By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
National Retriever Championship Hosted Locally
Pride the Labrador Retriever returns to his handler, Bill Eckett, after a water retrieve in the 2011 National Retriever Championship at Woodward Reservoir. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN/THE LEADER

Oakdale is hosting a unique pack of athletes this week for the National Retriever Championship. Eight-nine of the country’s top retrieving dogs and around 300 owners, handlers and event coordinators are in Oakdale for the national championship event, which is held on the West Coast every four years.

“This means a lot for Oakdale, money wise. Three hundred people are staying in town, eating here, and putting gas in their vehicles. That can add up to a lot of money for local businesses,” said Mary Guardiola, CEO of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce.

The National Retriever Club has set up headquarters at Oakdale’s Motel 6. The hotel was chosen because of its dog-friendly policies, but guests are also staying at other local hotels. Participants in the championship event are traveling from all over the country, some from as far as Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Guardiola said on Monday that there are 200 hotel rooms total in Oakdale, and 198 of them were booked out for the week.

The National Retriever Championship is an annual Stake for dogs in the retriever class. The event is restricted to the top 100 or so qualifying dogs each year. The contestants prove their ability at retrieving game under various conditions.

“It’s like hunting on steroids,” said Lorna Kolstad, chair of the hostess committee.

Dogs retrieve birds (ducks and pheasants) from a distance of 300 yards during the championships. They are sometimes sent after more than one bird, through water and high grass. They depend on their handlers to give hand signals up to three football fields away, and then they have to locate and return the bird.

“It’s really about how well they do the retrieve. We want to see the straightest line possible,” Kolstad said.

The National Retriever Championship is held annually by the National Retriever Club Inc., licensed by the American Kennel Club. The event rotates each year between the four time zones. The event was held in Oakdale eight years ago on private property including the Boatright Ranch. This year the event started at Woodward Reservoir and will rotate between that location and private property in the area.

Sonya Harrigfeld, director of Environmental Resources and Parks Services for Stanislaus County, worked with the National Retriever Club to bring the event to Woodward Reservoir. The event had to be approved by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to do things that aren’t normally allowed at the reservoir, including selling concessions and merchandise. The reservoir is already used for both duck hunting and dog training.

“It’s not too far of a stretch to have this event here,” Harrigfeld said. 

The event does use live ducks and pheasants, which are pen-raised and brought specifically for the event. Ducks are released and shot for the dogs to retrieve. All ducks are kept penned until they are released for the retrieve, and they all have clipped toes to identify them as farmed, non-native ducks.

The National Retriever Championship will continue daily until Saturday, Nov. 19. Dogs run 10 trials and there are eliminations after each trial. By the end there will be only one dog left, and he or she will hold the title of “National Champion” and will receive a trophy. There is no prize money, and entry fees for the event are $300 per dog.

“They do it for the title and all of the bragging rights that come with that. The winner gets to keep the title of ‘national champion’ next to their name for life,” Kolstad said.

The National Retriever Championship is open to the public, although audiences are limited to the designated viewing gallery. The event started at Woodward Reservoir, near the intersection of Eastman Road and 26 Mile Road. It might move to the Boatright or Goodrich property throughout the week. Updated schedules will be posted at the Motel 6 lobby or online at