Dog trainer Will Mabry pets Lady, one of his yellow labs before the pair had a training session at the Tensas Parish AG Area on Friday morning. Lady recently received a grand pass at the United Kennel Club at the 2013 Spring Grand Premium in Texarkana, Texas. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Dog trainer Will Mabry pets Lady, one of his yellow labs before the pair had a training session at the Tensas Parish AG Area on Friday morning. Lady recently received a grand pass at the United Kennel Club at the 2013 Spring Grand Premium in Texarkana, Texas. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Trained dog receives grand pass from Spring Grand Premium

Published 12:01am Sunday, May 19, 2013

ST. JOSEPH — Most dog owners may be satisfied just to have their pet listen to their voice, but Will Mabry takes it a step further.

With several different hand signals and the blowing of a whistle, Mabry is able to direct his dogs to the prize. A professional dog trainer, Mabry enjoys teaching his clients’ canines how to retrieve fowl. And one of his dogs, Lady, just received special recognition for those skills.

Lady, a Labrador retriever who’s approximately 2 years old, received a grand pass at the United Kennel Club 2013 Spring Grand Premium April 20-24 in Texarkana, Texas. The event tested dogs on their ability to retrieve fowl and obey directions from their master and involved five series — two on water, two on land and an upland series. All five had to get passed for Lady to receive a grand pass.

Mabry, gives a hand signal to Lady to direct her to one of the bumpers in the area. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Mabry, gives a hand signal to Lady to direct her to one of the bumpers in the area. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“Out of 410 dogs, only 56 passed, so it’s a big honor,” Mabry said. “The judges aren’t there to pass you, they’re trying to fail you.”

Lady belongs to a client named Amy McDonald, and McDonald entrusted Mabry to train her when Lady was only 3 months old. Mabry said Lady comes from a long line of grand hunting retriever dogs, and McDonald wanted her trained specifically for contests.

“(Lady) does duck hunt, but it’s with me,” Mabry said.

Ducks and pheasants were used in the test, and Lady had to retrieve them from 150 to 200 yards out and return them to Mabry during the tests. There were also blind tests, where Mabry knew the location of the dummies but had to direct Lady to them by blowing a whistle to get her attention and then use hand signals to direct her.

“They had to be steady to the gunshot while the three were coming out,” Mabry said.

Mabry said what he does with Lady is a result of a lot of time and effort, and it doesn’t come all at once. The starting point is teaching a dog to obey commands like, ‘sit,’ ‘heel,’ and ‘here.’

“It’s a process,” Mabry said. “A basic gun dog is about a six-month program, then the advanced program is another year or two on top of that. They have to be proficient in land and water, and it’s all just building blocks.

While Labrador retrievers are his specialty, Mabry said he trains other dogs to obedience. His hunting dogs can assist with ducks, pheasants, quail and geese, among others.

Lady races toward Mabry after retrieving a bumper during the training session. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Lady races toward Mabry after retrieving a bumper during the training session. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“There’s a big misconception,” Mabry said. “People say I don’t want a trial or test dog, but if they can run trials or tests, duck hunting is almost like a recreation to them. They’re actually getting time off when they duck hunt.”

Mabry began training dogs approximately four years ago after learning from another professional trainer, David Miller, and he currently has 25 dogs under his tutelage.

“It’s something that I wouldn’t have said I’d be doing 20 years ago,” Mabry said. “I’ve always been a duck hunter, and I took pride in having a good dog by my side. I just turned it into a career.”