By Angela Rogalski, print graduate, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
When you step onto the grounds of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, you’re in a special dog and hunter’s world
The sky was overcast gray, the air frigid, with pellets of sleet descending from above as though shot from a hundred air guns. The sounds of barking echoed across the grounds, breaking the frosty silence.
It was training time. And the residents of Wildrose Kennels were ready.
Five dogs sat beside a crystal clear lake, their eyes beaded on an object they easily recognize as it dangled from the tall man’s fingers. Quietly they sat, waiting on the command they knew would come soon.
The man held a bumper high above his head, twirled it several times, and then flung it as hard as he could.
In seconds, one of the dogs shot from the group retrieved the bumper and returned it proudly to the man.
“Good boy, Whiskey.”
And one by one, he called the other dog’s names, and they did the same, none of them budging an inch until their name was called.
Wildrose Kennels is 12 miles east out Hwy. 6 in Oxford, and sits on 143 acres of painstakingly laid out land, custom-made for dog training. Every field that stretches for as far as the eye can see is filled with different crops, grown specifically for the particular hunts near and dear to Mississippi hunters and sportsmen. The land has eight water sources for the dogs, so that authentic game dog hunting and training can be carried out.
Mike Stewart has owned Wildrose since the late 1990s, and he’s watched it evolve into an internationally recognized business.
“In the late ’90s, Wildrose Kennels was being liquidated,” Stewart said. “I had my own kennel, but I bought out Wildrose and then merged it with mine.”
At the time, Stewart was the chief of police at the University of Mississippi and had his own kennel as a sort of hobby. But when he bought Wildrose, the national recognition of the kennel began to take off, especially in 2000 and 2001, when Wildrose got the Ducks Unlimited contract for their first mascot, Drake.
“Ducks Unlimited is a 560,000 member organization, and Wildrose was on TV on the show The World of Ducks for eight and a half years,” Stewart said. “That gave Oxford and the profile of the British dog a great deal of exposure.”
Stewart’s passion for dog training started as a youngster. He enjoyed being around dogs, feeding them and working with them.
“I had a passion for this and developed it into something I loved to do, and today, Wildrose has evolved into an internationally recognized business. It’s a great feeling when your passion can become your job.”
There’s a divergence of opinion about the difference between an American and a British Labrador Retriever, but Stewart says said there’s really no difference.
“The American Lab came from Britain. There’s a difference in confirmation, but genetically there’s no difference,” he said. “The DNA is the same; either way, it’s a Labrador.”
Wildrose imports directly from the UK and Ireland. They search to find the original type of genetics of game finding dogs, but also the original type of confirmation, too.
“In doing that,” Stewart said, “it gives you a distinctive type of look that you don’t find in an American dog, and we train in the authentic way. We don’t use electric collars, and we don’t use force fetch. We shun all the more popular training mechanics to train them with the more authentic approach.”
Stewart said that most of the sires they get are imported directly from the United Kingdom. Deke is the newest Ducks Unlimited mascot after Drake’s retirement and was also the cover dog for Garden & Gun magazine last December. That cover was so popular that Amazon picked it up, and it was one of their recommendations for the cover of the year for the sporting section.
With its facility management and bird program, retail store, trainers, and the healthcare professionals he maintains for the dogs, Wildrose has become quite a business, Stewart said, employing a staff of 13 in addition to himself.
“We have our own bird program, which is unique to our training. If you’re going to have bird dogs, you have to have birds. We release the birds on the ground for authentic training, and we also train in the pens, working the dogs with the birds.”
Stewart’s kennel doesn’t train outside dogs; they train only the dogs that come from Wildrose. He said doing it that way drastically improved their predictability in what they turned out.
Wildrose has three locations: the one in Lafayette County, one in Arkansas and another in Colorado.
“The place we have in Northwest Arkansas is a 40-acre plot with two-thirds of a mile river flow, so it’s for river training,” Stewart said. “And then in the summer, we do our training on some of our finished dogs on a ranch in Colorado, which is it at 9,000 feet.”
Wildrose has three types of dogs at the kennel: scent discriminators for the diabetic alert dogs – which
are trained on a non-profit basis, the adventure dog, geared to hiking, biking, canoeing, camping and shed hunting, and the open waterfowl gun dog, known as the gentleman’s gun dog.
“All our dogs are traveling destination dogs,” Stewart said. “They can do whatever work they need to do, but they also have to be great companion dogs, too.”
Dogs are also trained for shed hunting at Wildrose, a type of training wherein the dogs hunt antlers in the off season that the deer have shed. Antler hunting is a big sport in other parts of the country.
“When we sell a dog, clients go through an interview process where we determine what the person is going to do with the dog,” he said. “Then we try to match the dog to the owner.”
Wildrose has puppies, starter dogs, and finished dogs that are completely custom-trained for each client.
“But we never have puppies for sale on the grounds,” he said. “They’re all pre-ordered well before they’re ever bred. We’re booked out about 8-10 months in advance.”
Upcoming events at Wildrose include a four-day course March 15-18 and on April 20 on training your gun dog from starter to finish level, and a one-day course on starting your hunting dog. Both events are open to the public and all breeds are welcomed. Call 662-234-5788 for more information.
Also on May 3-6, Wildrose will hold the Diabetic Alert National Conference at Camp Lake Stephens.
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