Dog trainer finds winning formula
Two young quail had been placed just minutes earlier in the midst of a hayfield.
Yet Ace, a prize-winning English pointer fresh out of the barn, picked up their scent.
Like a bandit on the run, Ace's paws pounded the earth. He surged through the field, muscles rippling.
Clearly, Ace -- a first-place winner at this fall's National Walking Shooting Dog Championship competition -- was a top-notch bird dog.
And, as everyone knows, a good bird dog must have a good trainer -- one who knows how to handle him. Ace veered a little too far to the east.
Doug Meyer, his owner and trainer who lives just outside of Tonganoxie, whistled. Immediately, though a distance of several hundred yards from his trainer, the white and brown hunting dog obeyed. He made a sweeping turn to the west, paws still pounding on the ground. Within seconds Ace, whose real name is Greypointe Espada, bounded to a stop. He pointed, statuesque, motionless, his tail outstretched behind him.
And there Ace remained until Meyer approached. Here's what happens next. The handler, in this case Meyer, walks in front of the dog and flushes the bird. Then he shoots a blank pistol to symbolize having shot the bird.
"The dog is suppose to remain steady to wind and shot," Meyer said. "He doesn't move at all. He watches the bird fly away and the handler shoot his gun."
When a dog reaches the stage where he can track the bird, point and remain motionless while the handler flushes the bird and shoots the blank pistol, the dog is said to be "broke."
Getting to this stage takes some work. But it's the kind of work that Meyer, who lives just outside Tonganoxie, appears to enjoy doing as much as his dog enjoys the hunt.
And, clearly, from their recent win, the 55-year-old Meyer and his 5-year-old dog are good at it.
At the November National Walking Shooting Dog Championship, held in Havensville, Kan., 40 dogs from eight states competed. In one hour, Meyer walked, or ran behind Ace as the dog ran the course. The farm-to-farm jaunt took them up and down fence rows. Judges trailed the two on horseback as Meyer logged about four miles on foot in one hour. And Ace, who wove back and forth, traveled about twice that distance.
As owner and trainer accompanying the dog, it was Meyer's job to whistle to turn the dog or to shout directions if Ace was close enough to hear him.
The judges were impressed.
"One of the judges said his first 45 minutes were perfect," Meyer said. "The birds were located directly in front of where he pointed, about 10 to 15 feet away."
Ace spotted quail four times during the hour.
During the last 15 minutes of competition Ace was running into a 30 mph wind and didn't range as much. He was a little tired.
But Meyer wasn't.
"I was pretty fired up, actually," Meyer said with a grin.
Although it would be two or three days until he would know the official results, Meyer knew his dog had performed well. Ace also has won other competitions, in walking trials as well as trials in which Meyer followed on horseback.
"It's taken a long time to get him to this level of competition," said Meyer, a pharmacist who retired from the Veterans Administration four years ago. Meyer now works as a federal account manager for Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
In their spare time, Meyer and his wife, Grace, work with Ace and their other dogs. He's game for traveling with them, and earlier this year he took nine bird dogs to North Dakota and Montana to hunt sharptail grouse, sage hens, Hungarian partridges and other birds.
Along with the dogs on their farm, the Meyers keep two field trial horses, a Tennessee walker and a Missouri foxtrotter, which they ride to follow the dogs in riding competitions.
Ace is just one of the dogs Meyer has raised from a pup. He also raised Ace's mother and grandmother.
The Meyers, who moved to Tonganoxie in 2001, appreciate the fact that their rural location provides a place to train dogs. It's well worth the work, Meyer said.
"I really enjoy being outdoors watching a good dog work, developing a dog and just having a really good dog," said Meyer, who has a room of his home devoted to trophies and plaques.
Even so, this love of dogs has a drawback.
On Dec. 8, one of Meyer's favorite champion hunting dogs, Greypointe Cannonero, also known as "Bull," died of kidney failure. Meyer had raised Bull from the time he was born in the garage.
While Ace, his current champion, is a good dog, it was Bull who stole his heart. Bull was a people pleaser.
"Bull was a dog that just literally never wanted to do anything wrong," Meyer said.
He misses the dog.
"I don't know if a person can get totally attached to every one of their dogs," Meyer said. "But some of them you get attached to just like family and Bull was certainly that way."