By R. Alan Richardson
Mike and Mary Ann Long run Indian Creek Kennels, boarding, and dog training facilities in Rutledge. The couple moved here in 1978 and now run one of the most nationally recognized services in the entire country. Mrs. Long said, “I didn’t even know people like Mike existed until I met him. There are actually people out there that make a good living training dogs?” Mike commented, “I became enamored with retrievers at a young age watching American Sportsman on Saturday mornings with my Dad when Trey Gowdy was the host. The first dog I ever tried to train was my Dad’s. I ruined that dog and then began working with a local pro as well as reading up on how to train them. I fell in love with it, but really had no formal training.
Back then we were called tennis shoe trainers when we had to chase them down, push the fanny down physically and run them on a rope. Today’s trainers are much more sophisticated with electric collars and more understanding of how to train the dogs.”
Mike moved to Covington and met professional trainer Jim Robinson when he realized he wanted to go that same route. His nicknames are Yank from growing up in Ohio, Dog Man, and Mad Dog. He purchased his training facility from Jim Riser who produced national champions in 1968, 1971, 1972, and 1973. They are buried on his property.
He told us, “This is a lifestyle for me and I’ve been fortunate to make a great living doing what I love. You live with these dogs and they are your life.” Long has trained and campaigned many national qualifiers including West Wind’s Chances Are (Chance) and Chances are Slim (Slim). Chance qualified for five Nationals and Slim won the Canadian Open a few years later. He has trained several dogs for multi-millionaire mogul Ted Turner and three generations of his family, former Atlanta Falcon quarterback Steve Bartkowski, former Atlanta Falcon head coach Leeman Bennett, and former defensive end for the Falcons Mike Perko to name a few of the notables he’s worked with. Mike said, “If you’re lucky, you might get to live through two or three great dogs. Once you have some success in the field it gets you a reputation. That’s why people still come to me today!”
The 66 year old says he doesn’t compete anymore due to complications from skin cancer due to being in the sun for so long, but still longs for it. “If anybody tells you after their career that they wouldn’t want it again, they’re lying to you.”
Long reminisced about his beginnings, “When I first started out I would have tried to train a three-legged cow for you. Whatever you needed, I’d do it. Now I have clients from all over the country. Mary Ann and I were how it all started out. Sometimes I’d leave on Thursday and not be back until Sunday. At other times I would be gone for three weeks and she would hold down the boarding fort. She’s been my biggest supporter and there’s no question I wouldn’t be here without her understanding and hard work. I traveled the country from Ohio to Michigan to California to Florida and beyond.”
He talked about the money involved in the sport. “There are single labs that have sold for half a million dollars, stud fees can be as high as $2000, and puppies from successful stocks can go for $8000 a pop.”
This big-time trainer was kind enough to allow us to visit with him on a workout with two of his own personal dogs, Libby and Jitterbug, both females. It was an amazing sight to watch how well these two girls were trained. Both are part of his own breeding stock with Libby being the house dog and Jitterbug being the true athlete. Long said, “It’s a lot of fun now working the dogs, boarding, and training.” He used a dummy launcher to shoot the bird dummies into the field and pond. This man is what many would call a dog whisperer who knows his craft that he’s perfected over many years of hard work and the dogs showed us why. They never moved until he called their name and guided them with his whistle, hand motions, and voice directions until they located the dummies. Very cool. Mike told us, “It’s like coaching a great athlete. That’s what these dogs were born to do. You just have to find a way to get the best out of them.”
“Jitterbug is part of years and years of my own breeding and that will speak for itself. Just watch. She’s so smart she could probably drive a car,” he laughed. When this dog was diving into the pond like an Olympic athlete after the dummy she left a wake the size of a small boat.
The trainer talked about the other parts of his job training owners and clients, “I spend a lot of time with them coaching and teaching them how to work the dogs. The dogs will run all over them if they don’t understand the techniques I’ve tried to instill in them.” Jitterbug put on a show for us.
Mike Long may not be very well known around Morgan County, but when it comes to national recognition as a dog trainer, believe me he is in the top 10 out there.
“I think they are simply poetry in motion.” If you get a chance to see them in action, you would have to agree.