I’ve featured the superlative golfing site Fine Golf (which was both inspirational and helpful in my starting Dog Golf UK), and recently honoured its distinguished canine pioneer, Dexter, but I had not yet had a chance to sit down with Finbe Golf’s founder and leading contributor Lorne Smith. Lorne kindly agreed to an exclusive Dog Golf UK interview where he provided an authoritative and inspiring insight in the joy of golfing with dogs:
- What was the first course you golfed with a dog? – Northamptonshire County GC, my home club, was where I trialed Dexter on a golf course. Initially, this was on a lead and then, as he became trained not to ‘run-in’, to save the secretary embarrassment when out of sight of the clubhouse I would wind his lead around his neck so he was still ‘on the lead’ to keep within the Club’s regulations while being free to roam as I allowed. This worked well for ten years as the golfers who I played with all appreciated having Dexter around. He, being so well behaved, never distracted anybody and indeed added to the relaxed social occasion.
- What gave you the idea to bring along your dog? – My wife acquired Dexter as a puppy and quickly I saw that he was biddable and wanted to please. I then went to gundog training sessions and competed with him for four years in gundog tests around the UK. As part of that he needed to become ‘steady’ on game and not run-in on them, so coming on the golf course where there are squirrels, pheasants, and hares he learnt to leave them alone. This of course helps instill steadiness when in a sheep field and makes walking in the countryside so much more enjoyable, allowing the dog off the lead knowing he will return when called by the whistle.
- What were your biggest challenges at first? – Steadiness and coming back on the whistle. Labradors require a leader figure and want to please them. Even if your children, without knowing and just for fun, ‘spoil’ them by throwing sticks for chasing etc, he knew that when he was with me on a golf course he is working with me and there is an invisible bond between us. Between the tee, where he would sit to my front side (not behind, in case he moved and was caught by my backswing, as I have seen happen with another dog that incurred a severe headache) and the green, where he would sit to one side, waiting for everybody to putt out, he would often walk down the outside of the rough, if not walking with me. He appreciated that freedom so when I whistled him back in he would obey. The best trained dogs are not automatons, their natural instincts that have been bred in over the years supply their confidence.
- What do you observe as the most common mistake dog golfers make? – Dogs should not be allowed on a green, not that they will harm it, it is simply a matter of discipline. Actually, that is not totally true as Dexter without any encouragement used to always come in among the golfers when they were shaking hands at the end of a game whether that was a green out in the country or on the eighteenth. It was as though he was saying ‘I have been part of this social occasion and I also want to thank you for having me’. Unfortunately, on one occasion in front of the clubhouse it gave an opportunity to a dog hater to come outside and try to admonish me for allowing my dog on the green. The fellow received a sensible telling-off from my three golfing partners.
- What was Dexter’s favourite course that he walked? – I do not think it made much difference as he was not really interested in the game. On courses where dogs were off the lead he enjoyed going over and saying hello to other dogs but again he always returned when called.
- Did Dexter have any special tricks he could do on the course? – To show his skills off to golfing partners I would sometimes drop a tennis ball in the rough without Dexter seeing it and after walking on would send him for it, giving hand signals to guide him to the place, before he successfully retrieved it to me. If I asked him to hunt for a golf ball during a social game to help another player he would invariably find it though I did not ask him often as he might then get the idea it was OK to generally pick balls. There was an occasion, mentioned in his obituary, when on the Struie at Dornoch a player’s ball was hit on to an island and we could not get it. I sent Dexter over the pond and asked him to look for it. When standing over the ball he looked at me for instruction and then came back with it. Most summers after that he would go for a swim on that hole to cool off. One strange activity that Dexter did towards the second half of his life was pull prickly burrs from plants and then spit them out as he shook his head before pulling another until they all were on the ground in front of him. I have never heard of any other dog doing this. I don’t think using human psychology will ever determine the reason (see video below).
- What is the biggest misconception about golfing with your dog? – They must be under your control; it is not just a dog walk. As the handler, one must always remember the others one is playing with and not allow the dog to in any way interfere. This is actually a quite stressful aspect and one day when somebody asked me on the first tee how many extra stokes I would give them for my dog putting them off, I replied that that it was he who should be giving me strokes for the time I would spend concentrating on Dexter! A relationship with a dog has to have respect on both sides. I suppose this is easier to appreciate in a working dog, as Dexter was. On the shooting field when rough shooting, the ultimate type of shooting, the handler, depending on the intelligence of the dog, its level of training and its experience, will rely on the dog’s incredibly sensitive nose and allow it to hunt with all of the out of control possibilities that permits. However, the dog relies on the handler to take account of the direction of the wind to come up on where the game are likely to be, from downwind. The dual skill is to put up game within shooting distance and then retrieve, even from across a river.
After the interview, Lorne shared these added kind words about Dexter and Dog Golf UK:
- “Dexter was quite a dog in his beauty, his long legs, his temperament, and his achievements in both shooting and golf and four years on a lump still catches when I am reminded of him. I hope others who knew him will be enriched also by reading this interview and I thank you Bruce for your love of golfing dogs and the work you have done to help increase the knowledge of which courses will welcome golfers with their dogs.”