The Monkeyshine Method

The Monkeyshine Method

Honing a picture-perfect steady to wing and shot, “Dually” (Rock River’s You Can’T Handle This) and backing brace mate, “Jax” (FC Dezasterous Jax The Ripper), have come by their talents humbly. Their beautifully chiseled muscular bodies equal power and endurance, and their proud, high heads embody intelligence and focus. High-class bird dogs, these German Shorthaired Pointers are products of pro Dan DiMambro’s Monkeyshine Kennels’ training program, shaped by three generations of experience and more than half a century of knowledge.   

Lessons learned on windswept prairies, where wild game is abundant yet tougher for bird dogs to find and more challenging for them to point, have taken root in the Monkeyshine method. “These dogs need to be brought along gradually and to mature through foundation training so they develop into their run. They have to crawl before they walk and walk before they run,” says the four-time Purina Handler of the Year, who won in consecutive years from 2015 to 2018.

Dually and Jax are cut out of the Monkeyshine mold. Standing statuesque at the Ionia (Michigan) Recreational Area, home to the National German Shorthaired Pointer Association (NGSPA) Region 4 Championship and the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Michigan Championship, these hardwired males are creatures of habit, driven to deliver a top performance in the highly competitive one-hour open all-age horseback stakes. Dan, of Leroy, Michigan, and longtime girlfriend and assistant April Raber, of Alliance, Ohio, are back at their Northern stomping grounds after winter camp and two months on the field trial circuit.  

Not all bird dogs Dan has trained have been cut out of that mold. Take, for example, “Jackie” (FC Chicoree’s Jackie V Nuke), who came to him in 2008 as a 2-year-old started dog. Jackie had some bad habits like not listening and being elusive on point, or so well hidden no scout could find her. Seldom did she finish a trial.

Dan’s first client dog, Jackie was owned by a veterinarian, Dr. Fred Ryan of Cridersville, Ohio, who had been breeding Shorthairs since 1981 and longed to win the NGSPA National Champion­ship. “Fred trusted me to work with Jackie,” Dan says. “After the first trial, he called and asked me how it went and how many bird finds she had. I told him she finished the trial, and I remember, he said, ‘Well, you didn’t do anything.’”

Over the next couple of years Dan worked with Jackie, and she began to change into a stylish bird dog. “It wasn’t overnight,” he says. “I started bringing her in the truck with me and building a rapport with her. We lost more than we won, but she turned around to win Runner Up at some big NGPDA (National German Pointing Dog Association) and NGSPA regional championships and was the NGPDA Shooting Dog Champion in 2011.”

Excited about Jackie’s turnaround, Dr. Ryan today continues to fill the Monkeyshine string with top-caliber Shorthairs. “Dan works really hard, and he has a good way with animals,” says Dr. Ryan. “He puts a lot of time into it. My big goal still is to win the NGSPA National. We’ve come close with two Runners Up. The formula for success is good genetics, good training and a little bit of luck.”

Breaking In

Looking back on those early years when he pulled a horse trailer behind his pickup truck and traveled with a handful of dogs, Dan says, “Nobody wants to pay you to learn to be a trainer, but that’s what I was doing when I began with Jackie. She became a dog that would go and find birds when other dogs could not. Everything I’ve done goes back to Jackie.” 

Everything Dan has done also goes back to the patriarch of Monkeyshine, his paternal grandfather, Mario DiMambro. A native of Cassino, Italy, Mario came to the U.S. in 1936 as a 9-year-old when his parents sent him alone to live with family in Michigan in hopes he would have a better life. In Italy, multiple generations — 15 people — lived together in a house tucked in the rocky hills of Monte Cassino southeast of Rome. Mario served in World War II and then became head chef of the Executive Dining Room and head supervisor of food services for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

The story of how Monkeyshine Kennels was named dates to 1960 when Mario asked his second oldest son, Rick, to name a promising Shorthair female bred by Ralph Terrill of Romeo, Michigan, he had bought. It was a ritual for Mario’s four children to take turns naming their father’s dogs. Rick was practicing a song titled “Monkeyshine” on the accordion for a recital, so he chose that name.

Nearly seven years later, Rick’s Monkeyshine became Mario’s first of five Field Champions he finished during his lifetime. An amateur enthusiast who sent some of his best dogs out with pros, Mario had success with two young dogs that won GSPCA and NGSPA Futurity stakes. He also bred or owned several Futurity-placing dogs. Along with his wife, Shirley, Mario organized field trials for the Michigan German Shorthaired Pointer Club. He was field trial chair of the NGSPA Region 4 Champion­ship, and on a national level, Mario served as stake manager of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America National Championship.  

With three boy cousins, all about six months apart in age, Dan grew up spending time at his grandparents’ home and going to field trials. Although his father, Mitchell, did not get involved with the dogs, his uncle Rick trained and handled dogs part time as a pro for several years. When he was 11, Dan’s family moved to South Carolina, though he often returned to Michigan for summer vacations. He also would see his grandfather when he traveled to Florida or Georgia in the winter to train his dogs.  

“My grandfather and I were close, and we got along most of the time,” Dan says. “He loved the temperament, drive and energy of Shorthairs, and that has become what I love about the breed.”

At age 21 Dan had an opportunity to go to his first bird dog summer camp in North Dakota to work with pro John Steger of Evanston, Indiana. Long days spent working dogs and then feeding and caring for them made an impression, though Dan recalls, “I struggled. I certainly didn’t know this is what I wanted to do.”

Steger was known under the Direct Kennel banner, winning 225 NGSPA championships, nine NGSPA National Championships and two Purina Handler of the Year awards. His mentoring role to Dan was noteworthy, teaching him the importance of using the best gear possible and feeding dogs the best food with the highest nutrition.

Years earlier, as a student at the University of South Carolina, Dan worked part time as a dog trainer. After graduating with a degree in business management in 2006, he returned to Michigan and dog training with his grandfather while pondering what he wanted to do. Only two years later, Mario died at age 81.

“I was so lucky to spend the last couple of years of my grandfather’s life watching and learning from a man so dedicated and passionate about bird dogs,” says Dan. “He could not think of anything else that for him could have taken the place of competing with high-class bird dogs.”

Reaching Field Trial Potential

Going pro full time in 2010, Dan, along with partner April, began eking out a living under Monkeyshine Kennels. Based in Leroy, Michigan, they offer puppy development, obedience, basic gun dog training, and field trial training. Winter camp on 200 acres of wild quail in Ashburn, Georgia, is designed to ready bird dogs for the spring circuit. Summer camp in Upham, North Dakota, with access to 200,000 acres of wild birds, provides time to evaluate dogs’ progress, a turning point for some.

At 6 to 8 months of age, puppies begin to show signs of their field trial potential, though some are late bloomers. “You may see good qualities that outweigh the bad, and then later a light bulb goes off,” Dan says. “I really enjoy watching the dogs grow and learn. It’s fun to figure out what you have to do to help a dog be successful.”

Jackie, Dan’s first client dog, produced one litter of four, three of which became Field Champions.

A female from that litter, “Sparkle” (GFC FC AFC Chicoree’s Sparkle In Her Eye), was an early bloomer. “At 6 months, I knew Sparkle would be good – she was the total package,” says Dan, of the female who finished at 15 months old and who contributed boldness, natural bird-finding ability and biddability in her own litters.

A male named “Jake” (GAFC FC AFC Hi-N’s Feed Jake) joined Monkeyshine in 2014 as a started 4-year-old. Owner Hank Lewis of Hi-N Kennels in Louisville, Ohio, needed someone to take Jake on the national circuit and finish his pattern, or training that teaches a dog to run forward to find wild birds. “Dan and April have a full system, and they work at this 12 months a year,” Lewis says. “They provide excellent care in the kennel, and everything is meticulously clean and orderly. Dogs get the best nutrition. It sounds so simple, but all of this is so important.”

Jake came into his own under Dan and won the 2015 NGSPA and NGPDA Open All-Age National Championships. A stylish male with a keen nose and tons of speed, Jake was named the NGSPA All-Age Dog of the Year in 2015. He made Lewis proud when he won the 2014 NGSPA Amateur Shooting Dog of the Year after winning the NGSPA National Amateur Shooting Dog Championship.

His daughter, “Matte” (FC AFC Hi-N’s Hasty Matilda), currently on the Monkeyshine string, rivals Jake’s accomplishments. She won a doubleheader in 2018, as the winner of the NGSPA Open and Amateur Shooting Dog National Championships and also won the NGPDA National Amateur Championship. She was named the 2019 NGSPA Amateur Shooting Dog of the Year.

Back to Ionia, home of the NGSPA Region 4 and the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Michigan Championships. Just like Mario did, Dan is giving back, serving as the Region 4 field trial secretary. He also is a member of the NGSPA board of trustees and field trial committee. This past spring, he was stake manager of the NGSPA National Amateur Shooting Dog Championship.

Dan credits April with giving him the flexibility to help out. “She frees my time to volunteer at trials and to train,” he says. “We’ve figured out a good system.”

Mario would surely be proud of his grandson’s love for bird dogs and his hard work and passion for developing high-class Shorthairs under the Monkeyshine name.