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Retrieving titles: Yogi rises to the top as a field trial competitor

Yogi soars through the air after leaping from the dock at Cameron Park after a training dummy that owner Louie Churack tossed into Lake Bemidji during a recent workout. Yogi is the first dog associated with the Mississippi Headwaters Retriever Club to become an AKC Field Champion and an AKC Amateur Field Champion. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Yogi enjoys a scratch behind the ears as much as any dog and the 9-year-old black Labrador has certainly earned the extra attention.

The dog is owned by Louie Churack of Bemidji and the two have developed a special relationship. Yogi enjoys competing and Churack enjoys training. Together, they’ve formed a team that’s risen to the top of the ranks in the American Kennel Club’s field trials.

In 2009, Yogi became an AKC Field Champion (Open Division), and two years later, he added an AKC Amateur Field Champion title to his resume.

“When I bought Yogi in 2007, he was 3-years-old, and I liked his size and his temperament,” Churack said. “And when I started to train him he blossomed.

“Yogi had a lot of talent and a lot of skill but I never thought he would have been so dedicated to training and competition. Yogi has made a name for himself across the country,” Churack added.

During their competitive years, Yogi and Churack would train up to six days a week. The training would include duplicating field trail conditions and requirements, drills and commands — all aspects of becoming a cohesive team. On Sundays, however, the two would have a fun day.

“Dogs are so tuned to what they are doing that they know when it is time to train, when it is time to compete and when it is time to have fun,” Churack said.

Churack is a member of and the field trial chairman for the Mississippi Headwaters Retriever Club (MHRC), which is based in Bemidji. He knows dogs and training. He also knows the significance of the accomplishment when a dog becomes an open division field champion and an amateur field champion.

“Yogi is the first dog in our club to become an open field champ and an amateur field champ,” Churack said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a dog that could achieve this. These titles are very difficult to achieve.”

A dog earns points for placing in the top four of a field trial competition and to become an open field champion requires a field trial win plus 10 total points.

“There may be as many as 80 or 90 dogs at a field trial and only the top four finishers receive any points,” Churack said.

The scoring system at a field trial is top-heavy. The event champion earns five points while the runner-up earns three points, the third-place finisher gets one point and the dog that places fourth overall receives a half point.

A dog accumulates points throughout its life, and when it has 10 points plus a trial victory the dog becomes an AKC Field Champion.

Points earned in the Open Division do not transfer to the amateur competitions, however, and to become an AKC Amateur Field Champion requires 15 points and a trial win.

“It took Yogi 2½ years of competing to get his field championship title and 3½ years to get his AFC title,” Churack said.

During the summer months Churack and Yogi spent their time competing in trials in the Upper Midwest, but headed to Texas to compete in the winter.

“Somewhere in the country there is a field trial every weekend, with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s,” Churack said. “There are people flying all over the country competing in field trials. Yogi and I usually went to about 10 up north and five more in Texas.”

The Mississippi Headwaters Retriever Club will hold its annual field trial July 12-14.

“Yogi is a very good dog,” said MHRC field trial secretary Dale Ladig. “He has been our ‘Dog of the Year’ a couple of times and that honor is based on points. In the dog world, what Yogi and Louie have accomplished is exceptional.”

Field trial dogs reach their competitive peak when they are about 6-years-old and Yogi is past his prime. His future now includes more time on the couch and less time on the road.

“Yogi is pretty much retired,” Churack said. “He’s going to be a hunting dog and a family pet from now on. Most field trial dogs never performed as well as Yogi did and he has earned his rest.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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