SPOTLIGHT: Trainer produces great hunting dogs
ROBERTS, Ill. (AP) — Choosing the right hunting dog is a big decision.
"You are going to be spending 12 to 14 years with that dog if you are lucky," said trainer Dan Ihrke of the Green Acres Sportsman's Club near Roberts. "That is a huge emotional and monetary investment."
Ihrke is conducting dog-training demonstrations three times a day in Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair, at 11 a.m., and 2 and 4 p.m.
For 15 years, Ihrke and his wife, Cindy, have managed the 1,000-acre hunting preserve about two hours northeast of Springfield, just off Illinois 54. By Chris Young. The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.
"We turn out about 50 finished dogs a year," he said. "We specialize in producing dogs that live with the family. This is not just a dog that is going to live in a kennel. This dog is actually going to live with the family. A great part of our training program is teaching obedience and discipline so they are easy to handle and family friendly."
Ihrke introduced the crowd to dogs in all stages of training, from gangly puppies to grizzled veterans.
He said it is important to stay positive, and always end a training exercise with a success.
"I like (fair visitors) to take away that our program is designed around positive reinforcement," Ihrke said. "We take advantage of the dog's natural instinct and channel that as positive reinforcement for good behavior.
"We teach the dog, number one, to be excited about their instincts and, number two, that they have to perform tasks a certain way to be able to express those instincts."
During the demonstration, Ihrke shows how dogs can be trained to stay put — and not dash off to retrieve a downed bird — until he gives the signal.
That way, a dog will not run into a dangerous situation if another member of a hunting party is still shooting.
"It's a team effort. If they work with us, they are likely to get what they want as well," he said. "It naturally causes the dog to gravitate to follow our rules and thereby becoming a great personal hunting dog."
This is the second time Ihrke has appeared at the fair, but it's his first time giving demonstrations for the entire run of the fair.
"Last year first year, we did two or three days, but this year we're literally rolling right on through," he said. "We didn't know we were going to stay the whole time, but we got here and realized that with the amount of effort it takes to be here and the great responses we were getting, we decided we should not miss out on this."
Ihrke told the crowd that finding the right dog is the first step.
"There are lots of selectively bred hunting dogs — bred for centuries — for specialized purposes," he said. "Do your due diligence."
Part of that research is to decide what you want to hunt.
Some breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, are versatile. Ihrke said they even can be used to hunt shed antlers or track a deer shot by a hunter.
"Go see a few breeds, and hunt over them if you can," he said. "That will tell you if a breed has attributes and abilities you are looking for."
Check out breeders, too.
"Make sure whoever is breeding this dog is working on the true breeding ethics — continuously trying to make a better dog," Ihrke said. "It should be easy to tell if the breeder is doing it to create a healthy, sound hunting dog, not just to sell dogs.
"Puppies that you are trying to produce should be better than both parents."
Breeders should allow you to see both mom and dad.
"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "If you can hunt over the parents, that's the best thing to do."
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, http://bit.ly/1cKIcSr
Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com