On a warm and clear August afternoon, long-time Delta staffer John Devney prepared to direct his black Lab, Taig, to one last duck during a Hunting Retriever Club Finished Hunt Test. The pressure was on. If Taig could overcome the varied terrain and handle with precision to the distant bird, he’d achieve the coveted title of Hunting Retriever Champion.
Taig tore across the field and into the water, taking a perfect line to the blind — there’d be no need to handle. Devney, who serves as Delta’s senior vice president and recently engineered the organization’s Working Wetlands Program into the U.S. Farm Bill, had accomplished a feat even professional dog trainers aspire to: He’d honed his retriever’s natural abilities, learned to work with him as a team and proven him a champion.
“Taig had a great run and fantastic season,” Devney said. “We ran six HRC tests this summer, so that’s 12 triple retrieves for a total of 36 marks, and I only had to handle twice.”
But Taig, who turned 5 years old in July, wasn’t done. The following week, he earned his final AKC Senior Hunter pass, thereby attaining the new name of HRCH Bull Can’s Taig Parnell SH.
“Our journey wasn’t a steady stream of success — there were lots and lots of mistakes and failures along the way,” Devney explained, adding that he favors the traditional British training system. “The breakthrough was 75 percent Taig’s maturity and learning, and 25 percent me training and handling a little bit differently.”
Now, it’s time for Taig to do what he enjoys best: Relaxing with Devney, his wife and their three children, and of course, hunting ducks and geese.
“Hunting is really where Taig excels and his incredible nose has a chance to shine,” Devney said. “During a hunt three years ago, he retrieved 50 to 60 snow geese, all of which were really long, technical retrieves well outside the decoys. But he also loves fetching tennis balls for my kids and sleeping on the sofa. He’s part of the family in every conceivable way.” — Kyle Wintersteen