Written by Scott Foulger
I first started waterfowl hunting in high school; I immediately loved it and knew it was going to be a big part of my life from then on out. A good friend of mine had a black lab that was a solid duck dog and impressed me for years, Hank, from Marks-a-lot kennels in Texas. Hank was the dog that made me fall in love with black labs. Being a member of the LDS church, I went on a two-year mission when I was nineteen. Due to the knowledge that I would be gone for two years and couldn’t bring one with me, I never got a dog.
I have some wonderful friends. A month before my scheduled arrival home from serving my two years in the Fresno, California area teaching the Spanish-speaking people there about the church, two good friends of mine, Grant Hollingsworth and Phillip Anderson, bred their dogs together. I have known Grant since lacrosse camp the summer before going into out 3rd grade year. Grant was the owner of the sire, Blue. Blue was a great marking black lab that had been heavily hunted for years on the Hollingsworth’s farm near Easton, MD. He had hundreds of retrieves every year and had proven himself a solid marking dog. Phillip Anderson, I got to know over the years, as he was the older brother of a good friend of mine, Sam Anderson. Sam was the owner of the first dog I had ever hunted with, Hank. Phil had a female dog named Dixie who was also bred from Marks-a-lot kennels in Texas. Dixie was a black lab that marked like a laser and had tons of drive. Well, those two friends of mine gave me something I don’t think I could ever fully pay them back for. I was fresh off my mission and had about $20 to my name; buying a well-bred AKC lab of that stature (pups going for $1,500 each) would be out of the question. Phil did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me and gave me the pick of the litter for free.
On October 13th, 2007, the litter was born and I met Roy for the first time. I was just about to go out for an evening deer hunt near Phil’s house with my younger brother when Phil told me Dixie’s water broke, I never got in the stand that night. I watched Roy come out and was giddy as a schoolgirl. At that time I was going to school in Virginia, so I came home most weekends to see the pups while they were still with their mother. There were four males and four females, all black. There was one small male, two medium sized males and one very large male. I decided I wanted a medium sized dog so it was down to the two of them. Call me a lover, but one of those dogs was a cuddler and at 6 weeks old, he was retrieving little crunched up pieces of paper I’d throw to him- that was Roy.
Grant ended up taking the big male and appropriately named him Boss. Boss is probably the biggest yet fit lab I’ve ever seen. He looks like he’s part pit bull with the way his muscles pop, but he’s pure lab and you can tell that when you see him retrieve. My friend Sam took the other medium sized male, Phil had already named him Buzzard for a reason I won’t describe due to it’s callous nature, so he goes by Buzz now. Buzz is a lot like Roy but was trained initially not only on waterfowl, but upland as well due to living in the grouse-rich country of Vermont. He has turned into quite the combo waterfowl/upland dog over the years.
Now Roy was all mine. I had never trained a dog before but had watched Sam do a lot of the training on Hank some year’s prior where I had learned a few things. When he was young I trained along side Sam and watched some internet videos, but he was still young. I had him running 100 yard marks by the time he was about six months old, but he wasn’t force fetched and wasn’t very steady.
Early that summer, in June, my sister and my brother-in-law were moving from D.C. to Southern California and they needed someone to drive with my brother-in-law across the country to get their car and stuff out there, so I volunteered. Right before I left, I found a pretty old book called “Top Dog” by Joseph Middleton. It was so old that the pictures in it were black and white. It was a 350 page or so book and I read it all the way from D.C. to California. I took notes and learned a ton of new things like force fetching and how to do it the right way, burn to pile, multiple blind retrieve drills like the wagon wheel and the baseball diamond, and lots more. I began implementing a few of these and he picked up on them wonderfully.
Southern Virginia University was nestled right between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Maury river, so I got most of my homework done outside either by the river or up in the mountains. The school was very small (750 students) and Roy began to be a very popular dog on campus. All the girls loved him, and my roommates would often take him up to campus and throw a tennis ball to him on the field in the middle of school with the sole purpose of meeting girls. Let’s just say, it worked. When he was real young, I would throw him in my backpack, he’d fall asleep and then usually wake up in the middle of class on my lap and just hang out. The professors didn’t care; SVU was a good place to have a puppy. If Roy and I had gone training or fishing in the morning before class, he would usually end up in the bed of my truck just hanging out while I went to class. Just about every day while in class I would get a text from a friend that said, “I have Roy”. I would usually find him surrounded by a group of girls or playing fetch with just about anyone somewhere around campus. It was the kind of school that was so small that I really didn’t worry about it, everyone knew who he and I were.
Training in these areas of the mountains helped me train Roy on a very important skill that I still use with him today, a skill that gives him some freedom and gives me control. I bought a Sport Dog brand E-Collar for him and on the transmitter is a button that I can hit to trigger a beeper on his collar that he can hear. I trained him to simply to come back to me when this beeper went off. The E-Collar had a radius of about a mile, so while I studied, I let Roy go explore the river and the mountains. When I was done studying, I would just hold the beeper down for a few seconds, and within a minute or two Roy would show up and we’d go home. Roy’s response to this helped me understand that he was not only a good retriever, but an obedient dog as well.
Roy and I trained hard, it was my first time training a dog on my own, and I wasn’t perfect, but we figured it out. On October 13th, 2008, on his first birthday, Roy went on his first duck hunt. It was opening day in Virginia and we hunted the upper James River. I was very nervous and didn’t know how he would do on a real duck hunt. The first duck to come in was a lone mallard drake and didn’t hold well. I was pretty disappointed but knew what I had to work on with him. I tied him up for the rest of the hunt and sent him after we shot, but that wasn’t what I really wanted.
I worked with Roy a lot that year on holding to the shot. I would throw a bumper along with a blank shot and then not send him if he lifted his butt or crept, even if he was stone still I would wait at least thirty seconds before I sent him. To this day, Roy still struggles with steadiness; having so much retrieving drive gives him a lot of trouble trying to keep calm when the guns start going and ducks start falling. It is something that we are always working on and we have learned to control with a lot of work. At then end of the day it is better to have a dog with too much drive then too little, too much can be harnessed and controlled, too little won’t get ducks and there isn’t much anyone can do about that.
In the spring of 2009, I started running Roy in AKC Hunt Tests. I ran him in juniors, and in few words, he dominated. Roy blew juniors away and passed with a 4/4 record, never failing a test. Juniors were easy because it played to Roy’s strengths and not his weakness. Juniors are a set of two single marks, while these ducks are being shot/thrown, it is legal to hold onto your dogs collar so that he doesn’t break on the shot. When the command was given to release your dog to the bird, I would just let go of his collar and let him go by calling his name. In his last hunt test he was the only dog in juniors to be applauded by the judges on his last retrieve, this because he was taking a line to the downed bird like no other dog, straight as an arrow.
In the summer of 2009, Roy and I moved to Utah to go to school. The climate in Utah is very different from back east. That summer we lived in a cabin in Park City right in the Deer Valley resort. There were some ponds down the mountain from us that we visited every day and I started running Roy on blinds for the first time. Roy picked up blind retrieves like a champ. I ran him on water and covered land blinds all summer long, it was a summer of great learning for both Roy and I.
We moved down into the valley early that fall and started hunting ducks on Utah Lake and the Strawberry Reservoir. I started running Roy out of a ground blind that season and I noticed an immediate difference in him holding to the shot. Dog ground blinds help dogs mentally hold to the shot and it showed with Roy that season. We had a great duck season that year and I really started to see Roy come into his own. That year we hunted him out of a ground blind, out of a boat, jump shot, river blinds, and more. Roy was tearing it up.
I became good friends with two guys out there. One a quail hunter from Alabama named Aaron, who we appropriately nick-named Bama. Bama and I had known each other before leaving on our respective missions and quickly became best friends again. Eventually, I talked him into getting a German Shorthaired Pointer for upland hunting. Josh was a Utah native and was a big pheasant hunter, something I was not familiar with at all. Josh was a dog trainer and was and is to this day, in love with Springer Spaniels. I was very impressed with Josh’s work with his Springers on pheasants and figured that if a Springer can do it, then Roy can do it. I started training him on upland birds by teaching him to follow hand signals in the field for tracking and teaching him to sit on the flush; he picked it up, again, like a champ.
At one point in my life I was married, we went on our honeymoon to the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania, and of course Roy came with us. We had scheduled an upland hunt outing for Roy and I one day while she got a massage. We showed up and the guide was pretty surprised to see that I had my dog with me. He had brought two English Pointers and was used to running them for clients on the Pheasants, Chukars, and Bobwhite quail. He tried to talk me out of running Roy because he figured Roy and I didn’t know what we were doing. We agreed that I would hunt Roy on one run and then we would trade Roy in for one of his pointers. After he set the birds, Roy did an amazing job as usual and I didn’t miss a shot. We got back to the trucks and I told him, “Ok I’ll put Roy up now”, he looked at me and said “No! I want to see him go again!” He explained how much he loved watching Roy track the birds and show control when the birds started flying and dropping. He had never seen a lab work upland birds like that before. I ran Roy on another round and we never lost a bird. After that he explained that he had a bunch of residual birds around that other hunters couldn’t hit and that Roy and I can go clean them up. We went out and started nailing Pheasants and Bobwhites for another hour or so. The guide watched from the trucks and when we came back he offered me a guiding job and a place to live. I’m pretty sure he wanted Roy more than me, but I wasn’t offended. I politely declined the offer but inside I was smiling.
The next summer a sweet little girl named Hallie Anne Foulger came into my life. She was 6 lbs. and 12 ounces of perfect. I was a little scared that Roy might not do well with a little one running around, but he has been great with her. She jumps on him, pulls his tail and chases him around the house, and he just deals with it like a good dog should. Due to the baby, I didn’t run Roy in any Hunt Tests that spring, even though he was ready to compete for his Senior title.
That next duck season was a tough one, the early season was good and we shot Woodies every time we went out, but the late season just never happened. Warm weather in the north that remained well into December made it so that the lakes never froze and the birds never had to migrate south for warmer weather. It was the season that never was.
In January of 2012 I moved back out to Utah so I could finish school. I got there right at the end of the duck season so we really didn’t get to hunt. Roy and I immediately started training and getting ready to run the AKC Senior Hunt tests that spring. We trained hard and before the hunt tests, Roy was running 300 yard blind land retrieves, 200 yard water blind retrieves, and triple marks on land and water.
The day before the Roy’s first hunt test, there was a field trial qualifier. I had never participated in a field trial before and I was very curious about them. I had heard varying things about field trials- some loved them and some hated them. For those of you who don’t know the difference, a hunt test is competing against a standard that the AKC has set, and a field trial is competing against other dogs in the trial while only 2-3 dogs can actually place. The author of the book that I had read a few years back, Top Dog, spoke highly of hunt tests and poorly of field trials, and that book was written a very long time ago. I showed up that morning and immediately noticed a difference in the culture of the events. There were multiple professional trainers who had traveled great distances to be there from Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and a few more states here and there. They were cold and wouldn’t talk to me; I would see them smile when another dog made a mistake. In the end there was a very different atmosphere there than at the hunt tests and I didn’t like it. For the trial I made the mistake of keeping Roy cooped up and not running him for two days before the trial. I thought this would help him to run with more energy but it was the wrong move. He was way too amped up. I knew while walking to the line that I was not going to be able to control him that day. He pooped on the sending stand right in front of the judges and was heavily whining when the birds were shot and even crept a little. Roy nailed the first two marks but never saw the third; he was too amped and focusing on the bird that had just been downed. I walked off the stand not mad at Roy, but myself. I drove away knowing I would never run him in field trials again, especially after seeing trainers smile as I went home early.
I went home and trained Roy for the next day. We showed up and he dominated, he nailed both marks and blinds on the land and water series and went home with a ribbon. The next day we came back and we had a new and very different judge, much tougher. The judge set a very tough blind where the dog leaves the sight of the handler just before it needs to go through some brush. Dog after dog got lost and never got to the bird, therefore getting disqualified. Roy got a little hung up but I whistled him towards me enough to where I could see him then gave him a strong back left signal. He went through the brush, up the hill and found the bird. Roy’s training showed through and we walked away with another ribbon. Roy dominated the third hunt test that year, having no problems at all.
The fourth hunt test was a tough setup; it had the double marks straight up a hill and a blind at the bottom of the hill, but running parallel across the bottom. This was very tough for multiple reasons. Many dogs ran past the marks and disappeared over the hill, one of the marks was thrown on a flat part of the hill so that the handlers couldn’t see their dog, this is a situation where the handler needs to have full trust in their dog and that it will find the bird. The hardest part was the blind, because after sending the dog up the hill twice, they start to think that up the hill is where all the birds are, they were just up there and there is lots of scent up the hill. I watched dog after dog get sent on a low line then pull right and run up the hill, handlers would stop them, give them a back left, and the dogs would turn right and go up the hill. Dog after dog were getting disqualified.
On the double mark, Roy disappeared into the spot where I couldn’t see him. I had already made the decision to let him find the bird on his own, I had to remind myself that Roy knows what he’s doing and has been in this situation in training thousands of times. He came running down the hill with a duck in his mouth, delivered it to hand and went straight to the second downed bird. Then was the tough part, the blind. I lined him up and gave him a strong “yaaaaa”, he went about 30 yards or so then started drifting up the hill, I stopped him and gave him a strong back left, he took the handle and went straight to the bird, one whistle, I was so proud. Next was water, Roy stomped it to pass that test and to finish his full AKC Senior Hunter title. He earned a perfect Hunt Test record with 4/4 on Juniors and 4/4 on Seniors, I was and am a proud daddy.
I was totally planning on running Roy at Masters that next year but an injury put a quick halt to those plans. Roy and I began guiding Upland Hunts at a Hunt Club called Wasatch Wing and Clay in Cedar Fort, Utah. I was running Roy one day on an open field and he and Josh’s dog, Duke, were tracking some birds. The Rooster Pheasants flushed at a dry creek bed when they ran out of field and we brought two of them down, falling on the opposite side of the creek bed. I made a terrible mistake by sending Roy on the retrieve without realizing that the creek bed had a 10-12 foot drop, he leapt off, landed hard on his shoulder and immediately couldn’t walk. I carried him back to the truck and knew it was bad. Three days later we were scheduled to go to South Dakota on a Pheasant and Duck hunt, Roy went but couldn’t participate. Instead I brought my friend Matt’s dog who I had worked with for a few months that past summer, when I was just first getting into Professional dog training. His dog, Venus, did great as a substitute, but it was sad not running him.
He was too hurt to train for Masters that next spring since the injury was ligaments and needed an extensive time to heal. Instead I worked with Roy a little and was able to get him his Canine Good Citizen Title, which he passed on his first try. That was the spring of 2013, he is now hunting hard again and I will be running him at Masters this coming spring. (2014)
Roy and I are back to training, guiding, duck hunting and getting ready to run for his Master title, the highest Hunt Test title a dog can earn. Roy is an amazing hunting dog but is much more than that to me; he is my hunting buddy, my best friend, my little girl’s play buddy, a very loyal friend, a part of my family and much, much more. I fear the day when he isn’t with me anymore but will keep having good times and training hard with Royboy till that day comes.