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If Pat Burns were one of the dogs he trains, he would have put in 261 years on the job by now. If you’re doing the math that equates to more than three decades of coaxing canines into champions and helping handlers handle those canine champions. Pat Burns Elite Retriever Training, based in Bristol, Tennessee, but serving clients both nationally and abroad, was inspired Burns’ love of dogs and hunting from an early age.

“I grew up in northwest Indiana where my love for hunting and the outdoors developed,” said Burns. “My love for hunting led me to training my own hunting dogs. I joined a training group and became involved with the Michiana Retriever Club. I was immediately hooked,” he added.


Burns’ love and passion for the sport and training continued to grow. In the early 1980s, he was eager to learn the newest training methods, as well as absorb as much information as he could from established masters of the retriever training industry. It was at this time he apprenticed with Rex Carr, who pioneered modern e-collar training methods.

“Known as the father of modern retriever training, Carr was also legendary for his “no non-sense” style and for creating a superior relationship between dog and handler,” Burns said. “I spent several summers in California with Carr and Carr-lab kennels learning the implementation of these new training methods,” he added.

In 1984, Burns continued his journey in the retriever-training world, and accepted an associate training position with Mike Lardy, owner of Handjem Retrievers. Lardy is renowned in field trial circles for a compassionate training style that fosters a healthy respect between dog and handler to create a winning combination.

“Through working with Lardy, my own training style became more balanced,” he said.

With a genuine excitement for field trial competition, in 1986 Burns started his own training endeavor, Esprit Kennels, in Michigan.

“It was there I honed my style of training, which melded Carr’s fundamentals with Lardy’s sense of balance and respect,” he said. “I began to research the positive impact that conditioning has on canine attitude and in injury reduction. I also developed premier retriever training grounds that have been used several times for Pre-National Training and are still in use, today,” he added.  

Over the next 18 years, Burns trained and titled 58 Field Trial Champions and Amateur Field Champions, including 30 National Championship finalists and the 2003 National Amateur Champion, “Cherokee Rose.”

In 2006, Burns was given the opportunity to further pursue his research about the benefits of physical conditioning and nutrition, as it relates to the performance of the canine athlete. He joined the Nestle Purina nutritional research lab in Salcha, Alaska. Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, world-renowned scientist and dog musher, led the Purina research lab.

“Dr. Reynolds and I collaborated on developing a basic training program for the modern sled dog. The research, entitled, Merits of an E-collar Program for Sled Dogs, was delivered at the 2007 International Sled Dog Symposium in Fairbanks, Alaska, and remains an accomplishment I take great pride in,” Burns explained.

At the end of his stint in Alaska, Burns returned to Handjem in 2007. Over the next five years he and his team implemented facets of physical conditioning into the retriever program while training and re-training many talented dogs. Two of these dogs, were “Grady” the 2011 National Amateur Champion and “Traveler” the 2012 National Amateur Champion. During this time, Burns’ determination to share his retriever training passion with others was unwavering. Through workshops and in daily retriever training sessions, he continued educating, motivating, and inspiring handlers so that they, too, could have a winning edge.

In 2012, Burns bid farewell to Handjem, and launched Pat Burns Retriever training to focus on his own unique coaching style and training delivery events, industry consultations and workshops. That fall, he followed the trail of love to the mountains of Northeast Tennessee, where he met his wife, Robin. 

Pat with wife Robin and her golden, Leo.

Pat with wife Robin and her golden, Leo.

“Robin is a spirited, golden retriever loving woman,” Burns said. “Two fluffy goldens and a pushy cat allow us to share their home. Robin is currently teaching me proper Southern etiquette and the joys of living below the Mason Dixon line. And so, a new adventure begins, in marriage and a career in personalized dog training/coaching,” he added.

Today, Pat Burns’ Elite Retrievers is focused on training both dogs and their handlers to be a team, whether they are hunting companions or field trial competitors.

“My love for dogs and hunting is stronger than ever,” he said. “I’m committed to the development of the well-rounded canine athlete, and I appreciate the opportunity to help you and your dog achieve your greatest potential. Together, we will make a great team,” he concluded.