Wednesday, July 7, 2004 Updated: April 4, 5:13 PM ET
Old dogs learn new tricks
By Steve Wright Great Outdoor Games staff July 7, 2004
MADISON, Wis. Eight-year-old Labrador retriever Achilles proved you can teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, during Wednesday's ESPN Great Outdoor Games Retriever Trial, Achilles and handler J. Paul Jackson showed it might be easier to teach an old dog new tricks.
The "new trick" in this year's competition was a "diving duck" retrieve. It was a simulation of what a dog often faces in duck hunting, when a wounded duck will dive to avoid the dog.
But in the final round of the Retriever Trial, the handlers had to guide their dogs away from the area where the duck disappeared under water to an area several yards away, where another decoy lay hidden in tall weeds at water's edge.
The diving duck was easily the most difficult of the four retrieves required by each dog.
"It's a matter of trust," said ESPN event coordinator Justin Tackett. "Sometimes younger dogs question their handlers. I think this was a case where an eight-year-old dog (Achilles) showed more trust in his handler."
In an event where the lowest score wins, Achilles was penalized 16 points before completing the diving duck retrieve to earn a final score of 29 points. Alex Washburn and five-year-old Ready took the silver medal with a total of 53 points, 41 coming on the final retrieve. Jerry Day and six-year-old Nike earned the bronze medal with a total of 55 points, 34 of which came on the diving duck. The other finalist, Stacey West and his black lab Rankin, were in gold medal contention going into the final retrieve before being penalized a total of 64 points on the diver.
Not everyone was pleased with the new format.
"I don't like to see a good dog go out on a trick like that," said Washburn. "And I'm speaking more for Stacey and Rankin than I am myself."
Day, however, didn't have a problem with it.
"This game is so neat," said Day. "It's not like any other Hunting Retriever Club competition and it's not like any other field trial. It's a totally different game. That's what makes it a lot of fun."
Tackett acknowledged he had some qualms about adding the diving duck retrieve.
"You hurt for (the competitors) because you can't train for that," Tackett said. "You hate to see them go out like that in a way."
But, as organizing assistant Lyles Rudder said, "It makes for some good TV."
The credit, or blame, for the diver goes to avid retriever trainers Rudder and Tom Dokken, who brainstormed the idea two years ago after a Super Retriever Series event in Northfield, Minn.
"It's hard to separate dogs that are this good," said Dokken, who owns Dokken Dog Supply. "How else can you determine greatness? We were trying to come up with a new way of doing that, and we started talking about a situation like this. It's one you see almost every day in duck hunting."
And the diving duck proved to be a real difference maker.