I loved bird hunting from a young age,” commented Bo Allen, owner and trainer of Stealth Point Kennels, as we sat inside his kennel room with dogs milling and whimpering in their runs.
I was visiting Bo near Meeteetse Wyoming, a town of 327 souls, as my first stop of a three-month Sabbatical from my position as President/Head of Menaul School, a small independent day/boarding school in Albuquerque New Mexico with my three partners: Tex and Chaco, my energetic French Brittany Spaniels and Hi Ho Silver, my 2005 26-foot Airstream, my home away from home. I am visiting great dog trainers across the US to find out what makes them tick and chasing wild birds along the way.
Bo explained further, “I’ve always tried to make my hobbies into my careers. I bought a pointing Lab from a local breeder and paid $20 a month for most of my high school years. It was the best dollars I ever spent.” He also told how he fell in love with golf at 21 after toying with college studies and then became a golf pro for five years.
Stealth Point Kennel sits in the rolling grassy hills as part of the Leigh Ranch, a beautiful ranch of dusky sage, brown grasslands and emerald irrigated alfalfa fields. He has great training in his front yard and three kennels full of 40 or so dogs. He lives in an old ranch house with his very pregnant wife and 5 of his own dogs. His focus is breeding, raising and training his own Pointing Labs and German Wirehairs but trains all breeds.
Bo does not use any particular system for training but gets to know the dog and tries to meet them where they are at. “If there are two types of trainers, program and non-program trainers. I am in the non-program camp. I try and work with dogs from their needs in light of their readiness.” He sounded just like many of the master teachers I have been graced to work with over my own 37 years in schools, who within their subject matter and class objectives teach students first and the curriculum second.
In two hours of watching Bo train, I saw him work his own form of magic. From helping a four-month-old black Lab get turned on to birds to helping a gun-shy yellow Lab named Trump to reinforcing woah to a 14-month-old Wirehair by putting a e-collar on his waste to stop him from creeping on a point. He even helped me put my sensitive 13-month-old pup, Chaco, onto birds. In each case Bo was patient and warmly approached by each dog. The best example was the way he worked with the gun-shy, Lab, Trump. He used no pressure and despite the dogs fear he worked hard to please Bo. The dog retrieved but then headed right to his kennel. Bo only used positive words with this dog. All the dogs approached him comfortably with appropriate tail wagging and ears back. Clearly here was a teacher who knew to build rapport first and to teach the lesson next.
Bo explained his educational psychology to me. “Dogs learn through associations. For example, we try and have them associate the bang of a gun with a bird flying. With my gun-shy dog, Trump, the gunshot makes him anxious because as a young pup someone took him goose hunting before he knew to associate a shot with birds. Fixing him is a major undertaking and there is less than 50/50 chance of success.” But unlike his namesake, this Trump will make a good housedog.
The second concept was more dynamic. “Every drill must give the dog purpose and for gun dogs, it should be about the birds first, then obedience.” Bo demonstrated this as a client, Dave, an effusive, retired petroleum cowboy with a big personality, an Oklahoma twang and two spoiled Labs. Bo coached Dave as much as the dogs about practicing what they did here at training. The Chubby four-month-old, Fancy, gobbled up thrown dead birds and did not flinch at shots fired over his head. The 14-month-old non-pointing Lab eagerly booed up the planted Chukars and retrieved a killed bird to hand. The once a week session were going to create great hunting companions for Dave who quipped, “we will have to hunt a bunch because I can’t shoot worth a dam anymore and the dogs might get frustrated.” Dave was as proud as a peacock as he watched his dogs perform under Bo’s tutelage.
My lasting impression of Bo and Stealth Point Kennels is that Bo is a real dog man. When he explained that the kennel name is for his best pointer, Izzi, a Wirehair, who pointed with intensity and stealth, the pride is his voice and light in his eye told me that this man lived for and loved his dogs. I found in him a real teacher who I would be happy to have teach my own dogs.