When I reached Morgan Haglin on the phone, it sounded like he was walking or running between places. “Right now we have -- I believe -- seven litters on the ground,” he said, his voice lifting as I imagine a big grin spreading across his face. “We just had one on Sunday. Typically we have five to eight puppies in each, but this spring we had a litter of 16 -- I guess she only felt like having one litter this year instead of two.” He’s joking, and while I initially thought I might only have him on the phone for a few minutes given how busy he is, he ended up talking with me for over an hour about everything from hunting to breeding and everything in between.
Morgan is the head trainer at Pine Shadows, a family-run business based out of Minnesota since 1976. Mark Haglin, Morgan’s father, sums up what they do: "Our goal is to produce a dog that has an on/off switch. Take him into the field and he's ready to hunt. Bring him in the house or kennel and he's ready to kick back, lie around and watch TV." Morgan echos that sentiment. “It’s the partnership -- the friend, the companion that you’re gonna take out with you hunting and bring home at night to the family.”
Morgan and his famous "de-skunking" procedure. PC: Pine Shadows
Pine Shadows isn’t just about breeding their dogs and getting them out the door -- they produce English springer spaniels of the highest quality, and they provide gun dog training, field handling, pheasant hunts and a boarding operation.
“We have a guarantee with our dogs,” says Morgan. “If you’re unhappy with them, just bring them back and we’ll replace it or give you your money back. That’s as complicated as it needs to get with us. We just ask that you bring the dog back to us for any reason -- it could be that the dog just isn’t a great fit or it could be a health issue, we still want to take it back.”
Back in 1976, Mark and his wife, Sophie, decided to breed English springer spaniels (ESS) because of their versatility in hunting and their family-friendly attitude. They describe their spaniels as a flushing dog that will hunt anything from woodcock to pheasant to Canadian geese, and they’ll also retrieve back to the hand. Both Mark and Sophie have degrees from the University of Minnesota in Agriculture, Animal Science and Education, and both of them remain dedicated to ongoing education in genetics at Cornell University. Not that they brag about it, but I also found out that Pine Shadows is the first ORVIS endorsed springer spaniel breeding and training program in the United States.
A Pine Shadows puppy....how many can we take home?? PC: Pine Shadows
Morgan grew up in the family business, but that’s not the only experience he has. Although he’s been handling dogs since 1988, he tells people he’s been doing it seriously since about 1992 (when he was about 12). “I believe I’m the youngest handler to run in a national and that was in 9th grade,” he finally admits after much prodding. “I went pro in about 2001 and started handling dogs in field trials for other people professionally.” In high school, he worked at a vet clinic for two years, then went to the Animal Science program at the University of Minnesota for Genetics and Nutrition. He worked in the veterinary world for 10 years before coming back to the family business and taking over training, though he is extremely knowledgeable about genetics and responsible breeding, as well as hunting. In short, this guy knows what he’s doing.
Oftentimes at Rex Specs, we’re out looking at different fields where dogs need protection, but Morgan jokes with me that he’s the one who found us -- or actually, a client of his found us. His client has a dog who’s 8-years-old, and he called up Morgan saying that she was working great out in the field but that she kept getting her eyes beat up. “We tried the salve and a few things and nothing worked,” Morgan remembers. “Then he started looking at goggles and went through about eight different pairs -- they just didn’t work well. Then he called up again and said, ‘I found the best thing ever’ and it was Rex Specs.” After that, Morgan wanted to try them out for himself and got a couple pairs from us at the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic last year in Minneapolis. “That winter I had a dog get a sliver in his eye, so we trained with Rex Specs for the next three weeks and that allowed us to keep training.”
A successful hunt of the famous South Dakota ringnecked pheasants. PC: Pine Shadows
Pine Shadows owns 11 square miles in South Dakota where they offer guided wingshooting every fall. More than seven miles of the preserve follow the historic Elm river, and because much of the land is on a preserve they can do early releases in September and then hunt in October, allowing for a wild hunt experience as opposed to most places where guides must release the birds just hours before a hunting group shows up.
“We’ll have 50 dogs running this fall,” Morgan says. Many of those dogs will be from Pine Shadows -- some are starter dogs that Pine Shadows trains for hunting and obedience for the first couple years of their life, some are their breeding dogs and the rest are dogs that the hunters bring with them, many originally puppies from Pine Shadows.
With that many dogs around, Morgan always has a first aid kit on hand that’s he’s constantly improving. He talked with me more about why he includes Rex Specs in the kit. “We don’t have them on every dog -- just with the dogs that are more prone to certain things, or if a dog gets an injury in the field and we can’t afford to stop the training. We put the Rex Specs on after an injury and keep hunting -- there’s no downtime.” Morgan says the alternative is to have 2-3 days of downtime to let the eye start to heal up and keep anything from irritating it further. “It would be smart to put ‘em on the dogs right away,” he says. “But we don’t because we can’t have them at the competitions -- they’d be considered a training aid. So it’s one of those things where we do training with and without them. In heavier brush especially we train with them so the dogs don’t get injuries.”
While Pine Shadows breeds exclusively a long line of impeccable English springer spaniels, their gun dog training program is inclusive to any breed. Their training package is pretty impressive, ranging from obedience training, quartering, retrieving, flushing, socialization and correction of problems -- and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The attitude at Pine Shadows is that anyone is welcome to visit their facilities at any time -- and there’s always puppies running around as a bonus. So if you’re looking to brighten up your day (come on, who doesn’t love to have a bunch of puppies crawling all over the place and tripping on their oversize paws), stop by sometime. And if you’re interested in getting a puppy or started hunting dog from Pine Shadows, get in touch with them sooner rather than later -- they currently have a waiting list of about a dozen people.
Check back on our blog or sign up for our newsletter if you enjoyed this article and are interested in hunting or breeding. We’ll be doing an article on breeding in the near future and including how Pine Shadows approaches responsible breeding practices, so stay tuned!