By Mike Stewart

Kate began the summer training session in high country with the usual spirited, dying-to-hunt-cover enthusiasm she displayed during previous pre-season conditioning sessions in Colorado.  A 4-year old, black female (Ruff x Pinny) owned by John Newman, past president of Ducks Unlimited, Kate is an experienced waterfowl retriever which would be expected given John’s position.  This summer she was scheduled to learn quartering skills to flush upland birds, specifically grouse and pheasant.  This requires physical exertion, stamina of duration while trying to detect scent to locate game.  Things started well but faded quickly.  My observations determined… sore pads due to the desert terrain we were working combined with being a bit over weight.  Then she began chewing her knee joints.  She showed signs of stiffness and sensitivity to her paws and joints.


I treated the knees with antifungal ointments and her pads with a “Tough Pad” product with little relief.  She worked on soft grasses fairly well but her drive and intensity were gone.

On our mid-summer run back to Wildrose Oxford, she stopped eating, unusual for Kate, and her avoidance of food continued once she was tucked into her familiar lodging at the kennel.  Lethargic, disinterested in going out, tired expressions… something besides sore pads was definitely wrong.  One of our vet techs, Whitney Isbell, checked her over and decided it was best to have her examined by our vet.  The physical revealed nothing but the blood test results later proved otherwise…

Rocky Mountain Tick Fever


  • We have never experienced a case at the kennels in Oxford, Mississippi.
  • Arkansas has a heavy presence of ticks during warm months and there are many cases of tick fever in that state but nothing to date at the training facility.
  • In 7 years of training at our Colorado facility, I have never encountered a tick on a dog or me and we are always in heavy cover.
  • My assumptions about her pads and chewing were wrong. Her condition was a sign of tick fever infection (see article below).
  • She had been treated regularly with a flea & tick topical prevention medication but this product works to kill ticks that bite the dog. Once bitten, the dog can become infected.  We need products to repel ticks as well.

Kate’s case has prompted this issue’s training article.

Sporting Dog Enthusiasts Should Be Aware of Regional Tick Diseases

Published by Nestle Purina

Sporting dog enthusiasts traveling to various regions of the country may encounter different tick species hosting diseases that can harm canine athletes. Coastland forests, mountain valleys and heartland plains contain different species of flora, wildlife and, unfortunately, ticks.

“Each region has its own tick population, just as each region has its own small mammal population,” says Dr. Rebecca Trout Fryxell, a medical and veterinary entomologist at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.

Being aware of various tick species, the tick-borne diseases they carry and taking precautions will help ensure the safety of your dog.


Caused by Ehrlichia canis bacteria and transmitted by the distinctly white-backed lone star tick, as well as the American dog, brown dog, black leg and Gulf Coast ticks, ehrlichiosis is most prevalent in the Southeastern United States. Affected dogs may be feverish, lethargic and experience loss of appetite, says Trout Fryxell.

Ehrlichiosis, which is often misdiagnosed as Lyme disease, may also be on the rise in the Northeastern United States as lone star ticks become more prevalent. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease, and steroids may be prescribed for severe cases. Two to 3 percent of the tick population carries the Ehrlichia bacteria, Trout Fryxell says.



Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Carried by the American dog tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick, cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are found throughout the contiguous United States and are especially prevalent in the West. Signs include nausea and stiffness while walking. Dogs should always be checked for ticks after leaving tick-heavy areas.

“Canines can’t really tell us how they’re feeling, so veterinarians must diagnose based on other factors, such as temperature and blood tests,” says Trout Fryxell.

Various bleeding problems can occur if Rocky Mountain spotted fever is not treated. Swift antibiotic treatment is suggested in order to reduce the risk of mortality.

Heartland Virus

Discovered just a few years ago in northwestern Missouri, the Heartland virus has made headlines for causing human fatalities in that state as well as Oklahoma. The virus has been found in lone star ticks native to this region. Ticks carrying the virus have been found on dogs, but there have not been reported cases or canine deaths attributed to it. “A reason for this may be because testing methods are still being developed,” Trout Fryxell says.

Signs are similar to ehrlichiosis, and because it is a virus, anti¬biotics are not effective in treating it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight human cases have been identified, but it is not yet known whether dogs can become infected by Heartland virus. Research is underway at the CDC to examine Heartland virus in dogs and livestock. The CDC recommends consulting your veterinarian if your dog exhibits any concerning signs.

“It’s still a legitimate concern in the Midwest because there have been some fatalities associated with that virus and we just don’t know a lot about it yet,” Trout Fryxell says.

Awareness and taking proper safety measures will help prevent tick-borne diseases from affecting your dog, giving you more enjoyable days together in the field.

Steps for Prevention

When you’re outdoors with your dog, and it’s not possible to avoid areas prone to tick populations, Dr. Rebecca Trout Fryxell, a medical and veterinary entomologist at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, suggests following these steps to decrease the chance of you and your dog developing a tick-borne disease.

  1. Be aware: “Mosquitoes remind you that they are there, whereas a tick doesn’t. Just being aware and knowing that you could be encountering ticks is the best thing you can do.”
  2. Use treatments and preventive medicines: “You can apply repellants to yourself and to your dog. Some topical insecticides and preventive oral medicines can be used at the same time. Consult your veterinarian to see which ones can be safely used together.”
  3. Check yourself and your dog when finished in the field: “You can’t always see ticks latch under the fur of an animal, so you should watch for a change in the behavior of your dog. If you notice your dog goes from happily running around in the woods to being lethargic, seek veterinary attention.”

Note:  Kate was medicated with prescribed antibiotics for three weeks. She was confined to total rest for a week but it took every bit of three weeks (several days after the round of medication was complete) to see her back to her spry, enthusiastic self. The point is that if the infection is diagnosed and treated promptly the recovery, although slow, is promising. Kate, we are glad to say, will be afield this fall.

Special thanks to the health care professionals at Nestle Purina for the materials shared in this article.

TICKS!!! You just gotta hate ‘em…….


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Chico: A Young Lab’s Adventure in the Wind River Range

By Phil Monahan

Perk, Laurie, and Chico high in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers.

Perk, Laurie, and Chico high in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers. All photos courtesy Perk Perkins

Orvis CEO Perk Perkins recently went on a week-long hike into the Wind River Mountains of central Wyoming, along with his wife, Laurie, and their 18-month-old Black Lab, Chico. They took to the trail outside the town of Dubois, guided by George Hunker of Sweetwater Fishing Expeditions. Before they left, Perk wrote:

At 18 months, Chico (a Wildrose Lab) has been hunting, fishing, rafting, canoeing, and car-camping—but this is his first backpacking trip. Laurie is quite the athlete with three 100-milers and the Marathon des Sables under her jogbra. Her trail-mates are a little less diligent about our conditioning. This last week, she put Chico and me under a rigorous training regimen for the trip ahead, most of which will be spent between 9,000-12,000 feet. (I hope to catch my first Golden trout). Chico seems very pleased with his new Ruffwear backpack, though has not grown accustomed to how “beamy” he is with his doggy-panniers.

Here’s a great set of photos from their journey, where Chico had a spectacular time.

Before the trip, Chico got used to wearing his pack.

Before the trip, Chico got used to wearing his pack.

Chico takes a break during a practice hike.

Chico takes a break during a practice hike.

Laurie helps Chico get ready to hit the trail for the multi-day journey.

Laurie helps Chico get ready to hit the trail for the multi-day journey.

The terrain was sometimes challenging, but Chico handled it better than the humans.

The terrain was sometimes challenging, but Chico handled it better than the humans.

Chico and Laurie a break during an afternoon of fishing.

Chico and Laurie a break during an afternoon of fishing.

Things were cozy inside the tent at night.

Things were cozy inside the tent at night.

Taking a break in a gorgeous mountain meadow.

Taking a break in a gorgeous mountain meadow.

Perk scans the water for trout as Chico waits patiently.

Perk scans the water for trout as Chico waits patiently.

The gorgeous, wild golden trout were worth the long hikes above 9,000 feet.

The gorgeous, wild golden trout were worth the long hikes above 9,000 feet.

Releasing a golden at the base of a huge cliff.

Releasing a golden at the base of a huge cliff.


Sometimes, you need to rest, especially at high altitude.

Sometimes, you need to rest, especially at high altitude.

Chico enjoyed the occasional splash session in the many lakes and streams.

Chico enjoyed the occasional splash session in the many lakes and streams.

Heading back to civilization in style. . . .

Heading back to civilization in style. . . .

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Wildrose and Purina Partner on Nutrition Part Three

By Dr. Ben McClelland


This is the third and final article on Wildrose and Purina’s partnering on a nutrition program for our dogs. Dr. Brian Zanghi, a Ph.D. research nutritionist at the Nestle Research Center, visited Wildrose and shared his findings on a number of subjects pertinent to sound canine nutrition. The first article in this series shared Brian’s knowledge about determining a dog’s appropriate body size and employing the best feeding strategies. A key point in that article was scientific evidence from dog nutrition studies showing that feeding the dog 17 or more hours before exercise results in a much greater use of fat as energy; this is compared to feeding 6 hours before exercise, which results in a much greater use of carbohydrates for energy generation.

The second article discussed the recommended type of food for optimal sporting dog activity, explaining the dog’s process of metabolizing fat and protein during aerobic activity.

In this article we will consider maintaining wellness in the older dog by using some specific nutrition strategies to enhance the older dog’s health. Our mature hunting companion may not perform as actively as a younger dog that may have joined the hunting family, but—with sound training and nutrition practices—we can enable it to stay mentally sharp and maintain mobility.

In a fourteen-year-long study—led by Nestlé Purina scientists— Brian reported that feeding to maintain a lean body condition in Labrador Retrievers throughout life extended the median age of the lean-fed dogs by 1.8 yrs compared to the control-fed dogs.  In order to maintain a lean body condition the dogs were fed 25% less than their control littermates, who were allowed to consume an adequate amount without becoming overweight.

Among the impressive findings of this study was that the need for treatment of certain chronic health conditions was delayed approximately 2 years in the lean-fed dogs.  More specifically, treatment for osteoarthritis was delayed with the reduced feeding portion.  As Brian reported, ultimately 43 of the 48 dogs in the study were treated for osteoarthritis.  However, half of the lean-fed dogs had a mean age of 13.3 years old before needing to start on an osteoarthritis treatment, three years later than their littermates, where half had started treatment at an average age of 10.3 years old.  Thus, by maintaining a lean body condition in a dog throughout its life, one can enable the dog to lead a healthier life and possibly several more years in the field for as an older dog.

Let’s look at some other factors of canine aging. Sporting dogs age at a rate that likely results in metabolism slowing by age 7 to 8.  As Brian reports, even though their body weight may remain fairly unchanged, they will likely experience a shift in body mass tissue distribution: losing muscle mass and gaining fat mass. In the study with the lean-fed dogs, this effect was delayed.  The obvious benefit here is that retaining muscle tissue is critical for maintaining an active lifestyle and more days in the field.

Brain aging is another consideration for owners of an older dog. First and foremost, dog owners need to understand that physical and mental stimulation is a primary way to sustain a dog’s mental acuity. So, regularly working the dog through obedience, retrieving and agility drills is key for good brain health.

There is also a nutritional aspect to maintaining good brain health. As aging occurs, there is a shift in how the dog’s brain generates energy for nerve function.  As Brian explains the process, glucose becomes less “preferred,” and small fat nutrients called ketones become more efficiently utilized. One way to get ketones for brain function is to put ingredients in the food that deliver ketone-producing nutrients, such as “medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).” Recent studies by Nestlé Purina scientists have determined that dietary MCTs can increase blood ketone bodies after feeding older and senior dogs for increasing brain energy supply. Older dogs fed the MCT diet showed significant cognitive improvements compared to older dogs fed a food without MCTs.

Switching a retired sporting dog to a senior formula will provide high protein and lower fat content to sustain muscle health and provide a less calorie-dense food, providing a number of benefits from higher protein that are not addressed here, including promoting immune, intestinal and renal health. In summary, maintain the older dog’s cognitive stimulation by providing regular exercise, and by feeding an MCT-enriched diet.

Finally, osteoarthritis (OA) is another age-related condition that can challenge the older dog’s mobility. In consultation with a veterinarian the dog’s owner can learn if the dog can benefit from a prescription joint mobility formula to reduce joint discomfort.

As Brian explains, if a nutritional approach for treatment is an option, a variety of therapeutic foods are available through your veterinarian, which could provide noticeable benefits for mobility.  Skeletal and joint health are achieved with many different nutrients in the diet.  For example, balanced calcium/phosphate ratios are important, as well as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and elevated protein, mentioned above  for strong muscles and bones.

Another nutrient that may be less obvious for skeletal health is the significant contribution of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet from fish. Brian reports that clinical nutrition studies have shown that regular consumption of formulas enriched with the proper types and levels of omega-3 nutrients result in a significant improvement in, not only biological indicators, but also pet mobility within 1 month of feeding.  After 2 months of feeding, 88% of the dogs on study had client perceived mobility improvement, based on 146 client-owned dogs eating the test food.  Although many foods contain varying levels of omega-3s, the therapeutic benefits are likely best achieved by feeding a prescription veterinary diet with enriched levels targeting a joint mobility condition.

To be clear, any nutritional strategy to address OA does not cure the disease; it may minimize related discomfort and could be used in combination with veterinary prescribed medications to promote overall wellness and joint health.

In conclusion, we all hope for many years of fun afield with our canine companions. If we get our wish, our aging dogs will need our watchful eye and continuous care to maintain wellness into their senior years. Using results from years of Purina Nutrition Studies, Brian Zanghi has shown us the significant role that nutrition plays throughout the sporting dog’s life—from optimizing performance in the adult dog to maintaining wellness in the older dog.

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IndianAdventure dogs, gun dogs, shed hunters, hounds and game recovery trackers alike face potential hazards uncommon to most domestic canines given the nature of their trade… barbed wire fences, hidden holes, underwater beaver cuttings, gators, snakes, broken bottles or jagged metal hidden in grasses, only to mention a few of the more obvious. Now, we all have another to consider, traps.

With the return in recent years of fur prices, more trappers are afield, not just for predator control, mind you, but profit. The frequency of trap encounters with domestic dogs and cats prompted Grayson Schaffer, Senior Editor of Outside Magazine, to contact us to develop a few short video tips on the subject of the risk of traps to outside canines. These films coincide with an article (p.29) in the August, 2014 edition of Outside, entitled “No Where to Run.” Pictured is Wildrose Cooper, Grayson’s Lab, with his paw caught in a trap (a set-up photo, no worries here). Both the article by Ryan Krogh (also the owner of a fine Wildrose lab) and our involvement with the video tips prompted this issue’s article, “Traps.”

“In the past two years, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents of dogs and cats getting caught in traps set to snare bobcats, coyotes, and other fur-bearing animals. These non-target species, in trapping lingo, have become unintended victims in a nationwide resurgence of something most people assumed had gone the way of the coonskin hat.” Outside, August, 2014. Trapping is back with a vengeance because fur prices have escalated primarily by demand from abroad (Russia and China). The article further explains that a coyote hide may now sell for $50 while a bobcat pelt may bring as much as $2100. Although I am told some hide prices are down a bit this summer given a warmer winter this past season abroad which helped in harvesting more local fur, this situation will likely be short lived.

Recently, we encountered two different trapping parties along the Little Buffalo River in Arkansas. One was asking permission to trap our stretch of the river and that of our neighbor. Another encounter occurred while floating the river just upstream from our property as we happened upon a pair along the river’s edge no doubt setting traps. I had no idea trappers were at work along the Little Buffalo in proximity to the Wildrose training grounds.

A single trapper may constitute quite a number of trap sets. In the shooting sports world, one hunter equals one gun. Not so with trappers. One guy may have numerous sets. According to Outside’s research, 39 traps is the average per trapper. Think of the multiples.

A Wildrose client told the story of his dog trapped while hunting upland birds along a field’s edge. He heard his dog in distress in thick cover. He arrived to find his dog’s head trapped in a powerful, large trap. He was alone and did not have the strength to free his Wildrose lab. The dog was lost on the spot. A tragic, terrible story that struck one of our own. The trap was a conibear trap, a device designed with enough power to break an animal’s neck and certainly it was large enough to kill this Gentleman’s Gundog.


Dog-proof Traps

smaller foot trapThere are traps commonly used in predator control that present little danger to sporting dogs. The cage-like traps that trip when the animal enters are among these. Another is the dog-proof coon trap. The trap catches the animal’s foot as it reaches in to grab the bait. Most average-size dogs’ paws won’t fit, but those of a coon or possum will.



A real danger to the adventure dog, retriever or any game dog is the snare trap. Snares are looped wire cables designed to catch a foot or loop around the animal’s neck. Snares are often used to trap beaver and otter at the water’s edge or other fur species along animal trails. When a dog is trapped by a snare, the loop closes tightly. The dog’s reaction is to twist and fight in panic. Therein lies the tragic danger of such an encounter. Some snares are a thin, metal cable. To release such a snare may require cutting with wire cutters, an item that may not be handy afield.


shep in snare snare by water



Foothold Traps

More common is the foothold trap which varies in size and type of jaws. They are designed to catch an animal’s foot. Some are anchored to keep the prey at the scene. Others have drag chains with hooks so the animal may run or move about hopefully with less chance of damage to the leg. Some foot traps have serrated teeth while others are smooth jawed, even off-set to prevent excessive damage to the animal that could facilitate an escape.



Death Traps

conibear trapConibear traps are powerful enough to break a dog’s neck, leg, even snap a small animal’s spine. These powerful traps are potentially very dangerous to sporting dogs of all breeds far more so than foothold traps. Some groups are moving to outlaw or restrict the use of these devices given their danger to non-target animals both domestic and wild.



Traps are normally set in runs (multiples) along paths, in water edges, trails, in ditches, under fences, any area frequented by target animals traveling or seeking food and shelter. Unfortunately, these areas are the same in which hunters and adventurers (fishers, hikers, etc.) find themselves. Trappers are supposed to keep their steel off public trails, but…

  • Adventure dogs should be controllable afield. Hikers, keep to the trails. Be able to recall your dog when off-lead. Avoid allowing your dog to freelance about sniffing off trail or along stream’s edges. Traps are set with very attractive scent so stay close to the beaten path.
  • Hunting dogs must handle. Be able to direct your dog out of an area or recall immediately. A dog that will handle may be kept out of a high-risk area.
  • Know the area. Public lands, float-able streams, creek banks, ditches, beaver dams or areas unfamiliar to a hunter or trekker offer a degree of danger. Any property you have permission to hunt may also be territory of a trapper. Perhaps that little obscure fact did not come to the mind of the property owner or guide with which you spoke. Ask if there are trappers about.

Know how to free your dog from a trap.

The Foot Trap

  1. If the dog is panicked, settle them, wrap your coat around the dog’s body and muzzle with a lead if necessary. (To create a lead muzzle, place the slip loop over the dog’s head at the base of the skull. Extend the line forward under the jaw, wrap around the muzzle over the lead repeatedly, then tuck the end of the lead back under the jaw. Hold the end securely.)

last pic

2.  Stand above the dog placing the trap on the ground.

3.  Grasping the dog’s leg, stand on both sides of the trap’s jaws to depress the spring lock bars that are holding/securing the jaws closed. By standing on both sides of the trap depressing the locking bars/springs, the pressure on the jaws will relax freeing the leg or foot.

4. Treat the injury as you would a laceration or possible broken bone.   If in doubt, see a vet.

The Conibear Trap

The Conibear trap is particularly dangerous as it can break bones or choke a dog in a matter of minutes. An immediate response is important. This video explains the procedures to free your dog but obviously time is of the essence.

Assuredly, these are excellent techniques to know but they were demonstrated in a sterile environment without the realistic complications that a sportsman will encounter in such situations which would likely include wind, rain, water, mud, blood, tangled foliage and a totally distressed animal in pain, injured and possibly violent. These realistic conditions combined with time sensitivity to get the animal out of the device may well complicate an effort to employ these tips.

Be wary these days of public lands, less-traveled paths in wilderness access, bushwhacking, crossing fences and ditches, along water’s edges where fur-bearing animals frequent and hunting grounds that could also be of interest to a trapper. The danger is real.

See “No Where to Run,” Outside, August, 2014.








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Wildrose and Purina Partner on Nutrition Part II

This is the second article on Wildrose and Purina’s partnering on a nutrition program for our dogs. Dr. Brian Zanghi, a Ph.D. research nutritionist at the Nestle Research Center, visited Wildrose and shared his findings on a number of subjects pertinent to sound canine nutrition.The first article in this series (published in last month’s Journal) shared Brian’s knowledge about determining a dog’s appropriate body size and employing the best feeding strategies. A key point in that article was scientific evidence from dog nutrition studies showing that feeding the dog 17 or more hours before exercise results in a much greater use of fat as energy; this is compared to feeding 6 hours before exercise, which results in a much greater use of carbohydrates for energy generation.


In this article we will discuss the recommended type of food for optimal sporting dog activity and we will explain the dog’s process of metabolizing fat and protein during aerobic activity.


Dog food contains six basic nutrient ingredients: water, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. In general, the varying proportions of these ingredients determine whether it is a maintenance food, a senior food, a weight management food or a performance food. For the working dog, Brian recommends a performance food, a formula with 28-30% protein and 18-20% fat, as compared to 24 -26% protein and 12-16% fat in a maintenance food. This nutrient range for performance delivers greater proportions of the nutrients used for exercise metabolism and physiology, which also enables the dog to maintain a good body condition while sustaining greater endurance and better mental alertness when working afield.


How does the performance food formula work with the dog’s metabolism to optimize its hunting performance? Food with higher levels of fat result in more fat nutrients being present in the blood, which in turn promote endurance metabolism because a dog’s exercising muscles “prefer”to burn these nutrients. The energy production of “burning” fat into muscle energy takes place in mitochondria (“furnaces” of the cells), where oxygen is also metabolized, which is why it is referred to as aerobic exercise. Canine muscles adapt to eating higher fat diets, even in the absence of exercise training, which leads to greater mitochondria content. This ultimately translates into the dog having a greater capacity to metabolize oxygen, which means higher aerobic ability or endurance performance. In a complementary process, protein need accelerates during exercise, and this coincides with muscle conditioning and mitochondrial biosynthesis. Greater protein delivers more amino acids (protein building blocks) that support and promote muscle growth. Simply put, both energy and building blocks are needed to support improvement.


In summary the higher fat and protein nutrients in performance food promote increased metabolic capacity, enabling the dog to have increased energy production and efficient oxygen use, resulting in optimal endurance during physical exercise.


[The information in this article is synthesized from research reports by Nestle Research Scientist Brian Zanghi, Ph.D.]

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From The Field – Training the Wildrose Way

Meet Wildrose Alexandra of Curlon


Lexie, the offspring of Whiskey and Patsy, was born during Katrina. She and I have been training every day since I picked her up at six weeks of age. I began with simple obedience and retrieving using the “Wildrose Way” with the whistle. Today at the age of eight, she responds promptly to the sit or come whistle.

lexie2She is a certified Service Dog, has also competed in live hunts, tower shoots, basic/advanced obedience, Agility, Rally and Canine Nose Work. We visit a local assisted living facility as a Therapy Dog on the first Monday of each month. The residents’ faces light up as soon as they see her. We especially like to visit the patients in the Alzheimer unit. Several of them always discuss the dogs they had in their younger life.

Lexie also works as a designated retriever for a local hunt club during their Pheasant Tower Shoots. Since we have 1200 acres available for training, she has also had the opportunity to retrieve ducks, Chuckers, dove and Quail.


One day while we were hunting she pointed a bush full of doves. When I gave the flush signal, a dove flew by her face allowing her to catch it in her mouth. She promptly brought me the bird and as I opened my hands to determine the softness of her mouth, the bird flew away without even a broken feather.



Lexie and I have also been involved in “Nose Work” competition for the past 2 years. During this time we have earned 5 certifications and titles! I say “We” because learning to read your dog is the hardest test for the handler. This activity makes up for the times we cannot go hunting. These tests include four areas: containers (25 – 50 various bags or boxes), interiors, exteriors, and vehicles ( often multiple vehicles, including a tractor). During one interior test we had to search a five- room house in 3 minutes with one “Hide” taped to the float in the toilet tank. She successfully completed the search in 2 ½ minutes. If you do not have the areas to hunt, we recommend Nose Work as a substitute or during the off season.

For the dogs,

Gary and Lexie

(Gary Jarrett, Jacksonville, FL and Wildrose Lexie, Whiskey x Patsy)

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Whining 1No one appreciates a whiner… whiny children, spouses, co-workers, each are annoying to anyone around. The same may be said of whiny retrievers. These are the impatient dogs of the field that are highly distracting to others on a hunt. No one likes a whiner in the duck blind or a dog that is vocal when they should be sitting patiently while blocking on a pheasant walk up. Not only are the noisy buggers worrisome to hunters they can flair approaching birds. Whining is properly labeled vocalization. Our friends in the United Kingdom refer to a retriever’s noises as squeaking and the slightest squeak is an eliminating fault in trials and even when picking up on drivens at estate shoots. Keepers and guns alike don’t like squeakers. The unacceptable behavior of vocalization in the UK among sporting dog enthusiasts is a trait that is inevitably removed by culling rather than trying to suppress the problem through training. The reason is simple. Whiners are unwelcomed on a shoot. A breeder recognizes the possibility that the trait may be inherited if it were not manmade. Like produces like so the possibility must be avoided.

One of Wildrose’s most frequently asked questions is how to keep a retriever quiet on the hunt; whining as the dog impatiently endures the boredom often experienced when waterfowling, barking in anticipation of the action as birds approach, even vocalization while out on the retrieve before the bird is picked or when the dog must sit and honor another dog’s retrieve.

whining 3

The solutions are difficult at best if the practice has become an entrenched habit. The high- energy, over-anxious gundog becomes vocal on the hunt then gets numerous retrieves, the reward. The same dog’s impatience may have been stimulated even further by training practices that actually contribute to the undesirable behavior. We first must address vocalization by preventing the condition from the start rather than trying to correct an entrenched behavior (habit) or taking the extreme approach our friends abroad often do, just get rid of the dog.

The Causes

Like produces like. As mentioned above, the trait of vocalization may be passed on from parents to offspring. Competent gundog breeders recognize this and strive to produce desirable characteristics in their pups while eliminating faults and squeaking is a fault that should be eliminated. A vocal, high-energy, impatient parent will likely pass along the trait. When inherited, vocalization can be very difficult to eliminate in the offspring.

Because squeaking is such a highly eliminated fault under British Field trial rules, competitors, breeders and serious pickers in the UK cull problem dogs that are vocal early to ensure the animal does not get into their gene pool. Wildrose does the same, placing a high value on dog’s compatible behavior and temperament balance with field performance. By overlooking the fault of vocalization while favoring field performance alone can result in the behavior of squeaking being passed along to the next generation.

Actually, the condition with regard to mating is similar to that of gunshyness in hunting breeds. These problems are largely manmade and usually not an inherited trait but they can be. Neither the habitual vocal or gunshy dog should be allowed to reproduce. But, again, this is the least likely cause of either condition when pups are carefully selected from competent breeders of hunting dogs.

 Training Methodology

The use of training techniques that do not promote, reward and reinforce patience in all things is a much larger contributor to our problem of discussion than simply genetics. First, recognize that for hunting dogs to perform well all day under any type of weather conditions they must possess a certain amount of athletic ability, endurance and intensity for the work. We are not talking about a dog that is hyperactive that can never settle and focus. Rather, a dog that has a passion for game, love of the hunt and the energy to back up a day of hard work. Such energy, though desirable, must be molded through habit formation to a controllable point… that is patience. Patience and calm behavior must be expected in all things:

  • Greeting visitors in the home
  • Place training
  • Quiet while tied out even with activity about
  • Quiet and patient at feeding
  • Not over stimulated in training with excess marks (thrown bumpers)
  • Training sessions that properly use denials (all birds are not theirs) and delays (patience and quietness before any retrieve). These rules apply in the duck blind as well.
  • Patience must be realized before any high-valued reinforcer is given (a retrieve, food, or affection)
  • Avoiding the tendency to send a dog too quickly for a retrieve after a gun shot in training or on the hunt.

The Wildrose Way reinforces desirable behaviors to the point of habit. In this case, patience before the reward. Training methods must reflect this every day by employing memories instead of excessive marks, delays and denials in lessons and the use of the cyclical training model (p. 86 The Wildrose Way) to reduce the energy level before lessons begin and between each session. Reward patience and calm behavior just as you would a fabulous retrieve. Remember, a behavior that is not reinforced with a reward will soon fade. Value and reward patience if you desire it to reoccur.

Unintentional Reinforcers

A reinforcer is a response to a dog’s behavior, timed properly by the hander, in order to capture (keep) or eliminate the behavior. An example is food which can be a training asset is some situations. Treats may encourage the reluctant pup to enter a crate. Feeding an older dog his meal in a situation or a location where they may feel uncomfortable may help relieve the problem.   A quick toss of a bumper or tennis ball may be just the thing to teach a young dog to load onto a trailer. But reinforcers often become double-edges swords…for good or bad results

Let’s review the reinforcers (see p.52,The Wildrose Way )

  • Retrieve
  • Affection
  • Food
  • Markers
  • Association

If our student gives us quiet, focused behaviors after the bumper is dropped, he gets the retrieve. Quiet results in the reward. Rasping, panting, fidgeting, noisiness, anxious behavior results in a “denial.” We reward the behaviors we want to reoccur. Now the reverse. If we toss about tennis balls aimlessly allowing the dog to bolt for each so we can keep our dog in shape with some hard exercise, what are we really rewarding? Impatience? Unsteadiness? Over-stimulus? We intend to do a good thing, exercising our dog and what we actually did was quite counterproductive to the behaviors we really wanted. Unintentional reinforcers… the tennis ball retrieves… actually reward impatience.

The noisy pup is handed a treat to keep him quiet. Intent… quiet the pup. Actual result… noisiness is rewarded or reinforced with food so it is sure to reoccur.

The out-of-control dog in training is tossed a bumper to get him to return. Actual result…out-of-control behavior (ignoring command) is rewarded.

The fun bumper tossed at the end of a training session as a reward for good work actually reinforces breaking as the last lesson of the day.

The whining dog in the duck blind is touched and stroked by his hunting pal in an effort to quiet the dog. Actually the affection is rewarding the squeaking.

The barking dog is given attention by family members. Their intent is to tell him to be quiet but the dog’s perspective is his barking resulted in attention from the family.

The list of unintentional reinforcers is long and has many applications but they can relate to the noisy dog. The handler responds to noisiness with an intention to correct while the dog perceives the response in an entirely different way.

Correcting Whiners

The best approach to vocalization is to avoid it. Think about the possible causes of the dysfunction and avoid the situation. The approach includes how one selects their dog to the application of training methods, as well as, how the dog is handled on the hunt. Also, owners must share with everyone that interacts with their dog about the consequences of unintentional reinforcers. Everyone must be conscious of what they do and say in response to the dog’s behavior.Remember your puppy or dog is always in training. If any behavior gets reinforced with consistency you better like it as it may well become entrenched.

  •  Teach pups patience right from the start using place, crate and tie-out training. Never respond to a pup’s vocalization in any of these situations.
  • Use lots of denials in all levels of training: tossed bumpers, frisbies, rolled balls, birds in flight and exposure to wildlife in the field. Reward patience and quietness with equal enthusiasm and value as you would an activity such as a retrieve.
  • Slow down training sessions for the excitable dog. Your slower tempo will be mimicked by the young dog (intelligent dogs follow stable leaders).
  • Avoid over-utilizing marks (anything thrown followed by a quick retrieve) in training. Opt for memories that always involve delays.
  • Don’t reward noisiness or impatience with food, affection or a retrieve. The same is true in the duck blind. Noisiness results in a denial of the bird. Pick it up yourself.
  • Don’t overuse birds too early in a young dog’s training.
  • Avoid associating gunfire with an immediate retrieve.
  • Rules and expectations for patience, quiet behaviors apply 24/7 in the home, traveling, on the hunt and during training activities.

As a final note, grasping the squeaker’s muzzle (usually out of handler frustration) never appears to prove beneficial. Likely the dog just sees it as yet another attention-getting response from the handler and perhaps perceived as form of affection. Basically“muzzle clutching” does not have the intended effect.

Continue this discussion with us on the Wildrose facebook page. If you have experienced a squeaker, what was your response…what worked…what didn’t? Ideas and tips are welcomed.

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Wildrose and Purina Partner on Nutrition

Wildrose and Purina are partnering on a nutrition program for our dogs. During one of several meetings between the two entities, Dr. Brian Zanghi, a Ph.D. research scientist at the Nestle Research Center, visited Wildrose during a recent handlers workshop. Brian has built a career on developing and managing companion animal nutrition studies. Not only did he participate in the dog handler drills, but he also presented an informative summary of his research findings and a broad overview of nutrition for the canine athlete. This article is the first in a series that shares Brian’s significant knowledge about a sound feeding program for our elite canine athletes.
Good nutrition and feeding strategies will enable our sporting and hunting dogs to perform at their best, as well as ensure better health throughout their lives. While there are a number of variables to consider, such as the dog’s relative activity, this article will discuss ideal body condition and feeding strategies.

Body Condition
Let’s look first at how to determine a dog’s body condition. Three key things to observe for are
1) the “hourglass” shape of the body when viewed from above, with a narrowing at the abdomen;
2) a tuck in the belly when viewed from the side; and
3) the ability to slightly feel the individual ribs, possibly without being able to see them. Of course the relative thickness of a dog’s coat will affect this observation.

Feeding Strategies
Second, let’s consider when we should feed our dogs. Among the intriguing findings that Brian presented is that feeding a hardworking dog is best after hunting or training for the day, and not before. It takes 20-24 hours for a dog’s meal to be completely digested and eliminated as a bowel movement. Nutrition studies have revealed that metabolism indicators of a dog’s endurance performance can be as much as doubled when on an empty stomach compared to having eaten 4 or fewer hours before exercising. There is also scientific evidence from dog nutrition studies that feeding 17 or more hours before exercise results in a much greater use of fat as energy; this is compared to feeding 6 hours before exercise, which results in a much greater use of carbohydrates for energy generation. (Later articles will present more detailed information on dogs’ metabolic use of fat and carbohydrates, as well as discussing types of food.)
For our dogs to perform at their best we must feed an amount to maintain a stable body weight and condition over the long term. Of course, this may involve increasing and decreasing the amount of food, depending on whether the dog is too heavy or too thin. Increasing and decreasing the amount of food is also necessary, depending on the dog’s relative activity. A hardworking dog’s energy needs can double or as much as quadruple over the course of the season, compared to its resting energy needs in the off-season.

Incremental Food Adjustment
When adjusting the amount of food to promote a stable body condition in your dog, always add or subtract in small, incremental changes, such as ¼ or ½ cup amounts every few days. Making large and abrupt increases in food volume is not good for digestion and could cause diarrhea. Always use standard, marked measuring cups in order to accurately regulate the amount of food.
So, to summarize, eating one meal at the end of the dog’s workday is better for its metabolism and endurance performance. Dog owners, who feed twice a day, can gradually move the dog to a once-a-day feeding by using this strategy of making incremental changes in the amount of food. Decrease the amount in the morning feeding by ¼ or ½ cups every few days and increase the evening feeding by the same amount until the morning meal is phased out.

A single-meal schedule may not be ideal or feasible for an active dog that must eat a very large amount of food daily, such as seven cups, in order to maintain body weight.

With the evening sun at their back, Brian Zanghi heels Sue to the kennel after a good day afield during the handlers workshop.

With the evening sun at their back, Brian Zanghi heels Sue to the kennel after a good day afield during the handlers workshop.

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From The Field – Training The Wildrose Way

jackMeet Wildrose Jack. He is a serious, focused dog. He is our family’s catalyst, our gun dog, our retriever, our teacher and our well-behaved family companion. He is athletic, steady, reliable and obedient. He lives to “work”and that work may be retrieving or flushing in the field, accompanying our family in social situations, left behind guarding the house, or as a companion on any big adventure or small, daily outing. Jack is a motivator, a friendly reminder to get up off the couch and DO something, even if it is just a bicycle ride on the city bike trail or a run in the neighborhood or a walk in the park.


He is steady at the gun or dummy launcher and will retrieve anything we can shoot or throw or launch in any terrain or any body of water in any season.

And, oh yes, did I mention his especially zealous “work” involving water.


He is equally sure of himself in the field as in the pond, brackish stream, river, lake or ocean. He will remain calm in any boat, will swim to get on the closest Jet Ski or paddle board or kayak if he is left on the bank.

He loves the beach as much as his family and will retrieve his “bumper” or a tennis ball as long as anyone will throw it for him. He will do this from dawn to dusk; I don’t know if he thinks is “fun” or “work” as they seem to be one and the same for him. (We should all be so lucky to not know any difference between the two).

He adapted to retrieving in the ocean during his first two or three retrieves. He learned to triangulate the current carrying the bumper, his angle of entry into the water, depth of water (swim or walk) in order to reach the bumper. He learned how to body surf back to shore by letting the waves carry him. He learned the hard way to avoid swallowing salt water.  He kept us active at the beach, we had to “take turns” running and playing with Jack as he would never stop bringing the dummy or ball back and dropping it on the nearest sunbather.

We made his retrieves harder and harder, two at a time; bumper and tennis ball and he enjoyed this extension of his work/fun. He was able to watch the tennis ball placed and the bumper thrown and then retrieve them successively.

He would sacrifice himself and never stop as long as we were out on the beach; for his own health, we used his “place” to give him a rest and feed him some clean water.

Now I am sure that anyone with a Wildrose lab can recount similar marvelous tales of “their” lab’s abilities. Somehow, I had made my deposit and received one of the two black males from the cross of Ben and Molly about four years ago. I was last to put down my deposit and lucky me ended up with Jack; an all around phenomenal dog. I expect his brother is the same.   The incredible ability of my lab and probably any Wildrose lab is their transcendent ability to transfer their steady temperament, desire to serve, and native intelligence to whatever task we ask of him, wherever we take him, whomever is in a public or social situation. He has been through basic obedience and basic field work and basic adventure dog training. He is focused, determined and relentless at work and at play. Makes no matter to Jack if it is work or play; he is the identically consistent and reliable dog in any situation.

Not only is this article a tribute to my Wildrose lab, but is additionally a tribute to the versatility of these marvelous dogs. His ease of transition from field to fun, his ability to apply basic principles to any situation and his inability to discern between work and fun has been a constant source of delight and joy to our family. Perhaps this is the genius of the “Wildrose Way,” the deliberate breeding, careful kennel selection, positive, logical training to reliably produce a versatile companion in the field and in the home and in any public situation and on any adventure. My Jack today is a product of careful past, present and future, Wildrose stock. I am grateful to have this dog in my life at this point in time carrying that transcendent, transferable native intelligence.

Sue Jane Volarich

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Picking Runners


A hunting retriever’s primary job is game recovery.  That is a dog that can bring back birds that would otherwise be lost.  In field trials held in England, there is one skill that may well separate a single retriever from other outstanding contenders… picking runners.  A well-trained retriever is one of the best game conservation tools out there.  Ducks Unlimited, American’s premiere waterfowl conservation organization, recognized this a decade ago when they chose Drake to be their official mascot.  A well-trained duck dog doesn’t lose ducks! This was one of the great messages Drake shared during his tenure. Of course, the retrieve of both waterfowl and upland birds alike puts the hunter back on the shoot faster by locating birds quickly which is very nice, but the real benefit of the game dog is to locate those difficult birds that sail long into timber, thick crops, or at a distance far from the hunting party.  Of course, the most challenging of all is the wounded bird that hits the ground or water on the move.  We call these runners and at Wildrose this becomes the supreme test for any game dog.  The runner is a bird that has lost its capacity to fly, relying instead on his legs to make an escape whether on land or water.  Ducks flatten themselves on the surface of the water in a low profile, steadily swimming to cover.  The pricked pheasant glides to the ground with running gear extended ready to dash to safety.  The alert, yet unaware, retriever goes to the fall area to make a pick and… no bird.  Even quail have acquired the skill, especially the wild birds of the West… they do run!

The effective game dog must learn to pick runners.  Skills that the successful retriever will need to locate birds on the move include:

  • A keen scenting ability
  • Bird knowledge.  How they move, where they hide, etc.  (hunting experience)
  • Ability to hunt cover effectively
  • Ability to follow a scent trail
  • Experience retrieving live game

Then the hunter must have confidence in the dog allowing it time to do the work and resist over handling the dog.  If the bird is down and the dog has the correct area, perhaps even acquiring the scent trail, let the dog do the work. Elements of patience and trust are needed.

When to Start

It is best not to start tracking birds until the young dog has completed the basic gundog training curriculum and has one season’s experience afield.  I prefer the young dog to be more interdependent—team work with me— the first season.  Tracking runners is an independent activity better saved for finishing work.

Prior to the dog’s first season it is best to focus on developing the youngster’s handling skills and ability to holding a tight hunting pattern in cover on both land and at the water’s edge.  The starter should not be running wide initially, rather, staying in close and hunting an area thoroughly.  Here we develop the dog’s scenting abilities with feather-laced puppy bumpers and scented tennis balls.

There are two additional training scenarios that should be addressed at this point:

  • Off-the-ground finds
  • Tennis ball rolls

Ball Rolls

Feather-soaked tennis balls are great to lay out a short scent line for young dogs.  A chuck-it is perfect for the job.  Just take the ball and roll it downhill over leaf cover or short grasses.  On the first toss, allow the dog to watch.  Follow up by covering the dog’s eyes as you shoot the ball downhill in a different area.  Always remember to move locations between lines so the scent line will not be corrupted.

Give the dog a hunt command and encourage the pup’s movement forward by slowly walking behind as the dog progresses.

Remember to factor in the direction of the wind.  For unseens, place the first tracks into the wind if possible. Then advance to working in crosswinds.  When the youngster takes the correct line, the prize to retrieve becomes an immediate reward. Very exciting!

Second Season

After a dog’s first season on game and we are confident that our partner is well under control, steady to flush and working easily on hand signals, the dog may well be ready to learn the independent skill of tracking runners.  We begin with single cold game drags followed up quickly by the double drag. (See p. 212, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way and our upland DVD for details.)  Be sure to vary the types of birds exposed… duck, pheasant, quail, etc.   Change the cover and terrain as well.  Drag birds through the type cover a wounded bird may steal away to when making an escape.  In other words, train in realistic conditions (cold, rain, heat, etc.).  Scent conditions vary by the types of ground cover and weather conditions.

Now, the process gets even more interesting… tracking live game birds.  It is necessary to demobilize the bird ability to fly but not run.  Several types of birds will do:

  • Domestic ducks
  • Pheasants
  • Chucker partridge

My favorite is a mature chucker.  Ducks do run okay on land but don’t usually tuck into cover as quickly as the partridge.  The pheasant is good but this bird is a fast, long distance runner, better matched to the experienced tracker.  The chucker runs fast, then usually tucks into dense cover making for a challenging pick which is great for early starts.

Method to Keep Birds on the Ground


  1. Pull flight feathers – the feathers will re-grow within several weeks.
  2. Trim flight feathers – The birds can’t fly but this is a longer term fix than Option 1.  Feather replacement is slow.
  3. Bird socks.  The wings are bound by a wide elastic band or a sock of lightweight material that may be acquired in the retail market.  It works like a snug jacket.  A homemade version that works just as well can be made using the foot of ladies hosiery.  Trim out a hole in the toe for the head.  Secure the material around the duck’s body with vet wrap (won’t stick to the surface) or an elastic band.  Each of these options allows the bird to run and hide but not fly.  This approach works well for ducks on the water as well.  Wing-bound ducks can put on a challenging chase on water for dogs and the experience dog learns to follow scent on water just as well as they do on land.IMG_2257

As with the tennis ball rolls, first let the dog watch the bird being released and running out of sight in light cover or woodland.  If the cover is too thick the bird will merely stop and hide.  Follow this attempt by covering the dog’s eyes as the bird makes a run for it.  Indicate the fall area (starting point) by giving the hunt command.  Allow the dog time to work out the line—don’t over handle.  Obviously you will need a dog that hunts cover aggressively on command.  Then just encourage movement to carry the line to the point where the bird is likely tucked in thick cover.  The dog gets its reward, a retrieve.

Waiting until the hunting dog has benefited from one year’s experience afield has several benefits:

  • Maturity
  • Runners can unsteady a dog
  • The dog should deliver to hand an undamaged bird – soft mouth.  An over-excited youngster can develop some bad habits picking live birds or may be put off by the bird’s movement and not make the pick at all… “blinking” the bird.
  • The dog may become unresponsive to commands and hand signals when self-hunting out on an independent frolic.

The runner is a great exercise for group work.  One dog is the picker and others in the group must remain steady, quiet observers……… great conditioning for any gamefinder.

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