Sovereign’s Frozen Rock Solid JH, CD, RN, CGC, CTD
12/7/1999 – 10/11/2012
Sam came to us in January of 2000 with a <insert barfing sound here>. On our trip home from Forest Lake to Chaska (about an hour drive) she threw up six different times. Poor little girl was green by the time she got here. Welcome home Sam, now you get a bath! Nice.
Each of our dogs have changed our lives in some way. Maggie was our first dog and got us into dogs. Charles was our first show dog and got us into the Brittany community and helped us form many lifelong friendships. Jessie was the first dog we ran at hunt tests and started us working on hunting.
Sam’s contribution to our lives was that she made us learn to train hunting dogs and eventually would be our first obedience dog. She would teach us about being a gentle leader a caring friend and how to trust those things that you taught in training.
Sam was out of a frozen semen litter (hence the name). It was second try at the breeding and almost four years had passed since we agreed to purchase a pup from her breeder. Maggie was very sick at the time and would pass shortly after Sam arrived. Timing was not the greatest, but as I am constantly reminded, it never is, that’s life.
We had started doing some field work with Jessie at a trainer’s in Jordan. Jessie had a leg on her hunt test title and after a couple of problems we sought some help. We brought Sam along to teach her what we could so she would be prepared when it was her turn. Jessie was almost 9 and Sam was only 6 months old.
In a movie Sam would have learned from the old dog and overcome many things to become the rock star of field dogs. Well, it really wasn’t that simple with Sam, nothing ever was, but the results as usual with her ended up being pretty spectacular.
How do you put this simply? Sam wasn’t particularly interested in birds. When you first start working with younger dogs you tend to use either releases or bags or some form of tie-downs with the birds. It gives a consistent spot that you can work the dogs to and to get them to stop and point. Sam had no interest in birds in the releases or bags. She would find them and walk in on them and have a very puzzled look. My guess she was just telling them “sucks to be you” and she would quickly lose interest and move on.
We were relatively new to this and we were stumped. Our trainer who had been doing this for years had also never seen it before. After several attempts at different methods we found that we just had to put birds out there and let her chase them around a bit. She figured this out pretty quickly but we still had a drive problem. She still wasn’t really drawn to the “hunting thing”. She was probably a year or year and half old at this point.
It was at this point that Amy suggested that we put her out in the field with Jessie. Jessie had become the matriarch of the house after Maggie had passed. A little healthy competition from the leader may be what she needed to push her a bit. It worked. In fact I’m reasonably certain that Jessie taught her more about “drive” in two weeks than we could teach in a lifetime. Sam was transformed and finally seemed to “get it”. It seemed that there was no stopping her at this point.
Sam was a washout in the show ring. She got one point at a show and after a rather nasty incident at the January shows in St. Paul we decided that her show career was over. It was a good thing. Sam was a big girl, in fact she was bigger than most boys and her body style would come to haunt her in the future.
Sam breezed through her Junior Hunter title. Her scores weren’t great because she ran pretty controlled. She wasn’t wild and there was little drama or screaming at her. Apparently that is what you need to do to prove that you are “handling” your dog. She went four for four to complete her title.
At the farm where we trained there was a Shoot-To-Retrieve that was going to take place. We figured it would be a good test of her. Her retrieving was not great but she could find birds and it was our home field.
Sam performed well. She had three birds in the first 15 minutes and scored pretty well. At about minute 20 I watched her physically slow down and run out of gas. As much as she ran during training, this was pretty puzzling to me but we now had something to work on. Day two of the trial was much the same, a couple birds in the beginning and then a significant drop-off at the 20 minute mark.
I spent some time talking with our trainer about this and the conclusion was to condition her better and we would be ready for the fall trial. Well, that didn’t work either.
It wasn’t until the following summer that I figured it out. We were taking care of the farm while our trainer was away. Part of that was running his pack of dogs with the four wheeler. When you are doing this you have a lot of time to think and watch. Watching our trainer’s dogs there was something different about their gait. They had a smooth flow where all their legs worked together and they glided across the field.
This is what Sam was missing. Her running style was so inefficient (it looked like her legs were independent of each other until you pushed her up to 20mph where she settled in to a rhythm) that the extra movement would wear her out. No amount of conditioning could counteract this physical flaw.
This was a pretty devastating discovery. After 4+ years of work it was over. Sam would never be the Master Hunter or NSTRA Champion that we were driving towards.
It was about this time that we got Abby. The old dogs were getting older at a significant pace and Abby was going to be the next generation of field and show dogs for us.
Abby had huge issues getting in and out of the kennels in the back of the van. The thing we discovered is that she would follow Sam anywhere. She would do it without thinking. So using Sam as a guide we worked on getting in and out of the kennel. Sam seemed to enjoy the attention (and treats). Abby was becoming more accustomed to being a big dog and following Sam’s lead. Sam had found her new job.
Trainer Sam was born.
Sam trained a lot of pups in her life. Her training method was simple. The pups would follow her until she found the planted birds. Generally they would be biting at her or running into her. She would stand staunch as ever and hold point. The pups would catch the scent and stop to investigate. This would be repeated hundreds of times over Sam’s lifetime.
Sam worked with dogs that were damaged and broken by bad trainers and taught them that it was ok to hunt and run again. Sam didn’t run big and she had no interest in messing with the other dogs she was with. She was simply there to look for birds and if you wanted to come along she was good with that. As you watched her run with other dogs you could see them gaining confidence each time out. It was like she was giving a tour of her place.
Just after Sam turned eight we started doing obedience with her. The ladies where we trained thought it was funny that this gray haired dog was just starting obedience (she actually had a lot of it out in the field previous, but they didn’t need to know that).
Sam was great at obedience. She sat a little funny but she listed intently. She paid great attention and there was no screwing around (please take note Penny). We spent a couple years just messing around at class with no intention of ever competing.
Like anything, if you are around it enough, you get hooked. Well we were hooked and started competing with her. She got her CD with great scores at the age of 10. Her handler lost more points in competition than she did (she almost fired me a couple of times).
The best compliment that we received was from the judge on her final novice run. She ended up in second place and as he handed me the ribbon he whispered “I had a Brittany and she could never have done that”. It brought a smile to my face.
Sam finished her Rally title in December of that year three days before her 11th birthday. Again she had gotten her title going 3 for 3 qualifying.
Shortly after finishing her title Sam decided that she was done with the “obedience thing”. She had lost interest in the classes and doing the exercises. She was still willing to compete if I wanted to do that but there was going to be no more of the infinite sits and downs.
Sam had done her time and Murphy was on his way to being ready to compete. Sam would occasionally join us at Rally run-thru’s at the club where we train. She liked doing one run thru and then she was done. Sam officially retired from the obedience ring at the age of 11 with a couple of titles. She was also the #2 ranked Brittany in Novice Obedience in 2010 and the #2 Brittany in Rally Obedience in 2010.
Sam retired to run in the field and enjoy life. She did just that. She did it to the fullest every day of her life.
Sam was a very happy dog. She loved pretty much everyone and was always there for someone in need. She had the extra sense that some dogs have that you needed some extra attention. You would find her sitting on someone’s lap at the house with her head firmly planted in their chest in her best rendition of a hug.
Sam managed the pack in the house. She would be the one that would guide the new pups that came in on “how we did things”. She would correct them if they got out of line and play with them like a puppy. Amy and I would often joke that she was still more puppy at 8 or 10 or 12 than the pup that came into the house.
What I will remember most about Sam is her spirit and her energy. Sam was kind of like the guy in the Star Trek movie that wanted you to “share your pain” with her. You always felt better when she was around. You always felt like she had your back whether you were working in the field or in the obedience ring. She had your back at home because very few bad things ever happened with the pack under her watch.
Amy always told people that Sam and I shared a brain. She was right. I rarely had to say much to Sam, she just knew what I wanted and no words had to be exchanged. She was “the one” that I will get in my lifetime that was like this. All of our dogs have been and will be great dogs. Each brings something very special to the table but in life I think you are only lucky enough to get one that you connect with at a different level. Sam was that dog for me.
Sam had many physical issues in her life. She had a life long battle with liver disease (killed her sister at the age of 6 as well as affected many others in her family). This was discovered when it was discovered that she had a grade 3 mast cell tumor. She was given a 5% chance to make it more than 7 months. She lived almost 8 years beyond that. She also had laryngeal paralysis from the age of 11. This limits the breathing because the flap closes over the larynx.
Sam began getting very sick in August of 2012. Her liver started to fail and she somehow ended up with ringworm. While the meds worked for a little while and bought her some time eventually her system just couldn’t keep up anymore.
In her last hunting season with us Sam was still the rock star. When your liver starts to fail it produces large amounts of fluids. So much so that your kidneys can’t keep up and your body fills with the fluid. Sam was carrying 6-8 pounds of extra weight (on a 40 pound frame) and had a hard time breathing yet she still hunted. She worked as hard as any of the dogs and ended the year with more birds than any of the other dogs.
Sam was an awesome dog. She was a great “event” partner, a great friend and a great helper. There was little that we ever asked of her that she was unwilling to do.
Sam was never a national champion or a dog you read about in the magazines. By a lot of the Brittany folks out there she wasn’t even a hunting dog because she didn’t run big. That’s fine. What Sam was is the right dog at the right time. She taught us so much about so many things and opened so many doors for us that we can never thank her enough.
Even two months after her passing it is just gut-wrenching to write this. If it doesn’t hurt when you lose a dog you just didn’t do it right. Well I know we did it right and that we owe a lot to the little dog we called Sam.
Sam, we’ll miss you and always love you. We’ll see you in a while. Save a spot for us. Until then Maggie, Charles and Jessie will take care of you.