“Some people say I’m living the dream,” Dan Hoke yelled with a smile from the back of his horse as he trotted into a near blizzard. “Of course, they’re never out here to see what it’s like working their dogs in the winter.”
The hunting-dog trainer, who owns Dunfur Kennel ( dunfur.com) near the Four Lakes Exit off Interstate 90, says the best field-trial or hunting dogs aren’t shelved for the seven months between hunting seasons.
“They’re like any elite athlete,” he said. “They need to stay in shape and they’re always learning.
“It’s really not fair to a dog to leave it on the couch or in the kennel most of the year and expect it to be ready to perform when the hunting season starts.”
Hoke trains pointers and retrievers year-round in different venues from his yard to wide-open spaces. To keep up with his big-running field trial pointers, he rides horseback through the scablands, where braces of dogs will cover many miles as they sprint for 45 minutes in search of a pen-raised bird he’s hidden in a couple of square miles of sagebrush.
He fits the field trialers with radio telemetry collars in case he loses track of them.
“It’s not good for business to lose somebody’s dog,” he said.
When a serious winter storm moved in on a recent horseback training session, Hoke merely carried on. His dogs were still enthusiastic, and his horse took it in stride.
His horse, by the way, has helped train hundreds of dogs. It doesn’t even flinch or blink an eye at the muzzle blast of a shotgun over its back.
“It’s good for dogs and horses to be worked in all sorts of weather so they become at ease with it,” Hoke said. “Sooner or later you’re going to hit bad weather in a field trial or a hunting trip,” he said, noting that the top dog on that day might be the one that’s familiar with the conditions.