Hobbies are often picked up for personal pleasure, but the ones that benefit more than one party are the most rewarding.
The Riley family enjoys training and breeding labradors, to be sure, but what Darrin, who has worked as an engineer for a major contractor for the past 25 years, draws the most enjoyment from is seeing fulfilled potential.
Darrin and his wife, Claire, along with their teenage sons, Hayden and Nolan, team to run Savvy Dog Company, an online retailer of gun dog gear, and Kicking Bird Gun Dogs, a “micro-scale breeder” of labrador retrievers that strives to raise, train and breed intelligent, healthy, athletic and obedient sporting dogs that can perform at the highest levels in the field and turn it off when at home.
“Being able to see a dog progress is the most rewarding part of what we do,” Darrin said. “And people's reaction to seeing the dog doing what it loves to do and what it's bred to do.”
Claire agreed, adding that the most rewarding aspect of what she does within the training is “seeing the joy that owners get out of seeing their dogs reach their full potential.”
It started with one lab in 2010. One thing led to another and before long the Riley's began training, which led to Savvy Dog Co.
The Riley's operation is non-commercial, so they operate under the threshold of the USDA's regulations. On the property where they live, south of Blair near Lakeland, the Riley's have 3 acres and a multipurpose building devoted to training. Within five minutes of that property, however, Darrin said he has access to 1,200 acres on which to train dogs.
He only accepts and houses one at a time, and is committed at the time to young dogs. An avid hunter for his entire life, Darrin will train the dog up to force fetch, or starting level in waterfowl and upland hunting, a program that takes anywhere from four to 12 weeks.
How long the training takes varies from dog to dog. Each one has a different personality and talent level, with some being more stubborn or softer than others.
“Every dog is different,” said Darrin, who sees dogs of all personalities. “It all depends on the dog.”
For now, the operation is strictly a hobby for the Riley's. For professional training, Riley will send the dogs to Scottsbluff, where he currently has three labradors undergoing programs.
“Training dogs is very routine-oriented,” Darrin, who personally developed the Savvy Dog Co. and Kicking Bird Gun Dogs websites, said. “Right now, I don't have the time to commit to making this any more than a hobby.”
An enjoyable one, nonetheless, that the Riley's are able bond over and learn from.
“In the beginning, we got the dogs because of the hunting,” Darrin said. “Now we go hunting because of the dogs.”