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Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Q&A: A golden retriever team

By Steve Bowman
Great Outdoor Games staff

Personal Info

Age: 37
Spouse: Janet
Children: Cristen
Occupation: Professional dog trainer for last 15 years
Non Retriever Hobbies: Duck hunting, archery deer hunting, Flying

Competitor Info

Pro Trainer or Amateur: Pro Trained 117 HRCH, 29 Masters Hunter
AKC Field Trials, AKC Hunt tests or HRC hunt tests: All Three, Have trained 117 Hunting Retriever Champions and 29 Master Hunters.
Years in Competition: 14 years
Years in Super Retriever Series competition: 3 years
Sponsors: Natural Life Pet Products and sportDOG Brand

Personal Favorites

Book: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Retriever Book: Retriever Training for the Duck Hunter by Robert Milner
Movie: Saving Private Ryan
Musical Group: Creed, ACDC
Food: Ribeye and Baked Potatoes with a lot of butter
Sports Team: Don't really watch it. Mom and Dad were really big Razorback Fans. Lucky Number: 7
Superstitions: Always use the same leash until things go bad then I change to another leash.
Fantasy Dinner Party: With my Dad and Grandmother anywhere. They have both passed on. Those two people were as proud of me as anybody had been. I wish they could see what was happening right now. I know that they would be so thrilled with all the things going on. Anytime I had ever done something well they were so supportive and I would love to sit down with them and share the things that have happened to me in the last few years with all this. I know my Grandmother would just love sitting and talking with me.

Canine Teammate

Name: 2XGRHRCH Barkley Yankee Thunder MH
Call Name: Boomer
Age: 5
Breed: Male Black Labrador
Owner: Chris Akin
Favorite Snack: Pig Ears and Cheese Nips
Sleeps inside or outside: Inside in the bed with me

Chris Akin and Boomer go for a repeat gold-medal performance in the Retriever Trials.
Q: What got you started?

I worked for a window business and called on different lumber companies and made a lot of face-to-face calls. I had a company car and I took my dog everywhere I went.

When I would pull up to make a call the owner would ask why my truck was running and I would say because my dog was in the truck. He asked why and told him that I would work and train her from time to time at lunch, etc. He asked me to show him so I pulled Dixie out and threw out bumpers and she would retrieve them.

This became a deal all over the state of Arkansas and at the time a lot of people had not seen a trained retriever. One that would go and pick up dummies, take a command on a whistle and make blind retrieves.

Dixie became famous. After a couple of years she became a big part of my job. Most the guys just wanted to see my dog when I would come to make a sales call. I then began training their retrievers. Next thing you know I was training 20 dogs.

You know I had never thought taking Dixie everywhere as a form of advertisement for an occupation I didn't realize I was going to do.

Q: What got you started in Competitive Dog Trials?

I went to a HRC hunt test in Forrest City, Arkansas and watched a Golden Retriever named Ruff run. The test was a simple triple with a blind across the pond. When I watched this dog run this test I was floored. I didn't think I would ever be able to run a dog to that level. I really didn't know that they were able to do it at that level at all. After that test I wanted to have a dog trained to that level of those retrievers.

Q: What was your first memory of a trained retriever?

Again, it was Ruff. He was the first finished dog that I had ever seen run. His intensity level, attitude, his talent and training just floored me.

Q: What dog is the greatest dog you have ever seen?

Pepper, Larry McMurray's Dog. (2002 Great Outdoor Games bronze medalist). Day in and day out. Her marking, her memory, throwing diversions. I have seen Pepper since she was 12 months out and I think she is still the greatest dog I have ever seen.

Q: When you go to the line with any dog, what percentage does the handler make?

The dogs that run these things are trained to extreme levels. They are trained on blinds, on marking, on marking concepts, handling, whistles and all that stuff.

Okay? Now here is my analogy. Airplanes are built to go up, down, sideways, add power, take power off and so on. An airplane is not worth a damn in the wrong hands flying it. He will have bad take offs, bad landings, and not be able to stay on course. So airplane is 70 percent pilot and 30 percent airplane.

In this Super Retriever game I would say it is 60 /40. 60 percent being the handler and 40 percent being the dog. Don't get me wrong it takes a hell of a nice dog but I have seen to many times where the handler is such a huge part. When to blow, when not to blow, when to let the dog ride, when not to let a dog ride. There is so much that goes into it. The handler either makes the whole deal or breaks the whole deal.

It is like Black Jack, the dealer is sitting on 17 and you've got 16. Well sometimes you have to take that other hit and go with it. I have seen some handlers that haven't taken that extra hit and they could have ended up winning.

So I would say 60/40 with a nice dog, no doubt about it.

Q: To build a champion that can play what we are doing in Super Retriever Series and Great Outdoor Games do you think it is more important to have a super talented dog or a super talented trainer?

In this game I would say a super talented handler if all the dogs are on the same playing field.

It is not a question that can be answered completely. It depends on that dog, on that day and what the handler does when and where.

I have just seen it to many times. Last year's Great Outdoor Games, Alex (Washburn) knew she had a low score to beat, she could of handled and won but maybe if she had just blown one more whistle, she could of beat me.

Q: Describe Chris Akin and Boomer. Who is stronger?

Boomer is definitely.

Q: Describe Chris Akin and Boomer as a team.

I know Boomer, I know what he is going to do before he does it. Boomer is an excellent marking dog, an excellent lining dog, an excellent handling dog. He can also sit still, or fairly still.

Boomer's first series is never his strongest, whether it is Super Retriever Series, The Grand what ever, He knows when he is putting on a show and he gets stronger and stronger and stronger with each series.

If it comes down to desire, willing to please, heart I will win this S.O.B. until the day Boomer dies.

Q: Who is your biggest concern on Great Outdoor Games?

Alex Washburn and Ready. Ready is trained is trained for the Super Retriever Series as much as any dog out there, not just AKC Field trials. She has trained and designed Ready for the Super Retriever Series and the Great Outdoor Games.

I don't think he has done that well at the field trials. I really don't know but I know that her main concern is winning the Great Outdoor Games. I think she has tweaked Ready for that.

Q: Why do you think Boomer is going to win the Great Outdoor Games?

I don't think I am going to win it. There are a lot of nice dogs there. A lot more trained to a level higher than what he is and naturally more talented than he is and I think that will come out in the end.

Q: Why do you think there are dogs that are more talented than Boomer?

Because there are dogs that are more naturally trained for long stuff. I just don't think he is a threat to any of those dogs there.

I think we just got lucky last year. I was totally shocked the whole way through. We won because the other thre handlers made horrible mistakes, not because he is a nicer dog than the others.

Q: Do you think the pressure got to Alex last year?

Hell yes. That is the whole reason she didn't blow the whistle. I told Bill Autrey that running last is not always best because she was trying to beat my score by not blowing a whistle and it cost her the whole thing. It goes back to my Black Jack Theory.

Q: Do you think Boomer will be better at 8 years old than 5?

No I think that most of my dogs peak out at 3- to 5-yeras. I think is he is where he is going to be.

Remember I am training a whole truck. I am training 17 dogs everyday and I am not just training Boomer. I am trying to train what is best for the whole truck. A lot of the handlers are training every day at a super high level with a specific dog.

Q: Do you feel like people are starting to train specifically for the Super Retriever Series and Great Outdoor Games?

Yes. I think they train a lot different for this. When the field trial guys blow a whistle on a mark, they are blowing a come in whistle, because that part of the test is over with. You cannot handle on a mark.

So now you are seeing more training to handle on marks for these games because you can. You have to have a great handling dog for this game.

Q: Where does the Great Outdoor Games Gold Medalist stack up to the Grand Champion Master National Dog or a FC AFC Champion?

Totally different animal. It is as different as a Kitty Cat, Jaguar, and Bobcat. They are all totally different animals. Field Trial dogs can go 400 hundred yards and your hunt test dogs have birds right in front in there faces.

The Great Outdoor Games' dogs have to do it all. You will have the best of the best from these dogs. The best well-rounded dog there is.

It is kind of like Bo Jackson, he can play baseball this weekend, play football the next weekend then turn around and play soccer and then a game of ping-pong. He can do it all.

Q: How does it feel running two dogs?

My goal is to be in the top three. I do not think I have an advantage because I have two dogs running. I think a lot of the guys are training hard and it is so close to the very end. I think the dogs are being over trained. I am not putting myself through that.

I am showing up with two very relaxed dogs, we are exercising, are physical sound and we will be ready to play.