Article written by Esther Noe ~ Hill City Prevailer News By now almost everyone on Main Street has met Gauge, a 7-year-old British Black Lab. What may not be known is that Gauge loves to pick up discarded cans and bottles around town.
"When he was really, really tiny, an empty water bottle caught his attention. and it was a play thing for him. But if I could coax him to bring it to me, he got all kinds of praise," said Gauge's "Dad," Kevin Derynck.
According to Derynck, Gauge is a one-and-done dog when it comes to training. Gauge determined from the praise received that retrieving bottles made him a good boy. Derynck encouraged this behavior because he wanted his retriever to pick up anything he sent him after. "When a dog is little, retrieving has to be a game," Derynck said. "As a result, Gauge has been picking up bottles and cans since they were bigger than he was."
Gauge, who is British bred and the pick of the litter, traveled with Derynck every day for work since he was 7 weeks old. Derynck worked in the wholesale food business at the executive level for 44 years. After that, he worked in the agricultural wholesale business as a manufacturers rep for almost eight years while he traveled North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Gauge stayed in every hotel with Derynck, and even non-pet hotels would let him in based on his calm, obedient behavior and training. Then after work each day, Derynck and Gauge would go fo a walk, and Gauge would pick up any cans or bottles he found along with way. "That's where he learned his retrieving besides being an expert hunting dog," said Derynck.
According to Derynck, Gauge does it all when it comes to hunting, and "He'll hunt anything I want to hunt." Primarily, they hunt pheasants, grouse, ducks and geese and retrieves in ice water out of boats. Although Derynck has had several hunting dogs, he said Gauge is by far the most gifted. This, Derynck attributes to the time he put into training Gauge. We've been inseparable for almost eight years. He's with me almost 24 hours a day."
When training, Derynck said he does not use any enforcement tools because he is not in a hurry. He wants his dogs to enjoy obeying, and everyone says that Gauge smiles when doing so.
Gauge is so well trained that Derynck said he whispers his commands and has to spell different words like w-a-l-k around the house. "There are certain things you just never say out loud because they have meaning and he connects those dots," said Derynck. "What's more, we could never break his schedule. He'd put a leash on me to go fo a walk."
Derynck is retired and busy walking as he recovers from a stroke. While walking, Gauge is always on a mission and scoping out the landscape for bottles and cans Gauge has the unique ability to distinguish between a drink in use and trash. If a bottle or can is sitting upright on the pavement, he will not pick it up. It has to be lying down. Gauge will also not pick up any other trash. He only targets bottles and cans.
"He can't walk by one," said Derynck. If Gauge sees a bottle or a can, he will stop, let the leash tighten, look at Derynck and then look at the item on the ground for permission.
If it is just one, Gauge will carry the bottle or can until he and Derynck come to a trash can. On th occasions when there is no trash can, Gauge will carry the item all the way home to be thrown away.
In some areas around town, Derynck and Gauge often find more than one bottle or can left behind. Derynck said they frequent these spots because they know they can help and because Gauge always wants a job.
Gauge will bring Derynck cans and bottles until he cannot carry anymore. Then they walk to the nearest trash can, throw them away and walk back to get more. Gauge is insistent about going back because "he knows he's left stuff behind," said Derynck. However, Gauge never wants to keep the bottles and cans. He just wants them off the street and always brings them back to Derynck to be thrown away.
Along with these talents, Gauge is also a fully trained emotional support animal, and Derynck said. "I've got him just about totally finished as a service dog." Typically, service dogs are not supposed to be petted by strangers, but Derynck said, "I socialize him to be so friendy before training him for a service dog and he wants the affection. So when they walk around town together, Derynck leaves Gauge's service dog vest at home.
People stop on Main Street or even park their vehicles to come meet Gauge, and he loves the activity. "He's family, and he's part of the community," Derynck said. "More people know him than don't."