Retriever Trial Seminar

Mr Bill and Mrs Becky Eckett

Blackwater Retrievers

missouri, usa


Shepparton, Victoria 27th to 29th January 2003


The Seminar was organised by Mrs Julie and Dr Andrew Cramond with help and assistance from Field and Game Australia, the City of Greater Shepparton, Nestlé’s Purina – USA, Nestlé’s Purina – Australia, Mr Lloyd Emerald – Emerald Bank and Rowan Gribbin – Land-owner, as well as a number of local triallers.


Over a period of several years Julie has been fascinated by stories describing the prowess of dogs working in US Field Trials, which we in Australia know as Retrieving Trials.  Finally this interest grew to such a level that the only solution was to go and “see for her self”. With Andrew’s blessing, Julie set off in the June 2002 timeframe, with the visit timed to coincide with the running of the 2002 US National Amateur National Field Trial. Julie was indeed fortunate to receive invitations to join two pre-National training groups – one run by Bill Eckett and the other by Mike Lardy who collectively are without question the top two professional retriever trainers in the USA.  It was from this association that the genesis of Bill and Becky’s visit to Australia grew, and the rest is now history!


Bill’s interest in hunting and dog training started to develop during his early teens, but his parents were insistent that he receive a college education, so Bill majored in Animal Behaviour Sciences. Having completing his college education, Bill set about to become a full-time professional retriever trainer and served his initial “apprenticeship”, lasting 18 months, under Jim Swan of Sanger, Texas.   Editorial Note: Jim Swan is a close friend of Geoff Cole and has visited Australia on several occasions and in 1992 presented a Two Day Seminar in Sydney, which was attended by about 60 triallers from Qld, NSW, ACT and Vic. 


Bill then spent the next five years in the employ of the legendary DL Walters, author of the book entitled “Training Retrievers to Handle”, before opening his own business. Blackwater Retrievers is the largest professional training establishment in the US with 60 dogs in work at any one time and the dogs are trained six days a week.   Bill and Becky have one truck on which there are 16 dogs, aged between 6 and 16 months, and these dogs are in the hands of one dedicated full-time professional trainer specialising in “basic training”. The second truck carries 18 dogs, aged between 16 months and 30 months, who receive transitional or intermediate/restricted level training from a full-time professional trainer specialising in this area of a dog’s development.  The third truck carries 28 “competitive” dogs, which Bill and another full-time professional put through their paces and/or supervise clients working their own dogs.  Bill is the youngest professional to have won the US Open National Championship and his clients have won both the US and Canadian Amateur National Championships.  In other words, Bill’s credentials are spectacular to say the least!


The Seminar itself was primarily held at Moria Scout Camp – lectures, discussion sessions and land work.  The water work was held, with Shepparton Council’s approval, at a site a short distance north and west of the Shepparton CBD.  The weather was hot and the conditions extremely dry, nevertheless, all the dogs worked with enthusiasm and were not distressed by the heat. 


Throughout the seminar Bill repeatedly stressed the point that to be an effective dog trainer you must first be a teacher, since the dogs do not know the Rules and therefore what is expected of them. You must be flexible as all dogs are not equal in skill level, temperament or physical attributes.  You must be thorough in ensuring that the dog has a complete understanding of the basic concepts before embarking on any testing program. You must seek focus for the dog, in other words, teach it to look out and focus on the mark or in the direction of the blind. You must always seek a balance in your training; long marks must be balanced with short marks, land work with water work, cold blinds with taught blinds, lining drills with casting drills.  Whenever you experience a difficulty your first resort should be to simplify the task.  You should continually pursue advancement and always strive for a POSITIVE attitude.  Focus, Attitude, Balance, Trust and Consistency are the keys to success.


Everything you do or teach the dog during the basic program is done so by breaking the activity down to its most simple component, which is taught as an individual task.  As you progress towards the transitional or intermediate phase you start to couple several tasks together and in doing so you should remain alert to the fact that dogs learn through “yes’s” and not “no’s”.  Too much testing or challenging dogs at this stage (because they are still learning and are not fully trained) leads to a lack of confidence, failure, fear and distrust of the trainer.  BALANCE, POSITIVE ATTITUDE and FOCUS are everything! Always try to see little improvements weekly remembering that big improvements take time.


From a personal perspective the Seminar provided a wonderful window of opportunity in which to gain an insight into how a top professional trainer goes about preparing dogs for elite competition.  Furthermore, by using local handlers and their dogs to demonstrate the various drills, the attendees were able to observe at first hand the typical difficulties both dogs and handlers may experience when attempting the various exercises and more importantly how , with Bill’s expert tutelage,  these difficulties were resolved.    


In closing I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Bill and Becky for their most informative seminar and their willingness to share their vast knowledge with the triallers Down Under. To Julie and Andrew Cramond, I offer as special vote of thanks for their vision and commitment to make the visit a reality.  I am absolutely certain that if the attendees apply even a small portion of what they learned during the Seminar, the Australian retrieving scene will have made a giant leap forward.  Well done Julie and Andrew!


Robert Tawton