by Dave Carty
Style is hard to define, but one thing is certain: All of us want our dogs to have it. Including Keith Allison.
"To me, style is subjective," he says. "Your idea of style may be different from mine, but when it comes to retrievers, a stylish dog to me is one that's right on the edge, but under control. Typically, that dog is very focused on its work. It's running hard, it's putting out 100-percent effort, it's persistent when it gets to the area where the bird is ... and it's confident. A confident dog is typically a very stylish dog."
The confidence of which Allison speaks so highly is developed systematically in his training program. Allison and his partners, Johnny Kinzey and Derek Randle, own War Eagle Retrievers, a kennel based in, Pea Ridge, Arkansas, among other locations. Several years ago, the three young men tired of the 9-to-5 world (Allison was a physical therapist, Randle a graphic designer and Kinzey worked at Gates Rubber), so they pooled their talents to form War Eagle.
The stars must have aligned that day, for since then the trio has racked up more than 60 titles in AKC, UKC and NAHRA hunt tests, as well as appearing on ESPN and the Outdoor Channel and in sportsmen's shows across the South.
Intense desire — a dog that lives to hunt and will do almost anything to complete a retrieve — is determined by genetics, Allison says. But if the dog has the intelligence and the genes, everything else is up to the trainer. And what trainers need to do, he says, is give their dog the experience it needs to develop its potential.
Still, no dog is ready for polish until it has thoroughly grasped the fundamentals. Typically, Allison says, that means beginning with a started dog, one that has been collar-conditioned, trained in basic obedience and force-fetch, and is completing single marks in the field and on water.