Bell likes all kinds of retrievers, Labs included, and admits that the short-haired breeds have certain advantages ("Cockleburs are the golden's biggest drawback," he says), but long hair is not exclusive to golden retrievers. A number of working dogs, including spaniels and many pointing breeds, are long-haired animals, and even Chesapeakes can run to the wooly side. Since Bell is primarily a duck hunter, he can usually manage to avoid areas with heavy burr infestations, and he uses a four-pronged comb to remove the burrs his dogs do pick up. His dogs work remaining burrs out on their own during the ride home. Early on, Bell hunted pheasants as well, and it was there that he found that his dog's propensity to stick to the local flora was more than offset by it's keen sense of smell.
"I've said this before," Bell says, "and I'll stick by this contention, and I think everybody will agree: The golden has a better nose than the other (retrievers). One time, my cousin and his son were visiting us up at my property in northern Missouri. His son had shot at a duck and had apparently missed. So later on, we were walking back up to the house to go to breakfast, and Casey, my golden, was walking beside us.
All of a sudden, her head just snapped around and she took off back down toward the slough we'd been hunting, although at that point she was quite a ways from where we'd been, and she came back out with that duck. So, yes, I think a golden's nose is the greatest thing about them when it comes to hunting." This from a man who belongs to four different retriever clubs and competes against dogs in and around Missouri.
Bell is a people-person—he taught physics at a local community college for 15 years before getting bumped into administration. He says he works only enough now to support his dog habit. That could be why he is so in love with the breed, which, he says, he "got onto" back in 1974. Besides being working partners in the field, Bell's two goldens are his buddies at home too.
"Some dogs sit on the pro truck year around and just compete," he says. "Mine, we compete with the pros a lot, but the dogs get in the truck with me, drive up to the drive-in bank teller, where the lady sends out cookies to them in the little carrier. Then, they come in and jump on the couch with me and watch the NCAA basketball games."
But it all starts with breeding. "Some people object to the cost (for a good puppy from a top breeding), but if you get a better dog to start with, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run," Bell says. "When people take their time and buy from a good breeding ... I've just never seen a dog that wasn't pretty good to some level. It might not have been a field champion, but it made a pretty fine hunting companion."