June 22, 2013

Dalton man’s lab retriever earn status as top talent

By Devin Golden

— It didn’t take Dalton’s Mike Ary long to figure out his dog Annie was a quick study.

She has learned enough in the first six years of her life to become a champion.

Annie is a black Labrador retriever formally named “Hunter’s Little Annie,” after Ary’s 15-year-old son Hunter. Ary and Annie have done quite well this year in competitions. Annie was one of 56 of some 400 dogs to receive a passing grade in the Hunting Retriever Club Grand Hunt held in April in Carbondale, Texas. She finished in the top 10 at the Super Retriever Series held in May in Cheraw, S.C.

There was a time when Annie wasn’t so good at retrieving. That was a long time ago and it was a very short time.

Ary got Annie when she was 16 weeks old. With Annie still a puppy, Ary would throw a rubber toy over three logs. Annie jumped the logs with ease, then raced back around them with the object.

But as Ary had read in dog training books and guides, that wasn’t the right way. So he repeated the throw. This time, when Annie got to the rubber toy, Ary commanded her to stop and led her back over the logs the same way she came.

They did the trick a third time, and Annie did it the right way without Ary’s help.

“That’s when I knew she was a quick learner,” said Ary, who takes Annie with him on hunts a couple mornings each week during duck season.

He started taking Annie to hunting retriever competitions when she was a year old.

Annie is a Hunting Retriever Champion, which a dog acquires by passing the three levels (starter, seasoned and finished) four times on different days. For starter, the handler can hold and guide the dog during the timed competitions. For seasoned, dogs are on their own but aren’t required to bring back all targets. For finished, dogs must retrieve all targets on their own.

“No dog will make it to finished until they get to 2 years old and are mature enough,” Ary said.

Annie passed the finished level when she was 3 years old, which allows her to compete in the Grand Hunt and Super Retriever Series.

The premise of these events is to send out either a live or decoy duck or bird, shoot it down and have the dog fetch the targets and bring them back to their original spot one by one and in order. The Grand Hunt was a five-day event with four days — two on land and two in water — using ducks and the last day using birds.

“These rubber ducks shoot out of machines from anywhere between zero and 250 yards out,” Ary said. “So you shoot with a (rubber) bullet. Your dog sits right beside your knee and it (isn’t supposed to) move. Then after you shoot the last one, your dog will get them in order. It’s the last one first and first one last.

“There’s one (duck) that they hide that she doesn’t know is there. So when she’s done picking up those three, there’s a command that says, ‘dead bird,’ and you line her up with your hand and use your command to let her know. So she’ll use the direction of your hand to know the line of where it is. ... If she gets a little off target, you can whistle and she’ll stop and look at you.”

There are two judges. Each can give one or two points per day. If a dog doesn’t do well enough on a day, then he or she is eliminated. Ary was unsure of Annie’s exact score, but getting through all five days with enough points is a big accomplishment.

“The scores at the end of the whole thing don’t even matter,” he said. “All the ones that made it to the end win.”

The Super Retriever Series, which Ary said is televised on an ESPN network channel, was a similar event that lasts three days but included a tougher regimen, with some targets shot down around 500 yards from the dogs. It was the first time Annie competed in the event.

While Ary was the handler for the Grand Hunt event, a friend of Ary’s — Will Price of Gaffney, S.C. — was the handler for the Super Retriever Series competition.

“He’s wanting to get his name known, so he used my dog,” Ary said.

Ary is part of the North Georgia Hunting Retriever Club, a committee member of the Dalton chapter of Ducks Unlimited and helps run Dalton Utilities’ duck hunts for youth and wounded veterans. He is the senior vice president of the local Raymond James and Associates branch and also owned and trained 12 Labrador retriever puppies as part of his business, On the Mark Retrievers. He recently sold two, kept two for he and his girlfriend and gave eight to Auburn University for drug and bomb investigations.