Pursuing your passion often entails pushing the envelope, breaking boundaries and working harder than you ever thought possible to make your dreams come true.
For Jessie Richards, a love of dogs and the great outdoors ignited such a quest. And once she set her mind to running her own kennel and preparing hunting dogs—and their owners—for rewarding adventures afield, nothing could stand in her way.
The journey eventually led her to launch Full Throttle Kennel in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, where she’s quickly built a reputation for readying hunting dogs for the field, as well as earning accolades, ribbons and titles in both AKC and HRC competitions.
But it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, her story begins nearly three decades ago, when Richards’ parents first nurtured her interests in hunting, dogs, and all things outdoors.
“When I was very young, my dad took me hunting with him,” she recalls. “I remember helping him trail deer and sitting on his lap while he called in turkeys. I had so much fun, I took a hunter’s safety course as soon as I could and got my first deer at age 12.” At the same time, Richards’ mother fostered a love of dogs. “Mom trained them for obedience and hunting,” she explains.
Although Richards was well on her way, her final destination wasn’t immediately clear.
“I still wasn’t sure about my career path when I entered college to pursue a double major in business management and professional communications,” she says. “But when I got a Lab puppy when I was a senior, I knew right away exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
After graduation in 2010, Richards returned to her parents’ home. There, she started training and caring for dogs, laying the foundation for what would become Full Throttle Kennel.
“I was very fortunate to be able to grow my business in their garage,” she admits. “First, I had one dog, then two, then pretty soon 14.”
Along the way, she gleaned as much knowledge as possible from top trainers in the industry.
“I wanted to learn everything I could, so I worked for other trainers, attended workshops and went to seminars around the country,” she said. “Everyone was so helpful, so welcoming, they gave me hands-on training that was critical to helping me succeed.”
When the garage became too small for her flourishing business, Richards purchased 40 acres near Campbellsport and built a state-of-the-art kennel, complete with creature comforts such as heated floors and cozy, climate-controlled indoor accommodations.
The 22-dog facility opened in spring of 2015, and offers a full suite of services including all-breed obedience, retriever and hunt-test training. To get young dogs off on the right foot, she even offers a puppy head start program, complete with an introduction to birds, obedience and firearms. Richards does the lion’s share of the work.
“I do all the training, although I hire high school students through the summer to throw birds for the dogs,” she says, noting that when her helpers return to school, her father, now retired from the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department, gladly lends a hand.
“I’ve also been building my own breeding business, with sires and dams I raised from puppies,” she adds. “And I hunt in Saskatchewan, Canada, for a month each fall with my own dogs as well as a few client dogs to train them in realistic hunting situations. I have also been guiding pheasant hunters the last six years in the fall and early winter with my personal dogs.”
As if that weren’t enough, Richards further expanded her operations by leasing a kennel in Georgia and developing a Southern winter training program.
“I go south with a group of dogs from January through April, when it’s too cold for water training up north,” she explains.
Such an ambitious year-round regimen and high-octane training schedule keeps Richards busy.
“This isn’t a 9 to 5 job,” she laughs. “You’re more like a farmer. The day starts at 6 a.m. when you let the dogs out. It continues through a full day of training, feeding at suppertime, cleaning the kennel, and doesn’t end until you let them out the final time at 8:30 or 9 at night.”
Still, Richards wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“One of my favorite things is seeing the dogs’ progress, whether it’s over the course of three months or two years,” she says. “I also enjoy interacting with clients, teaching them how to handle their dogs and then watching them get excited about all the things their dogs are able to do.”
She’s also dedicated to helping other people get started in hunting and dog training.
“It’s very rewarding to see more women and kids becoming involved,” she says. “I encourage everyone, and tell them if you dream of doing something like starting a kennel, if you put your mind to it and keep pushing, nothing can stop you.”