Dog Days

Developing a gundog for home and field

By: Spencer Griffith   Photography: Spencer Griffith

Author Spencer Griffith’s dog, Jack, shows off his training.

Author Spencer Griffith’s dog, Jack, shows off his training.


For an avid waterfowl hunter, owning a good retriever is a top priority. Anyone who has hunted with a well-trained dog knows the savings in time, energy and lost ducks a loyal hunting companion provides. But having a great dog means more than just performance on the hunt. In a good year, I spend around 30 days in the duck blind. Throw in a few days of teal season, dove season and a conservation hunt, and that still leaves more than 300 days a year that your retriever isn’t being used as a gundog.

Nearly a decade ago, I came across an article about Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. The story outlined their method for training sporting dogs for both field and family. The idea of having a gundog that also fit the rest of my family’s lifestyle was exactly what I wanted. So when it came time to add another Labrador to our family, I turned to Wildrose for the perfect gentleman’s gundog. Here are four tips that I have learned along the way.

Find the right pup
Most experienced gundog owners and trainers will tell you that starting out with the right dog for you and your family is essential to success. Understanding what you want in a trained adult dog will help you make decisions about breed, gender and bloodline. These decisions will greatly affect your dog’s temperament, size, natural abilities and ease of training. In my case, I was looking for a gundog that would hunt ducks in flooded timber and pit blinds, but would spend far more time living in the house, floating in a canoe or hiking down a trail. Therefore, a smaller British lab with a strong bloodline and a lot of energy was the right fit.

Select a training method and stick with it
There are countless blogs, podcast, books and videos that outline gundog training methods, drills and executions. At their core, most methods can be categorized as either a force or a positive training philosophy. I have seen both used with great success. The most important thing is selecting a method and sticking to it. According to Mike Stewart, author of Sporting Dog and Retriever Training the Wildrose Way, there are five reasons a dog will do what you want it to do: instinct, pleasure, trust/confidence, patterning and avoidance. Many of the force and positive reinforcement training methods take these natural instincts and shape a dog’s behavior through reinforcements or corrections around these.

Build on a strong training foundation
Most big errors in training a gundog center on pushing a dog’s training too quickly or jumping past fundamentals before a pup is ready. It is important to challenge your dog in a way that they can be successful and that allows you to provide value in corrections and reinforcement. For me, I had to learn to recognize and admit when my dog needed to go back to rework fundamentals, when he was tired or when a drill was too complicated.

Remember you’re training more than just a gundog
It was important that I have both an obedient gundog that could perform safely and effectively on duck hunts and also function as a member of our family. I chose not to dedicate the additional hours for him to become a field trial dog, preferring to focus that time and energy on introducing and training him to integrate into other family adventures. We have used the same training fundamentals used for training gundogs to introduce him to adventure sports like floating, hiking, camping, fishing and boating. Of note, Wildrose Kennels has a satellite training facility located in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas along the Little Buffalo River where they work on adventure dog certification and training with their pups.

Meet Jack

American Kennel Club Registered

Name: Sir Jack Daniels of Whiskey

Pedigree: Full Blood British Lab from Wildrose Kennels, Oxford MS

Age: 6 years

Color: Black

Loves: Duck hunting, lake time, vanilla ice cream, tennis balls, swimming and walks

For more information on Wildrose Kennels, visit