Life of a retriever – a come-back story
SILT – Once Rick Hunter learned to train his dog to be a hunting retriever, he knew he wanted to give others the same opportunity.That’s why he started the Western Colorado Hunting Retriever Club (WCHRC), a regional branch of the Hunting Retriever Club International, giving residents of the Western Slope the chance to train their dogs to be bird retrievers.”Our idea is that we are a for-hunters, by-hunters organization,” said Hunter, the president of the club. “We are looking at creating the best hunting dogs we can so that when people go into the field they are safe, it is a great conservation tool – they don’t lose the game – and it’s all good.” The club, which went public one month ago, has already brought in 20 members. It welcomes members ranging from those brand new to training hunting dogs all the way to pros. The WCHRC helps people to train dogs for all five certified levels: started, seasoned, finished, grand and upland.
Hunter held his first club training on Sunday at the Flag Sand and Gravel ponds east of Silt, with local members as well as members from other HRCs from Grand Junction to Denver in attendance. Twenty dogs and their handlers showed up for the event, many of whom were training beginning dogs.The dogs, who are Labrador retrievers, usually start training when they are 7 weeks old. Then, depending on natural ability and training, they can reach started status anytime between 6 months and 112 years.On Sunday, the beginner and started dogs were trained with situations that simulate a test. The dogs wait patiently next to their handler, who fires a blank from a shotgun over the pond. On the other side of the pond, a fellow hunter throws a dead duck or retriever training device known as a bumper into the pond. On the handler’s command, the dog dives into the water, marking the duck or bumper off the direction of the gun barrel.”At the beginning level you are looking at natural ability to see if the dog can mark where the bird went, go to that area, hunt that area, pick that bird up and bring that bird back,” Hunter said.
Barbara Gottschalk of Grand Junction is a new handler who became interested in training hunting retriever dogs after watching her husband, Rick Gottschalk, do it. But after a while, she didn’t want to watch anymore, and her husband set her up.”For my wedding anniversary I got a dog, a shot gun and got to go to a judging seminar,” Gottschalk said with a laugh. “It’s so fun. We enjoy it.”Dogs in the seasoned and finished level learn to retrieve blind marks, ducks they haven’t seen launched or fall. The dog heads out in the direction the handler tells it and then follows different commands. At the sound of a whistle, the dog will turn and look at he handler.
Then the handler will guide them in the correct direction with arm signals.”A dog that competes on a middle level, that dog will be better than 80 percent of the dogs run by pros,” Hunter said. “Any guy that walks in the field will be proud to hunt over a seasoned-level dog.”At the highest level, dogs are trained to directly follow every command given by their handler. The dog may have to retrieve up to five ducks, one of which is blind, bringing them back in the order in which they fell. They also have to ignore distractions like another duck falling directly in their path and continue focusing on the task at hand.
“It is quite rewarding to see your dog go out and do what it is supposed to do,” said Glen Tanaka, who helps Hunter with the club.Hunter has trained a championship dog of his own named Hunting and Retriever Champion Upland Hunter Queen Anne of New Castle, also known as Anna Bell. “When you get to championship level those are the best of the breed,” Hunter said. “They have the natural ability and physical ability, and you are bettering the breed. And that is what it is all about – making better retrievers.”While Hunter loves Anna Bell’s title, the thing he loves most is the smile on her face when she brings in a duck.
“Bottom line is that these dogs are happiest doing this. It’s what they were bred for, this is what they do,” he said. “It don’t get much better than this for a dog.”The WCHRC will hold its first United Kennel Club-licensed hunt July 29-30 in Rifle, where dogs can become certified in their classes. Between 70-120 dogs from all over the country will be competing in the event. The dogs and handlers compete against class standards, not against other dogs. If they meet the standards, they pass the test. Hunter is hoping the event will gain community support and awareness.”We are really excited about it, real excited about it,” Hunter said.
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.