For a time, electric shock collars were popular training tools. A disobedient dog a hundred yards away can be jolted by remote control, but MacKintosh is very wary of electric collars. "If they are used," he says, "they should be used by an expert trainer. I'm sure electric collars have ruined a lot of dogs. People should avoid them." Not long ago, when a customer happened to mention a certain trainer who was known for his reliance on the collars, MacKintosh allowed in rich burr, "I don't know how good a trrrainer he is, but I hear he is one hell of an electrrrician."
All things being equal, MacKintosh would rather train a dog from a home, even a spoiled lap dog, rather than one kept outside in a run. "A dog from a home knows people," he says, "but a dog from a kennel doesn't. I've seen kennel dogs that don't know how to go up and down stairs. Dogs learn a lot living around people. They're quick to pick up moods and voices. One of the smartest dogs I ever saw was a Lab. I think that Lab knew every word in the language because his owner talked to him continuously." Bob Eliasen, a friend of MacKintosh's and proprietor of The Coffee Spot, a local restaurant, adds, "I knew the owner, too, and he was drunk half the time. I think his dog used to drive him home."
Now 47, MacKintosh was born in Conon Brae, Ross Shire. When he was 14, he left school to work on the estate of Sir John Stirling, where his father was the inside gardener. At first he was an apprentice gardener, then he became an assistant gamekeeper, where he soon proved himself with problem dogs. He cured a pointer of chasing hares by tying a 14-pound hare to the dog's collar and making him lug it around all day. A wild curly-coated retriever that broke on rabbits was not so easy. Finally he took the curly to a railroad embankment that housed a number of rabbits. He measured off the distance from the fence at the top of the embankment down to the steel tracks below. It was 60 feet. He got a 60-foot rope and tied one end to the curly and the other end to the fence. He told her to stay while he then flushed rabbits from their holes. "Each time a rabbit ran out," he says, "she ran down that steep embankment. When she hit the end of the rope, she flipped and hit her rear end on the track. She did this three times, and then she was mine."
In World War II, MacKintosh served four years in the Royal Navy aboard torpedo boats and minesweepers off Africa and southern Europe. In 1956 he emigrated to the U.S. after Alec Johnston, a fellow gamekeeper who had been brought to Millbrook by Robert Montgomery, the actor, urged him to come over. Professionally, MacKintosh is the superintendent of Schoonhoven Farm, owned by Th�r�se Thorne McLane, and he trains dogs only on afternoons and weekends, which is why he limits his kennel to about 20 dogs. On the farm, MacKintosh likes to garden, and he has won 10 gold medals and 100 blue ribbons for his bulbs, mostly freesias, at the International Flower Show in New York.
For a number of years MacKintosh specialized in field trial retrievers. He handled Whygin Cork's Coot, a Labrador, to four wins in derbies. Under another trainer, Joe Riser, Coot went on to win two National Open retriever championships. Field trial dogs take more time than MacKintosh can spare, but he is always in demand as a judge or a gun or a bird-thrower at trials. He probably can throw a live duck higher, farther and more accurately than anyone living. He throws with such enthusiasm that his shoulder is often sore for several days after a trial.
From early spring into June, MacKintosh usually has openings for dogs. Starting in July, he is booked solid into October, and customers must go on a waiting list. About half the dogs in residence are problem dogs new to the kennel; the others are repeaters back for a refresher course before the hunting season starts. For the duck hunter, MacKintosh figures he can get a retriever or spaniel to retrieve doubles in water in about six weeks' time. Flushing dogs, either spaniels or retrievers, take about three months each, and pointers and setters longer. Every dog gets to work at least five days a week. The rates are unbelievably low—only $3 a day for both board and training, less than it costs just to board a dog at most kennels. Live birds are extra. Pigeons are $1 each and pheasants $4. Dead birds are free, and so are live ducks unless a dog kills one. "But that rarely happens," MacKintosh says, "because I don't work a dog on live ducks until he's proven himself on dead pigeons."
Generous and outgoing, MacKintosh encourages customers to come as weekend guests. "I want them to shoot over their dogs to see how they're progressing," he says. "Then again, a lot of customers, especially new ones, can use a little teaching themselves."