Stop To The Whistle

By Mike Stewart

Flipping through a few older editions of popular English sporting publications, Shooting Gazette and Shooting Times, I began to notice a common question from readers, “Why won’t my dog listen to my whistle? This seemed to be a common thread of a problem so I decided a quick review of the subject may be in order given the level of reoccurring interest. How do you perfect whistle stops the positive way?


First, let’s recognize that the problem is not “listening.” I am confident the dogs in question heard the whistle blast quite well. The issue then becomes the dog’s response or the lack there of. Two reasons exist for noncompliance to whistle signals or any command for that matter.

1. The pup does not understand the meaning of the whistle (sit, stop) or

2. The pup is blowing the handler off… he/she could simply care less, preferring to ignore the signal.

Whistle signals should be trained to the point of a conditional response, a default behavior. The whistle peep for a stop (single blast) results in an immediate reaction almost to the point that the dog responds without thinking. It is more of a reaction. Developing effective whistle habits are a result of consistent repetition which should begin at quite a young age for the sporting dog.

Early Starts: Incorporate whistle sits/stops in all aspects of puppy development and socialization conditioning. As soon as the pup learns to sit on command, incorporate the sit whistle. Use the sit whistle as part of place training. With the puppy sitting patiently (as the desired behavior is being performed), walk around the pup with the stop hand held high giving both verbal and whistle sit/stop signals. As you walk with the pup on lead, teach the pup to sit immediately when you stop without any verbal command. When successful, just incorporate the whistle signal to stop/sit.


With pointer breeds, sit is not a desirable behavior. We don’t want to encourage sit on a point. The command is “whoa” with a single blast of the whistle. The Pointer stops and stands still rather than sitting.

Many of the dogs we see coming into training have no background exposure to the whistle. It’s unfortunate that pup owners miss the developmentally critical time in a pup’s life to imprint the meaning of whistle commands. A sporting dog’s most important period for habit formation and fundamental development is 7 to 16 weeks of age. Traits learned at these ages are paramount.

Avoid attempts to stop a youngster when out of your proximity (span of control) and interested in a distraction. Rather, wait for a moment when the pup is close to you and you can achieve his focus. Then signal the stop/sit whistle command. Take one or more steps toward the pup with your hand held high and give a second firm peep on the whistle. Your body posture and hand signal indicates that you are in control. When compliance is achieved, quickly stop your advance and reward the youngster with verbal praise, a marker, Good.” Avoid getting into this situation on open ground. Keep the area a bit confined. With whistle training, remember the Wildrose Law #7, “If it is not right at heel, it won’t be right in the field.”

Other tips for early star whistle stop training:

If a dog ignores the whistle stop, collect the student and gruffly return the violator to the exact location where he/she failed to stop.

Don’t call a pup off sit too frequently when practicing coming to you and stopping on the whistle. This practice will soon produce a creeper. Rather use reverse heel.

Practice early starts whistle work at heel going forward using a steady tab as a lead. Simply peep the whistle and keep walking. Your body language and gait say move on yet the whistle command is to stop.

Next, reverse heel. As you both walk along, begin to back away (see Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way, page 90). As you continue to back up the pup will be approaching from the front. The skill to achieve is to stop the pup with the whistle as you continue to back up. Your body language says come. Your command, though, is to stop and/or sit.


In teaching a pup to return to his dog mat/bed, you incorporate the whistle. Send the pup to his bed with a “place” command. As he arrives and turns to look at you, give the whistle command to sit. The skill will later transfer to boat blinds, water stands, dog platforms and many other field applications.

Similarly we incorporate “whoa boards” or platforms that may be moved about the field. As soon as our youngster jumps to the board, the whistle command to stop, sit, hup and/or whoa is given. This is place orientation (Wildrose Law #9) at its best.

Two important parting reminders:

Return a youngster to the exact place of incompliance. Do not let the pup get away with a “slip” of the whistle.

Do not give a command you cannot reinforce.

Keep your young sporting dog close and under control until all obedience skills (including whistle stops) are thoroughly entrenched to the point of habit.

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By Josh DeWitt

14 years, 5 months, and 15 days. A span of time that now seems just a fleeting moment, but a moment so full of wonderful memory and impression I can imagine it would take a lifetime to tell all of her story.


Claret headstoneOn March 28 my long-time number 1 dog, Claret, passed on. She was one of the finest and most talented dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. For many of you reading this, you will remember Claret from workshops or shows as she was always at my side. If anyone ever needed to see what was possible with a Labrador she was my go-to dog to demonstrate with. Claret exemplified what a Wildrose dog is all about. She was well-mannered, steady, quiet, and calm but worked with boldness, tenacity, and full partnership when called upon. Now, she joins the list of those special Wildrose dogs that have left us but taught us so much while they were here.

Claret really enjoyed camping with the family. One afternoon last summer on one of those camping trips I found Claret and I by ourselves relaxing in the shade. The opportunity presented itself to write a poem about her, I’m happy to share it with you now.

The time has flown by

And I look at her now

An aged dog of 13

I struggle to find how


Great moments we’ve shared

As memories dance in my head

One of the best dogs I’ve had

Her story needs to be spread


She came to me from far away

Ireland she was bred and born

From fine working stock

Known for speed and agility, like a pronghorn


With a great friend in Great Britain

Her younger years were spent

From 1 to 3 years of age

They worked together and didn’t relent


Trials they would run

Shooting days they would pick

Her skills developed carefully

By a master trainer named Vic


The time had finally arrived

I got the message one night

She was ready to come to the USA

Ready for that big trans-Atlantic flight


When I saw her for the first time

It was a sight I’ll never forget

She was everything I dreamed of

And we had only just met


I picked up the lead

And introduced myself as her new leader

With a quiet and gentle method

That I had learned from Vic and Mike, my teachers


She immediately gave a gesture

That I understood to tell me

I am willing to follow you

Together we can find glory


And glory we did find

In the very first trial we addressed

Surprising to everyone, even me

We were first place, going into the last test


A difficult 200 yard water retrieve

Designed for a champion

She hit the water hard

Determined and on a mission


She took my casts

Left, right, and back

Stopped on the whistle

She was sharp as a tack


But in the end

Our quarry was a dummy

That drifted into no mans land

She came out of the hunt mouth empty


Fourth place we took that day

But prouder I couldn’t have been

For that was my first ever trial

And we came that close to a win


Or the first hunt we shared

On a cold December day

The action was slow

“Time to leave” I was about to say


When her ears perked up

I knew what that meant

She could hear birds in the distance

They were on the descent


The flock swung the decoys

Our hearts were thumping

Almost in shooting range

The adrenaline was pumping


On the third pass I stood

Shotgun mounted and ready

Clicked the safety and squeezed the trigger

The lead goose fell heavy


For a moment we waited

For the retrieve would be splendid

Set perfect for a Labrador

The bird fell in deep water that was frigid


I lined her up

A big grin on my face

For it was our first retrieve on a bird

It was our time, our place


With a slight motion and soft word

I released her from my side

Off like a bullet she went

And hit the ice cold water in stride


Out to the fall area

With boldness and power

She picked the large fowl

Just as the snow began to shower


As I watched her return

It was difficult to see

Any resemblance of a dog

For the bird was as big as she


Back at the shoreline

She delivered gently to hand

A massive Canada goose

That lo and behold had a leg band


As I hoisted our hard earned prize

I swelled up with pride

Looking down at my brave dog

As ice formed on her hide


Oh the stories like these are vast

This little dog and what she’s done

Amazed countless people in so any places

This little dog from Great Britain


But no one more than me

She’s taught me more than I’ve her

Been one of my life’s wonders

The bond we have is forever


Patient, quiet, and soft

Beautiful qualities she possesses

Qualities that I should live for

Instead I have too many vices


But everyday I try to learn from her

For I feel God has brought us together

To remind me what life should be about

Teaching, helping, and serving others


Yes she’s a superstar performer

Up for any trial or test

And wowing crowds of hundreds at shows

With her incredible abilities, she always impressed


In retirement from performing now

A well-deserved break

She owes me nothing in the slightest

Save the occasional paw shake


Lord I’m so thankful for this little dog

And happy she’s not a cat or fish or parrot

Happy that she is what she is


Claret Jumping

A Labrador Retriever named Claret

Birdrow Claret

Born Oct 13, 2000

Died March 28, 2015

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Finding New Life for a Dog by Smelling Death: A Book Review of Cat Warren’s What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World.

By Ben McClellandpaperbackcover-150x150

What do you do when your dog doesn’t behave? Well, most of us call someone at Wildrose or post a question on the Facebook site. Cat Warren had Solo, a red and black German Shepard pup, a smart, but “maniacal clown” that was noisy, had outsized energy and was aggressive toward other dogs. After consulting and quitting some trainers and vets, Warren took advantage of Solo’s scent drive and, with Nancy Hooks’ help, began training him to be a cadaver dog.

Warren was born in Oregon “in the 1950s, but now live[s] in the South. I came here in 1995 to teach at North Carolina State University and forgot to leave” (What the Dog Knows website).

Warren narrates her eight-year journey with Solo, becoming a sought-after cadaver search team. This remarkably told story winds through a three-hundred-page book: What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World.

Warren writes a brief history of the Cadaver Dog that all of us can benefit from reading. The cadaver dog world encompasses everything from missing-persons search and rescue, to searching unmarked, centuries-old graves for Civil War soldiers or slaves’ remains, to rescuing children from human sex trafficking and child-prostitution rings in the US.

Cadaver dogs provide such a valuable service to society, such as bringing comfort and closure to families of the missing. And much of the dogs’ work seems magical—like discovering a drowning victim in 200-feet deep water. But Warren stays humble throughout and speaks honestly about canine and human shortcomings.

Warren’s nineteen-chapter book is dense with training tips, eye-opening views into the world of cadaver dogs, the canine’s sense of smell, humor, and plain common sense for handlers of any service or field dogs. She hammers home two points that are valuable to all of us dog handlers. First, stay humble and second, don’t control everything; let the dog initiate the scent-seeking game.

Warren opens Chapter 3, “Nose Knowledge,” showing what she has learned about scent: “These days when I watch a good dog work scent, I can see him trace its passage in the air until he’s drawn a clear picture with his nose. An experienced dog can illustrate the difference between scent that has lifted in the heat of the day, settled down in the ridges of rough grass, or been pulled hard toward the rushing water of a creek” (27-28). She then delivers a compendium of knowledge in the science of olfaction, what we know and don’t know about smell.



But a central feature of the book is Warren’s evolving relationship with Solo. And that’s something all of us can admire, if not identify with. They go through highs and

lows, successes and failures before they bond as a team. To put it bluntly, the relationship began on a bigtime low. Not only was Solo unpredictable at home, but he was also a sociopath around other dogs.

Solo’s breeder described the German Shepard’s downside tendencies: “[S]heep-tending and service dogs can be unruly, even belligerent, without wise leadership or, on the opposite spectrum, with uncompromising harshness – a cringing or over-aggressive menace. An intelligent dog trained for a duty is a wonder to behold. When left to its own devices, resourcefulness can reach new heights of destruction!” (“Why Cat for a Dog?” Guest Post by Joan Andreasen-Webb, Framheim German Shepherds).

Solo fell on the menacing and destructive side of the spectrum. He was seriously troubled and Warren had not found any way to reach him. After going through a number of trainers, Warren took a suggestion that she associate with a cadaver dog trainer. Here begins the redemption of Solo—and Warren as his companion.

A big breakthrough comes in Warren’s training with Solo (oh, so many clicks and liver treats) when her trainer friend hands Warren something more enticing than treats: “I took it gingerly. It was a PVC pipe, about two inches in diameter and nine inches long, drilled full of small holes, the ends capped tight. . . . A little bit of death was trapped within on a piece of cloth, its odor gently seeping through the holes. . . . An old, independent Appalachian woman, increasingly vague with dementia, had wandered away from her cabin. She had been dead twelve days before her family found her. . . . [This pipe’s] smell was a light dry must, like mold on an orange… Just a twist of cloth with dried body fluids provided enough to start training Solo” (80). It was irresistible, “more exciting than even Whiskey. . . It had fully served its purpose—forever bonding the concept of play to the concept of dead human in Solo’s head” (81). After that, “a bit of form emerged from the chaos” and Solo launched on a steep trajectory into forensic science (82).

Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, describes the special kind of writing that Warren has achieved in her book: “narrative animal science writing: a genre combining rich storytelling with science to explain animals, the roles they play in our lives and we in theirs” (NYT Sunday Book Review, Dec 6, 2013).

Canine-human teamwork eventually evolves for Warren and Solo. After many missteps, the cadaver team finds success, usually when the dog begins to trust his nose over the handler’s command: “The dog learns how to ‘commit,’ to plant himself and ignore the handler’s prevarications or even a slight jerk on the lead to come off the scent, a pull that a less-evolved dog might respond to. It’s not mystifying. It’s not eerie. It is a beautiful sight, a dog ignoring his handler’s efforts to get him to unstick himself from the flypaper scent that he’s stuck to. . . The dog who ignores the handler’s gaze. . . This is what real faith should look like—hard and unwavering.

This is what the co-evolution of a working dog and handler should look like. The dog’s commitment to the truth in the face of your moving away. That’s real teamwork—the dog pointing his nose or paw or entire body at the scent, telling his handler, You bloody idiot! It’s here!” (160).

However, the human has to partner with the dog. Warren explains, “I had to learn when to step aside and when to be helpful to Solo. We were a team. Trusting your dog and letting him do his work doesn’t mean being an unthinking chump. You have to keep your eyes and mind open” (169).

In the course of her years-long study Warren meets dozens of trainers and dog teams. She presents the richness of these encounters with warmth for them. Here’s just one way that Warren shows her mettle as a writing teacher, describing the folks she meets: “Roy Ferguson, a tall hound of a Tennessean, arrived at a dress rehearsal decked out in a fluorescent orange sweatshirt and a tan vest covered with flaps and pockets, gadgets and badges. He looked like an ideal Boy Scout troop leader: geeky and capable of goofy humor, yet stern enough to keep high jinks at bay, and with a handy tool to fix any problem” (161).

Warren and Solo learn a lot of the practicalities about cadaver-dog handling from Roy and several other trainers that she travels across the country to meet, including an early fall in the Mississippi Delta: “the cypress, their toes dug deep in the water, were turning gold and crimson; monarchs were wending their way south before the first frosts” (169). There she meets Lisa Higgins “with large hazel eyes slanting at the corners, a strong nose, round cheeks with slight freckles, and short salt-and-pepper hair” (170). Lisa, who “has worked with the FBI on numerous cases” sets up a training exercise—“a simple scenario with some buried placenta” (170). Warren learns a new location technique from Lisa, just as she does from the many other trainers that she introduces to us. And we can benefit from each new training technique, as well.

Reading Warren’s inspiring story gives a dog handler like me new ideas and motivation to get back to work in the field with his gundog. I recommend that you read it, enjoy, and learn.



Cat Warren. What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

What the Dog Knows Website

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Lessons from the Quail Truck

Without question, the opportunity to hunt quail from a vehicle behind stylish Pointers is a wingshooter’s treat.  Add in a couple of well-trained retrievers or a flashy spaniel and you have quite a team of gamefinders that will thrill any hunter.  Pointers locate birds, flushing dogs “strike” to push birds from thick cover while retrievers, using keen noses and marking abilities, locate down birds quickly.


Before turning up on a quail hunt with your retriever or spaniel for their initial experience with “King Bird,” some specialized training is wise.  Our goal will be to instill “wagon dog” skills – the ability to work from moving vehicles safely (trucks, jeeps, large quad ATVs, etc.) and to have the refined ability to locate small birds from thick cover quickly.  Additionally, a good quail-truck retriever or spaniel will need to work well around the Pointers, that is to work independently ignoring other dogs running about and to remain steady while backing dogs on point.

Basic Skills to Refine:

  1. Steady to Flush – No chasing flushed birds
  2. Game Recovery – Refine scenting abilities in thick, often dry conditions. Willingness to penetrate tangled uncomfortable cover.
  3. On the whistle – Controllable
  4. Comfortable riding outside a moving vehicle possibly on a platform
  5. Excellent heel work – The hunter’s focus should be on the birds, dogs on point and other hunters without worrying as to the position of the retriever.


The Vehicle

As with so many gundog skills, place training is an essential core behavior.  Many vehicles have platforms either on the front of the truck or behind the vehicle’s operator.  A proper wagon dog must remain still and quiet as the vehicle moves and only disembark on command, even if hunters dismount quickly.  Dogs must remain remote steady in place despite activities afield unless otherwise instructed.

To prepare, we use a 4 x 4 ATV with an open rear bed.  First, we want to insure our dog is comfortable with the ride with no chance of jumping out while moving.  Occasionally we stop to exit quickly with guns and bumpers while expecting our dogs to remain steady on the ride.  Once in the field, a few bumpers are tossed with an accompanying shot.  We return to collect the dog, then it is back to the field to make the picks.  In training, avoid calling the dog from the vehicle to your position in the field to reinforce steadiness.


A dynamic flush of a covey is heart-stopping excitement for hunters and dogs alike.  This may prove to be the supreme test for a dog’s steadiness.  It is one thing to steady a dog in a duck blind and quite another as they step into a multiple bird blast right in their face.  Prepare for four types of flushes.

  1. Approaching a point with your dog at heel
  2. Flush of a single as the dog hunts for a downed bird
  3. Remote steady- backing dogs on point as hunters approach to make the flush
  4. Steady to flush, shot and fall while backing or “striking” to make the flush of birds from cover on command. (The unsteady dog becomes a safety issue.)


To prepare several specific training lessons are appropriate.  Using a chuck-it tennis ball thrower, walk along through a field with your dog off lead at heel.  When the dog’s attention drifts, shoot out the tennis ball quickly straight ahead simulating the startle of a flush.  This, of course, is a denial.  Another, with the dog sitting remote to your position as they would backing a point, toss several balls about to simulate a flush.  Pick up a few yourself, then return to the steady dog offering praise and a couple of retrieves for the remaining balls.

Scatters work well in field conditions.  Using feathered bumpers, with their throwing cords laced between your fingers, walk with the dog at heel through cover.  Unexpectedly, throw 4 bumpers in all directions as a helper fires several shots.  This is a flush simulation that is made even more realistic if a pointer is running about as you negotiate the field. Practice as you will play.  Quail hunts are not only exciting for the dogs; they can be quite distracting, even confusing when the action heats up.

Similarly, when preparing your dog to recover game, try to add distractions as you teach your retriever or spaniel to ignore all the disruptions about and concentrate on the hunt.  No pointer available?  Get several other retrievers together with friends and practice, all hunting cover simultaneously.  Add in a shot followed by a tossed bumper or a shot from a handheld launcher.  Condition the dog to ignore the shot and fall and remain focused on the hunt.  Quail hunts can become chaotic so practice chaos.

As a shooter and dog handler, be aware where birds fall and get to downed birds quickly for two reasons:

  1. Wounded birds run.
  2. Bird dogs, not conditioned well to deliver, often pick up birds only to drop them elsewhere.  Keep an eye on their movements if a bird is picked up.

If these situations arise, close in on the general area of the bird and use the retriever/spaniel to “sweep” the area by quartering the cover.  So here we have yet another skill to be refined.

A dog’s keen marking ability to pinpoint multiple falls will become quite important.  Often waterfowl retrievers are conditioned to find birds long.  When confronted with a quick flash of a quail that falls short into cover, the dog may over run.  Before the quail hunt, practice short multiple marks into various types of cover.  Make sure the dog is using its eyes to pinpoint the fall then quickly employ its nose to locate.  As in most cases, these birds will be difficult to locate by sight.

Finally, consider your dog’s delivery skills.  Quail are small and especially for the younger dog, may encourage more mouthing than one may see with ducks or pheasants.  As with doves, quail need prior introduction before the excitement of the hunt further stimulates the dog.


While wild bird hunts are not as plentiful in the South as they once were, plenty of opportunities exist to experience a quail hunt with your dog.  More put and take operations are opening across the country.  This year wild quail populations are on the rise in Texas and quail remains plentiful in many Western states including Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The Wildrose training methodology, “The Wildrose Way,” is designed to train versatile hunting companions.  Quail are yet another sport to broaden the wingshooting experience. Don’t miss an opportunity on a quail truck or even a walking hunt for that matter.  The excitement and challenge of a quail hunt rightfully earned the small, fast bird the title “King Bird.”  Wildrose concurs.

mike end

Photos courtesy Carol Colbert at San Thomas Hunting Club, Encino, TX

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Adventure Dogs in the Ozarks

“Prepared to Go Anywhere”

The Wildrose Adventure Dog Workshop is an outdoor canine experience that has proven popular in the Rocky Mountain communities of Vail, Aspen and Buena Vista in past years. Now, for the first time the workshop is being offered in the South. Wildrose brings its Adventure Dog Workshop to the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, March 28, 29.


The March workshop will be held at the Wildrose training facility on the Little Buffalo River, Jasper, Arkansas. (See Activities will include kayaking, hiking, trail assistance, hunting sheds, fishing (small-mouth bass and bream), mountain biking, and camping skills. Advance registration is imperative to our planning and for lodging (unless the plan is to camp). Enrollment is limited and the best lodging will be in high demand on this spring weekend. See


Back Story

In the summer of 2011 Wildrose Kennels officially launched its Adventure Dog Certification program. Preceding this launch in 2007, Mike had developed a training program for outside canines after an outing in Aspen, CO, where he saw the need for a formal training program for the canine enthusiast.  Out on the mountain trails Stewart observed dogs’ behavior problems and people’s need for better obedience and skill training.  He recalls, “I realized there are people out there who are interested in having a better trail dog, a better relationship with their dogs, and a happier dog on the trail.”

So, Mike founded the Wildrose Adventure Dog program for dog lovers with an active outdoor lifestyle. A Wildrose Adventure Dog is trained as the perfect canine companion for a family’s sporting lifestyle, prepared to go anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.

The Adventure Dog training curriculum enables the dog to meet certification requirements by supporting the sub-skills required for 14 different outside canine adventure activities, called merits:  Hiking, Watercraft, All Terrain Vehicle, Motor Vehicle Travel, Tracking, Camping, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Snow Trekking, Hunting Sports/Retrieving, Trail Assistance, Public Access, Equestrian, and Aircraft.  Each merit serves to advance the dog toward three progressive ratings: (TR) Trail Rated – 5 merits completed; (ADC) Adventure Dog Certified – 9 merits completed, including public access; and ( MT)  Master Trekker – 12-14 merits completed.

March Course Prerequisites

A participating canine may be from any breed. The dog enrolled in this class should have a basic foundation in general obedience; possess the physical ability to participate in high-impact exercises and the maturity/social skills/aptitude to confront new situations with confidence. General obedience includes proficiency in heel work, sit, remote stay, down, come, and be well socialized with people and different situations. This is excellent training for gundogs and service companions to hone skills, stay in shape and gain confidence in new, challenge situations.

The upcoming Wildrose Adventure Dog Workshop will provide training necessary for specific merits that participants and their companions may complete. The workshop will be highly interactive and merits earned will be awarded at the workshop’s conclusion.

Adventure Dog Program participants have additional options to receive merit accreditation by completing the designated training and achievements for merit awards on their own and then submitting the activities by video to Wildrose, attending any of the Wildrose workshops located across the country and demonstrating accomplished skills for verification, or scheduling a visit to any of the Wildrose associate training sites throughout the U.S. and demonstrating the dog’s skills.

The Wildrose Adventure Dog Certification diploma, along with the certification patches, denotes the dog’s achievement level and is suitable for display recognizing the canine’s official achievements.

Preregistration for the Adventure Dog Workshop is imperative!  Register today at  For further information, call Cathy at 662-234-5788 or email at

Live your passion – Wildrose Adventure Dogs

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In the Field: Wildrose Sako


After many years of waterfowl hunting my wife decided that I needed a good retriever, so Annetta started doing research and made a call to Cathy Stewart to discuss both a hunting dog, but equally important a household companion. Cathy offered us a pick of several Sires and Dams however suggested a Kane and Dot puppy for people who had never had any experience training a retriever for the field. It took approximately 10 months of waiting to get that long awaited call from Cathy that there was a litter of 5 females to choose from and we would have 3rd pick. Annetta did the majority of the training due to my work schedule, and followed Mike’s “The Wildrose Way” to a tee. Ok maybe there was a lot of indiscriminate petting along the way which wasn’t listed in the book, but who can help not hugging on such adorable creatures.

sako3This is Sako’s 3rd year in the field hunting and you can really tell her maturity has set in over that time. Sako does extremely well on water retrieves with ducks or geese, depending on the size and amount of life left in a large goose struggles a little in a field. On top of her retrieving the biggest compliment I get from people I hunt with are the manners that Sako has in a confined blind being quiet and staying on place. Living on a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay Sako may be out in the bay hunting divers for hours on end one day and in a field blind the following week. Once again Mike’s way to train with tie out and place training goes a long way as a dog matures and obedience goes a long way when hunting. With that being said Annetta spent hours on end on the phone with Tim Clancy an associate trainer for Wildrose in Boston getting advice on certain roadblocks. Tim was always there to lend an ear and offer advice. We love our Sako so much we decided to order another Wildrose lab and picked her up on December 5th  2014. Wow what a difference between the two, Darby certainly has a mind of her own, but seems to have an exceptional drive to retrieve.


People ask why we traveled all the way to Mississippi to get a Black Lab with all of the breeders here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but we feel Wildrose offers the whole package as a kennel. Not only do they offer dogs with exceptional bloodlines, but professional trainers that respond to any questions you may have in a very timely fashion. Great dogs, and great people to deal with.

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The Smartest Guy Afield

by Mike Stewart

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

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

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

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

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


The Drop

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

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

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


Water Drops

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

The Upland Drop

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

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

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

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

A Trained Dog’s Nose Knows

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

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

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Meet Tom Smith, Wildrose Kennels’ General Manager

by Dr. Ben McClelland

The time had come and the man had been found.

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

Years of careful, incremental development eventually equaled exponential growth.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Legend of Halle

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Mike Stewart

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


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

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

Rocky Mountain Tick Fever


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

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

Sporting Dog Enthusiasts Should Be Aware of Regional Tick Diseases

Published by Nestle Purina

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

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

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


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

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



Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

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

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

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

Heartland Virus

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

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

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

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

Steps for Prevention

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

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

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

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

TICKS!!! You just gotta hate ‘em…….


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