Note: Since Wildrose Kennels officially launched its Adventure Dog Certification program in mid-June, 2011, participant interest and activity have been very enthusiastic, to say the least. With this issue we begin sharing the stories of some adventure dogs and their owners. Here is our debut story in the series. –Ben McClelland & Danielle Drewrey, Editors
Joe Weimer & Wildrose Leonidas, Roaming Shores, Ohio
At the end of February, in 2014, my wife and I drove the nearly 14 hours from Cleveland, Ohio, to Oxford, Mississippi to pick up our Wildrose (Ben and Jill) pup. At Wildrose we met a few of the friendly trainers who took us on a tour of the facility, we attended the puppy-training seminar, and we saw some of the trainers working with a few of the dogs. The most impressive thing was when the trainer took a dog into the flight pen off leash at heel and flushed all the birds while dropping the bumper. The dog and handler flushed the birds once again and, on command, the dog retrieved the bumper without being distracted by all of the flapping wings. I don’t know many people who have that much control over their dog. At that moment, I thought I want my pup to be like that dog: to be obedient in all situations so that he would be able to go anywhere with me. So the training began.
When we brought our new pup back to Ohio, we named him Leonidas (Leo) after King Leonidas of Sparta. The first week home Leo had a respiratory infection because he is a Southern boy whom we brought to Ohio’s -25 degree weather. It was extremely challenging trying to potty train a new pup in the frigid cold temperatures and about a foot of snow on the ground. Training began as soon as we got home and not a day went by that first year that we didn’t have at least one or two training sessions. After the first year of training, I felt that I had a good obedience foundation so we moved into more advanced training. In year two Leo received his Junior and Senior Hunt test titles and had a great first year of hunting: retrieving geese, ducks, and doves.
My wife and I love the outdoors and Leo is the perfect companion to go on all of our hiking and cross-country skiing adventures. Last summer we drove out west and hiked, with Leo right by our side, at Palo Duro Canyon in Texas; the Painted Desert National Park and Sedona, Arizona; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; Mount Olympus in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Telluride, Colorado, where Leo even rode in a gondola to the top of the mountain with us. We also hiked in and around Rigby, Idaho.
Leo even ate dinner with us at Sadie’s of Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Pig & a Jelly Jar in Salt Lake City, Utah, and also restaurants in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Sedona, Arizona, just to name a few. People would bring water out to Leo while we ate on the patio, for instance.
Most of the trip we stayed at La Quinta Hotels which are extremely accommodating to people with large breed dogs and they do not charge a pet fee. Another valuable resource was Bringfido.com. Bring Fido helped us find pet friendly restaurants, hiking trails, and dog parks so that we could get out of the car and stretch our legs. The western states are very accommodating to people with pets compared to Ohio, where there are limited pet friendly public places to go with your dog.
Once we got home from our trip, I received an email about the adventure dog program and couldn’t believe I didn’t sign up for it before our trip. The program intrigued me because it was a way for me to advance my training and bond with my dog. I don’t want my dog to get bored and neither do I, so this was exactly what we needed. Leo earned his Trail Rated and Adventure dog certification, and became Therapy Dog Certified. (I am a Physical Education teacher that brings his dog to work, how cool is that!)
When I took the Therapy dog class, which was a 6-week class, I didn’t know what I would have to do to get my dog do to pass the test. Three weeks into the class I signed up for the test and passed. The test involved obedience and a friendly, loving dog, all of which qualities Leo possesses.
Currently, Leo and I are working on our Master Trekker adventure dog certification. We just completed boating last week and, with only 2 merits to go, I have decided to do mountain biking and either horseback riding or tracking. I raised Leo to be quiet so alerting me with a bark once he finds a person might be challenging even though he has a great nose and is an exceptional tracker when we play search and rescue. The other challenge is trying to find someone with a horse that I can train with. So I haven’t made up my mind which one I will do yet.
Working with Leo on each sub skill for the adventure dog program has been easy because I had already built the foundation of obedience in that first year from following the Wildrose way of training. People make comments all the time on how well-behaved Leo is, but what they don’t know is how much work has gone into it. I took a lot of criticism from family and friends on how I was training Leo. Now that they have seen the finished product, I have people asking me for advice all the time. From my experiences people want a well-behaved dog, but don’t want to put in the time to get the dog to that point.
I also joined a retriever club so that I could have access to property to train on. It is obvious that anyone who sees Leo and me knows that we have a partnership, a team, whereas, a lot of other handlers that I come across do not have that same relationship with their dogs. When we are in the field working, there is a mutual respect where I get constant eye contact from Leo. One thing that stuck with me from reading Mike Stewart’s book was “capturing the dogs eyes, if you have their eyes you will have their attention.” Leo might not be the best dog on marks but he is exceptional on lining blind retrieves and handling, which is all about trust in the handler.
When waiting to run a Hunt Test, I always get Leo out of the truck at least an hour before we run and you can find us cuddling under a shade tree or the truck’s tailgate. A lot of other handlers get their dogs out in just enough time to air the dog, then to the line they go. I very seldom ever raise my voice to Leo, whereas, I experience other handlers who constantly yell at their dogs in frustration. My wife laughs at me because I always give Leo a pep talk while in the holding blind waiting to run. At family picnics I can sit Leo, without a tie out or leash, and walk away and his eyes never stop watching me while I am away from his side despite distractions everywhere. Wherever I travel, Leo goes and the majority of the time, unless required, I do not use a leash on Leo. He simply wants to be by my side and nowhere else, except when retrieving a bird, of course. Earlier I mentioned about forming a bond with my dog and the adventure dog program has helped to make our existing bond even stronger. I truly feel there is nothing that Leo cannot do.
Some future goals that Leo and I have are to earn our Master Hunting Title, for which we will enter our first master hunt test this fall. A goal of ours is to never fail a hunt test, which is not very common from what I see among handlers and their dogs. I just began shed training in the spring and look forward to finding our first shed next year. I also want to start training him to hunt a blood trail so that if I ever lose a deer I can go home get Leo and he can help me track the deer.
Leo is now 2 ½ years old and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I pretty much take him everywhere with me as long as they allow dogs. Unless you looked down you wouldn’t know that I had a black lab at my side. He is truly a great companion. After a hard day of work Leo loves snuggling on the couch and getting a foot massage.
Who knows what our next adventure might be, but I do know Leo will be by my side. Adventure on!