The Journey of Having a Dog

At the end of 2018, my family and I moved from New York City to the suburbs, and one of the first things I was looking to do was get a family dog.  I never had a dog growing up but wanted one my entire life.  We knew we wanted a German Shorthaired pointer.  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s simple. We saw a pair of them years before while on a fishing trip and fell in love with their look and temperament.  However, I admit, I knew nothing about what I was getting into.  I did hours of research, went through dozens of websites and resources, and reached out to at least a dozen breeders, to learn as much as possible about the breed, litters, and everything I could.  I went as far as looking through pedigrees from dogs I had learned about to see if I could make any connections with other breeders and, therefore, more people to learn from.  Many breeders were happy to help, but, unfortunately, no one had a litter coming or all the puppies were already spoken for.  I then started expanding my Google searches when I came across QKDOGS.com.  I knew nothing about them except what I learned from their website; they helped find dogs, had a very limited breeding program, and had a training/kennel facility.   Like many other websites, I filled out the contact form expecting very little.

It was Sunday, February 16, 2019. I just pulled into the Home Depot parking lot when my phone rang.  QK Kennels shows up on my phone.  Jen warned me she was driving in Georgia where she spends the winter, so we may get disconnected but started to ask me all sorts of questions:

  1. Have you had a dog?
  2. Why a GSP?
  3. Why a Male?
  4. What do you want the puppy for? Family pet, Hunting, etc.?

I did my best to answer these questions (like an amateur I must add), but I realized I had finally found a resource that could be helpful in my journey of finding a puppy and helping me learn how to handle this dog the way they should be.  From day one, I realized that Jen was incredibly knowledgeable, but more importantly, she didn’t want to sell me a dog.  She wanted to make sure I was making the right decision before even having that discussion.  This is Jen and the entire QK team’s main goal; educate to ensure you obtain a good dog while educating the owners to make sure they have good dogs from day one of ownership.   The conversation was eye-opening.  The first bits of advice Jen gave were to read Dr. Ian Dunbar’s book “Before You Get A puppy” about what to expect when you bring a dog home.  “If after reading that you still want a dog, then let’s have another conversation.”  She then offered BEFORE I got a puppy, to visit QK with my family, so we could work with her trained GSPs to understand how they behave and to ensure it was a task I was capable of and wanted.  It didn’t feel as if it was meant to scare me out of a GSP, especially a male, but to educate me as much as possible on how the breed performs and how much work is required.  We ended our conversation and I told her I’d be in touch shortly.   Three hours later I get a text, “Hi Justin, this is Jennifer.  I would recommend a female for your first pup!”.  Well, I can honestly tell you that was the first and last time I didn’t listen to Jen.

A few weeks after our call this crazy thing called Covid-19 hit the country.  I had spoken to more breeders and visited a few in search of the “perfect” GSP.  We found a litter ten minutes away from our house. My family thought it was perfect, we visited the puppies.  Evelyn, my 9-year-old daughter, fell in love and needed to have at least one.  But, they were show dogs and the breeder was more interested in ensuring perfect nails and stance than she was about birds or hunting dogs.  I was convinced I wanted a field dog.  I may not hunt fifty days a year, but when I do go, I want him with me.  After another couple of months of dead-ends, I decided to reach out to Jen once again.  We reconnected, spoke about the current world, and the “COVID puppy,” going over exactly what I was looking for once again.  We discussed a dozen breeders that we both knew about and their litters.  It wasn’t a fact-gathering mission, but it was a sharing of information to make us both more knowledgeable.  She knew about most of the litters I had found and shared a ton of information about the bloodlines of those dogs as well as the breeders themselves.  I learned so much from that conversation, which helped my research and to narrow down what I wanted in a puppy.  Shortly after those conversations, Jen shared with me that she has been searching for a female GSP for another client, found an awesome bloodline and breeder, but they only had males.  After a few days of begging, she reached out to the breeder and was able to share his information with me.  When I started the search six months earlier, (Pre-COVID) I never thought I would be getting a dog from Texas, but after many hours of talking to Jen and the breeder, being interviewed and interviewing, I knew she had helped me find the best possible fit.  The litter was born in early April and there were five males available.  After sharing pictures and many conversations about the puppies’ behaviors, we decided on Gizmo (who we re-named Tippet).

I’m getting a dog, now what?  What do I need, what don’t I need?  I felt so out of my element and scared for the decision I just made. At the same time, excited to finally be getting a puppy after wanting one my whole life.  Jen walked me through the whole process with the patience of a saint.

“Hey, you know what, we are doing a foundation training seminar with Rick Smith, come up as my guest and an observer and see how a MASTER can handle a dog,” Jen said.  After sorting out the logistics of traveling during COVID, I jumped at the opportunity.  It was by far the best two days of preparation I could have asked for.  Not only did Jen let me work with her treasured GSP, Doozy, and her young black lab, Panda, (short for Pandemic) for hands-on training, I was able to observe the training and teaching of a gun dog by a true master and learn what I could do with him from the day he comes home.  It was amazing. I feel that it helped me prepare and understand what I needed to do with Tippet from day one.  Tippet is nine months old now and is far from perfect, but it helped me move him in the right direction and feel more confident in the decision I had made.  Rick couldn’t believe I was there without a puppy but understood why I wanted to join and that mine was coming in a week.  I assured him they would meet next year and I’m looking forward to this year’s seminar.  I have been using the techniques I learned that weekend from the day he came home.

Tippet came home on June 9th, a week after that seminar, from Bones Fork Kennel in Como, Texas, about forty-five minutes outside of Dallas.  He’s an awesome young man, whose parents are both VCs and a full pedigree of field-tested hunters.

Two weeks after getting Tippet I was back in the car on my way to QK.  This time Evelyn joined me for QK’s 5-hour Puppy Boot Camp.  Jen teaches the “Bootcamp for Beginners” and QK’s onsite veterinarian, Dr. Kristin Williams, answered questions during the lunch break.  I wanted to bring Evelyn, so she could see and learn the techniques and learned from Rick.  I think we picked the HOTTEST day of the summer, but we both learned so much.  When we arrived, Tippet was being a typical ten-week-old male GSP.  Jen took him by the paw and started his QK training.  When we got home that night, Evelyn and I brought him for a walk, and for the first time, she took the lead showing me all she had learned.  She was the only child there and I couldn’t have been prouder that she was being Tippet’s second handler.

When we had Tippet for two months, I had done the best I could with him, being an amateur dog handler in every sense.  Then on August 2nd, we dropped Tippet off for his two (well, two and a half) weeks of initial training.  It was the first time my wife, Kristin, saw the facility and how great the property is.  Before making the trip, she was nervous and scared to leave him.  Once we arrived, she asked if she could stay and look around the property.  She got the COVID version of a tour, but we were now all comfortable that he was in the right hands.  The property is amazing, to say the least.  I was lucky that Jen personally gave Tippet her attention, training him twice a day.

Maria Madaras trained him to get a feel for a GSP puppy (future GSP owner) and then he went for runs with the QK dogs.  He was treated as one of Jennifer’s own dogs.  I got more videos and updates than any person should get, but seeing his progress was crazy and overwhelming.  He was changing from the equivalent of a 2-year-old boy to a 9-year-old curious kid who can run all day, sleep all night, and get into as much trouble as you let him.  When I picked him up, I spent the day at QK.  I spent time with Jen going through everything he learned, and Chris Parry, who is now Tippet’s gun dog trainer, learning everything I needed to know when I got him home.  These days on campus were great (and I’ve done more since).  We train Tippet for a few hours, and then I am able to take work calls while everyone is resting or working with other dogs.  I was able to work with other dogs at different maturities as well.  It’s always a great, well-rounded day where I try not to get in the way but absorb everything I can.  The entire staff is accommodating, and I look forward to doing many, many more days like this.

As I sit here writing this, Tippet is back at QK for his four-week Foundation Gun Dog Training.  It is the next level of patience, obedience, and fieldwork.  I don’t know how much I’ll hunt him this year, but I know he will be well on his way.  When he comes home it’s up to me to ensure I can keep up with all that he has been taught, however, luckily, Team Tippet is always around for questions.

He’s now truly my emotional support dog, is missed at home (mostly by me), but the whole family comments that it’s not the same without him around.  I miss the 6:40 AM walks, the 10 PM walks before bed, and the nap at my feet during the day.  But what makes it so easy is knowing he is with people that care.  Jen and Jason run an amazing facility, we will be friends for life.  Chris, along with his fiancée Kiira (who also is a Trainer at QK) have two young children, and still can find the time to send me a text, call or picture to tell me how he’s doing.  I’ve said to many friends that have gotten dogs since that I could not have a dog without Jennifer and the Team at QK.  QK makes me a better dog owner and makes Tippet a better dog, companion, and hunting buddy.  I can’t wait to get him back.

I write this as nothing more than a long-winded thank you for everything Team Tippet has done and will continue to do for Tippet, my family, and me.  Even at a young age, he goes everywhere with us (because good dogs can go everywhere their owners go). I look forward to many years of having him fish with us, hunt with me, or just sit by my feet as I have a beer.  I owe all of this to my friends at QK Kennels.

Thank you, friends,

Justin Hester

Justin.hester@gmail.com