FRANKFORT, Ky. — Each year since 1941, the best retrieving dogs in the country compete for the title of national champion.
The National Retriever Championship is the Super Bowl of the competitive retrieving world, and is being held in Kentucky for the first time this year.
The event starts Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area (WMA) outside Paducah. It continues through Saturday, Nov. 17. The 2018 national champion will be crowned that day.
Mitch Patterson, president of the National Retriever Club, said West Kentucky WMA was chosen as this year’s host site for a variety of reasons.
“Because these grounds are so beautiful, because we have such an incredible relationship with the state and the people who work here, and the city of Paducah, it’s just the perfect place to hold a field trial,” Patterson said. “On top of that, the infrastructure is ideal for the several hundred people who will be coming and need to stay in motels and eat at restaurants. I think it is just an absolutely perfect spot.”
Several thousand retrievers compete in American Kennel Club-licensed field trials each year, but only 100 or so qualify for the prestigious National Retriever Championship.
The event, which is in a different part of the country every year, consists of a series of judged tests designed to challenge the dogs’ abilities on land and water.
“This event showcases retrievers doing what they were bred to do,” said Tim Kreher, public lands biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “To have it on a state-owned WMA that also is open for other hunting activities is a significant accomplishment for our department.”
Kreher and other area staff have spent the past two months preparing the grounds.
“We have done a lot of mowing and we’ve worked on grooming around ponds,” Kreher said. “We’ve worked with our tenant farmers to have the right crops in the right fields; soybean stubble is worthless for these types of field trial events while corn stubble is of utility and more realistic retrieving.”
Discussions about bringing the National Retriever Championship to West Kentucky WMA extend back more than a decade, Patterson said. Along with Kreher, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife First District Commission member Dr. Harry Carloss and Migratory Bird Program Coordinator John Brunjes have played important roles.
“This event brings hundreds of staff, trainers, owners and, of course, top dogs to our area,” Carloss said. “The tourism component is very important to Paducah and the region, with an economic impact of millions of dollars. Working with Mitch Patterson and other members of the organization has been a pleasure and we look forward to hosting these events for many years to come.”
The event is open to the public and admission is free. Directions to the field trial grounds will be posted from the WMA office off KY 358 each day of the trial.
Spectators are asked to stay within areas designated by officials, refrain from making loud noises or unnecessary motions while a dog is working and hold applause until a dog has completed its test and is leaving the line. Dogs not competing in the event are not permitted on the field trial grounds.
If he has his say, Patterson said the National Retriever Championship will return to West Kentucky WMA in four years.
“It has beautiful, technical water that allows dogs to be tested thoroughly in water,” Patterson said. “It has beautiful fields with all different types of habitat, which really plays very well into challenging the dogs on land. In this field trial game, the dogs are tested equally on land and water. The tests will go up to 500 or 600 yards, so you need an expansive place to run them, and you need to be able to see the dogs while they’re working. It just works out perfectly here. It’s the perfect recipe for us.”