Wildrose Hawksgarth Macy, “Nell”


Hawksgarth Macey-“Nell”

Imported as a seven-month old, in January 2019, Nell is out of a FTCH to FTCH breeding which is pretty special. Her mom, Hawksgarth Indiana, was made up to FTCH before four years old and is by FTCH Levenghyl Malusi. Malusi has been known to put a very biddable demeanor into the dogs, ready and quick to take whistle stops and casts. Kirsty made up Nell’s uncle to be a FTCH as well. The sire is FTCH Copperbirch Paddy of Leadburn, “Paddy,” has produced five FTCH dogs and counting, was tied for the most well-represented sire at the 2019 and 2018 IGL Championship, and only has one dog not titled in his three-generation pedigree. Interestlingly enough, he has a line back to our FTCH Baldonian Barron of Craighorn who produces many great dogs.  He is known to be a fast, powerful and extremely talented red dog. Pairing up the sensible biddability of Hawksgarth Indiana with the power of Paddy has produced a very talented female in Nell that is certainly quick but always gives me her eyes and very quick to the whistle. She takes a calm and quiet hand and overall I have been extremely pleased with her and excited to produce pups and continue our adventures in the field.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Driven Bird Shooting In Idaho

Republished from Forbes



British Lab guru Mike Stewart (far right) leads his pupils—dogs and people—to one of the Blixt beats near Teton Valley, Idaho. Chris Dickinson Photography 

What if you could enjoy driven red-legged partridge in stunning and steep terrain, the kind of presentation made famous in the hills of Spain…but without the jet lag? That was the notion of Lars Magnusson a former shooting instructor turned European-American driven bird raconteur whose Blixt & Company has built a dedicated following among domestic double gun aficionados.

He scoured the American West for just the right mix of open space, cover and ideal terrain from which to present tall, challenging birds—both red-legged partridge and pheasants. While driven in Idaho might lack the history and pageantry of the European shoots, the Blixt experience includes plenty of strong flying birds and its own take on lodging and dining opulence that is the hallmark of this top-of-the-food-chain venture the world over.

forbes 2

Magnusson (left) instructs shooters on safety protocols before a drive commences. Chris Dickinson Photography 

For many American shooters who have tried the Blixt Idaho presentation, there are plenty who now forgo the time and hassle of flying abroad to enjoy driven birds in exchange for the Blixt blessings. Despite his share of skeptics, Magnusson was able to pull off the unimaginable, for he took a distinctly European endeavor and gave it an American flair all the while preserving an authentic driven experience.

I am one shooter keen to try his offering and bring along my son Luke and our budding Wildrose British Lab, fresh out of university at the Wildrose campus near Oxford…Oxford, Mississippi, that is. Blixt and Wildrose have built an alliance whereby their dogs are used in picking up scores of birds shot throughout the course of a driven season. Seems only fitting that British Labs would be employed for this most European form of shooting. Our Lab, Dash, is several weeks into the Blixt-Wildrose boot camp and Luke is eager to reconnect with his pup while she finishes her work at this Dogwarts of sorts, where Wildrose staff finish their training wizardry thanks to the opportunity for dogs to recover a lifetime worth of birds in just a short season.

We head to Teton Valley, Idaho, just over the Wyoming state line, which is a short drive from Jackson Hole. The idyllic mix of rolling hills with poplar and evergreen stands along the slopes and grain stubble below provides the perfect prescription for driven shooting, and Lars recognized just how ideal it was the instant he saw it. As we arrive at ground zero for Blixt, we drive past a compound which consists of a series of private chalets, all part of the beautiful River Rim and Overlook Lodge.

Inside the main lodge, we find classic rustic elegance with plenty of comfortable sitting areas and premium art. An open living room with towering ceilings, massive stone fireplace and commanding views of a small stream below and the Tetons in the distance quickly give you the sense that this venue may not be as good as some of the best shoots in Europe…it may be better. And while Idaho weather is famous for throwing a surprise punch or two, for the most part it is a sunny and arid environment—a far cry from the wind and rain so common during shoots in the British Isles.

Magnusson is a Swedish immigrant who met his beautiful American wife Jennifer, fell in love, and together built the Blixt shooting business. Their clients have, for the most part, become extended members of the family, returning each autumn to celebrate the latest rendition of Magnusson’s Idaho driven experience.

We load up a series of black Range Rovers as the party disembarks from the lodge for a place called Twin Peaks, a picturesque driven destination about a 30-minute drive where the beaters are already waiting. Soon we are staggered in a long line, perhaps 35 yards between each shooter. First a trickle of partridge cross in front, the warm up birds sent to see how much rust there is on your swing. These are red-legged partridge, brought in as eggs from France. They’re hatched and raised stateside before being released on the Blixt grounds.

Unlike many shoots across the US that use the word ‘driven’ or ‘simulated driven’ in their descriptions, the Blixt experience is a true driven shoot. That is, the birds are scattered throughout the fields and are pushed over the guns by a line of flag-toting beaters, which provides the most authentic driven shooting experience on the continent. What you get are strong flying birds that have spent plenty of time in the air and know the terrain and how to use it.


Magnusson readies for a line of beaters to move a cloud of partridge over the shooting line as part of the autumn ritual at Idaho’s Blixt & Co driven shoot. Chris Dickinson Photography

Sometimes a drive aligns perfectly with your strength as a shooter with large numbers of birds passing through your gunning sweet spot. The second beat of the day is just such an occasion for me. As a left hand shooter, left to right crossing shots—pulling the stock into my face on the swing—has long been my favorite target. By favorite I mean I tend to hit more than I miss.  Partridge after partridge cross in my groove, the fallen birds making me feel like Sammy Sosa being pitched a steady diet of inside fastballs.

After the beat, we head to a field lunch where white canvas tents with wooden floors and


A gourmet field lunch between driven shoots is all part of the Blixt experience. Chris Dickinson Photography

an elegantly set table is waiting for us. It is a western spin on the driven experience, a glamping affair amid a stand of aspen complete with a gourmet lunch and a beautiful cobalt sky with lemon drop aspen leaves shimmering in the breeze. And did I say there are hammocks for those who want to have a siesta before returning to the afternoon shoots?

Still reveling in the success of the last drive before lunch, the first beat following lunch finds me at the bottom of a hill sandwiched between two tall stands of aspen. My shooting window is about a bus length wide and the birds are tall—stretch your barrels long. It also seems as if someone is goosing them as they rocket overhead, for somehow they manage to engage another gear, propelling them faster than I remember the species being able to motivate. No one said it was going to be easy.

The variety of beats offered across Magnusson’s territory is impressive with more than 50 different drives in a wide range of terrain, testament to both the landscape and his use of it. There is gently rolling farm country as well as another property with steep canyons that will test even the most experienced driven shooters. By test I mean humble.


Red-legged partridge pass over a line of guns in one of several beats held each day of a Blixt driven shoot. This form of shooting originated in the British Isles but Magnusson has replicated the experience in the stunning landscape of Idaho. Chris Dickinson Photography

Magnusson saves his best for last, however. As we start the final beat, the sky is suddenly covered with hundreds if not more than a thousand partridge and pheasants, as if some kind of impromptu upland bird migration. It is a moment that you wish could become slow motion to savor and extend it in all its glory. Wouldn’t it be grand if such a scene could last for an hour or two…hell, days for that matter?, I think to myself. Every great beat has a climax when overwhelming numbers of birds cover the sky and you frenetically scramble to maximize the richness of the opportunity. When it ends—and it must—there’s either the satisfaction of having shot well or a frustration in missing an opportunity to be a King for a Day.

At Blixt, you can count on the royal treatment either way


At Blixt, you can count on the royal treatment either way.

Chris Dorsey

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amy’s Cherry Cobbler – the Levenghyl Way!


Recipe by Amy Bates Levenghyl Kennels

About 1kilo of stoned cherries

2 tbsp caster sugar -depending on how sweet they are they may need a little more

Cobbler Topping:

225g Plain fFour

3 teaspoons Baking Powder

110g ice cold butter cut into pieces

50g caster sugar

170ml Buttermilk or regular full fat milk

Put the cherries into a deep oven proof dish and sprinkle over the sugar.  Set a side and make the cobbler topping.

Put the butter, flour , sugar and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor and puls until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Pour in the buttermilk a little at a time until the mix becomes a sticky dough – you may not need all of the liquid or you may need a little more but go slowly. Whne the dough is ready “blob” on top of the cherries.  Bake the Cherry Cobbler in a pre heated oven 180 c for 25-35 minutes or until the cherries are bubbling and the topping is cooked.

Serve with Custard or cream or ice cream or all three!

Copyright Amy Bates @2020 to be reproduced for the Wildrose Journal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Avoidables

by Mike Stewart, Wildrose International


Often it seems that the list of things not to do with a young sporting dog pup is much longer than the things listed to do.  No doubt, it is important to properly “Background” any puppy to instill desirable foundational skills and behaviors while avoiding mistakes that could produce undesirable behaviors, fear factors or even injury.  The early-start months in puppy development can be categorized in three timeframes (See Wildrose Law #3 as a reference):

Birth to 8/10 weeks

8/10 weeks to 3.5 months

3.5 months to 6 months

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The importance of the first 16 weeks in a pup’s life cannot be undervalued.  What is established through repeated exposures, stimulated learning and socialization experiences easily becomes imprinted behaviors or habits. It is the way nature intends – the order of the pack.  This vital period in the developmental processes cannot be ignored or mishandled. Undesirable, entrenched behaviors at these early ages will endure.  They will prove beneficial in training and value-added to compatibility of the pup or dysfunctional habits will prove to be challenging to suppress. Undesirable, entrenched behaviors may be modified or suppressed through training but likely never totally eliminated.  They may lie dormant in the young dog only to re-appear at the most annoying and inappropriate times.


What to do? Basically, early puppy development begins with the end in mind.  If you do not want to see a particular behavior two years from now in the duck blind, on trail, or with the family at home, don’t allow the undesirable behavior to continue.  Remember: repetition + consistency – boredom = habit.

Realize that the pup is always learning.  One must be careful what they are allowing to be trained (conditioned) in with their youngster either intentionally or unintentionally.


Bolting                         Tug-of-war

Free Running                Barking for Attention

Chase                           Whining

Chewing                       Jumping on People



Patience                      Returning When Called

Leading                        Housebroken

Quiet in Crate               Socialization Experiences

Place Trained

If a behavior becomes entrenched in these early “backgrounding” periods, you better like it. Just get it right from the start by never violating Wildrose Law #4, “Don’t condition in a problem that must be trained out later.”

Avoiding the Undesirables

Let’s look at a short list of examples that perhaps we have not mentioned in our materials previously. They may seem harmless initially, but they can easily turn into difficult troubles to rectify later in training and afield.


The Sniffer

Hunting breeds are known for their amazing scenting abilities.  Their nose knows and the pups love to put them to use.  In training lessons, the ground sniffing is often mistaken as hunting or at least the desire to do so.  Not the case.  Sniffing is avoidance, inattention and a distraction.  Do not let sniffing the ground while training become a habit with a pup.

We work our pups on low-impact exercises such as heel, sit, stay, recall on paved or hard-packed dirt surfaces that offer little distractive scent to pre-occupy the pup. This practice has resulted in drastically reducing the pup’s inattention during training.  Once a solid pattern is established without ground sniffing, move on to other areas.

Avoid working in heavily scented areas like dog parks, dog relief areas, areas with birds present, wooded areas with plentiful wildlife, any location that harbors heavy ground scent.  Avoid the sniffing habit in your pup’s early starts.

The Bolter

This is the most common problem we experience when a youngster returns to basic training at our Wildrose facilities.  Bolting, scurrying off on independent frolics, possessiveness with the bumper, free running, free swimming, chasing other dogs – all independent behaviors that are in no way conducive to a sporting dog’s field performance.  Most of these habits began early in the pup’s life:

  • Playing chase with kids
  • Playing with other dogs
  • Chasing wildlife in the yard
  • Provided chew toys that created possessiveness
  • Allowing free run in open areas too often for exercise
  • Allowing continuous free swimming in a lake or swimming pool


These and similar activities create independence, possessiveness, avoidance, self-employment – all unproductive behaviors that must be trained out before desirable behaviors can take root such as:

  • Delivery to hand
  • Steadiness
  • Honoring other working dogs
  • Recall, despite distractions
  • Ignoring diversions

Again, think, do not put in a problem.


The Jumping Jack

British Labs love to jump.  They are active, agile and love a challenge.  Although we often post on social media and the Wildrose Way training page scenes of young pups performing activities involving running and jumping, we want everyone to know that such impact exercises are engaged in at a minimum and always with caution.  Warning: High impact activities such as running on hard surfaces, jumping from vehicles or platforms, sliding on slick floors, negotiating slick stairways can and often do cause injury to the pup’s joints (hips, elbows, knees, spine).

Although a sporting dog pup will gladly engage in such strenuous activities, be cautious.  No high jumps, no long runs, no jumping from ATVs, vehicles, etc., no sliding on slick surfaces, no long distance running such as jogging, biking, rollerblades, etc. None of these activities prior to 14 months of age.

In training we do involve some low-level jumps like from a water stand or working on our ramps but be confident that we engage in these seldomly and with caution.  The romping and jumping activities are enjoyable for the pup and if repeated become a habit that can result in injury or wear on joints when you least expect it and are not prepared.

puppy on ramp

The Termite

Retriever breeds have an oral fixation.  They love to use their mouth and love to have things in it often.  I think somewhere over the generations the termite was bred to the Labrador lines!  Here it is all about avoidance, not allowing the dysfunctional behavior of chewing objects or your person to become an ingrained habit.

Chew toys and generic chew objects do nothing to relieve the pup’s tendency to chew things from their bedding to furniture. Never allow a pup to chew on a bumper with the misplaced thinking that will encourage retrieve drive.  Chew elimination is about avoidance.  No opportunity to do so and the pup simply outgrows the tendency rather than allowing the behavior to turn into a dysfunctional habit.  Encourage delivery to hand of any item the pup should collect.  Don’t provide anything to the pup to chew with exception of an object that can be consumed like a dental care product such as Zuke’s Bones.  Never allow a pup to chew on anyone’s body parts or garments.

The Pitcher

Here we are talking about the creation of a dysfunctional habit that is clearly the product of the handler and perhaps the family … throwing bumpers/objects indiscriminately for retrieves.  This practice, if repeated, is the path to unsteadiness, impatience, and whining all from throwing things from the handler’s hands.  You are not building drive or providing beneficial training lessons. You are entrenching a difficult habit to correct.  You throw the “mark,” the pup quickly scurries off for the recovery and is therefore rewarded.  Impatience, a negative behavior, is rewarded.

puppy in water

There are only a few times you, the handler, should throw anything for a pup to retrieve:

  1. First retrieves, introductions
  2. To teach a new skill foreign to the pup (under a fence, crossing a barrier, etc.)

Then, immediately convert lessons to memories.  Also, forget fun bumpers as a reward.  Never! They are an immediate reward for unsteadiness.

Parting Thoughts

To avoid conditioning in undesirable behaviors we too often encounter in sporting dog pups:

  1. Avoid repeating or allowing the re-occurrence of dysfunctional behaviors which are rewarded or self-rewarding as they are destined to become habits.
  2. Establish clear boundaries, routines and structure for the pup. Avoid inconsistency.
  3. Reward patience in all things which include food, affection, and retrieves.

Take the puppy pledge:  Wildrose Law #4 rules:  Don’t condition in a behavior that must be trained out later.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trainer Profile: Erin Davis, Trainer, Wildrose Mississippi

by Dr. Ben McClelland in an Interview with Erin Davis

In March Erin Davis moved—lock, stock, and barrel—from the Midwest to the Deep South to become a Trainer at Wildrose, Oxford. While some of us would have been waylaid by culture shock, Erin was more than up to the challenge. After all, her motor runs wide open. Multi-tasking is her forte´. Beyond being a quick study, Erin is deeply analytical. And she’d been preparing for this move for quite some time. Well, really her whole life.


Photo by Katie Behnke

Growing up in a family of animal people in Portage, Indiana, Erin said that they always had an assortment of dogs, cats, fish, iguanas, llamas, horses, and parrots around the house. An intensely active youngster, Erin did everything, including playing soccer, Irish Dancing, and cheerleading. She cheered from five years of age through her college years at Valparaiso University, where she earned a BSN – Bachelors of Science in Nursing. Afterwards, she coached Pop Warner teams to three national championships.

Erin began horseback riding early, as well. She said, “I started riding horses at three years old and competing at five years old with our mini horses, quarter horses, and draft horses.” Later she and her sister competed in English, western pleasure, and barrel racing.Hunting and dog training ran in the family, too. Erin’s grandfather was a serious upland hunter, who always had a pack of very proficient Brittanys in tow. Her uncle, an avid waterfowler on Lake Michigan, has produced masterful works of art in taxidermy.


Prior to her move to Oxford, Erin served five years as an associate trainer based in the Chicago area. Earlier she also served as a veterinary technician for five years at an exotic animal clinic and as an Indiana DNR research assistant, studying sport fishing in Lake Michigan. Erin’s professional memberships include the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Erin also served as a trauma nurse at a Chicago-area hospital for 10 years, plus one year in Stem Cell Transplant nursing at Northwestern University Medical Center, and three years in Occupational Health nursing at U.S. Steel Mill-Gary Works.

Erin’s passion for training flourished after she picked up her first training pup six years ago at Oxford. Steadily, her pack grew. She said, “I quickly found myself making the choice to move to a house with more land to purposefully build a dream structure for the dogs and also start landscaping the training grounds as Wildrose Kennels – Great Lakes. The scene was immediately bustling with Gundogs, adventure dogs, therapy dogs, pre-season tune ups, post-season clean ups, and lots of boarding dogs. What started out as back grounding puppies, while still working full time as a nurse, blossomed in to full time boarding and training dogs and moonlighting as a nurse. That experience led me to my most recent adventure in moving to Oxford and fulfilling the Senior Trainer role.”

Erin said that, as a trainer, herprofessional passion is continuing the original vision of the Gentleman’s Gundog. She specifies two personal contributions: The first is to produce “dogs with diversified skill sets for the field and family life, dogs I would be proud to hunt over and peaceably live with.” The second contribution is to continue the core of training the Wildrose Way through client education. Many observers have noted Erin’s significant investment in this aspect of her job. As she said, “I love training dogs, but I love even more training handlers in how to be successful with their dogs. It makes no difference how well I train a dog if the owner is unable to replicate and enjoy it. From the moment I meet a client and their dog I wholeheartedly encourage them and their entire family—kids and extended family included—to visit during training as much as possible. My open-door policy allows them to learn all the tips and tricks gradually so that, by the time a dog graduates, both the handler and dog are comfortable and successful.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taking up hunting as an adult, Erin is an active waterfowl, upland, and small and large game hunter. She lists her favorite places to hunt waterfowl: “Early season – Rugby North Dakota, Late season – North Platte River in Wyoming.”Among her favorite places to upland hunt: “Pheasant – Southwest North Dakota, Grouse – Ottawa National Forest Upper Penninsula Michigan.” She also lists her all-time favorite hunting: “Dry field hunting for mallards and grouse in the Northwoods.”

Moreover, Erin is an Adventure Dog aficionado, most notably with Ben, whom she calls ”undeniably my ‘dog of a lifetime.’” Ben is four-year-old UH Wildrose Ben, an Adventure MT THDX CGC, out of Murphy and Pinny.

Erin said that she and Ben have “traveled through 34 states together. Along the way we’ve waterfowl and upland hunted from border to border and to the coast of the Atlantic, including the Mississippi, and Central flyways. To date he has also completed over 400 therapy dog visits in the community. His favorite field activity is striking for a pointing bird dog. His favorite home activity is mountain biking with me.”


Lots of us Wildrose folks have a pack of dogs. But Erin has what I would describe as a passel. Besides Ben and the large number of client dogs, she listed two other personal dogs, Luke and Ghillie, whom she described this way:

“Labs Unlimited Luk-ing For Trouble TD CGC ‘Luke,’ eight years old. Started as a field trial prospect but we both found The Wildrose Way of training was a better fit for us, which is what originally let me to WR. His favorite part of hunting is making long retrieves across the water for wounded geese. At home his favorite activity is kayaking with me.

‘Troddenmills Honky Tonk,’ CGC CGCA CGCU ‘Ghillie.’ Imported: Tanyrhallt Blue Bloods x Troddenmills Goes Bananas, eleven months old. Imported by Wildrose Dallas. Immediately after I picked him up, I knew he was a keeper. He’s quiet at home, loves to travel, gentle with everyone he meets, and a quick learner. In the field he is a powerhouse on land and water. He’s bold, agile, and thinks critically. His favorite field activity is picking up multiple consecutive long marks. His favorite home activity is riding in the side by side.”


Because I asked for some insight into her personal choices, Erin revealed some of her personal favorites . . . food: cheesecake; movies: documentaries; books: Nonfiction; and travel destination: Turks and Caicos Islands.

On a couple of recent occasions some other clients and I have had the opportunity of accompanying Erin on training activities with our dogs. As we powerwalked to the field, Erin began thinking aloud, sketching out a plan for our morning’s work. She had seen our dogs work before, so she knew their ability levels. Once or twice she’d check in with us: “What do you think? Are you guys good with that?” In a few minutes, she laid out a plan of three varied exercises, featuring different skill requirements, each in a new field environment. Memory retrieves through the woods and into the water. Simulated upland marks in cover. Lining and handling for long-distance blinds.

We carried out the training plan, moving from place to place, all the while sharing observations about our dogs and enjoying lighthearted conversation. As we walked back to the kennel center, Erin summarized our activities and expressed satisfaction with the day’s work. We clients revealed amazement at Erin’s ability to lay out— impromptu—this coherent plan. She grinned and joked, “Just a little something I saw in a book once. It’s called something like the cyclical training model.” We laughed, and someone said, “Oh, yeah, thatbook.”

Spoiler alert about Erin’s personal dogs: She has put down deposits on future Wildrose litters!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Erin Davis

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spring at Wildrose Mississippi

Video by Mallard Media

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


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Alan Newton, owner of WR Shadow

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

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

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

eye contact

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

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

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

mike looking at deke

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


Eye contact – the key to success with your dog

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

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

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


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



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nutritional Advances Can Keep the Older Hunting Dog Afield Longer

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

Brian Zanghi with Aspen

Brian and his dog WR Aspen

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

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

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

sailor in blind

Photo by Katie Behnke


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

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

Feeding and Health

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

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

mike and kane

Photo by Katie Behnke

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

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

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

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

deke in water

Photo by Katie Behnke

Fat for Aging Brain Fuel

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

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

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

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


Photo by Katie Behnke

Maintaining Mobility

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

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

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

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

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

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

ghille on chair

Photo by Katie Behnke

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

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


-Brian Zanghi

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bright Minds

By Mike Stewart, President Wildrose International

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


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

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

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

Three considerations:

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

Physical Conditioning – Exercise and Agility    

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

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

    dixie and tom

    Photo by Katie Behnke – WR Dixie and Tom Smith

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

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


Tips for Sight Challenges  

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

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

sailor hunting

Photo by Katie Behnke – WR Sailor

Tips for Hearing Challenges

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

Mental Conditioning – Deke’s Diary

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


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

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


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

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

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

Retrieving Skills

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

Simple Baseball

Walking Baseball

Group work honoring other dogs

Swimming in moving water for drifting bumpers

Swims across open water for memories

Off-the-ground finds in woodlands

Hunting cover with occasional whistle stops

Tracking bird drags or scented tennis ball rolls

sailor with bird

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


On the Job

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

Beneficial activities for old dogs:

Short put and take quail hunt

Hunting for hidden sheds

Picking up a few retrieves at a tower shoot

A float trip by canoe

Becoming a fishing partner

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


Therapy Services

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

School resource services

Retirement home visitation

Hospitalized patient therapy

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



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

Excessive weight gain

Digestion issues

Cognitive degeneration

Eyesight deterioration

Coat conditioning

Muscle retention

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

Brightminds & Deke

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



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pecan Triple Scatter

By Guy Billups, Wildrose Texas

guy lining

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


The Pecan Drill (without scatters)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment