“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”
Roger A. Caras
Wednesday morning, north of St. Paul. The day will be warm, the breeze slight. Lift gates open. Tailgates drop. Dogs bound to the ground. Another training day.
So it goes, as it does most summer days, on the fields of Kelley Farms in Marine on St. Croix. A vast livestock operation, with grass-fed beef as its centerpiece, Kelley Farms is also heaven on Earth for sporting dog trainers, perhaps especially retriever trainers.
It’s on these hallowed acres that some of the nation’s best competition dogs have been molded, as well as those, no lesser in their owners’ eyes, that have won few ribbons, if any.
Consider Jeff Kolanski, a professional trainer of retrievers. Training alone on this morning, Kolanski has a dog box on his pickup and is pulling a trailer on which he carries a four-wheeler and other gear, including remote bird throwers that can launch training dummies from distant locations.
Kolanski, of Andover, is a stay-at-home dad who has until the end of the school day to be afield with his clients’ dogs. On this morning, his final dog to train is a 5-month-old chocolate Lab, a fun-loving female who trails a 10-foot check cord, so Kolanski can control her as necessary.
On this training day, the goal is to expose the young dog to new and different situations. She’s grown comfortable riding in the truck box, and soon, like Kolanski’s other dogs, she’ll learn to launch herself up and into the travel container under her own power.
It’s all part of nudging her toward an adult life as a trained retriever.
To that end, and heeling her alongside him using the check cord, Kolanski soon triggers a remote thrower, which arches a dead duck high into the air.
“Izzy!’’ Kolanski commands excitedly after the bird falls to the ground, sending the dog to retrieve.
And she does, quickly out and back, she beams with self-satisfaction on the return trip, happy to retrieve, and wanting to again.
A half-mile away by the crow, Bob Larkin, his wife, Pat, and Sue Liemohn are among a small group of trainers preparing their dogs for an AKC licensed hunt test this weekend.
Bob Larkin, 73, grew up in Kenyon, Minn., not far south of the Twin Cities. His dad was a hunter, and when Bob retired from the Navy in 1979, he intensified his lifelong interest in chasing pheasants and ducks, and also in retrieving dogs.
“At one point we had 17 dogs,’’ he said. “But we’ve cut back. Now we have five, all Labs.’’
The drive to Kelley Farms from Kenyon, where the Larkins live, takes an hour or a little more, and every Wednesday morning they arrive, along with Liemohn and others in their training group, to try to improve their dogs’ skills.