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By Jerry D. Mann, Field Director — Sporting Breeds

As I entered the grounds for the Mid-South Hunting Retriever Club fall hunt test near Bruce, Mississippi I hurriedly approached the contestants’ sign-up area to obtain a copy of the event catalog and locate the running site of the Master test. It was with anxious anticipation that I wanted to be sure and catch Tommy Landers as he ran his first ever series of an American Kennel Club Retriever Hunting Test.

Earlier in the year, Mr. Bennie Landers, Tommy’s father had approached me with a question regarding his son and the possibility of him running a dog in the AKC hunting test program. Tommy has Down’s Syndrome and is limited in some abilities and might require the assistance of a co-handler in some situations. I assured Mr. Landers there were procedures in place that could address the request and guided him through the process by which the request should be made. With an handler’s accommodation letter from the Performance Events Department, Tommy was now ready to enter his first hunt test.

Tommy’s debut with AKC Hunting Test was going to be a real test of marking and steadiness for his dog “Dash” as the judges had designed a challenging set of triple land marks followed by an equally difficult land blind. Adding an additional degree of difficulty was the first bird down being thrown as a “walk-up” (the bird is thrown as a duck call is sounded and a shot is fired), requiring the handler/dog team to be moving forward and a “steadying” command be given as the bird is in the air, a solid test of steadiness and control.

At the call for dog #9 (Dash’s number), Tommy and Dash exit the last holding blind and head toward the running line. With limited assistance from Mr. Dale Johnson, Tommy and Dash head toward the spot designated by the judges. It does not take but a moment to see Tommy is in charge of the situation as Dash, very attentive to Tommy and his commands, stays at heel and sits immediately as the “walk-up” is thrown and a quick “toot” of the whistle is given. Steady in her position, Dash turns slightly to watch two more marks being thrown. After all are down and the judges call “#9”, Tommy releases Dash to make the retrieves by calling her name. Retrieving each bird and delivering directly to Tommy, Dash makes short order of the marking test. Turning to the land-blind, Tommy, with the assistance of Dale, lines Dash up and sends her for the bird. When cued by Dale, Tommy blows his whistle and gives Dash a hand signal to correct her line. After a very limited number of corrections, Dash locates and retrieves the bird directly to Tommy. Leaving the line, Tommy is all smiles after he and Dash have successfully completed the first series of the Master test!

Up to approximately three years ago Tommy had never even worked with Retrievers much less handled one in a field event. That changed one day during an outing with his father, Bennie and his training partner, Dale Johnson. During the training session Tommy was invited to handle a dog on a set of marks. Needless to say, that was a thrill! From that point forward he became more involved and eventually, with decreasing assistance, started handling dogs. Tommy, along with his team mate “Dash” (Ford’s Dash for Ducks), have accomplished much over the last three years, and while there have been some disappointment, there have been many more occasions for celebrating. One of those being today’s opportunity to run in the Mid-South Hunting Retriever Club’s fall Retriever Hunting Test.

As the second series of Master level began it was apparent the judges had come to “test” these dogs over this two day event! This series consisted of a double set of marks over land and water, followed by a double blind (two blinds run back to back) one over/through water and the other a land blind. As dog #9 was called, Dash and Tommy proceeded to the line. Tommy was in control as he moved Dash into position to watch the marks fall. When released to make the retrieves Dash performed flawlessly, retrieving both birds individually and returning them to Tommy. Next came the blinds. Both blinds were picked up without too much fanfare, however when callbacks were announced, Dash was not among the count. Apparently Dash had not quite taken the correct line when performing the water blind.

While disappointed Dash had not qualified in her first AKC licensed hunt test, Tommy was alright with the decision. Tommy and Bennie were already busy packing and preparing to leave for the drive to Cambridge, Maryland where Tommy will be handling “Fairwinds Honky Tonk Man” (Hank) in the 2011 Master National Retriever Club event starting on Sunday, October 2, 2011. When asked, Tommy said he was ready for the trip and up for the challenge of the event! I believe he is!!!

Tommy, great job! Good Luck at the Master Nationals!

FOOTNOTE: Tommy and “Hank” qualified at the 2011 Master Nationals!! Tommy’s next goal is to pursue Dash’s qualifying scores in order to run her in the 2012 Master National in Greensboro, Alabama.

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