Mya, a black Labrador Retriever, sits perfectly still for several minutes, eyeing her quarry. Once a short command is whispered, she pounces on the duck with a ferocity built-in through generations of breeding. These hard-working, loyal, and all-together friendly hunting dogs look no different from the average family pet - but their training turns them into awe-inspiring hunting machines.
Shawn Arney, Mya's owner, is a life-long hunter who began by following in his father's foot steps. Inspired by his early experiences with a well-trained retriever, he began Oak Ridge Retrievers almost 20 years ago, with his first pure breds, Alex and Sweet Pea.
Between shifts of working as an on-the-move DRPS Officer stationed in Oshawa, Shawn now keeps a full regiment of over 12 dogs on his acre of property on Highway 7A at any one time, and specializes in trainings pups and helping hunters turnaround under performing pooches.
"It all began when I was fifteen and living on a farm in Caesarea. My brother and I would do chores for our dad - Instead of being paid in loonies, we would get a few rounds of .22 rifle ammo to go play with," said Shawn.
"The whole family was very tight growing up, and our dad taught us how to hunt ducks on Lake Scugog, near Seven Mile Island."
Shawn went to explain that some of his favourite memories are of the weekends spent on a tiny spit of land on Lake Scugog with his brother, camping, enjoying nature, and hunting.
"There's a lot of camaraderie involved, and despite what most people would think, us hunters respect nature more than most," Shawn. "Yes, I do shoot animals, but only after spending hours hiking, waiting, and taking in the world around me. I've never felt at home indoors, I would live outside if I could!"
Retrievers are important to hunters like Shawn because being a sportsman involves a great respect for the environment and the animals in it. "A proper sportsman with a properly trained dog will never leave a bird on the ground, the dog will seek out a kill 500 yards away, even in eight-foot high bulrushes – even if we shoot them, we take them home with us."
Since Shawn will tell you that the best tool a hunter has is a smart and obedient dog, he decided to try his hand at breeding and training man's best friend himself. Today he boasts a record of eight Grand Hunting Retrievers (the top prize in the sport), seventeen Hunting Retriever Champions, and a multitude of dogs who placed in other competitions or simply perform a necessary task for their owners.
"I started with my first hunting dog, a chocolate lab named Alex, the first with his colouring to make Grand Hunter Retriever Champion in Canada," said Shawn. "Most people only bother with dogs who come from a long line of champions and winners, chocolates are usually never even considered. Even though he didn't have much in his blood, Alex was my dog and I saw potential - with a lot of hard work, he began my whole project."
Upon seeing the success of Alex, brought about by Shawn's consistent and intensive training, many of Shawn's hunting buddies began asking if he would train their dogs. Shawn explained that it all "just sort of snowballed from there."
Once he acquired a black female lab named Sweet Pea, who came from a strong bloodline and still is the first-place producer of champion pups in the Hunting Retriever Club, his brand of canines continued to grow.
"My secret has always been consistency and just being friendly to the dog," said Shawn. "Even my seven week-old pups learn commands, because I let them know that I'm in charge, and they grow eager to please. I always make sure to use short and simple commands, dogs don't speak English very well, but they'll figure it out."
At one particular United Kennel Club competition, Shawn was prepped to show his dog's skill. He marked his target and called the dogs name, but the familiar leap into action never came.
"People started commenting that I must have a bad dog or that maybe he was scared," said Shawn. "Turns out, the he was a she! I called the wrong name and the dog, still in competition mode, didn't even budge. That's how you prove the discipline and training work."
Whether it's a long hunting trip, or an average training day, Shawn likes to spend as much time with his family and his puppies as possible. He remarks that, at the core of being a dog trainer, one needs to simply love animals and respect nature.
"Treat these animals right and they'll take care of you too," said Shawn, smiling. "I've never been in this business for the money, the dogs and I just click - they're always excited when I put my camo on."
Shawn can be contacted at 905-449-9860, or firstname.lastname@example.org.