There are some things most people aren’t always comfortable discussing with complete strangers. Politics and religion come easily to mind. Conversations can be routed in those directions, of course, but chances are good they’ll be relatively short and at least somewhat awkward.
That isn’t the case when it comes to conversing with people about their dogs. Canines and their owners have a special bond that in some respects is akin to parents and children.
Walk up to total strangers and say, “Tell me about your dog,” and they’ll probably look down at their pooch before launching into a monologue extolling the virtues of their pup in particular, and dog ownership in general. That was the idea during this year’s Game Fair at Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey, and dog owners didn’t disappoint. Following are snapshots of six people — or groups of people — and their dogs, collected Aug. 12, the opening day of Game Fair 2016.
Mark Nelson and family, of Lindstrom, with Zeus, a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever
There’s a lot of noise at the Game Fair — gunshots and the like — and Zeus, a 3-year-old black Lab, was getting a little antsy. “All the shots going off now, he’s getting real excited,” said Mark Nelson, who was at the fair with his son, daughter, their friend, and Zeus.
Zeus, a hunting dog through and through, loves to accompany his owners on duck- and pheasant-hunting trips. “It’s almost like you can talk to him,” said Adam Nelson, 17. “He’ll sit there and he’ll listen to you, and do exactly what you want to do. If we’re duck hunting, he knows when to stay and when to be quiet. He knows when to go and take off. It’s cool to have a dog you have trained personally, and that you can [train and hunt] with every day you want. It’s fun.”
Mark Nelson says Zeus is just as much a member of the family as anyone else. “He’s always happy to see us,” he said. “He’s always there.”
Justin and Carrie White, Corcoran, with golden retrievers Bella, 8, and Royal, 1
Justin White grew up with golden retrievers but didn’t start hunting until he was 16 years old. Even now, he does a “fair amount” of hunting, but his desire goes only so far. “If it wasn’t for dogs I probably wouldn’t hunt,” he said. “It’s more enjoyable just to watch them do what they do and watch them work the field and do what they’re made and bred for.”
His wife, Carrie, didn’t grow up with dogs and didn’t do any hunting. That has changed now that the pair has goldens, which both come from hunting lines. “I always knew I wanted dogs,” she said. “Now, we all go out pheasant hunting together.”
The Whites and their dogs also illustrate other aspects of the human-dog bond. “We hang out in taprooms in Minneapolis with them a lot,” Justin White said. “That’s how we socialize them.”
Brad and Carrie Hoppe, Parkers Prairie, with daughter Mika and Turk, a 9-month-old Chesapeake Bay retriever
Brad and Carrie Hoppe make muskie-fishing tackle, hunt big game out West, and do some upland bird hunting. But ask Brad Hoppe about waterfowl hunting with one of his two Chesapeake Bay retrievers if you really want to see him get animated. “Working with dogs is incredible,” he said. “It isn’t about the hunt — the kill — it’s more about watching your dogs work and doing what they’re supposed to be doing with birds.” For Hoppe, who has had dogs since he was a kid, watching his dogs work is on par with sharing a duck blind with a friend, seeing a beautiful sunrise, or having a flock of mallards buzz his decoys. His dogs are hunters, to be sure, but even more than that, they’re constant companions. Hoppe trains them during the offseason from hunting, but, “It just kind of all comes together and clicks when it’s hunting season,” he said. “That’s the enjoyment. That’s the best part.”
Joe Hadac, Zimmerman, with Koda, a 3-year-old German shorthaired pointer (with grandsons Nathan, center, and Matthew Wright)
Nathan Wright, 13, has a golden retriever and a toy poodle at home, but starts dreaming whenever he attends the Game Fair with his grandfather. “Every time I come here, I wish I had a black Lab,” Nathan said. His brother, 8-year-old Matthew Wright, isn’t so particular. “I just stare at all the puppies like I want one,” he said. The two boys have begun to hunt with their grandpa, Joe Hadac, who brings them to the fair so they can watch dog events and try out some of the equipment.
At home, Hadac’s German shorthaired pointer, Koda, has become like another kid. He said Koda is well-behaved and was easy to train. German shorthairs are “probably not thought of much as family dogs,” Hadac said. “But anybody I’ve known who has had one, they all say the same thing — about what great family dogs and how affectionate they are, whether you hunt them or not.”
Hadac hunts with Koda, primarily for pheasants in South Dakota. “He’s go-go-go all day long — he never quits and doesn’t run out of energy,” Hadac said. Watching the dog work “is more fun than hunting,” Hadac said. “The hunt and the shooting of birds are secondary. It’s all about the dog.”
Eddie Hagberg, Eagan, with Clover, a 1-year-old springer spaniel
Eddie Hagberg is new to the whole dog ownership thing. Clover is his first dog. But in addition to being like a child, Clover is special because Hagberg and his wife got Clover from a kennel in the same town where they honeymooned two years ago — Kilkenny in Le Sueur County.
Clover is nothing if not loyal. “It’s a lot of fun to learn and realize I’m pretty much doing everything wrong,” Hagberg said. “But she’s still bearing with me.”
Hagberg plans to take Clover, who’s friendly and apparently instinctively interested in hunting, afield two or three times a year. “She’s a family dog, first and foremost,” he said. “But we’re working on trying to train her to do some bird hunting as well. If she can do the basics, that would be a bonus.” When the time comes, grouse and pheasants will be the targets. Hagberg can’t wait. “There’s nothing quite like watching a dog work the field. It’s just incredible to see.”
Mallory Davidson, Owatonna, with Winnie, a 3-year-old standard poodle
Mallory Davidson’s dog, a 3-year-old standard poodle named Winnie, was probably one of the few non-hunting dogs at the Game Fair. Davidson, who comes from a hunting family, trains golden retrievers and has had hunting Labs in the past, admits she went out of her dog comfort zone when she got Winnie.
So how has that worked out? “We’re kind of inseparable — she even goes to work with me,” said Davidson, who sings the praises of dogs’ devotion and loyalty. “They’re willing to do anything you ask them to. They’re always there.”
Davidson works in an assisted living facility, and said the residents there are always overjoyed to see Winnie, often trying to tempt the dog to stay with them in their rooms. But Winnie, while friendly, will have none of that. “She follows me around almost everywhere I go,” Davidson said.