Leader of the Pack
From Started to Finished
Still, you have to ask: $10,000 to $15,000 for a “fully finished” hunting, adventure, diabetic-alert, or companion dog?
“Well, you can purchase a puppy from our bloodline for $1,500,” Stewart says one afternoon as we walk toward the kennels’ full veterinary clinic, complete with vet techs that monitor and record the health of each Wildrose dog every day. “But when you factor in the cost of this place, the time my four full-time trainers spend with each dog [each dog works with one trainer, so it doesn’t get confused], my expenses, and dog food and medical care for the dogs and other things, well, I think it’s a fair price. Hey: People will have these dogs as life and sporting companions for ten to fifteen years. They often spend far, far more than that on a car, which they might have for, what, four years? And that’s just a car.”
Plus, between the training and that Wildrose proprietary bloodline, you’re still only seeing the end result of the Wildrose Way. Working a newborn puppy into the system, for instance, begins on day three of its life, when its eyes are only first opening. There’s the “Super Scent” program, where small containers of different smells (that of a wild bird, or grass, or a “neutral” or “control” scent) are put in with the puppies and their mothers on different days, to imprint them.
After that comes the “Super Learner” aspect of Wildrose puppy training. By three and a half weeks old, the puppies are encouraged to navigate through a snaking, perhaps fifty-foot-long “training maze,” including going up and down small stairs, walking across a large mirror placed on the floor, running down the length of a child’s nylon tunnel held open with a length of helical wire, climbing over small logs, and, finally, ducking beneath a “low bridge” to make the finish. When each puppy completes the course, its joy—expressed through running and hopping and simply acting like a happy young dog—is visible.
From seven weeks to roughly six months, each puppy on a “finishing track” is taught a solid set of “foundation skills.” These include heeling, appropriate private and public behavior, and simple signals such as whistle training and, eventually, hand signals. There is also a covered, fifty-yard-long training aviary containing both ground birds (such as quail and pheasant) and flying and perching birds, such as doves and pigeons. The trick when entering and walking a dog through the birds is to give regular signals, interacting with the dog, and staying so focused on each other that the dog does not get distracted by the running and flying birds. It’s a high-performance exercise in building trust and patience—for both human and canine.
“It’s memory before hand signals,” Stewart says, “and hand signals before hitting marks. And all the time, you reward them equally for both patience and for work.”
At about eight months of age, the Wildrose Way finally gets down to each dog’s actual specific hunting, adventure, or diabetes-alert awareness training. “People want different things from their dogs,” Stewart says, “and so we work on those—hard.” This may include working on as many as three different behavior sets during any day’s “cycle,” and always ends with a “counter-skill.” For instance, if you’ve been working on a dog’s nose and scent training that day, Stewart says, the day’s last exercise should require it to use its eyesight.
“And you always end a training cycle on a success,” Stewart says. “When the dog goes home after a day of work, it needs to know it did a good job.”