Looking for a travel buddy? How about a four-legged one? Wildrose Kennels is Oxford, Mississippi, is where adventure dogs are born.
A Mountain Hike Leads to a Career
Mike Stewart was hiking in Colorado with his dogs in 2007. Hikers stopped him along the way, asking how the dogs heeled and why didn’t they chase the elk. Later, while sitting in an Aspen oyster bar, three separate gentlemen asked similar questions, curious how he trained the dogs to behave and not run off.
“I’m a dog trainer,” he replied, and asked the three gentlemen what they did for a living. They all were in the business of managing money.
Adventure Dogs are Born
This sparked an idea for Stewart, a renowned gundog trainer. He envisioned a training program where people enjoy the outdoors with their pups. Participation in shooting sports is slowly growing, people are trading material items for experiences, and dogs are part of the family. Recognizing this, Stewart developed a program to introduce people to the sporting lifestyle through an adventure dog.
Developing an adventure dog program also gives hunting dogs (gundogs) something to do during the offseason to keep in shape and mentally stimulated. According to Stewart, keeping hounds active throughout the year is a way the family can stay active while giving the dogs structure.
Visiting Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Miss.
A Fall 2019 conference in Oxford, Miss., led me to Wildrose Kennels where Stewart is the President of Wildrose International. In addition to Oxford, Wildrose has year-round facilities in Dallas and Hillsborough, NC; and seasonal facilities in Jasper, Ark.; Granite, Co.; and Teton Valley, Idaho. Contained within the 157 acres of the flagship training grounds are kennels, variety of fields, woodlands, and nine water sources. Wildrose specializes in breeding British (also referred as English) Labradors in colors of black, yellow, and fox red.
“I like their size, their temperament, and their natural game-finding ability,” Stewart said of the British Labs.
The waitlist for a Wildrose puppy is about two years and the cost is $2,200. A trained Wildrose Adventure Dog ranges roughly $10,000 – $15,000. But, non-Wildrose canines can earn a Certified Adventure Companion designation by enrolling and completing 12 of 14 merits in a self-guided program, like Boy Scouts of America. Skills include watercraft, trail assistance, equestrian, camping, and fishing.
Is Your Pup Ready for the Adventure Dog Program?
Each merit requires mastering subskills. For instance, to earn the watercraft badge, the dog must know how to safely load in and out of a boat, how to sit on the bank while you load up your gear, and how to sit in the boat and remain steady. A video of the dog’s performance is sent to Danielle Drewrey, a Wildrose Kennels trainer who oversees the Adventure Dog Program, who reviews it and determines if the pup is ready to move onto the next skillset. She also sends along the merit sticker to place on the certificate.
Although this is a self-guided program and the Wildrose Kennels website contains practical information and tips on training dogs the Wildrose Way, participants are encouraged to attend workshops throughout the year. A recent program included horseback riding where most canines trotted alongside the horses (an owner carried his wirehaired dachshund on the horse) and then with their owners, flew in a Cessna aircraft. And the Wildrose Way uses positive reinforcement to bring out natural abilities of the dogs.
Seeing Wildrose Adventure Dogs in Action
On a sunny fall afternoon, I sat in the grass of the Wildrose Kennels grounds while Stewart introduced some of his pack. This included Deke, a handsome black lab with some gray peppering his muzzle. Since 2008, Deke has been the official mascot for Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit conservation group. He is a heritage dog and fourth generation Wildrose dog. His predecessor was Ducks Unlimited’s first mascot, Drake.
Six other dogs sat attentively in a row behind Stewart, waiting for their commands. The professional dog trainer demonstrated some of the adventure dog skills and claim any dog can learn new tricks. A spring activity dogs and their pet-parents could enjoy is finding and retrieving sheds in the woods or fields.
These are antlers shed from deer. Stewart recommends beginning by introducing your dog to a rubber antler with few points. Toss it in a field for the dog to retrieve then praise him. Avoid several points on the rubber antler so the dog does not poke itself. If the dog has a negative experience early on, it may give up on the activity. Work up to larger antlers with minimal points but thoroughly disinfect them to remove your scent so the dog is searching for the antler scent rather than your scent.
A Certified Canine Companion can offer trail assistance which is one of the merits in the program. Stewart demonstrated this by tossing some items a hiker may take on the trail, a water bottle, rope, phone. By name, he called out to one of the dogs to retrieve a water bottle and without hesitation, it sniffed it out and retrieved it.
What Kind of Gear Does an Adventure Dog Need?
An adventure dog needs specialized gear including a dog pack (a backpack for dogs), roll-up water bowls, rope, and leash. Danielle Drewery, Adventure Dog Trainer, advised packing no more than 30 percent of the pup’s body weight in its pack. When around and on water, strap a float coat on your dog, even if he loves swimming and is comfortable around water, you want peace of mind he’s always safe.
Jackson Kayak makes the YuPIK, a dog-friendly fishing kayak with a designated area for your canine angling companion to sit without rocking the boat. When introducing your dog to new equipment and accessories, work with him and praise his calm behavior.
Why Bother with an Adventure Dog Certification?
Why go through the effort of the adventure dog certification? The designation is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, they have their own dog training programs such as Canine Good Citizen and AKC Therapy Dog. The designation does not certify the dog as a service or therapy dog and does not provide special access to anywhere. Owning a well-behaved dog is a big benefit of walking through the steps of the Adventure Dog Program. Hiking with a dog pulling you along the trail is not fun. Having that dog walking by your side is an enjoyable experience.
Other benefits include traveling with a well-behaved dog makes visiting public places more enjoyable and less stressful. A dog makes a great companion and protector, especially for solo travelers. An active pup can up your exercise and introduce you to new experiences. If trained properly, your hound may pick up after you on the trail, especially useful if you have a habit of dropping things, like smartphones. And, a dog may save your life. Wildrose puppies begin training at 3 days old and many are imprinted with the scent of ducks and diabetic saliva. The dogs are trained to know what low blood sugar smells like and can alert a diabetic accordingly.
When to Begin Training an Adventure Dog
Seven months old is the recommended age to begin basic obedience training for dogs and between 1.5 and 2 years old for adventure skills. This is because many adventure skills require high impact activities such as jumping and a dog’s joints are not sealed until about 2 years old. Waiting until that age prevents injuries down the road. If you have an older dog, consider his limitations. He may not be able to hike 3
miles but maybe 1 mile.
I adopted my dog, a terrier mix, three years ago from a high-kill shelter and overall, it has been a positive experience. He has brought me much joy and I know there are other shelter pets waiting for their forever homes. However, when adopting shelter animals, sometimes little to no information is available about their backgrounds and temperament, especially when it comes to behavioral issues.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way about his issues. It has been a rocky road and although he’s my travel companion for many trips, I know his limitations. Knowing how a dog was raised and its lineage, like Wildrose Adventure Dogs, can help predict its temperament.
Radcliff is my adventure companion. Learning more about the Wildrose Way has given me new ideas on how I can enjoy the outdoors with him. In pursuing this next step, Danielle Drewrey emphasized a key point.
“You have to put the time in to train your dog. It just isn’t going to happen overnight.”
Nuts & Bolts About Wildrose Adventure Dog Program
Wildrose Kennels Adventure Dog Program
260 County Road 425
Oxford, Miss. 38655
American Kennel Club
AKC Family Dog Program
Includes Canine Good Citizen, AKC Community Canine, and AKC Therapy Dog