Quivering with excitement, the sleek black lab sits obediently at Paul Cordova's side, and then with the command "Katie" she explodes out of her stance in pursuit of the retrieve. Paul Cordova is a professional dog trainer, and he runs La Paloma Retrievers in Harlingen. Katie is his prize retriever.
"We are running at the master level, which is the highest level you can possibly get," Cordova says as he watches Katie race back with a duck firmly clenched in her mouth. Katie hits her mark tight up against Paul's left leg and sits waiting to gently release the duck into Paul's outstretched hand.
Cordova has been training professionally for the past five years, and he has a loyal cadre of satisfied clients. Bill and Gayle Hood from South Padre Island are the proud owners of Blackjack a powerfully built black Labrador retriever that has excelled under Paul's guidance.
"Paul got Blackjack when he was about six months old, and he guided him thru obedience school and hunting school," Gayle explains, as she pats the big lab on the head. "Paul did an excellent job, and he was so excited about Blackjack. He took him on to be a starter hunter, and he retrieves beautifully. All we really wanted was a wonderful pet, and we got a lot more."
It's Blackjack's turn now, and as Cordova works the lab on a series of challenging retrieves the enthusiastic dog performs flawlessly. It's apparent from the gentle but firm commands that Paul is in full control, and Blackjack is thrilled to please his trainer.
"Paul is one of the best I have ever seen," says Bill Hood, as he admires his dog's performance. "I guarantee when you take a dog to Paul with his tail in the air and when you go get him two to three months later his tail will still be up in the air. It will not be between his legs like some of the trainers I have seen in the past."
Cordova's understanding of animals started early, as he grew up on a farm near La Pryor, some sixty miles east of Eagle Pass. His father is a farmer and rancher, who raises horses and cattle, but his passion has always been his pack of Walker hounds that he still hunts with.
"I have been around dogs all my life," Cordova says. "My dad hunts tracking dogs. He hunts bear, mountain lion, so that was my first exposure with dogs. I think a lot of my dog sense came from that. It wasn't uncommon to have eight or ten dogs running around. We also had a collie as a herding dog. My dad has a knack for dealing with animals"
That special ability to communicate with animals is a gift Paul has apparently inherited from his dad and honed to perfection in his work with retrievers. "My dad and I talk every day, and it's always about dogs. They are his undying passion."
"He is just a special trainer," Bill Hood says. "He treats his client's dogs with kid gloves like they were his own. I noticed right off that both his dogs live in the house. They don't live in a kennel."
"I have hunted all my life, but I never had time or thought I had time to train a retriever," Cordova explains. It wasn't until he graduated from Baylor in 1997, landed a job as an environmental investigator with the Texas Center for Environmental Quality and moved to Harlingen that he decided to train his first retriever.
"I got married, bought a house and started dove hunting. I had a little time and a little money and went to the humane society and picked out at dog. I wanted to do this by myself, and so I went to the library and learned on my own. I wanted to interact with the dog a whole lot more, and I wanted to get that teamwork going with the dog. I did it to enhance my enjoyment of the dog. The success I got from doing that brought me a level of enthusiasm and delight and that motivated me to start training other people's dogs. I like realizing a dog's capabilities, seeing them blossom into their full potential."
Cordova has accentuated his self taught techniques by traveling throughout the United States and attending seminars held by top professionals. "I have learned things from those pros that might have taken me years to realize if ever. It has been extremely rewarding to learn from the best."
"Eye contact is the foundation of everything. One of the first things I do when I get a puppy is to do drills that encourage the dog to look at me and give me that focus and attention," Cordova says. "Once we accomplish that, then we can communicate with the dog."
Cordova specializes in retrievers, and sometimes his clients show up with a dog that they are on the verge of giving up on. "I get a lot of clients that say, this dog is worthless. I am only giving it one more try." Cordova says that he has never had a retriever he couldn't help, although not every dog is going to reach that pinnacle of championship ability. "Not all dogs are the smartest and not all have that willingness to please or a willingness to work."
"I think the secret is just like with people, finding what motivates them. Every dog I take in is different, an individual. The golden rule is to be consistent and be fair and be respectful of the dog. Dogs are like people, they do their best work when they have love and work."
While training the dog is critical, training the owner is equally important. "If you don't develop that communication, you can have the most well bred dog in the world, and he won't perform. Just like if you have the fastest car on the track, but if you don't know how to drive it you won't win any races."
Nancy Tewell of Harlingen is a friend and client that has been training her own labs for years, and while she consistently turned out fine hunting companions and good retrievers, she began working with Cordova to take her dogs to a higher level. Tewell now successfully competes in statewide competitions with her dogs.
"That's' what it is really all about, that relationship between the dog and the person and them learning to trust you." Tewell says, as she puts her handsome chocolate lab Sport thru his paces. "I compete in HRC (Hunter Retriever Club) and AKC, and I have four dogs with two titles apiece. It's a lot of fun."
When its Katie's turn again, you can see the gleam of excitement in her bright eyes. At Paul's command she races off in pursuit of yet another retrieve. With whistle and hand commands Paul and Katie together locate the distant duck, and the proud lab charges back in her master's direction. "Paul turns and with a broad smile says, "I can do that a thousand times and never get tired of doing it."
If you are interested in learning more about "La Paloma Retrievers" then you can reach Paul Cordova at 425-6190 or 622-0443. The Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore