SINCE THE DAWN of mankind, never has there been a stronger bond of trust, love and partnership between human and beast than that of a man and his dog. Together, they have roamed the ends of the earth, working together for mutual benefit, asking for nothing in return, save an unbreakable sense of caring and companionship.

I reserve my love of dogs for working dogs, especially the hunting dogs which have been part of my life since the day I was born.

These are dogs with which one would roam the forest and climb the mountain; dogs which earn their keep whether retrieving ducks, flushing partridge and pheasant or keeping a saber-toothed tiger from tearing asunder the human half of the partnership.

I have owned several hunting dogs, including an 11-month-old yellow lab who, last October, became my newest duck hunting companion. He was only 6 months old then, but when he went to work on retrieving nine ducks put down on the water by two of my young companions on opening morning, fetching them all with confidence and aplomb — well, sort of — he instantly cemented himself a place in my heart.

Now, with spring breakup hopefully just weeks away, he and I will have an entire spring and summer to work on refining his game. Last fall, instinct and three months of working on basic retrieving skills was all he had going for him.

At times, he looked like a seasoned veteran, a born genius if there ever was one. At other times, perhaps most of the time, he looked like your classic blockhead. He still acts like a wild “hun-yock” much of the time and yet a perfect angel at others. Unfortunately, those perfect angel times are mostly when he’s sleeping. But we’re working, the two of us, at turning him into a bona fide, 100% of the time working duck dog.

I really meant it earlier when I said hunting dogs have been a part of my life since I was born. Pup, a springer spaniel, was part of the household before I was. Needless to say, when he passed, when I was age 7, I had yet to see him in action, but from stories I was told he was pretty good.

Ike was next and he was superb. He possessed a nose any of the pointing breeds would die for. He didn’t know the meaning of giving up on a retrieve. He even had a good deal of patience teaching a 12-year-old hunter the ins and outs of partridge and duck hunting.

With Ike, I learned the art of watching a hunting dog’s tail, nose, ears and, in the case of sitting with Ike in a duck blind, eyes. Invariably, when ducks were winging their way in, he would spot them coming first or if they were coming from behind hear the “ha-aash” of their wings slicing through the air long before I would.

He was the ultimate cripple-finding machine. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times he saved me from losing a cripple or many times over found cripples lost and left behind by other hunters.

My first post-college days dog was a springer. Surprisingly, though he was excellent at finding downed grouse, he would not retrieve them. If he had to run down a cripple, he would kill it then, come back to me wagging his stub tail, grinning with partridge feathers stuck on his nose and lead me back to wherever he had left the bird, but never would he retrieve it.

He made up for that fault by being an excellent duck retriever and throughout his 14 years, he made sure I brought home any duck I knocked down.

Not all the good hunting dogs I’ve hunted with have been big dogs. One of the most unlikely is my Uncle Hank’s “pom,” which I’m quite positive is the only duck and goose retrieving pom in the world.

The first duck I saw her retrieve was a wood duck Uncle Hank shot in North Dakota. She had to work her way through a snaggle of downed trees and clumps of thick brush to get it, but with a stubbornnesss more closely associated with Chesapeake retrievers, she fought her way to it and back.

Even more amazing was the 9-pound Canada goose she retrieved for Uncle Hank in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A mile from any road, he made a long-range shot on the goose from the shore of a small lake and was left with the question of how he would retrieve it. I have personally been witness to Uncle Hank stripping down to skivvies to swim out and retrieve a duck himself in November-cold water, but on the day of the goose, he didn’t have to repeat the act.

His duck-retrieving pom became a goose retriever that day, grabbing it by the toes on one foot. For me, it would have been worth the price of admission to see a dog half the size of a goose making that retrieve.

One other diminutive dog I hunted grouse with a couple of times was a little black cocker spaniel a friend of mine owned. You might laugh at the thought of a cocker flushing grouse, but Xena was a true warrior. No matter how thick the cover, how difficult the retrieve, she got the job done.

She proved without a doubt it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog and hers was plenty big.

As I remember with great fondness all the good hunting dogs I’ve known and worked with, I have high hopes my bond with Gordie for the next decade or so will be as strong as any in history. Let’s hear it for the dogs.