Advice for the first-time Master National Handler

What advice do you have for the handler who is coming to the Master National for the first time?
So many handlers come to this event each year, and we often forget what it was like to enter the Master National for the very first time. So we decided to ask some of the handlers what advice they have for the Master National novice.

Frankie Prendergast
Frankie Prendergast

Frankie Prendergast, has attended every EVERY Master National since its beginnings in 1991!  He embodies the Master National spirit.  I asked Frankie what he would say to a first-time handler and he didn’t hesitate a moment to answer, “Take Your Time, You Own The Line!” Of course Frankie had to add and “You never forget your first time.” Frankie is certainly an experienced handler but he was the first to say, that his advice isn’t always easy to follow.

Jack and I were thrilled to be entering the 2009 Master National for the first time in Texas and what remains foremost in my mind is the warm welcome we received from the retriever community.

Jack Combs and Ten
Jack Combs and Ten

It is quite overwhelming coming to this event for the first time, finding yourself in the company of  such experienced pros and amateurs alike, with dogs that perform flawlessly series after series.

I was amazed at the level of support we received from so many folks, who have now become our life-long friends. I was so afraid they would laugh at Jack when he came to the line with a white poodle, but I could not have been more wrong. These same handlers were very supportive, offered great advice and never made us feel we didn’t belong here.  We all understand that it takes a great deal of dedication and work to qualify for the Master National and everyone should be very proud of this accomplishment.

You will meet so many new handlers at the Master National, people who share your love of dogs and excellent field work.  That bond creates an instant camaraderie, one I have never felt anywhere else in the dog world.   You will find yourself surrounded by the greatest ‘dog’ folks ever

NOTE: We will be updating this blog with quotes from others in the Master National community, so be sure to check back for our most recent posts.

For a more detailed look at What To Expect at the Master National take a look at this document created by Bill Teague, former president and judge of the MN.

Janet Peters
Former president, Master National Retriever Club
First time handlers you are about to experience at little stress, a bunch of hard work, and a whole lot of fun!  And if you are like many of us , you won’t be able to do just one – this game gets in your blood and you will return year after year.  Why – the dogs, the people, and the pursuit of the plates!  So my advice to you:
Be prepared – you and your dog should be well-trained and conditioned – ready to run under conditions that you may experience in Corning.  Train hard but remember – Balance – time for both of you to relax.
On the line:  TAKE YOUR TIME.  Seriously as a weekend judge and having judged the

Janet Peters
Janet Peters at the 2010 Master National

Master National, I am always  surprised how quickly folks will send their dog on a retrieve or blind.  I don’t think I have ever thought “Is this person ever going to send this dog?”  but I have often thought “Wow that dog was no where near ready to be sent”.  Take your time, Take your time, take your time.  A good friend of mine told me that when you are in the holding blind you should visualize success/see your dog doing the scenario successfully.  Might sound silly but I do this and I think it helps me 1) really remember the scenario, and probably most importantly 2) calm down so my dog is also calm and so I can have a plan to run the scenario.  So Have a Plan and Take Your Time.
Have fun – training week is always one of the best weeks of my year and I always hate when training week is over cause we just have so much fun.  And then there is the parties and just socializing in the gallery.  Really the 2 weeks I spend with my Master National family is fantastic and I wish I could see all these great people more often.  So Enjoy the People.
VOLUNTEER TO WORK  (this will help achieve the have fun goal) .  Remember, this event doesn’t happen by magic.  A lot of people have been working for over a year to make this happen for you and it takes every one of us running the event to work a shift or two to make this thing work and to allow the Board members to run their dogs or even take a breather.  So Work or Volunteer to help do something!
I look forward to meeting you all and good luck to you and your dogs!

Sam Ferguson
Master National Retriever Club Vice President, Region I, former MN Judge
I am not sure the first-time jitters ever disappear; they seem to always be present. As part of your MN preparation, you may be asking yourself why this process is different from a weekend test.

Sam & Jeannie Ferguson
Sam & Jeannie Ferguson

The Master National uses 5 to 6 holding blinds in order to keep the dogs lined up and ready to go. But think about how this may affect your dog? While you are ready to perform a 4-minute test, you could be in line for as long as 30 minutes before the test.
When the dog in front of you returns with his birds, take a deep breath and try to relax so your teammate is ready to take his or her place at the line.  When you raise your hand to indicate to the judge be sure you are ready, before you send your partner. With all that’s happening, it’s important to take it one step at a time.
The journey to the line is an eternity, you and your four-legged partner have worked hard for this day — remember that.
Your bags are packed, you are READY to go! Your wife and co-workers probably think you have lost your mind over a dog! They’re right!
Then there is that awful feeling of who will run as Dog #1? The running order is finalized at the MNRC opening ceremony, so there’s no need to panic beforehand. It’s just the luck (or un-luck) of the draw.
You and your friends (old and new) all have the same goal, a “Master National Ribbon and a Plate”.
But in the end, hunt test friends are people who make Your Run Their Run, just so you don’t have to go through it alone!


Buck Shope and Risk
Buck Shope and Risk

From Professional Trainer Buck Shope
Swift River Retrievers, Orange, Massachusetts.
“Enjoy the journey. It’s nice to come home with a plate and ribbon but it’s more about the experience. Enjoy every moment of the event and the old and new friends you meet.  Those are the things you will remember long after what your dog does at the event.”

Robert Montler
Altoona, Pennsylvania
If this is your first time at the Master National make sure you enjoy the event, plan on attending the parties, meeting the others there and making new friends from all over the USA.

Bob Montler and Stevie
Bob Montler and Stevie

This is a Big Event and the first time can be intimidating. You will never see so many dog trucks, trailers and handlers at any other venue in the country. The MN headquarters the day before the event begins is something to see. People from all walks of life will be there, famous professionals to the one dog “weekend warrior.”
They are all there for the coveted Master National Plate and Ribbon. Keep in mind, you already have attained success, you have earned the right to run in this event!
You and your dog have met the requirements to run the “Test of Tests,” so no matter what happens, you did something great just to get there.
You will feel a great deal of anxiety going to the line at your first MN and if you want to minimize the stress for you and your dog make sure you are both prepared for the test.
I have talked to several people and did a tremendous amount of pre-training for the Master National. I feel the best thing you can do is go back and review the previous year’s setups and make sure Old Fido can easily complete the previous years’ tests. Incorporate the setups in your training program starting three months before the event.
Marks will be reasonably short but technical; blinds will have short swims with lots of factors. Try and train with a nice size group so the dog thinks he is at an event.
Generally, the setup is to be completed in seven minutes or less so keep that in mind when preparing.
So when you raise your hand for the judge to call for the birds; your hand isn’t shaking– and you looking at a setup you are prepared to run.
Good Luck and above all Have a Good Time!


MN Handler Sallie Sullivan
MN Handler Sallie Sullivan

Sally Sullivan
Thomasville, Georgia
I am about to enter my 23rd Master National and Yes, I still do get nervous! I call what happens “Carnivorous Butterflies”!
The best part of the Master National event is that you will make new friends from all over the country and will look forward to seeing them the next year.
Good Luck and Have Fun!

Elaine Goodner
Secretary, Master National Retriever Club

Elaine Goodner
Elaine Goodner

My advice to a first timer is get into a training group and participate in the pre-national training. I did not know about them the first time Gem and I went to the Master National. The training group really enhances the whole experience besides being my personal cheering section!

Larry Kimble
Master National Retriever Club Vice President, Region III
“Volunteerism expectations and the making of life-long MNRC friends”
Though all handlers sign up to work, it is necessary to seek out their volunteer

Larry Kimble
Larry Kimble

specialty/category (like throwers or hospitality) on the Thursday morning meeting to arrange the four-hour shift schedules for the first two days. Most rookie volunteers think this is about work. Actually, this is step one in the MNRC experience of meeting and working with your new retriever friends. These new MN friends will be at future MNRC events, training groups, dinner partners, and afterward at different regional events for the rest of your retriever life.
'Jack' Kimble
‘Jack’ Kimble

Most of us foresee our first MNRC event experience based on a big weekend event experience. It is way more than that. It is the making of life-long retriever friends not only through hunt test, but also through volunteering, banquets, meetings, setting together in the gallery for many days, and just meeting in the parking lot each day. Trust me if you have a problem these friends will help you out with a solution.
Even if you are not handling your dogs, there is an expectation of you volunteering for a few four-hour shifts during the event. So if you attend, please volunteer and volunteer those traveling with you. If not attending, think what you can contribute toward the event or possibly the event’s auctions.

Don’t forget to bring toilet paper, just in case!

Everyone’s advice has merit.  So please share your advice with us by posting a comment on this blog!  Train hard, have fun and see you in Corning on Oct. 9th
Submitted by Mia DiBenedetto

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