By Dr. Ben W. McClelland
Mark Donohoo owns, travels with, and hunts with Wildrose Thor (Indian X Pippa). While we refer to Thor as a dog of duality (gundog and diabetic alert dog), he also accompanies Mark to trade shows as the mascot of Grizzly Ears. Thor is precocious in that not only can he multi-task, but he began showing unusual prowess at a very young age.
In this article Mark tells how he came to acquire Thor and how they have become trusted companions. As Mark tells it, his interest in hunting began when he was a youngster and his interest in hunting dogs came much later. Here’s the story in Mark’s words:
My passion for the outdoors began as a young boy when my father gave me my first gun and taught me how to shoot a .22 caliber, single-bolt action rifle. Growing up, I loved exploring the great outdoors from camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, white water rafting, or just shooting targets.
Hunting became a passion for me many years ago. I’ve enjoyed bow hunting in the early fall season and rifle hunts through some of the harshest winters in search of elk, bear, mule deer, and whitetail throughout the USA. I have spent many hours wading in icy waters in the Northern and Southern flyways in search of waterfowl with my Labradors. I’ve traveled to the beautiful New Zealand mountains in search of Chamois, Red Stag, Tar, and have traveled to the far reaches of the Arctic circle in search of Caribou. In all my travels, I have come to appreciate and love the outdoors and all that Mother Nature has to offer.
When I moved to Nashville in 1998, I was introduced to waterfowl and upland hunting with friends. I had always hunted deer, elk, and bear in the West, but never waterfowl and upland birds. I loved watching the Ducks Unlimited show and Mike Stewart’s tips with Drake, and then years later Deke.
Twenty years ago I first found a passion for hunting dogs. My first two labradors were trained for hunting water fowl. Unfortunately, dogs can’t live forever and after they passed it took me 4 years to be ready for a new Labrador. As I researched the best breeding and training facilities in the country, I found Wildrose Kennels, and immediately my wife and I knew we needed to journey to Oxford, Mississippi, to find out more about their breeding and training programs.
After spending time with the owners, trainers, and dogs we were extremely impressed. Not only with the trainers, management, and facilities, but also the impeccable blood lines of their dogs. We didn’t need to take any more time to think or discuss the next steps. We put down a deposit that day for a puppy!
On July 21, 2017, when we returned to Wildrose puppy picking, we selected a yellow male pup, from Indian and Pippa, and we named him Thor.
Thor was very easy to crate train in the house and understood to do his potty outside. We introduced him immediately to place and, although Thor would stay in my home office with me on place, he would rather play or go outside. Within a couple of weeks he began staying outside in his doghouse. He adjusted quickly to enjoying the outdoors and appreciated when he could come inside the house.
We knew quickly Thor was exceptionally smart. Within hours of coming home with us he already knew how to retrieve small balls, rolled socks, or puppy bumpers. Thor demonstrated a great hunting ability from the beginning. I would hide bumpers and balls and use the command “find it,” and he would always come back with the bumper or ball.
Thor learned very quickly the commands “sit,” “stay,” and “here.” He would respond to my voice as well as to a whistle. It was shocking to see how fast he picked those commands up. We knew he would be special and we wanted Thor trained the Wildrose way. So, eleven months after we picked Thor up, we returned to Wildrose for training in waterfowl, upland, and shed, hunting, and to be my diabetic alert dog.
When Thor and I arrived at Wildrose, Trainer Ryan Alderman had a sheet to check off what Thor could do. Thor had completed most of the commands on the basic checklist. Ryan was very impressed with how well Thor performed during his intake test. Thor could do all the basic commands, voice or whistle. He could also do denial of bumpers thrown around him. He could heel to my side without a leash and sit when I stopped. During the intake session, I told Trainer Danielle Drewrey and Ryan that Thor was going to do Shed, Waterfowl, Upland, and be my diabetic service dog.
During Thor’s training program Ryan was very good about sending me videos of Thor’s progress as the months went along. Every six-to-seven weeks I would visit Thor to observe his progress. When I would visit Wildrose for Thor’s training, Ryan was great at showing me how to handle Thor on various scenarios of training on land or in the water, hunting memories, marks, or blind retrieves. Ryan showed me how to handle Thor in the field with voice, whistle, or hand signals.
The idea for my new product, Grizzly Ears, came about in December, 2017, while I was duck hunting in Arkansas with my grandson. I knew there had to be a better way to protect my hearing while still having the convenience of answering my phone. Grizzly Ears combines Bluetooth technology with amplified shot compression earbuds that allows you to listen to your favorite music, answer your phone with a touch of a button, all while providing you with amplified shot compression that protects you from loud sounds 85 decibels and above.
After I returned home with Thor from his training regimen at Wildrose, I decided to make him the Grizzly Ears Mascot to travel with me as I promote Grizzly Ears.
So far, Thor and I have been on waterfowl and upland hunts, promoting Grizzly Ears. On one upland hunt in North Dakota with Josh Gardner, who has a WR Gus, I realized that the amplification was set too high. The wind conditions were around 25-30 mph, with really strong gusts. The sound of the wind was too strong coming through the earbuds. So, I decided to make the adjustment to lower the amplification down to levels where the wind is not overpowering. Experiencing, firsthand, these field conditions with Josh made this correction possible.
Thor revealed his versatility as a multitasking dog with an exceptional skill set when we were on the road, traveling to Arkansas for a duck hunt. I was trying to get to my destination by a certain time. Unfortunately, I let the time for eating pass by and that is the kiss of death for a diabetic. Thor kept putting his head on my shoulder and licking my neck while I was driving. Then he took his paw and pressed it on the side of my face. I knew at that moment that I was very low. I immediately rewarded Thor with touch of peanut butter for the alert. I pulled over at the next rest area and tested my blood sugars and they were very low.
About a week later Thor alerted me again when we were on an upland hunt in North Dakota. We were doing a lot of pushing, just three of us and four dogs. It got late in the afternoon where I had run out of snacks and Thor and I were pushing across the field for pheasant. I stopped to take a break after hunting in thick cover and expending lots of energy on this last push. Thor was at my side and I could feel him pushing on me and then he put his paw up on my leg alerting me that my levels were low. He did this a few times before I recognized his alert. Once again he was correct because my levels were at 48.
Recently, Thor made another alert when we attended the Wildrose Cajan event in Louisiana for dog training tips, and upland and quail hunting. While I was on the quail hunt, I had made the mistake of leaving my snacks behind at the Lodge. We had been hunting for a couple hours when I noticed Thor kept tapping my hand while we were walking for quail. I stopped and then he put his paw on my leg alerting me a third time. Thor has already become a lifesaver at such a young age. I take it for granted how easy it is to slip into dangerous blood sugar levels.
After I wrap up my trade show traveling in February, Thor and I will begin our six-state journey across the US. We will be shed hunting for Elk and Deer with professionals from the Rocky Mountains to Alberta Canada. As I attend trade shows and stay busy on hunts, Thor is by my side, giving me a sense of comfort and confidence knowing he will alert me whenever my blood sugar reaches dangerous levels. Thor is everything we wanted in a Lab: he is smart, well trained, obedient, and my co-pilot while traveling around the country. Yes, Thor is a very special dog and I’m very grateful we decided to get a pup from Wildrose Kennels.