Co-Owners of Wildrose Carolinas
By Dr. Ben McClelland
Becoming an effective, positive canine leader involves communicating with the dog, understanding canine behavior, and becoming a problem solver.
—Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way
The trainers on the Wildrose staff embody those essential elements, and no one more so than Steven Lucius. Many of us who have accompanied Steven on the training ground can attest to his leadership skills.
Attending group-training sessions in Oxford some years ago, I observed Steven as the trainers gathered with their dogs in the parking lot near the client dog kennel. Each dog sat at heel as we waited for everyone to join in. On several occasions while waiting, I observed Steven focusing intently on developing and maintaining eye contact with his dog. When I asked him about this practice, he said, “It’s how we can both read each other,” mentioning the popular metaphor of “the eyes being the window of the soul,” meaning that a trainer can really connect emotionally and physically with the essence of the dog through sustained eye contact.
Mike’s maxim, “Own the Eyes,” enabling direct communication with the dog correlates with this (Stewart 75). Steven added that dogs’ attention span and eye contact vary; some take readily to making eye contact and giving full attention to the trainer, while others require more time and repeated practice to be able to hold eye contact for as long as three to ten seconds. Every command from the handler begins with establishing eye contact and saying the dog’s name, so this practice is an essential foundation to training success. Steven understands that being consistent in this practice lets the dog know that it doesn’t go anywhere to begin fun activities in the field until it exhibits good eye contact. Danielle Drewrey also noted that this practice was part of Steven’s ability to connect and really build a relationship with each dog that he trained.
Erin Davis concurred with Danielle, saying that she enjoyed working alongside Steven and “watching his gift for reading dogs and his ability to capture their individual motivators.” Additionally, she added, “I appreciate his insight on troubleshooting and willingness towards idea sharing. While he doesn’t always say much, what he does say has weight. He may not converse at a loud volume, but his choice of words is filled with honesty, realism, and encouragement.”
From her observations Bess Bruton agreed, saying, “As a trainer, Steven is considerate, patient, quiet, composed, and successfully reads the dog. . . its personality, its sensitivity level, and its knowledge level. This keenness lets Steven adjust his training program to fit each individual dog.” Bess said that she emulates the qualities that she has observed in and learned from Steven, concluding, “his success in turning out well-trained dogs is proof of his quiet demeanor, consistency dedication, and love for our canine companions.”
In 2008 Steven began as a part-time kennel assistant when he was an undergraduate student at Ole Miss, but he wasn’t the first Lucius to work at the kennel. Years earlier his brother, Charlie, worked at Wildrose during his college years. The Lucius brothers hail from Marietta, Georgia, and both earned degrees in marketing from the University. Steven got his first dog when he was a junior and, after work, he followed Mike around, observing how he trained dogs. Then Steven would apply those techniques to training his dog.
In 2010 Steven was promoted to training apprentice, shadowing Mike and working directly with Mike’s string of started and finished dogs. At the time Mike remarked to me that he was investing a great deal of time developing Steven’s training skills and he hoped that Steven would stay at least five years on the job. On June 1, 2011, Steven was promoted to assistant trainer working with the gundog and adventure dog training programs. Then, in 2018 he became senior trainer, coordinating all training operations at the Oxford facility. Not only did Steven return a remarkable dividend on Mike’s investment, but he also made an enviable transition from holding a job as a dog trainer to developing it as a career.
As a trainer, Steven built lasting relationships with client, beginning by communicating with owners every month through phone calls and photos, plus text messages. Moreover, he asked each client dog’s owner to visit with him and the dog midway during the seven-month training period and at the end. Both visits give the owner a chance to work with the dog, going beyond basic obedience training to retrieving and handling the dog in the field. The midway visit enables to owner to see what progress the dog has made. By that point most likely the dog has competed hold conditioning and is engaged in casting work. The final visit lets the owner see the finished product: the dog’s development from a pup to a started gundog.
Steven recalls a day years ago when he realized that his work was evolving and he called his father and said, “I enjoy getting up every day and going to work.” His father replied that ninety percent of American workers wished that they could say the same and that Steven was fortunate to have found such meaningful work.
On June 3, 2017, Steven added even more meaning to his life by marrying his lifelong partner, Schuyler Corderman, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They began their married lives in Oxford, near Wildrose Kennels. Schulyer was completing a second undergraduate degree in education at the University of Mississippi.
In January, 2020, Steven became co-owner of Wildrose Carolinas and he and Schuyler moved east to begin a new chapter in their lives. The most recent family event was the arrival, ten months ago, of Steven Dickson Lucius Jr., who goes by “Sandt.”
Steven’s personal dogs include ten-and-a-half-year-old Archer and Ivy, who is nine-and-a-half years old. Archer (Wigeon x Purdey), who is descended from Angus’ lineage and was a Sire at the Oxford location, has hunted both upland and waterfowl. Archer’s been hunting in the Dakotas, Mississippi, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Ivy (Murphy x Pinny) is a retired momma dog and spends her days going to the kennel with Steven in North Carolina, and going home and lounging around the Lucius house, enjoying retirement. Steven and Schuyler have recently added Witmer (Archer x Kate), who is two years old and is in training.
Establishing a Wildrose kennel in Mebane, North Carolina, involved years of personal connections and business intersections. In Forbes Magazine’s April 2009 edition, Wildrose was featured as the cover story, “Luxe Labradors.” Kirk Parker recalls reading the article while waiting for his youngest son to be born. He remembers being thoroughly impressed with the methodology and approach and declared that he would have a dog one day. A few years later, Kirk made a deposit and in 2015 travelled to Oxford to pick up Gamble, a fox red male (Red x Daisy). Kirk’s goal was to pick the boldest and hardest-charging dog he could and, knowing it would be a gamble, hence his name. Anyone who knows Gamble understands how well Kirk succeeded in his goal.
And Gamble was the nexus—connecting Steven and Kirk, and also connecting their shared career aims—because Steven trained Gamble and during Kirk’s many trips to Oxford, he believed there was an opportunity to carry Wildrose to the east coast, establish a facility, and begin breeding and training Wildrose dogs. Kirk envisioned bringing the Wildrose way, the soft training methods, to others in the area, which mostly focused on American labs, e-collars, and hunt tests/field trials.
Kirk shared his interest with Steven and approached Mike about the idea, which evolved from there, eventually becoming a licensee, finding a location, and then executing on the work to curate the type of facility consistent with the Oxford and Texas sites.
Located thirty-some miles east of Greensboro and twenty-some miles northwest of Durham, the Wildrose Carolinas property was once a tobacco farm and later became a Pine Farm. Fields were cleared along its rolling hills and annual burns take care of the underbrush. Ravines and creeks run through the picturesque property. A nine-acre pond sits at the property’s entrance and the road winds around it to the main facility, which features a 4,000-square-foot kennel building, including a healthcare room, a retail shop, a lodge, and a manager’s house.
To develop this former timber property into Wildrose facility, power, water and a septic system had to be installed. Moreover, there was a great deal of harvesting and clearing of timber to make open training areas. Efforts continue to develop habitat, maintain the three-mile road system, manage the timber and upland habitat, and provide crop sources for wildlife and training purposes.
A three-acre impoundment was built for planting corn or other crops, then flooding it for waterfowl. The habitat features mostly wood ducks, but the hope is to attract other species over time. The property features twelve water sources, including a ten-acre lake, a technical pond, many smaller ponds at different elevations, and a long beaver swamp.
The annual control burns of the entire property in late winter and early spring have transformed the landscape. The goal is to be able to hunt ducks in the morning, eat breakfast at the lodge, chase quail in the midmorning, enjoy lunch, and hunt more quail (or hunt in a deer stand), and conclude the day relaxing around the fire-pit with a cocktail and grilled dinner.
A skilled staff maintains the kennel operations.
Chris Torain is a full time trainer in his apprenticeship. A native of Cedar Grove, North Carolina, Chris realized his love for dog training after purchasing his first lab, “Gia.” In Chris’ quest to learn more information about labs and their training, he discovered Wildrose Carolinas, and started working in February 2021 doing maintenance and caring for the Sires and Dams. In August he began working full-time at the kennels and became an apprentice trainer in September 2021. His knowledge of waterfowl and upland hunting makes him an exceptional member of the team.
Cacia Jones is a specialist healthcare, taking care of and raising puppies from whelping on. Cacia moved to Durham, North Carolina, from Vancouver, WA, two years ago and has enjoyed living here since. She joined the Wildrose Carolinas’ team a little over a year ago, helping take care of the medical needs of the dogs at the kennel as well as helping whelp and raise the puppies. Cacia has always had a passion for animals and in fact at a young age deemed herself a princess who would take care of all the animals. Staying true to her dreams, Cacia has been a veterinary assistant for four years and besides working at Wildrose Carolinas has also been most recently at a local ER/Exotic veterinary clinic in Raleigh. She will be graduating this coming Spring from Arizona State University with her Bachelors of Applied Science – Preveterinary medicine. Cacia hopes to eventually become an ER veterinarian who does conservation work on the side. In her spare time she spoils her two cats and Coonhound mix and participates in an improv club. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, though her favorite holiday treat is Egg Nog. She is also a huge fan of the Harry Potter and Outlander series.
Avery Doughty, who found a passion working with Labs at a young age, assists with training momma dogs twice weekly. Avery attended Carson-Newman University, Jefferson City, Tennessee, as the freshman of the year. While she studied business, she attended on a fishing scholarship and acknowledges that she has fished all her life. Avery is transferring to North Carolina State University to pursue a degree in animal science and continue to follow her passion for training Labs at Wildrose Carolinas.
Alan Newton is a graduate of East Carolina University, holds master’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Clemson University, and is a member of the biology faculty at Davidson-Davie Community College. Alan acquired his first Wildrose companion Shadow (Deke x Heather) in 2014. Participating in a wide variety of Wildrose workshops over the next several years, Alan developed his knowledge of training the Wildrose Way, and in 2017 was invited to become an Associate Trainer. Alan spends summers training at Wildrose Carolinas and as a member of the Yadkin River Retriever Club. His training methodology centers on developing obedience excellence coupled with outstanding skills in the field.
An entrepreneur and business owner from Raleigh, North Carolina, Kirk is involved in all aspects of Wildrose Carolinas. Kirk grew up training and hunting with a variety of dogs and is passionate about the sporting lifestyle, particularly pursuits with his dogs.
Kirk has three personal dogs: Gamble, a fox red male (Red x Daisy); an imported Black male, Bruce, who is out of Waysgreen Apollo and a FTW; and Wager, a twenty-month-old, red male [Gamble x Ivy (Lucius)]. Kirk also owns an English pointer, Pearl, that is used to complement our upland game efforts. Last, Kirk has an eleven-year-old English Cocker, Lulu, a founding and life member of the indiscriminate petters’ anonymous.
Gamble and Bruce are very experienced dogs and have hunted upland birds in North Dakota; upland birds in Alabama and North Carolina; waterfowl in Canada, Missouri, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Virginia. Wager is still coming along and has been on many tower shoots. Kirk is eager to get him the upland and waterfowl situations this coming season. Kirk also hunts deer, turkeys, and large game in the west when he can, enjoying the challenge of figuring out the hunt and then pursuing the species. For him, the harder the better. And as far as hunting waterfowl and upland, he likes waterfowl, loves upland, and really only enjoys them with dogs.
Kirk is happily married to CC for twenty-eight years. They have three children, son, Van (21), daughter, Bailey (20) and son, Brown, (15). Brown has his own Wildrose heritage dog, Harlan, a black male (Gamble x Claire).
Kirk’s development as a dog trainer, just like with our dogs, always continues. Over the years, Kirk has learned a great deal about the Wildrose Way and how to apply it. He believes himself to be a much better handler, than trainer, although he feels that he can teach the concepts well and is fully versed in the “why” behind what we do in the Wildrose way. Most of his training is with more experienced dogs or helping along the way with dogs in training to teach a specific skill.
Being part of Wildrose, a recognized and well-developed brand is critical to the Carolinas’ kennel’s success. The signature brand allows instant credibility and a set of standards already in place to execute. It also provides a much better reach, access to resources and knowledge and allows for a much more robust offering and experience for clients.
And equally important is the network of people involved. One of Kirk’s favorite parts of the Wildrose experience is being able to meet and spend time with people of all kinds from different locations with the commonality around our sporting companions. No one can ever take experiences away from him and he has many and looks forward to many more. Having developed some great relationships since his involvement in Wildrose, Kirk would not trade the experiences or relationships for anything.
Visitors to and clients of Wildrose Carolinas can see that the gamble that Steven and Kirk waged in launching this new venture has paid off—and continues to maximize on their gambit.
Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training The Wildrose Way, New York: Universe Publishing, 2012.