Originally printed in Duck Camp Holiday Issue 2022
Written by Oliver Hartner Photos by Ian Mahathey
People who excel at their pursuit often begin theirdays before dawn. They understand that nothingworth having comes easy, and the extra winks of sleepthey sacrifice become inconsequential in attainingtheir goals. Chris Torain rises before the sun on mostmornings while training gun dogs professionally, orwaterfowling for leisure. But before this season of hislife, he would rub his eyes during those witching hoursand wish for more sleep before finding work that wasworthy of his gifts.
Chris punched a clock on a warehouse wall at 4:00 am most days of the week, toiling there twelve hours a day until 4:00pm “It was one of the worst jobs I’d ever had. I absolutely hated it,” Chris recalled. The job paid his bills, but it drained his soul. Then around 2019, one of his friends introduced him to waterfowling, and with those precious hours he wasn’t moving freight, Chris dedicated himself to learning more about waterfowling and gun dogs. “I just kept wanting to learn as much as possible. I wound up buying my own dog and started watching YouTube videos and reading a lot of books.”
While scrolling through Instagram, Chris stumbled across Wildrose Carolinas and learned they operated in Hillsborough, North Carolina close to his home. He contacted them and asked if he could work for free in exchange for knowledge and a place to train his pup. “Once I finished my groundskeeping duties, I was able to work dogs one-on-one with the head trainers. I couldn’t put a price on that kind of instruction.” Several months passed under this arrangement, and as Chris demonstrated an aptitude and infectious enthusiasm for dog training, Steven Lucius and Kirk Parker, co-owners of Wildrose Carolinas, altered the deal; they invited Chris to work full-time as their groundskeeper and apprentice dog trainer. He left the warehouse behind in September of 2021 and hasn’t looked back.
The opportunity to train dogs professionally means more to Chris than simply earning a living or being happy at his job, it’s a passion found, and a promise fulfilled. Hard work with a little luck got his foot in the door at Wildrose Carolinas, but it took encouragement apart from himself to steady his footing along this path. His mentors Steven, Kirk, and renowned trainer and Wildrose International founder Mike Stewart are numbered among his support group along with several close friends. But so too was his beloved grandmother who succumbed to breast cancer. “A year and a half before I started at Wildrose, I told people I wanted to train gun dogs, including my grandmother, and she never discouraged me. So, I focused hard on dog training, and now when I’m working, I feel like I’m showing her, You knew I wanted to do this, and you never discouraged me. Now look how far I’ve come.”
Chris puts a part of himself into every dog he trains, and anything less than the best won’t do. “I want you to have the option to hunt with one of my dogs anywhere. Flooded timber. A-frame blinds. Pit blinds. Goose fields. Upland hunting. Anywhere and anytime a retriever is required, I want dogs that I train to meet or exceed an owner’s expectations. Both before and after the hunt, they should be calm and obedient. An unruly dog is irritating, and when firearms come into play, they can be dangerous.
Whenever waterfowl season arrives, Chris takes his dogs to swampy bottoms and farm fields where he has permission to hunt. These hunts offer him an opportunity to stay connected with the resource and recruit others into sporting life. “I try every season to take at least one person with me who has never hunted in their lives. And most times, it only takes once before they’re hooked. Watching cupped-winged mallards come down to a call is amazing even when you don’t shoot any of them. It’s something they just don’t normally see.”
Chris acknowledgesthe hurdles faced by himself and newerwaterfowl enthusiasts, often fromexperienced hunters who have forgottenthey also had to start somewhere. “I’veheard people complain about newerhunters saying things like, ‘They’re skyblasting,’ or, ‘They’re calling too much,’ orsome other things. But if they’re not helpingthose people into the sport, how can theyexpect them to know better?“
As a young Black man, Chris often finds himself being the only minority represented at sporting events or gun dog demonstrations, but he hasn’t felt his race was an obstacle to being involved in sporting life; and he encourages seasoned sporting life enthusiasts to introduce themselves to people falling outside the traditional idea of what hunters and anglers ought to look like. “I don’t ever mind being a minority at an event or at a hunt because I know everyone there shares a connection. As soon as we start talking, we find common ground just minutes into the conversation. We all love our dogs. We all love our sport. And we all love the resource.”
Chris continues setting loftier goals for himself within his profession and his sport. Getting there will take continued progress and dedication, but he draws strength from a fathomless well of enthusiasm. When he couples this passion with his support network, Chris meets the moment and achieves his objectives. He aims to train “an absolute monster” gun dog for a guide service, or perhaps train a dog for 24.7 Hunt, a group of guys with a YouTube channel that he loves. If there’s a Gun Dog Trainers Hall of Fame, I aim to be in it. I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’ll always be a student of my passion. Otherwise I’m no longer a professional.”
Oliver Hartner is a South Carolina-based writer covering sporting lifeinterests. His work has appeared in Covey Rise Magazine, ShootingSportsman, Quail Forever Journal, USA Today: Hunt and FishMagazine, and Covers Magazine of the Ruffed Grouse Society andAmerican Woodcock Society. He serves on the South Carolina StateCommittee of Ducks Unlimited as its Secretary, and he can be foundon Instagram @oliverhartner, or on the web at oliverhartner.com.
Last summer at Wildrose Colorado, I developed a training exercise which combined a couple of Wildrose Way elements specifically to address issues commonly experienced with retrievers nearing the end of basic gundog training cycle or even for seasoned dogs in need of tune up. The training solution is called “Drive By.”
The technique is designed to develop the retrievers’ skills to drive past short bumpers (and later birds) to pick long ones or to stop and handle to falls in cover when driving out for the long bird. The exercise combines trailing memories with stop to the whistle and casting into cover, alternating with each pick. Let’s walk through the process.
The Drive By
The drill begins with a trailing memory single lining in open ground: short cover woodlands, plowed ground, so the bumper is almost a seen. Imagine a home plate and second base of a baseball diamond.
The scenario also combines two scented bumpers scattered in close proximity to each other off the center (pitcher’s mound) of the line. We will mark these 2 bumpers at either a 3rd base or 1st base fall area.
The training objective is to develop a dog’s interdependence with the handler forgoing the dog’s “opinion” as to which bumper should be picked. The willingness to hold the line despite the short bird suction or stop and cast into the cover, ie:
Line past the off-set memories (diversions/suction) for a pick of the long bumper
Or to stop while lining to the long memory and handle directly into cover to a shorter memory.
The core principle is to keep the dog guessing as to which command will be given by the handler. If a dog is given direction and they independently select another action, then the handler has the opportunity to refocus the dog on the correct command. The dog does not get to decide.
Every other retrieve is a lining memory followed by stopping to casting from the trailing memory line into different environmental factors, such as cover, marsh, shallow still water or even to negotiate an obstacle like a fence or ditch. Whatever the selection is for the short memories for hand signals the location should require a hunt for recovery success. So, you have a bit of diversity in this exercise, the long trailing memory is set for an easy find while the bumpers for casting off the line incorporate a physical challenge and/or nose work.
The Set Up
Select an area of open ground. Again, it could be short grass, clear woodlands, a pond levy, a plowed field, a place to set up a long training memory single. To the side of the line should be thick cover, still water, marsh grass or woods, etc.
Place a bumper at what would be home base which will be the first long memory. Walk the line of the trailing memory from home plate (using the old baseball diamond description to help explain) toward second base. Halfway between home and second, toss out two scented bumpers deep into the cover as memories to the side of the line from what would the location of the pitcher’s mound. The dog marks the falls. The bumpers should be in close proximity but not piled. The location for both bumpers placed is either first base or third base, 90 degrees to the line. Both bumpers are scattered in the same area. Continue walking out to second base, now the drill is set.
The Exercise Begins
Set the dog to line for the long trailing memory (from 2nd to home) passing the double memories midway down the line without stopping or handling. “No” the dog off the short birds and pick the long memory.
Next, place the retrieved bumper at second base and heel the dog with you to home plate.
Line the dog to the second base memory just placed then stop the dog on the whistle as he approaches midway on the line (pitcher’s mound). This stop is 90 degrees to where the bumpers are hidden in the cover.
Hold the dog’s attention at stop for at least 5 seconds, then cast straight through the obstacle or into the cover for the hidden bumpers. There are only two scatters, so we have the opportunity for a bit of nose work.
After delivery, line the dog to pick the trailing memory at second base. Next, drop a memory at home and proceed with the retriever to second base. Once in place, line for the home base memory, then stop the dog for a cast into cover to make the second short pick.
Finally, receive the bumper then line the dog to retrieve the remaining long trailing memory at home plate.
If the dog decides on his own to divert from the given line without instructions, stop immediately and use a primary reset (See page 164, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way.) Recall, reset the line and rerun. Do not try to handle out of the mistake.
If the dog casts correctly but cannot negotiate the obstacle or locate a find on the hunt, return to the basic fundamentals of lining through barriers and hunting cover in separate sessions.
Ensure that every other retrieve alternates between a line or a handle. Overhandling will result in other problems: lack of confidence, anticipating the command, causing a dog to pop (stop and look for assistance) or spinning.
As with many Wildrose Way methods, this one, too, is flexible. One can make the exercise more challenging by turning the entire setup 90 degrees after the final pick of the initial drill. Simply re-create the exercise and set up a new run. Imagine a square after the last trailing memory is achieved. Turn the setup 90 degrees and set this location as home. Drop the memory. Walk the trailing memory line out and toss in two memories in cover at the half-way point. Proceed to second base and set the line to make the long bird pick at home base, continue with each step outlined above.
Obviously, a retriever should have a clear understanding of lining memories, casting, whistle stops and experienced hunting cover as well as negotiating obstacles before one can “chain” these skill sets into a concept like “Drive By.” Nothing is learned through failure. You can challenge a dog for sure but train, don’t test.
Drive By is an excellent refinement exercise to complete a dog’s basic gundog training or to “polish” a trained retriever’s experience for upland and waterfowl.
The Wildrose Way always emphasizes developing a retrieving partnership between the dog and handler. The goal is to become a proficient game recovery team. Drive By is just another small step to assist one’s journey to achieve Gentleman’s Gundog ecstasy.
The recap below was published by Hollywood Farms following the event, The Wildrose Way at Hollywood Farms, on November 11th – 13th, 2022.
Our First Wildrose Event!
Not only is it exciting to meet guests from so many different places, but it is also wonderful to see how many value the fact that we are trying to shape responsibly our next 100 years! Here are some images of our first-ever Wildrose event. Much fun was had by all…and along with some invaluable learning.
“The venue, the event, and the food were superlative.We feel singularly blessed to have been part of it!” -Kelly
“Absolutely perfection! Exceeded all of my expectations!”-Judy
“What a great event! We are delighted to have partnered with Hollywood Farms and look forward to conducting our next event on December 9th! Register below today!” –Mike Stewart; Founder Wildrose
We field tested these supplements during summer training and throughout the active fall seasons of 2022. After months of evaluation, we are confident in our recommendations of these natural products that have worked “as advertised.”
Our endorsed Alpha Dog product line-up includes:
Vitality – a fantastic krill oil supplement in pill form that is a highly absorbed form of omega 3 acids beneficial to joints, skin condition and coats. Krill oil has proven to be more easily and completely absorbed when compared to regular fish oil products. In some dogs we found that dandruff (dry, flaky skin) & shedding were reduced.
Resurgence – An effective rehydration and recovery product for active dogs afield. Replaces nutrients lost during physical activity. Can be added to food at the end of the day’s activities or during field activity when mixed with water.
Paw Relief (roll-on or salve) – Certified organic beeswax, coconut and sunflower oil combined with a host of other natural beneficials, this product proved its worth in the rugged conditions while training in Colorado for paw recovery, dry noses, fly bites, and skin abrasions.
Free Range –A beneficial supplement for hip joints, knees and spine. Reduces inflammation and pain. Field tested and proven at Wildrose Colorado and Wildrose Midwest. Highly recommended for older dogs displaying joint discomfort, arthritis or other mobility issues.
Please see this important and highly informative article about Protecting Joints in active sporting dogs written by Joe Scott, Founder, Alpha Dog Nutrition:
“Wildrose Pappy, 13-15 months old has noticeably benefitted from Vitality. His coat is shiny, smooth, and dandruff-free. Shedding has diminished as well. I continuously receive comments about the beautiful condition of his coat. I’m convinced that the combination of the excellent nutrition he receives from Purina Pro Plan 30/20 along with Vitality krill oil produces this amazing black coat. I highly recommend.”
Mike Stewart, Wildrose International
“We have been giving our dogs Vitality since August, 2022. We have noticed less shedding. We have also been giving 2 of our dogs Free Range and have noticed better mobility, especially in our 9-year old dog. I would like to see larger containers though. We have 5 dogs, so we go through a bottle of vitality every 6 days.”
Hattie Billups, Wildrose Texas
“Rick being a Senior dog, age 10, and having hunted ducks in Nebraska, pheasants in N Dakota, quail in Georgia, and many other local hunts developed some arthritic pain in the front shoulder. Our vet prescribed Dasaquill, basically a pain killer. I discovered Alpha dog products. Free range and Vitality provide support for the joints, vs a painkiller, which has revolutionized Rick’s days afield this season. His shoulder has improved significantly. Highly recommend Alpha Dog products.”
Bill Reames, Owner of Wildrose Rick
“Although WR Beau is only 8 years old, he has done a significant amount of waterfowl and upland hunting all over the country and his heavy workload is starting to catch up with him. About 6 months ago, I started noticing signs of joint stiffness. Beau would come out of his crate in the morning and stretch and moan for a few minutes until things started to loosen up. As part of our evaluation of Alpha Dog products, I was eager to try Free Range, the product designed as a joint supplement. Within the first 30 days, I saw a big difference in Beau. He was no longer showing signs of pain and stiffness in the morning. Recently on our first pheasant hunt of the year with a group of guys that I hunt with every weekend, I brought out Beau and he was moving around like a three year old. They asked; “who are you hunting with today?”. When I explained that it was Beau, the same dog that they had seen for years, they were so surprised with the added bounce in his step and the energy that he attacked the fields with. Beau receives one scoop of Free Range on his food every day.”
Allan Klotsche, Wildrose Midwest
“When we are out pheasant hunting, I always have a couple of bottles of water for the dogs that I give them when we take breaks. This early pheasant season was unseasonably warm in Wisconsin (70 degrees) and I was worried whether we would even have enough dog power between our four dogs to cover the field. Alpha Dog has a product called Resurgence that is designed to help dogs recover after any strenuous activity. Since it is in a powder format, it can be sprinkled on top of the dog’s food, or mixed with water. I mixed up two bottles of water and was curious to see how it would work in the field. As Beau was quartering through some very thick sorghum, I was giving him frequent water/Resurgence breaks. After 30 minutes in the excessive heat and successfully flushing 5 pheasants, Beau was completely spent, as a matter of fact, I saw some early signs of heat exhaustion and felt like I overdid it. When we got back to the car, we put Beau on a tie out as I did not want him to be cramped up in his kennel, and we got out the next dog. On our walk back to the car, a rooster pheasant ran past the car and caught Beau’s attention. By the time I reached the car, Beau was standing up, tail wagging, and signaling that he was ready to chase that rooster down. Five minutes later, in some very deep cover, Beau flushed that rooster and was “back in the game.” I now carry an extra canister of Resurgence powder in my car ready to mix in bottles of water for my own dogs and those that I am hunting with.”
Enjoying a day afield quail hunting with a well-trained retriever is something special. Watching all the dogs working: pointers, flushers & retrievers doing what they love. To me, this is a hunt that is hard to beat.
Seeing a pointer locked on the scent of “king bird” tucked in cover is exciting to witness as the dog’s keen intensity anticipates your approach and the inevitable flush. The same will be true with your retrievers at heel. Their anticipation will definitely be keen as well.
Now, the first question for the handler arises. Will our hunting companion be used to “strike” – that is flush the birds from cover, or is it preferable to steady the retriever backing the pointers as the shooters or guide makes the flush, then utilize the retriever to recover game? Circumstances (and appropriate training) dictate which approach the shooter/handler selects but in either situation, steadiness to flush – wing – shot matter. Despite the likelihood that the pointers may well not do so after the flush, The Wildrose Way requires steadiness.
A dog running in to chase birds will likely not see as many of the shot birds fall missing the opportunity to recover birds quickly.
Danger: running in under the guns exposes the dog to a wayward shot taken too low.
The unsteady dog bolting afield may well flush secondary birds that did not fly on the initial “rise.” Opportunities missed.
The retriever chasing flushed birds, often supported by pointers thrashing about each on independent frolics, will push the flushed birds in flight further away, perhaps into dense cover before they settle making the prospect of locating singles less successful.
With the issue of steadiness to flush, whether backing or striking addressed, let’s turn our attention from the dog’s performance expectations to the responsibilities and considerations for the shooter/handler at the scene of a point. What’s on your mind?
The pointers have located what could be a covey and remain solid on point and backing as shooters approach. The retriever is at heel moving forward with his hunting partner toward an appropriate shooting position. The retriever is placed, backing with the command ‘whoa’ or ‘sit/stay’ as the adrenaline rises with both gundogs and hunters. The shooter/handler approaches the cover likely holding birds at an angle to the pointer moving forward of the dog ready for the flush all the while keeping mindful attention on several important factors. What should be going through the shooter-handler ‘s mind on the approach?
Cover Rise – Rules of engagement for the wingshooter/gundog handler:
Target acquisition: pick a bird in flight making absolutely sure of a clear, safe shot. No low birds. Where are the dogs, the other hunters, the guide? A misplaced shot due to excitement or intention becomes very unpopular.
Where’s your dog as you approach? Steady or creeping forward? Preparing to break at the first opportunity? Will they run in to flush birds or chase birds when flushed? Will the retriever chase other dogs after the flush? If you shoot, and a bird falls, will your gundog remain steady?
The shooter/handler must mark birds down as they will be expected to work their retriever for prompt recoveries. That’s the retriever’s job, no bird left behind. Handlers should pinpoint as many of the falls as possible to place their dog in the proper area.
Keep an eye on all dogs working the field as you attempt to locate birds. One annoying behavior may occur with a fast-moving gundog that locates a bird, picks it, but has no inclination to return the bird to hunters. This dog enjoys a bit of a run around with the trophy then drops the bird and moves on. Keep an eye on all dogs moving about or a bird may be lost, or a great deal of time will be expended in the attempt to locate the displaced game.
As you work your retriever for recovery, watch for a secondary flush of singles as the single may offer you another opportunity. Be aware of your position and the location of dogs and hunters wandering about looking for their own birds. Everyone now may be scattered about the field so close attention must be paid before taking the shot. Safely first always.
Wing shooters handling their own dog at a point-flush demands concentration while avoiding overexcitement. Prepare your dog’s behavior through training and prepare yourself through mental conditioning. Know your dog’s abilities and limitations. Focus your attention on an approach to point on several important awareness factors:
Where is your dog?
Where are the dogs on point & backing – will they run in on the flush?
Where are other hunters, guides, vehicles?
Where are the birds? Take only clear shots, never low ones.
Stay calm walking in on the flush – it’s exciting!
One thing is for sure, as a shooter/handler on a quail hunt, a covey rise is never boring. Aim well muchachos!
Captain is a dynamic game finder afield yet has a very amiable personality as a companion. With a wide array of internationally known field trial champions in his pedigree, Captain is everything you would expect. Some of his renowned ancestors are FTCh Greenbriar Viper of Drakeshead, IRFTCh Ernevale Maud of Tudorcourt, FTCh’s Waterford Easter and Waterford Ganton. Captain’s marking ability and ease of handle is unmatched. Incredibly steady but with a high drive he is a true pleasure to work with. We couldn’t be more pleased to add Captain as a sire at Wildrose.
By Emma Morton and Justin Lowe, Owner of Wildrose Red Hot Tamale and Wildrose Black Coal
It’s just something about that first cool breeze of the year and the first few leaves starting to fall that really put you in the mood for some morning teal hunts, afternoon dove shoots and college football. Along with that comes family and friends gathered to spend time eating drinking and telling tales. This boudin and smoked queso dip is the perfect pregame appetizer to munch on while you are prepping and smoking those fresh duck or dove poppers and stuffing that one last backstrap you had left in the freezer.
1 16-ounce block of cheese (Sharp, Medium, Mild, Pepperjack, Smoked Gouda) your choice
1 16-ounce block of Queso Blanco Velveeta
1 10-ounce can of Rotel your choice of the many different flavors (Do not Drain)
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
6 to 8-ounces of a beer of your choice
1 pound of meat of your choice (Patty Sausage or ground burger or variety of wild game)
Boudin links (amount depends on number of guests, 4-6 links does well)
Your choice of seasoning (smoking meat season or cajun season)
1 Onion (Optional: dice and add into mix or serve on the side)
Pickled Jalapenos (Optional: add into mix or serve on the side)
Your choice of salsa (serve on the side)
Prep smoker to 300-350 degrees smoking temp
Start by browning your choice of meat in a skillet, Dutch oven or disposable aluminum pan on the stove top (do not drain the meat in order to help with thinning the large amounts of cheese and it adds extra flavor)
Cut all cheeses up into small squares to help in the melting and cooking process.
Combine all ingredients in your cooking pan and sprinkle seasoning over everything. (Go easy on seasoning, you can add more as it cooks)
Place pan and boudin on the smoker and cook slowly; stir occasionally.
Smoke boudin till casing is done and/or splitting
Heat and location on the smoker will depend on whether you are using an aluminum pan, Dutch oven or cast iron skillet. Do not place directly over the heat if using a grill or green egg style cooker with no smoking plate. Cook at 300-350 degrees for about 30 – 45 minutes. If you do not have a smoker, you can always do this in the oven or on the stove top. Remember: stir occasionally and watch heat to make sure you don’t scorch.
Serve queso and boudin in individual bowls or serve together as nachos; add options: salsa, onions and jalapenos.
By Allie Moore, IMC Student Repost from HottyToddy.com
Is it time to let Juice loose as the official Ole Miss mascot? There could be two answers to that question: “yes, he’s Oxford’s favorite pup,” and “no, we are just asking to get bullied for having, yet again, another mascot.”
When Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin bought a golden Labrador from Wildrose Kennels, it was time for him to step out of the limelight and let his pup shine.
As for the 2022 season, no one is talking about the Lane Train anymore because now… the Juice is loose.
Obviously, he is adorable, but his witty engagement on Twitter is what really put him in the spotlight. He constantly makes every Ole Miss football tweet about himself (rightfully so) and loves to bark back at other teams and famous dogs as well.
Why should he be the new Ole Miss mascot? One, he has completely captivated the hearts of Ole Miss fans. The people love him as he has been tagged in many Instagram posts and stories, and he is constantly shouted out in the Twitter mentions.
Two, everyone expects him to be there leading the pack (pun intended). For me, I knew that Juice was going to be at the Walk of Champions, at pregame festivities and possibly even on the sidelines during the game. Not only was I right, but he was there front and center, except when he got scared of the fireworks when the team ran out on the field the team.
Could this be controversial? Probably, but do we really care? I mean we have had multiple mascot changes, so what is one more.
Also, we have really leaned into a “Troll Miss” mentality where we don’t really care what people think as long as we are having fun. This is something that Ole Miss’ brand has leaned into since Coach Kiffin entered, and Juice definitely emphasizes that.
I am positive that the maroon-wearing school down below will have something to say about the mascot change, again, or that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But I don’t underestimate Juice in a Twitter war, and he is definitely way more lovable than their dog.
Time to start writing petitions and putting votes in now because Juice deserves to scratch out the unofficial mascot title in his bio and put “official.”
By Dr. Ben McClelland with Erin O’Reilly and Tom Smith Graphic Design by Danielle Drewrey
Wildrose has done it again.
This fall, as the company celebrates the fiftieth year of a decorated and innovative history, Wildrose has pushed the envelope again.
Five Wildrose dogs are beginning their freshman year as Ole Miss Rebels, joining the largest freshman class in the flagship school’s history.
As students moved in to begin the fall semester of the 2022-23 school year, five Wildrose dogs prepared for significant public roles on campus. Following a uniquely designed dual-track training regimen, each dog serves as a family companion and a community servant.
Juice, Manning, Connor, Magnolia, and Briar belong to Ole Miss staff families and have been training for their upcoming roles as family companions, facility residents, service dogs, and public figures at college.
These dogs’ performances have been eagerly anticipated. And success in their public roles is dependent on their formal training and their human relationships at home. Many necessary ingredients for success are already in the DNA of these specially bred British Labradors: even temperament, willingness to please, drive, and eagerness to do a job. However, to accomplish their goals the dogs’ owners have teamed up with Wildrose trainers to establish essential obedience and skills. In a series of articles we will introduce you to each dog and discuss its roles and its training path, including information provided by Wildrose trainers and by the dogs’ families. Juice and Manning are featured in this article.
A newcomer has become the most popular figure on the Ole Miss campus. We’re not talking Joe College here. We’re talking Icon Status. Cult Hero.
Who is this phenom? It’s Juice.
A six-month-old, yellow, Wildrose Labrador, named Juice (Danny x Amber), has skyrocketed at warp speed on social media. At last count Juice (@JuiceKiffin) has 26,500 followers on Twitter and continues to gain admirers with each tweet. Juice’s Twitter account lists him as the “Unofficial @Olemissfb mascot,” and his tweets have been appearing daily since midsummer when the pup arrived at his Oxford home.
Juice’s hilarious daily tweets are spoken from the point of view of a child in the Kiffin family. Yes, Juice’s “dad” is Ole Miss Head Football Coach Lane Kiffin. In his third year leading the Rebels, Kiffin is known not only as a keen quarterback whisperer and a brilliant football tactician, but also as a savvy maneuverer of public opinion and as a prescient diviner of the changing landscape of college football.
Their growing relationship is obvious. During a water break at Monday’s practice, Juice was let off his leash. He darted around, looking for water and attention, until he heard a whistle. Then, with the instincts of a running back breaking free past the secondary, he made a beeline for Kiffin nearly 40 yards away.
He ran into Kiffin’s outstretched arms. Kiffin told Juice to sit. It took two tries, but the dog listened. That’s a week of obedience training at work.
The saga was captured on Juice’s GoPro and posted to his Twitter account. Within 90 minutes of going live, the video had been watched more than 15,000 times. By comparison, a 35-second video of highlights from the first day of practice posted to the Ole Miss football Twitter account only attracted 14,000 views in a week.
It might sound weird or unconventional or flat-out silly, but a puppy is establishing himself as the Rebels’ most marketable star [bold emphasis added].
The Rebels’ other players are just rolling with it.
“I think here, in our culture, it’s not weird,” defensive end Jared Ivey said. “That’s just us” (Suss).
One month later Juice retweeted a fan’s post of a picture of the business sign at an Oxford formal wear store, Thomas Bros., which proclaimed, “JUICE KIFFIN IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL” (@mikefitz71, Sep 8). Juice tweeted, “Do you make bow ties for dogs?” Dozens of replies humorously responded to Juice’s question, including one that said, “If they didn’t, they do now.” Joining in on the Juice craze, the McDonald’s restaurant on University Avenue in Oxford emblazoned “Juice is my MASCOT” in red and blue lights atop its sign under the golden arches. Oxford Wine & Spirits, located on College Hill Road, has a sandwich board that often features timely quips for the college crowd. Currently, the sign on one side congratulates the Rebel Baseball Team on being National Champions. The other side says, “Free belly rubs! Sorry, Juice Kiffin only.”
Further evidence of Juice’s popular appeal came when the Ole Miss University Development office turned to Juice to head up its fundraiser known as “Name a Grove Squirrel.” To promote this year’s charity project Juice sent a picture-filled letter to the Ole Miss community, explaining what he loves most about Ole Miss, including running around the Grove chasing a squirrel, which he calls his friend, Dennis the Grove Squirrel. Then, Juice calls on Ole Miss folks to make a charitable gift and name a Grove squirrel. Donors will receive a digital certificate with their squirrel’s name.
The steady stream of Juice tweets continues during the current football season. In a series of tweets with clever jokes Juice introduces each team on next year’s schedule. He also encourages fans to stay in the stands during the entire games, even in hot weather, showing his RealTree cooling vest with the new WAV3, “Blue Ice,” design and saying, “Dad said he wants people to stay for the entire game this Saturday so I went and got this cooling vest for me Thanks @Realtree.” At that week’s game Kiffin instantly popularized a lightweight “Blue Ice” hoodie, made through a special arrangement with RealTree, the famous hunting camouflage company with whom Ole Miss Athletics has a special relationship. Bill Jordan, the company’s founder and a receiver on teams with Archie Manning, was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame, and, along with his son, Tyler, has forged a continuing relationship with the University.
To understand this public relations coup by a dog and its owner, requires some backstory of both Kiffin and Juice. Let’s look first at Kiffin and then at Juice and his Wildrose training.
In late 2019 when Lane Kiffin arrived as Ole Miss’s thirty-ninth head football coach, he began transforming its football brand on and off the field. Kiffin also jumped to the top of Twitter users among college football coaches, usually poking fun at his many friends and acquaintances, including his former boss Nick Saban, and trolling other fan bases, such as the University of Tennessee. Quickly, Kiffin became notorious online. Dubbed Twitter King, he has over 562,000 followers.
Kiffin’s popularity has continued trending upward with every football game and every PR victory. Ever the fashion maven, Kiffin often arrives at the Ole Miss Grove for the traditional, pre-game Walk of Champions attired in the hippest trend-setting fashion with his light brown hair neatly coiffed and wearing a tight-fitting (often striped) powder blue suit, accented with a bowtie and specially-designed, “statement” sneakers.
Following last year’s historic ten-game-win season—and losing many players to graduation and the NFL draft—Kiffin employed his characteristic moxie by launching into a remake of his football team this past off-season, acquiring numerous (as in about 20) high-quality transfer players through the recent portal transfer system. Using uncanny player analysis, Kiffin and his staff moved to reload—not rebuild—team status, garnering the country’s second-highest rated portal transfer class.
In the midst of this flurry of professional activity, Kiffin also made significant, if less noted, personal lifestyle changes that included re-engaging with his spiritual faith, including attending a local church and holding staff Bible studies. To revitalize his physical health, Kiffin began with a ten-day dietary cleanse, including eliminating alcohol use. He’s going on twenty months now without drinking. Kiffin also switched from being a night owl to a morning person, exercising regularly. The results are observable from Kiffin’s svelte appearance to his calmer demeanor and more openness to sharing and caring. Some of his early morning posts carry inspirational or motivational messages and Kiffin acknowledged that his position offers the opportunity to effect positive benefit: “Maybe there’s somebody out there that needs some motivation and going through some stuff. The ability to use the platform as a head coach, on Twitter with that many people is really valuable” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 15, 2022.).
In the summer Kiffin’s daughter, Landry, came to live with him and enrolled as a senior at Oxford High School. An attentive father, Lane is enjoying family time, as he reported that he joined a chat group with “Landry’s five girlfriends. We have a Sunday ‘Modern Family’ movie night. They named me ‘Sparky’ because they say when it’s my pick, I always pick Nicholas Sparks movies.” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 15, 2022). By the way, Landry recently announced her intention to enroll at Ole Miss next fall.
Back in midsummer when Landry arrived in Oxford, she told her dad that she’d like to get a dog.
Kiffin’s search for a pup eventually led to a phone call with Tom Smith, president of Wildrose Mississippi. In mid-July Juice joined the Kiffin family as the teenage daughter’s fun playmate, but as time went on caring for Juice went by default to dad. So, Kiffin brought Juice to work with him at the athletic department offices and at the football practice fields. In no time Juice, the “Unofficial @Olemissfb mascot,” was tweeting out his new fun activities with dad, with players, and with recruits.
On the last weekend in July Rebel football held its biggest recruiting weekend and headlined it “Juice Fest 2022” on social media. And who was center stage? Yep. The pup. Kiffin and Juice tweeted jokes, pictures, and videos of the weekend scene when the Rebels’ largest group of high-value recruits mingled with each other, current players, coaches—and Juice. The event was a huge success for the football program and it spotlighted Juice so much that ESPN sent a College Gameday crew to Oxford to tape a segment (on campus and at Wildrose Kennels) for future TV broadcast this season.
There has been a good deal of media speculation about how Juice’s role as a tool for Ole Miss football recruiting came about. Kiffin says that it was not planned, but just happened. “I know a lot of things in my career seem like they’re planned. This was not,” Kiffin said. “It looks pretty brilliant, actually, using a dog as a recruiting tool. College Gameday was already here for a special on it, (Juice) has his Twitter, Juicefest and all this. This was just my daughter wanting a dog” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 3, 2022).
Just like Kiffin’s daughter, everyone loves Juice, but a dog that’s moved from the family room to social media fame, plus leading a public life in complex, varied environments needs some formal training—especially when those environments include the loud, orchestrated, and sometimes-raucously-chaotic crowd scenes of the Rebels’ Walk of Champions, the Grove pre-game tailgating, and game time sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
So Kiffin and Smith developed a training program for Juice that includes daily trips to Wildrose Kennels. Juice’s training regimen began with what Wildrose folks call “backgrounding.” Known as “core fundamental behaviors,” these activities include housebreaking, place and crate training, eye contact, sit, early retrieving, heeling, and lead work (Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training 64-68 ff.). Over time, Smith will work Juice through the Gundog training program, as Kiffin plans to hunt with him.
Smith has been essential in handling Juice, especially transitioning him from training activities to gameday activities on campus where Smith is responsible for handling Juice throughout the day. Smith, who is now a member of the athletic staff, has also worked with other athletic staff members and with Kiffin’s son, Knox, enabling them to handle Juice, just as Knox did at the Walk of Champions at Ole Miss’ first home game of this fall’s season.
Kiffin is just as keenly analytical about Juice’s training as he his about that of his football players. One of Kiffin’s challenges this fall, he noted, has been acclimating nearly twenty transfer players to Rebel team culture and expectations, getting new players to “buy in” to and perform well their team roles and responsibilities. After Smith and Kiffin discussed the necessity of having Juice engaged with group training at Wildrose Kennels, Kiffin made a shrewd analogy: “Meeting with (Wildrose) about it I was like, ‘There’s so much similarities here to buying in and bringing people into culture. Because we’re bringing him in and all the sudden he’s around all these other dogs and how well they’re trained has a lot to do with the training of him and him not being distracted by all the other things. . . I was like, ‘You guys are going through the same thing we’re going through.’ When you bring people into an organization, transfer in. Like getting them to buy in. Here’s a puppy he’s taking over with all these other dogs that have been trained the whole time and Juice ain’t listening to what he’s supposed to be doing. I kind of feel like that’s some of our transfers right now” (Kiffin, Ole Miss Football Press Conference, August 3, 2022).
Fortunately, for Kiffin the training practices have worked well for both his players and for his dog. The Rebels have been highly successful in executing plays in their first football games thus far this season and so has Juice.
Behind the scenes Smith has been troubleshooting special challenges that have arisen each gameday. For example, when the Rebel players emerge from the tunnel onto the field prior to a game, sparkling fireworks blast into the air. At the first game, Juice was spooked by the sudden booms and blasts. For the second game Smith fitted Juice’s ears with sound protectors. Also, in the Grove enthusiastic fans swarmed Juice wherever he walked. When he finally emerged from the fan flurry, covered in lipstick kisses, he was a bit overstressed. So troubleshooting again, Smith is looking to keep Juice stationed someplace where fans can greet him and take selfies, but not overwhelm the young star.
More challenges await Kiffin and Smith as they look to the future with Juice. For one thing, Juice has been on Twitter touting, “I’m undefeated in my lifetime” (@JuiceKiffin, Sep 11). In the tweet he asks to attend all games, home and away. Early in gameweek for the road game with Georgia Tech in Atlanta, @JuiceKiffin posted pictures of himself, comfortably lying in a new powder blue crate. Juice tweets his appreciation and masterfully sends a message to his master: “Thanks @Gunner_Kennels for the new digs. Hey @Lane_Kiffin this crate is FAA approved. Just sayin #AirJuice” (@JuiceKiffin, Sep 13). Any Wildrose pack member knows that travel to another venue presents potential unforeseeable issues for a young dog. So, Kiffin and Smith have to continue to prepare for managing Juice’s next celebrity appearances, wherever they may be. For now Smith and Kiffin have agreed that Juice will stay with Smith on away-game weekends. During the Rebels’ first away game, against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Juice joined the celebrants in Oxford at Wildrose’s 50thAnniversary Gala, where he was treated royally. Nevertheless, Juice continues pressing his case on Twitter.
Juice’s appearances in public and on the media increased during the fall football season. Homecoming Week brought a flurry of appearances: On Thursday Smith and Juice visited the Willie Price pre-school on campus, where they were greeted by about 40 preschoolers who were giddy with excitement to meet Wildrose Juice. The energy from the students, however, didn’t even come close to that of the teachers and assistants who also wanted to meet the one and only JUICE. A banner stretched across a wall and everyone wore custom-made Juice stickers. The students asked questions nonstop and, most importantly, made pictures to document the meet-and-greet, celebrity-like event.
On Friday night Juice was flying high in the University’s Homecoming Parade, and on Saturday, in addition to participating in the Walk of Champions, he appeared on the nationally televised Gameday show. Then, he attended the Football game against Kentucky.
Juice’s story is ongoing and we’ll eagerly follow it, wishing the best to him, his dad, and the Rebel football team. As we do so, it may be useful to heed the words of a revered former coach. John Wooden, who coached a lot of successful athletes, observed, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful” (John Wooden).
Kirk Purdom, the CEO of the University of Mississippi’s Alumni Affairs since 2016, is a well-known and confident leader in the Ole Miss community. A 1993 UM graduate, Purdom played baseball for the Rebels and worked for several departments on campus from 1994 to 2001, including two years with the Alumni Association. His wife, Keilly, (BBA 91), also played golf for the Rebels and served as head women’s golf coach from 1991 to 2001. (Jim Urbanek, University of Mississippi News).
Purdom is quietly pioneering a versatile role for his handsome, black Labrador Retriever, Wildrose Manning, as a companion and therapy dog for his family and even more for the Ole Miss community. In an interview Purdom told the story of getting Manning and he set forth his vision of what’s ahead for this special dog, serving as the Official Dog of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and attending all campus events that they sponsor. Media outreach is a staple of the Alumni Affairs’ operation and it was natural to establish social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for Manning, promoting his involvement in the campus community. Pictures and tweets of the fun-loving dog enjoying campus life appear regularly (@Manning_OMAA).
Manning’s life with the Purdoms has its roots in the family’s need for medical assistance. Last year when their high-school-senior daughter, Kara Beth, played volleyball, she experienced lightheadedness and fainting spells during play, due to a condition called “PoTS,” postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (NIH). Purdom discussed this situation with Wildrose’s Cathy Stewart, who—over a decade ago—established and found funding for Wildrose’s Service Dog Program.
Stewart told Purdom, “Our dogs work well as therapy companions. We are equipped to teach the dogs basic obedience and expose them to public situations ensuring that their basic obedience is intact when in public with distractions. Other therapy work may require specialized training that we are not equipped to provide. However, often if the dog and person in need bond well and are together 24/7, the dogs can often read their handlers and alert to unusual behaviors.” Stewart also cautioned Purdom that young people are not always interested in having a dog with them 24/7, nor do they want to be labeled as “the girl with the dog” (Cathy Stewart). The Purdoms then visited Wildrose Kennels and met with Senior Trainer Erin O’Reilly, who further explained training the Wildrose Way. After placing a deposit for a pup, the Purdoms were then able to return and pick up a Mattis-Cassie pup.
Last fall, the Purdoms took Manning to their Oxford home and found in their budding relationship the delights of companionship and the security of a medical assistant. Manning sat at the sidelines of Kara’s volleyball matches, calmly and intently focusing on her every move.
Manning also focused on Purdom. Once, when they were in their yard, Manning began jumping up and barking at Purdom, just moments before Purdom experienced a seizure. Needless to say, the Purdoms’ bonding with and confidence in Manning is solid. With Manning they had the experience of other families using Wildrose dogs for medical assistance, as documented in a book entitled Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs.
The Purdoms are experienced pet owners. Their home already included two Bernese Mountain dogs, a Border Collie, and a Cockapoo. All their dogs’ names follow Ole Miss themes, so Manning’s name came naturally, just as he fit in easily with the dog-loving family. Yet, the Purdoms saw that Manning was set apart in his role and they recognized his keen intelligence in performing it. They also realized that he needed formal training to achieve the goals they had set out for him.
So, when Manning was seven months old, the Purdoms took him back to Wildrose, where O’Reilly worked with him for several months to prepare him for his family and campus roles. O’Reilly established an individual training plan for Manning, reaffirming “core fundamental behaviors,” including housebreaking, place and crate training, eye contact, sit, early retrieving, heeling, and lead work (Mike Stewart, Sporting Dog and Retriever Training 64-68 ff.). O’Reilly worked especially for place training, steadiness, eye contact, and response to handler commands.
Kara, now a freshman at Ole Miss, has been engaged with Manning since he first arrived at their home as a pup. When he was involved with his training program at Wildrose, Kara visited Manning and O’Reilly and handled him during puppy training classes. Purdom says that while all of the family members work well with Manning, it’s obvious from Manning’s reactions that he is Kara’s dog, even as she prefers that Manning live at home and not on campus with her. Manning’s expanded campus role flows from this decision.
Purdom acknowledges that O’Reilly not only trained Manning, but she schooled him, Keilly, and Kara as handlers, enabling them to carry forward with confidence Manning’s acquired skills and sound obedience so that he can focus on his role. On trips to campus O’Reilly oriented Manning to the Ole Miss Alumni Affairs building and encouraged all employees to help Manning get settled into his job there. Purdom and O’Reilly toured Manning around campus in a motorized cart, working to find the optimal way for him to ride. Afterwards, Manning settled on place in Purdom’s office and stayed there for several hours until it was time to return to the kennel. Furthermore, O’Reilly later took Manning to campus to meet with the Purdoms for the Sorority Bid Day on campus, his first exposure to a crowd of 2,000 excited, cheering students in the Pavilion. He also accompanied O’Reilly and the Purdoms to the subsequent Sorority Row activities. O’Reilly reported that Manning was solid and steady in the midst of all the loud, celebratory events.
Manning left Wildrose Kennels and rejoined the Purdom family prior to school’s season-opening football game. On Gameday for the first two football weekends, O’Reilly joined the Purdoms on campus to assist in handling Manning for the festivities, including this fall’s pre-game Member Zone in the Alumni Center’s front lawn, as well as the Grove tailgating activities and football games, where Manning has watched the gridiron action from the Vaught-Hemingway stadium’s Rebel Club along with Purdom, his wife, Keilly, and O’Reilly. O’Reilly reported that Manning also performed like a pro during these events, noting that Manning’s temperament suits him well for his role. Because he has high drive and is confident, Manning isn’t a bit cowed in facing new scenes and groups of people. Hopes are high and well founded in anticipating that Manning will continue to represent Ole Miss well at public events for Ole Miss alums.
On weekdays Purdom has been bringing Manning to the offices at the Triplett Center as a resident facility dog with multiple roles. Throughout the school year Purdom intends for Manning to interact with students as a therapy dog, comforting them and lessening their stress during pressure times during semester, such as mid-term and final examination periods. Purdom wants to draw more students to the Alumni building and is eager to see Manning interact with them. Most everyone is generally aware that there are positive health benefits from a friendly dog visit, but here are the specific health benefits, as documented in scientific studies: a 63% reduction in blood pressure; 3% slower breathing rate; 22% drop in pain severity; 19% boost in energy; 48% decrease in depression; 64% drop in feelings of anger; and 39% decrease in pain (Nagengast, Coakley, and Mahonel). So, Purdom’s aim for Manning’s role with Ole Miss students is a worthy goal. Furthermore, as seen in his attention to Kara and Purdom, Manning is keenly focused on the wellbeing of people he’s with. This augurs well for his upcoming role as a companion to students who visit the Triplett Center this year, looking for some affection and release from school stress.
Notes for Juice Article
Jake Thompson, “What does Juice Kiffin and fall camp have in common? Allow Lane