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Sherri Richards, Published May 02 2010

Dog Days in May: Gun Dog Days kicks off another season for North Dakota Retriever Club

Custer is an old dog. He can’t hear gun shots anymore. But with a few movements of his handler’s wrist and arm, the yellow Labrador retriever quickly finds the duck.

In midmorning drizzle and tall grass he runs 150 yards, splashing through the creek until he heels at Chad Engels’ side, presenting the bird.

Like many members of the North Dakota Retriever Club, Engels spends much of the summer at the club grounds, more than 100 acres just west of Glyndon, Minn., on the south side of Highway 10.

On Saturday, members kicked off the season with its annual Gun Dog Days event. It’s a chance for the public to learn about the club, and for the dogs to get back in the field.

The North Dakota Retriever Club formed in the mid-1940s. It averages 75 members, Engels said.

“Most members join because they get a new puppy and they want their puppy to hunt with them,” he said.

Often, they get interested in field trials and hunt tests, American Kennel Club events that many members take part in. The tests and trials are held almost every weekend somewhere in the region.

“Kind of like a rodeo circuit,” said David Lybeck, a club member for 17 years.

His dog, a black Lab named Flap, has passed the Master National Hunt Test twice. A third pass in California this October would place him in the AKC’s Master National Hall of Fame.

Hunt tests test dogs against a standard. These events are what prompted Cathryn Barker to get her first Labrador, Joey, who is now a master hunter.

“I like competition. It’s just me and my dog showing what we can do,” Barker said.

In the field trials, dogs compete against one another, retrieving marks and blinds.

The North Dakota Retriever Club hosts field trials in June and August, and hunt tests in July and September. Lybeck said 100 to 200 entries will take part in the spring field trial June 11-13.

The club also offers a weekly training group, which meets at 6 p.m. Wednesdays through August.

Bob Louiseau, club president, said the dog’s owner has as much to learn as the retriever.

“This is a lot of teamwork. My dog is going to do what he’s naturally going to do, but the training enhances that and channels that into the proper behavior,” he said.

On Saturday, Matt Nickolay of Moorhead brought his 6-month-old black Lab, Chase, to the club grounds for the first time. Nickolay is an avid bird hunter and just joined the club.

“My dad’s always had Labs. I finally have a house so I have room for a dog,” Nickolay said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556