In the Imperial Valley of Niland, California, long, sunny days radiate warmth turning the desert into a winter paradise for professional retriever trainers Patti Kiernan and partner Bill Cox of Justin Time Retrievers, and Jim and Jackie Gonia at their McKenna South. Both teams relish the serenity and versatility of the habitat, often swapping their own properties for training.

These trainers have homes here and have developed their Southern California training grounds with multiple technical ponds and grassy fields to teach their dogs the sophisticated tasks they will be asked to perform in field trials. Their retrievers, ranging from seasoned pros to owners’ amateurs and derbies just getting started, are athletes in prime condition. They lock in. They love to work.

The retriever trainers arrive in the fall about the time snow and cold hit their homes in the Pacific Northwest. Patti and Bill come from Rainier, Washington, and Jim and Jackie from McKenna, Washington. They leave in the spring when the desert starts heating up and the rattlesnakes start moving around, heading to retriever field trials on the West Coast circuit.

Every winter brings something different, something unexpected. Whether it is the young retriever that masters an interrupted test, a challenging quad with a blind, or the veteran that outgrows a career-nagging fault, it is here that dreams are realized, and winter becomes spring. Today’s Breeder visited Patti and Bill and Jim and Jackie at their respective training grounds in January. Here are photos of their retrievers working land and water marks on a comfortable 70-degree training day.