Transitional Training

Guy Billups, Wildrose Texas

Transitional training is the practice of utilizing specific training exercises designed to bridge the gap between field training activities and actual hunting conditions; the Wildrose Way is to train as you hunt, hunt as you train.

There are multiple steps to training a gundog that will receive a recurring invitation after each and every hunt. The first is yard work. Any skill that you wish your dog to perform must first be perfected in a mowed flat area with no distractions. The goal here is to set your dog up for success. Then there is field work, where the same skills are now repeated in an assortment of terrain and situations:  tall grass, water, woods, etc. Sequentially, the last step many may consider is to go hunt, that is if you want all your training to go out the window. For the training of a proper Gentleman’s Gundog there is another step in the process before going afield on opening day.

Transitional work is most often the quickest to be overlooked. The key is mimicking realistic hunting scenarios in a controlled environment to entrench the skills you have been teaching. For instance, in the video above we are shooting several clays before ever launching a bumper to ensure that the clays and gunfire have not unsteadied the dog. Having already set out decoys and set up in the blind, all we need is a simple mark or a couple of memories. Most often all of the confusion of broken clays and gunfire will be enough to challenge a young dog. Keep the retrieves successful, and make haste slowly to adding complexity.

If you are not lucky enough to have all of the facilities and assistance needed for a challenging transitional setup at your disposal, don’t be discouraged. A simple hand-thrown clay thrower, decoys, gunfire and maybe even waders or duck calls can be enough to add to a training session to get your dog focused as if it’s a real hunt. I had a long-time Wildrose dog owner suggest getting to the training ground before daylight and beginning the train at sunrise for an added environmental factor to more closely mimic a hunt. Be sure that the real hunt is mimicked, but don’t hesitate to stop and train where your dog is struggling.  First hunts are actually extensions of training.

Transitional training transfers basic lessons to practical field situations similar to a football team scrimmaging, war games to infantry men.  Lessons learned in training are transferred to realistic field/marsh situations.


Sporting Dog and Retriever Training: The Wildrose Way, pp. 37, 143, 155, 255

Guy Billups

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Mark Donohoo’s Ears, Eyes, and Nose: Combining a Passion and a Profession in Using His Dog and His Hearing Device 

By Dr. Ben W. McClelland  


Mark and Thor

Mark Donohoo owns, travels with, and hunts with Wildrose Thor (Indian X Pippa). While we refer to Thor as a dog of duality (gundog and diabetic alert dog), he also accompanies Mark to trade shows as the mascot of Grizzly Ears. Thor is precocious in that not only can he multi-task, but he began showing unusual prowess at a very young age.

In this article Mark tells how he came to acquire Thor and how they have become trusted companions. As Mark tells it, his interest in hunting began when he was a youngster and his interest in hunting dogs came much later. Here’s the story in Mark’s words: 

My passion for the outdoors began as a young boy when my father gave me my first gun and taught me how to shoot a .22 caliber, single-bolt action rifle. Growing up, I loved exploring the great outdoors from camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, white water rafting, or just shooting targets. 

Hunting became a passion for me many years ago. I’ve enjoyed bow hunting in the early fall season and rifle hunts through some of the harshest winters in search of elk, bear, mule deer, and whitetail throughout the USA. I have spent many hours wading in icy waters in the Northern and Southern flyways in search of waterfowl with my Labradors. I’ve traveled to the beautiful New Zealand mountains in search of Chamois, Red Stag, Tar, and have traveled to the far reaches of the Arctic circle in search of Caribou. In all my travels, I have come to appreciate and love the outdoors and all that Mother Nature has to offer. 

When I moved to Nashville in 1998, I was introduced to waterfowl and upland hunting with friends. I had always hunted deer, elk, and bear in the West, but never waterfowl and upland birds. I loved watching the Ducks Unlimited show and Mike Stewart’s tips with Drake, and then years later Deke.

Twenty years ago I first found a passion for hunting dogs. My first two labradors were trained for hunting water fowl. Unfortunately, dogs can’t live forever and after they passed it took me 4 years to be ready for a new Labrador. As I researched the best breeding and training facilities in the country, I found Wildrose Kennels, and immediately my wife and I knew we needed to journey to Oxford, Mississippi, to find out more about their breeding and training programs.  

After spending time with the owners, trainers, and dogs we were extremely impressed. Not only with the trainers, management, and facilities, but also the impeccable blood lines of their dogs. We didn’t need to take any more time to think or discuss the next steps. We put down a deposit that day for a puppy! 

IMG_6345On July 21, 2017, when we returned to Wildrose puppy picking, we selected a yellow male pup, from Indian and Pippa, and we named him Thor.

Thor was very easy to crate train in the house and understood to do his potty outside. We introduced him immediately to place and, although Thor would stay in my home office with me on place, he would rather play or go outside. Within a couple of weeks he began staying outside in his doghouse. He adjusted quickly to enjoying the outdoors and appreciated when he could come inside the house.

We knew quickly Thor was exceptionally smart. Within hours of coming home with us he already knew how to retrieve small balls, rolled socks, or puppy bumpers. Thor demonstrated a great hunting ability from the beginning. I would hide bumpers and balls and use the command “find it,” and he would always come back with the bumper or ball.

Thor learned very quickly the commands “sit,” “stay,” and “here.” He would respond to my voice as well as to a whistle. It was shocking to see how fast he picked those commands up. We knew he would be special and we wanted Thor trained the Wildrose way. So, eleven months after we picked Thor up, we returned to Wildrose for training in waterfowl, upland, and shed, hunting, and to be my diabetic alert dog.   

When Thor and I arrived at Wildrose, Trainer Ryan Alderman had a sheet to check off

ryan and thor

Ryan and Thor

what Thor could do. Thor had completed most of the commands on the basic checklist. Ryan was very impressed with how well Thor performed during his intake test. Thor could do all the basic commands, voice or whistle. He could also do denial of bumpers thrown around him. He could heel to my side without a leash and sit when I stopped. During the intake session, I told Trainer Danielle Drewrey and Ryan that Thor was going to do Shed, Waterfowl, Upland, and be my diabetic service dog.

During Thor’s training program Ryan was very good about sending me videos of Thor’s progress as the months went along. Every six-to-seven weeks I would visit Thor to observe his progress. When I would visit Wildrose for Thor’s training, Ryan was great at showing me how to handle Thor on various scenarios of training on land or in the water, hunting memories, marks, or blind retrieves. Ryan showed me how to handle Thor in the field with voice, whistle, or hand signals.

The idea for my new product, Grizzly Ears, came about in December, 2017, while I was duck hunting in Arkansas with my grandson. I knew there had to be a better way to protect my hearing while still having the convenience of answering my phone.  Grizzly Grizzly EarsEars combines Bluetooth  technology with amplified shot compression earbuds that allows you to listen to your favorite music, answer your phone with a touch of a button, all while providing you with amplified shot compression that protects you from loud sounds 85 decibels and above.   

After I returned home with Thor from his training regimen at WildroseI  decided to make him the Grizzly Ears Mascot to travel with me as I promote Grizzly Ears. 

So far, Thor and I have been on waterfowl and upland hunts, promoting Grizzly Ears. On one upland hunt in North Dakota with Josh Gardner, who has a WR Gus, I realized that the amplification was set too high. The wind conditions were around 25-30 mph, with really strong gusts. The sound of the wind was too strong coming through the earbuds. So, I decided to make the adjustment to lower the amplification down to levels where the wind is not overpowering. Experiencing, firsthand, these field conditions with Josh made this correction possible.

Thor revealed his versatility as a multitasking dog with an exceptional skill set when we


Thor alerting low blood sugar

were on the road, traveling to Arkansas for a duck hunt. I was trying to get to my destination by a certain time. Unfortunately, I let the time for eating pass by and that is the kiss of death for a diabetic. Thor kept putting his head on my shoulder and licking my neck while I was driving. Then he took his paw and pressed it on the side of my face. I knew at that moment that I was very low. I immediately rewarded Thor with touch of peanut butter for the alert. I pulled over at the next rest area and tested my blood sugars and they were very low.

About a week later Thor alerted me again when we were on an upland hunt in North Dakota. We were doing a lot of pushing, just three of us and four dogs. It got late in the afternoon where I had run out of snacks and Thor and I were pushing across the field for pheasant. I stopped to take a break after hunting in thick cover and expending lots of energy on this last push. Thor was at my side and I could feel him pushing on me and then he put his paw up on my leg alerting me that my levels were low. He did this a few times before I recognized his alert. Once again he was correct because my levels were at 48.

Recently, Thor made another alert when we attended the Wildrose Cajan event in Louisiana for dog training tips, and upland and quail hunting. While I was on the quail hunt, I had made the mistake of leaving my snacks behind at the Lodge. We had been hunting for a couple hours when I noticed Thor kept tapping my hand while we were walking for quail. I stopped and then he put his paw on my leg alerting me a third time. Thor has already become a lifesaver at such a young age. I take it for granted how easy it is to slip into dangerous blood sugar levels.

After I wrap up my trade show traveling in February, Thor and I will  begin our six-state journey across the US. We will be shed hunting for Elk and Deer with professionals from the Rocky Mountains to Alberta Canada.  As I attend trade shows and stay busy on hunts, Thor is by my side, giving me a sense of comfort and confidence knowing he will alert me whenever my blood sugar reaches dangerous levels.  Thor is everything we wanted in a Lab: he is smart, well trained, obedient, and my co-pilot while traveling around the country. Yes, Thor is a very special dog and I’m very grateful we decided to get a pup from Wildrose Kennels.  


Ben W. McClelland

Mark Donohoo

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Dogs of Duality

By Mike Stewart, Wildrose International


Photo by Katie Behnke

The dual-purpose gundog is a distinction that Wildrose Kennels is known to produce, The Gentleman’s Gundog:  The Versatile Lab that is equally effective on upland game birds and waterfowl. Also, of course, one that is compatible in the home and on the road.

The Wildrose Way emphasizes that versatility is not accomplished in a single training cycle as often one set of skills required does not necessary complement another. For instance, the close-range work required of quartering to flush pheasant within gun range versus taking a long, straight line for an unseen mallard dropped across open water.  The different expectations are obvious. How is a balance achieved when realizing that dogs learn through consistent repetition and that confusing them must be avoided?

Back to Basics

The reality is that contrary skills sets are not trained simultaneously.  Rather, we want to focus on developing the skills necessary for our primary hunting expectations first, then after field experiences, we add the second level of training for other hunting situations, thereby, avoiding confusion.

If our primary purpose for our hunting companion is waterfowling, we will concentrate our initial training efforts on:

Water work


Photo by Katie Behnke

Distance lining

Working from blinds, hides, water stands

Handling at distances on land and water

Cross-training for upland will begin also as long as it does not compromise the primary training progression.  We could develop:

Hunting cover on command

Steadiness at heel

Marking in cover

Negotiating barriers

We avoid the counterintuitive skills of sweeping and quartering, which requires the dog to work a zigzag pattern within 15 yards of the handler.

If our primary choice is an upland flushing retriever with a bit of waterfowling, then our focus becomes close handling to keep our gundog within shot range and dealing with multiple falls in thick cover. So, we could develop:

Handling close within 15 yards


Photo by Katie Behnke

Hunting cover on command

Staying steady to flush and shot

Marking by sound

For this upland gundog we would do some exposure to close-in waterfowl work such as multiple falls on water at shorter distances, falls across creeks and channels, decoys, blinds, water stands, etc., all within a reasonable range so as to not de-rail our efforts in training quartering.  After a successful first season where the dog worked well within gun range, cross training for waterfowl may be completed adding distant lining and handling.

Different Commands
As presented in The Wildrose Way Upland DVD and in our book, Sporting Dogs and sportoing_dog_training_wildrose_way_1024x1024@2xRetriever Training, The Wildrose Way, (both available at, different behaviors require distinctive commands for the dog to avoid confusion.

  1. Hunt Cover Close– Remain still, give a waist-high cast with the hunt command. Hold the dog in close range to locate a down bird.  It’s a search command “Dead Bird” or “Hi Loss,” etc.
  2. Strike– To flush pointed birds holding in front of Pointers. Line with the command, “Put them up.” The dog should make the flush and then remain steady.
  3. Quarter– Stand with the dog to your side, step to the side away from the dog and give a low cast with the arm/hand at waist height with a verbal cue like “Find them,” different from other commands.
  4. Marks– Simply say the dog’s name if he/she saw the bird drop.
  5. Line Long– Take two steps forward to align the dog in the desired direction of travel. Turn into the dog placing your body parallel to the dog.  Reach forward indicating the line. Provide a lining command like, “dead bird” or “go long,” a distinct cue different from hunting cover or quartering. Release by name.

Photo by Chip Laughton

With field training and practical experience, the gundog learns to distinguish the individual commands and the desirable behaviors.

Cross-training a talented gundog is quite possible:  upland, waterfowl, blood trailing, shed hunting.  The main thing to keep in mind is to avoid confusing the dog by exposing it to counterintuitive behaviors too quickly.  Train in progression with success in one area before adding another and develop a consistent understanding of commands for each desired behavior.

Mike Stewart

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Tails of the Sea, Wildrose “Sailor” Aweigh

Welcome to “The Trekker”

Experience stories of Adventure Dogs along with tips on training for your next adventure. 

By Chris Wilke

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWildrose Sailor was known to be a hot-rod in the field, but his life on the water was one of a calmer nature. In spring of 2007 we took a weekend cruise with our 3-1/2 years old dog, Wildrose Sailor (FTCh Angus x Meg). He joined us aboard “Over the LINE,” our 35-foot sailboat.  We set sail from Municipal Yacht Harbor of New Orleans, bound for the mouth of the Tchefuncta River on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain.  Our journey was about 30 miles. It takes around 6 hours if wind blows properly.

Sailor grew up aboard small powerboats and by this point in his life had spent many hours on the water.  He also had many hours and miles traveling in vehicles but this was his first sail. When thinking of bringing him, we did not hesitate. He always responded


Chris and Sailor

positively to “go” and therefore where we went, he went.
Sailor handled the passage very well.  He was happy, calm, and he honored the boundary of the cockpit.  As soon as we anchored, Sailor was excited to go ashore and explore; he was ready for his next adventure. I quickly launched the dingy and we motored to the beach.

Over the next few days, we spent hours on the small beach. The beach was set at the mouth of the river, so it was a high traffic area and Sailor enjoyed the action.  No trip was complete without a full cooler of our favorite drinks and Sailor with his favorite spot to lie, next to me.  We explored in the inflatable dingy and Sailor was relaxed, listening to the calming whisper of the waves.  Staying on the boat for four nights, Sailor fell into the routine of this new adventure almost instantly.  Lani and I slept in the forward “V Berth” and Sailor slept on his Orvis bed on the cabin floor close to our bed, almost like a big kennel for the three of us.

Sailor stayed calm aboard and was even comfortable being lifted from the deck to the dingy and back again.  The same applied to being helped down into the cabin but he soon learned to climb the companionway ladder back up to the cockpit. We were able to embark on many adventures because Sailor was well behaved. He adapted to almost any situation, the perfect adventure companion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wildrose Sailor, 12/24/2003-7/25/2018

“May the wind and waves take you where they please”


Every Adventure Dog is equipped with a set of skills that gives them the ability to take on many situations. A few of Sailor’s learned skills include but were not limited to:

Trained to be comfortable being lifted.  This is with the dog perpendicular to me, my arms wrapped around all four legs with the dog’s body at chest level.  Without a dog steady in your arms, it is hard to lift and load a dog.  Adventure situations, and some hunting situations (low tide dock to duck boat), (top of dog trailer picture), require you to lift a dog into position.  This is often while your footing is less than ideal.

Airing out aboard a vessel.  Having your dog possess the skill to use the bathroom on AstroTurf can make life a lot easier on you and the dog.  The best way to teach this is to begin at home with first putting a command to the act of using the bathroom.  After the dog understands the command you can place the Astroturf where the dog is conditioned to use the bathroom.  Once your dog is proficient at this in a familiar environment, you can then move the Astroturf to new locations.

Teaching borders.  The best way to begin boarder training is starting simple by using objects like; carpet to tile, grass to concrete or the boarders of the Kuranda bed.  Teaching this will help keep an excited dog confined when sit or place is not convenient, like on a moving boat.  “Stay in the cockpit” is just don’t cross the “border” between the cockpit and deck. “Keep your feet off the dingy gunnels (sides of the boat, very unsafe)” is don’t cross the border between the floor and the tube. I have used a piece of line or stick out in the hunting field to stop creeping.  For the trip across the lake on a heeling bouncing boat (boats lean when under sail and bounce in waves) Sailor needed to move around a little but still stay in the relative safety of the cockpit.  Borders worked perfectly.  I use a flat hand held in front of their nose and “no” to designate a border.

Chris Wilke

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Brunswick Stew

Recipe by Jim Lea, Oxford, MS
Owner of Wildrose Rowan

Brunswick stew is an iconic dish, extremely popular in the south, generally involving a mix of pulled pork, chicken, brisket, turkey, or wild game. It is thick, hearty, and tomato based and almost always contains corn and lima beans with barbecue sauce and a little hot sauce. A debate exists to this day by residents of Brunswick, Georgia, & Brunswick County, Virginia, as to who the exact creator of this recipe is. In any event, it’s a homerun in my southern home.

Prep Time: 15 minutesjim and rowan stew

Cook Time: 2 hr. 25 min.
Serves: 20 plus servings

½ pound salted butter
3 cups (2 large) finely diced sweet onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic (fresh is better)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup hickory bbq sauce
½ cup gold/yellow bbq sauce
1-1.5 pounds smoked pulled chicken and/or smoked turkey
1-1.5 pounds smoked pulled pork
1-1.5 pounds smoked chopped beef brisket
1 (number 10-109 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 quart drained yellow corn kernels (2 14.5 oz. cans)
1 quart drained baby lima beans (2 14.5 oz. cans)
1 can cream-styled corn
1 quart or more quality chicken stock or broth
6-12 dashes Tabasco Brand Chipotle hot sauce to taste


Melt the butter in a large saucepan on medium heat (20 quart stock pot).  Add the diced onions and the garlic and sauté until onions are translucent, about 15 minutes. Sir in the cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, & Worcestershire sauce.

Simmer for 5 minutes then add ½ cup of hickory bbq sauce and ½ cup of gold/yellow bbq sauce. Stir in the pulled chicken and/or turkey, pork, and brisket.

Add the crushed tomatoes and all of the vegetables. Stir in chicken broth/stock and let simmer for 2 hours over medium heat.

Transfer the stew to a serving bowl and serve with warm buttermilk cornbread if desired.



  • Excellent to freeze to have later
  • Obtain meats from a great local meat market or several
  • Substitute a good seasoning such as Tony Chachere’s More Spice Creole Seasoning for the salt/pepper
  • Substitute ½ cup vinegar bbq sauce for the gold/yellow bbq sauce
  • Double the canned vegetables. When doing this add 1-2 cans of crushed tomatoes as well
  • Some recipes add a quart of cubed potatoes depending on locations/states
  • Feeds a crowd on a cold fall/winter night. A staple at my SW Mississippi hunting camp
  • There are many variations of this wonderful stew, our family prefers 3 meats of pulled pork, chicken, and brisket
  • It’s great with wild game such as squirrel, dove, quail, and wild boar

Jim Lea

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Wildrose Carolinas is Up and Running for 2019!

We are pleased to announce that Wildrose Carolinas is continuing to make progress on site and with our program. We will be holding numerous dog training workshops and handler’s seminars and our first event will be on March 2ndStarting Your Dog the Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 6.16.02 AM.pngWildrose Way.

This course focuses on starting your dog the proper way to becoming a well-rounded, hunting or adventure partner. Gentle, highly repetitive methods are used to show you step-by-step how to start your pup from crate training to lining retrieves. Topics include obedience, steadiness, promoting calm behaviors, patience, introduction to birds, memories, doubles, early marks, reading your pup, K-9 demeanor and much more. Participants are invited to bring their pup to work with and will have the opportunity to handle a variety of different dogs at various levels of training, a real hands-on opportunity.

This course is for all breeds. To register, please contact Kim at 919-500-8797 or

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 6.19.29 AM.png

We encourage you to visit our website We hope to see or hear from you soon. Please contact Kim at 919-500-8797 or for more information, scheduling boarding or training needs.

Contact Information


Instagram: @wildrosecarolinas

Facebook: Wildrose Carolinas

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Duck and Quail Gumbo

Recipe by Melissa Warren – owner of Wildrose Rosie

Quail and duck are the perfect ingredients for a dark-roux gumbo. I like making a flavorful stock from the carcass of a leftover Thanksgiving turkey with the bones of the duck and quail. These bones make for a fabulous, flavorful base stock giving your gumbo a unique, distinct flavor.


6 quail & 6 ducks deboned & seasoned with salt, pepper & creole seasoning

½ pound andouille sausage or deer sausage

Some leftover turkey to boot!

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup flour – seasoned with cayenne & creole seasoning

3 onions, chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

3 stalks of celery, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 quarts of turkey/game-bird stock

1 tbsp kitchen bouquet

Salt, salt & black, green & white & cayenne pepper to taste

Granulated garlic & creole seasoning to taste

Hot sauce to taste

4 green onions, sliced

½ cup chopped parsley


First, make a roux in a Dutch oven by heating the vegetable oil over medium-high heat to approximately 350 degrees. Slowly add flour, whisking continuously until a dark brown roux is achieved (darker than peanut butter but lighter than chocolate). Add onions, bell pepper and celery and saute’ 3-5 minutes. Add warmed turkey/game-bird stock slowly combining until roux and vegetables are combined. Add kitchen bouquet. Season with salt, peppers, granulated garlic, Creole seasoning and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, add green onions and parsley then stir. Reduce heat and cover for 1 hour. Add duck, quail and sausage and simmer for another hour. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with white rice.


Serves 12; Pairs well with Pinot Noir

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Developing My Gun Dog Notebook Through The Wildrose Way

An Excerpt from The Gun Dog Notebook
By Durrell L. Smith



Durrell and wife Ashley Smith

What is it about The Wildrose Way?  For me, the Wildrose Way served as the foundation for my understanding. Since I did not grow up hunting, dogs were seen mostly as pets for my family members and those in my environment, but the Wildrose program provided a roadmap for what I always dreamed was possible with a dog. I always knew that I wanted a hunting, field-bred Labrador that I could make memories with in the field, and thus far, I’m pretty sure I’ve found that.

What I did not know when I began my journey was what I truly wanted FROM a hunting Lab.  My Lab, Ruger is actually an American Labrador, which shows that the Wildrose program works across the board.  I dissected Mike Stewart’s book and began writing a journal of notes and observations, reiterating and developing my own understanding of the technique for my young pup.  I also began to learn a bit more about myself and the training choices that I prefer for my dog.

As I dug deeper into the Wildrose Way literature, it became very clear that Durrell4confidence and encouragement were the most important rewards to Ruger.  I undoubtedly know that handling Ruger through praise and encouragement channels prevented me from breaking him mentally. Since Ruger and I developed our rapport through such channels, Ruger desires cooperation, seeks to please, and thirsts to succeed in the field.  He just sits and waits, tail wagging, for the next command or task.  Through consistent training and effective correction, I was able to get my dog to communicate enthusiastically throughout the hunt.

I have learned that a quiet hunt is a good hunt.  Much of my communication, due to The Wildrose Way, has been fairly silent.  I was talking too much at first. It’s honestly astonishing how much man and dog understand each other WITHOUT words. Think about it! Your dog is not talking “audibly” anyway! The silence honestly allowed Ruger and I to deepen our connection. We have developed this sensational silent system of trust. He watches me and I watch him!

Walking through the woods flushing birds with a dog that willfully attends his nose and my whistle simultaneously is an experience that I cherish and attribute much to an understanding and study of Mike’s technique.  What Ruger and I have is a system that continuously builds his confidence and my confidence.  Take note of your pace. For I have learned that there should never be any “rush.” It really is just about you and the dog.

The Wildrose Way united my dog and me as a team. So much so that I can even predict when he will stop and ask for help and direction during the hunt.  When we communicate on the same level, casting is a great deal easier.  Some things are pretty much figured out in regards to the dogs, I believe. Many of our gun dog forefathers have just figured it out!  And honestly, that’s why I advocate so much for Wildrose because I believe that Mike Stewart has done just that…he has figured it out.  And, because I abandoned myself to Mike’s philosophy and methodologies, I can say that I not only have a good bird dog, but I have even begun to find my own rhythm and style.  I can’t say that I have a fancy field trial dog with a known lineage and bloodline. However, I can say that I have, what I like to call, my “country dawg,” who truly is every bit of a fine shooting dog. And having a fine shooting dog is something that I strive towards every single day, and that daily consistency has served Ruger and me well.  The Wildrose Way has contributed to the foundation of what I look for in my dog, and at 2 years of age, we’ve been enjoying the beginnings of an amazing story of a new hunter and dog handler along with a young Labrador Retriever.  I record and document my journey in a notebook, The Gun Dog Notebook.

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Double Dog

By Guy C. Billups
Wildrose Texas

On a late season hunt John Murphy, trainer, Wildrose Texas, and I shot down two pairs of mallards on an icy morning. Captured above. June and Mojo were able to demonstrate the convenience of a double dog retrieve. Double dog is when two dogs are out in the field making retrieves simultaneously. They should not interfere with each other, switch birds or try to steal the other dog’s bird during the course of the retrieve. As with all advanced skills, there is an intentional progression during training to lead up to dog’s ability to execute the skill while out in the field on a hunt.

It all starts with group obedience work as young pups. Teaching the dogs at an early stage to work and stay focused among other dogs instead of seeing the other dogs as playmates. During this influential stage it is important to introduce the dog to group settings with group obedience work rather than allowing them to run around the yard playing tug of war with sticks.

As the distraction of other dogs diminishes, we can start doing trailing memories back to back, then work up to sending your dog as the other dog is coming back with a retrieve. In the beginning, as with any skill development, make haste slowly and stay successful. Using an older, experienced dog will help to eliminate any issues if your young pup decides to play instead of staying on job.

Once your starter can consistently run past another dog returning from a retrieve you are ready to starting adding distractions, from gunfire to birds until you are ready to put the new skills to work out in the field. All of your hunting buddies will surely appreciate the speed at which two dogs can clear the spread and get everyone back to hunting.

Guy C. Billups

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Wildrose Augustus of Oakhurst, TR, ADC, MT – Winner, 2018 Double Gun Retriever Classic & Winner, 2018 Bahamas Coconut Retriever Championship


How a Champion is Born and Raised

By Dr. Ben W. McClelland

Gus profile_edited-1.jpg

Wildrose Augustus of Oakhurst – photo by Katie Behnke

Just over three years ago when Hattie Billups went to Wildrose’s puppy pickin’ of a Deke and Mira litter, she didn’t get to pick one. After the other new owners picked their pups, the last pup was put in Hattie’s arms. Sure, Deke and Mira come from proven bloodlines, but in his training book Mike cautions prospective owners that are looking at a litter of puppies:

You’re making a decision based on the probability that a pup from a proven bloodline will inherit the desirable traits from its parents and grandparents. In doing so, you have to be reasonable about expected outcomes. Variables do exist between pups and even between littermates. Think of a family with four children. All four children are not going to be the same; they will differ in size, temperament, personality, learning ability, development, and even likes and dislikes. The same variables will exist between pups within a litter. A good breeder can give you genetic predictability, but it can’t give you absolutes. (Stewart 26. Emphasis added.) 

So, Hattie took home her new pup—Gus—hoping that he had the desirable traits and that

puppy pic

Gus as a puppy

she could develop him into the gundog that she hoped for. It wasn’t exactly a crapshoot, but whether Gus would excel or not was an open question. And—oh, yes—as a novice handler, Hattie had to develop effective handling skills.  

Many of you know that at the end of a three-year journey together Hattie and Gus won Wildrose’s Double Gun Classic. Hattie and Gus didn’t just become a good team. They excelled at the highest level in two days of competition against twenty-some of the best handlers and dogs in the Wildrose pack. How did “probability” and “genetic predictability” result in perfect performance?  

The story began some time before this novice handler met the last pup left. At the Wildrose Double Gun Classic at Greystone Castle in Dallas, Texas, Hattie’s husband, Guy, and their son, GC, enjoyed the exciting activities where veteran dog handlers worked their marvelous canines through multiple training-and-shooting scenarios. Afterwards, the two Guys suggested that Hattie get her own dog. She agreed and thus came the trip to Oxford to get Gus. 

Gus came home to an existing Billups Pack that included a chihuahua, Nacho, and Guy’s two-year-old, trained Labrador, Corky.  While Corky was delighted to meet Gus, Nacho, who likes attention, wasn’t as thrilled. Corky hunts upland, waterfowl, and deer. Guy will place him at the base of the tree he climbs up. In a recent hunt Guy shot a deer that ran out of the field. Guy climbed down and told Corky to go find it, which he soon did. Corky has also tracked several deer for guests at the Billups’ hunting camp. Corky did what they hoped Gus would do.  

Within a year, a Wildrose female pup arrived, making life a little more challenging. Coffee is Guy’s dog and he named her Wildrose High Octane Coffee because of their coffee company. Hattie says that Coffee has lived up to her name because she has so much energy. But true to the nature of British Labs, she lies on place inside the home without issue. All live in the family home in harmony on place.  



Gus, who sleeps on a Kuranda bed, was crate trained from the beginning. Hattie required that Gus be obedient and fit into the family pack. She says, “Gus’s being well behaved is what makes him enjoyable for me to spend time with him in all other areas of our life.” Soon he and Hattie attended puppy class at Wildrose. So, his training began early on. And so did Hattie’s. 

Guy had trained his dog, Corky, and now Hattie wanted to train her dog, Gus. Her son, GC, encouraged her to train Gus, but being unsure that she had the skill to train a hunting dog, Hattie began to train herself to train Gus. She understood what Mike advises in his training book:  

A good hunting dog is bred to do many things naturally. You, on the other hand, are not genetically predisposed to train a dog. You need to spend as much time learning how to be a great canine leader and communicator as you do learning to apply the effective principles of dog training.  (Stewart 35) 

 Hattie read Mike’s training book and attended Wildrose workshops with Gus. She discovered that as she got more confident as a handler, Gus gained more confidence as well, making the work of training fun.   

Billups family

The Billups Pack

Hattie made other discoveries, as she reports, “After our first dove hunt, I realized that I needed to learn to shoot better for my dog. It is sad to have a really great dog and you don’t hit anything for him to retrieve.” So, she began to practice her marksmanship, making her a better wingshooter and piquing Gus’s interest in hunting. Hattie saw during their first hunts, when she didn’t hit birds, that Gus would just watch the ground. Later, as her shooting improved, Gus watched the end of her barrel. It didn’t take long for him to make the connection and now he watches the sky, waiting to mark the falling game.  

As they trained in various situations, Hattie observed Gus’s incredible drive no matter what they were doing. She says, “I have heard others talk about their dogs getting bored with training. I have never experienced Gus getting bored with anything to do with training. I can do some of the most basic skills and he doesn’t mind. He has the same drive no matter the skill. He absolutely loves anything involving water.” 

Keenly observing his behavior, Hattie discovered something else about Gus: He wanted to do well for her. As she says, “When he was younger if we were practicing a new skill in the field and perhaps he didn’t understand what I wanted, he would sit down and look at me until I gave him a recall. He didn’t shut down, but he didn’t want to do the wrong thing either.”  

It became evident that Gus possessed some superior qualities. “Amazing,” was Guy’s word when he mentioned it to Hattie. Guy has trained several retrieving dogs through the years, including a HRC Hunt Test champion. GC, who also watched them work together, was the next person that told Hattie that she had a special dog.  

As the bond between them grew stronger, Hattie developed a passion for handling Gus. She says, “I would say the passion I feel today was not there from day one. It has developed over the time I spent with Gus, during the activities that we did and continue to do together now.”  

Earlier in the Billups’ life, Hattie and Guy traveled all over the country with their daughter, Claudia, who has been riding horses since she was five years old. While Guy and GC hunted, fished, and talked football, Hattie enjoyed watching their daughter ride, watching GC play football, and she also enjoyed going fishing and some hunting with Guy. However, as she says, “Now having my own dog, that I trained myself, by my side has given me a passion to be a better trainer, hunter, and adventurer.” This relationship that made champions out of both of them bloomed over many days of repetitive training.  

When Gus was four months old, the Billups Pack attended a handlers workshop at Wildrose. In the morning session Hattie worked Gus. In the afternoon she used Corky to complete the workshop. Gus learned to honor dogs during the session. Hattie found that attending the workshop and continuing to read Mike’s training book brought it all together for her. 

 Once she had decided to be Gus’s primary handler, Hattie vowed to work with him six days a week—every single week no matter what. Sometimes the weather was bad. No matter. They continued to train even if they had to do it inside. And then, when Gus was six months old, a major catastrophe challenged their training regimen—Hattie broke her ankle and had to wear a boot for several weeks. No matter. They continued to train. She did not want to turn over the training duties to Guy. As Gus’s primary handler, she didn’t want him to look to anyone else for commands, so she set up training activities in their yard and, steadying herself with crutches, she worked with him. During this time Hattie also took Gus to Wildrose weekly to get help from trainers in meeting their training goals.  


Over time Hattie and Gus worked through the gundog program, including hold conditioning, whistle and handling activities, and introduction to gunfire. Their progress together was not some fantasy-like unbroken line upward. It was real life. Good days and bad. Through it all they stuck with it. Guy and GC encouraged her, lifting her spirits when she became discouraged and cheering her on. 

Early on in her days as a novice trainer, Hattie watched other handlers and realized that sometimes she expected Gus to do a skill before he was ready. Someone counseled her, “Enjoy him when he’s young. The steadiness will all come together and all the other skills. Just relax and learn to let things happen naturally. Let everything pull together as he grows.”  

She took the advice. Moreover, Hattie trained with Gus, simulating what their first hunt would be like. Hattie, reports, “I made sure he was familiar with decoys. I trained him in the yard wearing his vest and leaving and returning to his MoMarsh stand. I launched several marks to simulate several ducks falling.” She also practiced sending Gus on multiple retrieves in a pond full of fallen timbers. Still, their first hunt together was terrible. Transitioning from training to an actual hunt can bring challenges. Hattie says, “Gus’s very first duck hunt was devastating to me. I was so disappointed. He seemed to be running around like a nut. He wasn’t marking the birds, or listening, or taking hand signals.” Hattie first thought that all the training was for nothing. And then came the second hunt and the situation was more familiar to Gus. Hattie says, “The second hunt was a 180-degree turn around. Gus was watching the skies and marking the birds. It was like a snap of a finger and it all came together. Night and day difference. It all fell into place.” Her evolution as a handler, as Gus’s development into a skilled gundog progressed together.  

Reflecting on some of their various activities together, Hattie makes several observations that handlers can benefit from: 

  • Some days we spend several hours in the cab of the tractor disking or bush hogging.gus in tractor Gus and I walk around the edge of our hayfield so I can get my number of steps in a day. Some days we just walk, some days we train during the walk. I like to take a tennis ball with us to work on his steadiness. I quickly learned that I needed to change things up. Not because he would get bored but if I do several days of long retrieves then we need to do some short ones as well. As the training book describes – cyclical training. If you hunt cover for several days, you have to punch through past the cover and hunt or hunt before he gets to the cover. GC has encouraged me to swim him more and give him days off from training to let him recover from a hard training day.  
  • Some days we just get in the yard and work on hand signals with the bumpers within ten-to-twenty feet to make him think about what I am asking him to do.  
  • I think one of the most important things I have learned from watching Mike train is the dog’s success. Sometimes I would think I was doing something too easy and Guy would remind me it is all about the dog being successful, building his confidence.  
  • During the summer of 2017 I wanted to make sure Gus was solid on hand signals, so I cut paths in the hayfield with my lawn mower. I cut a big “+” sign in the field. I put Gus in the middle gave him right/left and back casts to the bumpers. Also, there was one particular permanent blind he had a terrible time grasping, so I cut a path through the hay field to that blind. I’m sure the field looked interesting from a plane. 

However, life for Hattie and Gus was not all fieldwork. They went fishing with the family, worked on Adventure Dog skills—bikes, restaurants, rides in tractor, rides in side-by-sides, rides on four wheelers. They took family trips to Houston and stayed in hotels. Hattie says, “We have always traveled with our dogs. We visit family on the coast and go to Dallas to spend time with our grandson as often as possible. The dogs travel great. Whether we stay in hotels or our camper. They are used to the routine. They learned to take advantage of the travel days to rest for the days when we hunt.” Gus became a member of family. And the handler-dog bond continued to grow between him and Hattie.  

hattie gus CO

Hattie and Gus at Wildrose Colorado

That bond was tested and proved solid under various circumstances, including competition at Wildrose’s Double Gun Classic. Their first time Gus was young, but had a great experience. The encounter stimulated Hattie’s passion even further. As she says, “The second year I told Guy and GC that I wanted Gus to win in 2018. I trained and worked toward that goal. I tried to think of the different retrieves I saw dogs accomplish over the first two events. I would use the round bales of hay on our farm to stand beside, and I would set up really long blinds because I remembered there would be some on Sunday in the backfield.”  

Hattie describes her experience with Gus during the DG competition: 

  • I was so pleased with Gus because he did everything I asked him to do. He took straight lines, he stopped when I blew the whistle, and took the proper cast. The first bird we were asked to retrieve I had to send him past a peg and over the hill. Because I could not see the bird that was down, I made sure to line him in the wind cone especially because I knew he would be out of sight. He took the line and as he started slowing down, I gave him a back and he went out of my sight. All I could do was wait and within seconds he was returning with the bird. 
  • The second bird we were asked to retrieve went down about 200-250 yards away. Gus took a perfect line for probably 100 yards. I saw him slowing to start hunting and I whistled. I gave him an exaggerated back cast to encourage him to go way back. After he ran another 50-75 yards I saw him slowing to hunt. I whistled and gave him another exaggerated back cast. As soon as he turned that time the bird fluttered and he was locked in.  
  • The third retrieve wasn’t as far but he did have to hunt a little because it was partially under the cut grass. He stopped at every whistle and took every cast. Working with him in that hunt made me appreciate the wonderful companion I have. They put the last pup of the litter in my arms and I couldn’t have picked a better dog. 

Although they worked and worked for perfection daily, Hattie was surprised at the outcome. She says, “Even though I set the goal for myself, I was still shocked when we actually won Double Gun. There were so many great dogs, great handlers, and great retrieves. I told Guy when we left the backfield on Sunday morning that whether we won or not, I couldn’t be happier with Gus.” 

 In accepting the Double Gun award, Hattie spoke humbly of her achievement, but revealed that finding a group of like-minded people at Wildrose and developing her passion for the relationship with Gus were key to their success. 

Here’s how she sums up her experiences and feelings: 

  • Wildrose has changed my life tremendously. We traveled all over the country with our daughter and her horses. People joke that now that we don’t have horses anymore, we have “gone to the dogs.” And even though I have hobbies that I enjoy, I wouldn’t say I have a passion about any of them until Gus. Of course, my daughter, Claudia, and I have that mother/daughter bond but I didn’t have the same bond with my son, GC. Now I feel like I have that bond with GC through our dogs. I feel the passion for the adventures with Gus.  
  • I want to become a better shooter for Gus. If I don’t hit the birds, then he doesn’t get retrieves. Guy used to buy me jewelry for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Now I get shotguns, leather cases, waders, hunting bags, and dog training stuff. I love it.  
  • I set the goal for Gus to become a Master Trekker Adventure Dog. We attended two Adventure Dog Workshops in Arkansas, the Wildrose Bahamas Adventure Dog Workshop, and worked on other skills around town. Gus received his Master Trekker badge in March. Gus is also the reigning Bahamas Coconut Retrievier Champion. Our next goal is for Gus to get his Therapy Dog certification. I am fascinated with the stories of how the dogs have helped children and adults with special needs or challenges. Although Gus has a lot of drive he also has loving eyes and a gentle heart. 
  • We have made so many friends being part of the Wildrose pack. Attending the workshops and hunts is a great learning experience but more than that, it is great spending time with so many people with the same interest and passion. As I said, we have traveled with our daughter, Claudia, competing in horse shows all over the country and met a lot of people. However, the friendships and camaraderie doesn’t compare to the Wildrose Pack. The only judged event is Double Gun, but even then everyone is so encouraging. The pack is a group of people that enjoy spending time with their dogs and watching other dogs make great retrieves. 

As is evident from reading about Hattie’s life with Gus, she is not one to let them rest on their laurels. Following their Double Gun weekend, the Billups Pack went on a three-week-long hunting adventure in several venues. 

Hattie reported on their first experience in a big time pheasant hunt, “Pheasant hunting in North Dakota was amazing. It is a challenge physically for sure. I do a lot of walking normally, but the walking through the terrain in North Dakota was certainly a bit of a challenge at times. Nevertheless, I was so excited that on our first hunt I got a rooster and Gus retrieved it.  

Wildrose Kennels can give you a pup that possesses the probability of becoming a successful gundog. The genes promise only predictability. So, it takes a dog handler to turn probability and predictability into proven success. Hattie and Gus show how a champion is both born and raised.  



Mike Stewart with Paul Fersen, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way: Raising a Gentleman’s Gundog for Home and Field. New York: Universe Publishing, 2012. 

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