Wildrose History Part II

2000 -Present

“The Build”

Coupled with much excitement and anticipation, a full-time commitment was made to Wildrose January 2000.  The kennel move from Grand Junction was completed the prior year and our development of the 143 acres in Oxford, Mississippi with the vision of a world-class training ground was clear and underway.

Our objective for the company was to create a full-service sporting dog facility, utilizing British Labrador genetics and train with a balanced approach to create a gundog of duality, teach handlers, and create a sporting lifestyle community of followers that embraced the Wildrose Way. We clearly defined the desirable “product” The Gentleman’s Gundog. A lab capable of retrieving ducks in the morning, quail that afternoon, then compatible in the home with the family that evening. Our company was to become a “one stop” resource for our clients… puppies, available trained dogs, training options, educational workshops, and field-tested products available to complement the client’s experiences.

With the clarity of purpose well defined in mind and the understanding of our goal of quality (to exceed expectations), our first kennelman was hired and training services expanded as orders and requests for services began quickly rolling in.

FTW Drummer

By early 2000, Wildrose had imported our first titled sires:  FTCh Angus and FTW Drummer.  To collect Drummer, I ventured to N. Ireland that spring to visit Nigel Carville, who had arranged Drummer’s placement with us.  Before meeting the big yellow male, a stop was made at Sam’s Jennet’s home to arrange a training date and collect Drummer.  A late afternoon visit in the UK to one’s home, of course, required a spot of tea. Sam properly served an excellent brew, laced heavily with an Irish libation and being a gracious host, the offerings continued for some time.  After the enjoyable social, I was introduced to our first titled sire, Drummer.  Beyond the influences of the lovely Irish “teas,” the big yellow dog was impressive. One must really appreciate Irish custom and hospitality.  

Both Drummer and Angus became very popular at Wildrose. Drummer was featured in an advertisement for Avery and on the cover of an Orvis catalog, as he was one handsome dog. At retirement Drummer went to live with James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape. Angus’ progeny remains in Wildrose heritage lineage today.  

Three significant occurrences for the company in 2001:

  1. The first was the creation of the Wildrose newsletter which later became the Wildrose Journal, our online magazine, which now reaches 23,000 subscribers.
  2. Ducks Unlimited contacted Wildrose with the possibility of creating a company mascot for their television show, “The World of Ducks,” and public appearances.
  3. Wildrose hosted our first Handlers Workshop, a two-day event to help our clients become effective handlers of their dogs. This event has occurred each spring uninterrupted to date. 

Eric Keszler of Ducks Unlimited and Mike developed the idea of Drake, the DU Dog, that could be trained in short, filmed segments, then featured on DU TV weekly in addition to making public appearances representing DU’s waterfowl conservation message.  The series followed Drake’s training from puppyhood through his participation on the 2004 US Gundog Team at the P & O Irish Sea International Gundog Competition in N. Ireland (The US team won the event.) and on through his senior years totaling eight consecutive seasons of training tips the Wildrose Way.  

People have related many times how they followed our training tips without the use of e-collars and force fetch to develop their own gundogs, step by step.

Drake’s replacement was Deke in 2008 and the training segments with DU continued uninterrupted to date (2001 to present) making the series of Drake & Deke and “Training the Wildrose Way” the longest running TV production on gundog training in history.

In 2002, Wildrose and the DU Dogs became a regular feature, representing DU at the Great Outdoor Festivals in Memphis, TN, and Oshkosh, WI.  

In 2003 it became apparent that an element missing in our training services was exposure to fast-moving water and streams. The various water resources at the Oxford facility were non-moving.  Hunting on rivers and swift-moving streams proved to be a challenge for dogs lacking in exposure to these environments.  The solution was to develop a second training location offering moving water: OZARK. The property is located on the Little Buffalo River in Newton County, Arkansas, one of the most rugged sections of the Ozarks.  The training grounds offer 2/3 of a mile of riverfront and excellent tall grasses with rocky exposure. Our river training services at this location remain in operation today, “Wildrose of the Ozarks.”

Wildrose Arkansas

Wildrose became Orvis Endorsed in 2003 for sporting dog services and Pro Shop, a relationship that developed into their assistance in the publishing of our training book, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way. (Orvis Press, 2012)

Significant benchmarks were achieved for the Wildrose vision in 2006:

  1. We produced our first proprietary DVD featuring the Wildrose balanced methodology for gundogs.
  2. A Wildrose dog had been delivered in every state and each Canadian province encompassing North America.  
Wildrose Way DVD and Upland Gundog DVD

During these years as we continued to expand our market and brand recognition, many staff members contributed to the success, so much so that Part III of this series will be dedicated to recognizing them and discussing of the Wildrose Way training methodology’s development.  So, please excuse the omission at this point.

Wildrose was afforded the opportunity to open a summer training facility at Clear Creek Ranch, Granite, CO, in 2008.  The location was previously an Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Destination offering fast-moving water resources for river exposure for dogs in training. At 9000 ft. altitude, summer mornings are much cooler than Mississippi and Arkansas and offered no challenges presented by snakes and ticks, a perfect location for summer, pre-season tune-ups for gundogs and adventurers.  

In 2008, it became evident that there was a parallel unfilled need in the sporting dog lifestyle market that did not necessarily involve hunting.

Wildrose Colorado

The back story:  Cathy, Whiskey, one of our sires, and I were training in Colorado for the summer. One afternoon after a hike we were enjoying a visit to an outdoor oyster bar in Aspen, CO.  Whiskey was, as usual, well mannered and controllable in this public setting.  A bit of time passed before a gentleman approached and asked, “How did you get your dog to be so well behaved?  My dog… no way.”  Soon a couple more similar remarks from passing individuals occurred and to each I responded, “I train dogs and these behaviors are the typical result.”  In turn, for purposes of polite conversations, I asked of their professions, and each responded similarly, “I manage money.”  After the third interested money management party departed, I turned to Cathy and said, “There’s a market for this.” 

The first step to building a brand is to identify a need, then fill it, and there it was, the need of a controllable canine family dog for outside activities. This opportunity began our Adventure Dog training and later our certification program, created to develop a destination companion that is prepared to go anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.

For sure, there were raised eyebrows and doubts among some of my associates as to the future of such an offering but once the Wildrose Adventure Dog was introduced as a lab that was compatible in the home and controllable on any outside adventure the program, its graduates became just as popular as the Wildrose Gentleman’s Gundog.

In 2008, Wildrose expanded its training services to include Diabetic Alert Service Dogs (DADs).  The training involved four elements to develop a dog to the point it could consistently alert a diabetic’s low blood sugar.  We called the program “The Masters of Scent.”  The Wildrose British dog offers the necessary elements of a DAD… calm temperament, social nature, smaller in size, trainability, and superb scenting abilities.  The combination worked perfectly.  The Wildrose DAD training included:

  1. Public Access
  2. Scent Discrimination
  3. Chaining an alert (passive but obvious)
  4. Controllable obedience

Wildrose founded a nonprofit to support our service companions program funded through donations.  The Wildrose Service Companion Fund is managed by the Create Foundation of Tupelo and continues to date supporting a variety of service and therapy dog needs.

In 2009, in the depth of the recession, writer Monte Burke called, requesting an interview concerning the topic of recession-proof businesses.  The article was submitted to Forbes Magazine, as they searched for unique businesses that were prospering given the worldwide financial difficulties.  What chance did a gundog facility have in such deep water?  Surprisingly, Wildrose’s story was chosen to be in the finalist and a photographer was sent to Wildrose. In the end, we got the cover shot and an article placing Wildrose Inc. in the top five businesses reviewed. One cannot imagine the calls that rolled in after that issue of Forbes Magazine was published.

That same year Garden & Gun Magazine selected Wildrose for one of their “Best in the Sporting South” recognitions. In 2012 Garden & Gun graciously selected Wildrose for the same honor again with Deke’s photo taken by Andy Anderson gracing the cover.  This issue became popular and sold out quickly.

Ben McClelland published Lifesaving Labradors in 2013, which includes stories of Wildrose Service Companions and our training book, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way, now in its 5threprint, was published detailing our balanced training methodology in 2012.

In 2013 Forbes once again published an article on Wildrose and our service to the sporting dog community.  The article, “Lux Labs” appeared in their supplement magazine, Forbes Life, for subscribers of Forbes but this issue didn’t feature Wildrose on the cover.  No, Ivanka Trump “stole” the prestigious cover shot; nevertheless, we were honored.

In 2013 Deke appeared again on the cover photo for the 10-year anniversary of Garden & Gun Magazine along with two other dogs that had previously appeared on the cover.  The shoot was held at George Hi Shooting Preserve in North Carolina.  The photo did take a bit of effort as the Golden Retriever involved kept punching out for a frolic in the lake, returning after much encouragement, soaking wet.  Deke, as calm as ever, did not understand the Golden’s issues.  “Sit here and let’s get this done,” was his communicated expression.  

Tom Smith with his Wildrose lab, Dixie, assumed the new position of General Manager with Wildrose in Oxford in 2014. This important placement of a talented leader to assume the responsibilities of daily operations at our main kennel became an initial step for our future development…regionalization. Tom’s years as General Manager gave him experience in all kennel functions from health care to training enabling his transition to ownership of the Mississippi facility.

2017 was a huge year for our business progression.  Wildrose developed two regional locations with GC Billups in Dallas at the Dallas Hunting and Fishing Club, established in 1885, and our third facility in Mebane, North Carolina, close to Raleigh, opened to serve our East coast clients, owned by Kirk Parker.

Regionalization enabled Wildrose to better serve our nationwide clients providing service closer to their home and it shortened the wait for our ever-growing request for puppies, trained dogs, and services.

In 2017 Wildrose partnered with our sponsor, Purina ProPlan, to address a void in the sporting dog market.  There was a need for a comprehensive training resource that covered how to start a sporting dog puppy.  Most materials available mentioned puppy backgrounding, then advanced quickly into basic training.  Our production filmed at Wildrose Mississippi, provided 16 lessons on how to properly teach a puppy the skills that will endure a lifetime.  The final product is available now at uklabs.com and was also featured on the American Kennel Club website for some time.  

The product endorsement advertisements, filmed simultaneously for ProPlan, resulted in winning an Emmy and ran two consecutive years during the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden on the jumbotron promoting Purina Pro Plan.

In 2018, Tom Beckbe sporting apparel and Wildrose teamed to produce a step-by-step feature on training the upland gundog.  It was filmed by Will Hereford, who brilliantly captured our balanced training methods for flushing and recovering upland game birds.  Tom Beckbe clothing is the official endorsed outerwear at Wildrose.

After 5 years as Wildrose Mississippi General Manager, Tom Smith assumed ownership of the Wildrose Mississippi region in 2019. Mike and Cathy then directed their full-time attention to the Wildrose International regional locations and operating the seasonal training grounds in the Ozarks and Colorado.  In 2020, Steven Lucius, Senior Trainer at Wildrose Oxford with 12 years’ experience, became co-owner with Kirk Parker of Wildrose Carolinas.  Steven provided a wealth of training experience to Wildrose Carolinas.  Allan Klotschke became an associate trainer for the North Central region, home based in Wisconsin in 2020. He arranged a partnership with Kohler Resorts at their River Wildlife destination to serve as training grounds for Wildrose Midwest and conducted a series of successful workshops.  In 2022, Wildrose Midwest became our fourth licensed regional facility, owned by Allan Klotschke.

The Wildrose journey has taken many trails that continue developing today as we celebrate 50 years of sporting dog excellence.

To all our clients and followers of the Wildrose Way, thank you!

1.Wildrose Whiskey
2.Irish Sea International Retriever Competition and Atlantic Cup Trophies, 2004 (Drake as a team member)
3.Mike Stewart inducted into the Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame, 2018
4.Drake’s Ducks Unlimited Canine Club Tag #1
5.Deke and Purina Pro Plan at the DU national convention
6.Wildrose Earth Roamer (@wildroseroaming)
7.UK partner Nigel Carville
8.Front gate at Wildrose MS
9.Steve Haight with Solo and Mike Stewart with Whiskey and Hamish – Filming for Benelli’s American Bird Hunter, SD
10.Pinny, WR MS first import with her first pup, 2000
11.Mike Stewart and Milton Starnes hunting the Yocona River with Pinny
12.Wildrose Hamish
13.The Wildrose Boat that can be found on property today
14.Original Wildrose retail shop
15.FTW Whiskey and FTCH Kane
16.Wildrose Carolinas
17.Wildrose Texas
18.Map showing puppies, started, finished dogs across the United States

In Part III, (The Way) we will discuss the development of our training methodology, our staff and partners who have contributed so much to the Wildrose brand over the years.

In our final segment, Part IV, (The Sun Never Sets) we will explore the opportunities and changes that occurred through the years that lead Wildrose to where it is today and our vision for the future. 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s