Remember the song that asked the musical question "Who let the dogs out?"
I found the answer recently when two guys from south Georgia gave me the challenge: "ART, DO MY JOB!"
This is the finished product-- (go Gus!) a hound, honed to perfection-- instantly responding to the hunter's every command. I watch as a Black Labrador Retriever follows his master's directions to successfully locate a target hidden in the bushes.
But the experts will tell you most dogs aren't born with these skills. Most start out looking more like this!
(Dog runs wild!)
The guys at Swamp Creek Retrievers outside Cairo, Georgia love to take puppies... and turn 'em pro!
Owner- trainer Justin Beall grew up around dogs and duck hunting but it wasn't till college that he really caught the bug.
" Had a buddy that asked me to train his, says Justin, "and it's become an addicting love for me."
Justin and assistant trainer Joe Carter start with a simple obedience program.
Bodie's only been here a month but already this Boykin Spaniel is so advanced even I can get her to sit-- and come.
" Bodie... here!" But she seems to like Joe a little better, as she comes to him, and not me!
Time to load up the truck and head to the bush for more advanced training.
Justin says, "What we're trying to do is simulate a hunting environment where you're hunting and your buddies too."
First to the line-- Gus, a young Black Lab.
Justin gives a duck call (quack!)... and the rubber duck is launched about 80 yards away. (Justin yells :"Here! Here!")
But Gus "jumps the gun" and runs before Justin's command to go, and that could be a fatal mistake.
"He does that-- and birds are still coming in-- he could get hurt, he could get shot, " says Justin.
Now Gus is about to do a double- retrieve.
He breaks for the second bird, first... no sweat. But can he rember where the first bird fell?
Justin aims his own leg in that direction and Gus follows the line toward the bird.
Now it's my turn. I load up the 12 gauge...take aim...and try to pull the trigger!
Justin says "Shoot" but the gun stubbornly wouldn't comply
We check the safety... it's off, but still the gun refuses to fire! Finally we decide to send "Daisy" out anyway.
I yell out, "Daisy! Daisy!" which should send her off to get the duck... but the dog's not moving. I laugh out loud saying, "the gun won't shoot... and the dog won't go!"
One amazing manuever is the blind retrieve, where an orange plastic stick is hidden hundreds of yards away. Joe sends his dog Lucy toward the target. When she veers off course, he pulls out a huge black whistle and gives it a blast.
Lucy stops, looks back at Joe... and he uses hand and arm signals to get her back on track.
After several corrections, she sniffs out the prize, and hauls it home.
Joe Carter, an assistant trainer, says a hunter with a well-trained retriever is not going to lose ducks.
Says Joe, "A lot of these guys that hunt without dogs may cripple a duck-- completely on accident. But you're not going to be able to find them. That's where retrievers come in. That's the saying, you know, 'Conserve game, hunt with a well-trained retriever.'"
So how about my learning curve? When I asked the guys how I did today, Justin chuckled and said, "you struggled with that gun." And Joe joked "I don't think you'll make assistant trainer."
My response? "Hey, it's not my gun. I pulled the trigger! I can't help it man!"
It takes months to train these dogs, and during that time the dogs actually live at the kennels here. Justin says one big challenge is to get owners to keep using their dogs, keeping their skills sharp.
(If you'd like to contact Swamp Creek Retrievers, call 229-254-5313 or go to their website at www.swampcreekretrievers.com )