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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Meet Dave LaBanc, Wildrose DAD Volunteer

Dave LaBanc greets me with a firm handshake and a winsome smile. Dave is Wildrose’s newest DAD team member, and we are meeting in his office at the University of Mississippi’s Facilities Planning Building. A fit and trim man, Dave sports a military-style haircut—close shaven all around with a short brush crew on top.


Finn on place in Dave’s office while Dave works via computer.

A Type 1 diabetic, Dave has begun volunteering to “prove” Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs). After a DAD has been through obedience, scent, and public access training, it lives with a Type 1 diabetic to “prove” itself by practicing real-time alerting and living in a 24/7 family routine. When the proofing is complete, the DAD is ready to be placed with its client family.

Enter Finn, the two-year-old, yellow DAD from Luke and Tess that Dave is proofing. Finn is well traveled in the Wildrose Way, having been initially trained by Mary Griffin and Chelsea Harris. He then went to live with DAD volunteer Chris Floyd—until the Floyd’s brought home a new baby that naturally enough took over their priorities. So, Dave arrived just in time to take over Finn’s proofing activities.

Well, there’s an interesting word-of-mouth story about how Dave arrived on the scene. Many folks in the Wildrose community know that President Mike Stewart has a military and law-enforcement background. In fact, he served eighteen-and-a-half years as Chief of the University Police Department (UPD) just prior to retiring to begin the Wildrose business.

Late last fall the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, hosted an appreciation dinner honoring the UPD staff and retirees. She and Mike sat at the same table and another tablemate, who knew about the Wildrose DAD program, mentioned that Brandi’s husband, Dave, was a Type 1 diabetic, whereupon Mike asked Brandi if she and Dave would be interested in field proofing the dogs.

Following the dinner when Brandi got home, she mentioned the conversation to Dave, who called Mike the next day. And as way leads on to way, Brandi and Dave soon participated in a Wildrose dog handlers’ workshop and they also shared with Mike their previous dog-training experience. Before their recent move to Oxford in 2012, the LaBancs got a rescue dog, Rudy, a red Doberman Pinscher, as their first family pet. Dave had grown up with dogs and he and Brandi enjoyed training Rudy. In fact, Dave set up a recreation room as an obstacle course and worked with Rudy on agility training.

So, that’s how Dave arrived on the scene to take over proofing activities with Finn.

Every day Finn goes to work with Dave, who is the Coordinator of Facilities Projects and Space Management at the University. As Dave explains below, not only does Finn stay at the office, but he also travels all over campus with Dave to site visits and meetings. Their favorite mode of transportation is the Club Car.

Finn stayed on place in Dave’s office during our interview. Here are Dave’s responses to my questions about his diabetes and his work with Finn.

Ben: Discuss the time of your diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and what routine practices you developed to help cope with your disease. Mention any other autoimmune disease and its role in your health profile.

Dave: I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on Labor Day weekend in 1995. When I was admitted to the hospital, my blood sugar was 998 mg/dl. This is pretty high, when you consider that the normal range for blood sugar is 80 – 120 mg/dL.

My diabetes educator assured me that there would be a cure in the next ten years. I do not know if she told me this to give me hope. Or if it means that her predicting abilities were as precise as your average weatherman. Anyhow, I was as overwhelmed as any other newly diagnosed diabetic, but I eventually settled into a routine that included checking my blood sugar six to eight times a day and eating on a schedule, with snacks between major meals. Over time, I would test less, or eat worse, but for the last fourteen or fifteen years, I have been checking my sugar ten to twelve times a day and trying to be a healthier diabetic, but I still struggle from time to time.

Part of the reason for my occasional struggles is my other autoimmune disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis, or Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (GPA). This disease attacks my lungs, kidneys, and sinus cavities, if I do not keep it in check with Mexotrexate, a medicine many people suffering from autoimmune diseases take. Basically, the medicine knocks down the immune system a bit, so it cannot go after other targets. This is good for GPA, but it means I also need to take other medication to counter its effects.

I mention my other disease to help illustrate all of the things I have coursing through my veins and all of the other smells I probably give off. Not only is Finn able to sort through all of the other odors and distractions that any other D.A.D. must deal with, he is able to alert accurately with all of the additional complications brought on by my second disease.

Ben: When did Finn come to live with you?

Dave: Finn came to live with Brandi and me on Sunday, February 9, 2014. We have spent the last three weeks developing our relationships with Finn and learning to read each other. A relationship with a dog is really similar to a relationship with another human. You learn to pick up on the other’s tone of voice, gestures, and habits as you spend more time together.

Brandi helps a lot with Finn. She is actually the one that first caught on to his alerting when I thought he was just being disobedient. Her perspective really helped me get clued in to Finn’s intentions. I was so focused on making sure he behaved correctly, that I was blocking him from performing his job by continually returning him to his place, every time he moved off.

Ben: Describe Finn’s nature and some features of his character.

Dave: Finn is a wonderful dog! He will be an excellent DAD for some lucky diabetic out there.

Finn is energetic, very eager to please, strong willed, and determined. His greatest characteristic, other than his amazing nose, is his keen intelligence. For example, I was able to teach him to shake hands in three minutes. Then, I was able to convert “shake” into wave in ten more. He began to use “wave” for his high alert within a week of being taught to shake, albeit inconsistently. We are still working on it, but he is doing really well.

Ben: Discuss the system of communication between you and Finn, how you and Finn “read” each other.


Dave: I have no clue how Finn reads me. We train the DADs with saliva frozen in cotton swabs. When my blood sugar is high or low, I cut a Q-Tip in half and place both sides in my mouth and soak them with saliva. Then, I place the swab in a Ziploc bag and I place that bag in another Ziploc bag and then I write the blood sugar reading and the date on the bag. So, initially at least, Finn read me by how my breath and saliva smelled.

However, I think there is much more to it than how my breath and saliva smell. For example, this past Sunday, I was working in the yard and Finn was in the house with Brandi, since I try to separate from him for a few hours every day. This allows him to take a break from me and just be a dog. Anyhow, I was in the yard and he started alerting Brandi and became concerned or agitated and wanted to get to me. Brandi brought him outside and she brought me my meter. I tested and my blood sugar was 59. I was working on the side of the house on which there are no windows and Finn knew, somehow knew, that I was in trouble and he needed to help me. So much for Finn getting a break from me…

I continued working in the yard. He then alerted two more times while I was working in the back yard approximately 150 feet from the house where Finn was. I can believe that those two subsequent alerts might have been by smell, but during the first one I was using spray foam and that stuff stinks. If it is smell, he was able to pick it up through swirly wind bouncing off everything in the yard and he could discern my low blood sugar from the toxic smell for the spray foam.

I read Finn by his demeanor and the sounds he makes. His eyes give away his feelings. He has intense looks, fun looks, sad looks, frustrated looks, pleading looks, and loving looks. It is hard to describe, but the more I am with him the better able I am at reading what he is trying to communicate.

He rarely barks, but he does whimper from time to time. The intensity of that whimper means something to me. Some whimpers mean he doesn’t want to stay on his place anymore. Other whimpers mean he wants my attention. Still other whimpers mean he needs to go outside to relieve himself.

Ben:  Briefly explain your daily routine with Finn.

Dave: We get up at 5:30 a.m. and I feed him two cups of food and give him water. Then, we go for a 20 to 25 minute walk. When we get home from the walk, Finn goes to his place, which is a little Kuranda cot in our bedroom, upon which he sleeps. Finn usually falls back asleep or relaxes while Brandi and I get ready for work.

We leave for work between 6:45 and 7:00 and generally go to Starbucks in the J. D. Williams library for some coffee. Then, we are off to our offices to work. Here in my office Finn has this place next to my desk, as you can see, where he spends most of his time, but he does go everywhere with me when I leave the office. If I have a meeting, he is under the table. If I need to go to a construction site and I do not have to climb ladders, he goes with me. I really try to expose him to as many situations as possible, so he will not be surprised by public access situations when he is serving his full-time owner.

I try to give Finn some time off each morning and each afternoon. Usually, I do this when I have a meeting in my building. I just tell him to “load” and he gets into his crate here in my office and takes a nap.

During lunch, if time allows, I take him to the recreation fields and we do field work, which involves walking on lead, holding and carrying items, staying where I place him, coming to me when I call his name, and his favorite—retrieves.

After work, Brandi and I go to the gym and Finn sits between Brandi and me while we work out. He does an excellent job in the loud, somewhat chaotic, environment. He focuses on me and lets me know when my blood sugar is out of range. Yesterday, I set my blood meter by him. As I was working out, he picked up my meter and brought it to me. I never worked with him on that behavior, but he seemed to learn that I always use my meter whenever he signals, so he decided to pick it up and bring it to me because he was signaling. By the way, my blood sugar was 54, so Finn saved me from crashing during the work out!

Ben: As the one who is doing the prooving work with Finn, what’s on your checklist as essential things to train in him?

Dave: Basic obedience behaviors: sit, down, stay, heel, load, out, get over, give (or dead), and quit (to turn off his alerts).

I also work on his diabetic alerts. I try to make his signals clearer and I continue to reward good behavior with praise and be neutral with incorrect alerts.

Ben: How do you rank him with respect to obedience, scent work, and public access behavior?

Dave: Finn is doing very well. The only reason I cannot say excellent is that he loves people. Sometimes it feels like he is flirting with humans to get them to pay attention to him. He needs to focus on his job and not worry about who is in the room, or who can love him.

We are also working on his interest in small furry animals. He is a retriever after all, so we need to make small furry animals something more common so that he does not want to run after them. He is getting much better in this regard.

Ben: How long do you project that you will work with Finn before he is placed with a diabetic client?

Dave: If the person he is placed with has had a big dog before, he could go now. If he is going to somebody who has never had a dog before, or has only had small dogs, I think I need him for another month. However, the real judges are Mike and Cathy Stewart and Sharon Stinson. They both have forgotten more about dog training than I know, so you will get a better sense of this from them. The other factor in this is if Finn is a match for the next

person to request a DAD, which is a call that Mike, Cathy, and Sharon make. My understanding is that Finn is the most trained of the available Wildrose DADs, but if he is not a match for the next client, then I will have him longer.

Following the interview, Dave and I took Finn and my gundog, Mac, to a recreation field on campus for a lively workout, including some long retrieves, which they heartily enjoyed. Loading Mac and Finn back in my truck boxes, we then made our way to the center of campus, met up with Brandi for a photo shoot and then went to two different construction sites where Dave examined the work and discussed details of the projects with the construction crew superintendents. While Mac dozed in his dog box, Finn happily accompanied Dave everywhere.

Click on each photo below to see an enlarged image.

Finn alerts Dave to a low with a lick tothe palm.

Finn alerts Dave to a low with a lick tothe palm.







Finn and Dave head out for site visits on campus in a club car.

Finn and Dave head out for site visits on campus in a club car.

During an exercise activity at a campus recreational field Dave Sends Finn for a retrieve.

During an exercise activity at a campus recreational field Dave Sends Finn for a retrieve.






Finn delivers the retrieved bumper to hand.

Finn delivers the retrieved bumper to hand.








A portrait photo of Finn with Dave and Brandi Hephner LaBanc in the Circle with the Ole Miss Lyceum in the background.

A portrait photo of Finn with Dave and Brandi Hephner LaBanc in the Circle with the Ole Miss Lyceum in the background.








In Fraser Hall Finn waits as Dave discusses the progress of work on the renovation project there.

In Fraser Hall Finn waits as Dave discusses the progress of work on the renovation project there.








Finn attends as Dave talks with a construction head about renovation work in progress in the Music Building.

Finn attends as Dave talks with a construction head about renovation work in progress in the Music Building.








Dave lands a BIG catch in a pond behind his Oxford home. Finn was a key player in this catch. But that's a fish story for another time!

Dave lands a BIG catch in a pond behind his Oxford home. Finn was a key player in this catch. But that’s a fish story for another time!





















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From The Field – Training The Wildrose Way

Kane is just over 10 months and doing great. As the pictures show, he is a beautiful dog. ImageHe has been through hold conditioning and gun training and did well. I have been working him with feathered bumpers, dead ducks, and dead and live quail. We have been following both Training the Wildrose Way and The Upland gun dog videos along with Mike’s book. All are great tools. This past Saturday we put a lot of this training together and created a simulated quail hunt for Kane. He has been around live birds, both working steadiness and flushes, been shot over, and retrieved dead birds. This was the first time we shot live birds around him with kills, so I was anxious to see his response. We put out 8 birds in multiple areas. Overall we had 10 flushes with purposeful and outright misses for denials and 5 kills with perfect retrieves. His response to each was great and I could not have been more pleased. ImageThis coming Saturday we plan on adding Levi (Ben & Cindy) .

I know you guys get a lot of this but I just wanted to let you how pleased we are. Look forward to seeing you in March at the Handlers Training. 

Judd D. Beech

Gulfport, MS

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From The Field – Flint’s Quail Hunt

Here you see a picture of Flint from a recent quail hunt.  While the picture is awesome, I want to tell you the quick story. image001  The bird he is retrieving is a single that our shooters flushed.  Because of the quick shot, the bird was winged but still managed to go quite some ways, probably 60 yards, through the pines before going down in some thick stuff.  Flint made a good mark, and the guide asked me to send Flint.  When I lined and sent Flint, he put on a show.  He hit that cover at full speed.  Next thing we saw was the bird flutter up and Flint go airborne after the bird, snatching him out of mid-air.  The photographer with us captured this photo on the return, perfectly illustrating the concentration and intensity I have come to expect from Flint and the Wildrose dogs.   As you can see in the picture, the bird is very much alive and Flint’s soft mouth kept him that way.  This picture is testament to the training you did with him and the validity of the Wildrose Way.

Jonathan Siskey

75th Ranger Regiment

Leesburg, GA

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Cover Dogs

We all know about cover girls, super models boasting glamorous fashion, hair of extreme styling with, of course, expensive jewelry and cosmetics applied to perfection.  They grace the covers of glossy magazines in an effort to attract attention to the publication or its content.  Similarly we may see photos of beautiful canines on the covers of sporting and canine enthusiast magazines; Deke displayed on the cover of the Dec, 2012 issue of Garden & Gun and Whiskey on the cover of Pheasants Forever, September, 2009.  Many dogs are photographed for the covers of publications, perhaps they could be considered cover dogs but that’s not our intent when we speak of “cover dogs” at Wildrose.


A proper cover dog is a gundog of durability, instinct and persistence that literally devastates the thickest of cover (land or on water) to locate or recover birds.  Naturally, a cover gundog in action is, too, a thing of beauty to behold.  But I remain fairly confident that a “cover dog” is a bit more practical and perhaps more affordable for the average destination wingshooter than our former example of cover models.

Training the Wildrose Way is all about gamefinding, locating birds that otherwise would not be flushed to the gun or lost after a fall. In field situations a dog’s nose must know, so we cannot underestimate the importance of genetics in this discussion.  The Wildrose Way is bringing out the natural ability of each dog, applying controls and training handlers.  The nose, a gift of progeny, must be developed to each dog’s scenting potential.

Hunt on Command:  The retriever will hold an area searching in a tight pattern using intense nose work as well as eyes rather than run about searching randomly or by taking a straight line.

Throw Down:  The dog is instructed to hunt cover with no seen object present.  As the dog covers the ground thoroughly, a “find” is tossed in (scented tennis ball or feather-laced puppy bumper).  The throw down prevents the dog from being rewarded by locating the object without a thorough hunt first or in a case where the dog is not responsive to the handler’s directions.

Combining the hunt on command with the throw-down technique will require the dog to give three solid stops and recasts around the fall area or to different areas in close proximity before the object is tossed in to be located.


The targets (small areas to be searched) are usually thick clumps of tall grass, small thickets of dense brush or my favorite, small brush piles.  Each gives the dogs a visual, contrasting bit of cover on which to focus.  I will have several small piles in close proximity. Each pile will be hunted thoroughly before casting to the next.  Finally, the “find” is tossed in once I am satisfied with the dog’s hunting enthusiasm and willingness to respond to whistles and hand signals.

This technique is similar to the pattern used to train canines for narcotic or ordinance location.  The object is hidden in locations where the target is likely to be found in real-life situations.  In our case, where would a wounded bird likely hide…. under brush, behind logs, holes in the ground, fallen tree tops, marsh grass at a water’s edge?  Teach the dog to recognize these likely hiding places and search them thoroughly. Dogs are place-oriented, Wildrose Law #9. These pre-established places of reference will become fixed in the dog’s memory through repetition.  “Birds will likely be found here!”

Our kennel men have constructed numerous small piles of brush and limbs in different locations about the Wildrose training grounds in woodlands, at water’s edge and in grass fields. This task becomes the first step in preparing to develop a superb game finder in cover.


  1. Establish the desirable cover.  Begin with small brush piles as discussed.
  2. Establish a hunt command and ensure your dog will hold the area hunting carefully.  Note:  The vast majority of participants attending our workshops have never established a hunt command!
  3. Hunt- Stop- Hunt.
    1. Hunt the first brush pile or defined cover.  Hold the dog until a thorough hunt is achieved.
    2. Stop and hold the dog’s attention briefly, then cast to the next pile.
    3. Repeat (a) followed by yet another stop and cast to the next target area.
    4. Finally, after several brief hunts of different areas, toss in your scented object.

The dog will achieve confidence in you as a handler as well as come to recognize potential target areas in the field… places where birds will likely be found.  As a special high-value reward, occasionally incorporate cold game birds as finds.

With repetition you imprint these specific areas in your dog’s mind, just where a wounded bird may steel away.  Once confidence is achieved, lengthen the distance to target areas requiring the dog to line to the visible area then stop and hunt.



The dog is sent on a short line to the first cover area.  Require a thorough hunt ensuring the dog sticks his nose in and around the area including an air search (hides off the ground).  Once satisfied, cast the dog to another area which should be in very close proximity.  As the dog searches, walk closer to the area of activity.  Keep the searches going as if a dot-to-dot game.  Search one bit of cover to the next as you slowly approach.  Finally, you will be close enough to toss in your find in the appropriate target area/pile.  Success builds upon success.

The throw down allows the handler to control the find only when the dog is handling well and searching the correct cover enthusiastically. These are exercises that forge a productive relationship between gundog and handler plus they instill in the dog’s memory areas that are potential “targets” as holders of game.  Finally set up these exercises as lining for piles/cover at distances with bumpers or birds pre-hidden as permanent unseens or cold unseens.

The “cover dog” is all about enhanced game finding…bringing back birds that otherwise would be lost. At the end of the day it’s the birds in the bag that count.

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New Book Details Work of Lifesaving Labradors

PostcardCoverPicLifesaving Labradors CoverBen McClelland with WR Eider and WR Mac

Click on link below to read the full article from the University of Mississippi Communications Office.

New Book Details

of Lifesaving Labradors.

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The Passing


The Passing

by Mike Stewart

It remains the longest distance retrieve we ever made.   A blind for a pricked goose that fell out of sight in the mud flats of the Cook Inlet, Alaska, whose waters had receded with the early morning tide.  The event, witnessed by two other hunters, was estimated at between 500 and 600 yards across an almost impassable, muddy surface—made even more difficult because the hunter shot from some 30 yards left of our position with the bird continuing to fly with the group. Drake did not see the fall and for that matter, neither did I—too far—actually over the horizon of featureless mud. Someone with better eyesight assured me that the bird did fall, so Drake and I made the attempt.  He took a bold line, bounding through the gummy surface and after numerous readjustments, he had pushed back completely out of sight of us all.  Time passed before we spotted the Ducks Unlimited mascot returning, carrying a live, mud-caked goose.  Upon delivery, Drake was completely covered with a thick, grey mud, only his eyes protruding, which were clearly delighted with his hard-fought achievement.  A memorable retrieve for us both and one of difficulty and distance that remains unchallenged for us both personally.  A “best!”


It was his flag—a large white banner displaying the Ducks Unlimited Drake’s head logo.  It hung in our booth or was draped over the table at so many Great Outdoor Festivals, Ducks Unlimited events and other appearances, which Drake made for a decade.  Presented by Ducks Unlimited years ago, this flag was always with us and later with Deke in our travels.  The flag even followed the first U. S. Gundog Team in history to compete at an Annual International Retriever Competition in the United Kingdom in 2004 of which Drake was a team member. The U.S. won that event for which we were very proud. The flag always remained in my “show bag” secured in my dog trailer ready for display whenever, wherever—until yesterday.

Now the flag is officially retired.  Drake, the 1st Official Ducks Unlimited Mascot died on Sunday, December 15, 2013, at age 13 years and 4.5 months.  Fittingly, Drake was wrapped carefully in his flag and laid to rest at the Wildrose Gundog Memorial Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi.  He lies next to other great friends that appeared with him in shows and on hunts including FTCh Angus and FTCh Tommy.  Drake, one of the most recognized gundogs of the past decade, is gone.

Drake backing a point, Wade Plantation, GA.

Drake backing a point, Wade Plantation, GA.

Ghillie and Drake with Bill Behnke and Mike on an Alaskan Adventure.

Ghillie and Drake with Bill Behnke and Mike on an Alaskan Adventure.

Born July 30, 2000, Drake was trained at Wildrose by a positive-balanced approach that was not common at that time…. No electric collars. No check cord. No force- fetch.  Ducks Unlimited TV, The World of Ducks, followed his progression from a 6-month-old pup through his senior years afield totaling 8.5 years of weekly training tips.  Had you recorded each session, you would have an excellent training plan for developing a waterfowl retriever using positive, balanced reinforcement.  These tips remain the longest, continuously aired segments on dog training on television.  Drake appeared in well over 90 TV appearances during his career.

Drake was the epitome of a Gentleman’s Gundog – a dog of versatility – upland flusher, strike dog for quail, waterfowl retriever, adventure dog—earning the Master Trekker merit.  He floated the Agulowak in Alaska, traveled by jeep, ATV, private jet, and Alaska floatplanes during his adventures.  We hiked trails where he carried his own pack, retrieved sheds, and once he even ran with a skier on a descent from the summit of Independence Pass, Colorado.

Deke and Drake, the DU mascots after a downhill ski from the top of Independence Pass, CO.

Deke and Drake, the DU mascots after a downhill ski from the top of Independence Pass, CO.

Deke, Drake, and Indian along the Arkansas River, Colorado Trail, CO.

Deke, Drake, and Indian along the Arkansas River, Colorado Trail, CO.

He will be remembered as a gentle dog that would allow scores of people to pet and interact with him at shows and pleased so many Ducks Unlimited Greenwing kids that knew him well.  Never once did I concern myself that he would be aggressive toward another person or any dog he encountered.

Whether hunting ducks from Nash Buckingham’s famed blind at Beaver Dam or sitting beside me waiting to make the next retrieve of a downed dove on a hot September afternoon, Drake loved to pick birds and he proved over the years to be a superb gamefinder.  The hallmark of a fine retriever is to bring back birds that otherwise would be lost and he did just that.  He will be remembered in so many ways… a show dog, a hunter, an adventurer, a friend, and a destination wingshooting companion that complemented the sporting lifestyle until his last day.

Highdonscott Drake of Wildrose, MT


July 30, 2000 to December 15, 2013



Drake's first DU photo session.

Drake’s first DU photo session.

Drake and Deke, the DU mascots.

Drake and Deke, the DU mascots.

Drake as a wagon/strike dog, Wade Plantation, GA.

Drake as a wagon/strike dog, Wade Plantation, GA.

Drake's first banded bird, MS Delta.

Drake’s first banded bird, MS Delta.

Drake at 14,000 ft. Columbine Mine Trail, Colorado.

Drake at 14,000 ft. Columbine Mine Trail, Colorado.

Drake and Deke advertising their special treats, Z-Bones.

Drake and Deke advertising their special treats, Z-Bones.

Drake in retirement on a fun day with Billie Claire.

Drake in retirement on a fun day with Billie Claire.

Trout fishing on the Agulowak, Alaska.

Trout fishing on the Agulowak, Alaska.

Drake hunting at Fighting Bayou, MS Delta.

Drake hunting at Fighting Bayou, MS Delta.

The Show Pack. Drake is to the left with Wigeon, Whiskey, Indian, Ben, Deke, and Kane.

The Show Pack. Drake is to the left with Wigeon, Whiskey, Indian, Ben, Deke, and Kane.

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“Charlie’s Our Hero”

This post follows on the previous one “What’s a DAD?” that appears below. I encourage you to read the earlier post for the valuable introductory information it presents on diabetes and diabetic alert dogs.

A lot of the work that diabetic alert dogs do for their companions is mundane: sitting with them at movies, heeling to them everywhere, taking car rides, and sleeping by them. And, of course, alerting them when their blood sugar levels change. But even that can become routine, day after day.

Still, there is an air of mystery surrounding the DAD’s relationship with its companion. What, exactly, does the dog smell? Does the dog key into other factors, some body language that we do not notice? The relationship between a diabetic alert dog and its companion is close—very close, an emotional bond like no other. Which brings us to a phenomenon that is far from mundane. Some members of the Wildrose DAD community have reported the distance alert, or the remote alert. In this instance the dog alerts a parent that its child companion needs to check blood levels—but the child is not with them. In some cases the child is outside playing with friends. In other instances the child is miles away. This phenomenon has also occurred with adult diabetics and their DADs. Nobody has an explanation for this event, but many attest to its occurrence.

Recently, Texan Angie Simonton posted on her Facebook page a story of a distance alert, a poignant moment for her. Angie, a nine-year veteran kindergarten teacher, is a single mom whose daughter, Lily, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes before she was two. Charlie, a Wildrose gundog turned DAD, became her hardworking partner in helping Lily thrive. Charlie was the first Wildrose DAD to attend public school with a diabetic companion. The challenges of taking Charlie to public school were at first overwhelming, but Angie persisted in working out an effective situation. With a lot of assistance from Wildrose and with adjustments in the school, this young DAD team moved to the head of the class. Lily, now six years old, loves dancing, arts and crafts, and riding her bike and scooter. An active family, the Simontons love playing at the park, taking Charlie on walks—where he also gets a few retrieves—and, of course, going shopping. Angie’s latest Facebook posts show Lily handling Charlie quite expertly, heeling and reverse heeling. Here’s Angie’s story about Charlie’s latest heroics.

Charlie’s Latest Distance Alert

“Charlie continues to be a hero for Lily and we love him! He is the most important tool in her diabetes management as he continues to show us daily. During the day Lily attended Diabetes Camp this week. She loved it :). Charlie and I not so much. He was without his girl and I worried each day that she was away. The worst part was the pickup each afternoon. Of course, I was thrilled to see my Lilybug, but seeing her BGs without Charlie’s helpful alerts was hard. Any blood glucose below 80 for her age is considered low so a 46, 38, and 52 are BGs that give you a sick feeling. We made adjustments to her pump, lowered insulin dosages, and made helpful suggestions to enable her BGs to remain steady during the lots and lots of activity in the heat.

“Now keep in mind that Charlie is normally with Lily all the time so this is definitely different for him. We did lots of walks, retrieves, training exercises, and he got in a few extra zzzzz’s :). I took his basket of bringsels, his alerting tool, and put them on top of the kitchen table each day Lily was gone. I learned after Monday that I needed to keep her bedroom and playroom doors shut too. He attempted to alert a few times with her stuffed animals so I decided to take all “Lily” distractions away.

“Many know Charlie for his long distance alerts which means he has alerted to Lily’s blood glucose from great distances. This is almost unbelievable, but to witness it is amazing. They are real and they happen. Well today, he proved himself again. He was napping and lying on his cot when he suddenly woke up and proceeded into the kitchen. It is very unlike Charlie to just roam the house. He gets off place only to alert or when given the command, so this quickly caught my attention. I secretly watched him go to the place where the bringsels are located; however, I had the basket on the table. He then sniffed until he located the basket, put his paws up on the chair and dug his head in the basket for a bringsel while lying on the table. I was taken back because those familiar with Charlie’s obedience know he would not get on the kitchen chair or table—ever! I sat back on the couch and he sat in front of me with intense eye contact and placed his paw on my leg for a low. Not once or twice, but three times. I took the bringsel, knowing Lily was miles away in Fort Worth. He continued to bump me with his nose and give me a paw—relentlessly. He then proceeded to blow puffs of air out his cheeks. Then I knew he was serious. I made a mental note of the time and acknowledged Charlie’s alert.

“I wanted to call the camp, but of course didn’t :(. At pickup today, I looked at Lily’s logs of her BGs. Her numbers had been great and her pre-swim BG was 177. They had removed her pump during swim per my suggestion. After swim, she was tested again and her BG was 87. A 90-point drop. This happened during the same time that Charlie was alerting at home. Not sure how to explain this type of alert, but it happens. Someone dear to me said, “There is something inexplicable with those kinds of alerts! Charlie is a one-in-a-million.” We are blessed beyond with Charlie and his bond with my family. He is Lily’s guardian angel and provides us with life saving alerts daily!”

Lifesaving Labradors

Angie has written the whole story of Lily’s diabetes diagnosis and their getting Charlie as a medical assistant. Her story, along with those of nine other diabetic families with Wildrose service dogs, will appear in our forthcoming book Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Wildrose Families with Diabetic Alert Dogs. In the book ten DAD handlers tell their stories of daily life with a DAD, which requires hard work, persistence, continual training, and patience—not only with the dog, but also with inquisitive people they meet in public places. Plus, Rachel Thornton and others provide detailed training information for DADS.

The book is now being prepared for publication and will be released by Koehlerbooks in the winter of 2014. Ahead of its release we will give information about the book’s website and Facebook page, so that you can learn more about the people and the dogs featured in it. In addition, you can reserve a copy of the book. In the meantime, you can find more information about diabetes and DADS at the contacts listed below.

Please view the photo gallery of Charlie, Angie, and Lily at the bottom of this blog.

Anyone wishing to support our DAD program may make a donation to the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation; to make a donation online simply enter this URL in your browser: http://www.createfoundation.com/MakeADonation.aspx?id=87.

For more information:



or contact:

Cathy Stewart, 662-234-5788

Rachel Thornton, 205-412-3672, nobodybutjustme@gmail.com

After Charlie alerts with a brignsel, Angie checks Lily's blood sugar level. At Wildrose Kennels.

After Charlie alerts with a bringsel, Angie checks Lily’s blood sugar level. At Wildrose Kennels.

Lily and Charlie at Wildrose's 2013 DAD Workshop. Photo by Frank Wisneski.

Lily and Charlie at Wildrose’s 2013 DAD Workshop. Photo by Frank Wisneski.

Charlie shares his Kuranda bed—and serves as a pillow—for iPad-using Lily

Charlie shares his Kuranda bed—and serves as a pillow—for iPad-using Lily.

Charlie with Angie and lily Simonton

Charlie with Angie and Lily Simonton. Photo by Casey Donato.

Charlie and his family walk in the park.

Charlie and his family walk in the park. Photo by Casey Donato.

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What’s a DAD?

What’s a DAD?

76DADT-Shirt2(4x7)7979No, not a dad, as in Father’s Day, but a DAD. Most of us in the Wildrose community know, but I am continually surprised to find many folks who are unfamiliar with the work of Wildrose’s lifesaving Labradors—Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs). Just within the last few days, I came upon three people who weren’t in the know—a long-time local businessperson, a college student, and a young professional. This last person, a bright, twenty-something accountant, who lives in a large Midwestern city, visited when he came back home for his sister’s graduation. As much as this savvy guy knew about social media, the youth culture scene, and contemporary events, he went blank when I mentioned that I was working with families of Type 1 Diabetics, who were telling their stories of dealing with the disease, and were using Diabetic Alert Dogs.

“Using what?” he asked politely. I know that right now the Wildrose families who use DADs are smiling knowingly, as they read this. In telling their stories they all talk about how many times they have to answer people’s questions about their dog companions. And each time I have read their statements (and sensed their exasperation) I thought I understood how they felt. But this recent spate of inquiries has sensitized me more to the lack of knowledge the general public has of service dog companions’ work. And behind that ignorance is also a lack of understanding of the continuous medical care required for someone with Type 1 Diabetes. As Angie Simonton notes: “I truly believe it is hard for people outside of the family to understand the gravity of diabetes and then to understand the level of care and security these amazing dogs provide.”

As I mentioned, most folks in the Wildrose community are well aware of the Diabetic Alert Dog program.  In fact, there’s a good bit of crossover between the gundog and the DAD programs. Some dogs, for instance, are dually trained. Within our group of storytellers Duane Miller hunts with his dog, Hatch, as well as using him as a DAD. Also, Devon Wright went pheasant hunting with her family and her dog, Olive, who is dually trained. Olive alerted her during the hunt. (Check this blog’s archives for a story on this event.) In addition, Charlie and Ruby were trained as gundogs before becoming DADs.

Also, hunters with Wildrose gundogs are generous supporters of the DAD Program.  Quite a few gundog handlers or trainers have donated resources that were not monetary but were still indescribably meaningful: JoeDan Robinson, an Associate Trainer, raised and trained Juniper. Another Associate Trainer, Jay Lowry raised and trained Ruby, Charlie, Bailey, and Zeke.

In addition, just in the last few years I am aware of hunters donating large sums to assist with DAD training and placement through donations to the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation.

Nevertheless, because this knowledge and support are not widespread, this article will briefly address some issues of Type 1 Diabetes, introduce you to some of the members of our Wildrose DAD community, and explain the work that our lifesaving Labradors do. Later articles will address more of the many issues involving DADs, but here’s a start.

Type 1 Diabetes

Three million Americans suffer from Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. Death casts its shadow over each of these seriously ill people. Because these folks look healthy, it’s hard for us to understand the medical challenges that they face every day. Imagine that, because your pancreas no longer works to supply insulin, your blood sugar (also referred to as blood glucose or BG) level could rise or fall suddenly. What’s worse, you can neither predict these changes, nor can you feel any side effects—until you are dangerously sick. With extended high levels you might suffer diabetic ketoacidosis and fall into coma and possibly die. In the case of a low you might likely experience seizure and death.

Consider the effect that this condition would have on your daily life. You could suffer an attack while swimming, riding a bike, or driving a car. You could be enjoying dinner and a movie with friends. Or you could be sound asleep in the middle of the night. Because these incidents could occur at any time and might have severe consequences, you might choose to reduce your activities and try to stay safe at home. You might become reclusive or depressed. And still you would have little control over this unpredictable condition. Tom Arsenault explains how his frequent blackouts affected him: “Calls to 911 to revive me occurred on average every forty-five days. I began to know the local firefighters by name! I also became increasingly paranoid, fearful about being alone. Because I couldn’t feel the swings in my blood sugar, ordinary chores like shopping and driving were so filled with fear of another episode that I wouldn’t do them unless accompanied. The theatre, movies, driving—all the ordinary things people do every day—carried new fear, which only exacerbated my condition.”

Imagining that you have this unpredictable malady can give you some idea of what people, like Tom, face with Type 1 Diabetes. The diabetic suffers from lack of insulin production, which can lead to sudden changes in blood sugar levels. So many things contribute to blood sugar levels from emotions to exercise and from eating carbohydrates to getting a cold. Several times emergency responders rushed Sharon Stinson to the hospital when she fell into diabetic comas. All of the parents in our Wildrose group, the around-the-clock caregivers for their children, have frantically administered Glucagon shots or force-fed sugar drinks in desperate attempts to steady erratic glycemic events. Like Capri Smith, all of them have gone on daredevil car rides to the ER, desperate to save their daughters’ lives. Kitty Berry attests, “Battling diabetes is an unimaginable fight. Every day. 24/7/365. The fight requires every bit of energy and faith we can muster.”

Monitoring blood glucose levels all of the time, day and night, is a continual activity for these diabetics and their caregivers. The goal is to maintain tight control over the glycemic range, minimizing fluctuations so as to maintain normal activities and to prevent any of the several harmful side effects of wide, erratic sugar swings. Even with modern insulin monitoring and delivery systems, Type 1 Diabetics continue to struggle to achieve healthy monthly averages, a key to long-term health.

A diabetic alert dog, which we call a DAD, is a tool in diabetes management. Each dog is trained to notify the diabetic or the caregiver of low and high blood glucose levels, thereby allowing them to promptly make necessary corrections to avert the episode or lessen its severity. A hypo- or hyperglycemic attack can lead to a seizure, coma, or death, making these well-trained dogs true lifesavers. The DAD’s performance can result in tighter glycemic control, which decreases the likelihood of devastating, long-term complications, including kidney failure, retinopathy, neuropathy, and heart disease. As diabetics and their caregivers struggled with this relentless disease, they turned to dogs as effective monitors of blood sugar changes.

Those who came to Wildrose seeking diabetic alert dogs to hold death at bay traveled a path that pioneer Rachel Thornton had cleared for them. Rachel and her eleven-year-old daughter, Abi, toughed it out, training Mr. Darcy to alert for Abi. Then Rachel and Wildrose owners, Mike and Cathy Stewart, created opportunities for other diabetics and their caregivers to use dogs as medical assistants to help them monitor their levels of blood sugar and live more normal lives.

Mr. Darcy, Teddy Bear, Olive, Gracie, Ruby, Charlie, Keeper, Willow, Juniper, Drake, and Hatch—these canines are the masters of scent, the heroes of their owners’ real-life dramas. These DADs consistently alert their owners to glucose level changes more frequently and sooner than the mechanical monitors that the diabetics wear. Some report that dog alerts are twenty minutes ahead of the monitors. What do these precious minutes mean to the diabetic or her caregiver? In the case of rapidly falling blood levels, it can enable one to take preventive action to head off a precipitous drop before it plunges dangerously low.

How does the dog monitor changes in blood sugar level?

When some people first hear about diabetic alert dogs, they are in awe at the dogs’ ability to “smell.” Others are skeptical. Dr. Dana Hardin, of Eli Lilly and Company, is conducting research into the special scenting abilities of DADs to discover scientific evidence of the human’s volatile organic compounds that dogs smell. We have long known that dogs possess a superior olfactory system. Relying on dogs’ keen scenting capabilities, trainers have employed dogs to seek out numerous things from cached drugs and lost hikers to shed antlers and arson accelerants. Just as hunting dogs are trained to follow the scent of wild game and drug-detection dogs are trained to sniff out concealed illegal drugs, DADs are trained to smell changes in human scent when a diabetic’s blood glucose level changes.

Current research on canine olfaction reveals a complex, sophisticated method of knowing the world by smell. Dogs know us primarily by smell, using extensive nasal passages and odor-collection chambers, as well as the nasal vomeronasal organ, a special sac “covered with more receptor sites for molecules.”[1] Dogs recognize us by our unique odors—by our sweat, perfume, and clothing. They can tell if we’ve just bathed and what food or drink we’ve recently had. And as our Wildrose storywriters reveal, DADs smell, sense, know their team members’ sugar levels.

About her DAD, Megan DeHaven states, “Juniper’s ability to alert me has given me the help that I needed to get my diabetes back into a good control. . . Because she is able to alert me so well, I have been consistently improving. With her alerts she has been able to wake me from sleep when I have been having dangerously low or high blood glucose. She has been able to make me aware when my blood glucose is beginning to become dangerous while I have been driving so I can pull over and treat the situation. . . She endures my long work hours and strange shifts, while consistently alerting for my needs. She has helped me handle the burden of managing a very complicated disease. She has saved my life.”

Lifesaving Labradors

The discussion above comes from our forthcoming book Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Wildrose Families with Diabetic Alert Dogs. This introductory article presents just a glimpse of diabetics’ work with DADs. Daily life with a DAD requires hard work, persistence, continual training, and patience—not only with the dog, but also with inquisitive people they meet in public places. In the book ten DAD handlers tell their stories. Plus, Rachel Thornton and others provide detailed training information for DADS.

The book is now being prepared for publication and will be released by Koehlerbooks in the winter of 2014. Ahead of its release we will give information about the book’s website and Facebook page, so that you can learn more about the people and the dogs featured in it. In addition, you can reserve a copy of the book. In the meantime, you can find more information about diabetes and DADS at the contacts listed below.

Please view the photo gallery at the bottom of this blog.

Anyone wishing to support our DAD program may make a donation to the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation; to make a donation online simply enter this URL in your browser: http://www.createfoundation.com/MakeADonation.aspx?id=87.

For more information:



or contact:

Cathy Stewart, 662-234-5788

Rachel Thornton, 205-412-3672, nobodybutjustme@gmail.com

[1]Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (New York: Scribner, 2009), 73.

Rachel Thornton speaks at the 2013 DAD Workshop with Hope in thebackground

Rachel Thornton speaks at the 2013 DAD Workshop with Hope in the background

Mr. Darcy with Abi Thornton Atkinson

Mr. Darcy with Abi Thornton Atkinson

Juniper and Megan  Dehaven

Juniper and Megan Dehaven

Drake and Tom Arsenault

Drake and Tom Arsenault

Devon Wright with Olive at the Diabetes Friendly Foundation Charity event.

Devon Wright with Olive at the Diabetes Friendly Foundation Charity event.

Hatch and Duane Miller after a good hunt.

Hatch and Duane Miller after a good hunt.

Charlie with Angie and lily Simonton

Charlie with Angie and Lily Simonton

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Meet Obedience Trainer Chelsea Harris

The most recent addition to the Wildrose training staff hails from Denver, Colorado. Chelsea met Mike and Cathy last summer when they were doing their stint at Wildrose West, where they initially discussed a job as an obedience trainer. Chelsea drove cross-country in August to visit Wildrose and reports, “Honestly, from the first time I drove onto the property, I knew I had to stay.”

At the end of her working weekend with the staff, the feeling was mutual and the job was hers.

Chelsea1Harris(3x4)2013-02-27 09.36.39

Chelsea has considerable professional experience, as she explains: “I was blessed with a couple of opportunities that presented themselves a few years ago in Denver.  First, I held an internship with a Denver trainer, who was a 100% positive reinforcement trainer. That experience really got me into training a lot.  After a few months with her though, I knew there were other programs that must offer internships and since I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the click-and-treat method used all the time in her program, I looked around. My second internship changed my life.  I worked with Ted Terroux, the most amazing dog trainer in town.  Ted’s mother had been a trainer in Colorado for over 50 years as well and after working with Ted for two years, I got a job at his mother’s kennel. Ted taught me so much about dogs and how to communicate with them. I owe him so much.  Without that experience, I wouldn’t have ended up at Wildrose. Ted’s methodology was more appealing to me, because it’s more ‘balanced.’  In his program we would, of course, build up on the good things the dogs were doing and praise them generously when appropriate, but we also corrected a dog when it made a mistake.  This balanced approach, I found, makes a dog progress through training much faster and with a higher degree of reliability.  With Ted, I assisted in teaching eight training classes a week, including puppy kindergarten, basic obedience, CGC certification class, and an aggression class.  Once I started working at his mother’s kennel, I not only assisted in the eight classes a week, but I also worked full time at her board-and-train kennel.” So, Chelsea come to Wildrose with a wealth of experience with a variety of people and their dog.

Chelsea thinks that Oxford is awesome, although very different from her hometown, Denver. “The biggest change for me,” she says, “is getting used to living in the country.  At first I would go to town every day, just because that’s what I was used to doing.  But I’ve gotten better over the last couple months at not driving the thirty-mile round trip every day!”

Chelsea remarks on the Southern hospitality: “I’ve met some of the nicest people here, all very welcoming and I’ve made some great friends at Wildrose.  I love that everyone on the staff is about the same age and that we really truly are like family.  They welcomed me in immediately and being so far from home, that was awesome for me.”  During her first months here Chelsea has enjoyed experiencing all the special events at Wildrose and getting to know the extended “pack,” the core of clients who regularly attend the activities, such as the Double Gun and the handlers workshops. Chelsea finds the overall feeling of Wildrose “amazing and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”

Born and raised in Denver, this youngest of three children says that she’s always been a huge dog lover.  What does the city girl and mother of two miss about the West? “I miss the snow terribly, as I have skied and snowboarded my whole life.” Not only is she an outdoors person, but she’s also socially active, enjoying going to concerts, game nights, traveling, and hanging out with my kids. Chelsea loves alternative music, but has recently gained a taste for country. (Thank you, Mississippi!). When she’s reading, mysteries are her preference.

When asked what profession she would be in if she hadn’t become a dog trainer, she said, “I would be a homicide detective without a doubt!” Watching her at work, one notices Chelsea’s keen attention to details and her precise observation of the dog and training situation. With those abilities she’d probably make a shrewd detective.

As the obedience trainer, Chelsea is the first trainer to work with every new dog that comes to Wildrose. Typically working with each one for about three weeks or so until she feels that its obedience is up to par. Then the dog goes into the gun dog program with a gun dog trainer.

Chelsea teaches them several obedience skills and activities, including heel, sit, stay, denials, and entry to duck blinds, boats, and ramps.  Such obedience is the foundation to the dogs’ later training. Chelsea is adept at working on small details, repetitively that many people get bored with it, wanting to skip ahead to the “fun stuff” too fast. Everyone who knows the Wildrose Way, understands that rushing through this basic work is a costly mistake.  The foundation has to be solid or everything else will fall apart.

As do all the trainers, Chelsea also raises puppies for clients, a job that she loves. She says, “The puppies come home with me around seven weeks old and stay until they either go to their owners’ homes or to the kennel to enter gun dog training.  I love the relationships I’ve built with my puppies’ owners. Being such a major part in their pups’ lives is amazing.”

Chelsea2Harris(4x3)2013-02-27 09.52.51

Chelsea has always been eager to increase her training expertise. She comments that a short term goal that she had when she first moved to Wildrose was to complete one of the future mama dogs’ training. Mike gave her a project dog, one that she could learn the process of training a gun dog with.  Chelsea says, “I’m happy to report she is doing awesome and is nearing the end of her gun dog training.” Now Chelsea hopes that Mike will give her more, because she enjoyed doing it so much. She also has a long-term goal to improve her gun dog training skills and become an “all around” trainer at Wildrose.  An ambitious and capable trainer, Chelsea concludes, “I’d love to be a kennel manager here one day, able to take on any challenge the kennel has.”

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