Tom Dokken

Dokken is an Icon Among Dog Trainers

"Training the Hunting Dog"

Two young hunters watched in breathless anticipation as three teal jetted above a small creek and streaked toward where the boys had set up an ambush.

The boys rose and their shotguns barked. All three teal fell into 6-foot-tall grass on the far side of the creek. Tom Dokken’s exuberance melted as he watched the birds fall.

“Those teal were spread all over the place,” Dokken recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, there is absolutely no chance that we’ll ever find even one of them.’ But my friend had a Labrador retriever. He took his dog across the creek, and it found all three of them. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it.”

Dokken was 15 years old when he experienced his first in-the-field encounter with a hunting dog. That moment ignited a passion. He has become an icon in the dog training business, and his expertise has taken him around the globe. It will bring him to the CenturyLink Center to conduct daily seminars when the four-day Omaha Boat, Sports and Travel Show opens Feb. 21.

Dokken didn’t come from a hunting family. But he was introduced to hunting by several of his high school buddies who did hunt. Soon after graduating from high school, he bought his first Lab and began to compete in field trials.

“My first dog turned out to be one heck of a dog and competed on the national level,” Dokken said. “I tell folks now the dog turned out in spite of me – in spite of what I knew then.”

A professional trainer liked what he saw in Dokken and offered the youngster a job training retrievers for field trials throughout the U.S. and Canada. But Dokken soon tired of life on the road.

“I figured out that training hunting dogs was the route I wanted to go,” Dokken said. “The nice part about training hunting dogs is that you don’t have to be on the road six months of the year. I got into training because I like to hunt. The hunting dogs are trained by fall and they’re gone. Now I have time to hunt.”

Dokken, however, doesn’t train dogs only for fall work. He and his wife, Tina, have trained their dogs to hunt shed deer antlers in the spring.

“I wasn’t the first person to train a dog to find shed antlers,” Dokken said. “But I knew it could be done, so my wife and I trained our dogs to do it. It’s fun to go out and hunt for sheds, but I have to admit it’s 10 times more fun when you’re walking around and all of a sudden your dog shows up with an antler.”

Hunting for shed antlers has become a huge springtime activity throughout the country. Dokken decided to cash in on the craze by creating a program that teaches dogs how to hunt for shed antlers. He sells a training manual, along with several products that help train dogs to sniff out dropped antlers.

“We start off with sight,” Dokken said, “then gradually we work into the smell aspect. We have some proprietary scent products that we’ve developed in order to enhance the training process.”

Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels near Northfield, Minn., is the largest dog training facility in the northern half of the U.S. Because of the location, many of the dogs he trains are Labs.

“You know what Minnesota and the Midwest is like,” he said. “People want to hunt ducks and pheasants, and they’re going to have one dog. They want a dog that can do it all, and the Labrador fits.

“But we really do train everything. If somebody has a Chihuahua that they want obedience trained, we’ll do it. We’re not picky or snobbish about what we train. We’re in the business of training dogs.”

Dokken also is in the dog supply business. He crashed into the product business with his Dead Fowl Trainer – a training dummy that simulates the proper weight, shape, size, appearance and smell of a downed duck, goose, pheasant, grouse, quail or several other game birds.

“We were fortunate that the Dead Fowl Trainer was one of those things that just hit,” Dokken said. “It was an immediate hit.”

The unique retrieving dummy launched a product line that brought international recognition to Dokken. His line of dog training products and accessories – including whistles, collars, vests, leashes, check cords – is sold throughout the world.

Dokken cherishes the moment as a youngster when he watched his friend’s Labrador make that three-teal retrieve. But he is amazed by what that moment triggered – by the path that it took him.

“How do you know what that journey is going to be?” he said. “I’ve been fortunate. You have to have good people around you. You have to meet the right people and get some help along the way. It’s not a one-man thing. It’s all the people who support you along the way.”