Lola and Danner: Trailblazers in Wildrose’s Adventure Dog Certification Program (ADC)

This additional blog entry on the Adventure Dog Program brings you the stories of Lola and Danner, as told by their owners, Billie Claire Darby and Jerry Campbell. As the introductory blog on the ADC stated, these North Mississippi dogs, who are just over a year old, proved that they were “prepared to go anywhere” as soon as the ADC program was officially launched.  As impressive as the dogs’ achievements are, so, too, is the videotaping that Billie Claire and Jerry produced to submit evidence for merit verification.  Originally appearing on Wildrose’s FaceBook page, these four videotapes are now posted on Wildrose’s YouTube page for all to view.  They serve as a good model for verifying a dog’s achievement.

Lola, at one year old.

Lola’s Adventure Dog Journey, as told by Billie Claire Darby

Lola came to me as a five-week old puppy. She, of course, was the most adorable thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t wait for our journey together to begin, although I was unsure of what she could learn at such a young age. She left her mother sooner than most puppies, but it hasn’t affected her a bit. I immediately started to teach her simple commands such as sit and lie down. I chose to call her kennel her room and she learned very quickly that “Go to your room,” meant go lie down in your kennel. When the door was shut and she wanted in, Lola pawed at her kennel quite a bit. When she got anxious for her food, she would also paw at the bowl. I took this pawing as natural behavior and ran with it. I taught her to shake, high-five, and wave goodbye.

Later on she learned to give a high-ten with both paws. I taught her to ring a bell when she needed to go outside, pick between a blue or yellow piece of paper, and to push the button on the doorbell. The doorbell was obviously detached from the wall at that point because she was so small. We continued to work and she learned to bring the newspaper and mail in the house, help me wrap the garden hose up, and to wait until she was called to retrieve a previously thrown item. And this was all by 9 weeks of age. She was one unique little puppy.

I thought she was incredible but I assumed most lab owners thought they had the smartest dog on the planet also. After speaking with some acquaintances about labs and training, I decided to email Wildrose Kennels to ask about obedience training. Someone had told me that I was working Lola too hard while she was young and should wait until she was six months. So, I cut back on a lot and focused on fun stuff for her. She still had to wait for her food, wait to exit the car, and wait to let me go in or out of a door first. Wildrose emailed back with sad news. They only trained the dogs they breed. I was upset, but I decided I would do it on my own. I read books and searched the Internet. Lola and I watched, “It’s Me or the Dog,” every morning on TV and practiced, practiced, practiced.

Streamside, Lola and Billie Claire show fashion flair in matching red life jackets.

By the time I heard from Wildrose again, Lola was a seasoned performer of her favorite tricks. She was well behaved at home and for the most part would perform on command. My only issue was her energy and apparent ADHD (attention doggy hyperactive disorder). She is a lab and I know they are energetic. From what I understand, she is an American lab and they are even more high-strung than British. I do believe it. Lola doesn’t get tired. I make her stop what she is doing when I feel that she has had enough, especially in our hot and muggy southern summers.

I live in Batesville and work in Olive Branch, MS while my boyfriend, Jerry, attends Ole Miss and lives on a farm just outside of Oxford, Oxford Equine Center, which his family owns. The farm provides a great place for us to work with Lola and Jerry’s dog, Danner. There is open land for miles, ponds, trails to hike, and Clear Creek that runs along the back of the property, the property actually ends at the Corps land of Sardis Lake. So there are plenty of places to hike. We ride four wheelers and Jeeps with the dogs, there is a shooting range for skeet as well as pistol shooting to work with the dogs steadiness at gunfire, and about 40 horses to spend time working our dogs with. During the week, I work and Jerry attends classes at Ole Miss, but he and I usually meet up at least a couple of afternoons during the week to do something with the dogs. Sometimes it’s specific training and other times it’s just having fun with the dogs. We definitely spend major time with the dogs on the weekends. If we aren’t doing something at the farm, we are out with them on the boat on Sardis Lake. Jerry has the advantage of living on the farm and having access to all of the great training opportunities daily. When I can’t get to the farm, Lola and I spend time walking my neighborhood, retrieving in my backyard, and sometimes just relaxing in the backyard in her kiddie pool.

Oh, back to me hearing from Wildrose. Through friends who also acquired dogs about the same time that I got Lola, I heard about the obedience class being offered at the kennel. I immediately signed up and couldn’t wait. This was even better than Wildrose saying they would train her. This way they could train ME. I wanted to learn with Lola.

Our first day at class was amusing for all. Lola lived up to the many jokes we receive from friends and even helped out in class. As Ben Summerall, the course trainer, spoke about dog ownership, or the dog owning you, Lola turned around from her sitting position beside my chair and slowly climbed into my lap. She turned around to face Ben again and sat down quietly. She looked up at him as if to say, “I’m good now, please continue.” Ben laughed hysterically and thanked Lola for demonstrating to the class how a dog owns its human. (Thanks, Ben. I haven’t heard the end of that one yet.)

On that first day, when we completed the overview of the course, we got our dogs and headed outside. I knew it was coming, but wasn’t quite prepared for the oomph that Lola put into it. We skied across the gravel all the way to a set of dog pens. Then we continued to ski, well let me rephrase, Lola pulled and I skied across the grounds of Wildrose. A friend of mine, also enrolled in the course, must have thought it was necessary for him to explain to the rest of the class why Lola behaved this way. He described how their dogs were registered and some were very high-dollar animals. Lola was free. “You get what you pay for, don’t you, Billie Claire!” he shouted. I smiled and simply said, “You will see one day. Lola and I have big plans.”

The obedience class was amazing. I learned so much and was able to work better and communicate more easily with Lola. This was a huge stepping-stone for us in controlling her excitement. We also learned things such as heel, stopping to a whistle, and we continued our work on patience when other dogs are around. We had our ups and downs during the class. Most of them were my fault. I had to learn to control my frustrations. It’s not just about not yelling at your dog. It’s about keeping your cool on the inside and outside. Your pet loves you and pays close attention to you. It knows when you are flustered. I was hindering Lola by not keeping calm. She knew the minute my heart started racing. That was the hardest part of all. I can try to appear not angry, but to actually not get angry? Really? This took a lot of work on my part. But you know what? I think it has made me a better person in training and in life in general. I still have trouble with it. But I am a work in progress.

As Lola and I completed the obedience class, I heard about the upcoming Adventure Dog program and couldn’t wait to start. Sadly, it was still in its development stage. We waited, and waited, and waited.  Meanwhile, Lola and I went on a lot of outdoor activities with Jerry and Danner.  For Instance, we took a trip to Eleven Point River, in south central Missouri.

Lola swims in her new life jacket, which proved a wise precaution later when she swam in swiftly-moving water.

Finally, almost a year later, Wildrose called and had the Adventure Dog packets ready to go. So, after I purchased the ADC packet, we headed straight back to the river. Lola completed her watercraft merit in the same week that we signed her up for the program. I knew she would shine at watercraft because she enjoys the pontoon boat so much. It was just a matter of getting her steady and comfortable in a canoe and then off we could go. Even though I knew she would be fine in the water, I felt it best to buy her a life vest for the trip. It was her first time in a canoe, and the first time on a swift-moving river. I knew she would want to swim a good bit and it helped me feel better about letting her. She proved me right on all aspects during the canoe trip. She rode in the canoe like a charm, but as I said she would, she preferred to swim next to us. She didn’t like other canoes in our group passing us though. Lola was the leader. I can’t even begin to tell you how much she swam on that trip. I made her ride in the canoe from time to time to take a break and she would ride a while then turn to me with sad eyes and whimper. All I had to say was, “OK, you can swim!” and she jumped right out of the canoe and started doggy paddling. She is quite the swimmer, I must say.

After completing the watercraft merit, I was so pumped that we had to start on another. We enjoyed working on the goals set for that merit and wanted new goals to reach. Motor vehicle seemed perfect for the next option because Lola spends so much time in my car with me. I also knew that parts of this one would be a challenge for her. No pain, no gain, right?

Riding in the car with me, sitting in the car alone, waiting while we load and unload, and showing no fear towards other vehicles were the easy skills on the list. The skill that lingered in the back of my mind was sitting at remote stay while the handler drives the vehicle around the dog and parks the vehicle. We have had issues with this exact skill many times before. I knew this might be one of the most difficult things for Lola to do. In the past she has scratched cars that I was inside, chased cars I was inside, and jumped out of the back of a pick up that I was in and tried to get in the cab. The worst case of all, when I was backing my vehicle up after washing it, she jumped straight in through the open window into my lap. I was scratched from head to toe. She was freaking out and I was freaking out. I still don’t exactly understand Lola’s issue with this. I know that she doesn’t want to be left, but I have never left her anywhere and not come back to get her. She was even in the same truck with me the time that she jumped out of the tailgate. She just wanted in the cab with me. I love that she loves me so much, but I want her to trust me. I want her to trust that I will come back for her. So, achieving this merit skill was important to us.

Because I can’t drive a standard shift, I got a friend with a Jeep to come drive me around Lola, who was sitting at remote stay in the field. I knew exactly why Wildrose made a requirement of this skill be that the handler drives the car. If I were standing to the side and someone else was driving the vehicle, Lola would sit there as long as she needed to with no problems at all. The key to her demise is if I’m in the vehicle.

So we started. I told Lola to sit and wait and off we went in the Jeep. And off she went after us. Redo! Sit, Lola, wait. Here we go…..and no. Redo! Every time that we started off, Lola immediately got a look of fear in her eyes and ran after us, readying herself to leap into the car. I jumped out and put her back in place and told her to wait. We did this again and again until she started to get the picture. She still wouldn’t let me out of her sight. She turned her entire body as we circled her in the Jeep. We worked and worked until we had her lying down, patiently waiting. We then made it more difficult for her. We didn’t just circle anymore. We drove around and changed the pattern to make sure she understood what was being asked of her.  After a lot of practice, Lola finally gained confidence, relaxed, and completed the skill.

As we have worked together for so long, Lola continues to show her personality.  During our canoe trip Lola also completed several of the camping and trail assistance skills. She took one to heart and did it with the enthusiasm that she does with most of life. When I awoke one morning, I found that instead of sleeping closely with me to provide body heat for trail assistance, she had booted me right off of my sleeping bag! I was next to her on her blanket and she was enjoying the life of a queen on my sleeping bag. She was so sweet and sleeping so peacefully that I couldn’t be angry. She had had a long day. She swam several miles for sure. The next night went much better and Lola slept in a small corner of my tent designated for her.

Lola and I are currently working on several other ADC merits: equestrian, tracking, and ATV. I was unsure if Lola would ever achieve tracking, but with a few tips from a Wildrose trainer I feel much more confident. Lola has a favorite ball. It’s a ChuckIt tennis ball to be exact and she will do just about anything to get it. Obviously it was perfect to start her out by dragging it and not letting her see its final destination, then sending her on her way to find it. This has so far been very successful. Now if I can just get her to track a bird!

At Wildrose Billie Claire Darby (holding Lola's AD Certificate) and Lola

Lola with her Adventure Dog Certificate.

I wanted Lola to be a part of something so bad. I knew she had greatness in her and I knew she wanted a job or goals to reach. As she is my free lab, I wasn’t sure I would be able to give her that outlet for her energy. I didn’t know if she could participate in most dog events. With the Adventure Dog program she is learning more than most dogs ever get the opportunity to and she is participating with other dogs and their humans. This is such a wonderful way to bring dog lovers together and bring them together over something so healthy, mentally and physically, for them and their dogs. If this isn’t stress relief and therapy from everyday life, I don’t know what is. Being outdoors in God’s beautiful wilderness is so refreshing and rewarding. The only thing I can imagine that could possibly be better is being there with my dog.

Danner’s Path to the Outdoors Lifestyle, as told by Jerry Campbell 

We have always had labs in our family and they are great family dogs. Naturally I wanted a lab of my own. After looking at many labs I decided I wanted a white British lab. I searched all over for a breeder that had a litter of puppies that was exactly what I wanted. Finally I found Neverest Labs, a very nice, small breeder in Wisconsin that has several litters of puppies a year. This meant that I either had to drive to pick up the dog or he had to be flown in to Memphis. After much deliberation we decided to fly the dog in as it would cost about the same money as it would to drive and it would take forever to drive. When Danner finally arrived in Memphis, he was just a tiny white fluff ball. He was only 12 weeks old and his training started immediately. The first thing we worked on was going to the bathroom on command. To train him to do this you simply put the young puppy on the ground and wait, don’t say anything. When they start to use the bathroom is when you say your command word. In my case I used “Hurry up.” If you keep doing this for a while, the dog understands that when you say “Hurry up,” this means go to the bathroom. So now all I have to do is say, “Hurry up,” and Danner goes to the bathroom in no time.

The next thing that we worked on was waiting to eat. You simply make the dog sit and place the food bowl down.  If the dog stands up, you pick the food up. You keep repeating this process until the dog figures out that the only way to get the food is if it stays seated. Then you can tell the dog to “Eat” and it can go ahead and eat. This also reinforces your sit command exponentially. The sit or wait command is extremely important in the Adventure Dog program.

Since Wildrose is just outside of Oxford, Billie Claire and I heard they were having an obedience class for any dogs to come. We naturally decided this would be a great idea to take our dogs. During this class, which was about a year ago, the trainer, Ben Summerall, told us about the adventure dog program. He explained the many different things to do with your dog in the program.  It sounded like lots of fun. We were extremely interested in the Adventure Dog program as soon as we heard about it. We do lots of things outside such as camping, hiking, canoeing, four wheeling, boating, fishing, hunting and many other things. All of these things are in the Adventure Dog program. This was great. We could do things that we want do with our dogs and get merit badges for it.

Headed for outdoor adventure, Danner rides with some canid companions in an SUV loaded with gear and humans.

Since the release of the Adventure Dog packets approximately a month ago, Danner has already completed the Watercraft and Motor Vehicle merits. We are currently working on the ATV merit and the Hunting merit.

Taking a break from hiking a mountain trail, Danner and Jerry pose on a streamside rock.

I believe the most difficult skill for a dog to learn is to sit/wait patiently and quietly as long as needed. This is what about half of the Adventure Dog merits require. For example, the dog is to sit at the bank while loading the canoes or sit and wait while the car is loaded. This skill is invaluable and is one of the most important things you can teach your dog in my opinion. Since I first got Danner, I have been working with him to wait to eat. He still has trouble waiting for some things, such as when I tell him to sit and then I walk away to do something. We work on this almost every training session that I have with him.

Sometimes it is not all great.  You may have an off day or the dog may be too wound up. This can be a very bad time to work with the dog. I get frustrated sometimes with Danner and I just have to stop relax and go on. If you get frustrated, the dog will feed off of that and in turn become more wound up. This is a vicious cycle and should be avoided at all costs.

I think the Adventure Dog program is a great way to get out and have fun with your pets. It gives you training goals to work for instead of just going out and trying to teach your dog stuff. This allows you to work towards certain things and have a great time doing it. Working on the Adventure dog merits has brought Danner and me much closer and I really enjoy working with him.

On calm water Danner snoozes as Jerry lets the canoe drift.

The snoozing looks so inviting that Jerry decides to join in.

I would recommend the Adventure Dog program to anyone who loves his dog and wants to do more outside with it. The outdoors experience is amazing, one that you and your dog can share forever.

Danner with Jerry, holding Danner's Adventure Dog Certificate.


Billie Claire Sums Up What their Dogs Mean to Her and Jerry

Lola has made so many differences in my life. I graduated from Ole Miss in 2009. With the tight job market, I had great difficulty starting my career. I was working part-time at a pet store and decided that this was the perfect time for a pet. This was when I had the time to work with a puppy. It worked out great. Lola was such a great addition to my life. She has definitely taught me a lot about patience, responsibility, and unconditional love. She is also a big help around the house. When my hands are full walking in the house I just ask her to shut the door and she gets it for me!

Danner has definitely taught Jerry about responsibility. He has helped Jerry learn about helping and caring for someone else. Danner is Jerry’s “study buddy.” He spends so much time studying for school and Danner is always there, lying at his feet, keeping him company. Jerry is also Danner’s “study buddy.” Jerry is constantly working with Danner helping him learn and progress. The more we teach our dogs, the more they can do with us in the future. Jerry also says that Danner is helpful around the house. If you can’t find or just can’t reach the remote control, Danner will grab it for you.

Lola and Danner resting at the campsite.

Lola affects everyone she meets. She is a glass half full kind of girl. If any dog has ever been described as charismatic it would be Lola. She loves everyone and has plenty of smiles and kisses to go around. Dogs help heal our everyday emotional wounds. They are companions that will be with us ‘til the end. Journeying out into the unknown with them by our side is not only invigorating and revitalizing, it is good for the soul.

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2 Responses to Lola and Danner: Trailblazers in Wildrose’s Adventure Dog Certification Program (ADC)

  1. Mike Stewart says:

    I love your closing line. In fact, I think you both captured the true intention of the Wildrose Adventure Dog Program… “get out there, way out there.” The program is great for companion dogs, service dogs like our DADs, and even hunters. Deke and Indian are very excited every time we take to the trail. Deke has his ADC now while old Drake is our only Master Trekker so far. Poor Indian has a whole lot of successful skills sets but really hasn’t completed one merit category. I will fill in the blanks quickly. He’s shaping up to be the best tracker of the entire bunch. Keep up the good work, Lola and Danner We’ll have to have an annual awards ceremony just like we did when I was in the Scouts. Mike

  2. Thanks Mike, for the encouraging comments, and again, thank you for the program! I like the idea of the awards ceremony like the Scouts! We have thought of the program like “Boy Scouts for dogs” all along! We are headed out to work on our ATV merit as I type!! Hopefully we will have more videos and paperwork to submit for more stickers soon!!!! Have a fabulous Fourth of July! Oh that brings me to one more thing. I posted pictures of Lola and Danner enjoying the fireworks with us on Saturday night. I think this shows how the Adventure Dog program is so good for so many reasons. The gunfire work we have done with the dogs for merits had them trained and ready for the noise the fireworks made. While other dogs hid inside terrified of the sound, Lola and Danner hung out with the crowd and watched the beautiful display. All thanks to slow and steady work on our Adventure Dog merits!

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