The eastern shore of Maryland yields to no place and nobody in its sense of the fitting manner in which, fall after fall, one goes after ducks—so the remarkable combinations shown in these pictures are worth a second look. The alert-looking retrievers shown on a duck hunt with their owners Dorman Covington (above left) of St. Michaels and Jack Peacock Green of Annapolis are not Labradors or goldens or Chesapeakes. That's right, they're poodles.
Splashing around in wet, marshy duck country is not the kind of activity most people associate with poodles. In fact, the majority of poodles, particularly in America, seldom splash in anything but eau de cologne. More often than not, they languish in luxury, the pampered, pedicured and popular clowns of dogdom.
There is, to be sure, a little of the clown in every poodle. But beneath this carefree exterior he is first and foremost a water dog. The name poodle, which comes from the German Pudel, literally means "water splasher." Added to his natural retrieving instinct, the poodle has better than average intelligence and commonly unsuspected physical stamina. These qualities, according to Dorman Covington and his wife Martha, a professional trainer in her own right, qualify the poodle as a first-class field dog. "But he has to be trained," says Covington, "just as any Labrador or golden must be trained for the field."
The Covingtons and a group of Eastern Shore duck hunters have been training poodles to retrieve for the past several years. Where the poodles are concerned, their job has been easy. "Even the youngest dogs have shown a natural enthusiasm for hunting," says Covington.
"We train them exactly as we do other retrievers, often working them right along with the Labradors. In every case, we've turned out a gun dog any hunter would be proud to own."
But the hunters themselves have presented a problem. It has not been easy to convince longtime Labrador fans that the familiar Park Avenue pet is really a man's dog. "We've had a surprising number of hunters change their minds," says Mrs. Covington, "but they had to be shown." During most of the year this involves regular field-training sessions and retrieving demonstrations to which sportsmen and poodle owners are invited. From time to time the Covington group holds informal field trials, and during the waterfowl season they take their dogs out and hunt.
Actual hunting has been the most convincing proof of the poodle's retrieving abilities afield. Rough water, tall marsh grasses and oozing mud have left the dogs bedraggled in appearance but undaunted in enthusiasm. "I've watched these dogs fight through whitecaps as casually as though they were in a swimming pool," says Green, who now hunts only with a poodle. "And they always come back for more. In fact, that's the one complaint I can make about them. Sometimes my poodle looks at me with such scorn when I don't drop another bird out there for him that it is actually embarrassing."