by Dave Carty
"If you have a dog, you have what you have," Glenn Kania says. "It's up to you to get as much potential out of that dog as you can."
Kania owns DeltaMarsh Kennels in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and is a big believer in letting aptitude dictate the progress of his dogs.
True to his beliefs, Kania chucked former careers — as a commercial pilot and owner of a trucking firm — to breed and train what he modestly calls the "world's finest gunning Labs." That was 25 years ago, and he has been molding gundogs ever since.
The idea that dogs have widely varying abilities for absorbing and retaining lessons is hardly news but is nonetheless a concept that is widely ignored, particularly among those who may be training a dog for the first time. Instead, they may try to push their young dogs too fast, too soon, without the necessary background work. The question is: Why?
"Ego trips," Kania suggests. "Or maybe somebody's had an exceptional dog. Or maybe," he says, "from watching pros work competitive dogs."
Kania should know. He spent years on the trial circuit, but he gave that up in the early 1990s to devote his time to producing hunting dogs, which, then and now, dovetailed with his passion for waterfowling. Whatever the reason, Kania feels that pushing a dog too hard is almost always a mistake.
Few would argue that some dogs are quick studies and some are not. Less well known is the fact that a dog that learns slowly may catch up with a fast learner down the road.
"Case in point here," Kania says. "I used to be a Chessie person. That's all I used to work, own and train at one time. Chesapeakes are a much slower maturing dog. But once you've taught a Chesapeake, and he knows what's going on, he's got a tremendous memory. It's what the breed has going for it."
Similarly, Kania says that among most of the retrieving breeds, females are usually quicker on the uptake, at least until they come into their first season, when males start gaining on them.