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Retriever test time

Red, a black Labrador retriever handled by Jackson, and a lot of other retrievers, did all of that and more last weekend in the Duluth Retriever Club's annual American Kennel Club Hunting Test.

A total of 201 retrievers competed July 25-27 not against each other but against standards that simulate actual hunting situations. The dogs were working at attaining their Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter and Master Hunter titles.

Red brought that duck back to Jackson, a professional dog trainer from Dyersburg, Tenn. Then Red brought back two more ducks, one of which, as the test required, he hadn't seen fall. And when he picked up the last one, Jackson let out a Tennessee whoop, he was so happy.

That was just one of four simulated hunting situations in which Red would be tested during the hunt-test event.

Several of these master hunters will be eligible to take part in the AKC Master National Hunting Test, hosted Sept. 21-28 by the Minnesota Iron Range Retriever Club in Hibbing.

But for many trainers and amateurs who ran dogs in the Duluth hunt test, it was just one more chance to see what their dogs could do.

Kim Buchanan of Onalaska, Wis., is an amateur who has been doing hunting tests for 21 years.

"What I like about it is it's a lot of problem-solving," she said. "You have to problem-solve to get your dogs from one step to the next."

Mike Riippa of Maple Grove, Minn., is also an amateur. He took up hunt-test competitions at age 50, eight years ago.

"If you haven't played this game before, it's like winning an Olympic medal," he said. "You kind of get drawn into it. It's kind of addicting."

Hunting-test training pays off in the field and the marsh, said Wade Stottler, a trainer from Madison, Minn.

"This makes your hunting dogs a lot better," he said. "They go to Canada, and your buddies can't believe how good your dogs are."

Duluth's Bob Owens, a member of the Duluth Retriever Club, served as marshal for one of the hunting tests last weekend. Owens does much of his hunting over Labrador retrievers.

"One of the great pleasures I have is to watch the fun and enjoyment the dog is having the day of the hunt," Owens said. "That's why I've encouraged people to train dogs. They have so much potential to learn. They want to please you.

"That's why I train. It's just as important as the hunt to the dog."