Hightest Retriever Gun Dog Training

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History of Hightest Kennels | Kennels

Celebrating 45 Years of Professional Training

The Story The Visual

John Folsom Dog Trainer
TOP: John with a perpetual trophy awarded to FC Encino Oaks Chimney Sweep.
LEFT: John receives a silver goblet when Rusty won the Derby at the American Chesapeake Specialty Trial-1969.
RIGHT: John with his first competitive retriever "Rusty," a Chesapeake Bay-1968.

The history of Hightest Kennels began in 1968 when John Folsom, at the age of 25, acquired his first field trial dog “Rusty”, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. John became infatuated with field trials while working at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area. John witnessed a field trial dog being trained on Lake Loganita on the Stanford campus. He was amazed at how the dog worked and decided to pursue retriever field trials with Rusty. Rusty won the Derby at the American Chesapeake Specialty trial in 1969.

Later that year John quit his job in the printing shop at Stanford and went to work for trainer, Rex Carr at Carr-Lab kennels in Escalon, California, beginning his own career as a professional trainer. Rex became famous for developing the first electronic training collar program for competitive retrievers. The electronic collar was new on the retriever training scene and not well received by the traditional trainers. When the dogs Rex trained began winning trials throughout the country, retriever training was changed forever. John was privileged to be able to work with some of the great field trial dogs of all time at Rex’s including the great national field champion and sire “Super Chief” owned by August Belmont.

In 1976 John left Carr-Lab kennels and moved to Oroville, California. There he formed a partnership with trainer Warren Grimsby of Warcon Kennels. During that time he had the opportunity to work with Peter Lane who had two great field trial dogs, NAFC-FC Kannonball Kate and FC-AFC Truckee’s Little Crackerjack. John helped Peter collar condition the dogs later in their field trial careers. Kate ended her career in 1982 with 410.5 all age points and a National Amateur win. An unbeatable record. Jackie had 144.5 all age points. John also trained a dog for Mrs. Marge Vermillion named FC Encino Oaks Chimney Sweep. Sweep went on to win five opens and qualify for several National Championships at a young age. Mrs. Vermillion left Sweep to John when she passed away. John was crushed when Sweep died from an illness at the peak of his field trial career.

TOP: Debra and her first competitive ribbon and trophy. Raja won the Puppy Stake-1978
MIDDLE: 1982-Debra with CFC-CAFC Lomac's Rockin Raja when she completed her Canadian Field Championship by winning two open stakes in one trial.
BOTTOM: 1985-Debra and FC Hightest's Magic Mouse won the open at the Sacramento Valley Retriever Club.
RIGHT: June 1986 article in Retriever International magazine.

In 1977 Debra Folsom at the age of 24, living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acquired her first Labrador Retriever CFC-CAFC Lomac’s Rockin Raja. Debra was invited to an informal field trial called a “picnic trial” by the man that owned the sire of Raja. Raja won third place in the puppy stake at the trial and Debra was forever hooked on retriever field trails. Raja went on to acquire 39 Derby points and be the high point Canadian Derby bitch in 1979. Debra bred her first Labrador litter in 1980 when she bred Raja to CFC Virdon’s Tucktoyaktuk. She also registered the kennel name Hightest with the Canadian kennel club. “Hightest” was the term used to describe high octane gasoline in Canada and it became symbolic of the highly bred, high performance field retrievers that Hightest would later become known for. Raja’s first litter produced Debra’s second successful field trial dog -  FC Hightest Magic Mouse.

In 1981 John was invited to be the featured speaker at a retriever field trial training seminar put on by the local retriever club in Langley, BC, Canada. Debra attended the seminar and later decided to send Raja and Mouse down to John in California for advanced training. Raja came home to Canada after her time with John and completed her Canadian Field Championship. Mouse went on to become an American Field Champion. In 1983 Debra moved to Oroville and joined John at Warcon Kennels.  John and Debra trained field trial dogs from all over the U.S. during the warm California winter and trained local hunting dogs during the hot summers. In 1986 they were married. Later that year, they began looking for property in the Oroville area to develop their own training kennel under the name of Hightest Kennels. They purchased the 120 acres of rice fields on Lower Honcut Road that is now Hightest.  Previously the dogs were trained on public and private properties within driving distance of the kennel. At the Honcut property there was plenty of room to do all the training on site.  The pumps used to irrigate the rice could be used to supply water to training ponds year round which was a big advantage.

TOP: John and Debra with Debra's 3 dogs at the Oroville Afterbay-1982.
BOTTOM: John's first training truck nicknamed "UG."

In May of 1987 they began construction of a 30 run kennel building. The plans were drawn for the construction on a paper napkin over a beer at a local pub. The Folsoms did much of the labor with the help of friend Ron Edmundson, completing the kennel for under $25000. That May was one of the hottest on record with the mercury near the century mark most days. The dogs lived in the dog truck during construction and were relieved when their new quarters were complete. The specially contoured training ponds were constructed simultaneously with the building of the kennel because John insisted that you must have adequate water to train retrievers in the summer in California. At Hightest John and Debra decided to concentrate on training personal hunting dogs as by then their training services were in demand by duck hunters both locally and out of state. The Hightest web site came into being in the early 1990’s when the internet became mainstream, drawing in business from all parts of the U.S.

TOP: The ponds take shape.
OTHERS: Hightest Kennel Building I - constructed in 1987.
TOP: The flood of 1995 inudated Hightest. Kennel Building I flooded.

MIDDLE: Debra out on the back levee, January 1995.

BOTTOM: Employee Mike Hulsey hoses mud from kennel.

Debra began acquiring breeding Labrador bitches and sires, running them in AKC Retriever Hunt Tests which were new to the retriever scene at the time. The dogs had more credibility with hunt test titles making the puppies more valuable. Since then Debra has whelped 234 litters, producing a total of 1,918  puppies. Puppy number 2,000 is expected be whelped at the kennel in 2009! Many Hightest puppies have earned Hunt Test titles and a few have become Field Champions.

A history of Hightest would not be complete without mentioning some of the great Labrador sires that have produced hundreds of successful hunting dogs (pictured below). They served as personal friends and hunting dogs for the Folsoms and resulted in numerous satisfied puppy buyers. Note Rooty's special designation, DGD (Darned Good Dog!).

FC Keno Paint-Derby CH

Booze MH Willie SH

Rooty DGD Sage-Qual AA

Beau MH Ty MH

Danny MH Groovy MH
Chance MH Orvis MH
Beau II SH Trey MH

In the summer of 1994 a neighboring farmer establishing a new prune orchard changed the lay of the land adjacent to Honcut Creek. That winter was a particularly wet one in California and the Hightest Kennel property was flooded on eight occasions during December and January. “All we did for two months that winter was fight the water and the mud” says Debra. The dogs were evacuated several times and thousands of dollars in damage was sustained to the roads and levees on the property. After that experience, the whole frontage of Hightest was elevated 2 to 3 feet so future flood water would run by the kennel, down Honcut Road to the west and dump into the lower field where the damage, if any, would be minimal.

In 1996 a new, state of the art puppy whelping facility was built and the old puppy building was converted into a 16 run kennel. The new puppy building was a completely climate controlled facility made of impervious materials that could effectively be disinfected daily. The dog runs and whelping boxes were built to Debra’s specifications and shipped in from Ohio. Debra used her background in microbiology and experience as a Veterinary Animal Care Technologist to design the upscale facility that could accommodate up to three litters at a time.

In 1997 Jared Daugherty came to work at Hightest to assist John and Debra with the training. Jared started out throwing birds for the dogs at the retriever field trials while in high school. He developed a love for the dogs and their training. He became the kennel manager and the Folsoms took him on as a Junior partner in the business in 2003. 

Jared Daugherty joined Hightest in 1997. Shown here with 2 hunt test ribbons.  

After nine years at Hightest, Jared was killed in a tragic vehicle accident in 2008. He was well loved by both the customers and dogs. Jared was truly an integral part of the history of Hightest and left a big footprint on the development of the business.

TOP: Kennel Building II under construction.

MIDDLE: John Dotson and crew from JAD Construction working on Kennel Building II.

BOTTOM:Kennel Building II complete - 2006.

In 2005 the Folsoms began to lay plans for the construction of a second kennel building and office. By this time the business had expanded into several facets offering programs in all breed obedience, puppy head start, as well as the hunting dog program. Hightest was also producing 10 to 12 litters of puppies a year. The business had out grown the original kennel and a front office was much needed. In 2006 a second 34 run dog kennel and office was completed. The building that was similar in size to the original kennel, cost exactly seven times more to build. This brought the total number of dog runs at Hightest to 85. 

In 2009 the Folsoms changed the name from Hightest Retrievers to Hightest Kennels to reflect the broader range of services offered at the kennel. They offer gun dog training for retrievers and obedience training for all breeds of medium to large size dogs. They have also become a prominent boarding facility with customers driving as far as from the San Francisco Bay area to board their dogs. The Folsoms still oversee the running of the business but Ole Johnson who joined Hightest in 2005 is now the head trainer and manages the entire operation of Hightest.

LEFT: Ole Johnson, Head Trainer & General Manager
RIGHT: John and Debra Folsom, Owners of Hightest Kennnels
So here you have it – forty-five years in the dog business. It has been a life’s work for the Folsoms and if you ask them where they would rather be – they would say right here at Hightest. “I wake up to the wonderful view of the ponds and my gardens every morning and hear the dogs barking in the background. There is nothing better than watching a well trained dog work or see the smile on the face of a satisfied customer with a fat Hightest puppy in their arms. John and I feel very fortunate to have a professional person like Ole running the operation and carrying on the Hightest quality tradition", says Debra.

© 2006-15 Hightest Kennels
Oroville, California 95966
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