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(This) man's best friend

DALLAS -- Jim Davis has a kennel full of excellent hunting dogs, but no time to go hunting.

Jim Davis sends Max off to retrieve a "blind," a hidden object that the dog must find via hand signals and whistles from the handler, on Thursday south of Dallas.

Pete Strong/Itemizer-Observer

Jim Davis sends Max off to retrieve a "blind," a hidden object that the dog must find via hand signals and whistles from the handler, on Thursday south of Dallas.

February 19, 2013

DALLAS -- Jim Davis has a kennel full of excellent hunting dogs, but no time to go hunting.

It's probably not as disappointing as you might think.

Davis, the owner of Oakhaven Labradors in Dallas, probably enjoys spending his time training the dogs just as much as he would hunting with them.

Well, almost.

A pheasant hunter, Davis does take the few opportunities he has to hunt with his dogs.

"It's fun for them," he said. "It's like watching a 4-year-old at an Easter egg hunt."

That kind of excitement for the hunt is exactly what he wants to see from the dogs he trains for field competition. As the name of his kennel indicates, he mostly works with Labradors in the field.

"Labs are probably the most versatile of all the dogs," he explained. "They make just plain great pets. They have an incredible nose and a well-bred Lab has a prey drive that is unbeatable."

Combine those natural traits -- a desire to be with humans, and drive to find, flush and retrieve prey -- and they make the ideal hunting companion.

Since retiring from Safeway in 2000, Davis, 60, spends his weeks splitting time between field training and obedience training for his own or client dogs.

But in his own words, Davis' "retirement" job doesn't feel like work.

"My wife almost hates it because I never act like I've been to work," he said, smiling.

Jim Davis with "I

Pete Strong/Itemizer-Observer

Jim Davis with "I'm Downtown Doadie Brown," or Doadie for short. The black labrador retriever is a two-time national master hunter.

While his field training is mostly with Labs, Davis works with all breeds of canines on obedience. He's found a true respect for dogs of all breeds through his work.

"When you start working in this industry, you learn that every dog, from a little pomeranian up to the timberwolves that I've worked with, they all have their little niches," Davis said. "You learn how to appreciate every little thing about them. Every single dog has something unique and endearing about it."

For Davis, it all started with one dog, a black Lab named Hekili Hoku, or Hoku for short. Davis bought her shortly after retiring. His plans were to hunt and train Hoku to compete at some level.

"I thought with the first dog I would be more of this retired gentleman -- that I would sit back, relax a little bit and have my nice dog," Davis said. "But the guy who was teaching me how to train, I didn't like the way he worked. He didn't work. I thought. 'I'm not interested in that. I want a good dog.'"

Davis decided to take on the task for himself.

More than just the "good dog" Davis wanted in the beginning, Hoku became a master hunter and qualified to compete at five national master hunter events -- a feat that only about 600 out of the about 18,000 master hunter-level dogs in the country achieve.

"There may be trainers out there who are more talented than I am -- and I appreciate that talent -- but there is a work ethic that we have that we bring to the kennel that most of them don't," Davis said.

Having started with obedience training shortly before 9/11, Davis was inspired to help provide dogs for national security purposes. He said that security measures adopted in the wake of 9/11, however, diminished the need for scent detection dogs, so he switched to field training.

Dogs he's raised and trained, however, have gone into many fields, including search and rescue, avalanche patrol, truffle hunting, and dock jumping.

Puppies from Davis

Pete Strong/Itemizer-Observer

Puppies from Davis' kennel have gone on to work in search and rescue, avalanche patrol, truffle hunting and dock jumping in addition to the field competitions for which he trains his own animals.

Success in all of those disciplines, in Davis' opinion, starts with obedience training, which each pup sold at Oakhaven receives no matter if they are destined to be a pet or professional working dog.

Even whenhis competition dogs are doing a fun warmup drill -- retrieving arubber bumper thrown into a field at a distance of 40 or 50 yards -- it all begins with basic obedience.

"Regardless of how much fun it is for them, we have to instill a certain amount of obedience," Davis said. "If they start to lose that obedience when they get to compete, it's all over."

Davis has the Labs sit quietly until he calls them. Then he has them watch from a seated position as an assistant yells and tosses a pigeon into a field.

Most of the dogs are so excited they do a tap dance with their front paws while waiting for Davis to give them the signal to retrieve. But they all wait.

Davis' most accomplished dog, a twice national master hunter named I'm Downtown Doadie Brown, or Doadie for short, exemplifies what talent, breeding and obedience can produce.

In an advanced drill involving two bird retrieves and two blind retrieves, Doadie sets the bar high. The drill called "poison bird" tests discipline, asking the dog to watch as the bird is thrown in a field, but not retrieve it.

Instead, the dog is tasked with finding a blind -- a hidden object found by following cues, whistles and hand signals from Davis, who remains at the start line throughout the drill.

After instructing Doadie "no bird," Davis releases him in the direction of the blind -- running right past the oh-so-tempting bird. It takes only four cues before Doadie is dashing back with the blind in his mouth.

Drake returns to Jim Davis with a pigeon during a training exercise Thursday south of Dallas.

Pete Strong/Itemizer-Observer

Drake returns to Jim Davis with a pigeon during a training exercise Thursday south of Dallas.

Doadie works his way through the drill nose to the ground and tail wagging in the air, needing very little assistance.

"That's why he has two national plates (titles)," Davis said with pride.

On the last task, the second blind, Davis only has to give Doadie one cue.

"One whistle," he said. "That's what brings me back every time, just watching that dog go."

For the Dogs

What: Oakhaven Labradors -- obedience and retriever training.

Where: 16490 W. Ellendale Ave., Dallas.

Of note: Oakhaven offers obedience training and hunter retriever training, boarding (mostly for client dogs), and yellow, black and chocolate lab puppies for sale when available.

For more information: www.oakhavenlabs.com; 503-623-6046.

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