When Karl Bednarchik’s busy print shop kept him away from home too often, he recruited Bonnie the chocolate Lab to keep him company. The happy dog did her job very well, for she loved Karl, but she was an active and willful animal. Karl decided that training could channel Bonnie’s exuberance a little more productively. Bonnie proved to be a challenging student. She flunked two of her first kindergarten classes, and although she made it to graduation she took it upon herself to run out the door during the ceremony.
One of her instructors declared Bonnie to be a lost cause and not cut out for discipline. Another saw an opportunity — perhaps more in Karl than in Bonnie herself — and offered to keep training the dusky brute in exchange for Karl’s help teaching her class. If anything, Bonnie’s continued failure to grasp good manners had exposed Karl to a great amount of dog training. He accepted.
As Karl got better at training dogs, however, so too did Bonnie become better trained. She became a champion hunting dog and earned several trophies for her prowess in the field, and even acted in three stage plays. (While Bonnie may not have sported the ideal colored fur to play Sandy in Annie, the fact that she was a dog made her adequately qualified to take the role anyway.) Bonnie is currently flushing grouse and receiving standing ovations in dog heaven, but Karl is still training dogs. He started running Ivy League Dog Training full-time after he sold his print shop in 2016, and now stands by to help the community’s good boys and girls become even better, either as companions or as hunting dogs.
“Your average hunter actually gets out into the field up to 30 days a year, and that’s pretty good — but they’ll still have to spend the other 335 days around their dog,” said Karl. “Even the most avid hunter’s gun dog is going to be inactive for most of the year. That’s why regardless of whether a dog is going to become a hunting companion or not, they still need to learn the foundations of obedience.
“I start off every dog I train with basic obedience: come, sit, stay, no barking, don’t jump on the guests. Learning to walk on a leash is extremely important for a dog and their master to become a team instead of pulling in different directions wherever they go. Another important goal with puppies is crate training. A cage isn’t humane — dogs are den animals, and being in their own little spaces gives them time to unwind. They’re also scavenging animals, so teaching them to overcome their urge to wander around and chew on everything they find is key. Professional training is very important to achieve all of this, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be one on one. Group classes are fine, and 4-H does exceptional work.
“If you’d like your dog to become a gun dog, it helps to think of them as a pyramid. The bottom 60 percent, the base, is all of that groundwork obedience. The middle 30 percent is retrieving — come, get, and drop. Once the dog really likes retrieving, it’s time to work on the last ten percent, which is actual hunting with birds. To train them for that, you fire a cap gun and launch a dummy downrange. The dog will quickly learn to associate ‘bang’ with something they really like. Then we try out the real deal with chukker, partridge, and quail. It’s a progressive process, but a surprisingly fast one when you’re working with the right dog.
“You want a hunting dog with a good retrieving instinct, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what most people think. Members of the retrieving breeds share a genetic predisposition to always want something in their mouths. That’s why you often see golden retrievers going for walks with tennis balls in their mouths. With a dog like that, the big project is teaching them how to solve the puzzle of fetch, pick up bird, bring it, and drop on command. Like everything else this all ties back to basic obedience, which is why it’s necessarily the starting point in every training program.
“I love this line of work, being outside, training dogs out in the field. When you see a 12 week old puppy’s brain first start to click…well, it feels like watching your kid take his first steps, and I get to do it every day. Seeing people getting along better with their dogs because of my help is rewarding, too. I’m very fortunate to be able to do this.”
Whether you’d like to make your dog better behaved or a real dyed in the wool hunting pal, Karl is ready to make it so. Please visit ivyleaguedogtraining.com to learn how you can get started.
By David Scheller