Paul Cantrell gathered a group of dog owners and their dogs around a pond at Queener Ridge Pheasant Farm northeast of Scio.
"It's best not to train dogs in water under 55 degrees," said Cantrell, owner of Black Ice Retrievers in Springfield. "Don't put a puppy in cold water. Their attitude toward water will affect them the rest of their lives."
Cold water was not a problem on a Saturday afternoon when the water was warm and the air temperature hit the mid-80s. Cantrell and others had checked out the pond the night before — no sticks, no logs. "It's a nice little pond for introducing dogs without fear of injury."
The afternoon "Water Phase" was one of six two-hour sessions offered July 20-21 during a dog training workshop sponsored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. More than 25 dog owners and their dogs took part, most of them camping Saturday night at the farm.
The task in the water session was to get these young hunting dogs to retrieve an object from the water and bring it back to their owners. Instead of birds, the objects this day were rubber bumpers.
Cantrell demonstrated first with Trapper, one of his well-trained black Labs. Trapper sat patiently obeying all of Cantrell's one-word commands, then sprinted into the water when B.J. Holman, standing about 50 yards away, fired a starting gun and tossed the bumper into the pond. Trapper swam right to the bumper, grabbed it in his mouth, swam back and dropped it at Cantrell's feet.
Ken Hoback of Cave Junction said his English pointer, Tech had been tepid around water. After several tries at a closer distance, though, Tech, started taking the plunge and retrieving the bumper, much to the delight of Hoback.
John Betts of Albany had no trouble getting his black Lab, Nakita, to go after the bumper. The problem was Nakita's attention span. She'd retrieve the bumper then drop it somewhere other than at Betts' feet. Cantrell's recommendation: More obedience training for Nakita.
Since then, Betts has taken what he learned from the weekend and worked with Nakita.
"The reason I went was to learn. It's paid off," said Betts, a retired Albany St. Mary's priest who grew up and still resides in Albany. "She's an extremely bright dog and very energetic. It's just a matter of doing the right things at the right time."
Cantrell also emphasized that dog owners pay attention to their tone of voice, and avoid the repeated use of the word "No."
"It's all about our voice," he said. "Your tone of voice should be 75 to 80 percent positive. Success is what builds confidence."
About a mile away, Stan Zorn made similar points during field training exercises.
Zorn, a member of the Green Valley Hunting and Retriever Club in Eugene, had owners lead their dogs with check cords.
"The purpose of that is to bring the dog to the bird so he doesn't run up and grab it," he said.
Zorn, who has been training dogs for more than 40 years, emphasizes single-word commands and repetition.
"Patience is the most important thing," he said. "Dogs learn by repetition. Our job is to show the dog in a way they understand and can absorb the information, so they can do it over and over again."
For the hunting season, dogs should be in good physical condition, he added.
"Get the dog exercise and in shape before the hunting season. Dogs have to be in shape for the hunting season or they won't hold up. Take them out and run them or swim them. Throw a ball or a stick."
Zorn said he saw a lot of improvement in the young dogs over the two-day training workshop.
"We saw puppies that had never seen a bird before get totally excited — all of a sudden a light came on."
Paul Odomirok of Corvallis was among the dog owners who found the workshop useful. He brought his 4-month-old German shorthair pointer, Trigger.
"It's extremely useful as far as the connections, the information that you get and tools and methods to use. It was money well-spent. I enjoyed it very much, and plan to take it again next year when the dog is a year older."
Like Odomirok, Betts said he was impressed with the workshop.
"They did a remarkable job of getting dog trainers and veterinarians. They did a super job, and it was a beautiful setting. ... I've been a student all my life. I learned a lot that weekend."
Queener Ridge Pheasants Farm owner Gary Boschler has agreed to host the workshop again next summer.
Mark Newell, ODFW outdoors skill coordinator, said the workshop was a pilot program that exceeded expectations.
"It was one of the most amazing workshops we've ever done," he said, noting that the volunteer trainers did a great job of leading the sessions. "It was effortless on my part. I was sitting back enjoying it."
Kathy Steele, an active member of the Owen Denny Chapter of Pheasants Forever and owner of Calvert Kennels in Lacomb, came up with the idea for last month's dog-training workshop.
The workshop, which cost $52 per participant, will be offered again next year, but Steele says people with questions don't have to wait another year.
"We want to put resources out there for people wanting training, problem prevention and information about acquiring a new pup of any breed," she said.
Questions can be directed to Steele by contacting her at 541-259-3488 or info@calvert kennels.com.