The Canopy

by: Mike Stewart

This short clip of Diesel (FTCh Scott x Judy, DOB 3/31/16) owned by Chris Plummer, DE, trained and handled by Clint Swinney, demonstrates his enthusiasm for the hunt when he hits a canopy of ragweed cover, despite the light rain.  The video offers several great points for young upland gundog development and possibilities for your summer tune-up activities.  As you watch, please note:

  1. We cultivate ragweed at the Wildrose Oxford Training Grounds as well as other crops and grass fields.  Many summer grasses produce nasty seeds that can litter a dog’s eyes and nose.  Ragweed, though heavy in pollen, does not have large seeds.  It effectively creates a canopy of tall cover which allows for fantastic hunting opportunities, more so than thatch-type grasses.  Birds love it as well.  Dogs, whether Pointers, Flushers, or Retrievers, really have to work close in lush, tall cover like ragweed.
  2. Diesel loses his mark due to the height of the cover requiring him to hunt in the proximity of the fall.  He simply cannot see the target area after entry.  He’s running blind relying on distance estimation and his nose.
  3. This cover is also excellent for marking by sound.  Cover the dog’s eyes and toss in a feather-laced bumper.  Developed properly, dogs can become pinpoint markers by sound.
  4. Interdependence—the relationship between Diesel and Clint demonstrates excellent teamwork.  Diesel had to learn how to locate his handler for instruction on whistle stops.  When he hears the whistle while hunting under the canopy, he must to move to see his handler.  Notice his response to the whistle and cast.
  5. Obviously, his nose is getting a desirable workout in the lush cover.  Green, pungent, high-nitrogen foliage can really mask scent making the pick more difficult to locate. Also ragweed is heavily pollinated making the task more difficult.

Our objective when developing a Gentleman’s Gundog is to match the client’s expectations for the perfect hunting companion to complement their family’s sporting lifestyle. We never forget the importance of the underling purpose of our Labradors… game recovery, to bring back a bird that otherwise may be lost – Masters of Scent.

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Strike-Back: The Basics

by: Mike Stewart

Strike-Back Training is nothing new at Wildrose, actually it is a combination of several

Photo by: Katie Behnke

training phases the company has transcended over the years which has involved Pointers, Retrievers, Spaniels and even Beagles.  Strike-Back is training the Wildrose Labrador, a superb gamefinder, to work simultaneously, in harmony with other sporting breeds; Pointers or Flushers, one complementing the other while avoiding interference or frolic.  The training emphasizes teamwork tapping each breed’s specific and best talents then blending them into field performance in a workable collaboration of hunting, pointing, flushing and game recovery.  The effort is to provide sporting enthusiasts with the ultimate in upland gundog experiences.

Training emphasizes working the Retriever or Spaniel in combination with the Pointer in several key areas:

  1. Wagon/strike dog
  2. Quartering and flushing
  3. Pointing and backing
  4. Game recovery
  5. Field obedience and control elements

But, where do we begin our training for Strike-Back?  As always with the Wildrose Way, begin with the foundation skills and train to the point of habit formation. An excellent comprehensive training program for the upland gundog is the Wildrose Upland DVD available at Here all the basic skills for field performance are fully covered in a progressive, positive, balanced methodology. At the outset it’s important to keep in mind that the upland hunting field can appear to a young gundog as quite chaotic so train for the distractions.

Core Principles

Obedience and control in a group setting.

Here we are developing obedience and steadiness around other active dogs and people as well as the distractions of flushing birds and distant gunfire.  Our dogs work in group settings on basic obedience, walk-ups, short retrieves and steadying denials (including live birds).  The starter must learn to maintain focused composure despite distraction.

Photo by Katie Behnke


  1. A Retriever hunting cover for a downed bird as a stylish Pointer slashes about the area. Will your Retriever stay on the hunt ignoring the distraction?
  2. Will the Spaniel stay steady backing a Pointer as you approach to make the flush? Backing includes remaining steady to the flush and disregarding the Pointer’s actions afterward.  Backing is remote steadiness at its finest.

Focused Initiative – Interdependence

Strike-Back requires a dog to focus on its individual sense of purpose despite the activities of other dogs.  The Pointer proceeds on the hunt even as the Retriever works to recover birds down.  The Lab marks well and holds his line to the fall despite the activities of the Pointers running about after the flush or other dogs also searching for downed birds.
To initially train for this situation, get the starters in a group at heel.  Have a bumper in thick cover that will require a diligent search.  Send in one dog and monitor the other dog’s steadiness.

  • Steady the group both at sit/whoa and on a walk-up to tethered flight birds.
  • Have a dog continue to hunt cover as you send another for a short memory or mark.
  • On the walk-up, as the Pointer hunts while others remain at heel, fire a shot and throw a mark simulating a flush. With all remaining steady, send one gundog from the pack to make the pick.

Remember Wildrose Law #7, “If it’s not right at heel (close proximity), it won’t be right in the field.”

Backing the Point

Our Strike-Back Retrievers understand the “whoa” command just like their Pointing partners.  Have the Pointer locate a planted bird and hold steady as the Retriever or Spaniel approaches.  Give the stay or “whoa” command to the approaching dogs behind yet in sight of the point.  Walk in and make the flush while insuring our “back up” dog(s) holds their position without noise or creeping.  Backing a point/flush is premiere steadiness and the behavior must be rewarded profusely.  Do not call the backing dogs off position unless a speedy recovery of a runner is necessary.  Return to each steady dog and reward the steadiness then release.

Developing Bird Savvy

The nose knows and there is simply no substitute to training with scent.  Include the following:

  • Feather-laced bumpers (non-plastic)
  • Cold game
  • Live flushes
  • Variety of cover to hunt

These variables offer different scents identifiable in the conditions you will be hunting under:  snow, wind, temperature variations, humidity, and types of cover.  Birds should be found in training in places where they will likely be found on the hunt.  Training as you will play. Today with the vast availability of preserve shooting grounds in most areas of the country, one can purchase birds for training or book an afternoon in the field on location for upland training purposes.


A “strike dog” is a flusher of upland birds from cover that have been located by Pointers.  The purpose is to roust birds airborne from cover rather than have them run about clinging to the ground.  The strike dog, either Retriever or Spaniel, is brought into position ahead of the point holding the birds.  On command, the striker blasts into cover to get birds airborne while remaining steady to flush and shot.  We practice this using planted birds only after both Pointer and Striker are steady to tossed bumpers with shots as they hunt cover.

Remember steady to flush is important for the dog’s safety (See 5-Option Drill on page 195 of Sporting Dog and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way).

Finished upland Strike-Back gundogs are a refined team of gamefinders:

  • Steady to flush

    Photo by Katie Behnke

  • Excellent at game recovery
  • Wise students of wind, scent detection and bird savvy
  • Not distracted by the activities of other dogs afield
  • Proficient markers by sight and by sound
  • Controllable by whistles and hand signals
  • Balanced to the pack with appropriate obedience behaviors

Strike-Back trained gundog are sporting dogs of duality blended perfectly for the ultimate Gentleman’s Gundog upland experience, all achieved “The Wildrose Way.”

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Adventure Stories: Wildrose Breeze

by:Vickie Raburn
April 5th, 2013, whelping day. The puppies are coming! I had long anticipated and confidently prepared for the events to come… now the time was here. I had envisioned the perfect pup, my own female fox red to mold into the dog I had dreamed of. We had other labs before, but they had a bond with my husband. I wanted one for myself! As the weeks went by, I studied the puppies closely trying to decide which one would be for me. As it turned out, I was the one who was picked. At the kennel five of the six pups jumped on the fence as if to say, “Pick me, pick me!” But it was the little “Blondie” as she was nicknamed who sat behind the others just giving me “the eyes.” Yes, it was at that moment when we made the all-important eye contact that I knew I had my dog.

At 8 weeks old “Wildrose Sugarland’s Northern Breeze” and I began our journey together. Training started right away with teaching her to learn, which means the important skill of looking at me for direction and focus that would soon transfer to learning down the road. We began with games on the place board using my older dog as the example. You know, “Monkey see, monkey do!” She didn’t know it at the time, but she was learning while playing. Soon she was taking hand directions left and right going from board to board and learning to be steady, all at a VERY young age!

It was at this time that I ordered Mike Stewart’s book Sporting Dog and Retriever Training. I read the book cover to cover and began to realize that this training method was not what I was used to. We began reading “The 20 Wildrose Laws of Dog Training.” I think some of the ones that stand out to me are: “Law #4 Don’t condition in a problem that must be trained out later” and “Law # 14 A dog will not follow unstable leaders.” This one proved more challenging as I soon found out that I had a dog, who wanted to be the leader. Breeze is very confident in herself and bold, which is a good trait to have, but only in the right situations. Two things always seem to play on repeat in my mind: “Begin with the end in mind,” and “The dog is always learning. Be careful what is being taught.” This is where our formal training began.

Two years prior to having Breeze, my daughter Leah was showing our other dog in the 4-H dog program. I became the Superintendent and trainer for the kids to help them prepare for the county fair. When Breeze reached the minimum age to participate in the program she began to attend as a student. Until that time she came along to every class to gain proper social skills and become accustomed to new surroundings. This gave Breeze and me many opportunities to build her confidence, as well as train around many distractions. Breeze quickly became my demonstration dog during classes. It was during my daughter’s Senior year of high school and last year of 4-H that she wanted to show both dogs at the county fair. She came to all the classes and rotated training each dog as well as training at home. Their time together and effort paid off. She and the dogs took home all Blue that day along with top scores in Obedience, Agility, and Top Competitor. Breeze accomplished this at the age of 2 years old! One needs a strong foundation in heelwork and obedience to control a dog at a distance, as is the case with Agility, for example. It all starts at heel. “Law # 7: If it’s not right at heel, it won’t be right in the field (or the agility ring!)”

After Breeze gained basic skills and a solid foundation, we began to focus on Retriever Training. We spent many hours on heeling, hand signals, hold conditioning, memory retrieves, whistle sits, denials, delays, and diversions. I never knew so much went into training a retriever! Our training led us to the started level where we could try a Hunt Test, Breeze earned two passes toward her Junior Hunter title. At this time we have not yet acquired her other two passes to earn her Junior Hunter Title, which I hope to do this summer.

Some other skills that Breeze has include dock diving, shed hunting, and scent work. This past fall and winter I started working her on upland work for pheasants and chukar. Upland hunting is something she excels at; she took to it like a fish to water. Watching her use her nose and working cover is a beautiful sight to see. I guess you can say she is a multi-purpose dog, ready to go and do whatever the job is you are asking of her!

When my daughter graduated high school and aged out of 4-H, I started looking for something else that I could do with Breeze, something that would take us outdoors and work with our lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and camping. Enter the Adventure Dog program. I had seen training videos online and thought this is perfect, just what I was looking for. I ordered the training packet, read, and researched videos and we began our new adventure. I asked the help of a friend, who owns horses to help us out with our first merit, Equestrian. Breeze had never seen a horse before, so the horse smells, size, and noises were something to be conquered for sure! But we took it slow, just as Law #5 says, “Make haste slowly.” Breeze had to trust that I was a stable leader; I had to show confidence that she was safe in this strange and new environment. She was able to greet a pony, nose to nose, and by the end of our training she was jumping obstacles     with him, brace style. What fun that was! During our training with the horses I think the most difficult aspect she struggled with was the distraction of all the farm animals nearby. The cows were at the fence mooing and watching us, the goats were jumping and playing, and oh so many chickens in the pen next to us. Talk about distractions for a bird dog! But she soon learned that they were to be seen but not bothered, as she had a task at hand.

After many training sessions, we completed our biggest challenge of heelingbeside the horse, off leash, with a mounted rider. I was very proud of her for our first merit completed. Our next merits that we earned for our Trail Rated patch were Motor Vehicle, Public Access, ATV, and Trail Assistance. I must say having control in all situations and disciplined obedience was a big help in working on and earning these merits. We trained in many situations and places to create predictable habits. After attending the Adventure Dog Workshop we completed the merits needed to earn the Adventure Dog Certified patch. These included watercraft, hiking, hunting sports, fishing, and mountain biking. Our ultimate goal is to become a Master Trekker, only two more Merits to go! I am very proud of all of these accomplishments.

All training is like building a brick road–each task or step is like a gold paver along the path. It takes you further and further along and the possibilities are endless. Each phase requires something different or a different skill set. Speaking of new skills, I think after our Adventure Dog Training we may give Therapy Dog work a try! I would find it very satisfying to put this training to use in another field, giving back to the community.

In retrospect, I believe I named Breeze adequately. Living with and training her has been a breeze; no major hurdles to overcome. I contribute this to the Wildrose Methods of training: follow the Laws and you will have yourself a dog you can be proud of whatever adventure you choose to go on.

Get outdoors and Adventure on!

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Specklebelly Nachos

Recipe from: Adam Van Sant, owner of Wildrose Dixie


30 dried guajillo chiles

20 dried ancho chiles

20 dried pasilla chiles

2 ½ cups orange juice

Grated zest of 1 orange

1/3 firmly packed dark brown sugar

9 cloves of garlic

1 ½ TBS ground cumin

1 ½ TBS Mexican oregano

1 ½ TBS Kosher salt

1 TBS black pepper

1 ½ TBS distilled vinegar

1TBS lime juice

6 oz. Cola

8 oz. Mexican beer

4 lbs. of Goose or duck breast skin off

3 TBS of lard or vegetable oil


Stem, seed, and rehydrate the chiles in warm water.  Once softened drain and set aside, reserving soaking liquid.

In a small saucepan simmer the orange juice over medium heat until reduced by half.   In the blender puree the rehydrated chiles until smooth, adding some of the reserved soaking liquid as needed to achieve smooth consistency.

In a large bowl combine reduced orange juice, pureed chile, orange zest, brown sugar, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper, vinegar, lime juice, cola, and beer.  Stir to mix well.  Add the geese or duck and marinate overnight.

Remove meat from marinate and place in a slow cooker.  Pour marinate over meat until covered.

Cook on low for 8-10 Hrs.

Remove meat from slow cooker and shred with 2 forks. Heat lard or oil in large skillet or griddle.  Refry the shredded meat adding some of the liquid from slow cooker to keep moist.  Cook until the meat becomes slightly caramelized.

Serve with your favorite Nacho toppings or use as a taco filling.


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Wildrose Associate Trainers

With multiple clients in all 50 states and every Canadian province, Wildrose has always embraced outreach as a means to provide services to our “Pack” by conducting regional seminars and through our unique training of Associate Trainers.  In addition to our home base in Oxford, Mississippi, Wildrose operates satellite training facilities in NW Arkansas, Colorado, Teton Valley, and soon to open in Texas.  Our most unique approach to outreach has been through our team of associate trainers scattered by regions across the country.  The sole purpose of the Associate Program is to provide training and boarding support for our client base universal performed identically to “Wildrose Way” standards.  These forward deployed sites are indeed extensions of Wildrose representing our training methodology, commitment to client services and promotion of our sporting lifestyle culture.

Many clients have met our associate trainers over the years through the services or at training/demonstration events.  The associates have developed their own Facebook accounts to share the Wildrose activities and experiences occurring regionally.  We invite you to visit their links… like, follow and share.  The Wildrose Journey continues:

Wildrose Kennels – North Central – Craig Korff

Wildrose New England Kennels – Tim Clancy

Wildrose Kennels  – Great Lakes – Erin Davis

Wildrose Kennels – Rocky Mountains – Clinton Hinebaugh

Wildrose Kennels – Deep South – Sarah Barnes

Wildrose Kennels – Mountain State – Travis Facemyer

Wildrose Teton Valley – Ryan Alderman

Wildrose Texas – Guy Cameron Billups

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Adventure Stories: WR Howie

by: Kennedy Garcia

WR Howie (Indian X Dixel) was whelped on March 6, 2015, and spent 4 months with Danielle Drewrey for obedience and Adventure Dog training. By the way, Howie smiles!  Even Danielle’s husband loves his smile!

Kennedy Garcia relates the adventures with Howie in three installments, several months apart:

Installment 1: My husband, Martin, and I are very active and have always had dogs. We were looking for a dog that could join us in boating, hiking, snowshoeing, water/beach activities, some bird hunting. Because we also have 3 grandchildren, ages 2 and under, we wanted a dog that would be gentle and tolerant and that grew up with them too—all being babies together!   We wanted a dog that would also be a great companion in our home as well as office too sometimes.

Howie is an exceptional dog, and while he still has progress to make in obedience, he is everything we could want and more.

A typical lab, he is a “pleaser” but also he is also very bold and determined in his activities. He absolutely loves the water—swimming and retrieving. Howie will dive completely underwater to retrieve something and can be relentless until he gets it. But he will also ride with us in the boat calmly all day long.

We also spend a lot of time in Colorado, which Howie LOVES. We snowshoe in the winter and hike in the summer. He is getting better at obeying my commands (ie., off trail, wait, here, heel).

Most important of all, he loves everybody, is sweet, gentle with our grandkids, pretty well behaved in the house. We have loved having him!!  He is truly our “Howie, the Adventure Dog”!!!


Installment 2: The adventure workshop was very helpful for us in training Howie.  For example, we regularly use three commands that we took away from the workshop. The first, is “off trail,” moving the dog out of the trail path and to the side. This is such an important command in hiking as we encounter many trail bikers that are moving quite fast and the trails are often narrow. We want your dog out of the way and not chasing the biker. It is also an important command just walking in our neighborhood when we encounter cars coming as well as other people walking their dogs.  We do not want Howie running to check out the oncoming dog and people. We loved getting to spend time with other owners/handlers and their dogs.  We could share tips, information, experiences.  We could observe others interact with their dogs.  We loved seeing other Wildrose dogs and how they mature both in looks and behavior.  That was a wonderful part of the whole weekend!!!

Second, we continue to work with Howie on staying by our side while hiking.  We do let him explore a bit within sight, but always want him to return on the “Howie, Come” command or if he is ahead of us “Howie, Wait.”

Third, another useful command we learned was “leave it.”  We often encounter miscellaneous dead critters that smell really good and typically attract Howie’s attention.  This can be a nuisance and even risky at times.  We continue to work on consistency with all of these commands, but are making great progress.


Installment 3: Howie is maturing into a wonderful companion/adventure dog. My grand babies are now 2 1/2 and he is getting better with them all the time. He listens when we tell him “enough” and doesn’t get as excited, although he finds them quite delicious. They provide great licking opportunities for him with great smells from head to toes.


We had a wonderful summer hiking with Howie in Colorado. He knows when we are getting ready and he is waiting at the door to join us on our journey for the day. Whether we are in a group or just it’s Martin and me, he listens better and better to our commands for wait, here, off trail (for the many bikers). We often let him run ahead until he is just out of sight and then command to wait or come. Either way he obeys the command. He LOVES the running.

We find lakes where we fetch with him. We have one special hike that we often do with him that leads to a lake that we hike around. He knows that we do not fetch until we get all the back around so, as we get close to that point we let him run ahead only to find him sitting by the lake waiting for us to find just the right stick to throw in the lake.

I am also in a weekly hiking group with some women. Many bring their dogs as well. It can get a little crazy with all the dogs, but Howie does pretty well. I am still working on not having to leash him as times to get him to obey my commands despite what the other dogs are doing. We often stop for lunch/snack and Howie is great about sitting next to me and not begging or trying to eat other peoples’ food.

We also have a favorite quaint beach town we frequent here in Florida on the weekends. Many times Martin will drive down in the boat with just Howie (taking about 2 1/2 hours). Martin sits in one captain seat and Howie sits in the other one for the entire time—never getting out of his seat until they dock. As you can imagine, Howie LOVES the beach. We enjoy great walks, fetching in the water all the way. We still have to be careful about his drinking the salt water sometimes when he fetches. He is getting much better about that. One of Martin’s favorite things to do with Howie is take him every AM in the golf cart to the bakery in town to get coffee. Howie stays in the cart unleashed while Martin goes in to get his coffee (Howie can see him the whole time). Then Martin sits at a table outside near the cart and reads, and catches up on email. All the while Howie stays sitting in the cart. Everyone (young and old) walking by stops to greet and pet Howie. Never does he jump out, bark, whine, or follow anyone. He just loves being there!

We are planning to take Howie back to Colorado for spring skiing. Howie will get in lots of hiking while we snow shoe. He LOVES the snow!!!

Howie really is just a great companion dog for Martin and me. Whatever we are doing, he is all in, whether active or just relaxing. We love our Howie dog!!!

Motor boating is probably one of Howie’s strongest areas.  He has great manners and respect for the boat.  He waits patiently for his command to load and unload.  He goes to his spot on the boat and for the most part stays there for the entire outing.

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Confused in the Crop

by: Tom Smith

Photo by: Chip Laughton

Many handlers and their retrievers have experienced it… A dog goes for a downed pheasant in a standing cornfield, and then, at the edge of a row, he abruptly stops, as if he hits a wall. The dog may run up and down along this perceived wall, but he will not push through the cover to make the retrieve. Simply put, the dog has encountered a barrier. As Mike Stewart explains in Chapter 5 of The Wildrose Way, barriers can be either physical or psychological. A physical barrier is a structure that stops a dog’s forward movement, but is still negotiable, such as a mesh wire fence, a wall, or a deep ravine. Tall row crop could be considered a barrier as well. A psychological barrier can be anything from a tree line, a shadow, a crop line, a road, a ditch, or a four-strand wire fence, which the dog could easily go under. In our example, a dog has encountered a psychological barrier in cover and will not push deeper to make the retrieve.

Baffled, the handler asks, “Why did this happen?” There are a couple of possible reasons: (1) Perhaps the dog is in unfamiliar terrain because the handler did not acquaint the dog with similar conditions beforehand. It’s always advisable to follow the Wildrose adage, “The first time your dog is exposed to something new should never be on opening day.” (2) The dog has not had enough training or practical experience to have learned how to negotiate psychological or physical barriers such as this cornfield.

Photo by: Katie Behnke

It is our job as handlers and trainers to expose our dogs to every conceivable situation they will experience in the field. Of course, we can’t duplicate every situation, but we need to attempt to simulate the major obstacles our dogs may encounter afield. Exposing your dog during training to actual field conditions ranging from timber, grass fields, plowed fields and standing crop is something almost every one of us can make happen. To help your dog learn to deal with this you can first read the article “Man Up” in the previous Wildrose Journal (October 3, 2016) and second, train in different types of terrain. To help your dog overcome these various influences your training must involve all types of obstacles, barriers, and weather conditions.

To begin teaching your dog to navigate across crop rows, start with simple, short trailing memories when the crop is short. As with all training activities, progress slowly and move incrementally from single trailing to doubles and then circle memories. As you and your dog move through these steps together, the crop you are using for training will continue to grow and the retrieves will become more complex.  As skills are mastered, remember to invert the scenarios. Inversions are reversing a known drill setup, as discussed in detail in The Wildrose Journal. Because dogs are extremely place oriented, they get very comfortable running from the same direction every time, but they may experience difficulty when the drill is inverted.  Another approach is from an entirely different direction.

When your aspiring gundog has this mastered, start moving to lining your dog from different directions such as angle entries. During offseason training, keep working in the crop as it grows. Remember to work on hand signals as you progress and throw in some marks. (Not too many marks!!) And if at all possible, train in different areas. Move, move, move. As I said, dogs are place oriented, so the more areas you train in the more comfortable your dog will be wherever you hunt and boredom in training is avoided.

When you do face a difficulty in training, always back up two steps in the training model to ensure you have the foundation entrenched before moving forward to rectify the problem with your training activity. The same applies when you face adversity in the field. And always remember Wildrose Law #5: “Make haste slowly.” Ensure those default behaviors are truly solid before moving ahead in your training plan.

One last thought, when sending your dog for a retrieve in any type of cover, first consider all the factors (environmental, terrain, barriers, and suction) involved for a successful retrieve. What effect will they have on the dog?  You can familiarize yourself with these factors by turning to page 165 in The Wildrose Way. Always set your dog up for success

Photo by: Katie Behnke

during training to develop a bold, confident sporting companion.


So, to sum up,1) introduce your dog to every possible barrier, be it psychological or physical, before taking him in the field to hunt, 2) incorporate inversions in your training regimen, and 3) consider various external factors that may affect your retriever before sending the dog for a recovery. As you train with your dog year round, he will be prepared and confident to hit the field… and ready to tackle any situation he may encounter.

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Wildrose Dixie Belle

by: Jack Perkins

I’m writing to let you know that I laid Dixie to rest yesterday.   She left me far too early.

I mainly write you to tell you what a wonderful dog she was and to thank you for providing her to me. I have had three previous labs (all good dogs) but Dixie was my first British and by far the grandest of all in many ways…..  She trained easy and fast.

She was quiet and steady. In fact, we only heard her bark a few times in her life. She paid no attention to other extraneous of peripheral activities, other dogs or people when she was at heel with me or in a stay position. She never took her eyes off me and would stare me to death if I was looking at her. She loved hunting, loved to retrieve. Her best hunt was two years ago South of Rolling Fork.  Dr. Brad Dickerson of New Orleans was in our group of 5. Brad trained dogs in Oxford while he was a student at Ole Miss.  That weekend, in two hunts, Dixie retrieved 41 ducks.  All agreed that we did not lose a single downed duck.  Brad commented that it was the best hunting retrieving performance he had ever seen. However, I learned that it was too much and too hard for one weekend. Dixie was so sore she could hardly get around for several days after.  I never let her make more than 5 or 6 retrieves after that. (Probably because that was all we downed).

I had trained her to retrieve my bedroom slippers.  Often when guests were at the house, I would have her leave the living room and go to the back of the house into the closet (usually dark) and retrieve my slippers, she would bring one then she would go get the other. Guests were amazed.

Attached a couple of photos, both on outings with Mike.  One was at one of the two Double Gun events we attended.  There was a light dusting of snow that morning.  The other was a couple years ago at a tower shoot where we were picking for the hunting guests. Dixie and I enjoyed all the events we attended at Wildrose.

I’ll someday be back to Wildrose to pick another pup.

Dixie was much more than just a great friend, she was like a child to me. I loved her and she loved me. I will miss her.

A fabulous British Lab. No other way to go.



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Wildrose Service Companions: Social Cognition and The Positive Loop

Turning Teal "Widgeon" in Ireland (2008)

Turning Teal “Widgeon” in Ireland (2008)

by: Scott R. Wilson

More than a decade ago in Ireland a litter was born to Intl FTCH Rozel Rocket of Tasco and FTW Meadowbrook Lass.  One of the pups in this litter was Intl FTW Turning Teal, a remarkable yellow Labrador the Wildrose family has come to know by his call name “Widgeon.”

w2He was imported to the United States in 2008 when his work in Oxford MS began.  Widgeon hunted, trained, trekked, and traveled with the Wildrose crew throughout his career as a sire.


Widgeon, the “Gentleman’s Gundog TM

Much like Widgeon, his pups have proven to be exceptional hunters, trekkers, companions and service dogs.

Widgeon, Indian, and Grand Pup ©KLBehnke Widgeon at Wildrose in Oxford MS (2015) ©KLBehnke

Widgeon, Indian, and Grand Pup ©KLBehnke
Widgeon at Wildrose in Oxford MS (2015)

We are happy to report that Widgeon is quite healthy and in the 12 short months since he officially launched his retirement career as a Pet Partners® Therapy Dog he has earned and been awarded his AKC therapy dog title.  (The April 2016 issue of the Wildrose Journal documents Widgeon’s retirement.)

Widgeon’s retirement adventure has helped inspire Wildrose Kennels to expand their Wildrose Service Companions program.  Widgeon took to his new animal-assisted activities like a duck to water.  Clearly his genetics coupled with years of experience at Wildrose helped prepare Widgeon for therapy dog work.  For decades Wildrose has bred and trained dogs that provide special services for humans in addition to companionship.  Widgeon’s remarkable performance in his new therapy role prompted the Wildrose staff to consider a specific training program for therapy dogs.  Widgeon’s performance compelled me to investigate when, where, why, and how canines developed the social cognitive skills needed for this inter-species cooperation.

The Human-Canine Bond

The earliest evidence of dog domestication suggests that dogs were held in the same high esteem as humans 8000 years ago in Siberia.  Cohabitation and cooperation with canines filled a very unique niche among mammals domesticated by humans.  Dogs have special skills in comprehending human communicative behaviors that developed as a result of domestication.  This social cognitive evolution was realized through selective breeding.  The dog breeds we see today have genetic roots that trace back only a few hundred years.  However, modern dogs share a genetic history with the dogs from Siberia.  Humans recognized the many useful characteristics of our canine companions and we have successfully bred dogs in search of some very specific behaviors.  In the last few years we have finally begun to examine this human-canine connection from the dog’s perspective.  MRI scans have demonstrated that dogs process speech much like people.  Meaningful words activate the left side of a dog’s brain and intonation stimulates the right side.  Praising words in an enthusiastic tone activate neural circuits associated with reward in the same manner as petting or eating.  Beyond motion and sound the human-canine mutual gaze has been shown to increase oxytocin concentrations in both humans and dogs.  This supports the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-modulated positive loop facilitated and modulated by just a gaze.  Apparently dogs do feel a mutual interspecies bond and that brings us full circle to the hero of this story, Widgeon.

Working with my canine companion Widgeon as an animal-assisted intervention team is truly a rewarding experience and I am pretty sure that Widgeon feels the same.  By just entering a room, a steady dog with the uncanny ability to gaze right into your soul brings a smile to nearly every face.  We work as a team to collectively interpret the cognitive cues that all humans project.  On rare occasions we meet a person who is very fearful of dogs but we are always vigilant to maintain a safe distance and keep all parties comfortable.  Remarkably, several people who admitted that they were so fearful of dogs, that they had never touched one, actually found Widgeon to be so peaceful that they eventually requested a little touch.  Our team has participated in a wide variety of events including one or more at a Crisis Nursery, Women’s Shelter, Medical School, Law School, Veterans in Higher Education, Veterans Home, Assisting Living Facility, Nursing Home, Residential and Out Patient Behavioral Health Clinics, Children’s Museum, Public Museum, Community Center, Public and Private Libraries, K-12 School, Survivor Retreat, Athletic Event, and more.  There comes a time in the life of every working retriever when their active workload must be reduced to maintain good health.  At the same time these remarkable canines are still driven to work, so their job description needs to evolve.  For Widgeon we simply adjusted the amplitude of his animal-assisted interventions.  His retrieves got shorter, some retrieves even moved indoors, but he still gets to work with his handler and his mind remains sharp.  In previous years Widgeon would light up when his handler picked up a shotgun or a “field” bag.   Now he lights up when I grab his service dog vest and “go” bag.  His tail begins to swing and his inner puppy bubbles to the surface.  He is well aware that we are off for a short drive to explore new places and meet new people.  Widgeon is a classic Wildrose gun dog so we never bring food for a reward; the rewards he anticipates before, during or after our visits always involve retrieves.  All working dogs need to adjust their activities as they gracefully age.  In light of Widgeon’s remarkable acceptance of his new responsibilities and my growing experience with working retrievers, I have become a tireless advocate for retired working dogs.

Wildrose Therapy Companions

I presented Widgeon’s successful retirement career to his home kennel in person and through a journal article (vide supra) and the response was spectacular.  The entire Wildrose Kennels staff were thrilled about Widgeon’s healthy new career.  Wildrose Kennels has traditionally developed multi-purpose canines.  Their gundogs can work enthusiastically in the field during the day and join the family as steady companions in the evening.  Their family companion dogs can simultaneously provide a 24/7, lifesaving alert service to a family member suffering from Type 1 diabetes.  Other Wildrose scent detection dogs perform remarkable services at work and yet most still live interactively with their handler’s family.  Their adventure dogs perform essential services on the trail but are entirely comfortable spending evenings with the family in front of the fire or the TV.  Last summer I began discussions with the staff at Wildrose about expanding their training programs to include an option for therapy dogs.  To my delight the staff was very supportive.  Apparently, many Wildrose clients had already expressed an interest in working their dogs in a therapy environment.  We discussed the possibility of training and employing retired sires and dams for therapy work.  We discussed the nature of a program to train retrievers for a duel life style that includes therapy work.  We discussed the need for training and evaluating animal-assisted therapy dog teams.  We discussed many options for developing and maintaining a program that could provide a lasting service to the Oxford community.  We also discussed the possibility of developing a program that could migrate to other communities.  Now we have an expanded staff and a Wildrose Service Companions Director to help develop, optimize, and support this expansion of services.  And, Widgeon is no longer the only family member with a new retirement career.

The New Year brings in new, exciting opportunities for the Wildrose community.  We are adding a therapy dog component to our long list of program options.  Similar to most of the Wildrose training programs we plan to offer multiple training levels.  Our basic obedience course will provide the foundation for our therapy dog program that will then add socialization and basic tools required for every therapy dog.  Clients will have the option to have their Wildrose dog started with a dual purpose that includes a therapy dog component in combination with gun dog training, adventure dog training, or any of the advanced dog training options.  Clients will also have an advanced option to have their Wildrose dog finished with an AKC Therapy Dog title in combination with any other Wildrose advanced training component.  The caveat for this advanced therapy dog training is that the owner must independently train to complete his or her contribution to their animal-assisted intervention team.  The really good news is that your Wildrose dog will do most of the work and he or she will love every minute.

Widgeon at Wildrose in Oxford MS (2017) ©KLBehnke

Widgeon at Wildrose in Oxford MS (2017) ©KLBehnke


Widgeon is still statuesque, he still prances when he walks, his ears still bounce in rhythm to his step, and he still pays particular attention to the dams.  He will forever be my hero and the inspiration for expanding the Wildrose Service Companions program to include therapy dog training.




For details and references about the anthropology noted above or for more information about Wildrose Service Companions, please contact


Scott R. Wilson

Wildrose Service Companions Director

(217) 848-0170 (voice, text, FaceTime, Skype)

Travelling Trainer LLC

Materials Chemistry Laboratory Director, Retired

School of Chemical Sciences

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

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Strike-Back Training: Upland Gundog Combinations

by: Mike Stewart

Wildrose returns to its roots with a previously popular upland gundog training program for pointing/retriever combination training:  Strike-Back.  This Wildrose Way process involves training the Wildrose Lab with the client’s own pointing gundog.  The training involves developing both dogs simultaneously to work together afield as a team with one’s strengths and skills actually complementing the effort without interference, without distraction.


For over a decade, Wildrose has had a Pointer on “staff” to offer each bird-dogretriever exposure to working with pointing breeds:  steady to flush, backing, recovery of birds down and especially ignoring the activities of the Pointers while remaining focused on their jobs.  These training activities continue weekly today as part of our normal developmental processes both for basic and advanced retrievers.


The Strike-Back option allows a client’s dogs that will be fielded together to be trained together in realistic hunting environments.  Bird options may include pigeon, quail, partridge, and pheasant.  Combination training will involve the valuable skills of:

  • Quartering, flushing and striking a flush
  • Steady to flush
  • Hunting for game recovery
  • Backing the point
  • Steady on flush
  • Wagon dog acclimation


bird-dog-2Naturally, obedience and civil behaviors will be emphasized for both team members, qualities necessary for any Gentleman’s Gundog.  The result:  a well-balanced team of sporting dogs gifted at bird location and recovery.

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