Sinking Spring, PA -  After demonstrating an ability to execute their handler's basic commands, often for immediate gratification, golden retrievers Jackson and Yukon were put to a test of high-level skills Saturday on a baseball field in Sinking Spring.

The dogs' handler, Joe Lescisko of Keystone Retriever Club, led a "blind retrieve" drill as part of the Berks County Kennel Club's All About Dogs event at the borough playground behind the borough fire company.

The dogs were led behind a set of bleachers so they wouldn't know the placement of the "birds," also known as "bumpers," rubber training dummies, in the outfield grass. A volunteer made sure they couldn't peek.

Each retriever was then led to the first-base side of the infield, awaiting Lescisko's hand signal. The gesture sent the dog sprinting straight ahead like a Little Leaguer getting his first start.

A shrill whistle brought the dog to a sudden stop. Another hand signal steered the dog either right or left. Each dog found the bumper and brought it back to Lescisko.

The purpose of the blind drill is to teach a dog to find and bring back game birds that have been shot.

"Someone always asks how long does it takes a retriever to do this," Lescisko said at the end of the series of drills. "To get the basics down pat, and if you're serious about the training, it's two years. That doesn't mean he's an accomplished dog. It does mean you can probably take him water fowl hunting."

The mission of the Keystone Retriever Club is to help handlers train retrievers to be better helpers in hunting. That means they pick up all the game that is shot by their handlers. The club meets on the fourth Sunday of every month at various locations for an all-day event.

Two grandmothers who watched the initial drill from the bleachers with their grandchildren ended up participating as volunteers, carrying out the bumpers and tossing them when directed.

"Love of dogs," said Gail Tomrell of Sinking Spring, when asked what brought her and grandsons Mylus, 5, and Carson, 2, to All About Dogs. "We always take them wherever there's dog events."

It was the same for Beverly Whitehead and her granddaughter Raegan Whitehead, 8, of Womelsdorf.

"I just like dogs and I just like to be part of it," said Raegan, who has two rescue dogs.

Demonstrations were just one part of the daylong event. It included displays from vendors, organizations and those whose only mission is to promote a specific breed.

Berks Therapy Dogs volunteers staffed a table to sign up guests who want to have their pet become a therapy dog.

Different from certified service dogs, therapy dogs are sought to put smiles on the faces of people in nursing homes, hospitals and even workplaces.

Margie Stiller, training coordinator who has been testing therapy dogs for 22 years, said she started a program at St. Joseph Medical Center nine years ago. Some 20 dogs provide therapeutic visits to the facility, now known as Penn State Health St. Joseph, every week.

"It's the most rewarding thing, I think, that you can do with your dog," said Stiller of Sinking Spring.

Mohnton resident Patti Drenning's 4-year-old pointer, Noah, and Noah's brother Topper, owned by Doris Lambert of Shartlesville, are therapy dogs.

Drenning and Lambert had the spot next to Berks Therapy Dogs to promote pointers as a breed.

Drenning said the pointer, not to be confused with the German short-haired pointer, is not a well-known breed but should be.

"It's a great family dog, fantastic with kids," she said. "But you have to get them earlier, to raise them as puppies. They're loyal and the females are very protective."

Contact Steven Henshaw: 610-371-5028 or