In 2017 Field Trial Winner Silversnipe Reformer, “Kim,” left her life as a momma dog behind, and began her adventure as Nathan’s best friend.
She taught him so many things. She taught him that the best kind of friends have four legs. She taught him that the best kind of friends listen more than they speak. She taught him to be a better reader, when he wasn’t confident enough to read aloud to anyone else. She was with him on his first dove hunt when he was too little to even cock his own BB gun. She retrieved his first pigeon on the back fields at Wildrose. She retrieved his first dove in the fields behind his great grandfather’s home. She accompanied him on endless hikes and sat faithfully by his side as he reeled in fish after fish. She taught him responsibility as he was truly the one to make sure all of her needs were met. But, yesterday, our best girl had one more lesson to teach him. She taught him to say goodbye.
Oh, sweet Kim. There aren’t enough words to thank you for being my boy’s best friend. I only wish I could have given you both more time, and more memories.
I’m amazed at how many memories and adventures these two managed to pack into the years she was with us. They truly lived every day to the fullest.
As Nathan said as we drove home from the vet yesterday: ” I guess it’s a good thing it’s so hard to say goodbye. It means I really did love her, that much…..I’m sure I’ll have more friends and more dogs, but I’ll never have another one like Kim.”
By Alan Newton, Associate Trainer, Wildrose Carolinas
Last fall while training for hunting season, two concurrent events proved to be valuable learning experiences when training the more reserved Wildrose dog.
Harley (Archer x Kate) is an excellent Wildrose black female. She quietly gets the job done, while her calm nature often leads one to forget she is in the blind.
In September, following one month of hold conditioning at the age of 7 months, Harley began to drop the bumper when presenting the retrieve. This behavior now occurring at 10 months of age did not rest well with her handler.
That same month, I completed Mike’s Train the Trainer course at Wildrose Carolinas. First, I learned there was an issue with the relationship I had with Harley (which I certainly shuttered to hear). The quadrant where many problems find residence (relationship) was where I found myself. Second, I witnessed Mike employ animation tactics with several dogs during the course, including Harley, and quickly realized the value of animated reward in achieving training success.
Upon course completion, Harley and I headed home to the hold table. Once there, I made an intentional effort to correct Harley’s hold, but more importantly, to grow our relationship and build trust. I am pleased to share we experienced a high level of success. I learned hold conditioning is more about building your relationship with your dog than holding a dowel, bumper, or bird (although that too is a desired and important outcome).
Returning to retrieving following a second month of hold, I quickly employed animation when communicating with my dog. Lining Harley for a retrieve was preceded by an enthusiastic, “Let’s get this bird, dead bird,” followed by the release. I could visibly see the excitement building in Harley prior to her release. Rather than a simple “good” following a retrieve, I offered something more along the lines of, “That’s a good Harley dog, I like that!” followed by returning the bumper to her allowing Harley additional time to hold the “bird” and share in the retrieving experience. Doing so increased Harley’s desire to please and prey drive, eliminated some minor popping episodes, and solidified our relationship. While animation is not characteristic of my personality, I witnessed the positive results animation brings to training, and subsequently moved out of my comfort zone in an effort to deepen the relationship I share with Harley. In short, it worked!
Focusing on relationship building with your Wildrose companion while employing animation in rewarding success and a positive attitude during training may well prove to be instrumental tools for your bag of tricks!
Many dog lovers reside with both cats and dogs. We, at Wildrose, do as well. For instance, the Oxford facility has two felines and Wildrose Carolinas has one. We consider these kennel cats a value to our training programs. The on-premises cats have the personality and tolerance to discipline young dogs in the appropriate behaviors around cats they may encounter in the home or outdoors. The families that have both dogs and cats in the home appreciate this bit of desensitization.
In realizing that many of our subscribers do enjoy a cat’s company, the topic of human allergies to cats may arise. I, for one, can detect an unseen cat in a home within 30 minutes due to my allergic reaction… sneezing.
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A gloomy fog often envelopes the attitudes of the active wingshooting enthusiast with a sporting dog at the end of hunting season whether waterfowling or the final flush of upland birds. It is viewed as a time of closure with distant months to the next opportunity to take our gundogs back to the field and marshes.
But wait… nothing could be more incorrect. It’s not the end of season for the sporting dog enthusiasts… it’s preseason for the 2021 openings. It’s how you look at it… is the glass half-empty or half-full? It’s all a perspective.
For the Gentleman’s Gundog, the destination wingshooting companion, it is pre-game and there is no time to waste.
Refining skills that were perhaps compromised during the hunt
Correcting problems identified during the season
Keeping the dog active both mentally and physically with outside adventures
Perhaps developing new skills to become a dog of duality. The waterfowl retriever learns to quarter for upland birds.
Teaching the flushing retriever to work simultaneously with active pointing gundogs, becoming a quail “strike” dog
Experimenting with new activities like shed (antler) hunting. Spring is the season.
Broadening talents: training the duck dog to perform well in a goose-hunting situation with huge spreads of decoys while tucked in a dog hide or remaining under a gilley-cover motionless.
As you see, for gundogs it is not a time of closure after hunting season, it’s a beginning. Actually, we should be preparing for the fast-approaching future.
Balance in Training – Three Pre-season Refinement Exercises
Scenario I – Long Recovery past short falls.
Basically, this is a long bird/short bird situation commonly seen in waterfowling. The long bird down is likely at risk of being lost, but it is the short falls that hold our retriever’s attention.
Step 1: Set up an unseen pick: a scented bumper or cold game placed at a location that is new to the dog on land or water. This setup is for the experienced, finished retriever. If we have a rookie lacking handling experience, set this bird up as a Time-Delayed Memory (TDM) placed as a wide circle memory or even as a trailing memory.
Step 2: We are ready to make our long bird pick. I prefer to have a bit of cover or obstacles between the dog and the distant bird to offer a bit of challenge. A helper throws two or three scattered, short marks in front of the dog along the route to the long bird. These represent the short birds down and they will be denials. (Later the handler will walk out and pick up the scatter.)
Step 3: Line the dog directly for the unseens (long bird) and be prepared if the retriever stops on the shorter falls. The dog may figure the situation out quickly and continue on but less experienced retrievers may require handling.
Scenario II – Handling off Scent
Hopefully, you have retained a few birds taken during the season and frozen them for training. This tip requires cold game. First, thaw the bird and make sure it is dry. This lesson is to ensure our dogs will handle off a mark where a bird has fallen but does not remain in place… a runner.
Step 1: Take the bird and toss it into cover or at a water’s edge. Allow the dog a moment to recognize the placement. Turn and heel the dog away setting up a trailing or circle memory.
Step 2: An assistant runs in and picks up the bird, plucks a few feathers leaving them in the place of the fall and rubs the bird on the ground at the location to establish a good scent signature. Next, the assistant tosses the bird to another location, 15 yards or so.
Step 3: After the assistant leaves the area, turn and line the dog. Once on target, the retriever’s keen nose will take over. Don’t rush. Allow the dog a moment to hunt. Finally, stop and cast off the scent to the unseen.
This is a good exercise for a dog that needs to learn to handle off an old fall for an unseen or one that needs to move on to pick up a scent line for a runner.
Scenario III – Hunt back on water
Step 1: The dog and handler are placed 20 yards or more from a water’s edge. An assistant fires a launcher bumper so it will land some distance out on open water.
Step 2: With the exciting mark seen, send the dog. As the dog passes the assistant that made the initial shot and is in the water moving toward the mark, a bumper is thrown into the water behind the dog.
Step 3: As the dog drives toward the mark, stop and recall the dog directing him to hunt back toward you. If the retriever is compliant, the reward recovery is made.
Step 4: Once delivery of the unseen is completed, re-line the dog for the initial mark. The dog learns to trust the handler to put them on a bird.
Many tune-up exercises will likely be advisable after a busy hunting season where the dog’s performance and behaviors may be slightly compromised. Examples:
Response to whistle signals
Too many independent recoveries
Also, it’s always a good practice to keep our dogs in good physical shape and mentally stimulated off season.
Yes, this past hunting season is a wrap, but no worries. Next season is only months away and there is much to prepare for. For the active Gentleman’s Gundog, the sun never sets as there is always something new to learn and other adventures just over the horizon.
Quail hunting has been both aristocratic and egalitarian. It is a sport of Southern plantation gentry who ride walking horses with bespoke double guns in their scabbards and have pedigreed pointing dogs racing across the fields before them. It is also the sport of the farm kid armed with a dad’s old shotgun and a rangy mutt for a hunting companion. Both types of hunters have equally satisfying hunts, but these days social standing does not matter. Everyone is quail-poor. –James Card
Well, not everyone is destitute these days. While it may take quite some time to ramp up quail restoration to the degree necessary for the bobwhite population to rebound, many popular quail-hunting preserves afford the wing shooter abundant opportunities to adventure afield for fine bobwhite hunting experiences. We folks in and around Wildrose Mississippi have our own favorite upland preserve close by: Josh Quong’s “Little q Ranch,” occupies sixty acres near Thaxton, Mississippi, twenty miles east of Oxford. Outdoorsman Josh, a forty-something-year-old high school English teacher who was raised in the Delta, is well known for running a variety of upland hunts from October through April on his well-managed preserve. His wife, Sally, an assistant clinical professor in education at the University of Mississippi, serves hunters sumptuous meals. Their daughter, Nora, and son, Ray, help out as well.
Recently, a group of us Wildrose folks and dogs enjoyed a release quail hunt at Little q. Just after noon on the day of our hunt I load up two-year-old Knight (“Black Knight of Hopewell,” Barney x Scout) and our hunting gear in the truck, steal my wife, Susan, away from her work for a couple of hours and head east just across the Pontotoc County line. Mother Nature is on our minds.
This year’s weather in the south—as in every other region of the country—has been active and variable, to say the least. While winter seemed to take forever to arrive in the South, in mid-February an arctic air mass pushed down into the warm, moist Gulf air, creating an historic weeklong storm that paralyzed us with half a foot of snow and single-digit temperatures. Folks closer to the Gulf, to our south and west, suffered much more severely than we did. After the cold abated, March arrived with a sunny, false spring, sending amateur gardeners rushing to put blooming annuals and tender tomato plants in the ground. However, severe rain-and-wind-driven weather tore through the area on a couple of occasions and nighttime temps dropped into the thirties. Typically for most days moderate weather conditions prevail with several sunny days followed by a few with rain and thunderstorms and accompanying flash floods.
On this particular day the weather is trending from sunny to wet. As we drive through a section of the Holly Springs National Forest, a light rain shower splatters on the windshield, letting Susan and me know that the day’s best weather is behind us. Yet, we determine to make a go of it, so long as the conditions permit. In fact, having some moisture in the air with low wind during a hunt fixes the bird scent in the air, aiding the dogs’ task of locating the prey. Moreover, the cloudy afternoon is cooler for us all than yesterday’s sunny one.
As we pull up to Josh’s lodge, he, Blake Henderson, and Erin Davis are waiting on us, ready to head out before more rain sets in.
Blake, Wildrose’s veteran trainer and facilities supervisor, has Panzer, Wildrose’s German Shorthair Pointer, and the only experienced dog on the hunt. When Panzer came to Wildrose at one-and-a-half-years old, he knew how to point. Blake extended his training, teaching him to be steady to the flush and shot. Besides “Whoa” training Panzer, Blake also taught him to back other bird dogs, as well as to heel off lead and retrieve. Now nine-and-a-half years old, Panzer has hunted pheasant in South Dakota and serves as the main pointer for hunts at Bar W in Wilson, Arkansas. With Blake and Panzer in the lead, we will efficiently find the invisible coveys.
Erin, Wildrose’s senior trainer, has brought four young dogs for some hunting experience. On the first round she handles started dog, Ernie, Laura Barbour’s recent fox-red import, and finished dog, Henry, Bruce Hendricks’ recent black arrival from Ireland. Erin is rounding out both dogs’ versatile skills for adventure, upland, and waterfowl activity.
After brief greetings, Susan, Knight, and I head out with the group into Little q’s neatly mowed, but muddy, lanes between dense sage grass and briar hedgerows. Armed with her trusty iPhone, Susan makes the best shots of the day, saving the pictorial history of the hunt.
Just a moment ago at the lodge during our brief dog-and-people greeting, Knight was in pet-dog mode. Wagging his tail and whole body, he circled, sniffing dogs and looking up at us with his mouth happily open, long pink tongue swinging about. As we enter the field, he transforms into a hunter with a serious job to do. He stretches forward in heel, tail level with a bit of an upward curve at the end. With lifted head he stares ahead, eyes locked on the action: Panzer begins sweeping left and right, with Blake allowing him to range a bit before pulling him back to a close-in quartering. As Knight heels in this alert, hunt-dog carriage, he occasionally glances up at me, looking for a command. I return the gaze without saying anything. When he reads this neutral sign, Knight quickly returns his attention to the action ahead.
Knight recognizes this game. Even though this is his first official hunt as a game retriever, I introduced him to this scene during his gundog training days. More than a year earlier he honored at a weekend quail hunt in Wilson, Arkansas. With a gracious invitation from the Behnke’s, Susan, and I—along with Eve and Knight—attended the multiple-hunt event that Josh and Tom Smith hosted. While older dogs did the retrieving at those hunts, Knight honored, learning from it all. At the end of each hunt I gave him a reward retrieve, once as a trailing memory and once as a mark.
In addition, at Wildrose group training sessions Knight and I participated in simulated upland walk-ups, with thrown and launched bumpers, as well as with real birds. As a result, Knight is eager and attentive on this day’s hunt, familiar with the task through training before being asked to do it on today’s hunt.
With our over-and-under, twenty-gauge shotguns broken and slung over our shoulders we follow as Blake gives crisp commands, quartering Panzer in short back-and-forth swings through the hedgerows. In a flash Panzer freezes on point with his bobbed tail skyward and his nose aimed at the dense turf. Blake holds him steady with “Whoa,” while Josh and Blake position us guns in an even row. We are statues on high alert with guns cocked and pointed skyward. Our dogs are also statues at sit a few yards behind. The suspenseful thrill of this moment is common to all hunters, but it never gets old, is always exciting. Blake inches Panzer further into the brush and we inch closer to them. All of a sudden the covey bursts into the air. Birds sail right and left toward nearby hedgerows. A couple of shots drop two birds.
The shooters are pleased with the results, but the next action—sending our dogs on the retrieve—is the central purpose of the hunt. We are, first and foremost, dog handlers.
Knight marked a fall and I send him. He makes a long, but uncomplicated, pick and returns, sitting at my feet to deliver the lively bird. Erin comes to get the prey. Her first task with the young imports is to acquaint them with this new object of their hunt—a reddish hybrid of the American northern bobwhite. After giving the youngsters a healthy sniff of the bird, Erin tosses it into the cover, sending each dog on a short retrieve. She and they handle this introduction well and everyone—dogs, especially—appears very pleased.
The next retrieve makes us all aware that the natural world is a wondrous place—sometimes bafflingly so. We all saw a shot bird sail into a hedgerow at the base of a round bale of last summer’s hay. Erin sends Ernie for the pick. He crosses a lane and hunts nose deep into the cover, circling the hay bale. Even as he keeps returning to spot that we all had marked, he can’t find the bird. Erin finally calls him back and sends Henry. Same good nose work. Same result. No bird. After some time we all get into the act. Blake even sends Panzer tromping around the bale. The bird has seemingly disappeared. Accepting our humble limitations, we move on.
Soon enough Blake and Panzer put us onto another covey and, after shooting and retrieving, onto another and another. As we walk on, I see the weight of birds swinging at Josh’s knee from the loops of his leather holder. We’re well on our way to a good hunt, I think.
Then, suddenly, just as it seemed as if we would finish out this round in fine fashion, rain hits, falling suddenly and heavily. Stopped in our tracks, we are soon drenched. Blake and I exchange glances. We know that the birds cannot fly if they get too wet. I let him know that we can call it a day, if need be. We’ve already had a good hunt.
Our dogs made several good retrieves. Knight has worked well. Only once or twice did I need to handle him on a distant drop. Everyone knows that Erin is a creative and intense trainer, always seeking challenges for her dogs. She routinely heels her charges to the prey that carried the farthest, urging one and then the other to hunt close and deep. When we conclude the first round, we walk back in more rain to the lodge to relax and ready ourselves for the next round.
With a pause in the rain, we head out again. On the second round Josh brings Joker, his one-and-a-half-year-old pointer. Josh says that Joker did extremely well in this his first season of hunting in front of and for paying hunters all year. In fact, Josh had intended to keep him. However, some folks, who had bought finished bird dogs from Josh last August, referred a friend, who also wanted a trained dog for next season. So, Joker will go to his new owners at the end of the season and begin a new life leading hunts. During our afternoon time with Joker we enjoy his exuberance in the field.
We make a couple more coveys, and Erin is able to work two more dogs: Jeff Miller’s finished, waterfowl dog, Finn, and George Flowers’ started dog, Ollie. Unfortunately, shortly into our second round the rain gods visit us again. This time, the rains soak through the cover. When Joker points and Josh tries to flush a covey, nothing moves. Josh leans down, picks up a quail, and sets it on the palm of his hand. It looks around as Josh gently strokes its wet feathers.
We call it a day and walk back to the lodge in a downpour. We had covered a lot of ground. On a half-day hunt, pointers generally run 10 to 15 miles. We guns took a straighter line through the fields and sent our retrievers to fetch the prey. Even so, we walked several miles. Still, we had time to watch the dogs work and to talk. Susan’s favorite parts of quail hunting are watching the dogs carry out their assigned tasks and enjoying the camaraderie of the hunters. I agree and I also value the hunting experiences that our dogs and we gained that day.
Knight, Susan, and I say our goodbyes and head west for home in a steady rain. As we re-enter the Holly Springs National Forest, the rain stops, the clouds dissipate, and the sun shines brightly. However, the radio’s tornado warning informs us that this is just an interlude. In fact, later that evening heavy, wind-blown rain pelts our area. Our power goes out. Later, we learn that large trees were uprooted in Oxford, knocking power lines down and closing a major traffic artery, South Lamar Boulevard. City crews eventually restore the power and clear the road, but we go to bed with Mother Nature again on our minds.
Card, James. “Restoring Tradition of Quail Hunting,” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com › 2011/05/19 › sports
Thanks to Josh Quong, Bake Henderson, and Erin Davis for contributing information for this article.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I wanted you to know that this morning, we had to put down our boy Blue. He was the off-spring of Baron and Millie, born 04-05-2005. Blue was a ‘once in a lifetime dog’. Blue was my best friend, my hunting and fishing buddy, my travel companion, my “babe magnet”, and my confidant. We had so many adventures together over the fifteen and a half years he was with me. We drove across the country together, went on a fly-in fishing trip to Canada, made numerous trips to Oxford MS for training and field trails, travelled countless trips to Ohio to fish or hunt, and spent many, many glorious hours afield for training and fun! I just wanted to tell you THANK YOU, for all you did for both Blue and I. A special thank you to Cathy, who picked Blue out of the litter for me because I couldn’t be there on “puppy pick-up weekend”. You picked an amazing dog that exceeded all my dreams and expectations. I will miss him with all my heart, but our memories together will be with me forever. I hope to get another Wildrose pup sometime in the future. Maybe I can get lucky twice.”
Every sporting dog owner will tell you about their “One.” Well, this is my story of my “One” and how she started me on my journey with Wildrose.
Wildrose Bluegrass Dixie was born August 23, 2008 to Hamish and Susie. She went to hunt the fields of heaven December 12, 2020. And in the intervening years she lived a life 99.9 percent of sporting dogs would be jealous to live. If y’all will bear with me, I may get long winded, and I have no doubt I will shed a lot of tears reminiscing about our adventures all over this beautiful United States.
How it all began…I didn’t start any type of upland or waterfowl hunting until the mid-nineties while I was in the service. I had grown up hunting deer, rabbit and squirrel, the typical midwestern kid. I immediately fell in love hunting birds over dogs, and when I finished my time in service I bought a yellow female from a guy I found in the paper. She was a fantastic dog, but if there were 100 mistakes to be made training a dog, I made at least 3,487. I lost her in March of 2008 and couldn’t bring myself to get another dog for quite some time.
During the years prior I had watched Mike Stewart on DUTV with Drake and read every article he wrote for DU magazine. When I finally decided it was time to get another dog the obvious choice was Wildrose Kennels. I called Cathy, told her what I was looking for and she placed me on a litter. I was second pick out of two. Before I went to actually pick Dixie up, I decided I was going to take a motorcycle road trip and visit the kennel. I remember riding through the gate and my first thought was “This doesn’t look like any dog kennel I have ever seen!” And from that point on I was all Wildrose all the time. From the grounds to the staff to the dogs, it all just amazed me. I had known after training my first dog I wanted to eventually train dogs in my retirement. At this point I had no idea that waiting until retirement was not in the cards. Dixie was the perfect catalyst to point me in the right direction.
I raised Dixie until it was time to enter training, following the Wildrose Way to a T. Looking back I was so focused on not making a mistake that I was more Mussolini than Stewart. I have no doubt Mike and Cathy would see their email inbox and think “Dang, this guy again!” But every question I had was answered. I was running an industrial construction company at the time and I was very fortunate to take Dixie almost everywhere with me. I had estimated when she entered training at 6 months old she had ridden around 20,000 miles with me to different job sites. That exposure was fantastic for her as we worked on obedience and training drills at so many different locations that she easily transitioned to any scenario. I brought her in for training when she turned 6 months old and left her with Ben Summerall. While I wanted to train her myself I was working a huge model change for Toyota in Indiana with my normal day working from 10 AM until 1 AM while staying in a fabulous Quality Inn in Haubstadt, IN for over 100 days. There was no way I could give this little firecracker the attention she needed. Ben and I became great friends, and he would spend hours with me letting me work other dogs so I could learn to problem solve and anticipate what a dog may do in any given circumstance. During this time I was lucky enough to become great friends with Mike and Cathy. The two greatest people that have had such a positive impact on my life I could never repay with words. And this is where we dove in deep. I was at dinner with Mike and Cathy, I had already expressed interest in becoming an associate trainer, when I decided to just go for it. Uncle Sam had instilled in me a healthy dose of initiative, and I very bluntly asked what the transition plan was for the kennel going forward. Mike’s response: “Funny you should ask.” That was 2009. That’s when things went from nebulous to writing in concrete. And as they say, the rest is history. Now that I have laid down the foundation to where we are today let’s talk about Dixie.
Dixie has always been a client favorite and somewhat of a legend, fixture or character (depending on who you ask) around the kennel with her Hamish smile. She loved to carry anything and would “talk” to you if you started petting her. Grunting and moaning telling you she loved the attention. She was always the target of the IPA and those folks who live by Wildrose Law #37 “Not my dog!” Chris Wilke, Lanette Drewrey and Rachel Swatek being the main culprits! But, when it came time to hunt she was a different dog. Dixie loved attention, that was never an issue, but if I tried to pet her or show any affection when we were hunting she would actually look at me like I had lost my mind and move away from me. What the heck? When it was time to work she didn’t have any time for games. Shoot the bird. Period. I have work to do.
Dixie, and as I write this I think more me than her, was so very fortunate to travel the country with me to job sites, but more importantly all the states we were blessed to hunt. She has traveled to 29 states and hunted in 14 states plus Canada. Not bad for a dog born in Oxford, MS.
Everyone has stories about those retrieves that are the stuff of legend. I have a few. And luckily have witnesses to back me up. Not that any sporting dog handler, hunter or fisherman would ever stretch the truth……
What not to do with your young dog. Do not take your 2-year old dog to Canada where she will be the only dog to pick up for 4 guns! I’m like Nancy Reagan–just say NO. Dixie had never had an issue with birds. It was actually more keeping her in check. Bird crazy is an understatement BEFORE we went to Canada. I’m going to tell on myself (and blame Mike Stewart) about this trip to Canada. One of the tools of a dog trainer is sometimes you have to create a problem to fix a problem. About 2 weeks before I was headed to Canada I found out we would be hunting dry fields for geese. We thawed a big Canada out and Dixie did not like that big bird. Water was not an issue. And while she would pick it on land she was definitely not a fan. We worked and worked and worked, but she never did seem to really like it. So, create a problem to fix a problem right? Normally, we can do this and it works just right. Enter Dixie. There is always the exception to the rule and boy have I lived with that for 12 wonderful years. Mike told me to just let her break on the shot and get her crazy on those big birds. Well…that’s what I did. Did I ever get her totally steadied up after that? I will never tell, but I’m still blaming Mike. Just saying. While we may have had our steadiness issues at times I can promise you she never left a bird behind. She was the ultimate study in contrasts. The Wildrose Way is very adamant about if it is not right at heel it will never be right at distance. Again, enter Dixie. After the Canada trip it was time to steady her up. Or so I thought. Dixie was completely steady on any training drill with live birds or not. Real birds in a hunting situation maybe not so much. Again, our rule is if is not right at heel it won’t be right at distance. Back to the study in contrasts. Dixie always had to have a strong hand to keep her steady. But boy could that girl handle at distance. She was so responsive on the whistle whether at 30 yards or 300. I never had to hammer the whistle. Just a quick peep and she stopped and asked “Where to boss?” One of the best compliments she ever got was from Nigel Carville, winner of the Irish Championship and our partner for over 20 years, on a long, time delay memory. There was one bumper left out and everyone said it was to the left but after working her and handling her to every place the bumper should have been I decided to give her a long cast to the right and have her hunt a different area. She made the pick, and Nigel said she was one of the best handling dogs he had ever seen. Talking about walking on the clouds.
And then there was South Dakota. For those of you who religiously follow the Wildrose Way you know we are not about marks. Memories, memories, memories. And then we throw in mark by sound. We were on about an 8 person walk up through a bottom with cane about 6-7 feet tall. We were on the right side and a big cackling rooster got up on the left and the far gun shot it. Dixie had stopped on the flush and heard it crash through the cane. The guide, who was beside me, said he would go get it. Not to be outdone, I just said Dixie’s name. The guide was about halfway there when Dixie passed him coming back to me with the bird. He walked back to me and asked “What the hell did I just see?” I said its marking by sound. He shook his head and told me he wanted that explained later over a bourbon. So we did and he was amazed as he had never heard of such as thing. That 3-day trip was amazing. I had not done my due diligence and Dixie ended up being the only dog in the field. She picked 52 pheasants in 3 days. I do have to admit she slept for about 3 days after that hunt. But it was the sleep of the righteous hunting dog who knew she gave it everything she had on that hunt. One of my fondest memories whether hunting or her at the house is watching her sleep. The relaxation and contentment of a sporting dog sleeping makes my heart happy. I always tell my wife, Tina, I have never seen a cuter sleeping dog than Dixie. She’s like a United States military person. She never worries if she has made a difference in the world. She sleeps soundly knowing she did.
At this point I am going to turn over the narrative to one of my best friends, Dawson Cherry, owner of Wildrose Deacon, for his take on a retrieve Dixie made in Stuttgart, AR, about three years ago when she was about 9.5 years old.
The bird sailed on us. It sailed a long, long way. It was the type of bird we all dream of, a late season bull Drake Mallard in Arkansas. Fully feathered, round and ripe in its color, it had been hit, and as wild things do it fought death until it dropped almost 400 yards in the corner of the rice field.
There were three of us all on the dike, shooting into the rice field. Each with a different dog with different strengthsand weaknesses. One, a golden retriever, Cali, lined like a straight arrow, a yellow lab, Dixie, never missed a bird and last a black lab, Deacon, steady as a rock. Each of us all good friends, and each dog a little different in their own way. We worked really well together that day. Alternating retrieves, under a crisp blue Southern sky, winter pin oaks, not a leaf on them, cold with a light breeze, dogs bringing in plump mallards to hand. We managed to scratch out a limit, smiles and back slapping was plentiful.
This bird was going to be extra tough to pick. Lots of water, several brush piles and a long, long way. My dog was good until about 150 yards out and we had never done retrieves that long nor had I ever had the grounds to try it so I knew this was not going be my bird. I looked at my buddy Bobby and he had just gotten a real nice retrieve on a crippled gadwall. We all turned to Tom and Dixie and said you’re up. Yet there really was no doubt that this was Dixie’s bird.
Tom had to get out of the blind after he sent her. It was going to be a really long hike and Tom did not hesitate, you could tell he knew Dixie could get it. Slopping thru the ankle deep water each time, a whistle and a cast. One cast out for a 150 yards then another for 200 yards. Each cast getting that soft white yellow lab closer to the bird. You could tell that Dixie knew that she was going to get this bird. It’s an attitude you see in your dog when they know the retrieve will be true. Finally, they reached the corner of the flooded rice field. A pop of yellow tail and patch of camo hat barely to be seen with a Mallard green head glistening in the mouth of ole yellow dog Dixie.
We could see them coming back to us. Tom with his “we got that bird look” and Dixie tail just a wagging, head high, feet marching in the air, water pushing in front of her. She was not the perfect dog, but this bird was right in her wheelhouse. Long and hard to get to. Any national class dog would have loved to have gotten this bird. But this bird was Dixie’s, all mine, proud as a rooster.
As waterfowlers, and especially the guys that train dogs. This was a moment. We all knew that. The dogs did and we did. Hours upon hours of training, hunt after hunt. This was the bird that did not get away. It was the very last bird of a really special hunt.
Dixie went to the rainbow bridge this week. She lived a full and happy hunting dog life, well over a 3000 retrieves. She traveled the country chasing migrations. She loved the hunt. Way too soon, she has left us. Now, she is no longer at Tom’s feet, warm, soft and tired after a long hunt. Life is so short. Their love is so unconditional. We cannot bring her back. We are fortunate that these moments live on.
Damn, I cannot forget that long sailing bird, no way a dog could get that one. Well Dixie got it, damn she got it. She took our hearts with it.
God bless you and your dog. One can only hope you have this moment. Dixie did. Some of us will never forget it.
Go Dixie, go Dixie, get that bird!
I’m sure everyone is wondering when I’m going to get to the title of the article. The Last Bird. Now that I have regaled you with stories about Dixie in her prime it’s time to talk about the last 2 weeks of her amazing life. This will be the hardest thing I have ever had to talk or write about in my life.
I noticed Dixie seemed bloated on Thanksgiving day. Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as our routine went. I decided to keep an eye on her and not be too worried. We made it through the weekend, and it didn’t seem worse or better. I just thought it was possibly some old dog issue, and she would be back to normal anytime. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving I did not have a good feeling. Lanette took her to see our vets at Animal Clinic of Oxford, who are amazing vets that take the health and safety of our dogs to the next level, where they x-rayed Dixie and found she had an enlarged heart. The prognosis wasn’t great, but we wanted to get her to a canine cardiologist just to see what our options were. On December 8, she went to Memphis Veterinary Specialists to see the cardiologist. That is the day my life was changed forever. We found out she had cancer wrapped around her heart and kidneys, and that was causing the bloating. The cancer was keeping her kidneys from functioning properly to remove the waste fluid. The vet drained 4 liters of fluid from her abdomen. I was in a meltdown. The treatment recommendation was normal activity with a twice a day dose of Lasix to try and get rid of the accumulating abdominal fluid. At this point I knew I had to do something for my girl who had given me her everything for 12 years. Move up a couple days to Thursday the 10th. Enter stage left my quail hunting guide best friend, Josh Quong. I called Josh and told him everything. He has hunted over Dixie for about 6 years at his place, Little Q Ranch, and we also worked together in Wilson, AR at the Bar W Shooting Preserve so he had seen Dixie in her prime and then some. And we made a plan.
I knew in her current state she wouldn’t be able to hunt for hours with dozens of birds out. We opted for 3 quail. Which ended up being the perfect number.
The birds were put out, we released Homer the GSP and of course he took off like the maniac bird dog he is. I took Dixie out of the back of the Jeep and she was just doing her old dog mosey and wander. Not really thinking something was really going on. I told her to heel and headed to the field. Everything was all calm and chill until Dixie saw Homer on point. At that point I saw my old girl who didn’t feel great turn into a youngster again. She was old and slow but oh my the spark was back in her eyes and she knew the game was afoot! She walked up and I told her to “get ‘em up” and she dove into the cover and made the flush. Honestly, I did not shoot the bird on the covey rise as it flew directly over Josh and Molly. No worries. We saw where he went down. At this point Dixie is bouncing around like I’m used to when she knows we aren’t training and the real thing is going down. We head out and bam. Homer is on point again. Dixie locks up right next to Homer. Beautiful point and back. I’m walking on air at this point watching my girl do what she has done so many times for me in the past. I tell her to get ‘em up and I make the shot, she makes the retrieve. Beautiful. Tears are flowing.
Dixie has always had an amazing delivery. Straight to me, sit, head up and present the bird. Not so much Thursday. She wanted to prance, walk by everyone and let them know what she had. And I could not have cared less. If she wanted to walk it 20 miles to Oxford and prance around the square to show everyone I would have walked right beside her. This was her day. She could do whatever she wanted, and I would do nothing but tell her how awesome she was. We finished the day 3 for 3 with the birds. Dixie retrieved a cripple that I obviously did not do my part on. I think that made her day. “Hey Dad, I got your back.” And she finished the day with a bird that had fallen into some of the thickest cover on the property. She popped in there and hunted and hunted until she made the retrieve. When she brought me the last bird she had cuts on her face from the briars all the while sporting the biggest smile.
As I mentioned earlier we have traveled and hunted the US and Canada during our time together, but the memories we made for that “Last Bird” could never be equaled. She was beautiful, smart with a huge personality, and hard-headed at times and had a nose that I would put against any other dog. Her intensity on a hunt was something to behold.
We spent our last morning together doing all the things Dixie loved. Lots of pets and hugs. I cut up a leftover pork chop, heated it up and let her eat it right off the plate. If there was one thing Dixie was known for it was her love of food. Any food. We loaded up her big memory foam bed in the side by side and did a victory lap around the property stopping to take a lot of pictures and reminisce about some of the incredible retrieves she made. Then we went to see Dr. Payne. And in the blink of an eye she was gone. My best friend. My One.
We were the perfect match and I could not imagine the last 12 years without her. Please wait for me so we can chase birds everyday in heaven.
Photo credits to: Dwayne Bratcher Chip Laughton Molly McFarlin
Let’s begin with a short checklist of essential field skills required for a successful pheasant hunt with your retriever.
Will your flushing retriever …
Heel off-lead around high distractions, such as other running dogs, birds flying and running, gunfire both with hits and missing a bird…a fly away?
Retrieve downed large birds, such as pheasants, to hand without damage?
Hunt cover for unseens and readily stops to the whistle and take directional casts?
Remain steady to flush while quartering and cover the ground thoroughly in search of birds while remaining close to the shooters?
Each of these skills should be entrenched to the point of habit and have been demonstrated reliably for a year.
Patience is always a virtue and its virtue cannot be underestimated in dog training. Taking dogs too early to the hunting field or into situations they are not prepared for is a recipe for disaster and will require a great deal of time trying to “fix” created problems.
The Wildrose Way five-option drill is one of the lessons I do often when preparing my dogs for the North Dakota trip or any walk-up pheasant shooting. I like to do a lot of different variations of this drill to accomplish an entire array of skills. For review of the five-option drill, see Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way or our Upland Training DVD, both available at wildrosetradingcompany.com.
Early on in training, once I have a dog stopping to the whistle at heel reliably, I release them to air out (potty or free run shortly). I then blow the sit whistle and when they sit, I toss a bumper. At first they may break for the bumper, which cannot be allowed to continue but initially I want the quick sit reaction to the stop whistle, even when distracted and paying attention to other things like free running and exploring close by.
This activity’s purpose is two-fold, one it keeps the dog close and engaged with you even when letting the dog exercise or air out, and it also entrenches a quick whistle stop response and sit to the flush of the eventual flushed bird.
Later, you will develop further options of picking up the bumper as a denial:
having another dog pick the bumper,
recalling the dog then sending for a bumper or another unseen or memory bird,
going out to the dog and lining for the retrieve,
or even sending your dog remotely for the thrown bumper.
Then we advance to tall grass, birds, and definitely gunfire before we make the trek North.
Good luck, and feel free to reach out with questions, firstname.lastname@example.org.