Widgeon’s Retirement Career and Retirement Pack

by Scott Wilson

More than a decade ago in Ireland a litter was born to Intl FTCH Rozel Rocket of Tasco and FTW Meadowbrook Lass.  One of the pups in this litter was Intl FTW Turning Teal, a remarkable yellow Labrador the Wildrose family has come to know by his call name “Widgeon”.  He was imported to the United States in 2008 where his work in Oxford MS began.  Widgeon hunted, trained, trekked, and traveled with the Wildrose crew throughout his career as a sire.  Much like Widgeon, his pups have proven to be widgeon3exceptional hunters, trekkers, companions and service dogs.  Widgeon is a classic “Gentleman’s Gundog TM”.  We are happy to report that Widgeon is quite healthy and he has officially started his retirement career.

A little more than a year ago the stress of being a “retired” stud living amongst so many viral young studs at Wildrose Kennels was beginning to show on Widgeon.  My wife Roxy and I were honored to be asked if we could provide an “assisted living” retirement home for Widgeon away from the everyday hustle and bustle of the kennels.  We said yes, of course, and shortly thereafter we traveled with Widgeon 500 miles north from Oxford Mississippi to Champaign Illinois in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record.  We enrolled Widgeon in the Senior Care program at an AAHA accredited veterinary clinic within walking distance of his new home and set up several orthopedic beds for him.  During Widgeon’s first three weeks in Illinois he experienced more than a foot of snow with wind chills of 20 below zero.  For those of you who never had the pleasure of working with Widgeon, he has arguably the most relaxed and gentle temperament of any Labrador and he accepted these changes like nothing was out of the ordinary.


In his “assisted living” retirement life Widgeon gets aired at least four times every day, walks 2 to 6 miles every day, trains 20 to 60 minutes every day, still eats just once a day, drinks at least 8 cups of water each day, travels nearly every Tuesday and Thursday to a remote trekking or training site, spends at least an hour in his home crate almost every day, and curls up to sleep next to 3 year old WR Cora (Luke x Delta)  several times a day.  This February we will add 1 year old WR Suzy (Kane x Amy) to Widgeon’s small retirement pack.  As has been said many times before, the only thing better than having one Wildrose dog in your home is having two or three WR dogs.

Widgeon sleeps more than he did during his youth, he dreams about his memories and future adventures several times every day, and while he thoroughly enjoys meeting new people, he is relatively quick to lie down and relax when humans are just talking.  As has always been the case, Widgeon is ready to go on a moment’s notice.  Every single morning after showering and getting dressed I find Widgeon standing by his nighttime place, eyes fixed toward mine, waiting for his call name to heel downstairs to his daytime place whereupon he quickly goes back to sleep for a few more minutes until Cora heels downstairs and we all venture out for a long morning walk.  Anyone who knows Widgeon knows he never just walks, he prances.  Widgeon still articulates every joint in his body with every step.  His tail is down when prancing slowly but it moves to a neutral position at a moderate or fast walking pace and yes, his ears still bounce in rhythm to his prance.  When training, Widgeon still comes off the line with enthusiasm but he admittedly displays the most energy for scented tennis balls and birds.  He really likes quail and his most recent quail picks were in this particular field in St Joseph IL.  <Video 2> We think he seems just a bit bored with feathered bumpers and Dokkens because he always retrieves them but is sometimes a bit slow to deliver.  I hesitate to humanize his behavior but I think he is simply requesting more selective use of his favorite picks.  Widgeon’s memory is still remarkable.  During his first spring in Champaign, while Roxy was setting up a circle memory for Widgeon in our lake, she inadvertently pitched a Dokken up into a tree.  We searched for 30 minutes but could not locate the Dokken, so we decided not to send Widgeon into an unknown situation where precarious branches were overhanging water.  The following day I put a kayak into the water to search from a different direction but still could not locate the Dokken.  As a last resort Roxy paddled her kayak to the opposite bank in case the Dokken had fallen into the water and floated across the lake but still no luck.  While Roxy was searching on the water I was working with Widgeon on the peninsula. On his third retrieve, a trailing memory located in some shoreline bushes roughly 15 yards from where we had lost the Dokken the day before, Widgeon was lined from 80 yards away and he immediately sliced over toward yesterday’s lost Dokken.  When I saw the branches over the water moving I suddenly realized Widgeon was hunting for yesterday’s Dokken as a delayed memory and in a panic I began running toward him.  I was about half way there when Widgeon came prancing out of the bushes to deliver his 24 hour time delayed memory.  I sent him back for today’s trailing memory like nothing was out of the ordinary.


In early January this year we took Widgeon and Cora to northern Wisconsin and spent some time hunting unseen scented tennis balls in the snow.  Observing Widgeon on the hunt in a snowy forest with heavy ground cover is a sight worth seeing.  He seems to measure every step and jump with a very seasoned elegance using only the energy required and playing to the judges for “style” points.  In the middle of one early morning walk I sat both dogs down momentarily so I could clear some snow off a head high pine branch to get that branch away from the trail.  As soon as Widgeon was released to take care of his business he moved directly to investigate that pine branch now nearly 6 feet off the ground.  We often practice off the ground finds, so I could only assume that he was looking for a bumper. Remarkably, Widgeon stood straight up and balanced on a precise vertical to reach up and paw that branch above his head presumably to make absolutely certain there was no bumper.  He did not get excited or jump, he just reached up with a paw in his usual elegant fashion to touch the branch and satisfy his curiosity.  For a fleeting moment I thought he might stroll on two legs over to the nearest tree for a quick pee standing up.  Not exactly what one expects from a dog his size and age.  Widgeon really seems to love the snow, occasionally even bouncing up and down like a puppy with his eyes fixed on his handler whenever it is obvious we are heading for a training session.  So, Widgeon’s “assisted living” retirement home seems to agree with him but there was still something missing.  A great dog always needs new experiences, new challenges to dream about, and a few new techniques to learn so we looked into the possibility of a therapy dog career.

Everybody loves Widgeon and most institutions would have been pleased to accept Widgeon’s help without any officially recognized training but we decided to find out if there were any therapy dog programs in our local community.  As luck would have it, one local group, Champaign-Urbana Registered Therapy Dogs along with their affiliations Pet Partners® (formerly Delta Society) and Dog Training Center Champaign-Urbana (DTCCU) already had a well established training program for therapy dogs.  Pet Partners® helped to develop the AKC awards program for therapy dogs and so our not so rapid journey began.  The very next day we discovered that no dog could register for the CURegisteredTherapyDogs training class at the DTCCU until said dog had achieved his/her AKC Canine Good Citizen award.  To make matters interesting, CGC exams were being administered that very evening at the indoor DTCCU facility and would not be given again in the local area for another three months.  We printed a copy of the CGC test requirements from the internet, loaded Widgeon and Cora into the car and headed over to the DTCCU facility.  We were a bit concerned that our Wildrose dogs might not be prepared for the CGC exam so we carefully read the requirements out loud to the dogs in the car on our way to a large indoor facility full of excited barking dogs.  One of the three large arenas in the DTCCU was set up for dogs and trainers to practice for their CGC exam but Roxy and I decided that our dogs were more than capable of passing this exam as long as the new distractions did not overwhelm their focus.  We heeled into the practice area, occupied two chairs on the perimeter, and sat our dogs down to watch all the other participants practice so Widgeon and Cora could get relaxed in the noisy and bustling environment.  Widgeon stretched out on the floor and almost immediately went to sleep while we waited for our turn.  Cora followed Widgeon’s lead in a few minutes but she stayed vigilant and never really went to sleep.  Widgeon took to the examination arena first and he was marvelous as expected.  After the evaluator had finished her task she asked if Widgeon would like to meet the six support staff that worked the wheel chairs, noise makers and various other distractions.  We heeled over to the six seated volunteers and introduced ourselves to each one separately.  Widgeon gently placed his head in each volunteer’s lap like he knew he was setting the stage for young Cora who was bound to be more nervous and distracted.  Widgeon let these volunteers and examiner know that Cora and her inexperienced handler, me, were part of his gentle pack and deserved every consideration.  Talk about over humanizing a dog!  Cora did great, of course, and she also passed with flying colors.


We immediately registered Widgeon for the next available Pet Partners® Therapy Dog Class.  The Pet Partners® Class, Online Course, and remote examination are quite thorough but Widgeon is ready for any challenge.  Widgeon earned the highest rating on his first attempt and the examiner even penned several remarks about his gentle demeanor.  Of the roughly two dozen scenarios we had to pass as a therapy team, Widgeon scored less than perfect on just two.  The examiner noted that Widgeon was a little slow to sit down on command.  This was very predictable because everyone knows that Widgeon never really enjoys sitting all the way down. <Photo 10 and Photo 11> His only other average score occurred during a remote stay when the examiner was passionately petting Widgeon and I was asked to execute a recall.  Suffice it to say, Widgeon really likes being petted and he required a convincing “Widgeon heel” command to complete the recall.  The examiner, in addition to the observers and volunteers, were all amazed that Widgeon was so relaxed in the midst of 6 humans discussing the next scenario that he would just lie down and rest to wait till the humans finished talking.  There was one unfortunate, unintended consequence from the scenario wherein the therapy dog was required to gently take food directly from the hand of a friendly stranger.  This scenario was well intentioned to confirm that the handler would not allow the dog to accept food from a stranger without permission and that the therapy dog would never nip a stranger’s hand that happened to be holding food.  For the duration of the evaluation Widgeon discretely checked each friendly stranger’s hands and pockets for treats even though only the examiner actually offered a treat.  This was just a safety test and accepting treats from strangers is not a requirement; however, we may have to devise a different habit to replace this unintended consequence.  As documented above, Widgeon doesn’t forget much; I suspect he will remember that taking treats from human hands is nothing out of the ordinary.  We will certainly keep walking, training, trekking and hunting so Widgeon is reminded that the “hunt ’em up” command does not mean “check everyone’s pockets for treats.”  Widgeon and I are already scheduled to help University of Illinois medical students relax through their final exams and also to represent CURegisteredTherapyDogs at an upcoming Cancer Survivor’s Reunion.  We are very excited about his new retirement career as a Gentleman’s and Gentlewoman’s Therapy Dog.

Photo 12

Widgeon has adjusted very well to the new suburban environment of his “assisted living” retirement home.  He understands all of the subtle necessities of suburban etiquette and safety.  Always walk on the sidewalk unless you are directed “off-trail” to allow neighbors to pass or you are heeled into training or trekking areas.  Always stop at every roadway or traffic intersection to make eye contact and heel safely across the auto path.  Always stay composed taking care of your personal business on lead because some suburban areas have very strict leash laws and because the human has no particular desire to search for your deposits preceding the obligatory bag it up.  Always wait patiently while the human collects your deposits.  If you must make a deposit in a flower garden or in Widgeon’s case on a neighbor’s tree trunk, do so carefully with grace and style.  Always approach a stranger with caution and never approach without an invitation.  Always ignore your neighbor’s dog even though he is barking like the sky is falling.  Always ignore the suburban squirrels and rabbits because they lack a clear understanding of nature’s food chain.  Even Widgeon in all his wisdom has a hard time ignoring the dumb suburban rabbits.

After an exciting youth working fields in Ireland and England before heading to America to help create more remarkable “Gentleman’s Gundog TM“ puppies and to pursue a long and very fruitful career training, trekking, and hunting in Oxford Mississippi and all over the United States, Widgeon has landed in Champaign Illinois.  In addition to his new therapy dog career, Widgeon will continue to train, trek, and hunt all over America with his small retirement pack.  In conclusion I have to say that Widgeon has truly “assisted living” in the Wilson retirement home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cross Training

by Mike Stewart

The sun has set on yet another hunting season but this is no reason to allow your sporting dog to grow idle on the couch, living the lazy life.  Off-season dogs need to be mentally energized, physically challenged and their skills honed and even expanded.  The Wildrose Adventure Dog Program is the perfect solution.


Dogs of outside adventure complement the active lifestyles of so many people whether it’s hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or camping.  Destination canines, prepared to go anywhere, are trained in the etiquette of the trail:  patient, controllable, confident, the perfect complement to any journey into nature.

Among the most popular canine adventure activities involve canoes and kayaks.  People love the company of their dog on the water, drifting into the seclusion of the wild.  All that is necessary to prepare any dog for canoeing is a bit of specialized training and a proper introduction to the activity.

Essential Behaviors

It is unwise to place any dog in an unfamiliar situation without appropriate introductions.  This fact cannot be overstated when it comes to small watercraft.  To avoid an unnecessary fear factor, injury or just a miserable experience, pre-launch training is imperative.

First consideration:   Will the student sit still, patiently and quiet for a reasonable amount of time as you sit beside the dog?  Often this will result in a happy, playful response which will be unwelcomed afloat.


Provide a few distractions as you both sit on the ground.  Toss balls, have children run about, move the paddle side to side passing over the dog’s head.  Distractions will pop up while underway that must be ignored.  Dogs should never be tied to a watercraft or to a person to assure steadiness.  Stillness, without restraint, will take practice.


Approach all unfamiliar introductions from the dog’s perspective in logical progression.  Introduce the craft on land first before going to the water unless you are real fond of swimming.  Stabilize the canoe and teach the dog to confidently enter and exit on command.  Sit aboard mimicking the paddle action.  Shake the craft a bit side to side to simulate movement.  Exit the canoe and walk away insuring your canine pal will stay in place alone without movement.  The dog should not exit until told to do so.  Consider where the dog will sit to distribute weight properly with passengers and gear.  Teach the dog his “place” as it will be real time.

Water Work


Move the lessons to shallow water and repeat entry and exit etiquette.  Sit aboard rocking the canoe and crossing paddles overhead.  Add movement, step out and glide the canoe about in the shallows while providing control.  Dogs often react when the canoe hits a rock or the shore.  Practice the experience of pulling ashore encouraging the dog to remain still as everyone exits.

The Float

Now, take to the water with a confident dog.  Practice on calm, safe water before venturing too far from shore or too deep on a wild river.  On pullouts, be sure your dog will stay with your craft or tie him on the bank.  Don’t lose your dog in the wild.  Teach remote stay.

Final Considerations

Swim by:  Condition your dog to swim by the craft as if at heel.  In an emergency situation the dog should be accustomed to staying with the canoe even if swimming is required.

Floatation:  Some canines are not brilliant swimmers and even the best have limited endurance. A floatation vest may be advisable in some situations.

Collars:  Never leave a loose-fitting slip collar or a long lead on a dog underway.  A spill could result in the dog becoming entangled.


We love adventures with dogs; trekkers, trackers, overlanders and, of course, floaters.  Canines prepared to go anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.  Training canoe dogs is fun and canoeing with a well-trained dog is even more enjoyable.

The skills acquired in so many of the activities of the Wildrose Adventure Dog Certification Program cross-pollinate to waterfowling and upland hunting.  Don’t miss the opportunity to get out there with family and friends and make your hunting dog a more versatile sporting companion.


Wildrose River Training Facility, Ozark Mountains

May 20 to 22, 2016

Register online at www.wildrosetradingcompany.com

We only have two positions remaining as of April 1.

Only a limited number of dogs/adventurers will be taken for this unique, outdoor experience.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the Field: Wildrose Deke of Harmony

from Chris Allen


Wildrose Deke of Harmony (Tommy x Susie) passed away just past his fourteenth birthday. Deke was special in many ways. It goes without saying that he was a good retriever. Almost all labs of good breeding can qualify for that. Deke was very focused and loyal. Sitting quietly by my side helping me watch for ducks and he would do this for hours. On public ground we will often have the decoys out well before shooting time and sit drinking coffee. However, Deke felt obligated to sit away from us “guarding” the decoys. Another habit was always sitting beside me on the boat ride and giving the side of my face a good licking. Nice but at 9 degrees not to pleasant. My hunting buddies often tried to get him to sit by them, but his place was by me. There were retrieves that will never be forgotten and places that are full of his memories.

We were hunting in the low teens in a bay mostly ice. The bank we were on had clear spots that we were set up beside. We had killed several ducks and a big group came in and we dropped 3 more. The first two retrieves were easy and fairly close. On the last the wind had pushed the duck down a ways into open space beyond the ice. Deke could break ice only so far and the water became too deep and the ice too thick to break but he kept trying. I went down and waded out to him in water past my waist and he was behind treading water. After a few tries with the gun stock the ice parted and gave him a clear path to the duck with me leaning on one side. Scary in many ways but it’s the one that I’ll remember him by. Sure lots of folks have times that just seem to stick in your mind.


He is missed.  Thanks to Wildrose for such a companion.

Chris Allen

Clarksville, Arkansas

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cooking the Wildrose Way – Pheasant Breast under Poblano Pepper

by Chris Wilke

My hunting career started late in life and differently from most.  Because my father does not hunt, I did not as a child.  I did, however, grow up in New Orleans and I learned at an early age how important a good meal can be.

When I was in my late twenties, my wife-to-be and I would go out to our friends’ hunting camp (shack in the marsh) to eat drink and be merry while our friends hunted.  On occasion we would watch their daughter so husband and wife could hunt together.  What drew us to spend time in such a “rustic” setting was the friendship and good cooking.  I’m not sure how many times my friend asked me to go hunt with him before I finally gave in.  All it took was once.  As I like to say, “Riding boats, drinking beer and shooting guns, where is the downside?”

Fast-forward fifteen years, three boats, multiple leases and clubs, various shotguns, dogs, and an off-the-grid marsh camp of my own.  I now spend the entire year either hunting, talking about hunting, or planning hunting trips.

One aspect of hunting that I look forward to the most is the fellowship shared around the camp and over a good meal.  It is just not a proper duck hunt unless you have a big breakfast and Bloody Marys when it is over.

Early in my hunting career I had the good fortune to choose Wildrose Kennels for my first hunting dog.  I found not only a good kennel and training program, but also a “club” in its own right.  The Wildrose crowd trains together and over the last few years has started to hunt together.  We call it a training event and I learn something every time, but it is really just an excuse to come together with a good group of people and dogs to enjoy the hunt and each other’s company.

For the last few years some of the Wildrose gang have gone to Scranton, North Dakota, on a pheasant hunt.  Very different from any upland hunt you have been on, everyone walking and posting has at least one dog.  We look like an invading army headed down the road with five trucks pulling three dog trailers.  I have had the pleasure to be part of this group and also the honor to be one of the chefs.  This is one of the two recipes that I have served on this adventure.

Christopher M. Wilke

New Orleans, Louisiana


Wildrose Sailor

Wildrose Harken

Wildrose Jax


Pheasant Breast under Poblano Pepper


Layer in Greased Casserole Dish (in this order):


Several Pats of Butter

1 Pounded Pheasant Breast

2 Slices of Pastrami or Prosciutto

2 slices Monterey Jack Cheese

1 Poblano Pepper Peeled & Seeded (prepare beforehand-see below)

5-7 chunks Brie


Bake at 350 degrees covered for 20-25 minutes.



Poblano Peppers:

Bake peppers at 450 degrees for 15 minutes per side.

Cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate

before peeling and seeding.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


by Mike Stewart

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

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

The progression to running cold unseens the positive way is:

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

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

Inversion Application

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


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

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


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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When You Want to Shoot Your Dog: 6 Photography Tips

by Katie Behnke

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


Change Your Angle

Change your perspective-2

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

Get a Little CloserGet a little closer-2

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

Perk Those Ears and Close that Mouth

Perk those ears-2

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

Time of the Day MattersTime of Day Matters-2

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

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

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

Know Your Dog’s Limitations (And Yours!)

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


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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From the Field: Sago Palm Poisoning

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

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

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

sago2 sago

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

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

For more info on the Sago Palms:



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cooking Game the Wildrose Way

featuring Mike ColbertIMG_6376

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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 http://www.wildrosetradingcompany.com)
  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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment