by Mike Stewart
Since the inception of the Wildrose Adventure Dog program in 2007, it has become extremely popular with families in pursuit of an outdoor lifestyle and hunters who wish to keep their gundogs active and engaged off-season. The concept is simple. No bad dogs on trail. Ill-mannered, uncontrollable, obnoxious dogs are never welcome at any outside sporting activity whether on the hunt, traveling or on a family trek.
The program consists of 14 individual adventure skills that are based upon popular outside activities. Participants are enthusiasts, often entire families, who wish to develop a superb canine companion that is “prepared to go anywhere.”
We have found huge benefit in cross-training our gundogs as adventurers. The skills obtained transfer easily to the marsh and field. The challenges and mental stimulus required produces a quick thinker and confident problem solver. There is an improved trust between dog and handler as well as enhanced communication. There are huge advantages to cross training gundogs or service canines as adventure dogs and the certification program we offer provides guidance and recognizes achievement. Please see the companion articles featured in this issue of the Journal.
The 7 Habits of the Highly Successful Adventure Dog
First, let’s remember the Wildrose Way of Training, which is habit formation. Entrenching behaviors that will endure a lifetime. Secondly, these core habits are really universal between breeds and activities whether hunting, service companions or family dogs.
1. Patience: – A behavior that is welcomed in any discipline. No overexcitement. A calm nature, yet athletic. Thoroughly place trained to stay despite any distractions: in the home, the unattended open vehicle, a watercraft, or in camp. A dog that will tie out quietly despite activity. One that will remain at stay for an extended period even when everyone is out of sight. Patience to wait to be released, to relieve themselves, to eat, to retrieve or come when called.
Wildrose Tip: Remember to always reward a dog’s patience with equal enthusiasm as you would for an activity such as a retrieve. Reinforce a desirable behavior if you wish it to be repeated.
2. Focus – Attentive, ignores distraction, focuses attention on his handler. A relationship of trust and respect. Directs attention to handler when confronted with a new, unknown or fearful situation. Gives immediate eye contact when addressed.
Wildrose Tip: Remember to obtain a dog’s eye contact before giving any command or release. Own the eyes.
3. Compatibility – Kind, yet knowing temperament. No aggression. A confidence and boldness to confronting challenging situations. Trusting of leadership. Knows their place in the family pack. Place and crate trained. Travels in vehicles and aircraft comfortably. Never the nuisance or bother in the home, boat, campsite, etc.
Wildrose Tip: Dogs must learn their place in the family pack order. Dogs embrace pack stability, routine and balance. Often, human lives are chaotic, not the perfect situation to develop a balanced canine companion. Dogs follow stable leaders.
Steadiness – This is a coveted skill for any gundog… equally so of the outside adventure dog. Controlled in all situations… on trail or in water, steady to casting while fishing. Calm in the boat despite distractions. Does not chase wildlife. Unaffected by gunfire. Remains quiet at night in camp. Stays with the handler when approached by other people or dogs.
Wildrose Tip: Condition dogs to ignore distractions…people, places, things while remaining focused on the handler. Develop these skills with the dog at heel and in close proximity to the handler. Practice denials with bumpers. Introduce fishing using lures and flies that are without hooks. Introduce gunfire progressively. Desensitize the dog to wildlife, vehicles, other dogs, children, etc. with repeated exposure while at heel.
Agility – Athletic ability to climb, run, even crawl with the endurance to last the day. Ability and confidence to negotiate barriers, ramps, steep embankments, and to maintain superb balance. Confidence in their own abilities to overcome physical challenge.
Wildrose Tip: Agility courses for children at your local park may offer excellent challenges for both the adventurer and hunter. The dog learns confidence to meet physical challenges, solve problems, overcome discomfort and then recover quickly mentally and physically to continue.
Biddability – Willingness to follow, ease of training, intelligence. A dog that possess a high level of retention. Enjoys relations with the leader and family pack. A teamwork relationship between the dog and handler. A dog that bonds and trusts rather than one that is excessively independent in nature and prefers to be self-employed.
Wildrose Tip: Relationship building is first trust then respect. Our relationship with our adventurer or gundog must be teamwork.
Scent Discrimination – A dog’s keen sense of smell must be developed to locate objects. Adventure Dogs may recover: gloves, cell phones, birds, antlers, trailing lost game, lost person, bodies or even the ability to alert a diabetic of rapid blood sugar change. Each skill relies on the use of nose.
Wildrose Tip: Develop the retrieve drive in dogs that love the game to locate a specific item we wish to recover from ropes to wallets. No different than the methods we use for dogs to learn to locate game birds for hunters. The key is to have a breed of dog with a keen sense of smell then find a reward, a motivator to use when the object you want to recover is located. Game on.
Thoughts on cross-training
Specific adventure dog skills that are transferrable to the hunt:
Watercraft – Kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, all great acclimation for the waterdog
Equestrian – If you ever plan to hunt quail from horseback, embrace this skill well before the hunt.
Motor Vehicles – Destination dogs must travel well even in rough off-road conditions. Remote stay for extended periods in an open vehicle will prove beneficial to the hunting dog.
Fishing – The temptation of a fly or lure on water is strong. Even more so when a fish is being caught. Practice steadiness on the bank, heeling in shallow waters and even stream crossings. All skills that will pay dividends in the duck blind
So, you see the power of cross training, off-season skill refinement, mental stimulus as well as physical conditioning. Join the growing list of sporting dogs achieving recognition as:
Trail Rated (TR)
Adventure Dog Certified (ADC)
Master Trekker (MT)
Or at the very least, get outdoors off-season with your dog and experience nature.
Get out there… way out there.