These include “marking’’ (the ability to accurate assess, at distances of 100 or more yards, where a training dummy or bird falls), “taking a line’’ (to run straight in the direction a handler commands, regardless of obstacles, including water) and “handling’’ (stopping when a whistle is blown to take hand signals directing the dog to its left, right or “back,’’ meaning to continue further on).
“If you want to run with the big boys, at the Masters [highest] level in hunt tests, you’ve got to train every day,’’ Larkin said.
A bit of an outlier in the retriever game, Liemohn has owned American water spaniels since 1981, and now counts a pair of this versatile breed among her training partners, as well as two Labradors.
Two of her water spaniels have earned their Master retriever titles, the only two so honored.
“I have a professional trainer help me, because I don’t think I’m a good enough trainer to run dogs at the [Master] level, which is where I like running them,’’ she said, adding:
“I just love the teamwork involved in training a dog. You develop a special relationship when you work with a dog every day, far more so than if you and your dog just hang around together.’’
Hunt tests for retrievers, pointers and the versatile breeds were developed beginning in the early 1980s to provide an alternative to traditional field trials, which are competitions, usually with first, second and third places awarded, and perhaps honorable mentions.
In hunt tests, by contrast, dogs enter in Junior, Senior and Master levels and are judged against standards, with increasingly difficult challenges facing dogs and handlers as they rise through the three title ranks.
Wednesday afternoon, retriever pro Greg Schreiner of Stacy, Minn., was at Kelley Farms, along with clients Doug Bringgold of South St. Paul, Mike Riippa of Maple Grove and Todd Gallaty of East Bethel.
Schreiner runs hunt tests with some client dogs, and field-trials others. Gallaty, by contrast, runs neither hunt tests nor field trials.
“Greg has trained all of my dogs the past 12 years,’’ Gallaty said. “He’ll have them for seven or eight months to get them started, and I try to get out here training with him two or three days a week. I just use them for hunting, but I like to keep them in shape.’’
On this day, Schreiner has set up three long “marks’’ for the dozen or so dogs he has with him. Each involves a dead bird thrown after a shot from a blank pistol, and each requires the dogs to cross at least one large pond to find the downed bird. Distances range from about 125 yards to about 200 yards.
As frustrating as retriever training can be sometimes, ultimately the process itself, most owners and handlers agree, is tantamount to a mental health break; a balm for the day’s wounds.
Said Schreiner, “Training becomes addictive.’’
Sunset wasn’t far off Wednesday when members of Northern Flight Hunting Retriever Club finished their evening’s training session in still another corner of Kelley Farms.
One group had worked with Junior dogs, another with Seniors and Masters.