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Jed shows off his skills as a retriever. Flat Creek Kennels is hosting trainers for the 2007 Super Retriever Series.
Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer
Jed shows off his skills as a retriever. Flat Creek Kennels is hosting trainers for the 2007 Super Retriever Series.

The fetching
Super Bowl

Dogs to display skills at retrieving competition

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

A splash erupts from the pond.

After dog-paddling to the other side, Rudy emerges.

Brrrrr.

The whistle’s blare grabs Rudy’s attention, his ears perk up, and the black Labrador retriever turns to his trainer to receive the next command. With a wave of the trainer’s right hand, Rudy redirects himself and races to his right.

Brrrrr.

A wave of the left hand, and Rudy retrieves the mock bird (called a bumper) hidden underneath the foot-high brush.

“It takes a lot of trust on the dog’s part to know that your trainer knows where you need to go, but retrievers are a very loyal breed,” said Clint Johnson, a trainer from El Paso, Ark.

A minute later, Rudy sits beside Johnson and attentively waits for his next command, constantly eyeing the swinging bumper in his trainer’s hand.

Rudy and Johnson are practicing for the Super Retriever Series, which occurs from Wednesday until Saturday at Jones Farm and the Valley Bend Shopping Center in Huntsville.

The Huntsville Sports Commission attracted the Super Retriever Series to the Tennessee Valley by touting North Alabama’s commitment to outdoor activities and amassing sponsors, said Brandon Sivley, dog trainer and owner of Flat Creek Kennels in Lawrence County.

The event signifies the first time any Alabama city will host a Super Retriever Series competition.

“This event is huge in the retriever world,” said Sivley. “Us (North Alabama) hosting this is like us hosting a Super Bowl.”

With two days remaining before the official start of the competition, Sivley opened his facilities to Johnson for practice sessions. In addition to Johnson, Sivley expects Tellus Calhoun, a California-based trainer, and Lyle Steinman, the current point leader of the Super Retriever Series, to warm up at his kennels.

For the retrievers and their handlers, the competitions represent an accumulation of years of training that begin at 6 months old.

“Dogs usually start training when they are puppies with socialization and basic commands,” Johnson explained. “But a trainer can only train the dog so much. A lot of the dog’s success has to do with good breeding.”

Daniel Blocker helps train the dogs by throwing the Avery Tru Bird.
Daniel Blocker helps train the dogs by throwing the Avery Tru Bird.
Through conditioning, a stable diet and corrective instruments, including an electronic collar, the dogs transform into competition-level participants.

“One of the largest misconceptions is the use of an electronic collar,” Sivley said. “By the time they get to the competition level, we rarely have to use the collar.”

Johnson said the electronic collar serves as a safety instrument as well as a training tool, alerting the dog to stop in high-traffic areas.

The series

The events of the Super Retriever Series will challenge the dog’s breeding, training and connection with its handler. The series includes Retriever Trials, Super Fly and Super V events.

Testing memory and obedience skills, the Retriever Trials challenge a dog’s ability to follow its handler’s commands to bring back four mock birds.

“Marking and memory,” Johnson said — “that’s what you can’t train and what the retriever trials test.”

Spectator-friendly

The Super Fly and Super V events represent the spectator-friendly events. In the Super Fly event, the dogs run full speed off a 40-foot dock and fly into a pool of water. Declaring the winner of the Super Fly event is simple: Whichever dog jumps the farthest wins. Most dogs cover around 20 feet.

“The Super Fly event is fun to watch,” Johnson said. “For most spectators, the scoring of the retriever trials is hard to understand. With the jumping competitions, spectators can see which dog jumped farther than the other dogs.”

While the Super Fly event tests the distance the dogs jump, the Super V competition tests the height sustained in the dog’s jump. The canine that can retrieve a bumper suspended eight feet from the end of the dock at the highest level wins.

Rudy will compete in the retriever trials under the command of Johnson, while Sivley will handle the local competitor Irish.

Sivley hopes that the Super Retriever Series will increase awareness of the retriever-training world in North Alabama.

“I hope this will open folks’ eyes that training is available for them and help the sport take off in this area,” Sivley said.

On the Net

For a schedule of Super Retriever Series events in Huntsville this week, visit: superretrieverseries.com/venues/2008/Huntsville.php.

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