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Learning to pick battles that can be won

lmost everyone that enjoys the outdoors, whether bird hunting, fishing or just hiking, has a dog that goes with them. In some cases, the dog has a function, such as a retriever for a bird hunter.

Most of the time, though, the dog is just along as a companion. Both the dog and the owner enjoy the camaraderie in the outdoors -- most of the time.

Duke, my outdoors dog, is a giant slobbering beast of an animal that thinks his job is to chase all other animals away. I am not sure if he chases for the enjoyment of seeing them run away or if he is protecting his master. This could be a useful trait in some situations such as being attacked by wolves, but becomes really annoying if I am attempting to photograph deer or turkey.

At the first sight of any animal, Duke bounds after it. As soon as it turns and runs, he is happy. He returns to my side expecting praise for doing such a good job. It is hard to be angry with a dog that thinks he is providing such a needed service.

Most of the time, his chasing activities do not get him in trouble. Deer bound away or the turkeys fly off, none the worse for the experience. A couple of days ago, Duke tried to chase off animals that would not run.

My wife and I were going to the farm and naturally had to take Duke along. Thinking the cows were farther away, we let him out at the gate to run ahead of the truck while we drove toward the cabin. When we came over the first hill, all the cows were standing in the lane. Duke sprang into action. Whatever his motivation might have been, chasing did not work. Cows see dogs as a threat they cannot outrun. Most cows will turn and fight a dog. In this case, the cows all turned to fight.

At first, Duke was a bit disconcerted that something would not turn tail and run from him. When the herd started to stampede directly at him, Duke decided a retreat might be in order. He ran back toward the truck with a group of angry cows in hot pursuit. The cows followed as he circled behind us and were gaining on him when he made one full lap around the truck. I thought about opening the truck door and letting him in but I was afraid I might not get the door shut in time. I have heard stories about an angry cow in the front seat of a pickup. It is not a pretty sight.

Duke dove under the truck and tried to get as close to the center as possible. He is big enough that he does not fit well is such tight spaces. He was crying in terror as one really determined old cow did her best to dismantle the side of my truck in her attempt to get the dog. I had to get out, chase her off, and lead the whole group away before Duke would squeeze out of his hiding space. I had hopes he has become more selective in choosing his targets.

A few nights later, I was doing chores at home when I heard Duke doing battle just outside the barn door. He has never fought a live animal larger than a field mouse so I was again concerned about his safety. I carefully peaked around the door into the snowy darkness to see Duke in full battle with something about the size of a raccoon. This could be really ugly. I called to him with little hope of stopping a battle of life and death. He stopped, came to me, and I could see, he was fighting with a black rubber bucket.

Perhaps he has learned to choose the battles he can win.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.