The Smartest Guy Afield

by Mike Stewart

Hunters of waterfowl and upland birds alike are well familiar with “runners,” that is a bird pricked, wounded and has dropped from flight, yet retains enough steam to steal away by leg power… running, swimming or diving. Many times the bird only moves a short distance from the point of loss to hide or expire. Other times the bird travels some distance requiring the gundog to make a track if a “pick” is to be made. These situations are the real tests for an effective retriever of game. Retrievers are agents of game recovery making them one of the best conservations tools out there. No one wants to lose a bird! Our topic for this issue is how to improve the chances of recovering a bird that moves a short distance from the point of fall then tucks into cover. In most cases we are talking about handling a dog off the area where the bird fell but has not been found to another location that the handler has good reason to believe holds the escaped bird. We will be handling the dog from one location, after an unsuccessful hunt has been made, to another to continue the search.

The well-rounded retriever requires several skills to recover wounded birds:

  1. Ability to accurately mark a fall or line for an unseen – getting the retriever to the precise location of the bird fast greatly increases chances of recovery.
  2. Scenting ability – a dog with a great nose and a passion to hunt cover will recover game.
  3. Handling ability – a dog that will willingly take directions from his hunting partner.
  4. Experience – nothing replaces hunting experience. Bird sense takes exposure and lots of it.

At Wildrose we have developed a few exercises designed to improve a dog’s abilities in these crucial areas. We call them “drops.” Drops or throw downs, as we often refer to the exercises, are designed to improve a dog’s hunting of cover skills and handling ability while fostering an improved relationship between hunter and gundog… trust then respect. Drops are one of many “bridges” we use in the Wildrose Way model to perfect previously learned behaviors or skills while moving the dog to the next level in performance. The effects of  drop exercises will be realized in several areas:

  1. Improve handling – reinforcing whistle stops, short casting and hunting cover thoroughly for the young dog. Another purpose is to improve the responsiveness of the experienced retriever that has developed a tendency to invoke his opinions rather than take direction from the handler.
  2. Improving scent discrimination in all types of environments. Nose work.
  3. Interdependence between dog and handler. A gundog can willingly be moved from one area being hunted to another area of cover to resume the hunt. Confidence in the handler is established. Teamwork. The dog comes to realize that the handler will help in locating the bird if attention is paid.
  4. The retriever establishes an effective search pattern and learns to hold the area searching the cover thoroughly versus running about.


The Drop

Hunt-Stop-Hunt – An assistant tosses a small bird, feathered bumper or scented tennis ball into heavy cover. As you turn the youngster away, creating a trailing memory, the assistant picks up the mark (object) but remains close to the area in order that they may toss the “bird” back to the cover precisely in the area being searched.

Send the dog which, by the way, should be well schooled on the whistles and casting commands at this point, for the memory. After the dog displays a spirited yet unsuccessful hunt of the area, whistle stop the dog. Hold him motionless for about five seconds, gain his focus, then cast to the area to be hunted.

The objective is to keep the dog in the area of the fall hunting enthusiastically while achieving three stops and casts. Only then does the assistant toss the bird back into the cover for the dog to make the find. The gundog is only successful when responding to the handler’s commands and displaying proper hunting skills. Out-of-control and running about results in no reward. This is an effective tool to improve the handle of young retrievers and flushers, but it is a great tune-up drill to polish the experienced gundog that tends to ignore the handler when on birds.


Water Drops

An assistant places a fresh duck (cold game) as an unseen along the bank of a water source hidden in cover. The dog and handler take a position across the water from the assistant who is ready with a sizeable rock in hand. The rock is the mark, thrown high to be seen and to create a splash at the water’s edge, parallel to the bird some 10 to 15 yards down wind. The water dog which has made his mark from across the water is released. You will want to see the dog make a decent hunting effort in the area first. Follow up by stopping the dog a couple of times with the whistle as mentioned in the previous drill and command to continue to hunt the area. After a couple of stops, cast the dog off the fall toward the planted bird. If the cast is taken… success! You come out in the dog’s opinion as “the smartest guy in the marsh!” The exercise really creates an interdependent relationship between you and your gundog. The dog comes to trust that you will put them on the bird.

The Upland Drop

We all know quail, partridge, grouse, and pheasant run when only pricked. They simply do not remain where they fall if at all possible unlike bumpers or cold game do in training.

Using a variation of the lessons discussed previously, the assistant plucks out a few feathers from a game bird and even smears the bird around a bit in heavy cover where the feathers are scattered. Now we have a scented fall area which may cause the dog to stick in the area reluctant to leave. Next, the assistant places the bird at a distance from the scented area. Upwind our down depending upon the difficultly you wish to present. This will not be a track of a runner using a drag as discussed in previous articles, rather it is a lesson in handling from one area that is being hunted to another that requires hunting. Plant the bird; don’t drag it to the location.

Collect the dog. Have the assistant toss in a dirt clod (something natural that will break apart on impact) for a mark or have a bird tossed in then walk away establishing a trailing memory. In either of these scenarios put some distance between the dog and the area to be hunted. If utilizing a trailing memory, the assistant quickly picks up the bird while your dog is walking away not looking. Either way works.

The objective again is for the dog to hunt cover holding the area, achieve three stops then cast to the area holding the bird. Your cast away from the strongly scented area results in a find… a BIRD… and again you appear in the mind of your dog as “the smartest guy in the field.”  The difference in this approach is that we added distance between the dog and the handler and, obviously, the type of cover and terrain has changed from water for the duck work to an upland environment. Versatility!

A Trained Dog’s Nose Knows

Afield, trust your dog when attempting to locate a down bird. You may think you know the location of the bird but a well-trained gundog with an experienced nose may be communicating something quite different. Give your dog time to work out the scent before intervening. Don’t over handle. Remember your hunting pal now thinks that you are “the smartest guy afield.”  Don’t disappoint.

The Gentleman’s Gundog is a hunting companion bred and trained to bring back birds that otherwise would be lost.  That is what makes us so proud of our hunting companions at fireside… Game Recovery!

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Meet Tom Smith, Wildrose Kennels’ General Manager

by Dr. Ben McClelland

The time had come and the man had been found.

Wildrose Kennels has evolved into a sophisticated business operation. The lifelong passion of Mike and Cathy Stewart and their commitment to the highest standards of quality has resulted in an unparalleled complex of operations at Oxford, MS; along the Buffalo River near Jasper, AR; as well as summer mountain training at Clear Creek Ranch in Granite, CO; plus a yearly calendar of workshops and special appearances across the country.

Years of careful, incremental development eventually equaled exponential growth.

Even a casual surfer on the website or a first-time visitor to Wildrose Kennels instantly recognizes the sophisticated organizational structure and elaborate facilities of the oldest and most selective trainers and breeders of imported British and Irish Labradors in North America. Those with closer understanding of the workings of this exceptional business realize the hands-on, detail work required in daily operations.

The Oxford breeding and training facility has five organizational divisions: breeding and healthcare, training, business office, retail store, and inline store. It requires a business model with numerous checks and balances to manage a staff of five full-time trainers, a crew of kennelmen and groundskeepers, healthcare technicians, and store manager.

To keep moving the business forward with sound quality control the time had come to appoint a general manager. And the search for the right man led to Wildrose’s next-door neighbor and former associate trainer, Tom Smith, who has been a peripatetic owner-manager of a large construction business, which he had the good fiscal opportunity to move on from last summer after a twelve-year career.

Joining the staff in October, Tom hit the ground running, using his unique skill sets in construction, organizing labor, project management, personnel oversight. We’ll discuss later more of the work he’s involved at Wildrose, but let’s get to know our new general manager.

Tom Smith grew up in a very small Southern Indiana town on the Ohio River, running with beagles, hunting rabbits, squirrels, and deer. He attended the University of Kentucky on an ROTC scholarship and then served seven years as an army infantry and maintenance officer stationed in Georgia, Alaska, Virginia, and Kentucky. During this time, Tom also enjoyed traveling to many other states for schools and training, plus visiting Japan, Thailand and Egypt. With his military background Tom shares leadership style with Mike, who also sharpened his skills in the military and law enforcement. (They’re also motorcycle enthusiasts.)

After the Army Tom became a plant manager for Cintas, the uniform company, and then entered into the industrial construction field and shortly thereafter started a business with a couple partners, managing up to 275 people and millions of dollars of equipment. Mike and Cathy recognized that Tom’s range of experience and training would enable him to bring a different level of thinking into the fold at Wildrose.


 Tom’s philosophy of training has a familiar ring to it: start with a great bloodline and bring out the best of the dog with consistence, repetition, praise, and correction. Not using force training, but rather working with the dog to help them bring out its natural abilities. He says that’s what attracted him so much to Wildrose.

In October of 2008 he got a yellow pup, Dixie [Hamish & Susie]. After backgrounding her, Tom sent her to Ben Summerall for gundog training because of his job location and demands. Dixie has hunted all over the place, including Canada, and she traveled extensively with him for work. Tom calls her personality crazy friendly and claims that she would rather chase birds than eat. And we all know how much a lab loves to eat.dixie

Tom long had the intention of settling in this area. In January of 2010 he became an associate trainer and in September of 2010 bought the house next door to the kennel for a possible retirement or second career location. Turns out the plan worked.

Tom’s comments about Wildrose show why he’s so pleased to join the staff: “Wildrose is such an awesome place and the people and dogs you meet are great. And Mike and Cathy are just so down to earth and treat people like family. The staff here from top to bottom is a great group of people who take the dogs and customer satisfaction very seriously so that has really helped with the transition. And I really love the wide range of clients we have. Plus, I love Oxford. The wide range of great dining options really impressed me. Because I’m not a big city kind of guy, the village atmosphere in Oxford is right up my alley. I had been wanting to move to the country for years so the combination of dogs, Mike and Cathy, Oxford and living in the country was a slam dunk.”

Tom describes his duties at Wildrose as “chief cook and bottle washer. I run a gamut of mucking pens, mowing, training, scheduling, doing shows, selling, planning, just about anything that could pop up in a given day. Of course my biggest challenge is becoming the best trainer as I possibly can while also growing and solidifying the Wildrose brand with current and new clients. My goal is to make everyone who comes thru the gate feel welcome.”

When asked about goals, Tom has a list at hand: “I have some organizational things that are on the front burner with some facilities upgrades we would like to schedule in the budget for next fiscal year and continue to adapt to the daily ebb and flow of training, facilities management, and marketing. Long-term goals include helping Wildrose continue to grow and adjust the ever-changing landscape of client requests and continue to fine tune our training methods and programs. I would also like to help our young associates with their professional development not just with dog training but to be prepared for a corporate structure if they ever decide to change careers. I was very fortunate with the mentors I had as I grew up including family, military, and professional and I feel an obligation to share what I have learned.”

In just the short time that he’s been aboard, Tom has already installed an advanced technology system in puppy whelping building, re-organized the storage area, and has begun clearing land for a training site for young starter dogs (seven weeks to seven months). He is also coordinating the Wildrose activities at Westervelt Plantation and Prairie Wildlife. Daily he is working alongside various individuals to get close up view into the work they do.

Besides his experience and skills, Tom brings an energetic presence and an upbeat attitude to work every day, which is why everyone is pleased as punch to have him onboard.


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The Legend of Halle

Miss Halle (Berry) as she was called was brought to the United States of America by Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels in November of 2002 at the age of two years and five months and having been a very recent mother in England. She was placed in quarantine as all imported dogs are required which gave her time to adapt to America and be trained by Mike Stewart the Wildrose Way. Our family was introduced to Wildrose by Robert Milner and Louise Crespi Benners owner of FC/AFC Electricity of Audlon and FC/AFC Trumarc’s Raider. They both told our family that we would be extremely pleased with any dog from Wildrose Kennels and we purchased Miss Halle sight unseen in December of 2002. Upon her arrival in the United States Mike began the training of Halle that would forever be her trademark and the beginning of the Legend. She mastered heel, sit, stay, and here and most importantly always walked on my left leg as if glued to me regardless of my pace. Louise on more than one occasion told me that Halle reminded her of Raider more than any other dog she had ever seen.


          Halle left her temporary home in Oxford, Mississippi on January 31, 2002 and arrived at her new home in Farmers Branch, Texas where she was introduced to living in a home instead of an outside kennel which perplexed her very much. The first night in her house she guarded the back door to the patio as if it contained the crown jewels. She however quickly overcame her fear of being an inside dog and adopted the family habits quite nicely.

Halle, however, never lost her love for the outdoors and went to the “pond” as we call it (our neighborhood has a forty acre lake) four to five days a week to check on the resident duck population. She spent her summers in Texas going with me to the Dallas Gun club to keep her active year round. Halle was a hunting dog to be sure and beginning with the first day of September she knew it was time to go to work as Mike had taught her. She warmed up on doves and teal during the month of September in Texas full well knowing that her favorite hunting time was fast approaching.

Thanksgiving marked the time every year that Halle became the hunting dog like no other. Every Thursday night or Friday morning between the end of November she and her master left Dallas and drove the three and one half hours west to Haskell County and the famous Winchester lake that was resident to one of the largest migration of Canadian, Speckled Belly, and Snow Geese in the nation. Haskell County is known for its peanut crop and the Geese population each year was beyond belief. Halle began hunting this area in the fall of 2002 and hunted it with me until she retired in the February, 2013.

In the background is the Winchester lake where some four hours earlier some 40,000 geese spent the night and came off the lake in one V line after another for a period of two hours flight after flight heading out for the day of feeding.

In the background is the Winchester lake where some four hours earlier some 40,000 geese spent the night and came off the lake in one V line after another for a period of two hours flight after flight heading out for the day of feeding.

In her eleven year career Halle made retrieves for me and my hunting friends including Doctors, business owners, students, lawyers, real estate developers, restaurateurs, Federal and State Judges, United States Congressmen, All American sporting clay champions, from all over Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama. Each year during the hunting season I would log at the end of each hunt the number of retrieves made in his Dallas Safari Club log. When Miss Halle retired after eleven years, she had retrieved 1062 birds. Her last retrieve in February, 2013 was a Greater Snow that now resides on the wall in my wife and my office. Many people cannot believe the number of geese that migrated each year to the Winchester and only those hunters that have been there can attest to its greatness. Many outfitters leased properties in Haskell County during this period and were completely upset by the way we hunted the Winchester. We hunted by pass shooting – giving the bird, the dog, and the hunter equal advantage. These geese were not decoyed down but were actually shot “pass shooting” behind hay bales one hundred and twenty five yards off of the lake to assure the continued success of the roost for the largest migration of geese in West Texas. Once the goose was hit the bird would begin a rapid decline toward the earth and Halle and the other dogs in the camp would watch the bird down to dispatch for the retrieve.

On one rare day Halle was there with both me and my wife and I wounded a large speckled belly that sailed off to the north and over a large plowed field. Off went Halle as she had done so many times before locked completely on the exact location of the bird as it went down and went after the goose as she had done so many times before. My wife watched as she went out of sight and asked me if I were worried about her and I replied no – she will be back in a minute. Sure enough about four minutes later you saw a little black lab come back over the hill with a ten pound speckled belly in her mouth on her way back to me. My wife and I later drove the field with truck and the bird went down .4 of a mile from the point I shot him. Halle’s retrieval was over 400 yards each way over a plowed field. My wife could not believe the little dog had gone so far and brought the bird back the entire way.

Miss Halle lived with my wife and me for twelve wonderful years. She was my wife’s pet and my friend and gentlemen’s gun dog. She was adored by all that knew her from the women at the clinic where she received her care to the Sporting Clay tournaments all over North Texas where she was known as Halle Berry. She was kind gentle and a perfect pet and companion for her family especially to my wife, but forever she was also a hunter that knew the difference of being a lady at home and a hunter in the field.

Miss Halle left us on August 26, 2014 being fourteen years and three months but the legend of Halle will remain with the hunters, ranchers, farmers, and property owners of West Texas where she was a true legend.

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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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