Dogs first started palling around with people tens of thousands of years ago. They chose us not because we had bouncy rubber balls to throw to them, or cozy beds for them to sleep on, or Milk Bone biscuits to give them in exchange for doing tricks. They teamed up with us because we shared a mutual goal — taking wild game. All dogs were once hunting dogs.
All of Dan Murray’s dogs have been hunting dogs, too. He spent his boyhood flushing grouse and pheasant on North Dakota’s farms and plains, his jubilant English Springer Spaniels always in tow. His grandfather appreciated Dan’s enthusiasm, so he introduced him to a friend of his, a part-time gun dog trainer. Dan set about cleaning the man’s kennels, tending to his dogs, and learning how to raise them into bird flushing fanatics.
Dan would only do this as a side job until he graduated high school. After that, he deviated far from the world of dogs into that of vacuum cleaner sales. (Dogs have a chilly relationship with vacuum cleaners at best.) Dan did well at this, and had built up a successful dealership until something pivotal happened: His wife bought him a dog. That dog turned into two, and then three, until in 2007 Dan reassessed his life and realized that dogs were his calling, not vacuum cleaners.
By 2009 Dan had built his own kennel and put Absolute Gun Dogs into full-swing. The operation is devoted to breeding and training English Springer Spaniels, English Cocker Spaniels, and English Labs into the finest hunting companions in the world. Dan now keeps three to four champion dams and sires at any given time, along with a few of their pups who are learning the ropes.
“When exactly to begin training depends on the breed, but a puppy always has to have started by three to six months old,” Dan explained. “That’s when you lay the foundation for obedience — sit, stay, lie down — just the basics. It’s during this phase when you find out if the puppy will make a good gun dog. Do they love figuring you out? If so, they’ve got the stuff.”
“Once they’ve gotten the basics down and know how to behave, then it’s time to take them out to the field. First I release some quail and pigeons, and just let them react however they think to. This lets you see a dog’s temperament, personality, and instincts, so you can assess their natural hunting abilities. A dog with a soft mouth, which means they don’t bite down hard on the items they retrieve, will do best. I’ve found that the dogs with the hardest mouths have the hardest heads, too.”
“When the dogs have gotten used to the field and the game, it’s time to get them used to hunting by firing some shells. We throw something up in the air for them to focus on, and fire from very far away. Once they’re able to stay focused on their target without getting distracted by the report, we can move the sound closer and closer until it doesn’t faze them at all.”
“Of course,” continued Dan, “No matter how much talent a gun dog shows, at the end of the day they’ve got to be a family dog, too. This is your best friend we’re talking about here. A dog who’s relaxed at home can spend their time thinking about working in comfort, too.”
Absolute Gun Dogs isn’t just for creating top tier hunting dogs. With their three kennels, nine exercise pens, and 50 dog runs, they’re well-equipped to board dogs of all sizes and for any amount of time. The compound sits on an unfenced 160 acres, more than enough space to let guests enjoy lots of free play time. They wisely separate their play groups according to the dogs’ sizes — if you’ve ever watched a crabby Shih Tzu try to keep up with a bouncy Husky, you understand the importance of this.
To learn more about Dan’s prized gun dogs, or about how your pup can enjoy his facilities while you’re away, visit absolutegundogs.com.
By David Scheller