by Dr. Ben McClelland in an Interview with Erin Davis
In March Erin Davis moved—lock, stock, and barrel—from the Midwest to the Deep South to become a Trainer at Wildrose, Oxford. While some of us would have been waylaid by culture shock, Erin was more than up to the challenge. After all, her motor runs wide open. Multi-tasking is her forte´. Beyond being a quick study, Erin is deeply analytical. And she’d been preparing for this move for quite some time. Well, really her whole life.
Growing up in a family of animal people in Portage, Indiana, Erin said that they always had an assortment of dogs, cats, fish, iguanas, llamas, horses, and parrots around the house. An intensely active youngster, Erin did everything, including playing soccer, Irish Dancing, and cheerleading. She cheered from five years of age through her college years at Valparaiso University, where she earned a BSN – Bachelors of Science in Nursing. Afterwards, she coached Pop Warner teams to three national championships.
Erin began horseback riding early, as well. She said, “I started riding horses at three years old and competing at five years old with our mini horses, quarter horses, and draft horses.” Later she and her sister competed in English, western pleasure, and barrel racing.Hunting and dog training ran in the family, too. Erin’s grandfather was a serious upland hunter, who always had a pack of very proficient Brittanys in tow. Her uncle, an avid waterfowler on Lake Michigan, has produced masterful works of art in taxidermy.
Prior to her move to Oxford, Erin served five years as an associate trainer based in the Chicago area. Earlier she also served as a veterinary technician for five years at an exotic animal clinic and as an Indiana DNR research assistant, studying sport fishing in Lake Michigan. Erin’s professional memberships include the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
Erin also served as a trauma nurse at a Chicago-area hospital for 10 years, plus one year in Stem Cell Transplant nursing at Northwestern University Medical Center, and three years in Occupational Health nursing at U.S. Steel Mill-Gary Works.
Erin’s passion for training flourished after she picked up her first training pup six years ago at Oxford. Steadily, her pack grew. She said, “I quickly found myself making the choice to move to a house with more land to purposefully build a dream structure for the dogs and also start landscaping the training grounds as Wildrose Kennels – Great Lakes. The scene was immediately bustling with Gundogs, adventure dogs, therapy dogs, pre-season tune ups, post-season clean ups, and lots of boarding dogs. What started out as back grounding puppies, while still working full time as a nurse, blossomed in to full time boarding and training dogs and moonlighting as a nurse. That experience led me to my most recent adventure in moving to Oxford and fulfilling the Senior Trainer role.”
Erin said that, as a trainer, herprofessional passion is continuing the original vision of the Gentleman’s Gundog. She specifies two personal contributions: The first is to produce “dogs with diversified skill sets for the field and family life, dogs I would be proud to hunt over and peaceably live with.” The second contribution is to continue the core of training the Wildrose Way through client education. Many observers have noted Erin’s significant investment in this aspect of her job. As she said, “I love training dogs, but I love even more training handlers in how to be successful with their dogs. It makes no difference how well I train a dog if the owner is unable to replicate and enjoy it. From the moment I meet a client and their dog I wholeheartedly encourage them and their entire family—kids and extended family included—to visit during training as much as possible. My open-door policy allows them to learn all the tips and tricks gradually so that, by the time a dog graduates, both the handler and dog are comfortable and successful.”
Taking up hunting as an adult, Erin is an active waterfowl, upland, and small and large game hunter. She lists her favorite places to hunt waterfowl: “Early season – Rugby North Dakota, Late season – North Platte River in Wyoming.”Among her favorite places to upland hunt: “Pheasant – Southwest North Dakota, Grouse – Ottawa National Forest Upper Penninsula Michigan.” She also lists her all-time favorite hunting: “Dry field hunting for mallards and grouse in the Northwoods.”
Moreover, Erin is an Adventure Dog aficionado, most notably with Ben, whom she calls ”undeniably my ‘dog of a lifetime.’” Ben is four-year-old UH Wildrose Ben, an Adventure MT THDX CGC, out of Murphy and Pinny.
Erin said that she and Ben have “traveled through 34 states together. Along the way we’ve waterfowl and upland hunted from border to border and to the coast of the Atlantic, including the Mississippi, and Central flyways. To date he has also completed over 400 therapy dog visits in the community. His favorite field activity is striking for a pointing bird dog. His favorite home activity is mountain biking with me.”
Lots of us Wildrose folks have a pack of dogs. But Erin has what I would describe as a passel. Besides Ben and the large number of client dogs, she listed two other personal dogs, Luke and Ghillie, whom she described this way:
“Labs Unlimited Luk-ing For Trouble TD CGC ‘Luke,’ eight years old. Started as a field trial prospect but we both found The Wildrose Way of training was a better fit for us, which is what originally let me to WR. His favorite part of hunting is making long retrieves across the water for wounded geese. At home his favorite activity is kayaking with me.
‘Troddenmills Honky Tonk,’ CGC CGCA CGCU ‘Ghillie.’ Imported: Tanyrhallt Blue Bloods x Troddenmills Goes Bananas, eleven months old. Imported by Wildrose Dallas. Immediately after I picked him up, I knew he was a keeper. He’s quiet at home, loves to travel, gentle with everyone he meets, and a quick learner. In the field he is a powerhouse on land and water. He’s bold, agile, and thinks critically. His favorite field activity is picking up multiple consecutive long marks. His favorite home activity is riding in the side by side.”
Because I asked for some insight into her personal choices, Erin revealed some of her personal favorites . . . food: cheesecake; movies: documentaries; books: Nonfiction; and travel destination: Turks and Caicos Islands.
On a couple of recent occasions some other clients and I have had the opportunity of accompanying Erin on training activities with our dogs. As we powerwalked to the field, Erin began thinking aloud, sketching out a plan for our morning’s work. She had seen our dogs work before, so she knew their ability levels. Once or twice she’d check in with us: “What do you think? Are you guys good with that?” In a few minutes, she laid out a plan of three varied exercises, featuring different skill requirements, each in a new field environment. Memory retrieves through the woods and into the water. Simulated upland marks in cover. Lining and handling for long-distance blinds.
We carried out the training plan, moving from place to place, all the while sharing observations about our dogs and enjoying lighthearted conversation. As we walked back to the kennel center, Erin summarized our activities and expressed satisfaction with the day’s work. We clients revealed amazement at Erin’s ability to lay out— impromptu—this coherent plan. She grinned and joked, “Just a little something I saw in a book once. It’s called something like the cyclical training model.” We laughed, and someone said, “Oh, yeah, thatbook.”
Spoiler alert about Erin’s personal dogs: She has put down deposits on future Wildrose litters!