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The 'tail' of a small-town dog hitting it big

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SNOQUALMIE - Todd Manuel said his business is a hobby gone bad, but it has done him very well.

His dog training business, Snoqualmie River Retrievers, was born of a love for retrievers that became a full-time occupation. That love and devotion to one of his dogs, Sabre, was rewarded by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which inducted Sabre into its elite Hall of Fame.

"He [Sabre] has got everything," he said. "He's strong, smart and attractive."

Manuel grew up around dogs while working at kennels in California. He never intended to become a dog trainer, instead he earned a degree in exercise science from Utah State and became a personal trainer.

He wanted to train retrievers, however, and he got one that also doubled as a running companion for his wife. The Labrador retriever, Sierra, became a master hunter, a title bestowed by the AKC to dogs who perform exceptionally at hunting dog competitions around the country. The dogs are tested on a series of hunting tasks from retrieving "marks" to holding still while other dogs go after their own targets.

Manuel loved the time he spent with his retriever and started to train them professionally in 1997. He incorporated Snoqualmie River Retrievers in 2000.

"I found out I liked training dogs as much as I liked training people," Manuel said.

While training Sierra, Manuel got another pure-bred retriever named Sabre. Like all of his other dogs, Manuel started training Sabre at a young age. Sabre learned quickly and was running master-level hunting competitions by the time he was 16 months old.

Sabre went to qualify at the 2000 Master Nationals in Indiana at just 23 months. In 2002, Sabre ran the Master Nationals in Bend, Ore., and received his second qualification, becoming a Master National Hunter. At the 2003 Master Nationals in Thomasville, Ga., Sabre qualified for the third time and was inducted into the Master National Hall of Fame at age 5. Sabre is one of only two dogs in the state of Washington in the Master National Hall of Fame and the only male dog from the state as well.

"It's a pretty select group," Manuel said.

While Manuel has experience and a prize-winning dog backing his business, it is his love of retrievers that gets him up every morning to take the dogs out or pack up his truck to haul them around the country.

"If I had to prioritize the reasons why I do this, I would say the first is companionship, the second is training a good hunting dog and the third is competition," he said.

Manuel said the Valley is a great place to train dogs. There is a lot of wilderness to run around in and Manuel can be seen taking his dogs out to Meadowbrook Farm to train.

All of the dogs Manuel trains stay at home with him and his wife during training. Sabre is a regular fixture on Manuel's lap while watching television and the bedroom will have several dogs sleeping in and around the bed at night. Manuel said he wants to fight the myth that all hunting dogs are outside animals that spend all their time in the brush. He wants to raise and train family dogs that can be as good to their owners as Sabre has been to him.

"He and I are pals," Manuel said. "We are the two employees in this company."

* For information, visit www.snoqualmieriverretrievers.com or call (425) 681-5357.

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