Bond develops into field trials for Terry Nelson and Copper

Bev Wieler
WPN Reporter


Copper is full of energy when Terry comes home and takes him out to work. Terry works with Copper half an hour a day.
Terry Nelson’s dog Copper has a lot of faith in Terry. If Terry directs him through a lake, the dog goes. If he signals him right, he goes right, left signal, he goes left. Copper is a yellow labrador retriever.

It is s not unusual for a labrador to obey their owner. Terry has taken another step with his dog, he has trained him for field trials.

Copper and Terry recently acquired Copper’s first field trial title, Junior Champion.

This is the first step of building on to Copper’s pedigree. The next two steps include testing for Senior Hunter and Master Hunter.

It hasn’t been a casual workout for the dog and owner to achieve the Championship title. Field trials are demonstrations of a dog’s ability to perform in the field, the functions for which it was bred. In the case of Copper, he was bred to be a retriever.

Terry purchased Copper four years ago as a 48 day old pup. This wasn’t his first hunting dog. Before he purchased Copper, he had given some thought to what he wanted in a hunting dog the next time.

“This is the first dog I’ve taken seriously,” he said. “He’s not a pet. He’s a working dog.”

Copper is not a typical family dog according to Terry. Working makes him happy.

Neither is he a house dog. He has a kennel but, occasionally he is allowed in the Nelson’s home.

Copper weighs 90 pounds which makes him a little large for lounging around the house or even sitting on the Nelson families’ laps.

“He’s a very loving dog,” Terry said. “Labs by breed are great family dogs. They like people. Copper is just very tall and he is wound tight.”

As Copper grew, Terry knew he needed help in training him. He also knew his dog was capable of performing in the field. Copper has the breeding to be a field trial dog.

“Copper’s pedigree is riddled with field trial champions,” he said. “I’m trying to continue that pedigree.”

The pedigree alone isn’t enough to make a dog obedient. The dog needs direction from it’s owner or handler.

Terry, with a passion for duck hunting, takes Copper hunting with him.

“Copper is a hunter first,” he said. “A trial dog second.”

When Cooper was old enough Terry started giving him simple commands. As he got older, Copper needed more. At age two he was big and becoming hard to handle.

Veterinarian Allan Snodgrass recommended that Terry send Copper for some training, which of course would include Terry.

Copper and Terry are working with Mark Christensen, TLC Labs out of Stanton.

“He’s a great guy, and an excellent trainer,” Terry said. “He takes all types of breeds of dogs.”

The first step for Copper and Terry was to refine Copper’s obedience commands. Next came the handling commands.

Terry can handle Copper under a variety of commands to retrieve. He uses a whistle. One whistle is for Copper to stop, three whistles and he returns to Terry. Hand signals are used to make him go right or left.

He can even make the powerful lab stop on a dime.

“There is no leash,” he said. “Obedience is very important.”

The secret to Cooper’s training has been practice, repetition and positive feedback.

Positive feedback is what Copper wants, so he is fully aware when Terry is upset with him.

“Dogs have a lot of confidence,” Terry said. “A lot of the teaching is instilling the dog’s confidence in you.

“It has been a team approach. Copper has taught me about patience.”

The field trials include four passes. The passes include the dog’s ability to retrieve birds out of water and on land. The retrieves can be as close as 60 yards, or as far as 200 yards.

This wasn’t Copper and Terry’s first field trial. At their first trial they didn’t qualify due to a mistake by Terry, not Copper.

The variety of conditions for retrieving and the scenarios for the field trials are set up according to the wind.

In some retrieves the dog has to see the bird, mark it and retrieve it with commands.

“Marking is hard,” Terry said. “Dogs don’t have good depth perception.”

In others passes, the dog has to do a blind retrieve.

A live bird is planted in the field and the dog is not allowed to see where. The handler must then command the dog to the bird.

The blind retrieve is definitely a test of trusting the handler as the dog can’t go by marking (vision of seeing the bird fall) or scent until they are closer.

“The trials are a sport itself,” Terry said. “Some dogs and owners that are in trials don’t even hunt.”

Training for trials takes a lot of time. In order to keep their fields skills they must constantly work on obedience.”

Whether working, hunting or pets, dogs come with an obligation.

“You are responsible that your dogs are well mannered,” Terry said.

Terry and Copper have developed a special bond, he said.

“We work well together. This dog is very competitive.”