Thanks to my lack of foresight, Manny backslid on the one part of retrieving on which we weren’t solid: a real bird brought to hand without “tenderizing.” Yesterday, his retrieves were energetic and enthusiastic. Using my Real Bird Bumper, he was scooping, making a U-turn, and racing back with a lusty, throaty growl of pleasure. When a pigeon was substituted, the wheels came off. Thankfully, I figured out why in record time.

Immediately before our retrieving drills we’d been working on steadiness. Manny was confronted with too much temptation: close-in birds flapping and flying in front of a young dog that had been too long in the kennel while I was out of town. The adrenaline was gushing in torrents in Manny’s little doggy body. When the retrieving practice commenced a couple minutes later, CRUNCH.

It only took one night to sleep on it before it hit me: divorce flushing, flying live birds from retrieving … completely … for a while. Most of us have had a corollary drummed into our thick skulls for years: training a dog to expect a retrieve upon every flush (or every shot, for that matter) is verboten. The worse you shoot (like me), the deeper you sink into that mire. Manny is showing me that the less mature a dog, the farther apart flushes and retrieves should be, literally. So for now, we will put time — and distance — between the two skills.

Today, it worked. I’m still playing it safe, putting my pigeons in the loft after they clock out on their flushing job. Our retrieving work will be limited to Real Bird Bumpers with chukar wings taped on. They are real enough for now.

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