Master dog breeder and trainer, Mike Stewart, has amassed a record of achievement in his long career, making the Wildrose brand synonymous with excellence in genetics and training of British Labradors. Think motorcycles and Harley Davidson is the brand of choice. Think adventure travel and Overland comes immediately to mind. Think gundog and it’s Wildrose—and not just gundog but Gentleman’s Gundog, superbly trained and supremely companionable. The latest feather in Stewart’s cap is the publication of Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way, (New York: Universe Publishing, 2012), with Orvis vice president Paul Fersen as co-author. The book marks another milestone in Stewart’s career, lifting our knowledge of dog training to a new level.
The 256-page book, which took Stewart nearly a year to write, is a unique text, featuring a detailed training guide with over thirty illustrated diagrams, several informational sidebars, top-quality photographs—over two hundred full-color shots by Chip Laughton of Days Afield Photography. A number of features make the book eminently usable and enjoyable. The layout design is not only eye-catchingly beautiful, but also wholly functional. The book reads easily, with precise, step-by-step instructional segments as well as longer discussion sections wherein Stewart imparts his wisdom on many subjects, including selecting a pup, learning to become a leader, building a training foundation, and mastering the nuances of working a gundog in the field. Stewart emphasizes mutual respect, communication, and taking care and time in working with a dog. In addition to setting forth a clear taxonomy of the subject (including a glossary), Stewart also occasionally reveals his personality in an authentic homespun humor. Urging a long-term view, Stewart suggests that the dog may be a companion for a decade and the handler should work for three years to finish a reliable gundog.
The book takes a quantum leap in effective handling technique, specificity of detail (both verbal and visual), and comprehensive coverage of the subject. For example, Stewart sets forth the essentials of training, explains the Wildrose philosophy (including the Wildrose Laws), and a graduated series of training exercises that move from fundamental to sophisticated—preparing the dog and handler for every conceivable hunting situation in the water and in the field. After comprehensively covering waterfowling, Stewart presents chapters on the upland dog, picking up for driven shoots, and the destination wingshooter, giving the reader a full understanding of hunting opportunities with a gundog.
While Stewart wrote this book in a year, it has been in the making for his whole career. Beginning in 2001 Stewart’s Wildrose way of training became nationally known through his years-long appearances with Drake on the Ducks Unlimited television show, “The World of Ducks.” In 2004 he trademarked “The Gentleman’s Gundog” and for over a decade Stewart has made innumerable appearances in workshops around the country, including the most prestigious venues for Ducks Unlimited, Orvis, and Blixt & Co.
Several feature articles have been written about Wildrose Kennels and Mike Stewart’s method of training. The most recent of such noteworthy publications appears in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Garden & Gun magazine, including a cover photo and full-length article. An earlier cover story appeared in Forbes magazine, as well as one in Gundog. Several articles have appeared in local newspapers and magazines, as well as a feature story in All Labs, a popular online website. Moreover, Stewart is featured in four Orvis website podcasts, “Orvis Double Barrel: The Hunting and Shotgunning Podcast,” hosted by Bruce Benton and Brett Ference. Over the years Stewart created a benchmark of excellence in his numerous training workshops, videos, and DVDs. Many readers are already familiar with Mike Stewart’s Wildrose dogs, including the hundreds of families who own Wildrose dogs, many of whom continually return to Oxford for training sessions, field trial competitions, and camaraderie with other owners and with the Wildrose staff. This book now presents the benchmark of excellence in print form for everyone’s benefit—including the casual reader and the serious gundog handler.
Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way follows a long line of Stewart’s instructional work over the years, uncluding the Ducks Unlimited television program, “World of Ducks,” on which he and Drake appeared for eight-and-a-half-seasons, averaging thirteen shows a year. For that program he wrote eighty scripts of training segments. He also wrote a number of articles for sporting journals and in 2000 he began an electronic newsletter that he has issued continuously each month for twelve years. The newsletter, now dubbed a journal, carries training stories. Stewart also developed two training programs on DVD, for which he also wrote the scripts: The Wildrose Way, Retriever Training and The Upland Gundog. When Stewart began developing this book, he purposely designed it to incorporate material from his archives of earlier work—and to augment his DVD programs with specific supplementary training segments.
So, when Stewart began writing his book— a long, arduous, and occasionally messy process—he began with a large amount of material that he had previously developed. Stewart began in the early summer of 2011 with thirteen folders—each with a topic intended as a book chapter. In the process of designing the book, he reduced number to ten.
Then he placed rows of manila file folders on the den floor. The folders contained eleven years’ worth of Stewart’s material: TV show scripts, DVD scripts, sporting journal articles, and newsletter articles. He organized the various papers under the major subject headings, arranging them into piles and then into the major topic folders that would eventually become chapters in the book.
Working from the information in these topic folders, Stewart recorded notes and training sequences that he sent to his collaborator, Paul Fersen, to transcribe. Fersen sent back written transcripts that Stewart further refined. He and Fersen worked in this manner for several months, but eventually changed the method of composing to a more efficient method in which Mike wrote out the original drafts and Fersen reviewed them. Stewart also worked for several days with photographer Chip Laughton to shoot hundreds of photos, from which two-hundred-and-fifty-six were selected for inclusion in the book. In a separate step James Daley designed over thirty illustrations to complement the training exercises. In still another step Mike collaborated with Fersen and the editing staff to develop the several sidebars to highlight specific important concepts or steps in the Wildrose training regimen. In the final production process Mike and the editors completed editing the text, and then synchronized the photos and the diagrams.
A hallmark of the Wildrose way of training has always been its dual focus, teaching both the dog and the handler. For years Wildrose has offered workshops for teaching dogs: “Beginning Your Dog the Wildrose Way,” but it has also offered dog handler workshops, beginning and advanced. So, Stewart’s concept of training encompasses the team—the human leader and the canine follower. Fittingly, the book’s first section presents an interweaving of four chapters that deal with the dog and its owner. The first chapter—”Begin with the End in Mind”—challenges the owner-to-be to envision what he or she wants in a dog. And the second chapter continues the emphasis on the owner, introducing the Wildrose way of training, discussing the concept of the canine pack, pointing out features of canine leadership, and showing the owner how to be a leader that can effectively train a dog. This chapter richly sets out details of canine behavior and shows how to reinforce dog training with, for example, five specific reinforcers: affection, food, a marker or a verbal cue, the retrieve, and association with or hanging out with the owner. A valuable sidebar also spells out twelve deadly errors for the novice trainer to avoid. The chapter concludes with another powerful sidebar containing the twenty Wildrose Laws. The instruction continues through four chapters of gundog field training and four chapters of finishing work.
Within the pages of this book, Stewart presents a lot of new material in the book, including the twenty Wildrose laws, the cyclical training model (that he had developed after producing the first DVD), the TDM (time-delayed memory), motivators, the stimulus package, the counter skill, the redirect, and rotational backs. While Stewart has taught many of these concepts and skills in his recent training seminars, they appear in print for the first time in Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way. Moreover, Stewart wrote a glossary—four-and-a-half pages (two columns on each) of training terms and definitions.
As mentioned before, the book complements the training instruction in Stewart’s DVDs. For example, the book provides a multi-chapter section on raising a puppy, which precedes the beginning section of the first DVD, which purposely did not cover puppy training. The book also has a chapter on “Picking Up,” which provides new information for the upland hunter that did not appear in the second DVD. This chapter on authentic driven presentation may be the only such written information on this subject printed in the United States. The chapter covers the culture, the pageantry, and the dynamics of the shoot, setting forth the expectations of etiquette and training skills for both the handler and the dog. Stewart developed this information while participating in driven shoots in the UK and during three years of working with Blixt & Co to design a training course that he presents there annually. So, the book and the two DVDs are complementary and make a complete guide for dog training the Wildrose Way.
Although the book was just released, the readers’ responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Sarah Barnes, Associate Trainer from Tuscaloosa, AL, offered this comment about the book: “I think ‘The Wildrose Way’ is the first book of its kind. The diagrams, pictures, and text show you every progressive step to take from starting a puppy all the way to finishing a gun dog. If you have ever left Wildrose wishing that you could remember all of the drills and information that you had been given, then this book is a must!”
Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way is available through The Wildrose Trading Company (at http://www.wildrosetradingcompany.com or 662-234-5788).