Meet the Pros: Scott Johnson, Covey Find Kennel, Winfield, KS

Scott Johnson, Covey Find Kennel, Winfield, KS

Tell us a little about yourself. 

My name's Scott Johnson. I own Covey Find Kennel in Winfield, Kansas. It's on the eastern edge of the beautiful Flint Hills where we make our home. We train all kinds of sporting dogs, all breeds. We specialize in Brittanys, field trial Brittanys. AKC-sanctioned horseback type field trial dogs. We offer private lessons where we use our facility, our birds, and our experience to help them understand what it is we're doing. 

Can you give us a little backstory? How long have you been doing this and what got you started? 

I'm a second-generation dog trainer. My dad was a professional, so that's how I got exposed to this world of bird dogs. I tried some other things, but just seemed to gravitate back towards training bird dogs. 

Can you talk about the size of your kennel over the years? How many dogs have come in and out of your place? 

Oh, that's a good question. We not only do field trial dogs, but we do sporting dogs. Like I said, we do a lot of hunting dogs, and all breeds. On average, we're training about 15 dogs at all life stages; puppies, intermediate field trial dogs. We're breaking dogs steady to wing and shot at the same time we're working sporting dogs for the average hunter. 

Can you talk a little bit about the challenges that come with being on the road a lot, and having a lot of dogs to take care of?  

Yeah, being on the road, generally we'll have about 26 dogs and six horses. And we'll hit the road in a rig that's oversized, but we're doing the best we can with getting it down the road. Major challenge is the expense. Getting it up and down the road is expensive, and today our field trials seem to cluster. In other words, I might leave Kansas and go to Iowa, but I'll run three events there in a row, three Classics, and then three regional trials as well. So we're away from home a lot.  

Of course we have clients there, and it turns into a good time. We have a good network of clients and friends that do jump in and help out, and pitch in with the chores and getting dogs in and out, and they know our routine well enough, that helps quite a bit.  

You have dedicated your life to dogs. What is it about them that drives you? 

Well, dogs are in my blood. I remember being small, and being knocked down by the bird dogs that dad was training in the backyard, and just a lot of things from the old days kind of take me back in time. I remember dad feeding Purina Dog Chow, So there's a lot of nostalgia I guess, in the dogs, that brings me back to the dogs. 

How important do you think nutrition is for them? 

Nutrition is very, very important, very key to what we do. And not only nutrition and protein and fat and everything for energy, but recovery I think is most important. The recovery after exercise, I believe that's key. And of course we use Pro Plan, and after the dog is cooled off, cooled down, we'll float some feed. And feed them a little ration of Pro Plan with some water to help regenerate and rehydrate their muscles, and be ready for the next time out. 

So compared to what you were feeding prior, what are some of those differences and benefits you see in your dogs by feeding Pro Plan, that you didn't have before? 

The difference in the dog feeds that we used to feed was performance. We just have a better looking dog now. We have a stronger driving dog. Seems brighter, brighter coat. And the endurance. The endurance and the energy is what I believe sets Pro Plan apart from the other feeds that I have tried in the past years. 

You specialize in Brittanys. Can you talk a little bit about them, and why they're your breed of choice? 

Well, I specialize in Brittanys, as my dad did. Brittanys are a nice, compact, generally a happier dog. A lot of energy.  

Can you talk a little bit about the hunting and field trials you participate in, and what the training is like leading up to those? 

Our field trials, or horseback handled field trials is what we're involved in. So our training consists of a lot of conditioning. So that's one way of building heart and lung. I believe in heart and lung, as well as strengthening the muscles, and stretching the muscles. 

The dog has to be in condition for the dog's safety. We start with that, as we're conditioning for a field trial, and then we go to horseback and run them off horseback. The training consists of a lot of bird field work at home, a lot of what we call yard work. We do a lot of obedience, in our training we do a lot of “heel” and “whoa”. That's where we start with our dogs. Then we go to the bird field, and we'll start with pigeons and then go into quail. And I do a lot of the work right there, close to the house, on our 25 acres. 

Then as the dogs get a little bit more broke and need a little bit more handle, a little more stretching out, then we go to the ranches locally that we train on. There in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I have access to about 20,000 acres that we can use where it's wide open. There's no roads, there's no train tracks, there's nothing to harm a dog. Just let them go. So many days I'm out there, just me and some dogs and a horse, and far away from everybody else. And you just can't beat it. And that's the kind of job most people want, and I'm fortunate enough to have that, and feel good about that. 

In your opinion, what qualities make a dog a top competitor? 

I don't fall into any certain type of bloodline, but the breeding is important. You've got to breed the best of the best. Are good dogs born, or are they made? And it's a combination of both. You have to have the good bloodline, and you have to have the good training. And timing is so important in training. 

I would love some advice for people who are somewhat new to hunting. For you, what are some absolute essentials, in your opinion, for every hunt?  

A common mistake hunters make is they take that young dog out, first time a covey gets up, that owner and his six buddies all shoot, and unload their guns on that first covey of birds. And that's too much for a young dog.  

And we try to tell people, "Just go out by yourself with your young dog. You spent this money to get him trained, just you and the dog go out, and shoot a few shots here and there. Bring them up slow, expose them to the real world slowly. All the education in the world can't match the exposure to what it is you're supposed to do in real life. 

So with that, and again, nutrition is key. I think every dog owner should really think about hydration and performance, keeping the performance up.  

And when it's time, and they're hot and tired, don't push them. Just let them enjoy it. If they're not enjoying it, it's time to quit. They'll hunt their heart out for you, but don't let them hunt their heart out for you, is what I try to tell people. 

After doing this for so long, what motivates you to keep on within this field?  

What keeps me going is the competition. I'm a long ways from retirement, I have to do something for a living. This isn't a bad way to go. It's been a rewarding career. It's been a lot of fun. Like I said, we meet a lot of good people, but I think what keeps us going up and down that road is the competition. 

Aside from that, the other thing is seeing the development of the dogs. There's times you think about quitting, or retiring, but you look there in the kennel. There's that good dog that's just coming on so strong, you just hate to quit on him. It's not fair to him. You just want to keep going. So the dogs themselves keep us going, keep us rolling up and down that road, keep us saddling a horse at daylight, or as the sun comes up in the morning. Keeps us working long hours. 

And of course the best part of the day is to go in by the fireplace with a small cocktail and talk about the day, that's the best reward. 

Can you speak a little bit, and you kind of touched on it, the people and the community that you've built over the years. How important is that to you? 

Over the years, our clients have become our friends. Not only our clients, but our competition. But by and large, the people are all friendly. They would do anything for you. Of course, they want to win. But if somebody had a problem, or if I had a problem, they'd be there in a minute. 

So you've been doing this a long time, and you're an expert in your field. When you have a question, what kind of experts do you seek out in order to learn something new? 

When I have a question, I don't go to the internet, when it comes to dogs. I kind of look around and think about the dog. If I have a question, if I'm stumped, I'll from time to time just stop everything. And just me and the dog will sit for a while, and we'll just think about it. 

So I try to work it out myself. And again, the most important thing is learning from other people, and absolutely learning from every mistake you make. Overcome it, get past it, move on. 

Along those lines, the other thing is, we train our dogs. And the one thing a trainer needs to know is when not to train a dog. In other words, you can push them and push them and push them, and you're not getting anywhere. Sometimes you just need to put them up for two days, a week. Sometimes you got to know when not to train. And that takes experience. It's hard to do. Let's back off, put them away for a while. And you'd be surprised what happens when you get them out again. 

Is that to reset you or reset them? 

That's to reset the dog. At least I believe so. It could be me, and the dog picks up on that. But either way, you got to know when to put them up for a while, and that sometimes not training makes a better dog. 

What would you say you want your legacy to be as a dog trainer? 

Well, first and foremost, I'd like my legacy to be that I was a good person, good friend, a good father, good grandfather, and a good husband.  

In the dog world, I'd like to be considered to be a strong competitor, and somebody that dedicated a lot and made a difference, not only in our breed, but in field trials in general. There's so much history that's being dropped, as we know, in this world, in the United States. We're losing so much history because people aren't interested.  

Because of that is one reason why I'm heavily involved in the Brittany Field Trial Hall of Fame. I believe in not only keeping the sport alive, but in keeping the history and the legacies of our forefathers.  

So many people come in now today, into my world, the Brittany world, as a pet owner. It's a different generation coming up that has come into this a different way. They didn't grow up as outdoorsmen, but they're becoming that. It's not a bad way. It's just different. 

And it's hard for guys like me to realize this, and to help those people along. Because they come in, and they don't know much. And you're like, "I don't have time for this." You need to take time. And it's not always easy when you've got a truckload of dogs, and horses, and chores to do and it's raining, and you're cranky. Somebody comes along with a silly question or wants to talk and wants to meet you. You got to take the time, make it happen. That's the way we're starting out now is, dogs are coming in from a different aspect. 

Where do you start? What is some advice that you would give to these new hunters?  

Seek out the old guys. Talk to the old guys. There's a lot of good magazines on upland bird hunting, or dogs in general. And I firmly believe you can read too much, but don't believe everything you read. Use your gut. It's you. It's the handler and the dog. That's the team. And there's no textbook here. There's no microprocessor in that dog's head. Everything the dog does is reactionary to you, and vice versa. Go with that, live with that, and understand that.