Girl’s dream now retriever reality

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 27, 2007

WESSON – It only took an essay for 12-year-old Taylor Smith’sdream of owning and training her own Labrador to become areality.

In May of 2006, the Wesson Attendance Center seventh-graderasked her father James for a dog. When he suggested an alternateroute, she submitted her entry to the Purina Youth RetrieverProgram, which offered an AKC registered dog to the author of thebest essay on “Why I Want My Own Labrador Retriever.”

After months of waiting, she received word that her efforts hadpaid off. In September, contest sponsors Joel and Tina Sopranopresented Smith with her very own yellow lab, which she named”Deuce.”

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“I suggested her submit an essay and next thing we know we havea new member of the family and a new dog to train,” said JamesSmith.

Almost a year later, it’s safe to say Deuce and Taylor areteaching each other as they prepare for upcoming hunting contests.Since both are rookies to training, it’s been a learning processall along.

“It’s been a fun experience working with Deuce,” said Smith.”You have to put a lot of hard work into training a dog so the doghimself will learn what he is suppose to do when the timecomes.”

When Deuce first joined the family, it wasn’t unusual to findhim tucked away in Taylor’s room at bedtime.

But after a few months, her father said it was time for Deuce tosleep in his pen next to other dogs. The new kid on the block nowis treated the same as the other dogs, even down to the once-a-dayfeedings.

Within a year Deuce has learned some common commands andlearning to retrieve. Taylor said she is working to teach Deuce tocome, sit, stay, hold, still, go and stop.

Taylor said spending time with Deuce means splitting timebetween working and playing.

Smith explained at his young age, Deuce can handle the commands,but needs a little more work on his retrieving skills. To keep himhappy and fit, she plays with him first, then works on training,then finishes the day out with more play time.

At first Taylor took Deuce to the creek for swimming lessons.She said she got him used to the water by taking him in with her.And it’s obvious Deuce is learning.

“One day when I was training Deuce, I threw one of our plasticbirds for him to bring back. He went to the left, then the right,picked up something and brought it back to me,” Taylor said. “Itwas a real dead bird instead of the toy I had thrown. It was funnyin a way as well as a little nasty.”

She said the hardest part of the training so far is gettingDeuce to hold the birds instead of spitting them out or gnawing onthem.

She said she’s working with him now on building speed andagility. Even during the school year when extracurriculars kick in,she still makes sure she can devote at least 15 to 20 minutes a dayworking with Deuce.

Smith first decided she wanted to work with her own lab afterwatching her brother Matthew win a title with their father’s dog,Rowdy. It was at that point that she knew she wanted to train andshow dogs, too.

Summer vacation has given Taylor ample time to prepare withDeuce for the upcoming hunting contests that take place in thecolder seasons. She said the family is waiting for one that isn’ttoo far to travel for her big debut.

“I want my dog to be the best he can be, and show the audiencewhat he has learned. When a person says, ‘You have a pretty gooddog. Did you train him yourself?,’ that would make me feel good toknow I accomplished something with Deuce,” she wrote in heressay.

James Smith said he’s ecstatic his daughter is following in hisfootsteps.

“It’s been a family thing of ours for a long time and itthrilled me to see my daughter wanting to get involved,” he said.”She has stayed with her training even while she has had a lot ofmany different school functions going on and I couldn’t be moreproud.”