Last year, I enjoyed writing a book with Mike Stewart, owner of Wildrose Kennels and the creator of the Wildrose Way of training dogs. Let’s be clear at the outset, Mike is the author and I was the writer helping him create the book. My area of expertise is in writing, not dog training, but I did learn more in that one-year period about training dogs, than in all the previous years of stumbling along and training on my own. I also happened to have one of Mike’s puppies at the time. Some of you might remember a blog I wrote for a while about, Murphy.
This book, Sporting Dog and Retriever TrainingThe Wildrose Way is not only huge (256 pages) and filled with an incredible amount of information, but it is beautifully photographed and illustrated, as well. It occurred to me that it might be worthwhile offering valuable excerpts that can be used immediately, plus some first-hand information on how this has worked in the field for me.
Having written the book with Mike, and trained one of his puppies using the methods, I have about as inside a track as one can have. Even better, I’ve had the experience of training my dogs on my own and making every mistake one can possibly make. Discovering the solutions to these problems in Mike’s methods was often a head-slapping “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment, not to mention the fact that Mike thinks more like a dog than most dogs, and we as the general public do not.
One of the things I immediately discovered and wrote in the book is that, while our dogs are genetically bred over generations to do what they do, we are not genetically bred to train dogs. If I have learned one thing over the course of the past couple of years, it is that the mistakes are always mine. If Murphy makes a mistake, it is generally because I did not handle or train him properly. When I do it right, almost inevitably he has success.
We wrote an entire chapter, one of the largest chapters in the book, on training yourself to train your dog. If you never read anything else on dog training, that chapter is worth finding and reading. Interestingly enough you will learn as much about yourself as you will about training dogs. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people out there who should never go near a dog, mainly for the sake of the dog.
There is so much information in this book, it is impossible to know just where to start and I could write about this for the next 10 years and still have work to do, but I’m going to just jump in and begin with the things that have meant the most to whatever success I can claim with Murphy. Then each week, I will explore another topic in the book from things as simple as teaching a dog to sit, to as complicated as handling your dog at distance.
Since I have taken up so much of your time with the introduction this week, I am going to leave you with one of Mike’s Wildrose tips which are sprinkled liberally throughout the book. This has to do with looking for good breeding in a puppy and is remarkably obvious, but remarkably overlooked by most amateurs. For me it was again a head-slapping moment.
Most people concentrate on the sire, the champion stud dog, as the most important piece of the breeding puzzle. Great sires are brought in to kennels to mate with the dams, so therefore they must be the most important part of the decision. Listen to what Mike has to say on the subject:
Select litters with strong maternal lines as well as excellent sires. Dams should be good hunting dogs demonstrating all the qualities you desire in your dog, not just the sire. The mother has the pups with her for five weeks and her influence is paramount. Good bitches are seldom mated to poor dogs, yet the opposite frequently occurs. A poor bitch is unlikely to produce good pups despite the virtues of the sire. Look closely for desirable traits and strength in the bottom line of the pedigree – that is, the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Excellent mothers are as important as excellent sires.
Seems remarkably obvious once you read it. Next week we’ll take a look at the critical first few weeks and the incredible amount of training that can be accomplished during a period many people ignore.
Paul Fersen is the Senior Managing Writer for the Orvis Company and worked with Mike Stewart as co-writer and editor for Sporting Dog and Retriever TrainingThe Wildrose Way.