Hard Work, Tail-Wagging Fun
Dog training finesse and enjoyment run in the Fulks family
Story and photos by Craig Reed
The verbal commands are simple: Sit. Heel. Here. Fetch. Over. Back.
Hand signals, pointing left or right, are also used.
Jim Fulks and his son, Kenny, have emphasized these words and motions over and over in their training with a variety of dog breeds. The trainers teach dogs obedience, but also specialize in training dogs to participate in waterfowl and upland bird hunting as pointers and retrievers.
“Dogs want to please,” Kenny says. “You just have to figure out how to communicate with them. Every dog is different, but basically, you use the same commands. You just keep it as basic as possible.”
Jim first learned to communicate with horses, training them for competitive shows in the 1970s in California.
When he began training dogs, he moved away from training horses.
Jim eventually moved to Oregon and bought a 68-acre sheep ranch in the Lorane area. He cleared the property of blackberry vines and other brush, remodeled a pond into a technical training site and, in 1990, established Coyote Creek Retrievers—a boarding and gun dog training facility. Coyote Creek flows through the property.
After working as a heavy equipment operator in California, Kenny joined his dad in the dog business 12 years ago. The father and son worked together for 10 years before health issues sidelined Jim, who is now 84.
Kenny, 57, is now the trainer. His wife, Sarinya Reabroy, cares for the kennels. Nick Fulks, Kenny’s son, works at nearby King Estate Winery, and helps his parents with dog training and kennel care in his spare time.
Kenny says his dad would figure out the traits of each dog and train them through patience, repetition and attrition rather than applying pressure.
“I think what my father taught me the most was how to be patient with the dogs,” Kenny says. “It’s important to be consistent with the dogs, to know the steps and details to their training, and to work with every dog every day.”
Jim and Kenny have trained up to 15 dogs at a time. That many makes for a long day because each dog gets a daily individual training session. Kenny says a maximum of 10 dogs at a time is best.
Training steps for gun hunting dogs include obedience, collar conditioning, handling, fetching and retention, and fetching across water. Formal gun dog training starts when the dog is 6 months old. It is a four- to six-month process.
“If you want a hunting dog, get the bestpedigree you can,” Kenny says. “It’s all about proven genetics.”
Kenny also finds time to give obedience lessons to non-hunting dogs boarded at Coyote Creek kennels.
“We don’t train dogs to be robots,” Kenny says. “They must really enjoy the work. If their tail is down rather than wagging, then it’s too much pressure and you need to back off.”
Kim Gennarelli’s 7-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, Max, spent two months in obedience training with Kenny earlier this year. Kim attended one training session each week to stay in touch with Max and see his progress.
“Kenny’s approach is so kind and really patient,” Kim says. “Every week, Kenny and Max had something new to show off.”
Kim says Max walks well on a leash. Off-leash, if he ranges out, he either returns on his own or comes back when he hears the one-word command, “Here.”
“He’s really good at wanting to be where we are,” Kim says.
While Labradors are a favored breed by hunters for retrieving birds, Kenny says he and his father have worked with all breeds and “there is a breed to suit all.”
Although most of their hunting training has been with Labradors and pointers, they did work with a 20-pound klein poodle.
Kenny enjoys taking his yellow labs upland bird hunting for pheasants.
He hunted with Torque for 14 years before the dog died of old age. He now hunts with Waylon, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever.
Kenny says he enjoys handling the dog, leaving Nick to do the shooting.
“I find a lot of satisfaction in working with the dogs and seeing them be successful in finding the birds and retrieving them,” Kenny says.
“Dad is a very patient man,” Kenny says. “He was the very best dog trainer. He had a touch with dogs. I learned a lot from him in our 10 years of working together. Hopefully, I’ve figured it out, and I have that touch now. Dad taught me very well.”