Shawn Kinkelaar

Shawn Kinkelaar, of Effingham, is one of the top dog handlers in the nation.

By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Effingham native Shawn Kinkelaar is one of the best in the nation, when it comes to training bird dogs.
The nationally recognized bird dog handler has won over 120 championships, which is the second most championships any person in the history of the sport has won.
Awards have included nine National Shooting Dog of the Year awards, which is four more than any other competitor has won; four National Handler of the Year awards; and several U.S. Invitational Championships.
Kinkelaar’s interest in the sport came early in life, but his passion for dog training came later in life, once he realized that a traditional career was not the right path for him.
Despite challenges, including a horse-riding accident that he barely survived and a four-wheeler accident where he lost several of his top dogs, Kinkelaar continues to work hard and overcome obstacles to stay on top in his line of work.
When he was a boy growing up in Effingham, there was nothing he loved more than heading out to the fields to hunt with his grandfather and his bird dogs.
The duo spent countless hours hunting quail and pheasants, with Kinkelaar tagging along with his grandfather, Wilmer Chamberlain, who was known locally for giving commodity reports on the radio.
“I started hunting with my grandfather before I was old enough to start carrying a gun,” Kinkelaar recalled. “I always wanted to hunt with the dogs. It was a big thing, and I couldn’t wait for the first time shooting.
“It was as much about being outdoors and appreciating the dogs, as anything,” he added.
At the age of 10, Shawn was able to carry a gun and hunt alongside his grandfather.
His love of the sport continued through high school and led to Kinkelaar’s interest in training hunting dogs.
While still in high school, Shawn began working with pointer dogs and started learning how to train dogs.
After graduating from St. Anthony High School in 1984, Kinkelaar enrolled in college on three different occasions, but knew college was not the right fit for him. Although he wasn’t sure what direction he wanted to go with his future, he did know that the outdoors was for him.
“School was not my thing. For whatever reason, the dogs were always in the back of my mind. I always knew there was some kind of connection there,” said Kinkelaar.
Although he started training dogs while in high school, he did not make a career out of it until the late 80s.
“I started training professionally off and on right at the end of high school. It finally stuck in the late 80s, and I have been doing it non-stop ever since,” said Kinkelaar.
When beginning his first dog-training business, Kinkelaar once again received support from his grandfather.
“He was a big part of my initial business,” Shawn noted. “He helped me financially when I was first starting. He was just as much invested in it as I was at the time.”
His grandfather also traveled around the country with him when he was receiving larger awards, including his first national awards, which included Dog of the Year and National Handler of the Year that he won in Myrtle Beach in 2001.
“He was around for the majority of my success and went to several award banquets with me,” said Kinkelaar, adding his grandfather passed away in 2014.
When Kinkelaar’s business was starting out, he was not having the success he had hoped for, which led to him seeking advice from other trainers who were successful in the sport.
“I knew what a good dog was, but I didn’t realize how good they could be at that point,” said Kinkelaar. “I began working alongside of several of the top trainers in the country, and they were willing to take me under their wing.”
By working with over a dozen different top trainers, Kinkelaar was able to tweak his training program and make a successful program of his own.
“I took a little bit from each one of those guys. Most guys have learned from one or two trainers, where I honestly can say I have a dozen who I was able to learn from,” he added.
With his new training program, along with getting his first great dog, Kinkelaar began winning championships.
“I got my first really great dog right around 2000. At that same time, I got three or four other really quality dogs, so that is when I really took off and started winning awards,” said Kinkelaar.
Kinkelaar said once potential clients saw that he could take great dogs and was capable of getting them to reach their potential, those potential clients became real clients. His clientele was not only local, but were from across the country from California to New York.
“When I started winning consistently, that is when everything changed for me,” he added.
Kinkelaar’s success continued through the next decade, but then he almost lost his life when the horse he was riding became spooked and ran off with him on it.
Luckily, Kinkelaar, who was alone on the horse, was discovered and taken for treatment, where he spent 21 days in the hospital.
As a result of the accident, Kinkelaar was unable to work for three months.
Tragedy struck again for Kinkelaar the following year when he lost 10 of his top dogs in a four-wheeler accident.
“That was one of the most miserable days of my life,” he said. “With the two accidents, I had to rebuild my business from scratch.”
He added several people stepped in to help him do whatever they could.
“It just makes you realize how good life can be and how good people are,” said Kinkelaar.
While Kinkelaar was recovering and rebuilding his business, his biggest supporter, his grandfather, died.
The tragedies he suffered through that period of life led Kinkelaar to have a different outlook.
“I appreciate everything a lot more now,” he said. “I appreciate how many people I have gotten to know and the friends I have made all over the country.”
Today, Shawn’s business is going strong, and he has reclaimed his position as one of the top dog handlers in the country, including winning the 2017 Top Dog of the Year and 2017 Handler of the Year.
Each summer, Kinkelaar starts training anywhere from 30 to 50 bird dogs, then takes the top dogs on the road for competitions, which lasts from September to April.
Kinkelaar spends his summer months training at the Stewart Ranch in North Dakota – the same thing he has done for the past 25 years. Then he heads to Georgia for the winter months and comes home to Effingham in the fall and the spring, between training and competitions.
“I still call Effingham home,” he said.
As Kinkelaar’s success continues, his goals continue to be to train dogs to meet their potential.
“My goal every year is to take the next set of young dogs and make them the best they can possibly be. And, hopefully along the way, one of them will join the four Hall of Fame dogs that I already have,” he said. “I have been fortunate to get quality dogs and outstanding dogs.”
Kinkelaar trains English Pointers and English Setters because of their strong build and athleticism.
“Competition dogs have to be bred up,” he said. “They are the cream of the crop.”
When looking back at his career choice, Kinkelaar said he “beat the odds,” and he encourages others to follow their dreams.
“I would say when you are first out of school, there should be a time frame in there — if you have an inkling of what you want to do — that there is time to roll the dice and give it a shot,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you have the rest of your life to figure out what does.
“Sometimes the impractical works out. I am living proof of that,” said Kinkelaar.