MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Her coat is curly, clean and well groomed. With a pompadour atop her head and a lolly-pop tail, some would think Ten needs just a few ribbons to be the epitome of a pampered poodle.
Jack Combs cautions people not to judge his dog by her stereotypical looks. Seven-year-old Ten is a top-notch hunter.
“We were on a dove hunt and a bunch of the good old boys were kind of snickering when we showed up with a poodle,” said Combs, of Wickford, R.I. “They weren’t snickering when the hunt was over. She did a lot better than their dogs.”
Ten has done better than most hunting dogs. Through next Sunday she’ll be amid about 700 of the nation’s top retrievers at the Master National hunt test at Flint Oak, a sporting facility in Elk County.
Like all of the dogs, Ten earned her spot at the Master National by excelling in at least four top-level hunt tests across the nation within the past 12 months. At the tests, Ten had to impress the judges with her ability to precisely mark the falling location of three birds thrown seconds, and maybe 100 yards, apart, then remember where each was located when sent for the retrieves.
She also had to precisely follow Comb’s hand signals and whistle commands as he directed her to an unseen bird. Often she had to ignore birds tossed nearby as distractions, or had to sit tight while watching another nearby dog sprint about on retrieves.
It was watching other field poodles go through such paces while vacationing in England that got Combs and his wife, Mia DiBenedetto to consider getting into standard-sized poodles for hunting dogs. They were impressed by the breed’s intelligence, desire, versatility and skills. Severely allergic to dogs, Combs was also impressed that poodles shed little hair.
Finding good working poodles in North America, however, took some time. Eventually they found a Canadian hunting line of hunting and selected a male puppy named Go Bang in 2003. Three years later they bought another puppy and named her Ten.
“You know, like Bo Derek in the movie,” DiBenedetto said. “We just figured she was the perfect one.”
Seven years later, they think she’s pretty close to that.
The poodles were Combs’ first try at retriever training. He’s the only trainer Ten has ever had.
“We’re a team,” he said as he put the poodle through her paces while practicing Wednesday afternoon, “and that’s what I like the best, the teamwork.”
Combs said Ten’s intelligence and solid hunting instincts have made training easy, as has her personality and high desire to please. Ten has only been trained by voice and she’s never worn an electronic collar.
Their training routine seems to be working. Ten is the only poodle to qualify for a Master National Hunt test, and she’s done it several times.
Wednesday, Ten was amid a small army of Labs practicing at a pond south of Independence. She did the sight and blind retrieves mostly without fault, though not as fast as some Labs. Unlike the larger dogs, she didn’t seem fazed by the heat.
“She has amazing stamina,” Combs said. “She’s light on her feet.”
In the fall and winter, Ten spends a lot of time pointing quail and pheasants for her owners and retrieving ducks and doves.
Ten spends a lot of time inside, both within Combs’ home and a local children’s hospital.
“She’s a wonderful therapy dog and is part of an autism project,” DiBenedetto said. “Ten has the perfect temperament. She’s just an amazingly versatile dog.”
And she also happens to be a poodle.