Josie’s Big Day

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By Louis Cahill

I’ve never had a dog who was a really good fishing partner.

When I brought Josie home, I knew that was going be be a goal. My dog and me out on the river, doing our thing without any particular plan. It sounds good on paper but anyone who fishes with dogs knows it isn’t always ideal. Ive definitely had dogs who weren’t with the program. Who, for all of their sweetness, could screw up anything.

I had a beagle once, named Boo, who I’d take fishing once in a while. If she wasn’t lost, she was trying to dog-paddle a class four rapid or chew the cork off my rod. I took her out one day an a busy tailwater where there were anglers about every fifty feet. I was wading chest deep to get a cast to a rising fish. Boo, wanting to be part of the action but not wanting to be wet, walked out on a tree which leaned about ten feet over the river. She got out about thirty feet and discovered that the tree was too narrow to turn around. I kept yelling, “BOO! No!” Before long everyone on the river was yelling,

“No Boo! Don’t do it!”

Her exit was hysterical. She lived but she lost some points for style.

A good fishing dog is part companion and part business partner. They have to have the right love of adventure but maintain enough focus to stay with the program. My grandfather trained bird dogs and his dogs were great but they were too much business and not enough fun. I want my dog to sleep in the bed with me, lick my face and eat off of my plate. I knew that to strike the right balance I’d need a plan.

Josie is a great team player and brings some real assets to the table. She also brings some challenges. She is the smartest dog I’ve ever known but was a completely wild animal when I got her. Not a stray dog or a feral dog but just wild. She has been very easy to train, it took only two days to housebreak her, but she is fiercely independent and used to making her own decisions. I learned early on that you couldn’t ‘make’ her do anything but if you could make her understand why it was a good choice you didn’t have to tell her twice.

I don’t consider myself an experienced dog trainer. I’ve trained a handful of dogs. I can work out the basics but I don’t get fancy. Josie presented me with one challenge I’ve never faced. She was uncatchable. It had earned her the name Permit on the island and I knew if she got away from me, I’d have a better shot catching a permit than putting my hands back on the little potcake. My ultimate goal was to have a dog I could turn loose in the woods while I fished, who wouldn’t need a lot of looking after. We were a long way from that when we started.

I began by creating a bond.

I hand fed her for the first month. Every bite she had to take from my hand. When I found her, it was hard to get her to eat food I threw to her so that was a big step in itself. Although she has her own bowl now she still gets a bite of everything I eat. It’s part of our bargain. I make her food and she watches me wash and chop her vegetables and cook her turkey. She’s never been highly food motivated but she knows she has a good deal.

For the first six months I walked her five times or more a day. I worked with her on the leash every time out. At first she hated being leashed. Even if I let her do whatever she wanted, she just understood the idea that she wasn’t in control and resented it. It didn’t improve until I got her a long retractable leash. Trainers hate them but it gave her enough independence for the bargain to work. Maybe it’s because she’s Bahamian, but you bargain with Josie for everything.

When she was six months I took a huge leap of faith. I took her to the park, asked her to sit and unhooked her least. She ran like the wind. She’s unbelievably fast. She ran and ran, but she didn’t run away. At first it was a real argument getting the leash back on her. I learned early on that you can not reach for Josie or poof, she gone. She has to come to you, It has to be her idea. The first few sessions off leash were a challenge but once she understood the bargain, everything changed. Once she knew that she would get be free she was fine with the leash going back on. We had cleared a major hurdle.

I’m lucky to have a park with trails near the house and I run Josie, off leash, on the trails every day. She responds well to my verbal commands and hand signals. When we come to a fork in the trail she will stop and look at me, I will point left or right, and she will go where I point. I stop and look at the river and ignore her and she plays or hunts bugs but she stays close by. I have focused on being very consistent with her and she has almost trained herself. We are absolutely a team.

Although Josie has been with me in the boat plenty of times, I’ve never taken her on a wade trip.

She turned one last month and she’s still a puppy with boundless energy but she’s a much more focused dog. This week I decided it was time for her to graduate to the next level. I planned a hike in trip to a remote river far from any roads. I told my wife that if anything went wrong, I’d be home when I found Jo, however long that took.

She didn’t like being rousted out of bed at five in the morning. She was clearly anxious on the two and a half hour drive. She knew I was up to something. When I stopped the truck in the woods she started to get excited. I got my gear together and leashed her up and we hit the trail. Once we got fifty feet or so from the parking lot, I asked her to sit and unhooked the leash. I’ve never seen her so happy.

IMG_9613It was a cold wet day, spitting rain. The woods dark and smelling of things wild. Josie ran and sniffed and dug but never left my sight. We hiked a couple of miles before we got to the river. Josie likes the water but she isn’t one of those dogs that dives right in and spooks every fish for miles. She hung out and did her thing while I lined up and started working the run. I tied on a streamer and started working down and across, stepping downstream every cast. She kept up and kept herself busy. I had figured I’d do more dog wrangling than fishing but she was no trouble at all.

I’d check on her every couple of casts and she’d be there sniffing around or chewing on something. She was having a blast. At one point she got really worked up and started barking and looking back in woods. She ran back and forth anxiously. I was eventually relieved to see another angler appear rather than a bear.

“She’s friendly,” I called out. “She just doesn’t want you fishing her spot!”

The fishing was pretty good and as I got more confident about Josie, I became more focused on catching fish. I was wading a fast run almost waist deep. I’d just made a cast to the far bank and realized Josie wasn’t around. I’d forgotten to check on her for about fifteen minutes. I called her and got no response. I felt a little panicked. I started calling louder in a more urgent tone. Still no Josie.

I’m not sure which happened first. Maybe it was exactly the same time I saw Josie leap off of the high bank into the river that a fish slammed my streamer. I am pretty sure that there was an instant where I saw both the dog and the fish suspended in mid air. Josie landed like a kid who just yelled “cannon ball!” coming off of the high dive and swam straight to me. I guess she heard the panic in my voice and thought she had to get to me ASAP.

She was doing a great job but the current was fast and the bank was too high for her to get back out. She took a second to asses the situation and decided she wanted her daddy. I met her mid river and landed my best fish of the day with a dog on my shoulder.

I get to do a lot of pretty amazing fishing but one of the odd things about my job is that I never get to fish alone.

I enjoy company, I don’t mean to complain about it but sometimes I miss the quiet of being alone in the woods. Being out on the river with Josie was the best of both worlds. I had the quiet and solitude I miss but I also had the companionship of the most joyful soul I have ever known. It was the best day of fishing I have had in a long time and it had nothing to do with the fish.

IMG_6993As we hiked back to the truck, I couldn’t help but marvel at what a natural fishing dog Josie had become. It was like she had found her calling. I’ve never seen her happier or more focused. She  was part of a team and whatever this was we were doing, she loved it.

I had a very different dog on the ride home. I toweled her off, turned on the heated seat and she just melted. Her face was one of absolute bliss. I have a lot of respect for this little island dog. She has come a long way from the beach on South Andros. Plenty of it has been scary and challenging but she has been a brave little dog.

I put on some music, Led Zeppelin 3, and reach across to the passenger seat, I rest my hand on Josie’s neck as I drive. She is warm and cozy on her heated seat and limp as a towel. Robert Plant sings, “Tell your friends all around the world, there ain’t no companion like a blue eyed merl.” Maybe that’s so, I think, but I’ll bet he never had a potcake.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “Josie’s Big Day

  1. One writer said everyone should have at least one great dog. Glad you have yours. Have run into some potcakes on Eleuthera in remote spots and they have all responded to kindness but it takes awhile.

  2. It’s been cool reading about your progress with Josie!

    I’ve got a fishing dog, a one year old male yellow lab named Sue. He’s great striper fishing here in MA, except for jumping overboard after hooked fish. Lifting an 85 pound soaking wet dog over the gunwhale is usually pretty interesting, and usually culminates with me on the deck with said 85 pound soaking wet dog on top of me.

    He knows a thing or two about trout fishing too. He is excellent at spotting perfect holding water. And diving right into it.

    He doesn’t help my catch rates any, but that drive home with the dog asleep on the passenger seat and a hand on their neck is worth it.

  3. My first time steeleheading with Tucker (my blue tick coonhound) he would bay at me every time I waded 6″ into the water. The next time he was with me he was oddly quiet while I got ready to cast to the rising pod of trout on the far shore…until I spotted him swimming down the middle of the run. That hole was done, but you gotta laugh at a dog who just doesn’t get it.

  4. Dog stories touch the hearts of dog owners. Keep the Josie stories coming! My wild ass dingo heeler sleeps with me. I too reach over and rest my hand on him. Comforting.

  5. I had an amazing Springer Spaniel who sounds so much like Josie. Best thing I ever did was to train him to ALWAYS come to me when I blew three-short bursts on an audible whistle. That way, he could sniff pheasants for hours in the woods and always return whenever I’d blow the whistle. As far as fishing with him, it went well until he decided to destroy a dam a family of beavers were starting to build. (I found that an inexpensive Acme Thunder or Gonia-style whistle worked best. The dog could hear it a mile away and I didn’t have to strain my vocal chords.)

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