by Mike Stewart

An inversion in the Wildrose Way training process is what we refer to as a bridge, an intermediate step assisting the dog’s progression for one particular task/skill to another. Bridges would best be described as baby steps enabling the dog to better understand moving from one activity to another that is more complex, different or challenging. Examples: memories to cold blinds; pull/push whistle stops to stops going away from the handler; handling on land to handling on water.

Let’s consider the process of moving the seasoned dog from memories to cold blinds or unseens.  Sometimes taking a dog from a “seen” situation where the dog knows the approximate location of a fall to lining for a retriever where the dog has no idea of a bumper/birds location proves to be a challenge. That’s a big jump in ability and confidence for an animal that learns best through causal relationships (see p. 121, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way) and consistent repetition.

The progression to running cold unseens the positive way is:

  1. Memories: sight, trailing, circles, loops
  2. Time delay memories: TDM
  3. Permanent unseens run in familiar locations
  4. Cold unseen

Between each of these levels one can experience a temporary breakdown in progress.  A lack of understanding, confidence or ability inhibits the dog’s path to success.  Here is where bridges come into play.  Remember, in the world of canines, failure is not an effective teacher.  We want success.  This is where good handlers break the problematic exercise down into smaller subskills lessons, teach each thoroughly, and then link the smaller skills into the desired training exercise.  Here inversions prove valuable.  Inversions are not training exercises in and of themselves, rather an inversion is how the exercise is set up to stretch the dog’s ability slightly to overcome a limiting factor in the dog’s progress.  It’s an intermediate step in train for success.

Inversion Application

Let’s take two examples of the use of inversions.  An inversion is simply reversing the way an exercise is set up from the dog’s perspective.  On the road to running cold unseens, inversions are often utilized.  A triple retrieve is normally set up as a circle memory; bumpers are placed at fixed reference points as the dog watches.  The bumper is placed from the standpoint of the dog’s approach as they line toward the reference point (bush, pole, tree, rock, etc.).  The dog is running toward the familiar. We can make the pattern a bit more challenging by inverting the way we place the memory bumpers.  Rather than walking the inside of the circle placing our targets with the dog at heel, walk the outside of the circle tossing the bumpers from behind the reference points as the dog watches, in effect inverting the dog’s perspective.  Complete the circle then run each memory, oldest to newest from inside the circle.


The dog’s approach as he lines to each reference point is less familiar.  With practicing, planning and awareness on the part of the handler, one can discover many applications of inverting bumper placement in the use of all our memory exercises including off-the-ground finds and time delays keeping in mind Wildrose Law #9, “Dogs are extremely place oriented.”  Reverse their perspective of the memory and the exercise becomes a bit more challenging.

Another application of inversion often proves valuable in helping a young starter overcome a limitation the positive way.  Let’s take the example of a young gundog reluctant to enter thick cover to recover game.  If the attempts continue to fail, running open ground into grass, basically through repetition we are conditioning the dog not to enter cover.  The same for a situation where a dog shows reluctance to enter water.  It’s never wise to condition in failure through the repetition of failure.  Enter inversions.


After several failed attempts to encourage the youngster to enter thick cover directly without results, simply invert the situation.  Place a highly desirable target (bird, tennis ball…an object the dog loves to retrieve) as a trailing memory outside the cover.  With the dog at heel walk into the cover the desirable distance, turn and line the dog out of the cover for the pick.  Normally, the student returns boldly with the prize, straight into the cover… exactly the desirable.  The concept works well in any circumstance where a psychological or physical barrier encountered proves to be a problem: ditches, water, woodlands, row crop. Resistance is simply overcome by inverting the dog’s perspective.

There are so many applications of inversions as bridges in the Wildrose Way Balanced Training process.  They are effective approaches when it becomes necessary to take a couple of steps back in a dog’s progression to refine a skill, simplify an exercise or improve confidence.  Inversions enable training for success the right way, the positive way, the Wildrose Way.

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When You Want to Shoot Your Dog: 6 Photography Tips

by Katie Behnke

Have you ever been in the field or in a blind and thought “it is so pretty out here, and my dog looks great! I wish I could take good photos of my dogs!” Well, you don’t always need the fancy SLR cameras and special equipment to take a good photo of your dog. Here are some easy photography tips that you can use with any basic camera (or cell phone) to help improve your dog photos!


Change Your Angle

Change your perspective-2

Many times, when people take pictures of their dogs, they are standing and photograph at a sharp downward angle. Next time, try getting down on your knees. Your dog will take on a more recognizable dog shape, plus you will have a more intimate photo with your dog.

Get a Little CloserGet a little closer-2

Don’t think there are too many situations where you are too close. Photographing from too far back, you lose details and personality. Don’t worry, your setting (background) will still be visible, but this helps put your dog as the focus of your picture.

Perk Those Ears and Close that Mouth

Perk those ears-2

It is amazing how important those ears are! If your dog is alert and paying attention, those ears will be forward and “perked.” Unless it is hot or you have been working the dog hard, the mouth will usually be closed. You can gain your dog’s attention by throwing something that excites him (like a bumper or ball). This is a great time to have help, somebody who can throw the bumper while you are taking the picture. Take your photo of the dog while the bumper is in mid air.  Your dog will be looking up and at attention, like they are marking game in the field or preparing for an adventure.

Time of the Day MattersTime of Day Matters-2

This tip applies especially for those black labs who turn into black blobs in the photographs. Photography is the art of capturing light, and during high noon, the sun gives you a lot of light. The reason your black lab turns into a black blob is because your camera is working harder at capturing the light reflected off everything else around the dog (grass, background) than the dog himself. The best balance of lights and shadows are early in the early day and late afternoon. You will find more shine on your dog’s coat and better definition if you wait for the better hours.

You Don’t Always Have to Center EverythingDo not center-2

Photographs can be used to tell a story, especially the way your dog is facing. If your dog is facing to the left or right, giving some space the direction he is facing gives him some space to move in that direction.  It is a trick of aesthetics.  Your brain will see that space and start to put together that the dog is preparing for a retrieve or an adventure. It is better to center your dog when he is facing you (if standing still or running towards you).

Know Your Dog’s Limitations (And Yours!)

This tip mostly applies to younger dogs. If your dog can sit and stay, but may leave their place easily when they see something they want to retrieve, you may have a hard time getting a photo. If your dog hasn’t been introduced to birds yet, but you want a photo with a bird in the mouth, better to wait.  You could have the right idea, but trying to get the photo may ruin the training (and the real time and effort) for the dog.


There is one more tip I can share with you, and it is a Wildrose training rule. Have patience. Patience with your dog and patience with your photography. Your skills will not develop overnight, but they will improve through time and practice.

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From the Field: Sago Palm Poisoning

Doug and Nancy Wilcox, followers of The Wildrose Way, shared some vital information with us at the Garden & Gun Jubilee.  They agreed to share this news with all our readers in hopes of preventing a canine fatality.

Charlie, their 9-year old poodle and Kate, their 7- month old Labrador begin vomiting late one afternoon.  At 1:45 a.m. the following morning, Doug was awakened by Kate making a noise he’d never heard before.  She was in respiratory distress.  Both Kate and Charlie were rushed immediately to a pet emergency facility.  Sadly, Kate died enroute and the staff was unable to get a blood pressure reading on Charlie.  He was in tough shape.  The immediate thought was toxic poisoning.

After performing an autopsy on Kate in hopes of helping Charlie, searching the yard for poisons and observing the vomit from the two dogs, it was determined that the poison was in the Sago Palm nuts which covered their backyard in Florida.  The Sago Palm poison leaves no trace in the system but Doug found chewed nuts and the white poison from the nuts in the dogs’ vomit.  Many parts of the Sago Palms are poisonous, not just the seed pods/nuts.  The nuts can be red or brown after the red comes off the outside of the nut.  The “nut” is about the same size as a hickory nut.

sago2 sago

The Wilcoxes have had dogs and the Sago Palms for many years but the dogs had not ingested the poison.  A third dog at home has never shown an interest in eating the nuts.

Sadly, Charlie died later that night and further research indicates very few dogs ever survive the poison from the Sago Palms.  The Wilcoxes have made it their mission to share this news with others in hopes of preventing the loss of another loved canine companion.

For more info on the Sago Palms:

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Cooking Game the Wildrose Way

featuring Mike ColbertIMG_6376

Each year Wildrose client, Mike Colbert of Houston, Mississippi, serves up a baked pheasant dish for the folks on the Wildrose North Dakota Wingshooting Expedition. Here’s his story and recipe in his words.

“There are three things needed for a memorable pheasant dinner: phesants, a good shot, and a Wildrose dog! Well, two out of three aren’t bad.

Soon out of college some 36 years ago, I went pheasant hunting in South Dakota with a lifelong friend, Harry Robinson. (Harry will be a young 92 years of age this February.) I can say I have been addicted to pheasant hunting since and have not missed a year.

Five years ago I purchased my first Wildrose dog, Wildrose Aggie (Kane X Molly), born on June 26, 2010. She is the best hunting companion you would wish for. Aggie is smart and well trained. She can quarter fields for pheasant and quail or sit patiently waiting on ducks or dove to come in.

It took several years to tweek my favorite pheasant recipe. Here’s how to do it. You will need to clean your pheasant well, removing shot, feathers, and all the ligament tissue, as you want your pheasant to be fork tender. I use breast only and discard the remainder of the bird. Hope you enjoy my recipe.”


Debone 3 pheasant breasts                                                                                                                     4 eggs, beaten                                                                                                                                             1 box Saltines, crushed (crushing your own crackers works better than cracker meal)           Peanut oil                                                                                                                                                   4 cans of chicken broth                                                                                                                           1/3 cup red wine                                                                                                                                       1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch                                                                                                               Salt                                                                                                                                                             Black pepper                                                                                                                                            Red pepper                                                                                                                                               Garlic salt

Cut your pheasant breast into the size of small slender chicken tenders.                                   Be sure to remove all the white ligaments.

Beat eggs, add salt, black pepper, red pepper, and a small amount of garlic salt.                     Add pheasant pieces and set aside for about 2 hours.

Heat peanut oil to fry temperature. Place pheasant in cracker crumbs to coat. Then fry until almost done or when pheasant turns a light brown. Be careful not to overcook as the baking process will finish cooking. Repeat this process until all pieces are fried. Place fried pheasant in baking dish. (An aluminum pan works well when doubling the recipe.)

Heat chicken broth and red wine until it changes color somewhat and takes a little bit of a sheen. Add cornstarch, mix well. (Note: The cracker crumbs will help to thicken the gravy.) Pour over fried pheasant. The broth mixture should completely cover pheasant, increase mixture as needed. But do not add water.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.

Serve over rice. Complete your meal with sweet potatoes, butterbeans, and homemade biscuits. ENJOY!” Mike Colbert and Wildrose Aggie

We hope you’ll try Mike’s recipe. And we’d like you to join in. In the next issue, we’ll feature some other Wildrose folks, who cook game they’ve harvested. If you’d like to be included in this column, simply e-mail me your story and recipe to

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Game Recovery

by Mike Stewart


Hunting dogs are gamefinders.  That’s their passion, job, purpose.  To locate and recover game that otherwise would be lost.  Also, it really goes without mentioning that they complement the entire sporting experience afield.  How does one acclimate a young dog to drive deep into the thickest of cover without hesitation?  To search out scent and locate our bird promptly?  Let’s explore five tips to produce a splendid gamefinder.

First, remember that a properly-bred hunting dog’s nose knows.  All that is required is to awaken the instincts bred into the animal.  Insure balance in training affording ample opportunity for the young dog’s scent discrimination abilities to evolve:

  • Use of eyes – marking and lining
  • Use of ears – marking by sound
  • Use of nose – scent work



Secondly, we all understand that dogs are creatures of habit.  Therefore, dog training is consistent repetition of desirable skills and behaviors to the point of predictable habit formation.  Therefore, it’s imperative that one exposes young hunting dogs early to working in cover and relying on their scenting abilities if success is to be achieved.  Not overdone, mind you, just in balance with other lessons.

For instance, in basic waterfowl retriever training every recovery should not be made on open water.  What about short marsh grass, flooded crops, timber, muddy plow… a variety of exposures is the key to developing a balanced waterfowl retriever.  Same concept is true for the upland gundog.  Variety in training matters, not only in lessons experience, but also the cover in which we train.

Third, to instill steadiness, avoid employing too many thrown bumpers/birds (marks).  Rather, train cover penetration with the use of memories.  There are four:

  1. Site
  2. Trailing
  3. Circle
  4. Loops (See Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way)

Memories reinforce patience, focus and steadiness in every lesson.

Finally, develop a hunt command.  One would be quite surprised that we often discover at our seminars across the country that many participants do not have a conditioned hunt command for their sporting pal.  Our cue is “high/loss.”  Others may use “dead” when the dog is in the correct area of the fall.  No matter the selected voice or whistle cue is needed to instruct the dog to stop and hunt closely.  A hunt signal indicated when the dog is in proximity to the area of the fall.

5 Lessons for Development

  1. Get them in cover at an early age and continue to do so throughout basic training. Revisit hunting in thick cover periodically throughout the dog’s life as a refresher.
  2. Develop the nose. Dogs must learn how to properly “scent” and use their noses for success.  Use small puppy bumpers with a fresh wing feather attached or tennis balls scented by placing in a bag of game bird feathers or by the use of our roll-on sent stick which has proven to be a wonderful product. (See
  3. Expose the dog to all types of cover, land and water including off-the-ground finds. With a young prospect we want to develop a bold entry into cover so it is advisable to avoid cover featuring sharp-stemmed grasses, briars, thistle or thorny undergrowth.  Over time such uncomfortable conditions could inhibit entry.
  4. If you encounter a young dog reluctant to enter cover directly, invert the situation. The handler and dog take up a position in the cover and run trailing memories out onto open ground.  The dog learns direct penetration by re-entering the cover to locate the handler.  Wildrose refers to this approach as an inversion.  More on this technique and its valuable uses in a future article.
  5. Use memory applications to teach the gundog how to drive deep into row crop, timber, or shallow marshes. Circle memory hubs are perfect for this effort.  Scatter a few feather-laced bumpers in a stand of woodlands or marsh that can be walked around.  After the dog sees the placement, exit onto open ground and begin circling the cover.  The actual appearance of the pattern would resemble a wagon wheel with the dog and handler walking the rim making retrieves back to the core of the hub.  The technique teaches a dog to drive straight into cover and to maintain forward progression until scent is located.


Building a Hunting Pattern

In early stages of training we want, not only to develop the command to hunt, but also help the youngster’s abilities to hold a specific area while hunting closely for scent detection, not just running aimlessly.  Remember dogs are extremely place oriented.  To develop a hunting pattern of a specific, desirable size, simply mow an area of grass or bramble.  The desirable size you prefer the dog to search dictates the size of the mowed square or circle.  The contrast between shorter and taller cover conditions the dog to a defined search pattern.  Use place orientation to your advantage.

Another great scent development exercise is to use scented tennis balls rolled along the ground thrown by a chuck-it without the dog’s observation.  Simply cover the dog’s eyes, give him a sniff of the object and scoot it across light cover into heavier cover.  Follow up by giving the dog its hunt cue and watch for indications that the dog has “scented” the line.  Obviously wind direction will greatly effect this experience.

As a final suggestion, I highly recommend conditioning any gundog to mark a fall’s location by sound in addition to sight.  In realistic hunting situations, many if not most birds will fall in locations that the dog cannot see, but their hearing is keen.  Train a dog to pinpoint a location by sound, the crash or splash along initially then follow up with nose work.  You will recover more game when working in tall cane, CRP, standing row crop or when the dog is confined in a small blind or boat.

Begin by using larger feathered bumpers so the impact will be enhanced and scent will be available.  Cover the dog’s eyes and toss the bumper into water or cover.  As success is achieved, launcher bumpers may be used so the bumper will fall through limbs or splash on impact.  For keen listening skills, use scented tennis balls tossed high as the dog’s eyes are covered or they are in tall cover or a hide preventing observation.  This skill will pay off in the field and marsh if properly developed.

Developing a properly bred hunting dogs’ scenting ability is entertaining for both the handler and the gundog.  Doing so will enable you to recover more game especially birds that may otherwise have been lost.  At the end of the day, that’s the real name of the game, “Retriever.”

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The Wildrose Kennels Bird Program

by Ben McClelland

The Wildrose Kennels Bird Program

In his work with clients and in his book, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, Mike Stewart always emphasizes the importance of preparing the gundog for all aspects of the work it will do in the field. This policy applies to giving the dog first-hand knowledge of game birds. As Mike is fond of saying, “No birds, no bird dogs.” So, from its beginning days, Wildrose Kennels has used birds as a regular part of its gundog training.

Drake's first banded duck

As Mike recommends, training a young gundog by retrieving bumpers, feathered bumpers, cold birds, and live birds (both on land and in the water).  In addition, besides becoming acclimated to gunfire, the gundog must learn to remain steady to the flush of a group of upland birds and/or an incoming flight of ducks.


So, how does Wildrose introduce birds to dogs in training? The short answer is, “In many ways.” The detailed answer involves looking at the variety of methods that the trainers use.


One of the simplest ways to train dogs to be steady with live bird action is to use a pigeon in a flight harness tethered by a line to a pole. The handler places the dog at sit and allows the pigeon to fly around and over the dog, all the while praising the dog for steadiness. If the dog breaks, the handler retracts the bird immediately, therefore preventing the dog from getting the reward of retrieving the bird.


bird on a stick


In his training book Mike explains how to use a tethered bird as a distraction to train your dog to be steady.


With your bird at remote sit, fly the bird around to assess steadiness. At first, you can expect that a bit of gentle reinforcement with the lead will be necessary. Once steady, practice recalling your dog. Just as the dog approaches, toss the bird to duplicate a flush. The youngster should stop and sit to the flush or continue toward you, again your choice. After gunshot introduction, add popper shot to increase the stimulus. Also, make a few retrieves with the dog ignoring the flyer as a diversion. Often during a hunt a live bird will be flushed or land just as your dog completes a retrieve, so prepare for it (128-129).


Two other methods of training for steadiness in bird flight involve many more birds and much more active flight maneuvering. In a small recall house, located in the center of a field, Wildrose has a flock of Belgian homing pigeons. Placing the dog at sit, alongside its trainer, by the door of the recall house, a trainer flushes the pigeons out of the door. The sight and sound of dozens of flapping wings provides the dog with a lot of distraction, to which it must accommodate, in order to remain steady. The birds typically put on a colorful aerial show for the dog, as well, circling the field a couple of times before re-entering the house through rooftop entrances to roost once again.



Moreover, homing pigeons may be carried in the trainer’s bag to any location on the kennels’ 143 acres of the hunting fields. During a simulated hunting situation such as a walk up, the trainer occasionally tosses a bird in front of his dog as a diversion, urging the dog to stay steady to this unexpected flush. Because the recall birds return to their house, this is a cost-effective training activity since the birds can be used time and time again.


Flight Pen


A second, much larger structure enables more versatile training, with steadiness as a main focus. The flight pen resembles the outdoor bird structures that you might see at a zoo aviary. It features large trees, bushes and other structures for roosting the several dozen resident birds of many varieties, including pigeons, chukar partridges, quail, and pheasants. A great advantage of using the flight pen is that the trainer and dog may work inside it. Typically, the trainer will heel the dog to the center of the pen, placing it at sit. The, the trainer will walk to the far end of the pen and flush the flock of birds over the steady dog at remote sit. Here again, this experience of the sight and sound of birds flying directly overhead provides the dog with a simulation of hunting field action. After the flyover, the trainer will return to the dog, heel it to the far end of the pen, drop a bumper, and heel the dog back toward the entrance of the pen. During this activity, the birds continue flying overhead. Then, the trainer sends the dog to retrieve the bumper, again while the birds continue to fly back and forth in all directions. Completing this activity requires a dog’s full focus on its job, ignoring the noisy, circling distractions of birds in flight. All gundogs must complete this exercise to achieve certification.


As mentioned earlier, Wildrose has always used birds for training, but as the kennel grew and diversified, it enlarged its bird program, both in raising more types of birds and in building facilities specifically for bird raising and training activities. Mike’s right hand man in the bird program is thirty-year-old Blake Henderson, an Oxford native, who has worked at Wildrose since 2007. Blake began as a kennel hand and started throwing and catching birds for various training purposes. Then, he saw a need for more birds and better coops for raising them. In 2012 Blake moved up to an apprentice trainer position and to a fulltime trainer in 2013, all the while still coordinating the kennel’s bird operations. Blake oversees acquiring, raising and training activities with Belgian homing pigeon, Chinese ring-neck Pheasants, Hungarian chukar partridges and Bobwhite Quail.


Routinely, Blake manages the kennel’s simulated quail hunts, handling Panzer, the kennel’s German shorthair pointer. After setting out live birds in the upland fields, Blake quarters Panzer, while the staff of trainers and their clients’ dogs-in-training conduct a walk-up. When Panzer points, the retrievers back, the bird is flushed and shot, as the dogs remain steady to flush and shot, until a dog is selected and sent to retrieve the downed bird. Oftentimes, of course, more than a single bird is flushed, as in a real hunt, so the dogs take turns retrieving the down game. This life-like training activity is extremely valuable in producing sound and reliable hunting companions for Wildrose’s wingshooting clients.


Because dogs need to hunt with their eyes, ears and noses, Wildrose trainers employ another training activity: using chukar as runners. Using a cloth sleeve over the wings to render the bird flightless, the trainer will release the bird in front of the dog, letting the elusive chuckar run into heavy cover and out of sight. The dog is sent to the to last point of visual contact and then follows the bird’s scent path, tracking down the bird by scent, and returning with it to the trainer. This is another realistic and cost-effective training method used to develop good hunting companions.

Mike Stewart’s Sporting Dog and Retriever Training (New York: Universe Publishing, 2012) is the definitive gundog training book. Not only does it offer a comprehensive training regimen, but it is also filled with little gems of wisdom, such as this tip on picking birds on the hunt:

Wildrose Tip: Wildrose has a simple rule for the order in which ducks are picked on the hunt. Pick runners first, longest bird second, first bird down last. There are fewer chances for a lost bird with this approach. Remember, the Wildrose Way is to train as you will hunt and hunt as you have trained (166).

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Wildrose Kayla

by Dan McMackin

kaylawoodduckmouth 026

Wildrose Kayla, my family’s dog of nearly 12 years, , recently passed away. The whole family grieved. Neighbors and co-workers sent sympathy cards. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who got to know her, mostly through hunting or competing. I’m still struggling mightily with her passing.


Kayla and I had a unique bond. We spent thousands of hours together training for retrieving competitions and hunting. We picked up birds and ran flush hunts at plantations and hunting preserves across the Southeast. We stayed together at hotels and motels, and drove thousands of miles together.


Because of Wildrose, I’ve become a student of animal behavior. I read all that I can about dogs and horses and their training. Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in her excellent book, “The Other End of the Leash,” wrote that she loved her own dogs so much that it hurt. I can relate.


Kayla cried whenever I left the house without her. My wife said that she would pout until I came home, waiting at the top of the stairs where she could see my car pulling in. She would  pirouette whenever I asked, “Go for a walk?” Kayla would curl up below my shower door, my clothes closet – wherever I was, hoping  I wouldn’t leave without her.


I suppose Wildrose clients are  a separate class of pet owners because of their intense  love and admiration for  their animals. I may be in an upper percentile of that group.


Kayla sort of crawled up inside my heart. She had drive and confidence that she got from her dad, Bob. He was Mike Stewart’s only dog to win the International Field Trial Championship in Ireland several years ago.


Kayla took after Bob in several ways. She, like many Wildrose dogs, had a superlative nose. While on flush hunts, it wasn’t uncommon for her to find a dozen or more birds wounded or missed by previous hunters.


She could run a “frozen rope” over 200 yards on blind retrieves. In her prime, she was a marking machine. She was as good in a pheasant field as she was in a duck slough. As a game conservation tool, she was in a special class. After an amazing day of quail hunting, one of the hunters asked me if he could buy Kayla. I told him I was flattered but that she wasn’t for sale. He told me he would leave a blank check on the console of my SUV. Kayla was that good.


Like other Wildrose dogs I’ve met, Kayla was a proud animal. She carried herself with a regal air, and at the same time had a sweetness about her that was very endearing.


She also had a deep, almost insatiable curiosity. She was intrigued by new experiences, places and people.


But most of all she loved me. I used to take her in a shopping cart through the aisles of Home Depot. On one visit I walked away from the cart to talk with a clerk. A few seconds later a woman approached me and said, “Sir, your dog LOVES you!” I looked back and saw Kayla craning her neck  keep me in her eye-sight.


I think her goal was never to  let me out of her sight. In fact, she never ran away when off lead. She always wanted to be with me – to train, hunt, or visit the tailor lady (treats behind the counter), the dry cleaners or anywhere I was going.


How can a person not love an animal that’s so curious and engaged in everyday life? Heck, she was more interesting than most people I know.


Kayla also was a joyous creature. Her tail almost never stopped wagging. After a set of x-rays once, the vet told me she had some early arthritis at the base of her tail – from wagging it so much. A judge at a hunt test said to me, “Sir, you get bonus points for having the happiest dog in the world. She wagged her tail for all three marks and the blind.”


Neighbors would risk  accidents when they drove  past the pond where we trained, hitting the brakes  to see her  swim and take my casts. One woman would sit on her porch just to watch Kayla wag her tail while she swam. At a recent dove hunt she picked up 30 birds for a group of hunters, while, unbeknownst to me, she was deathly ill with hepatitis. And her tail never stopped wagging. That’s not just drive, or “birdieness,” that’s desire, God-given, Wildrose-bred desire.


Kayla and I picked up over a thousand birds a year. We became preferred “picker-uppers” at several preserves around Atlanta. She even got fan mail from one well-heeled client at a local plantation for her work at their dove hunts.


It’s fascinating to me that we can bond so closely with an animal that descended from wolves – a pair of wolves that took the risk of stepping inside the ring of human activity. Maybe it was for food, or maybe for simple contact with people.


Kayla had that intense desire for closeness.  That’s a gift, isn’t it? With all the bad news in the world today, to have a joyous little partner to spend time with who asks for nothing more than to have her belly rubbed. I’m dropping tears on my keyboard as I write this. I love you little girl and I miss you. I’ll always miss you.

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By Mike Stewart

It’s pre-dawn for the 2015-16 hunting seasons.  For many it’s only weeks until the opening of dove, teal, waterfowl in the North and driven birds on private shooting grounds.  So, you may be getting excited with anticipation but what about your gundog?  You know, those canine hunting companions that have been lounging about in the home or shaded kennel likely since last spring. There seems to always be interference during those long off-season months that prevents keeping the hunting dog in shape:  family commitments, vacation, travel, jobs, and, of course, the worst culprit:  hot weather!  The result… fat labs, lazy spaniels, out-of-shape pointers.  It’s time to talk pre-season tune-up, folks.

Pre-Season Tune up 101:  The 6 Essentials

Overweight:  Fat dogs can’t jump.  Fat dogs are vulnerable to orthopedic injury.  Fat dogs overheat.  Fat dogs lack stamina.

This is an area that should be “first-stop shopping” pre-season, addressed before all else.  When managing weight problems with any canine, don’t go to extremes quickly.  Slowly reduce the animal’s weight by progressive, low-impact activity/exercise and marginally reducing food intake.  Switching the dog’s food is not the most effective, short-term remedy.  It takes a dog’s metabolism 12 to 18 weeks to adjust to the new food’s contents.  A preferred approach is to lower the amount consumed.  Reduce the servings ¼ cup per week and stay with the food mixture you will be using during season.

Begin exercise routines in the cooler times of the day and keep impact activity low.  Swimming is a superb exercise for weight reduction and building muscle condition.


Dogs simply do not take in enough fluids to sustain prolonged athletic activity in warmer temperatures.  First, hydrate heavily before and during exercise, training and early season hunting.  Float the dog’s food at every feeding.  Most dogs will lap up the water from the kibble before eating.  Do not feed the dog before activities including hunting or training.  Research has shown that sporting dogs perform best when fed one meal per day, 30 minutes to an hour after exercise.

Like humans, dogs should take in fluids when active before they get thirsty.  But voluntary intake of water before thirst is very unlikely, so use a squirt bottle in the field to fill the dog’s mouth between retrieves.  Keep cool, fresh water available.  Some dogs won’t drink from a common source utilized by other dogs.  A tip I picked up at the Purina Sporting Dog Summit was to use sodium-free chicken broth added to water to encourage intake. Once again, float the dog’s food at every meal and do not feed just before exercise or hunting.


Heat Exhaustion – a deadly potential for the active hunting dog or adventure canine.

The effect can come on quickly taking a dog’s temperature to 108 degrees or more.  The risk to the hard-working dog that overexerts and hasn’t taken in enough fluids may begin at temperatures above 75 degrees especially in humid or dry conditions.  Normally, we think of heat exhaustion and stroke in relation to field activities but consider other dangerous conditions:

  • A dog left in an enclosed car unattended in summer weather.  Interiors heat up rapidly in direct sunlight.
  • Placing an extremely hot dog in a confined area with little ventilation, i.e. trailer, dog box, crate without appropriate cool down and fluids
  • Leaving an unattended dog in direct sunlight, i.e. tied out, in a pen, in a crate
  • Overexertion of the out-of-shape dog in hot weather like running with an ATV.


  • Avoid training in hot, humid weather conditions that only involve dry ground or high cover.  Water work!
  • Avoid walking a dog on hot, paved surfaces.
  • Avoid using backpacks or vests on dogs in hot weather.
  • Avoid putting a hot dog away without appropriate cool-down activity.

Recognize signs of heat stress and take action immediately.  Raspy panting, tongue hanging long and cupped at the end, extreme saliva, glazed eyes, inattention, lack of response, staggered gait.

  1. Stop the dog at once.  Remove or loosen any collar on the dog.
  2. Get out of the sun.
  3. Do not throw cold water from a cooler on the dog.  This could produce shock.  Rather, dig a slight indention in leaves and soil. Pour water in and over the dog as they lay in the pool.  If a pond or a creek is in proximity, use it.
  4. Do not give the dog cola to drink.  Water will likely be refused but flood the mouth from the side of the muzzle to stimulate intake, yet not choke the dog.
  5. Using the large syringe provided in the Wildrose Canine Medical Kit (, to induce cool water enemas in the rectum.
  6. Get the dog in a vehicle under full air condition and seek medical attention.

Immediate field treatment to reduce the dog’s body temperatures is the key to recovery.  Never transport a heat-exhausted dog in an enclosed carrier without taking action first, even when headed to the vet.

No pre-season physical conditioning

Over exertion of the out-of-shape dog can lead to athletic-related injuries such as strains, sprains and joint damage. Blowing an ACL, tearing of a pads or dislocating a knee… there goes the season.  Don’t take an out-of-shape dog hunting any more than a coach would put an out-of-shape football player on the field.

Every training session should begin with a 10-minute, low-impact warmup as discussed in the Wildrose Cyclical Training Model.  Stretch muscles, gain eye contact, expend a bit of excess energy all while awakening the dog’s physical systems.  The out-of-shape dog’s level of impact activity is slowly expanded over weeks, not hours.  Pads toughened, weight declines, fat becomes muscle, and the respiratory system is conditioned.  Early on:

  • Walking is better than long runs (roading).
  • Swimming is better than running.
  • Soft surfaces (grass or plowed ground) are better than pavement.
  • Short, level runs are better than jumping obstacles or negotiating steep climbs.

Pre-conditioning is all about “Make haste slowly,” Wildrose Law #5.



Pre-Season Medical Checkup

A vet visit is a good idea before season.  Nails should be trimmed, a dental completed, heart and lungs checked for soundness.  Inoculations should be updated:  kennel cough (bordatella) and rabies.  Dogs need an annual check for heartworms despite the use of preventative medications.  Fecal exams will insure the dog is parasite-free and the physical will insure your hunting pal is in good condition for the extremes of the field.  

Refining Skills Sets

Time to revisit all those vital skills previously trained into your gundog.  The same ones that have been gathering dust over the down months since last season.  We oil up our gun before season.  The same should be accomplished with your dog.  Review all 7 Essential Core Skills for the Sporting Dog:

  1. Obedience – especially remote sit and off-lead heel
  2. Steady/Honor – sit quietly to shot, fall and other dogs working
  3. Delivery – clean pick and direct return with no mouthing.  Use feather-laced bumpers and cold game if available.
  4. Lining – taking the most direct route to the fall. Revisit multiple memories (doubles/triples)
  5. Hunting Cover – likely the nose will need more tune-up than the eyes (marking). Get the dog in thick cover.
  6. Handling – an area most likely in need of attention.  Whistle stops and taking hand signals to memories and unseens.
  7. Marking – pinpoint accuracy.  Distance perception may need a little touch up.  Tennis ball marks will help refine this skill.

Season is fast approaching.  Time to inventory shells, check for leaking waders, inspect the blind bag, locate that old dove stool and camo t-shirt and, of course, get your “Gentleman’s Gundog” fit and trim for another season of wingshooting adventures.  Have fun!


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An Interview with Katie Behnke, Photographer par excellence

By Ben McClelland

KatieFor a couple of years now Katie Behnke has been photographing Wildrose Dogs and is currently assisting Wildrose with social media and facebook upgrades. Recently this Anchorage, Alaska, native was selected as a Purina photographer. Folks who have attended recent handler workshops and Double Gun have seen her in action. Here’s a chance to get to know her better, through her own words, as she answers some questions about herself and her work.

At the end of the interview view the photo gallery for a small sampling of Katie’s work. For a fuller look go to her website: You’ll find the range of her work spans landscapes, ballerinas, portraits, and more.

WR: Katie, tell us about your educational background you’re your family.

I have a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage, 2012. My parents are William and Sandra Behnke, and I have an older brother Jason Simpson (married to Rebecca Simpson, daughter Laura) and a younger brother Richard Behnke. Both parents and brothers have been very supportive of the photography career, especially Jason. For Christmas every year, Jason carefully researches some interesting photography tool, which I end up getting. Sometimes they are kickstarters, other times an item to help with a glitch I had that year (like a mirroring hard drive, after a hard drive crashed and took a lot of work with it).

WR: I know that the Behnke household includes a number of Wildrose dogs. Tell us about them.

All the dogs are my father’s dogs, starting with Glenshee Ghillie of Craigenros (age 14).  After Ghillie, is Wildrose Opus One (Ghillie’s nephew, Kane x Tammy, age 6), and the most recent addition, Wildrose Black Ice (Opus’ nephew, Deke x Midge, age 2). Of the three, Ghillie is my buddy. After he was retired from hunting, he bonded pretty well with me and we shared our own adventures hiking and walking.  We even enjoy just rolling in the grass together. A picture of Ghillie was one of the first major awards I had received in a photography competition.  Ghillie was relaxing on his place, and we set up a Dokken nose to nose with him.  He has a very relaxed personality and didn’t move.  We entered the photo into the Fur Rondy photo competition, where it won first place in the “pets category.” That picture remains one of my favorites of him.

Ghillie (Behnke) (1)

Bill got Ghillie in Spring of 2006, and he really changed our perspective on dogs.  We had a golden retriever at the time, Kiska, and she was a wonderful family dog, but nowhere near Ghillie’s level of discipline. Bill and Sandy regularly attended the Handler’s Seminar, and Bill was taking Ghillie with him everywhere, on business trips and hunting events.  Ghillie became the Wildrose ambassador to Alaska. Bill loved Ghillie so much, he had to get another dog, but instead of an import, he wanted a puppy.  Wildrose Opus One was ready for the Alaskan life just as Ghillie was being phased into retirement. As Bill contemplated dog number three, he and Sandy were spending most of the winters in Oxford, where they bought a house just before Wildrose Black Ice was born. When I visit Oxford, I have a standing reservation over at Lanette Drewrey’s place.

WR: Tell us some things that you like: hobbies, types of food, music, movies, books, computer games, dancing, whatever.

Visiting Mississippi at least twice a year, I am growing rather fond of southern food, especially shrimp and grits.  That is just something you can’t get in Alaska—good shrimp and grits. We do have the best fish! Nothing beats fresh halibut or salmon!

I like to believe I have a pretty general Alaskan lifestyle, hiking and fishing in the summer. My best friend is an avid fisherman and I frequently tag along with him for more remote flyfishing adventures.  Sorry, can’t tell you just where they are, but if you are in Alaska, you can come with us!  During the winter, I do more reading and watch movies.  Like my taste in music, my taste in books is eclectic. I read a lot of what people suggest.  Lately, I have been reading books by Ross King about specific artists in history (Leonardo and the Last Supper). I have a variety of books on photography techniques, but that can only be expected.

WR: Tell us about how you began with photography.

I really started my interest in photography in college.  I took a couple of photography classes, but wasn’t sure about the passion for it. After a conversation with my father, we had agreed that I should have a real adventure/experience in photography to see if it would be a good path for me.  He found a photography safari company, the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, and together we picked out a tour. In April 2006, I went to Chili and Argentina, and along with about 10 other guests, learned photography techniques from professional photographers John Shaw and Alejandro Ronchetti. Shaw is a fairly big name in the field of nature photography, and I learned a ton.  I came home and apologized to my parents, because at that time, I decided I wanted to be a photographer—an expensive and passionate lifestyle.


Just about every vacation I had after that became about developing photography skills.  Practicing landscape techniques and experiencing the United States.  Bless my friends who have the patience to travel with me!  I traveled to Germany and Ireland last year, and Veldee Hall, my travel partner helped me a lot.  One of my favorite pictures from that trip was of the Heidelberg Bridge in Germany.  It was late in the evening and I had set up my camera next to a river, and was grabbing thorn bushes to keep them from getting into my frame. She was ready to pull me out of the river if I fell in and directed people around me.

In Anchorage, I work with a couple local theatre groups and photograph their performances.  One group is a comedy improv group called Scared Scriptless. They perform short form improv, like watching Who’s Line Is It Anyway? live. I have photographed some of their guest performers too, who use the photos for their own promotions.  One team from Juneau, Alaska, uses my photos for their trading card photos!  

I work for the University of Alaska Anchorage as a Social Media and Special Events Coordinator for the Social Sciences, including Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Journalism and Communications, Political Science, Liberal Studies, International Studies, and Women’s Studies. I update their Facebook pages, maintain their websites, and assist in the organization of any special events, like guest lectures on UAA campus. The position is relatively new, and I was one of the first in the position, meaning I got to help define the position. My supervisors didn’t know how much my photography skills would become a desired asset in the College!

WR: So, Katie, how did you begin working as a photographer for Wildrose Kennels and their clients? What brought you to Wildrose?

Mike. Mike called me in February of 2013, and asked if I would be interested in attending the March Beginner and Advanced Handlers Seminar as the photographer.  I warned him I didn’t have much experience at photographing dogs, and he assured me that he was happy to work with me and develop my skills. Talk about an experience that changes one’s life! Mike is very knowledgeable about what makes good canine photos and we work well together. After the first seminar, Mike already had plans for me to show up at that fall’s Double Gun.

Opus (Behnke)I think clients enjoy it the most when I bring out my chest waders and sit in the swamps and ponds. It becomes an unspoken game between the trainers and me.  Who can throw the dokkens close enough to the photographer and get her splashed? Many trainers have succeeded.  Some of them even hit me with the dokken.  Clients love their dogs in the water, big splashes.  The dogs really show their energy and grace in the water.

WR: What are some of your impressions of the Oxford area, the change of cultures for you?

Alaska is the stuff of legends, so when I answer “where you from?” I get a mass of questions after that! Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, but it is slightly larger than Oxford. I love the people in Oxford. They are very friendly and inviting. I spend most of my time in Oxford at the kennels or working on my computer, but when I do get out, I love going to the Square and sharing drinks with friends!  Even walking around the Ole Miss campus is fun! I have not been in Mississippi during a hometown game, so that is on my list of things I would like to experience. That is one of the big differences between Alaska and Mississippi.  In Alaska, we don’t have any big local sports teams; the most active is our hockey team, the Alaska Aces. Most people aren’t big into football.  But when I am down for the Double Gun, everybody is close to a radio or on their phones to keep up with the scores of the football game! It seems so strange to me!

Another major difference between Anchorage and Oxford: Coffee shops! In Anchorage, it is difficult to go a couple blocks without passing a coffee stand (and no, I don’t mean Starbucks; we have all sorts of coffee stands everywhere). In Oxford, unless I am making a cup of coffee at Lanette’s home, I am most likely not going to get any. Makes me think Alaskans might have a coffee bean dependency issue.

WR: Explain your job duties during your gigs at WR and how you work with clients.

Talk about the best gig on Earth! I try to show up in Oxford a couple days before the event, and Mike will have a list of the type of photos he needs. New dam pictures or he has a new stud that needs photos. We try to get those taken care of before the clients show up. Once seminars start, I try to figure out which station has the most dynamic setting/action that clients would want of their dogs. Since many of our dogs are hunting companions, I try for water settings or blinds. At the end of the seminars, I sit down with clients who are interested in photos and they pick out what they like. I do a few quick edits (usually cropping and straightening the photo) and burn them to a disk for the client. I also tell clients that if I submit the photo to a magazine or other source, I will let them know. We love bragging rights about dogs being magazine models! I always try to squeeze in some one-on-one photoshoots with dogs when clients want them. I am in Oxford for only a week or so at a time, and usually am pretty full working at the kennels.Cora and Scott Wilson

WR: What do you like most about or find interesting about the work, the place, the people and their dogs, whatever?

I have made good friends with the trainers and many of the clients and enjoy seeing them every year. I am always fascinated at the level of skills the dogs have developed and love watching them perform. My first Double Gun experience left me in awe of the Wildrose training methods and labs. The trainers show a great level of passion and care for the dogs (even the hard headed dogs), and it is that dedication that creates the quality program we know from Wildrose. When I am at the kennels in the spring, my mother brings Ghillie to the kennels, and it is great watching many of the trainers show him attention, and tell stories of adventures they had with Ghillie. There is such a positive community built, you can’t help but get carried away with them.

Barney (Wildrose) 2There are some dogs I love watching just a little more than others.  I warn Mike not to turn his back on Barney and me. I would run away with that dog. I have a soft spot for Murphy, too. He usually gives me some very good pictures. Indian cracks me up! He has been through many routines that they are boring, but he watches Mike closely.  I always feel like I am photographing more personality in Indian, rather than some of his skills.

WR: What goals do you have for yourself in the short term (in a year) and in the long term (in five years)?

Short term, I am working on developing videography skills. I am setting aside some of the money I am earning from my photography for future traveling expenses, and the rest I would like to put towards a GoPro and a quadcopter. I have some visions in my head of some footage of the Wildrose grounds, clients doing a walk up hunt and dogs quartering fields. Long term, I want to keep working with Wildrose and Mike and continue publishing photos of awesome dogs.  I would love to spread out in the United States and visit clients in their hometowns for hunts and photoshoots.

WR: Tell us about Purina designating you as photographer.

Another large game changer! Cathy emailed me a couple months ago and asked if I had078411_DU PullUp Banner_Partnership_R2 any additional photos of Deke, that Purina was looking for something for a promotional banner. I dug through my collection and sent them a couple of photos. I was delighted when they sent an email back saying they had selected a photo and to sign some paperwork. Few weeks later, they sent a digital copy of the banner. I was so excited, texting my family and friends. Then about a month ago, Purina contacted me again, requesting more work and asking if I would fill out some paperwork to be a vendor with them. They have selected another photo that will be in the next Ducks Unlimited publication. I will be collecting a shoot list (a list of desired style and types of photos) from them before I head over to Wildrose. They primarily want photos of Deke, but they are open to more good-looking dogs. Let’s face it, Wildrose is where you find some good looking dogs.

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Wildrose Scout

by Josh Peterson


Wildrose “Scout” is a Fox Red Labrador who hails from Oxford, Mississippi, Wildrose campus. Born of the legendary Red (Sire) and the lovely Rua (Dam), he is a perfect blend of athleticism and grace. Scout was backgrounded as a young pup at Wildrose, and then brought home at 3 months to meet and bond with us. After some time passed, we brought him back for adventure dog training. As soon as his training finished up, we drove to pick him up at the Wildrose Adventure Dog minicamp held at the Wildrose training facility in the Ozark Mountains. He was 9 months old the day we picked him up. 

What struck me about this camp, was the single-minded, disciplined approach to training. I read Mike Stewart’s book, but was able to witness first-hand, evidence that the Wildrose Way is the best way. The dogs’ responses don’t lie. The seminar was a phenomenal value, and we can’t wait to do it again. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to integrate an outdoor lifestyle with their love of dogs. Moreover, this seminar or minicamp trained us owners as much or more than it did the dogs. 

image2 (1)

During training, we chose the discipline of “Adventure Dog” because it fit our active lifestyle. Scout is a quintessential ADVENTURE DOG. We try to take him everywhere you can take a dog, and he fits right in. The whole “Go anywhere; do anything,” that’s our boy. He is a part of our family and it’s hard to plan something fun without wanting to bring him along. He just makes everything better. He is steady and ready to engage in an adventure.


Some of our post-training, “off leash” travels include: hiking in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, trail blazing Texas Hill Country outside Austin, snow shoeing mountains in Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, hiking up Colorado mountains (Vail, Avon, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, and Keystone), horseback riding in Montgomery Texas, stand-up-paddle-boarding near the San Jacinto River, and walking the entire San Antonio River Walk.  



One of the things we are most proud of in Scout is he is competitive and a quick study. He has achieved all three of the Wildrose certifications: Trail Rated Status, Adventure Dog Certified, and the coveted “Master Trekker” awards — and all before he was 10 months and 3 weeks old. We are told that is a record. We might be a little biased, but we think he is a pretty cool dog. He has over 4,000 followers on Instagram… Check him out at: @allamerican_dog. He is a great addition to our family and we look forward to our next adventure with him. 

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