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Woman’s best friend: Women’s gun club trains family pets to be hunting dogs

Gwen Lappin, of Chaska, who spends her summers in Longville, walks with her English cocker spaniel named Quinn during training this past summer at Pine Shadows. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service1 / 2
Joan Peterson, left, a trainer at Pine Shadows in Brainerd, works with Katie Shrove and her dog this past summer. Shrove is a member of a Diamonds and Dogs women's gun club. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service2 / 2

BRAINERD, Minn. — Diamonds and Dogs has nothing to do with being glamorous and everything to do with a special bond developed between a dog and its handler.

Women from the Brainerd area traveled every Tuesday this past summer to Pine Shadows to train their dogs with other members of their gun club. Summer was the time when the women trained their dogs to flush birds, get used to the sound of a gunshot and follow basic commands.

With hunting season upon us, the women now put their dogs to the test.

Joan Peterson, one of the trainers at Pine Shadows, helps run the women’s club. Pine Shadows, northeast of Brainerd, is known for its English springer spaniels and has provided gun dog training, field trial handlings, Dakota pheasant hunts and pet care since 1976.

Peterson said the Diamonds and Dogs club began two years ago when a few women wanted to learn how to handle their dogs, but were not big hunters. The women wanted to be able to control their dogs more and have a better relationship with them. The group started its first summer with six women and grew to a dozen in its second year. The women’s backgrounds vary from beginners to masters who have trained their dogs for field trials.

Peterson said the women stayed in contact since their summer season training ended in August. Several women shared stories of successfully taking their dogs hunting. The women hope to meet before Christmas to talk about how the hunts went and how the training worked.

Carol Whirley, of Brainerd, a member of the group, went on a couple of hunts in South Dakota this past fall with her springer spaniel, Piper.

Whirley said she joined because Piper was much more hyper than her other dogs and she needed some help training him.

“Piper was the most bull-headed dog we have ever came in contact with,” Whirley said. “He was rather green when we started coming out here, and in two months I saw a transformation from puppy to dog. I have a dog who will come, sit and go back and forth in the field and bring a bird to us. It has been amazing.

“This shooting the gun is really interesting. I have never shot before and I just did it for the first time out here. It’s all because of (the training done in the women’s club at Pine Shadows).”

Whirley’s husband bought her a gun so she could go hunting with him since the dog listens to her better.

“When I first joined, I would have never thought I would go hunting,” Whirley said. “I didn’t think I could kill anything, but I think I can kill a pheasant.”

Since being part of the club, Whirley said it is amazing how well her dog listens and behaves. A bonus for her was becoming friends with the other women in the club.

Julie Winslow, of Elk River, said being part of the group is about the handler building a relationship with her dog, not just their husband’s hunting dog.

“They listen to us more as they know we know what they should be doing,” she said of the dogs. “This is my second year and I brought two dogs — Dixie and Darby — both English springer spaniels.”

While Winslow isn’t a hunter, she enjoys teaching the dogs and understanding one of her husband’s passions.

“My husband is a big hunter and he paid so much money for these wonderfully trained dogs,” she said. “I don’t necessarily go in the field with him, so thought I could come up here and learn what he does and be able to relate more when he comes home. … (The dogs) are great out in the field but when they come home, they are our pets — our family.”