Spring at Wildrose Mississippi

Video by Mallard Media

The facilities crew here at Wildrose Oxford has truly outdone themselves this year. Supervisor Blake Henderson, along with Bryan, Tristan and Taylor, have worked tirelessly on the continuous improvement of the training grounds. We have milo and cane in the peanut, the recall field is milo and a sustainable garden that will not only provide great hunting cover but also fresh vegetables for the staff. Through our controlled burns and crop rotation we are maintaining and improving the Ultimate Sporting Dog Training Grounds.


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Dog Speak 101: Communicating with Your Wildrose Companion the Wildrose Way

Alan Newton, owner of WR Shadow

When attending any Wildrose workshop, undoubtably you’ve heard the quote from Mike Stewart, “Dogs don’t talk.”

So why as handlers, do we often converse with our Wildrose companions as though they are fluent in our native language?  Is it in the hope the dog “understands,” eventually exhibiting the behavior we desire, or simply verbal frustration indicative of our need to improve as a handler?

I am placing my money on the latter, as most likely, we need to improve our canine communication skills. The terminology acquired during our training to become an effective handler, beginning with the dog’s name, followed by sit, down, stay, heel, here (or come), no, place, out, load up, kennel, hide, watch, dead bird, back, get on, hold, dead, high loss, and most importantly, good (don’t forget the praise aspect of positive reinforcement dog training), along with the sometimes necessary phrase shared on occasion with Shadow, “What are you doing,” sum up all the needed verbal commands required to communicate with our companions.  Remember, present a verbal command once, and set the expectation for compliance, as this is the sign of an accomplished handler.

eye contact

“It’s all in the eyes” – Mike Stewart, photo by Katie Behnke

The current pandemic abruptly shifted all my classes to an online format, and subsequently led to consideration of how best to communicate with my students.  During a recent training session, thoughts around effective communication with my canine companions surfaced, similar to the consideration of how to best communicate with my students.

In the midst of that training session, I began to construct a mental list of the multiple ways and times we communicate with our dog throughout a single day.  Every canine interaction is a communication opportunity. Should you be so fortunate to have your dog as a work companion, or a retiree with your dog as a constant companion, you are likely communicating with your dog the entirety of your waking hours.  Handlers who fail to recognize every daily communication opportunity, coupled with the employment of inadequate communication skills, quickly build uncertainty and mistrust in the dog as he or she observes poor communication, the absence of handler confidence, and the lack of critical leadership skills.  Effective and properly timed communication instills trust and confidence in one’s dog.

mike looking at deke

Does your dog understand what you are saying? -Mike and Deke, photo by Katie Behnke

What does effective canine communication look like?  The four Cs of effective communication – calm, confident, controlled, and consistent – paint the picture we should endeavor to portray as handlers (Stewart, 2012, pg. 44).  My purpose here is not to enter into a lengthy discussion of each communication skill, but rather to invite you into a few moments of self-reflection.

  • Given the opportunity, would an experienced handler judge you as a calm leader throughout the entirety of a training session?
  • Are you confident in your handling ability during a training session, or are their areas where you need to improve, and possibly seek guidance from a more experienced handler or trainer?
  • Do you remain in control throughout a training session demonstrating key leadership skills, or do you often ride an “emotional roller coaster,” displaying times of pleasure during training, and in the next moment, exhibiting frustration? Does your tone and body language reveal the highs and lows of training to others, and most importantly to your dog?
  • Are you consistent in regards to verbal commands, audible tones, body language, and setting the expectation for compliance? Do you consistently offer properly timed verbal marks for a task well done, while ignoring less than desired canine performance, seizing that opportunity to construct a “win” for your dog?

Answering “yes” to all the above is good, as doing so reflects confidence in your handling ability, but consider how you might become even more proficient in each of the four Cs as a handler, or possibly which one is in need of a minor tune-up.  Recognizing an area in need of improvement is not indicative of failure, it’s simply a canine communication method Wildrose handlers acknowledge they could improve upon.  Advance your canine communication through workshop attendance, and seek out guidance by conversing with fellow handlers, contacting trainers, or simply make a phone call to one of the Wildrose locations to initiate resolution to a communication issue.

Let’s conclude with a review of the three ways we communicate with our dog, as noted by Mike in the latest edition of the Wildrose Journal, in ascending order of importance.

  • Verbal communication, is the least effective method of canine communication. Endless talk is useless, frustrating, and unproductive, and should be kept to the simple verbal commands identified above, the ones we acquired during handler training.


  • Tone, the second communicator, comes in three forms. Excited tones ramp up a dog and in my experience are quite helpful during the training of a puppy, particularly with early retrieves.  Calm tones quiet a dog who is overly excited or rambunctious. A sharp tone presented with a deep-pitch, the best example being “no,” quickly garners the dog’s attention and invites the opportunity to redirect the dog’s focus.


  • Body language is indeed the most critical handler communication tool, the leadership skill consistently being observed by the dog, and I would offer the communication method receiving the least attention in need of improvement by handlers.Does your body language reflect authority while projecting friendliness, welcoming your dog to be in the midst of your presence?  We’ve all been instructed on the importance of body language during that critical job interview.  It is no different with our dogs during training.  Perhaps thoughts around our projected body language should supersede the tone and context of the next verbal command we are mentally planning.

One final thought on communication with your Wildrose dog resulting from my backgrounding experience with Wildrose pups, and its centers on eye contact.  This is indeed a critical step in backgrounding a puppy.  Acquiring the attentiveness of a young dog by calling its name or a simple light tap on the head prior to giving a command results in respect for the handler as a leader.  Seek to capture the attention of a young dog, reward it with a mark of “good,” then offer the command.  Done correctly, eye contact will become a consistent, predictable behavior in your Wildrose dog, and a behavior you want in your dog!


Eye contact – the key to success with your dog

Arrival back at the kennel following a training session to feed and groom your dog is a fantastic opportunity to consider the events of the just completed session, plan for the next one, and grade yourself on how well you communicated with your dog today. In summary:

  • Dog training begins the day you pick up your puppy
  • Your dog is always in training
  • Your dog is always watching you, regardless of where the handler’s mind, thoughts, or attention may be at the moment
  • You have responsibility for creating the dog you envisioned when you first decided to pursue a Wildrose companion, so

put into daily practice the four Cs during your canine interaction, seek to improve upon any weakness, limit your verbal commands to those that are indeed effective and understood by the dog offering them at the proper time and in the appropriate tone, and most importantly, exhibit body language that is positive, welcoming, and displays leadership as perceived by others, and especially your dog.


Reference:Stewart, M.  (2012). Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way, Raising a Gentleman’s Gundog for Home and Field.  New York: Universe Publishing. 



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Nutritional Advances Can Keep the Older Hunting Dog Afield Longer

By Dr. Brian M. Zanghi, PhD, MS, Senior Research Nutritionist, Nestle Purina PetCare

Brian Zanghi with Aspen

Brian and his dog WR Aspen

Do you remember the first sporting dog puppy you brought home and the countless hours and days spent training. Or, perhaps your family dog that you turned into a hunting dog. Do you remember when it all “clicked” for your canine buddy? That feeling of “yes, he’s got it”. More than that, how that dog became a part of your field experience. More than just a sporting dog, he or she was your hunting partner. All those times you were amazed by something they did that demonstrated success. That was a culmination of training, experience, and perseverance during the peak of your hunting buddy’s prime. But, those don’t occur quite as often for many reasons, but possibly because pup is getting a bit older, a bit slower. Regardless, the feelings don’t change and the memories don’t fade. You just want to keep that old partnership going for as long as possible, even if it is not the all day hunt or the 3 day trip…

At what age do you consider your dog old, or in the “senior” category? Is it age, declining health status, reduced level of activity, reduced performance, or maybe loss of senses like sight, hearing or smell? Maybe all or some combination of these? For all of us that have had dogs live to a mature older age know that many of the signs of aging we experience as people, also occur in our canine companions. As you might assume, there are some changes in our dogs that may not be so obvious, but can definitely impact performance in the field and overall health. These can include a decline in the immune fitness to fight off illnesses, slower physical recovery from exercise, some increased oxidative stress, and slower metabolism. You may be asking, “what can I do about it, I can’t stop my dog from aging”. Undoubtedly, we can’t stop anybody or any animal from aging, but what we can do is to help reduce or delay many effects of aging by the food the dog eats and how much it consumes.

The big question is how? Let’s make an analogy using our young, adult hunting dog and “optimizing” its performance. With this scenario, to optimize performance we would like our dog to achieve faster learning during training, stay mentally focused at the end of the hunt, run longer, find more game, recover physically for hunting multiple days, etc., etc. We could have an endless list of “do better”. For this example, how can we get there? We could feed a performance food instead of a maintenance food. We could train and condition all year, instead of the week before opening day. We could feed a performance food all year instead of switching back and forth in the “off-season”, which could contribute to improving preseason conditioning and training. We feed an amount to maintain optimal body condition and keeping body weight stable, instead of the having excess body weight. All of these together can contribute to a feeding/training strategy to optimize performance.

sailor in blind

Photo by Katie Behnke


Now let’s address the topic at hand. If you are like many of us with busy lives and an older dog, then you probably cherish the thought of having your canine hunting buddy with you when days afield may be less frequent than you wished. Or maybe your proven field champion just deserves a few more rides on the truck, another retrieve, and a little time to stretch his legs and run a bit behind the younger dogs. To keep our healthy, older hunting companion finding birds and sniffing the autumn breeze in the field, we have to switch our mentality from “optimizing” performance to “maintaining” wellness. We know our mature hunting companion understands the game after many years of training and hunting trips. Therefore, we have to accommodate and focus on promoting the skills of the older dog. Speed and total ground quartered are not so paramount, but mental acuity, retained mobility, and overall health are key to “maintaining” field performance.

Unfortunately, our dogs can not tell us that something is just not the way it used to be. But of course, telltale signs of our pup’s advancing age do start to become apparent at some point. There are several nutritional strategies to consider in helping to keep your older dog active and alert. There are several concepts that are worth discussing and can all contribute to keeping your dog hunting a bit longer, even if it is not the hard charging hunt of his peak days. As mentioned above, feeding amount and body condition can play a big role in an older dog’s wellness and longevity. Nutrition studies have also revealed that targeted nutrients in the diet can promote an improvement in mobility in dogs with arthritis, as well as reduce cognitive decline. Retaining physical and cognitive health and wellness by minimizing the age-related decline can be important factors that contribute greatly to stretching out the number of possible hunting seasons.

Feeding and Health

We would all agree, aging can not be prevented, BUT, health and wellness can be improved! A 14-year study led by Nestlé Purina scientists demonstrated that maintaining dogs (Labrador Retrievers) in lean body condition throughout life extended their healthy years, by 1.8 years for dogs in the study. How did they determine this? The dogs fed to maintain a lead body condition were only fed 25% less than their littermates, who were allowed to consume an adequate amount without being overweight.

There were many amazing things that were learned in this study, but it is worth mentioning one set of details. Treatment of certain chronic health conditions was delayed approximately 2 years in the lean-fed dogs. More specifically, treatment for osteoarthritis was delayed with the reduced feeding portion. In fact, 43 of the 48 dogs on the study were treated for osteoarthritis. However, we found that when half of the lean-fed dogs were started on an osteoarthritis treatment, the mean age was ~ 13.3 yrs old, this was a 3 year delay compared to their littermates, where half had started treatment at an average age of 10.3 yrs old. That alone could be a considerable reduction in associated trips to the veterinarian and possible medication. Regardless of vet costs, which we would undoubtedly do regardless, this means a healthier life into those later years, and possibly several more years in the field.

mike and kane

Photo by Katie Behnke

As I mentioned in Articles 1 and 2 of this series of Sportingdog nutrition articles, regularly assessing your dog’s body condition, particularly in older dogs is very important. It is worth mentioning again here, there are simple things you can evaluate and regularly monitor to ensure that your dog is getting the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight. The link to a Nestle Purina website will provide easy tips:

Part of the reason why I think this topic is worth elaborating on is because most medium to large sporting breeds will age at a rate that will likely result in their metabolism slowing by age 7 to 8. Even though their body weight may remain fairly unchanged, they will likely experience a shift in body mass tissue distribution. All this means is that they may start to lose muscle mass and gain fat mass around this age, but not necessarily show a change in body weight. In the study with the lean-fed dogs, this effect was also delayed. The obvious benefit here is that retaining muscle tissue is critical for maintaining an active lifestyle and more days in the field.
Reducing Cognitive Decline

One change with our older dog that may or may not be so obvious is brain aging, and is inherently a cornerstone to field performance. For any of us that have spent day after day after day…in the training field teaching and refining our pup’s or young dog’s marking ability, steadiness, sit to flush, all of it…You know it takes a lot of time and effort, as well as continuous reinforcement throughout the year and every year to learn and remember the task. To watch it fade away or be apparently lost with your older dog can be heart wrenching, at best.

Dogs, like people, will experience a natural decline in their ability to remember, learn, and even focus with increasing age. The statement, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is definitely rooted in the reality of aging. But how we minimize this decline can be referred to as healthy brain aging. It always amazes me when I see or hear stories about people living over the age of 100, a common denominator is that they were always very mentally active. To relate this to brain aging health in dogs, studies with beagles have also shown that cognitive performance decline can be reduced by maintaining a physically and mentally stimulating lifestyle. So by continuing to keep that healthy, older dog active, every little bit will help. This can be as simple as walking at heel to reinforce obedience and focus, or going to new parks or fields to experience new sights and smells. There definitely is truth to “use it or lose it” when it comes to brain aging.

deke in water

Photo by Katie Behnke

Fat for Aging Brain Fuel

Another factor influencing brain aging has to do with nutrition and metabolism, and this is where our dog’s diet can play a role in slowing brain aging. It is not surprising that if our physical metabolism changes later in life, our brain metabolism would also change. One of the things I mentioned in the previous article had to do with blood glucose from body stores of glycogen to promote mental function. In particular, how feeding a performance food could optimize the dog’s body stores of glycogen for this purpose. This is because the brain prefers to use glucose as an energy source for nerve function. But, this is during a time in the dog’s life when it is not a senior.

As aging occurs, there is a shift in how the brain generates energy for nerve function. Therefore, if the food the dog eats does not complement this shift, healthy brain aging would not be optimized. So what exactly happens? Well, glucose becomes less “preferred”, and small fat nutrients called ketones become more efficiently utilized. What are ketones? You probably would recognize these molecules by mentioning that if you were starving, your body would produce ketone molecules for brain energy (ketosis). Or, if you have just started a regimen of the Atkin’s Diet, the first phase is to eat in a way that drives your body to produce ketone molecules. Because we don’t want to starve our older dog or induce them to lose weight, the most appropriate way to get ketones for brain function, is to put ingredients in the food that deliver ketone producing nutrients. More specifically, from nutrients called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). We all have had our triglycerides checked for heart health and triglycerides are an important fuel for endurance metabolism in people and dogs. So, so we are familiar with what those are, but MCTs are not the same thing. However, as the name implies, MCTs are shorter forms and are more easily digested, absorbed, and metabolized.

Okay, you are asking, “Why do we even care? or Does this even matter?” I say, yes, if you want your older dog to have a reduced rate of memory decline, continue to learn more efficiently at an older age, have better attention performance, and probably most importantly for field performance…better executive function. What is executive function? We know that every trip afield is a new set of encounters, challenges, and distractions for our dogs. They are constantly making cognitive decisions such as, do I urinate on this bush or that one, do I follow that rabbit track or keep looking for grouse, is that an old trail or fresh, or maybe…could I have a treat now, you get the idea. The ability to make decisions and stay focused is paramount in the field. Clearly, this is part of what we see when we think of a dog’s drive and style, and is the culmination of all the training and breeding. But life, and a physically taxing lifestyle, can take its toll, both physically and mentally.

So where to MCTs fit in the picture? MCTs have been studied for a variety of nutritional properties over the years. However, recent studies by Nestlé Purina scientists have determined that dietary MCTs can increase blood ketone bodies after feeding old and senior dogs for increasing brain energy supply. Consequently, these studies also revealed that old dogs fed the MCT diet showed significant cognitive improvements in all areas described above compared to old dogs fed a food without MCTs. Therefore, I guess it can be said that an old dog can be taught new tricks, or at least remember the old ones.


Photo by Katie Behnke

Maintaining Mobility

Up to this point, the concepts have focused on our pet that is aging successfully, with no real medical conditions or chronic disease afflictions. Many petowners will know of or had a dog with diseases later in life. Some conditions are show stoppers, like loss of sight or hearing, although surgery is an option for cataracts. These situations are heartbreaking, but those are challenges yet to be overcome by nutritional sciences. Disease states are much more difficult to address with a nutritional strategy, but some can be managed with diet. A couple of examples are conditions like osteoarthritis (OA) and diabetes. Obviously, an arthritic condition can stop a sporting dog in its tracks, literally. But, this doesn’t mean that the dog is relegated to pain meds and a life in the kennel. Of course, this would depend on the degree of severity for any given dog. Again, I am not approaching this from the perspective that a severely arthritic dog will eat a food and miraculously be running miles in the field. More from the perspective of; we all get sore and recover a bit more slowly as we age. We possibly work a hard job or we take on a tough weekend project, and we need a couple over-the-counter pain meds at the end of the day to take the edge off, but that doesn’t mean we can’t and don’t work the next day. Therefore, with this framework in mind, an older dog that moves a bit more slowly, but is otherwise healthy, could benefit from this type of strategy to put a little spark in its step. Remember, we are changing the focus from “optimizing performance” to “maintaining wellness”.

If you feel that your dog could benefit from a diet to improve joint mobility, please discuss and work through these options with your veterinarian, as every situation and extent of the disease state must be considered. Your vet would likely recommend an x-ray to get a better understanding of your dog’s arthritic condition. Particularly, as it relates to retaining an active lifestyle.

If a nutritional approach for treatment is a option, there are a variety of therapeutic foods on the market that are available through your veterinarian and address joint mobility, which could provide noticeable benefits. Skeletal and joint health is achieved with many different nutrients in the diet. You probably recognize that balanced calcium/phosphate ratios are important, as well as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and elevated protein, mentioned above, for strong muscles and bones as well. Another nutrient that may be less obvious for skeletal health is the significant contribution of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Yes, proper fat in the diet can play an important role. In dogs, clinical nutrition studies have shown that regular consumption of formulas enriched with the proper types and levels of omega-3 nutrients result in a significant improvement in, not only biological indicators, but also pet mobility within 1 month of feeding. After 2 months of feeding, 88% of the dogs on study had client perceived mobility improvement, based on 146 client owned dogs eating the test food. Although many foods contain varying levels of omega-3s, the therapeutic benefits are likely best achieved by feeding a prescription veterinary diet with enriched levels targeting a joint mobility condition.

To be clear, any nutritional strategy to address OA does not cure the disease, it minimizes related discomfort and could be used in combination with veterinary prescribed mediations to promote overall wellness and joint health. Again, talk with your veterinarian to see if this is right for you and your field companion.

So here is the bottom-line to switching the focus from “optimizing” performance to “maintaining” wellness; be conscientious of body condition and feed to prevent weight gain in the less active senior. Switching to a senior formula will provide high protein and lower fat content to promote lean tissue health and provide a less calorie dense food. There are a multitude of other benefits from higher protein for the senior dog, particularly critical, but not addressed here, that include promoting immune, intestinal, and renal health. You can also maintain cognitive stimulation, provide regular exercise, and feed an MCT enriched diet to help to reduce cognitive decline. Finally, consider optimizing joint health by minimizing OA related discomfort with a prescription joint mobility formula.

Your pup may take a little longer to quarter the field, or take a few more whistles or handling casts to get to the area of the fall, but watching that sparkle in his eye and the tail waging as he brings them back to hand for one more season, are all the reasons why we love being in the field with our dog.

ghille on chair

Photo by Katie Behnke

Brian Zanghi, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
Nestle Research Center
Nestle Purina Petcare
Figure legend: Dogs at 6 and 10 yrs of age that participated in the nutrition study. Dog on left was in the lean-fed group

Table… To easily compare how these diet types compare relative to some nutritional factors and benefits, see table below.
Performance Formula Senior Formula Joint Health Formula
Ideal age 1 – 9 yrs 7 and older 7 and older
Protein 30% 28% 31%
Fat 21% 14% 13%
Calories (kcal/lb) 2003 1710 1750
High protein/ fat for optimal performance High protein/low fat to promote muscle, while reduce fat mass, MCTs for slowing cognition decline** Higher protein with high omega-3 for optimal joint health***
** MCTs for cognition benefit claim supported by feeding Purina ONE Vibrant Maturity 7+ Senior Formula for promoting a Bright Mind as a dog ages.
*** Joint Health claim supported by feeding Purina Veterinary Diets (PVD) Joint Mobility (JM) formula obtained through veterinary prescription.


-Brian Zanghi

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Bright Minds

By Mike Stewart, President Wildrose International

Most of The Wildrose Way content covers puppy development and training of gundogs, adventure dogs and therapy companions all in their developmental prime.  It’s time we devote attention to our senior sporting dogs among us those beyond their peak, active years yet retaining their undiminished desires for activity, companionship and “The Hunt.”


We see the enthusiastic expression in their eyes, wag of the tail and body all expressing a

passion TO GO without regard to their faded capabilities.  Then there is their heart-wrenching disappointment which appears if left behind.

Maintaining the senior dogs’ health, physical abilities, skills and mental conditioning is accomplished by focusing not so much on what they can’t do but rather what they can, keeping dogs active, engaged and, of course, happy.

Three considerations:

  1. Mental Conditioning
  2. Physical Conditioning – exercise and agility
  3. Nutrition

Physical Conditioning – Exercise and Agility    

Obviously older dogs require a balanced exercise routine for body conditioning promoting strength, agility and cardiovascular maintenance.  Dogs are creatures of habit.  They benefit from predictable routines.  Body conditioning management is accomplished with scheduled exercises and training routines with these tips in mind:

  1. Long walks on trails or grass fields with intermittent, short retrieves of memories or marks.
  2. Wildrose drills are applicable, just shorter in duration and distance.
  3. Reduce high-impact activities such as long runs, running on hard surfaces, jumping from elevated objects, running on low-traction surfaces (ice, boat decks, etc).
  4. Avoid exercise just after eating.
  5. Swimming is excellent, low-impact conditioning for training.
  6. Avoid heat stressing. Confine activities to the cooler times of the day.
  7. Always be watchful for fatigue, change in the dog’s gait, and condition of the dog’s pads.

    dixie and tom

    Photo by Katie Behnke – WR Dixie and Tom Smith

Training activities remain important for skills retention and keeping the dog’s mental state engaged. Encourage continuous learning and problem solving in daily activities modifying the routine to shorter distances, reducing the duration of the activities and impact on joints and hips.

In addition to physical limitations, age often affects the dog’s eyesight and hearing which impacts their abilities to be successful in training or afield.  Most dogs will retain their keen scenting abilities.  The key with these challenges is modification in activities, not elimination.


Tips for Sight Challenges  

  1. Hunting cover for unseens.
  2. Hunting cover with stops to the whistle.
  3. Tracking rolled, scented tennis balls.
  4. Close marks by sound into cover or water.

To offset sight limitations, use large white bumpers scented with a feather.  The noise made by the fall along with the scent will assist in success – The Nose Knows.

sailor hunting

Photo by Katie Behnke – WR Sailor

Tips for Hearing Challenges

  1. Use pull/push, pull/cast exercise where the dog is handling coming toward you rather than attempting stop to the whistle going out routines. The dog is watching you.
  2. Practice silent handling – left/right cast, stop, hunt in, recall which are all accomplished by hand signals silently. The simple baseball pattern works well.
  3. Practice whistle exercises in very close proximity. If it’s not right at heel, it won’t be right in the field.
  4. Water splashes of a large bumper usually attracts attention. It seems that dogs lose high-tone recognition (whistles) before recognition of sounds like gunfire, big water splashes, duck calls or hand claps, and, of course, unwrapping crinkly papers is always heard!

Mental Conditioning – Deke’s Diary

Deke’s recommendation for bright minds involves activities for exercise, agility and mental stimuli, all to keep him alert and in good physical condition with many of his hunting skills intact.


Catch – Games that Deke loves involve catching objects mid-air like a soft Frisbee or tennis ball. Place the dog at sit a distance away and toss the object toward the dog for a catch. The activity promotes coordination between eyes and mouth.  It requires patience and timing for a successful catch.  The stationary catch replaces the chasing after the object like catching a mid-air Frisbee which requires running and far more stress to joints. The dog remains motionless until the flyer is airborne and his name is called.  Actually, this is an exercise we use with any hunting dog to improve wounded gamebird recovery.

  • Bounce – The dog sits remote and the ball is thrown to the ground to create a bounce. Double and triple bounces before the catch qualifies for extra points requiring concentration and patience.


  • Ball to the Wall – With the dog sitting parallel to your position facing a solid wall, bounce a ball off the wall so that it returns bouncing toward the dog. Catch some of the balls yourself as denials reinforcing steadiness.  The dog responds only by name.
  • Walking Flush – Walks become more exciting if ball rolls or bouncing balls are involved. We walk the trails and occasionally a ball is bounced down the path and the dog pursues the moving ball.  Incorporate memories to the rear as you progress and denials to reinforce steadiness.
  • Out of sight but not out of mind – A favorite activity of Deke’s is for me to throw a ball or launch shot over a building, solid fence or over a thick hedge requiring him to figure out how to find a route to the prize. Problem solving and exercise are combined in this activity.
  • Multi TDM (time delay memory) – To build memory, place bumpers along your path in various locations. Complete the hike, then return to the location for the recoveries.  With each successful retrieve, move your position. For added challenge, invert your picking position for retrieves from how you placed the bumpers, basically running from the opposite side.  Keep the duration and distances short.  The goal is exercise, building strength and mental recall.
  • Obedience – Revisit heel work, reverse heel, squares, steady to flush and whistle work all in warm-up activities.
  • Steadiness – The old Wildrose pigeon on a string routine. Hide a few short memories then begin a walk up with your senior at heel. Occasionally, toss the tethered bird forward for a flush.  Redirect the dog from the flush and pick one of the memories.  Keep distance short and surfaces conducive (grasses, woodlands, water).
  • Agility – The mental and physical challenges of feet placement, balance and problem solving can be accomplished through agility exercises. Boardwalks involve walking on 1-in x 6-in planks in various patterns off the ground 12 inches.  (a) Step over (b) walk forward (c) back up while remaining on the boards.  Slight inclines may be incorporated but avoid steep steps, high ramps, and elevated platforms.  Joints should not be stressed.

Another interesting activity is to take ropes of different sizes and lace them at knee height to the dog in web patterns between trees and posts.  Have the dog walk, turn and recall through the formations.

If a tunnel is available, perhaps at a playground or connecting 50-gallon barrels, have the dog locate retrieves inside the tunnel.  Similarly, you can hide objects to be found in hollow trees, low limbs, buried under leaves, or on top of stumps.  It’s hide and seek hunting style.

Retrieving Skills

Most Wildrose techniques can be modified to maintain and teach new skills for the older dog.  Just adjust duration, impact and be mindful of fatigue.  Keep lessons short and interesting.

Simple Baseball

Walking Baseball

Group work honoring other dogs

Swimming in moving water for drifting bumpers

Swims across open water for memories

Off-the-ground finds in woodlands

Hunting cover with occasional whistle stops

Tracking bird drags or scented tennis ball rolls

sailor with bird

Your training efforts should focus on engaging the dog’s mind as well as maintaining physical condition. Old dogs can be taught new tricks.


On the Job

All dogs, despite their age need a job.  The senior values the security of self-worth, belonging, purpose and mental stimuli. Although their physical condition may be limited, their need for enjoyment, fulfilment with people, activities and even hunting remain.

Beneficial activities for old dogs:

Short put and take quail hunt

Hunting for hidden sheds

Picking up a few retrieves at a tower shoot

A float trip by canoe

Becoming a fishing partner

Activities that the dog has always enjoyed just with limitations and reasonable expectations.


Therapy Services

Dogs are very intuitive. They quickly realize they are fulfilling a purpose once they have been training as a therapy canine resource. Visitations and demonstrations offer opportunities for road trips, meeting people, entertainment and the affection they will encounter.

School resource services

Retirement home visitation

Hospitalized patient therapy

Many of our retired gundogs excel in these activities.  The dog’s emotional wellbeing and mental conditioning remain keen when they recognize their value through visitations and outside human contact. Actually it becomes reverse therapy, enhancing the wellbeing of the dog as well as those the dog encounters.



The senior dog benefits from a diet specifically developed to address some of the issues of aging.  The food of choice for Wildrose dogs over nine years is Purina Pro Plan Bright Minds. As a dogs mature, they tend to lose muscle while gaining body fat.  A balanced diet scientifically developed for the older sporting dog combined with exercise proves beneficial in offsetting some of the conditions of aging:

Excessive weight gain

Digestion issues

Cognitive degeneration

Eyesight deterioration

Coat conditioning

Muscle retention

It’s important to reduce the amount of fat provided to older dogs while retaining appropriate levels of protein intake as well as provide omega 3 fatty acids, important for healthy joints and coats.  Bright Minds is designed to help in the promotion of memory, attentiveness, and trainability.   It retains 29% protein while decreasing fat content to 14%.  The omega 3 fatty acids and fish oils remain as does enhanced botanical oils useful as an additional energy source for the brain.  Bright Minds has been extensively used at Wildrose with our senior labs with excellent notable results.

Brightminds & Deke

Deke endorses Purina ProPlan Bright Minds!  For in-depth information on conditioning for senior sporting dogs, I highly encourage you to read Dr. Brian Zanghi’s article in this issue of the Wildrose Journal. Brian is owner of Wildrose Aspen and is the Senior Research Nutritionist with Purina Pet Care.  A must read.



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Pecan Triple Scatter

By Guy Billups, Wildrose Texas

guy lining

As we are getting into longer days and longer training sessions, I want to share a new way to run a commonly run drill around Wildrose. The Pecan Triple Scatter piggy backs off the Pecan Triple with the addition of scatters at each pick up. These essentially become permanent blinds by the end of the drill allowing you to get a young dog running back to a familiar area, work on aim toward unseen bumpers, and keep interest and focus.


The Pecan Drill (without scatters)

First you will need three points to use as references to run to. Point A will be set up as a trailing memory with 3 bumpers scattered about the point. Pick one bumper from Point A.

Next walk to Point B and set out 3 more bumpers. Walk back and pick B, then immediately line for A again to pick second bumper from A.

Now walk to point C and set out 3 more bumpers. Walk back and pick C, then B, then C.

Now you should have 1 bumper left at each point.  From here line in whatever order you want, with a focus of aiming your dog and getting a good set up to send from.

Your dog should be running to the area of the fall without handling. If handling is required, back up to trailing memories and Mercedes patterns.

Good luck and hope to see you in the field soon.


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Our Canines During the Covid 19 Pandemic, Spring 2020

By Dr. Ben McClelland

The Internet carries a myriad of stories about dogs and the pandemic: Researchers are seeking to learn if dogs can detect Covid-19 in humans. “Advice” articles suggest what some sick owners should do if they need to give up or rehome pets. Walking dogs is a concern in some communities with strict stay-at-home policies. And, of course, a number of veterinarians and dog trainers discuss the relative wisdom of whether someone should get a new pet during the pandemic. Issues such as “socialization” and “stress transfer” are common topics. As one article reported,  “Companion animals can also absorb stress and negative energy from their owners. People who are overwhelmed with the overall trauma from the pandemic, from job loss to worries over getting sick, can pass on that energy to their pets,” making them more susceptible to illness (Grega, “Pets and Pandemic”).


This article recounts how some of us—and our dogs—have been affected by the social restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic. Following are contributions, in their own words, by Tom Smith, me, Bess Bruton, and Sammye Pisani.


Wildrose Oxford, Tom Smith

Some Wildrose pack members have experienced changes in routine with their dogs, as well. At Wildrose Oxford, Tom Smith discusses changes in business operations:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all on different levels. Here at Wildrose Oxford we suspended all tours and non-essential visits and changed how puppy picking is conducted.


“Wildrose Oxford’s normal puppy picking included a tour, demonstrations and about 2.5 hours of classroom instruction. During these trying times to prevent the spread of Covid-19 the kennel staff implemented several changes: 1) Masks are required to be worn by clients and staff during the puppy picking process; 2) Each client is assigned a time to pick their puppy based on deposit order; 3) The checkout and paperwork process was moved outdoors and included the availability of plenty of hand sanitizer; 4) We enlisted a puppy delivery person for people who were concerned about traveling to get their puppy.

“While the puppy picking days were non-standard the staff tried to make sure each client felt welcome and received all the valuable information they needed to get their pup started the Wildrose Way while also implementing policies to keep the spread of Covid-19 at bay.


Tom Smith letting the Pack know that training is “as is” on the Wildrose Kennels Facebook page.

“Luckily the daily routines for trainers and dogs didn’t change with the quarantine restrictions. All staff continued with the training, puppy rearing and facilities work. Most staff members live very close to the kennel and practiced self-quarantine at the kennel, staying very focused on developing the next generation of Gentleman’s Gundogs.”


Ben McClelland and the Mac Pack

My own routine with the Mack Pac (WR Eider, WR Mac, WR Scout, WR Eve, WR Knight) was disrupted for several weeks. Typically, several days a week I train the dogs on the premises of Wildrose Oxford, including participating in Group Work Wednesdays, when several trainers and client dogs carry out training scenarios together, such as an upland walkup exercise or water retrieves while shooting clays from a levee. This spring, preparing for the Handlers Workshops, I was working Eve and Knight quite regularly. Then, participating in the four days of Handlers Workshops offered us varied training activities with numerous other pack members and their dogs.

ben 2

Part of the “Mac Pack”

And then the pandemic stopped it all.

Not only did the pandemic make the kennel premises off limits, but it also sent my family into isolation for nearly three weeks. My wife, Susan, and our twenty-five-year-old daughter, Kellie, toured New York City during Spring Break. Concern about the spread of Covid-19 ratcheted up during their visit. Theaters on Broadway went dark on their last night in the city. Upon returning from the trip on Friday, the 13thof March, Kellie felt ill and returned to her Olive Branch apartment. Susan returned home with me. When Kellie’s Covid-19 test returned a positive result, Susan went to Kellie’s apartment and cared for her while they stayed in isolation for 17 days. Susan stayed away from Kellie as much as possible, while still feeding her, giving her meds, washing dishes, doing laundry, and generally caring for her. Kellie had four very difficult days when a secondary infection set in her lungs. She felt as if a heavy weight was on her chest. Breathing was difficult. She used an oximeter to test the level of oxygenated hemoglobin in her blood. With additional medication she rallied.

ben and fam

Susan, Ben and Kellie

On Wednesday, the week after the handlers Workshops, the dogs and I traveled to Wildrose Oxford, intending to participate in Group Work. When I arrived, I parked near the EarthRoamer building and before beginning training, I made a “Happy Birthday” video for my son’s upcoming big day. As a joke, I gave my greetings through a bandana mask. The joke, however, was on me as I soon learned that quarantine policies went into effect for the trainers.  So the Mac Pack dogs trained separately on a back section of the grounds. Afterwards we loaded up and drove away from the kennel, not to return for several weeks.

About three weeks ago Kellie and Susan both tested negative and came to our Oxford home. Susan‘s mother, Shirley, is also here staying with us. We have all been here in relative seclusion for the last couple of weeks. Last week at Susan’s regular doctor’s check up she told the doctor this story. Finding it difficult believe that Susan had never felt any symptoms, the doctor had Susan tested for antibodies. The result of her test—somewhat surprisingly—came back negative.

During this period of isolation I was on the periphery of the Kellie and Susan’s stressful experience, traveling to Olive Branch only a couple of times to deliver groceries.  Nevertheless, stuck at home I had to invent a new training regimen with the dogs—limited by available time and places to work. I attempted to be versatile in using the few acres of our home place in designing varied training activities. The dogs never showed boredom. Indeed, their energy levels were high, so I had to take more time at the beginning of each period to work them down a bit. I also resorted to taking more powerwalks, two dogs at a time, at local trails and parks. Still, I fretted over the limits that bound us in.

During this time I also did an inordinate amount of landscape gardening, more than ever before, despite my old-man aches and pains. This, at least, gave plenty of opportunities to get the dogs out of the kennel to practice steadiness on place wherever I was digging and planting. I would improvise, having them “on place” in the bed of the Ranger, on the porch, in the middle of the lawn, in the landscape bed, and in pine stand.


ben 1

The “Mac Pack” and the landscaping at Ben’s home.

Finally, this past Wednesday I was invited to resume Group Work at Wildrose. How wonderful to return to training with the group! The dogs were exuberant to get into the action. As we handlers exchanged socially distant greetings, training activities seemed to return to normal.

At home, as well, we are resuming life with more vigor, even as we continue being careful to observe social guidelines.  We have put in two raised-bed gardens, looking forward to growing fresh veggies. Also, a little chicken coop just arrived from Pennsylvania Amish country. Soon we will get day-old chicks and become backyard chicken gardeners. Since neither Susan nor I have had feathered friends since childhood, this will indeed be an interesting experience.

And I am just beginning to ponder the role the dogs will play in this scene. No doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for steadiness in the face of live birds. Let’s hope there’s no fowl play!


Bess Bruton and Wildrose Irie

In Texas Bess Bruton and Wildrose Irie had to adapt to the new normal, as she explains:

“The powers at be are starting to let non-essential stores open, here in College Station, TX, though some are staying closed…because they don’t feel it is safe yet.

“Life with Wildrose Irie on lock down….first…she has gained at least 3 pounds, even though we are fortunate to live outside of town on 5 acres…mostly heavily wooded with thick yaupon.

But we go out 3 or 4 times a day for retrieves. I try to mix up the work, to stave off boredom.

“We love to hike…but the hiking trails around have been closed.

We have managed to slip away a couple weekends for fishing. Thanks to the adventure dog program…she is awesome in the boat.

“Normally we would be traveling a lot. She is the very best traveler. Though being homebound has had its advantages….a pair of roadrunners are making a nest in a post oak tree in our yard. Along with the whippoorwills, morning doves, and cardinals…watching them has been fun. And good work on steadiness.

“I think we have been more fortunate than others…the times we have seen other people, Irie has been a wonderful therapy dog…getting lots of petting…and being appreciated for her wonderful, kind, loving way. We hope everyone is healthy, safe, and finding something positive with the change. The pause may be good…to reset life, values, goals.”


Sammye Pisani, Wildrose Valentina and Wildrose Rambler,

“Wildrose Valentina and Wildrose Rambler, Mike, and I began our quarantine at our camp house in Springfield, Louisiana, on March 14, 2020, immediately upon returning from the Wildrose Handler’s Workshop. Our primary residence is in New Orleans, and we opted to stay out of the hotbed of COVID-19.

“If we had chosen to stay in the city, I don’t think life for our Wildrose girls, Valentina (Deke x Molly-yellow) and Rambler (Taz x Ivy), would have been much different. Daily walks, obedience lessons throughout the day, age-appropriate lessons in the park a few times a week (Valentina is seven years old, and Rambler will be one year old on May 29), and, for anyone who knows me, LOADS of loving.

sammye 8

Rambler and Valentina

“Instead, the girls’ lives did change, as did our lives. Mike and I dove right into projects that were long overdue at the camp house, most of them outdoors. After a morning walk and lesson, Valentina and Rambler would “load up” onto either their Kuranda beds or MoMarsh stands to oversee our work and observe the nature surrounding us…dragonflies abounding, squirrels munching on goodies, and Egrets and Great Herons flying in and landing on our lawn at the water’s edge. Sometimes they would supervise (channeling Claiborne the Supervisor) a dump truck delivering a load of dirt or sand, and at other times, the crew digging holes, driving piles, and leveling our house. The girls had countless experiences that they otherwise would not have had it not been for COVID-19…they learned to be “steady” during all of them, especially important for young Miss Rambler.

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“Last, let’s not forget the many boat rides we have enjoyed with the girls. Rambler had her very first retrieves off the boat during this time, proving to be oh-so eager and fearless, jumping off the boat as if she was shot out of a cannon from the very first time. Valentina, the seasoned pro, not only showed Rambler the ropes of how to launch and retrieve but also, more importantly, how to ride and chill out while the “ducks” (Dokkens) went “do-do” (Cajun for “go to sleep”).

“The one thing I guarantee that will remain the same no matter where we are, COVID-19 or not, is the infinite love Mike and I feel for Valentina and Rambler, and the overwhelming joy they bring to us. Next adventure…Montana, here we come!

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Kelcie Grega, “Pets and pandemic: How does life in quarantine affect dogs and cats?” Las Vegas Sun


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The Cover Conundrum

Tom Smith, Wildrose Oxford

There is nothing more satisfying than sending your dog after a downed bird into thick cover and watching them methodically search and make the recovery. But, as with all things, there is always an equal and opposite reaction that can occur.

The Conundrum

Training your dog to only find bumpers or game in cover will create a cover hunting monster but will they cast out of the cover when required? Will they run past a mark short of the cover? Will they hold an area outside of cover? Do they consistently pull to cover (suction)? Now is the time to implement a balanced approach to your training. It is imperative for a dog to cast both into and out of cover to guarantee consistent game recovery. Many pattern drills work for both upland and waterfowl such as switching on doubles, pull-push and stop-diversion-back. We run all these drills in short grass, tall grass, water and the woods but never in just one type of cover. Casting drills are especially important to get the dog into, or out of, cover. So, let’s see where we start.


Early Introduction

With a young pup I will do a lot of just walking through the cover to make them bold. I’m not looking for a perfect heel as I want the pup to get a little lost and work through the cover to find me. As the training moves forward with retrieves becoming a little more complex, I will start having the pup find bumpers in the cover also. Nothing fancy, just short trailing memories. Make it a party and be animated when the pup makes the recovery. Let them know that is what you are looking for and reward them. These short retrieves in cover at a young age will pay dividends as pup progresses as it also teaches them to ignore those psychological barriers.



We start teaching casting (backs, lefts, rights) on the fence to entrench the dog taking a straight line with a cast. Once I am sure the pup understands what I am asking and is consistent with the casts I immediately move to cover. The “pods” field has several different pods with heavy cover surrounded by short grass. Start by doing simple backs and left/rights into the cover. It gives them a very visual, defined target when they turn to take the cast. The other upside is it teaches them to hold an area on the hunt. Win-win right? Not so fast.

deke in grass


Remember the adage for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? Now is the time to make sure you balance the equation. After Rover is casting consistently into cover now invert it and teach him to cast out of cover. Set it up with a trailing memory from outside the cover, sit the pup in the middle of the cover and make your cast. As always, reward the pup verbally with a confident “GOOD” when they take the cast you are looking for. Not only do this for ground cover, but into and out of the woods, into and out of the water and any other type of cover, barrier or terrain change you can find. The game does not always end up exactly where it falls so Rover needs to be confident with casting into and out of all the different types of cover. 5X5– pup must be able to do each drill 5 times, correctly, in 5 different locations and cover types. When your dog is consistent and you are confident in him, remember Train Don’t Test, you can increase the complexity with a pickup drill. Drop a memory in the cover and have a friend move it to a location of your choosing such as into the woods or another patch of cover or 10-20 yards outside the cover in short grass. Send Rover into the cover, let him hunt a bit, stop him and cast him to the bumper. Again, a solid verbal “GOOD” lets the pup know he is making the right decision. When I start teaching this drill I usually use cold game for the find to make the reward much better than a bumper. Pup’s performance on this drill will truly show if he has the understanding of what you want and that he has full confidence in you to help him find the downed game.


The Wildrose Way balanced approach to training will develop a well-rounded dog that is as comfortable either in the duck blind or the upland field, hunting open water or thick cover or relaxing on his bed in the lodge. To achieve this goal, you must start with the end in mind and make your training plan a road map to success to create your Dog of Duality.


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Barbara’s Brownies

By Sally Quong, Little Q Ranch



“This is a recipe given to me by my Aunt Barbara.  It’s simple and I always have the ingredients on hand.  These brownies have been a perfect compliment to our pheasant shoots.  There is always an empty platter when the last shooter heads home.”



2 – 1oz squares
unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour

1cup sugar
confectioner’s sugar

Preheat over to 325 degrees
Melt Chocolate in microwave
Throughly cream butter and sugar

Add eggs and beat well
Blend in melted chocolate, vanilla, and flour

Pour into greased 8 x 8 pan


Bake for 35 minutes


Pour confectioners sugar into tea strainer and sift over hot brownies

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Transitional Training

By Steven Lucius, Wildrose Carolinas

steven_previewMany people have experienced being invited on a hunt during their dog’s first season. Sometimes we have never been to this location or seen how the blind is set up. And if we have, we still have questions about how our young dog’s field training will transfer in a live fire situation. The attitude you have about your dog’s performance largely depends on how well you and your dog prepared for the task at hand.

This is exactly why we do Transitional Training; Training exercises designed to bridge the gap between field training activities and actual hunting conditions. (Pg. 225 Sporting Dog and Retriever Training). The key to this step and type of training is to practice like you play. The objective – your dog should never experience something for the first time in a true hunting situation. A common saying amongst the trainers of Wildrose is “You’re not hunting during the first season, You are training!” There will be times during your young hunting partner’s first or even second season that strengths and weaknesses are identified. Strengths need to be enhanced and weaknesses addressed. Transitional training will help you and your dog connect the dots.

There are a few things that are necessities for transitional training:

– Cold water

– Gunfire

– Staying in place, quietly in a dog hide for long durations

– Live bird experiences: flight pigeons, tower shoots, pheasant shoots

– Cold Game:  pheasant, duck, quail, dove

– Working in and through crops:  corn, millet, etc.

– Terrain changes

– Decoys, duck calls, spinners

-Layout blinds

It is impossible to go into detail regarding the types of transitional training for each person. While there are a lot of similarities, everyone’s hunting scenario varies. It is most important to consider how YOU hunt, make a plan and try to simulate the training so that it prepares your dog (and you) to have success.

Practice like you play….

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Lessons from a Wildrose Handler

By Alan Newton, owner of Wildrose Shadow alan newton

Following the end of a long and happy fourteen-year relationship with an outstanding Chesapeake Bay Retriever, I made the decision to search for reputable Labrador Retriever breeders (no offense to the Chessie, as indeed they are awesome canines).  Google immediately directed me to Wildrose Kennels.  I thoroughly read each page of the Wildrose website acquiring the knowledge needed to make an informed decision, and my search clearly pinpointed Wildrose as the breeder of choice.

That same search led me to Deke, the DU mascot dog, whom we all know.  As Area Chairman of the Davidson County NC Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, a Deke puppy quickly ascended to be my first choice.  A phone call to Cathy Stewart, followed by a discussion of the qualities I desired in a gun dog, landed me on a waiting list for a Deke x Heather black female.  In July 2014, I picked up Shadow in Oxford bringing her to my NC home for backgrounding.

Mike Stewart’s book, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way, coupled with my commitment to attendance at workshops and a deep desire to own a great gun dog, helped me to successfully complete Shadow’s backgrounding (with a hearty dose of luck tossed in).  Shadow returned to Wildrose in January 2015 for gun dog training under the leadership of Steven Lucius.  Since completing gun dog training, Shadow has made return trips to Oxford for advanced workshops, become a regular visitor to Wildrose Carolinas to train on new ground, and we’ve hunted together extensively throughout the Southeast. Today, Shadow is a Wildrose British Lab with great scenting ability, capable of finding any downed bird with little handler direction, and a true Gentleman’s Gun Dog in possession of both fine points and flaws, as indeed no perfect dog exists.  If we are so fortunate, we all own a Shadow!

During the past year, I backgrounded a group of puppies, volunteered during the summer at Wildrose Carolinas, and presently have the opportunity to train my first Wildrose gun dog during 2020, an Archer x Kate black female.  The journey from Wildrose dog owner, to dog handler, to presently trying my hand at gun dog trainer, has been thrilling considering just a short time ago I simply desired another black lab.

I’ve learned some lessons along the way I kindly want to share with you, my fellow Wildrose handlers.  In many cases, these lessons simply reinforce the material in Mike’s book, and in other instances a few lessons represent my own experience.

  1. Be able to clearly articulate the traits you desire in your Wildrose dog while having a specific end in mind.  Are you a hardcore hunter in search of a high-drive dog for the field, or seeking a much calmer dog for companionship, travel, and spending time on the town?  Share openly and honestly with the Wildrose staff the personality of the dog you choose to own, and what the dog will primarily be doing throughout its lifetime.  As you begin to train your dog, or have it professionally trained, be sure to retain a mental picture of the dog you desire to own two to three years down the road.  Frequently refresh your trainer’s memory in regards to the finished product when making visits to check on the progress of your dog (Stewart, 2012, pg. 18).
  2. Attend as many workshops as possible, listen intently to the shared knowledge and experience of both trainers and other handlers, watch your dog, and focus on becoming an excellent handler.  There is a great deal of knowledge and learning to be had at the various workshops.  Often workshop attendees are on their phones, socializing, engaging in distractions, and not paying attention to their dogs or other handlers as they work their dogs.  All this equates to missed opportunities to improve as a handler.  Engaging in behaviors at workshops other than improving as a handler is unfair to your dog – and remember your dog is always watching you!
  3. Socialize your puppy as often as possible in the right places.  Walks through the forest, fields, high grass, riversides, park trails, and town squares are appropriate places to socialize your dog.  Stay away from dog parks and places filled with folks wanting to pet your dog as this leads to instilling unwanted behaviors.  Determine where you regularly desire to travel with your dog for outings and begin to acclimate them early to these venues.
  4. Without fail, promote and insist on steadiness at EVERY opportunity! Steadiness is the key to being re-invited to that great duck blind, your friend’s house for dinner,or being allowed to bring your Wildrose companion to work.  No one enjoys or appreciates the bull in the china shop.  Tie outs, place training, remote sits, denials, sitting prior to climbing stairs or entering through doorways or being fed all reinforce steadiness.  If your dog moves when told to sit or stay, creeps or cheats, stop what you are doing and return the dog to its original place.  Doing so pays huge dividends down the road.  In the spring and fall, I make Shadow sit in her Gunner or on the truck tailgate and watch me mow the entire yard.
  5. NEVER lose your temper with your dog!  Your Wildrose dog is the result of well-planned breeding, but will still test you, and on more than one occasion I might add.  Remember to exhibit neutral responses and apply negative reinforcement only if the dog places itself in danger.  Should your dog infuriate you, have the dog remotely sit, and then walk away as you collect your emotions.  Never continue to train the dog when you are out of control.  The handler who loses his or her temper on full display for the dog is destroying previously established trust and severely damaging the dog’s confidence in their handler.  Be a great leader, one who is calm, confident, controlled, and consistent (Stewart, 2012, pg. 44).
  6. Be willing to take two steps back.  Should your dog begin to exhibit sloppy behavior say perhaps refusing whistle commands, stop and regroup.  Determine where the dog is failing (the problem) and return to more elementary training methods such as whistle stops or hunt commands in tall grass to reinforce the skills needed to successfully perform the more complex skill.
  7. Learn to become a dog whisperer. Avoid giving repetitive verbal commands or becoming whistle happy.  Give a command once, whether verbal or with a whistle, and set the expectation for compliance.  Great handlers are quiet handlers.  As your dog ages and matures, it is possible at times to work your dog with hand signals alone.
  8. Read your dog. Learn to be fully observant and keenly aware of your dog during training.  When you position your dog for a retrieve, you should know and be able to express what the dog is going to do prior to the release. While handling the dog toward a lost bird, make sure you have predetermined the correct hand signal and verbal command to be given prior to stopping the dog.  Failure to do so lessens your dog’s confidence in you the handler.  Focus on learning to read your dog and effective handling to build your dog’s trust and confidence in your handling ability.  And once more remember, if you are not observing your dog, he or she is still observing you!
  9. Have a training plan for the day.  Prior to taking the dog out of his or her kennel, have a plan for the dog you wish to accomplish in that day’s training session.  Always include obedience in every training session along with yard or field work.  Well-planned training sessions hold the dog’s attention, build trust and confidence, and accomplish a great deal in a short period of time.  Finish the training session with a win and evaluate the training session as you feed and care for your dog back at the kennel.  Make haste slowly, and do so with a plan (Stewart, 2012, pg. 57).
  10. Never hunt your dog until he or she has completed a basic gun dog training program and has been appropriately and progressively introduced to increasing levels of gunfire.  There is good reason this is the FIRST deadly error!  I suggest a minimum of four to six months of transition work (along with continued obedience and field training) following basic gun dog training prior to hunting a dog, which translates into the dog being about 18 to 20 months old.  At that point, I would determine if the dog is ready for exposure to excessive gunfire, and if not, I would hold off another four to six months until the dog is at or slightly above two years of age.  This may appear excessive to most, particularly the hardcore hunter.  As justification for my suggestion, I experienced the following scenario with Shadow in Hyde County, NC.  At 18 months of age, we duck hunted a small impoundment with four blinds, four hunters per blind, most carrying 12-gauge semi-automatics, with each hunter unleashing three rounds at every flight of ducks.  That equates to 48 rounds being fired in just a matter of a few seconds with your Wildrose gun dog in the center of the mix. Experience dictates that indeed is a recipe for disaster.  Remember, the prize is what lies down the road.  Don’t trade that end you have in mind for the first day’s hunt in the field, as the price is too high (Stewart, 2012, pg. 50)!

Shadow and I survived that experience to go on and successfully duck hunt together throughout the South, upland hunt at preserves, complete the first level of Adventure Dog Training in Arkansas, and embark on numerous individual and group adventures that involve kayaks, tents, hiking, fly rods, mountain bikes, and campfires.  All that would not have been possible without the genuine efforts of many folks to breed and train a true Wildrose Gentleman’s Gun Dog.  My sincere hope is that my experience may be in harmony with yours, and possibly offer you an idea or two that will serve to improve your training and handling ability as we live the sporting lifestyle.

Reference:Stewart, M. with Fersen, P.  (2012). Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way, Raising a Gentleman’s Gundog for Home and Field.  New York: Universe Publishing. 

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