogs has finally given me a good argument for not enforcing a shoe removal policy at my house. I’ve never been a fan of the “Please remove shoes” sign near the front door of many homes. First, because my shoes are part of my outfit. Second, because what if there’s a fire? Now, my home is more like a place of business—dog business. Just in case my houseguests are used to clean, carpeted homes I make sure to say, “Please keep your shoes on!” If you take your shoes off at my house, you will dirty your socks, or your shoes might become a new toy.

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English setters Cogswell, Boss, and Colt peaking in the kitchen window. (Steve Meyer photo)

High-count Egyptian cotton is for cat people 

Before dogs, my bedroom was a vision of lazy Sunday mornings in white faux fur, natural fibers and goose down. After Jack plucked my comforter and killed the mythical beast that gave its faux fur for my bedding, he proceeded to shred or stain all remaining natural fibers on my bed. Now, my bed is made up of a mattress protector, durable sheets, and a hypoallergenic box stitch comforter set. We don’t sleep in on Sundays anymore.

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Five English setters from a litter we kept. Colt, Hugo, Purdey, Cogswell, and Boss were all named after fine gun makers. (Steve Meyer photo)

Socialized Snacking 

When I lived alone, my single-person snacking habits were as simple as sitting on the sofa with a bowl of ice cream or grabbing a snack from the kitchen counter. Now, all food items and the dish that once contained them are placed out of reach. To prevent “counter shopping,” my kitchen counters no longer resemble a 24-hour buffet, and the once-empty top of my refrigerator is an off-limits food-storage area. I now only snack if there’s enough to share or I eat in secret.

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Coming home to English setter littermates Colt, Purdey, Hugo, and Cogswell. (Steve Meyer photo)

Objects of my Affection 

My chocolate Lab, Cheyenne, holds the title for the most destructive creature in my bird dog family. She has impeccable taste in shoes, ammunition and water filtration systems. She has consumed couch cushions, danced across a shop floor on bird shot, and eaten through an unopened box containing a skill saw to chew the cord within it. Visitors ask why mouse traps line the ammunition shelf and why my shoes are placed atop bookshelves. The lack of available chewable objects is all the more reason for me to urge guests to stay in their shoes.

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Boss, an English setter, peaking in the kitchen window with muddy paws. (Steve Meyer photo)

Furniture Alterations 

There was a time in my life when I thought purchasing a sofa was a lifetime commitment. When I found the grand piano of all pin-tucked leather sofas, I figured it was as dog-proof as a cement floor. It was easy to clean compared with the suede or microfiber couches the dogs had stained and eaten down to the plywood. Although it was interesting to see the inner-workings of a sofa, it was painful to watch my gorgeous leather heirloom become the most expensive chew toy the family has ever known.

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Misbehaving English setter Boss on the bookshelf. (Steve Meyer photo)

Although I’ve found myself standing over the kitchen sink at night sneaking a snack in my tennis shoes, guilt and footwear are a small price to pay for an adoring fur family. They are responsible for disarming me of my shallow attachment to material possessions. There is a saying that “a clean house is the sign of a wasted life,” and this used to sound like an excuse for not cleaning your house. Now, I realize that I clean the house more than I ever did when I lived alone and ate ice cream in what looked like a Pottery Barn showroom. It’s hard to quantify how much work goes into vacuuming up tumbleweeds of multi-species dog hair and washing all the drool-covered dog toys and blankets.

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Colt, an English setter, looking innocent as a puppy. (Steve Meyer photo)

I think the dogs have conspired to make the house as uncomfortable as possible so that we must regularly leave the house for adventures in the field. Good plan, puppies. Good plan.

Have a bird dog? Read “Learn this Dog-training Trick to Grow Your Bird Dog’s Mind!” here.

This Retro WON first appeared January 12, 2017.

  • About Christine Cunningham

    Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters.


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