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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

Autumn The Wonder Dog

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Jim the Wonder Dog was a Llewellin setter born in 1925 in Louisiana. He was the least promising pup in the litter - the last to go - and was purchased by Sam VanArsdale who lived in Marshall, Missouri. During training to be a bird dog, Jim seemed uninterested and lazy. But when he first went afield, he pointed to a covey of quail, held for the shot, and retrieved the bird as if he had done it a hundred times before.

photo credit: eyeoh4, Creative Commons

Jim went on to become legendary as a bird dog with over 5000 birds credited to

his work through the 1920s into 1930s. He would point when there were birds nearby, and refuse to hunt if there were no birds around. Outdoor Life magazine name Jim "Hunting Dog of the Country."

But the legend is larger than that.

VanArsdale discovered that Jim had many other amazing talents. One day, Sam said "let's go sit under that hickory tree." And Jim trotted right over to the hickory. Sam was surprised, so he asked Jim to go to a maple tree, which he did. And then a cedar. And then, on command, to a stump, and then to a tin can. Jim did it all.

Soon Sam learned that Jim would go to a car when Sam said the color, make or license plate number. Jim could point out the "visitor from Kansas" or "the man who sells hardware" without prior prompting. He obeyed commands given in several languages, including Morse Code. But Jim the Wonder Dog was most famous for predicting seven Kentucky Derby winners and the winners of the 1936 World Series and presidential race.

Jim performed in the Missouri Legislature and at state fairs around the country. He was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not. After living a remarkably full life, Jim went on to doggy heaven in 1937. Today, there is a museum in Jim's honor as well as a memorial garden with his statue in his hometown of Marshall, Missouri.


Given the chance to choose between Believe It? or Not, the skeptic in me leans toward Not. Hey, I'm from Missouri, figuratively, that is. Show me.

I might say that Jim's story is but a Tall Tail, on a par with Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox, and John Henry, embellished to boost the tourist economy in booming Marshall, MO.

But then, well, it doesn't seem so far-fetched (haha), when you've seen Autumn The Wonder Dog in action.

Autumn the Wonder Dog

At six months old now, Autumn is nothing short of amazing.

She has been quick to learn all the usual commands; SIT took her about fifteen minutes and two treats. She's also learned COME, TREAT, BED, CRATE, DINNER, BREAKFAST, GIVE ME YOUR PAW, WHOA, WAIT, GO FOR A WALK, and a few others.

Cheryl taught her to ROLL OVER. GENTLE will get you a lick on your hand. KISSES will give you a lick on the face.

Of course, like any smart dog, she is pretty selective about obeying NO, OFF, and COME in some situations when she is excited.

All basic stuff.

Wonder Words

I'm most impressed with her other vocabulary relating to objects: she knows the names of various individual toys and will go look for and bring you the particular one you name: BALL, BONE, BIRD, MOOSE, PIGGY, KONG, MONKEY, etc. (She has lots of toys.)

She loves our cat and looks for (and chases) him when I say WHERE'S YOUR KITTY?

Autumn joins our friend, Jill, on the couch at camp.

Autumn gets really excited when I ask her if she wants to PLAY BIRD WING - pointing at the pheasant wing I flip around the yard with a fly rod and line, and chasing it when I flush it. She'll do it 'til she drops.

If Autumn snitches some contraband, like a sock or mitten, she will drop it when you say TRADE YOU, knowing she will get a treat. Of course, it didn't take her long to figure out that snitching contraband is a lucrative vocation.

And recently, she learned that it's okay to get on the couch at camp where the floor is really cold, but not at home.

As for other talents, she pulls me on Nordic skis, so now we have fun skijoring.

She's even learning hand signals to determine which direction to go at trail intersections, stopping to see which way I point.

Grousing About My Glove

Then there was the glove. One warmish day while snowshoeing the trails behind our house, one of my fleece gloves fell out of my pocket. Autumn and I went back out the next day retracing our steps for most of the way, but didn't find it. Then it snowed that night. I was really grousing about losing that glove, figuring it was gone for good.

The next day, I went snowshoeing again and we went down a part of the trail I had missed the day before. Autumn was twenty yards ahead and suddenly she started running in circles with her nose up in the air and her tail wagging wildly- like she was hot on a bird scent. I thought she had found her first live grouse.

As I approached, she stood up on her hind legs, sniffing at a glove covered in snow that was hanging from a branch about five feet above the ground. Someone had found my glove and put it where it wouldn't get buried. Autumn had picked up my scent where she didn't expect it and recovered my lost glove. She got a nice "good girl" and a treat for that trick.

And that isn't all...

Autumn the Wonder Dog licks dinner dishes so clean we don't even have to wash them. We just put them back in the cabinet.

She also swipes soap out of our shower now and then, I presume because she may have said something naughty and had to wash her own mouth out as punishment.

Autumn is waiting to hear from Ripley's.

Yesterday, while I was working, Autumn went down to the mailbox to get the mail and noticed a letter that was in the wrong box, so she took it over to our neighbor on her way home.

I've taught her to point not just at birds, but to point at trout in the stream. She's pretty good at tying a few basic fly patterns, but struggles with the smaller dry flies like a #18 Adams.

And right now, she is working on my taxes. She seems to have most of my business receipts in chronological order.

When she finishes that, she said she will update our Christmas card address list on the computer so we will be organized for next year.

Last week, Autumn started studying for the LSAT and is already planning a run for the New Hampshire legislature.

We've been getting calls from Animal Planet and The Dog Channel, looking for an interview. But, believe it or not, we're still waiting to hear from Ripley's.

So, Jim the Wonder Dog wasn't all that special, I guess. Maybe it simply comes down to expectations. We shouldn't keep our dogs on too short a leash. We need to let them run.

As we all know, every dog has its day.

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