At the edge of a switch grass field glistening with dew, a 10-week-old English Springer Spaniel bounds to and fro. Sophie Haglin picks up the puppy like a child, her hands around his upper torso, allowing his hind legs to dangle in the Minnesota sunshine and breeze. The limber, young springer trusts his handler's touch, which is the point.
Whether being massaged from ears to tail or cradled on his back, the puppy's demeanor does not change. Bred by Sophie and Mark Haglin at the Pine Shadows Kennel in Brainerd, Minn., the dog is used to daily hands-on treatment, as are all springers raised here. The technique, known as imprinting, is at the core of the Haglins' mission to produce quality dogs that are superb family companions.
Imprinting, along with the Haglins' sought-after expertise in breeding and training springers, has produced dogs like FC/AFC Pine Shadows Wallace II. Handled by Sophie and Mark's son, Morgan, "Wallace" outperformed nearly 120 dogs to place fourth in the English Springer Spaniel (ESS) National Open Championship in December 2009 in Mayetta, Kan.
While the Haglins consider that achievement validation of Pine Shadows' training philosophy, there are accomplishments they value more.
Implementing the Vision
Mark has focused on producing well-trained springers since he graduated in 1975 with a degree in agriculture education from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Sophie, then a sophomore at the university, gave Mark a puppy named Jennifer Judd Berrypatch as a graduation gift. A year later, Mark founded Pine Shadows.
Mark and Sophie married in 1977 after she graduated with a degree in animal science. The first Pine Shadows litter was whelped by "Berrypatch" in 1978, the year the Haglins' first of three sons, Travis, was born. Within three years, the Haglin family would grow to include sons Grant and Morgan. The kennel was growing according to plan, too.
Mark would teach agriculture and animal science at Brainerd High School for 31 years until retiring in 2006, but had clear goals for Pine Shadows.
"Mark is the 'visionist,'" says Sophie. "I am the 'implementationist.' He always had the vision of where Pine Shadows and the dogs were going. While he was teaching, I managed the kennel."
The Haglins began with four outdoor runs on their 180-acre former dairy farm that retains the original name registered with the state of Minnesota: Pine Shadows Farm. Each kennel was 4 by 12 feet. The first four clients, huntsmen from Brainerd, came to the kennel after seeing a classified ad Mark put in the local newspaper in 1976.
Pine Shadows expanded in 1980 to include 12 runs, a whelping pen and an office. Five years later, another expansion accommodated clients' and Pine Shadows' dogs with 40 runs that were regularly full by 1986. A 7,200-square-foot facility was built in 1990. It includes 64 indoor runs, 36 outdoor runs, an office, kitchen, and a reception area to welcome boarding and grooming clients and those interested in puppies and dog training.
Mark has lost track of how many shooting dog clients have come through their kennel, though Pine Shadows passed a milestone six years ago: 1,000 dogs trained. That number is almost an afterthought. The Haglins' goal is not quantity, and quality speaks for itself.
"We are unconventional in that respect," concedes Sophie. "It's more important to us that we are in our third generation of clients' dogs. People who bought one of our puppies in the 1970s returned in the late 1980s or early 1990s. They are coming back again, having lived through the life spans of two dogs already. They often had more than one of our dogs at a time. I think it's a strong testament to the quality of our dogs that clients have been returning for more than 30 years." In that time, Mark and Sophie have come to believe there are similarities between rearing three sons and raising around 2,000 English Springer Spaniels. Useful for both is one of the oft-repeated phrases around Pine Shadows Farm: "no free time." It is the title of one of the Haglins' three training videos and a philosophy that produces results.
Travis, the oldest son, lives in New York, where he is a marketing sales manager. He stays connected to the family business by designing the kennel's marketing materials.
Grant, the middle son, continues a nearly 60-year Haglin teaching tradition at Brainerd High. Only months after Mark retired, Grant began teaching industrial arts, the subject Mark's father, Clayton Haglin, taught for decades, beginning in 1952.
Morgan is the head trainer at Pine Shadows and a professional handler who competes in up to 15 field trials each year.
"Children and puppies need supervision and constructive activities to fill their time, or they will get into trouble," says Sophie. "When the boys were little and we'd go grocery shopping, I'd have them each hold onto my pant legs. I wouldn't let them run around the store. My mom used to tell me I was treating them like dogs and making them 'heel,' but it's just about keeping them in line."
Asked if that method worked well from a son's point of view, Morgan, who like Grant is now a father, laughed. "It worked just fine for me," he says. "I've got no problem with it."
Though all three boys learned the "no free time" mantra, Morgan was the one to embrace a career with springers. Travis and Grant were in school when Pine Shadows started expanding. Morgan accompanied Sophie when she worked in the kennel and competed in field trials.
As a child in 1986, Morgan was part of "The Making of a Gun Dog," the first video in the Pine Shadows training series. Like Sophie, he went on to receive a degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota. Morgan, again, was part of Mark and Sophie's training videos when making "Control Without the Collar" in 1999 and "No Free Time" in 2003. Once interested in becoming a veterinarian, Morgan realized his heart was with Pine Shadows' future.
The Science of Success
Pine Shadows' quality begins with scientific breeding. Neither emotions nor field trial winnings carry weight. "Our breeding decisions are based only on genetics," Mark says. "It's about breedability, not trainability. We can train a dog to do what we want."
Pine Shadows uses a selection index to evaluate 16 traits in dogs being considered for breeding. To determine an overall index score, traits are prioritized with number values, ranging from a high of 10 to a low of 2 (see table, below left).
To determine a score for each trait, the value is multiplied by a corresponding rating from 1 to 10. Adding the scores for the 16 traits produces the final number, which is divided by 1,000 possible points. The Haglins draw their line of acceptability at 860 points, or 86 percent. Bitches are evaluated on two additional traits after they've whelped a litter: their abilities to produce quality puppies and to nurture them.
"Sophie, Morgan and I individually rate the dogs using the index, then compare our numbers," Mark says. "The perfect dog would get a 100 percent rating. We've never had a perfect dog, but we've been close."
Five-year-old Wallace earned 960 points for a 96 percent index rating. He has sired 12 litters, including three last spring out of Pine Shadows Perth, Pine Shadows Spear and Pine Shadows Ransom, producing 21 puppies. Twelve were sold as puppies, five were sold as young dogs started on birds, and four were kept by Pine Shadows.
There are around 10 litters whelped at the kennel each year, the sire and dam having passed the rigorous selection index evaluation. Though the ratings of traits are subjective, the independent evaluations of Mark, Sophie and Morgan usually align. On occasion, a dog's index score elicits discussion.
"We've had dogs we like fall just below the 86 percent cutoff," Mark says. "We've talked about it and considered letting those dogs be bred. It'd be easy to redraw the line at 85 percent or to change a score to give the dog an 86. But if we do that, then it becomes easy to lower the line to 84, then to 83, and then where do we stop? So we hold the line."
For dogs that make the grade, their puppies are whelped in the basement of Mark and Sophie's brick home that sits on the other side of a pond from the kennel. Previous kennel buildings freckle the property nearby and are used as storage sheds. At 1 week old, puppies are moved to the kennel, where socialization begins.
Training Dogs and Families
"Our greatest satisfaction is producing a dog and teaching the dog and owner together," Mark says. "We feel anyone can take our dogs to any level they can imagine." If that's possible, it's because of the foundation instilled at Pine Shadows. That begins with the imprinting, a concept Mark learned as an agriculture science teacher and started using with puppies in 2002.
"I got the imprinting idea from videos I've watched about horse trainers working with newborn colts and foals," says Mark. "It gets the dogs accustomed to you handling them and helps them learn to trust you. That allows you to mold their minds, to teach them what you need them to know."
Clients cannot take home a puppy before he or she is 10 weeks old. This allows time for behavioral development, socialization with other dogs and bite-inhibition training. Sophie has attended seminars at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to continue building knowledge in these areas. She also attended one held by Purina nutritionist Arleigh Reynolds, D.V.M., DACVN, to learn more about nutrition during field trials and the digestive process.
Sophie noticed that puppies' senses of emotional stability don't come until around 7 weeks of age. Based on demeanor, she pairs kennelmates in indoor 4-by-14-foot kennel runs to help socialize them.
Sophie and her training assistant, Joan Peterson, manage the imprinting process. Each puppy receives five to 10 minutes of daily hands-on attention. Sophie and Joan pick up the young springers, run their hands from head to toe, and lay fingers between the rows of a puppy's teeth while teaching bite inhibition. Sophie and Joan take the puppies on walks in the field, teaching discipline and readying them for clients or for Morgan to start their shooting dog training.
In a section of mowed grass next to the kennel, Morgan tosses a training dummy, then squats next to a carpeted, wood platform inches above the ground. With a 20-foot check cord in tow, a puppy scampers after the dummy, snags it in his mouth, and returns to where a smiling Morgan waits to offer praise. The platform is the starting and ending point for each training retrieve. For adult dogs, Morgan stands beside a platform that is thigh-high off the ground and uses the same drill.
"When we let a dog out of the kennel for training, they'll run and jump onto the platform, because they want to work," Morgan says. "They know they're going to have some fun." Two-thirds of the farm's acreage is in fields of hay, wildflowers and brome and switch grasses and punctuated by 60 acres of pine and hardwood trees. There is ample space for training dogs to quarter in authentic surrounds.
In one of the fields, Morgan blows a whistle and extends his right arm to release Magnus Merlini, an 8-year-old black-and-white springer sitting at his heel. "Merlin" eyes the dummy in the hand of client John Pauly of Brainerd, who is around 50 feet away, as he runs that direction. Another shrill outburst on the whistle and an extended left arm from Morgan causes the dog to reverse course, crossing the field in the direction of client Mark Rysavy of Bloomington, Minn. All three men stroll in a row, pushing Merlin's zigzag path forward as he quarters from side to side.
"The English Springer Spaniel seems to always want to make you happy," says Mark. "Show them what to do, and they will work with you to achieve that goal. Springers have the drive and excitement in the field, yet possess the attitude, personality and gratitude for companionship in the family home."
Though Pine Shadows is an English Springer Spaniel breeding kennel and half the dogs Morgan trains are springers, clients also seek the Haglins' expertise with pointers, retrievers and setters. A Boxer and Newfoundland have received the Pine Shadows touch as well.
The Haglins' approach is always the same. "Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult," says Mark, "and you'll never have problems with the dog."
Extending the Pine Shadows Family
"When I started in field trials in 1977, I felt like success there would prove my training methods were good," Mark says.
Now, Morgan carries the family mantle in trials. When he was14 years old, Morgan entered CFC Pine Shadows Maggie in the Eastern Nebraska ESS Club Field Trial and gained his first win. Last year, he handled Wallace, owned by Ryan Lamberg of St. Cloud, Minn., to Pine Shadows' first National Open Championship placement. It made clear to the Haglins that Wallace represents the culmination of nearly 35 years' worth of breeding and training. Extra validation came when Lamberg put the dog's Amateur Field Champion title on him a few months later.
Morgan has brought Pine Shadows into another realm, Sophie says. "By staying sharp with my skills and involved in field trials, we stay connected with others and their dogs," Morgan says.
That connection extends the Pine Shadows family, as it did when the Haglins helped start the Northern Minnesota ESS Club in 1990. The club holds four fun trials each year at Pine Shadows. Around then, Mark also began working as a hired hunting guide on trips to South Dakota.
This past year, the Haglins established Daybreak, a 6,000-acre ranch near Frederick, S.D., where clients can enjoy all-inclusive getaways. They can hunt pheasant and waterfowl with Pine Shadows dogs or bring their own. Grant, Morgan and Joan serve as guides. Three houses accommodate up to 25 clients per trip.
"The primary goal is to provide an excellent hunting experience," Mark says. "Side benefits are the opportunities to hunt our dogs more often, and we get to showcase dogs with Pine Shadows training."
"We couldn't do all we do without the great help we have," says Sophie.
There is a staff of six full-time and six part-time employees, including the Haglins and Joan, who has worked at Pine Shadows for 13 years. "We all become part of the family — employees, clients, everyone," Joan says.
"I think that's what society is looking for," says Sophie, "a connection."
Clients are finding that connection at Pine Shadows, especially since imprinting became part of the philosophy. Mark, Sophie and Joan reflect on what might have been for earlier generations, if only they'd received that hands-on training.
"A dog I had, Ketchum the Idaho Truckdog, would have recognized that we were all in it together as a family, rather than been such an independent dog," says Joan.
"If we knew in 1975 what we know now, Berrypatch, the dog that started Pine Shadows, would have been a National Champion," Sophie says.
"We don't know that," says Mark, with a smile. Sophie laughs.
"Well, maybe she would have been," she says. "That dog had the drive, and Mark did well with her in field trials, but she could have done better. Imprinting would have made the difference."