About the Trainer
When I was 10 years old my Dad bought a Brittany puppy since we had just moved to the country. This was literally our first pet and my first experience with dogs. My Dad and I trained her in the backyard and she became my best friend. Allie was her name and she was a part of my life through my teenage years. Even though I hunted rabbits and fished a lot with Allie by my side I don’t think I ever knew that Allie was supposed to be a hunting dog. She often gave chase to fur and feather but I just assumed that’s what all dogs did. Thinking back now I can see that her instincts were deeply ingrained.
Although my father was not a hunter, he owned a single shot bolt action .22 and I often went hunting rabbits on my own. At 14 I saved enough money to buy my first shotgun, a single shot 20 gauge that I purchased at the local hardware store. Most of my hunting and shooting experiences were with my friends and their fathers, but my father taught me the most important lesson of all – gun safety. Around the time I turned 16 a neighbor invited me to come shoot some pheasants so he could work on training his bird dog. This was my first exposure to pointing dogs and I was amazed at the hunting ability of his german shorthaired pointer “Diamond Valley Toby”. Later that year Toby would get his MH (Master Hunter) at an AKC hunt test.
My Brittany dog passed away while I was at college and I was grateful for my father to carry that burden on his own. Sometimes late at night when the wind blows the snow sideways I can still hear Allie scratching at the door to lay by her rug in front of the wood stove. I vowed that when I was a little older and had a place of my own, I would own a pointing gun dog. I was always drawn to upland game and the magic of pointing dogs and double guns.
Our first attempt was a young female pup out of Toby, she was all go and a very hard-headed dog. I knew she would turn out to be good but I also knew that I wasn’t the one to get her there. She was not the ideal first dog and ended up placed with a field trial guy. The timing just wasn’t right as my wife and I had a new baby and a small backyard in the city. A few years later we had the chance to relocate to rural Utah and moved our family to a little town called Annabella. We bought a small spread with just under 2 acres and a barn at the back of the property. With open fields and the mountains at our doorstep I knew it was the right time to try again.
My second attempt at raising and training a pointing dog was a german shorthair named Jake. My friend bought the litter mate and named him Biff. We trained together often and were tutored a bit by the local pheasant preserve owner. Both dogs came along nicely and were pointing and retrieving well before their first birthday. Jake was the first dog I ruined. I was so excited to have a hunting dog I invited a group of friends to come and see him work. Too many guns and excitement and Jake started getting sensitive to gunfire. Before I learned to recognize the signs he began blinking his birds and would run and hide at the site of a shotgun. I never got him through it but learned some very important lessons. Jake now has a happy pet home in Arizona with an active owner.
Not one to give up easily and feeling like I knew where and what went wrong, I bought two new puppies. I bought a liver female shorthair “Abby” and a spunky little orange and white brittany named “Annie”. I didn’t realize it at the time but their names sound very similar which can cause problems when running both dogs at once, another lesson learned. This time around I got the help of an experience hunting dog trainer Chris Colt of Cove Mountain Kennels. Chris was able to help me through the crucial stages of introducing the puppies to gunfire. Most of all it was helpful to have someone to train with and learn from. I like to think I helped Chris some, but he did all the work and deserves all the credit for Annie and Abby’s success.
During their second full season of chukar hunting and guiding hunters at Rooster Valley Pheasant Preserve, I decided I really liked the personality and attitude of the Brittany dog better than the shorthair. I felt like both dogs were equal when it came to scenting, pointing, and retrieving birds. But I enjoyed being around my Brittany more and felt like she was actually hunting for me and not for herself. On the other hand it seemed like my shorthair was on her own and didn’t care if I was around at all. Even though it was fun to watch her work, she seemed aloof and unapproachable.
After attending a dog training seminar featuring the famous Dave Walker I began to discover quite a few people that appreciated all hunting dogs but actually owned and preferred the American Brittany. One of my favorite outdoor writers whose articles are frequently featured in the Pointing Dog Journal, Ben O.Williams also prefers the Brittany dogs. When I started studying Brittany pedigrees I found that they had more dual champions than any other sporting breed. That was when I decided to sell my shorthair and focus on raising and training the American Brittany. With a pheasant farm down the street and decent wild chukar and grouse populations I thought it was a great place to own and raise pointing dogs. This was the birth of Annabella Kennels and Annabella Gamebirds.
One of the things I learned along the way is the importance of using live birds when training a bird dog. There is no substitute and nothing brings a dog along faster than frequent positive contact with birds. With an old turkey barn in the backyard it wasn’t long before I was raising and hatching all kinds of gamebirds. I always have plenty of homing pigeons coming along to train the young pups with. It’s nice to be able to point and flush birds that simply fly home and go back in their cage. I have also raised and hatched ringneck pheasants, red-legged chukar and bobwhite quail. I especially like using quail with a recall pen, the covey birds are great for teaching dogs to be steady.