On August 20 and 21, 2011, a diverse group of dog handlers came from various points of the globe to participate in an Adventure Dog Seminar in and about Buena Vista, Colorado, which is near Wildrose’s summer training facility at Clear Creek Ranch. BV, as the locals call the town, is located at about 8,000 feet elevation in central Colorado at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks (14,000 feet) and in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. BV is a popular access point for world-class whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fly fishing on the Arkansas River, and biking, mountain climbing, and backpacking on local Fourteeners and the Colorado Trail. The AD seminar participants sampled most all of these activities as Mike guided them through an action-packed two days of outdoors adventuring with dogs. Two BV sponsors loaned equipment: Trailhead (bikes) and Colorado Kayak (a kayak).
Participants included Matt Anderson, Denver, CO; Marion Dee (Tug), Santa Fe, NM; Tristan Hedger and Sandy Worboys, Australia; Ryan Krogh (Magnolia), Santa Fe, NM; Jared McCaleb (Mac), Jacksonville, FL; Whitney Potter, Albuerque, NM; John Rose (Casey), Kansas City, KS; and Grayson Schaffer (Danger and Cooper), Santa Fe, NM.
Wildrose provided well-trained client dogs for participants who traveled without canine companions. Matt worked with Nellie (Keith Smith, Phoenixville, PA); Tristan worked with Carly (Richard Adkerson, Clear Creek Ranch and Phoenix, AZ); and Sandy worked with Mike Stewart’s Indian. Also, Mike demonstrated maneuvers with AD Deke, who is also Ducks Unlimited’s mascot. And from time to time participants used various other dogs, including Mike’s Deke; Drummer, (Rick Kirby, Atlanta, GA); and Booch (Mark Dudenhoffer, Kansas City, KS) who is being featured this month on the Outdoor Channel’s DU TV show. Also seeing some of the fun action were other client’s dogs: Bailey Belle, (Jeff Burgoyne, Columbus, GA ); Lincoln, (Brian Pollack, Huntsville, AL); Ben (Steve Reynolds, Memphis, TN); Reb (Ryan Polaski, Nashville, TN); Kate (John Newman, Louisiana); Lucy, (Joel Moore, TX); and Aggie (Mike Colbert, MS).
Mike opened the seminar in a BV park pavilion, where participants sat around several picnic tables with their dogs sitting or lying at their feet. Mike began the vigorous training sessions by demonstrating the use of several pieces of gear and by introducing the Wildrose Way of training. Everyone was wearing a light jacket in the brisk morning air. But by nine o’clock the bright morning sun had risen over the nearby mountain peaks and slanted into the pavilion, quickly warming the air. The nearby park road was busy with kayakers and mountain trekkers trafficking through.
Mike first emphasized basic instruction in obedience, an essential foundation to any activity with a working dog. Under sunny skies and with temps now rising from the sixties into the low eighties, Mike and the participants worked the dogs on a spacious soccer field, adjacent to the pavilion. Among the obedience skills they practiced were heel, sit to the whistle, and stay steady. After heeling the dogs around the field, acclimating them for a session in steadiness, the participants formed a line along one end of the field. With Deke heeling, Mike approached a line up of participants with their dogs at sit. Mike and Deke walked down the line, weaving in and out of the participants’ line, while they held their dogs steady during this distraction. Then, he demonstrated how to keep dogs steady when two handlers greet each other on the trail, on the street, or in the park. Using the “handshake“ exercise, Mike handed a bumper to each handler and took it back again, as the handler kept his or her dog sitting steadily throughout the activity. Conducting a third steadiness exercise, Mike tossed several denials, bumpers thrown in the air in front of and behind the dogs. He also showed how to play a game of frisbee toss for steadiness, not allowing the dogs to chase or catch the flying frisbee, unless one’s name was called. Even though this seems like a park game, having a dog practice catching a frisbee is useful if a gundog needs to snatch a wounded bird that lifts off during a retrieve.
Mike also had the participants practice walking away from their dogs, keeping the dogs at remote sit and stay. Throughout the morning, as participants practiced the skills, Mike worked individually with them and their dogs to improve their performance.
Finally, Mike sent Deke on several trailing memory retrieves from one end of the lineup to the other and back, while the handlers again held their dogs steady at their sides.
Wildrose Vice President, Cathy Stewart, handled all of the business and catering side of the seminar, including serving lunch in the pavilion at the conclusion of the morning session. The site proved an excellent venue to fellowship over food, as the dogs stayed on place at or near their owners’ feet. Trainer Patrick Allen joined the group at lunch and for the afternoon session with Reb and Bailey Belle.
Following lunch, Mike gave everyone instructions in heeling a dog to a bike and participants practiced walking a bike around the pavilion apron. Soon everyone mounted up and rode around the pavilion. And before you knew it, they were riding the trail that follows the Arkansas River.
At an opportune spot folks parked the bikes along a wall of boulders and practiced rock climbing with their dogs. It was an arduous exercise and everyone, dogs included, seemed to get a Rocky Mountain high upon mounting atop the boulders.
Being close to an easy entry into the cold, running stream of the Arkansas headwaters, everyone let the dogs wade in for a well-deserved drink. An incident that occurred made everyone realize that danger lurks in outdoor adventuring. An unsuspecting dog waded a bit too far out and was quickly swept downstream in a strong current. Fortunately, Trainer Patrick Allen was well positioned and he alertly jumped in and rescued the disoriented dog, which soon recovered and went merrily on with the rest of the activities. Mike used the incident for a teaching opportunity, gathering the folks in a discussion circle and reminding them to be alert to the outdoor circumstances and to maintain control over their dogs at all times.
After returning the bikes to the pavilion, the group crossed the bridge and began the trek up the Barbara Whipple Trail. It’s a steep, winding trail, narrow at several spots. The ADers were called on to practice the “off trail” command, sitting their dogs at the trail side and allowing bikers to pass on. At this time of the afternoon the sun had warmed the thin air, but occasional breezes made for a comfortable climb. Looking over a shoulder, one could see BV appearing smaller and smaller as we ascended.
The group stopped at a small rest area and crowded into the benches, sheltered from the sun. Grayson Schaffer, senior editor of Outside magazine and blogger of outsidek9.com, made a presentation on search and rescue dogs. Then, using his dog, Cooper, along with his colleague, Ryan Krogh, Grayson demonstrated the activity. Ryan ran off trail up the scrubby mountainside and hid under a low tree branch. Grayson let Cooper smell a piece of Ryan’s gear and sent him on the hunt. Cooper searched, circling and sweeping over the rugged terrain until he caught scent of Ryan’s trail. Continuing to work in a smaller and smaller area, Cooper shortly spotted Ryan and charged back down the trail to alert Grayson by jumping up and barking. In response to the alert Grayson gave Cooper a bumper and Cooper raced back up the mountainside with Grayson following until they reached Ryan. Returning to the group after this impressive feat, the trio settled in under the shelter and Grayson explained the method of breaking down the activity into separate skills, teaching each skill to Cooper, and then linking them together.
Rested, the group descended the slope and concluded the day with a public access exercise, sharing conversation and refreshments at the Eddyline’s outdoor seating area. The ADers seated around a cluster of tables, with the dogs stretched out under them, and ended the day in pleasant conversation. Any observer of the day’s work could see that the dogs and their owners responded enthusiastically to new activities in the western environ.
On Friday, the day before the AD seminar, Mike drove Trainer Patrick Allen and me over the road through Independence Pass on the Continental Divide and on to Aspen, where downtown tourists and locals had all sorts of dogs—most of whom have not learned obedience the Wildrose Way. In fact, it was on just such a trip to this frolicky city four years earlier that Mike conceived of the Adventure Dog Program. He was seated in the Pacifica Restaurant with his dogs quietly resting at his feet. Someone mentioned that the dogs running wild in the park outside would do well to learn to behave as Mike’s dogs did. Bingo! The idea for the AD program was born. As Mike, Patrick, and I celebrated this moment of inspiration in the Pacifica, we looked out at the park and noted that there was no less need for dog obedience training in Aspen.
Mike opened Day Two of the seminar again in the BV park pavilion by engaging folks in a discussion, debriefing some events, and pursuing questions that the dog handlers had. In the first day’s quick-paced and challenging activities everyone had learned the capabilities of his or her dog—and of him- or herself. Each person understood the specific issues on which he or she and the dog needed to work in order to achieve better performance outdoors.
Mike then convened the group on the soccer field and used the full expanse of it to teach a number of basic retrieves, including trailing memories and switching on doubles. Before lunchtime, Carly’s owner, Richard Adkerson joined the group with Sis, his pointer. Mike schooled the participants in a simulated walk-up, with everyone in a line across the field slowly walking from one end to the other as the pointer quartered, looking for game, a bumper in this case. Sis, Carly, and other dogs shared in the retrieves as Mike carried on an extended discussion about the action.
One final exercise awaited the group before lunch: retrieving a bumper that is high off the ground, lying on a tree branch. As Deke, Indian, and Carly demonstrated this task, onlookers realized what a challenge it is for a retriever to find a bird that lands in a bush or a tree and doesn’t hit the ground.
Cathy again supplied the group with a hearty lunch and Richard provided a special treat, celebrating Carly’s third birthday. Everyone sang, “Happy Birthday” to Carly and Richard presented her with a specially baked birthday bone, one that was large enough for him to give every dog a piece or two.
Then, it was time to hit the trail again. Well, in this case, it was hit the water. The group moved about two miles into the city to the large pond at McPhelemy Park, where they fly-casted with their dogs steady by their sides, kayaked with their dogs aboard, retrieved shed from deep cover, and made some trailing memory retrieves in the water. The change of venue from the mountain to the deeply shaded city park provided a cool site for these maneuvers, which everyone enjoyed even if it meant getting splashed a bit.
At the conclusion of the seminar the participants had been introduced to several new outdoor activities that they could enjoy with their dogs. They also had taken measure of their dogs’ skill levels, finding activities that they could practice in their backyards. The outdoor scene, the learning, and the fellowship all gave these dog handlers memories that will last a lifetime. These folks experienced what all of us do who attend the Wildrose training activities: strangers who happen to enjoy working with dogs go through a challenging set of activities—learning, and laughing, and bonding together—and having developed friendships that will carry across the miles and years.
The slide show below follows the chronological line of the story in order to give you a pictorial sense of the 2011 Adventure Dog Seminar in Buena Vista, CO. To move forward or backward among the slides place your cursor on the bottom center of the image and click on the right or left arrow key.