The Retriever Report (Blog)

Professional hunting dog trainer

1. Is Sending My Lab To A Pro Trainer The Right Move?

Labrador Retriever gun-dog trainer

            Sure, why would I say “no” to that? I’m the trainer! However, we need to see things not from my needs and not even your needs but for what the dog needs. See it’s all about the dog, and it always should be. The moment we lose sight of that is the moment we lose all focus in what we are doing here in the first place. 

            So, lets first understand the “why”…Why are we wanting to send our pup there? Well, we want them trained, that’s a dumb question. Yet, we also want them trained properly, do we not? If we plan to invest the amount of money and the amount of time separated from our beloved pup, then we need to have something to look forward to, right? RIGHT! 

            I’m a firm believer in the concept that you get what you pay for, and if you don’t, well…you should have done some research! None the less, a professional trainer is beneficial on multiple levels in regards to the retriever training side of things. Here are a few in my opinion and what I practice daily:  

  • You know what you’re getting (most of the time)
  • Your dog is getting the highest care and training
  • You gain a lasting relationship with the trainer and family
  • Some (I do) post videos for you to watch your pup progress
  • They LOVE what they do and WANT to see your pup succeed!
           Granted there are always two sides to everything but you need to remember, the dog comes first!

– Zach, 6-10-2020

2. Why Does Everyone Hate Forced Fetch?

          “Oh…that dog didn’t make it through training because it couldn’t pass forced fetch…” or. “I got bit too many times by that dog (during F.F.) so I had to drop it from the course…” or the always universal favorite, “That dog is just un-trainable…”

          I’m sorry…do you not collect other peoples hard earned money as a “trainer” to TRAIN their dog? Forced Fetch (F.F.) is a sour topic for some…not I…I enjoy it, for me it’s what puts me in the mind of the pup. It literally gets us one on one with no barriers and we connect. Now you’ll have different theories of male vs female and this is more difficult than this, blah blah blah… it comes down to the trainer, PERIOD.

          I had someone say the first quoted sentence above (1st paragraph) to me a while back and I thought, “that’s because step one of F.F. for that trainer is an E-Collar on full throttle…” I’d bite you too! F.F. is the true start of formal retriever training (in my opinion) where the puppy is now learning that it is going to be getting held to a higher and more disciplined set of standards set forth by tall human guy with loud whistle thing who can’t hit ducks…wait…WHAT?

          So, In closing, don’t be afraid of F.F. learn to embrace it and enjoy working in the process of it. Mind you, that it is indeed, like all dog training, a building block PROCESS! Take your time, treat it with respect, tame your anger and wear a dang glove!

– Zach, 5-15-2020

3. “Airing“ your retriever, how-to and what-is...

No… please do not toss your dog out of the window of an airplane…they are not paratroopers! 

         I wanted to take the time to write this one about a topic that is never really explained and is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for hunt testing and/or field trials. Letting your dog get used to its new environment to do its business otherwise known as “airing your dog” is letting them adjust to the millions of new sights, sounds and especially new scents that come with a new place. Plain and simple, that’s what it is, it took forever for someone to simply tell me that but here it is…it’s them adjusting to the new area. 

         So why do you want to “Air” your retriever? I’ll tell you exactly why from experience! I was a new trainer to hunt testing and it was my first ever test, had no clue what I was doing and I was running at a SR level land setting. I was number 9 in my running order; however, you never really go in order. (That will be another newsletter) So number 9 translated into number 1 and I THOUGHT I aired my pup, I let him run around and do his business about an hour before hand… then the learning experience began.

          You want to talk about bringing a loaded gun up to the starting line? That was an understatement that morning, my pup wasn’t adjusting to anything and we had a double mark with both marks not more than 40 yards…simple, right? NOPE. He went and got the first one with some hesitation, came back, off to the second one and he checked it out and refused the bird…aka he found the mark, said “nah, I’m good” and went looking for other things. At which point I had to handle him onto it again…I knew he wasn’t getting a call-back… moral of the story…air your dog.

           How to: you’ll find out, everyone has a rhythm to what they do prior to testing, it’s like pre-game rituals. For me, I will have the dog on the lead and just walk with it for a few minutes to let it do its business. Then I will walk it at a formal “heel” having stopped every few steps to check on his or her attention to the trainer. From there I will remove the lead and repeat the aforementioned process without the lead this time. Keeping your pup calm and focused is the key here, reading their demeanor is 90% of hunt testing. A proper “airing” will ensure success coming out of the blind!

4. Never Forget the Ones Who Passed You Up...

Never forget the ones who passed you up… 

#4 on this list wasn’t meant to be this topic but I just received an email saying I was just passed up by a company for my story not being good enough and a picture not being up to quality. Time to write…

            When I started this company I knew I wasn’t the only vet, there are plenty of us out there. Are there many veteran lab trainers, maybe not; however, they’re out there. I knew no matter what…I was reaching the top, I knew anyone who I took with me I wouldn’t ever forget, why? Because they took a chance on me. 

             I’ve saved every email, every letter and every voicemail from companies and breeders and anyone that I tried to be friendly with and kindly help work with and share my story with only to be shot down. You would not believe the kind of inconsiderate attributes and greed that comes forth from such people when asking to simply send a business card, or send a story of how your dog is your best friend. 

I’ll say it again…Never forget the ones who passed you up…

             People will become jealous of your success and want to bring you down without knowing what you have suffered through. Many of whom have never served a day in their life for their country… None the less, I keep a book of those emails and letters printed and copied, anytime I get down, I look at those and think, I can’t let them be right. 

             When the day comes that they are once again leaving a voicemail or sending an email, I will have just one sentence to write and an attachment of the letter to send…

               “Never forget the ones who passed you up…”

5. Professional Training is NOT CHEAP!

“So…What are your monthly rates?

          …and then I pretty much close out the conversation because all it usually is, is a viewed message and no reply. Listen, this isn’t PetCo (sorry PetCo) doggy camp, come and drink milk and eat cookies with our employees dog school. You want a gun-dog? GOOD. You want it done correctly? GREAT! THEN LEARN WHAT COMES WITH THOSE CHOICES! 

         Your dog is a high maintenance tool and a lifelong companion, that if trained correctly, can be one of the greatest on the hunting grounds. You need to understand that as a professional trainer we need to maintain everything that goes into making him or her into that. This would include but not limited to: Medical Supplies, Food, Nutrition Supplements, Clean Water, Sanitation Supplies for the Static and Mobile Kennels, Bumbers, Launchers, Live Birds, Hunt Test Registrations, Gas, Vehicle Maintainability, Employee Payroll, Utilities, Insurance, Building the dang Kennel itself… and the list truly does not end…

          So please, before you go to ask a site or page about rates, check first… I guarantee the answer is most likely there under “services”. If you take away anything from this blog post please take away this… Do you remember all the hunters and old timers who always told you when you brought up “Hey guys, I’m thinking about getting a hunting dog” and they told you how much responsibility it was… take that same level of respect when seeing numbers for trainers because chances are…they want to see your pup succeed just as much as you do.

– Zach, 7-10-2020

6. The Final Chapter.

         …I never thought I would be writing this one so soon. Those who have followed me from the beginning will know. Those who may not will hopefully learn of him.


            Banjo was my dog, retriever, best friend, therapy, and lifeline but most of all he was there. I’ve been learning to be more and more vocal about what I am and what I’ve become. I’ve been struggling with severe PTSD following my tour in Iraq during my time in the infantry. Banjo has quite literally stepped in seconds before a trigger pull and has made it possible for me to type this. He has woken me up from countless nightmares and has brought me back from so many flashbacks.

            On top of all of that…he is one of the greatest gun-dogs I’ve ever witnessed. As of recent, I’ve made the decision to part ways with my marriage, sparring the details, I was left with everything but him. I offered everything in return, the home, the business, even as far as purchasing him again. To my dismay, a heartless denial for an animal that I’ve put the last year and 6 months into.

            I write this not out of pity but as a lesson, you never know when your last moment with your pup will be. I will never see him again, I will never see him gain his titles, and what strikes the hardest…I will never see his first retrieve.

7. Single or Multi-Shot Launchers? Which is Better?

Which one is better…in my opinion… the free one because they sure aren’t cheap! 

           I like to stay un-biased even being partnered with D.T. Systems who I will be directly referencing here. So let’s start with multi-shot launchers, there is really only one brand who reps these type of launchers and they are made here in my home state of Pennsylvania. They would be RTR and their “Versa Launcher”, you can add up to 8 launchers on one platform and they have really good customer service, I mean I’ve had conversations with them at like midnight…no seriously.

Pros: Great for simple drills where only one or two basic marks are required, can have a speaker attached as well. 

Cons: It’s mechanical so it tends to have a lot of failures in the field.

           Moving on to single shot launchers, I’ll be looking at the D.T. Systems: 1209/1205 series launchers. Again, a very sturdy and well built launcher, can take the same crimped .22 rounds as the Versa can as well as fire the same bumpers. So what’s the difference? For starters, it only fires one shot but it allows you to go as far as your imagination lets you in regards to setups. The major downside of the Versa is the limitation of range and mobility in the field. I can’t setup a cross pattern mark for a master level test with a launcher that fires in one direction, see where I’m going?

Pros: Range and Mobility, can be as versatile as the user can make it be. 

Cons: Only fires one shot, must switch the transmitter with each shot.

To conclude, both launchers are good, they can and do get used simultaneously in the field. However, if I were to choose between paying the same amount for one or the other, I would choose the single shot launchers. In orders to get the most out of your training you have to be as versatile with your training, you can’t be limited by your gear!

Zach, 7-16-2020

8. Maybe Tomorrow...

          Compound the walls, fix the bed post, clean the kennel, cut the grass… take down the leash from the old tree…

          A long list of items usually finds its way onto my “2-do” list as the day goes on and I try my best to get it all done before 10am. This of course includes running the pups and taking care of them first. They keep the smiles rolling upon my ugly mug during the hard times, as they should for everyone. Yet one is left lacking in a time like this for me. The thought of Banjo still running around somewhere wondering where I’ve gone, eats me up when I sit and think on it, which I try not to make a habit of.

          A half empty house slowly filling back up with some duck decor of my choosing! When you lose things in life, you realize what was really important, where I do not regret the decisions I’ve made, I regret not being able to hug that pup one more time. Getting back on track though, I’ve got one little tree in my back yard that has a tether/leash tied to it. It’s currently the last piece of Banjo “anything” that I’ve got left. It’s almost like I can’t bring myself to touch it, like kryptonite to Superman or math to a Marine (love you guys), I just can’t do it.

          I carry with me this “black dog”  as I call it, that I’ve been carrying around with me for years when all I want is this one brown dog to come back. As I sit here and type this, I look out my kitchen windows to my back yard with the sun hitting to grass. Mallie’s bark brings me out of a long daydream and I come back to look at my list, all chores finished, lines passed through all the items on the list, only one item remains, take down the leash from the old tree…

Maybe Tomorrow…

Zach, 7-21-2020