If you were to ask most sporting dog trainers to name the key contributing factor to a quality dog, the short answer would likely be pedigree. The long answer, of course, will involve just how those merged bloodlines and the natural aptitudes the dog carries deep inside are brought to the forefront with proper training and encouragement. Coincidentally, this is not much different from how some of the major players in the sporting dog industry have come to be.
Take Purina's Bob West, whose father trained Coast Guard dogs and horses. He was a dyed-in-the-wool hunting buff too, exposing Bob to gun dogs, though early years were filled with hounds and mutts — not setters and pointers.
"After the war we moved to northern Missouri from Philly, where I actually started hunting with my father," West recalls. "The deer and turkey thing hadn't happened yet and there were no pheasants, so we did a lot of rabbit, squirrel and quail hunting. When we moved to Iowa, I ended up hunting pheasants as well as more squirrels and rabbits. We just had mixed dogs then, nothing specific for what we were hunting."
West followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Navy, returning to his passion for dogs in 1965. While raising a young family, he also became involved in horseback shooting dog trials, walking trials, and eventually hunt tests.
"I helped get the National Shoot to Retrieve Association off the ground," he recalls. "In fact, I'm member L1, which means 'like member 1.' I also got involved with NAVHDA and am member No. 2 in that association. My involvement in both led to a moment that changed the course of my life. I like to think of it as my 'good Lord will have you in the right place at the right time' moment."
The moment came while West was engaged in a nine-state regional trial run. "Dave Meisner [Gun Dog's founder] came to one of the trials and asked the officials if he could interview the winner. I happened to take a first and a third, so Dave introduced himself and we quickly became friends. Not long after, he mentioned he had the idea for doing a television show about dogs.
"I got involved in the show and brought a trailer load of dogs to the filming; however, no one else could handle my dogs the way I could, so I ended up being on camera." As luck would have it, one of the key sponsors was Purina.
Meisner's television show was contractually bound to Purina to produce spaniel, pointer and retriever videos. West was a natural pick for on-screen talent, and he ended up contributing to the pointer video. Shortly after Meisner launched Gun Dog he asked West to pen a piece for him.
"That led to more writing and more videos. At the time I was working for Case International, and in 1988 they informed me that they were downsizing. Due to my close relationship with Purina, I called their marketing department and asked if they needed a spokesman. Fortunately, they did and I started off on a new path," he said.
West's original role with the canine nutrition powerhouse was to fly around the country to do radio and television and essentially engage in marketing blitzes. Bob's involvement led to the realization that Purina should be sponsoring field trials, which the company agreed to.
Today's Purina can be seen throughout the sporting dog world in a way that few companies can boast and that presence, in no small part, can be credited to West, who currently holds the title of Director of Nestle/Purina Sporting Dog Field Programs. To further facilitate the arena of hunting and field-trial dogs, West has worked with Purina to develop relationships with other companies like Garmin, Avery and Dokken's Dog Supply to co-sponsor events.
Of course, Purina doesn't only sponsor field trials and TV shows. They develop top-notch canine nutrition that is perfect for dogs of all breeds and vocations. This is achieved through state-of-the-art facilities staffed by research and development teams headed by nearly a dozen folks holding doctoral degrees, all committed to ensuring healthy canines are fueled to optimal performance.
R & R
A full-time job and multiple commitments to various organizations certainly eat up a good portion of West's time, but not all of it. "I still hunt a lot," he said. "My favorite bird to hunt used to be quail, but they've gotten awfully hard to come by these days. So now I focus a lot on sharptails."
West will hunt ruffed grouse in the north woods, waterfowl in North Dakota and Montana sharptails and Hungarian partridge this year, but that's not all. "I still hunt pheasants in my home state of Iowa and will try to get to Texas for quail," he notes. More waterfowling is in West's future, as he has just begun training a Lab. The Mississippi River flows just 300 yards from his front door, providing an ample supply of birds and water.
"I've had a lot of pointers over the years, but I'm working on a young Lab pup right now. I'm having a ball learning about retrievers and how they operate, so I'm planning on getting him into field trials but I'm also looking at all of those duck opportunities that will be available so close to my house. Even though I use to compete with Labs in the '60s, I never really had a well-bred one, so it has been pretty neat to see how good a well-bred Lab can be."
West also spoke extensively about his two grandchildren. "I take the kids target shooting and squirrel hunting all of the time. I made the mistake of buying the oldest a Ruger 10/22 and he can't get enough of shooting those Champion targets."
When asked if the grandkids will be into dogs and hunting as much as West himself, his true-to-form answer was simply: "I'm cautious not to overwork the kids. It's just like having a puppy; you don't want to get them stuck in the mud. We do all kinds of short, exciting things. I want them to know the real side of the outdoors and then make their own decisions on how much to get into it."
West's attitude with his grandchildren is a good one, and it's the same attitude that has brought Purina into the lives of so many sporting dog owners. For that, every one of us who owns a hunting dog can and should be grateful.