Remarkable Cholo sniffing after a world title.
The magic that's possible between a man and a dog working together to perfection is what lures many of us to bird hunting and bird-dog training. Spencer's John Horan has experienced that kind of magic - but on an internationally competitive level while "hunting" people rather than birds.
The owner of ACTk9, Horan has qualified to compete with his beloved German shepherd, Cholo del Valle de la Luna, known affectionately as Cholo, on the American Working Dog Federation World Championship team. He will represent our country in the FCI Championship next week in Rheine, Germany.
Horan has had many dogs. Cholo's the one he has gone the furthest with.
"We have a bond that's unbreakable," Horan said. "I love him, and he loves me, doing whatever I ask without question."
I spoke with Horan during Hurricane Irene. He had just come in from an intense training session with Cholo, seeing how he'd perform in extreme wind and rain. Horan and Cholo benefit by their constant companionship.
"He's with me every waking moment, even when I go shopping. All we have to do is look at each other and he does whatever I want him to do. I think he can read my mind."
Horan's chosen sport of schutzhund isn't yet very well known in the states. But its importance is evident throughout the country. Accomplished dogs are needed to work in the military, police or search-and-rescue fields. Horan is an accomplished, highly successful trainer, responsible for many of his canine "students" working in crucial roles around the country today, especially for state police in Florida, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
What Horan gets his dogs to do is truly amazing. He also has to work with the men who will team with those dogs.
"It's harder to train people than it is to train dogs," Horan said.
Many years ago, I was told by one of the country's top gun dog trainers that if I could ever get my bird dog just to "come" and "whoa" reliably whenever directed, it would be better than 90 percent of the hunting dogs in the field today.
But schutzhund competition demands far more of a dog - and its trainer. Horan and Cholo have to compete in three tests - tracking, obedience and protection.
The tracking test will require Cholo to find three randomly placed articles. A "track layer" puts down a "scent pad" basically by just standing on a spot of ground for about 10 seconds. He then walks a minimum of 600 paces into a hidden area, performing five evasive turns along the way.
Cholo must memorize that scent and wait an hour before following the tracks of the scent layer. Tethered to a 33-foot line, the umbilical between him and Horan, Cholo will be timed in his quest to find the source of that scent.
Cholo's test of obedience takes place all off-leash. He must heel with three changes of speed, each with two turns. He must sit, stand and go down immediately upon command. Also, he'll need to retrieve thrown wooden dumbbells, and jump over one-meter hurdles and a six-foot scaling wall.
Finally, Cholo must complete the protection challenge. Blinds are set up in an area the length of a football field where an "offender" is hiding. Cholo will have to find him, then bark and aggressively prevent the person from leaving the blind. He's trained to attack a person's arms, biting them if necessary. In these competitions, the "offender" wears padded sleeves for protection.
Competing internationally isn't easy, considering the need for appropriately large tracts of land for training, personal costs, and time away from home. Spencer landowners, including David Bercume and Zukas Farms, have generously provided Horan and Cholo their properties to polish tracking skills together.
Horan is somewhat of a pioneer, opening many local eyes to a new, exciting and highly challenging outdoor sport. Good luck in Germany, John and Cholo.
For all intrigued by this unique sport so dependent on the special bonding between a man and his dog, the New England Regional Schutzhund Championship will be held at the Lancaster Fair Grounds in Bolton Sept. 16-18. Visit ics-club.com for more information. For $5, you'll have the privilege of watching some of our region's best-trained dogs compete at the highest level.
In the meantime, the exemplary excellence of shutzhund should inspire all of us bird dog lovers to work devotedly with our own best-friend hunting partners to help them learn to "come," "whoa" and maybe "fetch" reliably for the upcoming pheasant season, which is a little more than a month away.
Today - Reserve for flyfishing program on bonefishing with Dick Brown and Bill Lambot, authors, respectively, of "Bonefish Fly Patterns" and "The Last Fifty Feet." Each author will have autographed copies. With the purchase of "The Last Fifty Feet," Lambot will include a personally tied bonefish fly. Jim Bender of the Lower Forty on Madison Street in Worcester is hosting the event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. For more details, call Jim at (508) 752-4004.
Thursday - A 15-target shoot every Thursday through Oct. 6 at the Wickaboag Sportsmen's Club, 89 New Braintree Road, West Brookfield. Registration at 5 p.m. Cost: $5. Info: (508) 867-9804.
ART: PHOTO; CHART
CUTLINE: (PHOTO) John Horan of Spencer takes his dog-training expertise to the highest level. (CHART) Fish Finder
PHOTOG: (PHOTO) SUBMITTED PHOTO (CHART) Mark Blazis