In 30 years, Alec Sparks, owner of Snowbound Kennels in Addison, had trained over 800 dogs for hunting, basic obedience, behavioral issues and more. Sparks boards and trains dogs for a month to three months based on their needs and he also provides free services for rescue organizations to help make their dogs more adoptable.
Sparks is a native of Stowe who grew up steeped in skiing and the ski industry. (His father served in the 10th Mountain Infantry Division and directed the ski school in Stowe for 35 years. His oldest sister was on the U.S. Ski Team and he and all his siblings taught skiing. Sparks went into teaching and coaching skiing right after high school working in Stowe and he also ran the race program at Mad River Glen for three years.
After all that time in the ski industry, Sparks said he was jaded and burned out and the industry had changed so much that when he stumbled into dog training he walked away and never looked back.
“In the mid-80s Sarah [his wife] and I were out in Iowa and went up to Minnesota for a Game Fair and impulsively grabbed two Lab puppies and brought them back to Vermont. I wanted to train them at a higher level and knew it existed, but didn’t know how to do it,” Sparks recalled.
He soon learned that the Stowe/Morrisville area is a hotbed of serious field trial retriever training. He then got connected with some southern professionals who come north in the summer to escape the heat.
“And I’d just say that an interest became a passion and that passion became a profession,” Spark noted.
When he first started training dogs, he only trained retrievers and was only interested in AKC field trials and hunting dogs.
“That’s all I did until I got my first English pointer, a bird dog. Shortly after that people started asking me to train their bird dogs. Then about 15 years ago, the pet market discovered me. Because the foundation of what I do is off leash control at a distance around distractions,” he explained.
“That’s the apogee of the pet market, getting dogs off leash someday. In Vermont so many people want to hike and mountain bike and run with their dogs and just let their dogs enjoy life off leash,” he said.
He trains dogs on radio collars and instructs their humans in how to manage them, providing them with brakes and a steering wheel.
Sparks works with dogs at his kennels in Addison in the spring, summer and fall. He and his wife spend their winters in North Carolina where he works with protection dog training. They have a German shepherd, three Belgian Malinois, a Lab and a pointer.
(Full disclosure – Sparks has trained the four German shorthair pointers in this reporter’s house.)