Dogs are family members, not machines

YORK SPRINGS (AP) — Each car that pulled into the York Springs State Game Lands was accompanied by a chorus of barking. Dogs weaved in and out of a sea of orange as hunters and their companions prepared for a long day of training.

The hunters are a part of the Keystone Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. They were preparing for the association tests that evaluate hunting dogs.

Before the training even started, they huddled together, talking about the utility test for more experienced dogs, the natural ability test for puppies and how they’ve trained their dogs to hunt everything from waterfowl to pheasants.

Cristin Quade Murray from Glen Rock is the secretary of the Keystone Chapter of NAVHDA. She’s been training dogs and hunting since she was a kid. Now she’s combined the two and trains hunting dogs.

“Every dog is different, and the process is different,” Quade Murray said. “You start them off young, and you just keep working with them.”

Cristin Quade Murray from Glen Rock calls her hunting dog Remmel her “soul dog.” Remmel is also a family dog and has helped Quade Murray through hard times. Maddie Crocenzi

The process begins with a dog’s breeding. There are a variety of breeds that make good hunting dogs, from weimaraners to Labrador retrievers. Getting a good dog from a good breeder can cost upward of $1,500.

Quade Murray said different breeds require different training methods. But it’s all built on a base of a solid relationship between dog and hunter. Hunters teach their dogs to get used to loud noises, how to swim and how to fetch without mutilating the game.

“I actually really prefer to call it work, not necessarily training,” Quade Murray said. “You don’t really need to train these dogs, they know how to do it.”

These hunters say the dogs not only know how to do it, but they want to do it. At the training day, the dogs quivered with excitement waiting for their owners’ signals to chase a bird on land or in water.

Greg Gable is the president of the Northern Piedmont Retriever Club. His Labrador retriever Tar is sidelined from hunting after a CCL tear. Gable said his hunting-dog-turned-“couch-potato” is restless in the house.

“He’ll want to do something, and I can’t run him,” Gable explained. “They love what they’re doing.”

The dogs also love their owners. They are considered family members, as much pets to hunters’ children as hunting companions in the field.

Gable’s dog lives in his house, as do most other dogs involved in the Northern Piedmont Retriever Club. Even though Gable joked there’s more hair in his house than ever, he can’t imagine life without Tar.

“I think everybody in my club, every guy I hunt with, those dogs are in the house,” Gable said. “They are part of the family.”

Randy King is the treasurer of the Keystone Chapter of NAVHDA. He has two German shorthaired pointers that live in the house.

“The old adage that the hunting dog is only good if it stays outside and never in the house, that is just a bunch of baloney,” King said. “These dogs will hunt for me all day. They live in the house in the evening.”

Quade Murray showed off pictures of her dogs wrapped up in blankets on couches during a rainy day. She calls her dog Remmel her “soul dog” because he’s helped her through difficult times. While Remmel excels in the field, he’s taught Quade Murray more about herself and her emotions.

“My niche is sort of the family dog that is the hunting dog,” she said. “I’m not just training machines. These are family members.”

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