The Famed English Cockers of Ryglen Gundogs

English Cocker Spaniel

The one and only “Case,” a product of Ryglen Gundogs’ impeccable English Cocker Spaniel breeding, is going home today.

Case owes his life and potential to the Ryglen team. He was a breech and not breathing on Nov. 23, 2020, when kennel manager Buffy Chandler first held him in her hands. She shook him gently, breathed into his tiny nose and mouth, and he responded with a breath of his own. “Then he started screaming and never quit,” Buffy remembers happily.

Case, named after a tractor brand that Buffy admires, survived and spent his next 49 days being socialized and pampered in Ryglen’s pristine puppy room. Ryglen Gundogs’ heart and soul — owner Jay Lowry — almost couldn’t part with Case.

“He’s the only puppy from a really nice breeding,” Jay says. “It’s a repeat breeding of FTCh Mallowdale Quad and FTCh Endowood Faith. ‘Quad’ is a well-known and up-and-coming dog in the U.K. ‘Faith’ won the Irish Cocker Championship in 2019 and placed second in the British Cocker Championship last year. I tried to buy a puppy from their first litter one and a half years ago and was told I didn’t have enough money to buy that puppy.”

Eventually, Jay was able to acquire Faith, and arranged an artificial insemination breeding with Quad’s owner, Jay’s good friend and legendary British gundog trainer Ian Openshaw.

“One puppy,” Jay says, forcing a smile as he looks Case in the eye. “I thought about keeping this one, but Case is going to Jordan Horak in Wisconsin.”

Horak, now a professional trainer and handler who won both the Cocker National Championship and National Amateur Championship in 2018, is thrilled. “Faith is arguably one of the best females going, and Openshaw really likes that Quad dog,” Horak says. “Jay’s a stand-up guy, and I’m glad to be able to purchase this puppy. On paper, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

And that’s what Ryglen Gundogs in Brownstown, Illinois, strives to deliver.

“People come here for the genetics,” Jay says, “and our goal is to provide the most well-bred English Cocker Spaniels from the U.K.”

The Dentist & His Mentor

When Jay Lowry graduated from Southern Illinois University Dental School in 2000, he didn’t own a Cocker Spaniel and the Ryglen Gundogs’ brand didn’t exist. No kennel. No clients. No cocker passion or panache.

“I always loved the camaraderie of the hunting dog,” Jay says. “My uncle had Brittanys, and I hunted with him. I had English Setters, and in 2003 I bought a Labrador Retriever from Mike Stewart’s Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. By 2005 I was an associate trainer for Wildrose, and I spent every minute of my spare time learning to train dogs, learning how to become a better handler, learning everything I could from Mike. He became my mentor. In addition to all the dog stuff, Mike taught me dog marketing. He is a genius at building a brand around a dog.”

Wildrose is famous for its British and Irish Labradors and producing the classic “Gentleman’s Gundog” from imported genetics. “One of the biggest things that came from Mike — he introduced me to the U.K.,” Jay says. “Without Mike, I wouldn’t have met Nigel Carville. Without Nigel, I wouldn’t have met Ian Openshaw.”

The Rabbit Hunt That Changed Everything

Nigel Carville of Northern Ireland was a key partner and Labrador Retriever resource for Mike Stewart and Wildrose and in turn, became a friend of Jay’s. In February 2013 Jay made the trip to the U.K. with Mike to visit Nigel, who arranged for a rabbit hunt over Ian Openshaw’s famed English Cocker Spaniels. Ian and Wendy Openshaw own Rytex Gundogs and Kennels and in 20 years of trialing have won a record number of British and Irish Spaniel champion­ships as well as four Cocker Spaniel champion­ships in the last seven years.

“I just remember seeing up close the joy in these dogs as they worked for Ian,” Jay says. “I’d never seen a dog that loves to do his job as much as a cocker. After that day of hunting there was one little female on the ground at Ian’s feet. Ian clapped his hands, and she jumped right up into his arms.”

That was it. “I said, ‘Mission accomplished. Sir, I want one!’”

A few months later, in June 2013, Jay imported his first cocker, Kenine Wild Lavendar (“Cassie”), from Openshaw.

After 10 years with Wildrose, Jay left in 2013 to focus on importing and training English Cocker Spaniels and building his own brand — Ryglen Gundogs. The Ryglen name is a combined nod to Openshaw’s Rytex Kennel and Carville’s Astraglen Kennel. “Both men were so important in getting me started with English Cocker Spaniels, so I combined their kennel names to make Ryglen,” Jay says.

The Rise of the English Cocker & Ryglen Gundogs

Timing is everything, and Jay’s was perfect when it comes to importing English Cockers. “We saw the cockers’ popularity beginning to rise again in the U.K., and the U.S.,” Jay says. “By importing the best field genetics in English Cocker Spaniels from the U.K., we saw an opportunity. People want quality field dogs that have been bred for generations to hunt and perform. That’s what we wanted to offer.”

A full-time dentist in Vandalia, Illinois, by day, and a husband and father of two, Jay somehow found the time and energy to bring his sporting cocker passion to life. “We grew minimally for the first few years,” Jay says. “I think we had four dogs total — three momma dogs and one stud.”

Ryglen Gundogs also had a stunning logo, an upscale clientele, and a growing reputation for producing quality, biddable cockers that perform in the field. The logo, now patented, was fashioned from a photo silhouette of Jay and three cockers. It became a fixture in sporting dog and outdoor magazine advertising and ultimately a status symbol for quality cockers that resonated with hunters — especially upland bird enthusiasts.

“Then there’s the fact that if you wanted a Ryglen dog, you couldn’t get one right away,” Jay says. “You had to wait.”

Jay says a game-changer came in January 2017 — Buffy Chandler.

Every successful operation needs a Buffy Chandler. She’s a straight-shooting workaholic who loves the dogs and does whatever it takes to make Ryglen run smoothly. With Buffy on board as manager, Jay had more time to devote to Ryglen Gundogs and the operation grew to the point a new kennel facility was needed. Buffy and her husband, Clay Chandler, own and operate a construction company, and Clay was hired to build the state-of-the-art 30-by-120 foot kennel. It was completed in January 2018 and paved the way for the Ryglen Gundogs’ expansion.

The Ryglen Gundogs’ Kennel

No barking. Not a peep from 18 English Cockers, two Labradors, a Brittany, a Weimeraner, and a Yorkie as Jay leads a tour of the Ryglen Gundogs’ kennel.

“They know I don’t like it when they bark,” Jay says.

The 19 runs are occupied by “Gem” and “Buster” and “Millie” and “Maisie” and “Kym” and “Fizz” and “George,” and the list goes on down the line.

“It’s the only dog kennel in the world that would hold a buffalo,” Jay says, as he grabs onto a substantial gate and rail. “We worked with a horse stall manufacturer in Missouri and asked if they could fabricate dog kennels for us. They were excited to do that. These should last my lifetime at least.”

Each kennel placard features the name, weight and number of cups of Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Salmon & Rice Formula for each dog. 

“We’re super crazy about weight and ideal body condition,” Jay says. “We adjust accordingly.”

For example, Millie, a sister of Faith who placed third in the British Championship last year, weighs 24.8 pounds and receives 2 cups.

The dogs rest in custom-made bunks.

Jay makes his way to a separate climate-controlled puppy room, where Case and another litter of four 4-week-old English Cocker puppies reside. Air purifiers keep the air clean and smells down by constantly moving fresh air into the building.

The pups are on elevated platforms, “so they don’t live in a dirty world,” Jay says. Like the dog kennels fabricated from horse stalls, Jay found heavy duty slats used in the swine industry for his raised puppy platforms.

“The swine industry and hog houses are obsessed with cleaning and sanitation,” Jay says. “These slats are made in Germany and can withstand all the cleaning we do. The puppy waste and urine just fall right through.”

Whelping boxes in the puppy room feature a wool fabric that allows the puppies to grip and not slip. Puppies are moved to the elevated kennel runs at about 3 or 4 weeks old. “Those kennel doors are divided to allow mom to get out and us to get in without the puppies getting out,” Jay says.

Jay points to cameras in each kennel. “We can see exactly what, where, when, and why at any time,” he says. “Coupled with the fact that Buffy lives five minutes away, we pretty much have it covered.”

Puppies are fed Purina Pro Plan Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula.

“All puppies and their mommas are on FortiFlora (Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements FortiFlora Canine Probiotic Supplement),” Jay says. “Healthy gut equals healthy dogs. It’s been a game­changer for us.”

The kennel office and reception area feature a big flat-screen TV monitor. Camera No. 6 is focused on four puppies sired by FTW Pathfields George Dolbrenin (“George”) out of Mallowdale Revel (“Harper”).

The facility also features a clinical area with an ultrasound machine, a blood chemistry analyzer, and other technology. Ryglen Gundogs whelps about a dozen litters each year. Dams are retired and rehomed at eight years.

“We have a little over a year wait for pups,” Jay says. “Greater specificity means greater wait time. We have clients say they want a George x Harper female puppy that’s golden. Others say they just want a Ryglen puppy and send a deposit. We have some that only want a tricolor puppy out of Gus. We tell them it might be three years. They say, ‘We don’t care.’”

The Ryglen Gundogs’ Brand

Jay scratches his head. “I’m not even sure I understand the brand,” he says and laughs. “It’s a family for sure. A community. It’s like a fraternity. We have people who fly into the Effingham, Illinois, airport on private jets to pick up a puppy, and we have people who pull up in old pickup trucks.

“Our clients want a good gundog, a quality hunting dog from some of the best English Cockers in the U.K. They want a good family dog. And they’re willing to wait for it. Ask if they want an English Cocker, and they say ‘No, we want a Ryglen Cocker.’”

Good marketing and advertising fuel that desire.

Full-page ads in top sporting dog and outdoor publications are strikingly simplistic by design. Gorgeous photography of working Ryglen Gundogs overshadows the copy: UK Imported English Cocker Spaniels. That’s it. Five words plus the Ryglen Gundogs website and the classic logo.

Jay is a prolific poster on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Hunting in North Dakota. Training in Illinois. Beautiful cockers posing on a snow-covered prairie.

“You need unbelievable photography and videos,” he says. “And you need a good website. It’s simple. Look at what we’ve got. Here is where you can get it.”

The other intangible is the client experience when picking up a puppy.

“Pre-COVID we always brought all the owners of the litter in for the puppy picking weekend,” Jay says. “Friday night we had a supper catered for as many as 40 people. Bring the kids, the more the merrier. Nobody sees the puppies until Saturday morning, and then it’s like Christmas morning opening presents.”

Owners become part of the “Ryglen Family.”

Jay also has clients participate in a mandatory classroom session and a 90-minute PowerPoint on getting started with their puppy. In addition to their puppy, all owners receive a custom Ryglen Gundogs’ gift box, a Purina Pro Plan Puppy Starter Kit, and a bag of Purina Pro Plan puppy food.

“When we say feed Purina Pro Plan, they do, and they’ll likely be lifelong users,” Jay says.

Putting Case On The Map

A map of the United States and Canada hangs prominently in the kennel building between two U.S. patent and trademark documents authenticating Ryglen Gundogs’ name and logo. The map is perforated with 154 colorful stick pins. Each represents a puppy placement. Soon pin No. 155 — Case’s pin — will pierce the state of Wisconsin at the town of Fremont where Jordan Horak’s Juggernaut Kennel is located.

“Hopefully Jordan can do something with Case in the field trial game,” Jay says.

Horak says he’ll give it his best.

Buffy is happy, but sad.

“Case is pretty special to me,” Buffy says. “I mean, when you give them mouth-to-mouth … Come on, he’s precious. I spoiled the heck out of Case while he was here, and I know he’s going to a good place.”

Case, the one and only, is going home.