Sunday Dinner with Paul Morrison – Part 1

A Strike to the Heart, As Silent as the Night, Dogs, Sunday Dinner

For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Paul Morrison. Paul was mentioned as a resource in Sandy Collins’ post about the American Water Spaniel. This is the breed of dog Lily owns in A Strike to the Heart. A wealth of information, Paul will join us for the next three weeks.

Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!

Without further ado … Paul Morrison, please introduce yourself. What’s something interesting readers would enjoy learning about you? 

Paul Morrison, I wrote the most recently published book written about the American Water Spaniel (AWS). 

I understand you own an American Water Spaniel and are a champion of the breed … can you give us a little of your background?

My wife and I obtained our first American Water Spaniel in 1988 from a breeder in Pardeeville, WI; Swan Lake Kennels. That dog was a female we called Choco. After going through a couple of obedience classes with her and working on field training, we discovered just how smart these little brown dogs are and decided to add another to our home. The second AWS came into our lives just a year after the first one. His name was Gunner. The people we worked with at the training center encouraged us to enter some dog shows and obedience trails, so we gave those a try and added them to our field training games. We played at dog shows and obedience trials for several years and, for the most part, enjoyed them. 

Dog shows and the constant interest in our dogs, led us to the idea of trying our hand at breeding the AWS. We needed another female though as Choco was simply not a dog we wanted to breed. In 1991, we obtained our third AWS and from there things just seemed to expand. We had our first litter in 1992, added a fourth dog a couple of years later and have been going strong ever since. 

My love of hunting and the AWS led to me getting involved in AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests. I became a licensed AKC Spaniel Hunt Test judge in 1995, served on the committee that rewrote the rules for those tests in 2006, and continue to occasionally judge hunt tests. 

I helped to form a local AWS club here in Michigan back in 1993. That club has gone through a few manifestations and is now called the Great Lakes American Water Spaniel Club, an AKC licensed performance club, of which I am president. It holds field training sessions several times a month and a weekend of hunt tests nearly every spring. I have also served on the Board of the AKC parent club, the American Water Spaniel Club, been its newsletter editor, and designed and managed the club’s first extensive Web site. 

In 1997 my wife and I sent AWS to the Czech Republic for the start of a breeding program in Europe. From all we can tell, it was the first time that AWS had been introduced to Europe for this purpose. Over the years we have sent dogs to Finland, Great Britain, and France. There are now a few breeding programs going on in Europe, with one of the strongest being in France where the breed has been very well received for its prowess as a hunting dog. I can think of at least six European countries that now have AWS living in them.

Can you tell us more about your dogs?

Today, our dogs are primarily hunting dogs. We have not been in a dog show or obedience trial in years, although we do sometimes get an itch to get back to it. We continue to breed a few litters a year and run the dogs in AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests around the Midwest and out East. We have nine dogs living with us now and another five dogs that we co-own who live with friends or family. Not all these dogs are used for breeding. Six of them are retired and simply living out their lives with us, as we feel it is the most appropriate thing to do. We don’t like shuffling dogs out of our home simply because they are no longer needed for breeding. They are family and will remain here with their family. Another six are used in our breeding program and two are hopefully going to join the breeding program over the next couple of years. 

Our dogs, like most American Water Spaniels are smart, silly, loving, companions that simply want to be with us and have a job to do. They get bored if not having to work at something and absolutely hate not being able to be with us when such times arise. If I set up to go away on a hunt, they know what is up and will struggle to make sure that they are the one heading out to the woods, field, or marsh with me rather than getting left behind to sit in the house and await my return. 

I conduct several training sessions with the dogs each week. Having so many dogs makes it difficult for me to get to each of them, each day; there are other things that need my attention around the house and farm. Like what I described earlier, if I train one dog, the others are upset that I am not working with them, and they make their feelings known with a bit of whining or even a little barking. Jealousy is alive and well in the dog world, at least in the AWS world. They do not like be left out of the game. 

I am often asked about how easy or difficult it is to train an AWS and I have to say, it is easy if you don’t expect too much, too fast, or think that you can move on before you have solidly established the new skill. Most of the people I talk to about problems with their training, are having trouble because they did not establish a good foundation and that is not always their fault, in a way. Often it is because they have others telling them or encouraging them to move on long before it is really time. Luckily, after 30+ years of working with AWS, I have developed a pretty good awareness of when to move forward and when to stay put. I try to help others come to a similar understanding. 

When it comes to field training my dogs I concentrate first on obedience, then on retrieving skills, and then on upland or quartering skills. The dogs have fun with each of those, if I am doing my job right, but they get bored if held too long to any one regimen. So, I find that with my dogs, mixing up the training sessions with different items to work on – a little obedience work mixed in with some retrieves and then time spent working a field – works best at keeping the dogs engaged. 

In the evening, when it comes time to relax at the end of the day, my dogs are in my lap or at my feet. We have a sofa that we lovingly refer to as the dog’s sofa rather than one meant for us. It is not unusual to find it occupied by three or four AWS with us trying to wiggle our way into a nice place to relax and watch a little TV. 

They are so in tune to your feelings that if you are feeling down, they will be there to comfort or maybe cheer you up. I had a brother pass away rather unexpectedly a few years back. We were very close; he was my hunting partner and a great friend. Well, when he passed, I was feeling very depressed and I noticed that everywhere I went my dog, Sparkle, was suddenly my shadow; more so than normal. She would be at my feet, head in my lap, and pushing into me as if to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. It will be okay.’ If I laid on the sofa she would climb up and snuggle into me giving off that same kind of ‘I’m here for you’ vibe. It seems to be the way of these little dogs as other people have talked of similar experiences.

The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end for today. Paul, thank for for sharing so much about he American Water Spaniel. I already love the breed, but this makes me like them even more.

In fact, the story of Sparkle’s empathy reminds me of a scene in As Silent as the Night. This Christmas novella wraps up the Strike to the Heart series. You can pre-order the e-book on Amazon or look for the paperback in September.

Join us again next week to hear Paul talk about the history of the American Water Spaniel, their uniqueness, and a day in the life of these intelligent dogs. See you then!


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