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The author (right) and Andrew Thill, both of Fargo, move in to investigate a shared point by their wirehairs, Asic and Remy. Photo by Erin Shoberg.

Open Season: Subtle start to dog training

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My dog's breeder, Jeff Jalbert of Top Shelf Kennels in Horace, gave me a sideways glance as he set down his Busch Light on the polished wooden bar that wrapped along the south wing of Stiklestad Lodge near Fort Ransom, N.D.

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"You going to test your boy this fall?" he asked, referring to my German wirehaired pointer, Remington, and the upcoming North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) Utility Test (UT).

Jalbert poised the phrase as a question, but I couldn't help feeling like it was veiled with more purposeful intent.

I hesitated.

"Well," I said, taking a tentative sip of my own barley pop. "I wasn't planning on it. I mean - I guess I don't know."

Jalbert's face turned to stone; his eyes narrowed.

"Why the heck not?"

A thousand thoughts tumbled out of my brain like an overfilled closet suddenly yanked open. Despite the jumble, excuses lined up:

Too busy.

Too costly, and not enough money.

Too stressful.

The test was in August, so not enough time.

Did I mention I was too busy?

But I didn't say any of this. I knew it was pointless. The die had been cast and it was my turn to play.

"I guess I don't have a reason not to," I said, stumbling. "Do you think there's time to get Remy ready?"

The storm clouds cleared.

"Of course there's time!" Jalbert said, a smile breaking his granite facade. Then he winked: "And you won't be alone."

Crisis averted.

As if on a cue, a half dozen spectators and fellow Red River Valley NAVHDA members proclaimed their willingness to guide this novice's hand at preparing his pooch for the UT. Andrew Thill, who trained alongside Remy and I last year with his dog, Asic, was thrown into the maelstrom, too.

And a relative newcomer to our ranks, Brad Bischof, said he'd be more than happy to meet for practice.

Even though I originally felt overwhelmed at the notion of another long training-filled summer, just seeing the outpouring of support helped set my mind at ease.

The young Bischof's eagerness to help also spurred my own excitement.

Bischof is sort of a local celebrity within NAVHDA. Just out of his freshman year at North Dakota State University, the not-yet 20-year-old has a list of training accolades most dog handlers would relish to possess.

A native of New Richmond, Wis., Bischof trained his own dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Daisy, to a 196-point Prize I UT in 2009, before dominating the Invitational in 2010 and scoring a flawless Versatile Championship (VC) title.

It's a peak few NAVHDA veterans even reach, let alone teenagers.

To top it all off, Bischof works alongside professional trainers Clyde and Marilyn Vetter of Sharpshooter Kennels, also of New Richmond, who have handled more dogs to top prizes in the NAVHDA system than just about anyone.

Combined with the collective experience of many seasoned dog handlers and trainers already in our local NAVHDA club, I couldn't see us passing on the opportunity to take everyone up on their offers.

With all parties satisfied at the outcome, we continued late into the evening with talks about training, hunting and another day of testing.

The following day, after 10 young dogs searched a field seeded with chukars, Andrew and I ran our dogs on scratch birds. It was a pressure release, of sorts, and seeing the two-year-old litter mates work the ground like seasoned pros solidified our resolve to dedicate the next few months to their advancement as hunting aficionados.

In the end, I know we'll all be better off for it, and another successful season hunting across the Midwest behind mannered, loyal canines will be reward enough for a job well done.

Let the fun, and work, begin.

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