April 5th, 2013, whelping day. The puppies are coming! I had long anticipated and confidently prepared for the events to come… now the time was here. I had envisioned the perfect pup, my own female fox red to mold into the dog I had dreamed of. We had other labs before, but they had a bond with my husband. I wanted one for myself! As the weeks went by, I studied the puppies closely trying to decide which one would be for me. As it turned out, I was the one who was picked. At the kennel five of the six pups jumped on the fence as if to say, “Pick me, pick me!” But it was the little “Blondie” as she was nicknamed who sat behind the others just giving me “the eyes.” Yes, it was at that moment when we made the all-important eye contact that I knew I had my dog.
At 8 weeks old “Wildrose Sugarland’s Northern Breeze” and I began our journey together. Training started right away with teaching her to learn, which means the important skill of looking at me for direction and focus that would soon transfer to learning down the road. We began with games on the place board using my older dog as the example. You know, “Monkey see, monkey do!” She didn’t know it at the time, but she was learning while playing. Soon she was taking hand directions left and right going from board to board and learning to be steady, all at a VERY young age!
It was at this time that I ordered Mike Stewart’s book Sporting Dog and Retriever Training. I read the book cover to cover and began to realize that this training method was not what I was used to. We began reading “The 20 Wildrose Laws of Dog Training.” I think some of the ones that stand out to me are: “Law #4 Don’t condition in a problem that must be trained out later” and “Law # 14 A dog will not follow unstable leaders.” This one proved more challenging as I soon found out that I had a dog, who wanted to be the leader. Breeze is very confident in herself and bold, which is a good trait to have, but only in the right situations. Two things always seem to play on repeat in my mind: “Begin with the end in mind,” and “The dog is always learning. Be careful what is being taught.” This is where our formal training began.
Two years prior to having Breeze, my daughter Leah was showing our other dog in the 4-H dog program. I became the Superintendent and trainer for the kids to help them prepare for the county fair. When Breeze reached the minimum age to participate in the program she began to attend as a student. Until that time she came along to every class to gain proper social skills and become accustomed to new surroundings. This gave Breeze and me many opportunities to build her confidence, as well as train around many distractions. Breeze quickly became my demonstration dog during classes. It was during my daughter’s Senior year of high school and last year of 4-H that she wanted to show both dogs at the county fair. She came to all the classes and rotated training each dog as well as training at home. Their time together and effort paid off. She and the dogs took home all Blue that day along with top scores in Obedience, Agility, and Top Competitor. Breeze accomplished this at the age of 2 years old! One needs a strong foundation in heelwork and obedience to control a dog at a distance, as is the case with Agility, for example. It all starts at heel. “Law # 7: If it’s not right at heel, it won’t be right in the field (or the agility ring!)”
After Breeze gained basic skills and a solid foundation, we began to focus on Retriever Training. We spent many hours on heeling, hand signals, hold conditioning, memory retrieves, whistle sits, denials, delays, and diversions. I never knew so much went into training a retriever! Our training led us to the started level where we could try a Hunt Test, Breeze earned two passes toward her Junior Hunter title. At this time we have not yet acquired her other two passes to earn her Junior Hunter Title, which I hope to do this summer.
Some other skills that Breeze has include dock diving, shed hunting, and scent work. This past fall and winter I started working her on upland work for pheasants and chukar. Upland hunting is something she excels at; she took to it like a fish to water. Watching her use her nose and working cover is a beautiful sight to see. I guess you can say she is a multi-purpose dog, ready to go and do whatever the job is you are asking of her!
When my daughter graduated high school and aged out of 4-H, I started looking for something else that I could do with Breeze, something that would take us outdoors and work with our lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and camping. Enter the Adventure Dog program. I had seen training videos online and thought this is perfect, just what I was looking for. I ordered the training packet, read, and researched videos and we began our new adventure. I asked the help of a friend, who owns horses to help us out with our first merit, Equestrian. Breeze had never seen a horse before, so the horse smells, size, and noises were something to be conquered for sure! But we took it slow, just as Law #5 says, “Make haste slowly.” Breeze had to trust that I was a stable leader; I had to show confidence that she was safe in this strange and new environment. She was able to greet a pony, nose to nose, and by the end of our training she was jumping obstacles with him, brace style. What fun that was! During our training with the horses I think the most difficult aspect she struggled with was the distraction of all the farm animals nearby. The cows were at the fence mooing and watching us, the goats were jumping and playing, and oh so many chickens in the pen next to us. Talk about distractions for a bird dog! But she soon learned that they were to be seen but not bothered, as she had a task at hand.
After many training sessions, we completed our biggest challenge of heelingbeside the horse, off leash, with a mounted rider. I was very proud of her for our first merit completed. Our next merits that we earned for our Trail Rated patch were Motor Vehicle, Public Access, ATV, and Trail Assistance. I must say having control in all situations and disciplined obedience was a big help in working on and earning these merits. We trained in many situations and places to create predictable habits. After attending the Adventure Dog Workshop we completed the merits needed to earn the Adventure Dog Certified patch. These included watercraft, hiking, hunting sports, fishing, and mountain biking. Our ultimate goal is to become a Master Trekker, only two more Merits to go! I am very proud of all of these accomplishments.
All training is like building a brick road–each task or step is like a gold paver along the path. It takes you further and further along and the possibilities are endless. Each phase requires something different or a different skill set. Speaking of new skills, I think after our Adventure Dog Training we may give Therapy Dog work a try! I would find it very satisfying to put this training to use in another field, giving back to the community.
In retrospect, I believe I named Breeze adequately. Living with and training her has been a breeze; no major hurdles to overcome. I contribute this to the Wildrose Methods of training: follow the Laws and you will have yourself a dog you can be proud of whatever adventure you choose to go on.
Get outdoors and Adventure on!