Game Recovery

by Mike Stewart


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Memories reinforce patience, focus and steadiness in every lesson.

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

5 Lessons for Development

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


Building a Hunting Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wildrose Kennels Bird Program

by Ben McClelland

The Wildrose Kennels Bird Program

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

Drake's first banded duck

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


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


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


bird on a stick


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


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


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



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


Flight Pen


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


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


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


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

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

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

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Wildrose Kayla

by Dan McMackin

kaylawoodduckmouth 026

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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By Mike Stewart

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

Pre-Season Tune up 101:  The 6 Essentials

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

No pre-season physical conditioning

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

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

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

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



Pre-Season Medical Checkup

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

Refining Skills Sets

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

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

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


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An Interview with Katie Behnke, Photographer par excellence

By Ben McClelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghillie (Behnke) (1)

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

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

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

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

WR: Tell us about how you began with photography.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WR: Tell us about Purina designating you as photographer.

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

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Wildrose Scout

by Josh Peterson


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

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

image2 (1)

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


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



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

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“The Wildrose Way” Can Help Homeless Dogs, Too

by Doug Jimerson

Recently I started volunteering at our local animal shelter in Franklin County Florida. I wasn’t sure how I could help, but after seeing how out of control many of the dogs were I thought I’d try using The Wildrose Way” to give some of the craziest canines some manners. I’d read Mike Stewart’s book many times and currently live with a Wildrose pup named Pilot (Luke x Mara). I don’t consider myself a dog trainer, but I’ve had many dogs in my life (mostly working with Border Collies on our sheep farm), but Pilot trained really easily using Mike’s methods so I figured it might work with other dogs, too.

The shelter manager, Karen, was more than willing to let me try the Wildrose Techniques on any dogs I chose. So, I started with an Aussie/Lab cross named Schroeder, but could not help but notice his kennel mate, Oggie Doggie. This poor animal had been dumped in the “drop pen” on Christmas night with a severe case of mange and every parasite you can think of. Most shelters might not have the time or inclination to help him, but this tiny, non-profit shelter took Oggie on as their personal project. Week after week they photographed this sweet animal as his skin and attitude gradually improved. And by the time I saw him, he was a bouncy, happy, partially-bald black lab (at first no one actually could tell what breed of dog he was).

So, I thought I’d use Oggie as a test case with the Wildrose Way and quickly discovered how well this training regimen works on any dog, not just Wildrose pups. In fact, in just a week or two, Oggie was sitting on command and doing long stays as well as any dog I’d seen at Wildrose. Considering how this dog had been treated previously I was thrilled at his progress. Meanwhile, his skin completely healed and he looked amazing (interestingly he looks more like a British lab than the American version).

A few weeks later, a kind gentleman who lived nearby stopped by the shelter. His old yellow lab had just died and he was desperate for a new companion. After sizing up all the dogs in the shelter he stopped at Oggie’s kennel and was impressed at his good manners and good looks. I was lucky enough to see Oggie go off in this man’s truck, to his new home.

In the meantime, I have to report that the Wildrose Way has also worked wonders on the previously mentioned Schroeder (still needs a home), as well as happy pit mixes Oreo and Penny (both need homes), and an amazing Catahoula named Spot (who also needs a home) who clearly had never been on a leash in his life before, but after a couple of sessions he, too, was sitting, staying, and heeling perfectly.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the great people at the

Franklin County Humane Society. They understand that there’s potential in every dog, no matter what the breed and have saved countless animals on a very thin budget. This is a tiny shelter in a region where dogs are routinely dumped in the woods to die so please consider sending them a donation.

Also, note that Oggie is doing great in his new home, but now requires expensive surgery to repair his enthropian eyelids, which causes the eyelids to turn inward and scratch the eyeball. A fundraiser is being held to help his owner pay for the surgery so please contribute to his medical bills. Donations can be made through the Franklin County Humane Society. Any extra funds beyond what’s needed for Oggie will go to the shelter.

Below are the before and after photos:

mange dog 2 002


How people can help the shelter:

Stewart and Wildrose Kennels in Garden and Gun magazine. I’ve had dogs all my life and had previously worked extensively with Border Collies to help maintain our sheep flock.

But Mike’s training methods and his line of British Labradors sounded too good to be true so I put my name in for a Wildrose pup and a year later found myself the proud owner of a red Wildrose pup named Pilot (Luke x Mara). Meanwhile, I’d read Mike’s book, blah blah

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Attention Gundogs and Companion Dogs

by Danielle Drewrey

What does your gundog do during the “off season”? Well the truth is, there doesn’t have to be an “off season.” Too often gundogs and companion dogs are just that, either gundogs or companion canines. Wildrose would like to point out that your gundog or companion dogs can also become an Adventure Dog, a dog “prepared to go anywhere!” This is what we refer to as dogs of duality, a canine cross-trained for a variety of outside skills, activities and situations.


Benefits of an Adventure Dog and the Wildrose Adventure Dog certification program:

– Earning titles of recognition for achievement

Improving navigational skills and agility

Preparing for any situation: confidence, agility, problem solving

– Building a healthy and trusting relationship between person and dog

– Enjoying a wider variety of outdoor activities with your canine

– Keeping your dog in tip-top physical and mental condition

Meet the trainer…image2

My name is Danielle Drewrey and I am the Wildrose Obedience trainer and Adventure Dog coordinator. I thought I would introduce myself to let you in on how I got involved in this exciting program. My journey began with Wildrose in early 2012. With my background in animal care giving, I joined the medical team at Wildrose. I enjoyed my job immensely with the medical team, but knew there was something more I wanted to do. I expressed to Mike my desire to become a trainer and I began working sparingly with him and the other trainers while continuing my work in the medical building. Soon thereafter, I was transferred from the medical team to the training staff and started work as an apprentice with a focus on the obedience and entry level skills. After inquiring about the Adventure Dog program, I quickly realized that this program was tailored to me and my pup’s lifestyle perfectly. It didn’t take long for me to realize either, that this was the perfect chance to make a career out of doing something I am so passionate about and help people build an additional bond with their companion along with living a healthy lifestyle. Mike realized my passion as well, and soon turned the program over to me to give it a complete “revamp” and with support of an amazing Wildrose family like you, I am ready to take this program to the next level and Adventure On!

image3The Adventure Dog (AD) program

The AD program was developed by Mike Stewart in 2007 for the active outdoor enthusiast. Mike observed a large amount of dogs that he met on hiking trails, fishing, boating and during other outside activities without the proper skills and behaviors necessary for a compatible sporting canine companion. It also became quite evident that many of the handlers of these dogs lacked appropriate skills and knowledge to control, develop or engage their dogs. The Adventure Dog Certification program is designed to be a self-guided checklist that is completed between the handler and canine as a team. In addition to the current adventure training program offered at Wildrose, a workshop format to become certified in different skills was added this year for the convenience of participants. In a workshop setting, the AD teams learn how to properly complete skills in realistic field conditions and achieve certification for each merit completed.



Wildrose Kennels offers a 3-4 month AD training program for Wildrose dogs at our training facilities. Mirroring the gundog program, each enrollee will be placed with the AD trainer and will be taught all of the basic skills to become a properly-mannered and successful companion for outside activity. The dog will learn basic obedience, trail behaviors, and retrieving skills in addition to any other specific adventure skill sets requested by the owner. There are 14 different skills to choose from. Upon completion of basic AD training program, your dog will have the fundamental behaviors and skills to complete most AD task and earn merits toward the 3 major certifications (ratings) listed below in the “How to Become a Certified Adventure Dog” section. At this point we return your basic trained companion back to you so you can start your adventures together and complete the required skills to become a certified AD team.

How to become a Certified Adventure Dog:

1. Have an eligible dog                                                                                                                  

– Before attempting any physically demanding activities, your dog should be close to full grown and healthy

-Any breed of dog is able to participate in the Adventure Dog program

2. Master basic obedience

-Follow along with Mike Stewarts Sporting Dog and Retriever Training: The Wildrose Way Book

-Watch the Wildrose Way Retriever Training DVD

-Have the trainers at Wildrose Kennels build the foundational skills for obedience and adventure

3. Purchase the Adventure Dog packet at 

-Packet includes: program instruction and a list of merits and sub skills corresponding with each merit

-Certification Patches (Required # of Merits Completed)

Trail Rated (5 merits completed)

Adventure Dog Certified (9 merits completed)

Master Trekker (12-14 merits completed)

4. Complete sub-skills to earn merits

Merits include: 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.

-Send in videos of each sub-skill being completed. We will document your progress as requirements for each merit are completed

-Attend a workshop

The Rules

* In order to receive Trail Rated, Adventure Dog Certified or Master Trekker ratings, skills have to be performed by handler and dog as a team. The dog is registered with the program, not the handler(s)

* Your dog must be grown to maturity to complete certain skill sets. Know your dog’s limits.

* A Wildrose trainer must sign off on skill sets attempted.

* Follow all of our adventures on Facebook, Twitter (Wildrose Kennels), and Instagram (@wildrosekennels)

*Live your passion!

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Wildrose Adventure Dogs

by Mike Stewart

Since the inception of the Wildrose Adventure Dog program in 2007, it has become extremely popular with families in pursuit of an outdoor lifestyle and hunters who wish to keep their gundogs active and engaged off-season. The concept is simple. No bad dogs on trail. Ill-mannered, uncontrollable, obnoxious dogs are never welcome at any outside sporting activity whether on the hunt, traveling or on a family trek.


The program consists of 14 individual adventure skills that are based upon popular outside activities. Participants are enthusiasts, often entire families, who wish to develop a superb canine companion that is “prepared to go anywhere.”

We have found huge benefit in cross-training our gundogs as adventurers. The skills obtained transfer easily to the marsh and field. The challenges and mental stimulus required produces a quick thinker and confident problem solver. There is an improved trust between dog and handler as well as enhanced communication. There are huge advantages to cross training gundogs or service canines as adventure dogs and the certification program we offer provides guidance and recognizes achievement. Please see the companion articles featured in this issue of the Journal.

The 7 Habits of the Highly Successful Adventure Dog

First, let’s remember the Wildrose Way of Training, which is habit formation. Entrenching behaviors that will endure a lifetime. Secondly, these core habits are really universal between breeds and activities whether hunting, service companions or family dogs.

1. Patience: – A behavior that is welcomed in any discipline. No overexcitement. A calm nature, yet athletic. Thoroughly place trained to stay despite any distractions: in the home, the unattended open vehicle, a watercraft, or in camp. A dog that will tie out quietly despite activity. One that will remain at stay for an extended period even when everyone is out of sight. Patience to wait to be released, to relieve themselves, to eat, to retrieve or come when called.

Wildrose Tip: Remember to always reward a dog’s patience with equal enthusiasm as you would for an activity such as a retrieve. Reinforce a desirable behavior if you wish it to be repeated.

2. Focus – Attentive, ignores distraction, focuses attention on his handler. A relationship of trust and respect. Directs attention to handler when confronted with a new, unknown or fearful situation. Gives immediate eye contact when addressed.

Wildrose Tip: Remember to obtain a dog’s eye contact before giving any command or release. Own the eyes.

3. Compatibility – Kind, yet knowing temperament. No aggression. A confidence and boldness to confronting challenging situations. Trusting of leadership. Knows their place in the family pack. Place and crate trained. Travels in vehicles and aircraft comfortably. Never the nuisance or bother in the home, boat, campsite, etc.

Wildrose Tip: Dogs must learn their place in the family pack order. Dogs embrace pack stability, routine and balance. Often, human lives are chaotic, not the perfect situation to develop a balanced canine companion. Dogs follow stable leaders.

Steadiness – This is a coveted skill for any gundog… equally so of the outside adventure dog. Controlled in all situations… on trail or in water, steady to casting while fishing. Calm in the boat despite distractions. Does not chase wildlife. Unaffected by gunfire. Remains quiet at night in camp. Stays with the handler when approached by other people or dogs.

Wildrose Tip: Condition dogs to ignore distractions…people, places, things while remaining focused on the handler. Develop these skills with the dog at heel and in close proximity to the handler. Practice denials with bumpers. Introduce fishing using lures and flies that are without hooks. Introduce gunfire progressively. Desensitize the dog to wildlife, vehicles, other dogs, children, etc. with repeated exposure while at heel.

Agility – Athletic ability to climb, run, even crawl with the endurance to last the day. Ability and confidence to negotiate barriers, ramps, steep embankments, and to maintain superb balance. Confidence in their own abilities to overcome physical challenge.

Wildrose Tip: Agility courses for children at your local park may offer excellent challenges for both the adventurer and hunter. The dog learns confidence to meet physical challenges, solve problems, overcome discomfort and then recover quickly mentally and physically to continue.

Biddability Willingness to follow, ease of training, intelligence. A dog that possess a high level of retention. Enjoys relations with the leader and family pack. A teamwork relationship between the dog and handler. A dog that bonds and trusts rather than one that is excessively independent in nature and prefers to be self-employed.

Wildrose Tip: Relationship building is first trust then respect. Our relationship with our adventurer or gundog must be teamwork.

Scent Discrimination – A dog’s keen sense of smell must be developed to locate objects. Adventure Dogs may recover: gloves, cell phones, birds, antlers, trailing lost game, lost person, bodies or even the ability to alert a diabetic of rapid blood sugar change. Each skill relies on the use of nose.


Wildrose Tip: Develop the retrieve drive in dogs that love the game to locate a specific item we wish to recover from ropes to wallets. No different than the methods we use for dogs to learn to locate game birds for hunters. The key is to have a breed of dog with a keen sense of smell then find a reward, a motivator to use when the object you want to recover is located. Game on.

Thoughts on cross-training

Specific adventure dog skills that are transferrable to the hunt:

Watercraft – Kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, all great acclimation for the waterdog

Equestrian – If you ever plan to hunt quail from horseback, embrace this skill well before the hunt.

Motor Vehicles – Destination dogs must travel well even in rough off-road conditions. Remote stay for extended periods in an open vehicle will prove beneficial to the hunting dog.

Fishing – The temptation of a fly or lure on water is strong. Even more so when a fish is being caught. Practice steadiness on the bank, heeling in shallow waters and even stream crossings. All skills that will pay dividends in the duck blind


So, you see the power of cross training, off-season skill refinement, mental stimulus as well as physical conditioning. Join the growing list of sporting dogs achieving recognition as:

Trail Rated (TR)

Adventure Dog Certified (ADC)

Master Trekker (MT)

Or at the very least, get outdoors off-season with your dog and experience nature.

Get out there… way out there.

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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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