You know those times when you glimpse a photograph and you think you know what’s happening in the picture, but then something indefinable about the shot plants a seed of doubt, and you look again, and you find that your first impression was absolutely, utterly wrong?
For a lot of people, this 1949 Loomis Dean picture is one of those photographs. At first glance, it looks pretty straightforward: a hunting dog, soaking wet after going into the water to retrieve a duck blasted from the air by its master, sits with the dead—or perhaps mortally wounded, but certainly doomed—waterfowl in its jaws.
But wait a second. That duck doesn’t look injured. In fact, judging by its still (apparently) vibrant eye and, especially, its rapidly fluttering right leg, the duck is most definitely, emphatically alive.
The priceless look on the dog’s face, meanwhile, is hardly that of a ghoul. In fact, if anything, the dog looks downright embarrassed—as if it would rather be anywhere but there, with a live duck in its mouth.
What is going on here?
We’ll let the caption that accompanied this picture in the unputdownable 2008 LIFE book, The Classic Collection, clear up any lingering confusion.
“Don’t worry!” wrote the book’s editors. “The duck’s fine!”
Mystery solved. That’s one lucky duck.
Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com