The Road Trip

THE Iroquois hounds, including one-year-old Driver and Baffle’s one-year-old puppies, will be on their way to the Virginia Hound Show Friday morning. On Thursday, they made their first acquaintance with “the school bus,” the comfy double-decker hound trailer that will take them to Virginia (and to all their hunt meets when they join the working pack this fall).

We’ll be on our way tomorrow morning, too, and we’ll post from Virginia after the show on Sunday to let you know how things went. While it’s always nice to win a ribbon, huntsman Lilla Mason is most interested in seeing how the hounds show themselves after their spring training and how the puppies handle their first major exposure to a large group of hounds and people they’ve never met. Stay tuned!

Finishing touches, and revisiting the National Sporting Library

FOUR days to go until the May 30 Virginia Hound Show! On Sunday, the houndbloggers visited the Iroquois kennel for the final weekend training session before the show. Driver’s and the BA litter’s training has progressed very well, as you can see by comparing videos from leash-training in February and more advanced training in May. Now huntsman Lilla Mason, joint-Master Jerry Miller, and kennel manager Michael Edwards are  putting the final touches on the youngsters before they head to Virginia on Friday. No detail is overlooked, right down to the shape of the hounds’ nails and the types of biscuits Lilla will toss in the show ring. Want to learn more about how both can affect the hounds’ appearance in the show ring? Click the “play” button in the short video above.

The houndbloggers also will be attending the hound show this weekend, where we hope to get some good video and pictures of Driver, the BAs, and our entered hounds in action at the show.

Are you going to Virginia? Visit the National Sporting Library!

If you’ll be in Virginia for the hound show, there are two special events that will be going on at the National Sporting Library & Fine Art Museum:

  • SPORTING BOOK SALE! On Saturday, May 29, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the library is offering duplicate and used books on a wondrous array of sporting topics. Most hardbacks will be available for just $5 and most paperbacks can be had for just $2,  for books you’d be hard-pressed to find in any of your local bookstores. Topics include foxhunting, horse breeds, riding, horse racing, hunting and shooting, and wildlife and game. Stock your own library or pick up gifts for your sporting friends–at bargain prices. Plus, proceeds benefit the NSL Book Acquisition Fund.
  • NEW EXHIBIT! Lives of Dogs, Viewed through Literature, Art, & Ephemera. Opening Thursday, May 27, in the library’s Mars Exhibit Hall. The exhibit “features books and objects that span four centuries and are selected from the library’s holdings as well as those of private collectors. Lives of Dogs provides a glimpse into the richly complex topic of the relationship between dogs and humans.” Among the things you’ll see: Tubervile’s hunting classic from 1576, Turbervile’s Book of Hunting (see some of Turbervile’s work–and the library–here); artworks depicting dogs, including bronzes and watercolors; a private collection of dog collars including coursing leads, “highly-decorated leather collars with emblems of the dog’s role, and silver and leather combinations with beautifully engraved sentiments identifying beloved family pets”; and books of sketches by Cecil Aldin, Michael Lyne, and Paul Brown. And much more.

For more information on the National Sporting Library, the book sale, the Lives of Dogs exhibit, or just to have some fun, check out the NSL’s website.

The National Sporting Library is located in Middleburg, Virginia, at 102 The Plains Road. Admission in free, and directions are located on the website. By all means, go!

Need a smile?

Some of the Iroquois hounds practicing for the May 30 Virginia Hound Show.

THEN we’ve got a Smilebox for you! Today was the final weekend training session before the hounds head to Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, for the Virginia Hound Show. On Saturday morning, this practice session drew a lot of volunteers, and joint-Master Jerry Miller took the opportunity to talk about hound conformation and showmanship. Joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, who will be judging in the American ring at the Virginia Hound Show, also attended and commented on our hounds and their progress.

But instead of focusing on technicalities today, we thought you might enjoy a little Smilebox slide show featuring some of our favorite pictures of both young and older hounds and some of the great volunteers who have been working with them since last fall and winter. After all, this is why we love these hounds. They’re beautiful, personable, and fun. Especially the woollies. Especially the really, really big woollies. Not that I’m biased. So, as the song says, if you’re ever feeling down, just play this again and look into those wonderful bright eyes … and why not thank them for the joy they bring by making a tax-deductible donation to the Hound Welfare Fund?

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Hounds and Volunteers
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Good luck at Virginia, everyone! We’re pulling for you!

It takes a village to raise a hound (with video!)

The Volunteers: A few of the people helping with the Iroquois puppies this spring. Thanks, y'all!

AND, LUCKILY, we’ve got a village. They probably weren’t overjoyed at being immortalized on video, but the folks who volunteer with the Iroquois hounds are a hardy, stiff-upper-lip-and-get-on-with-it group. They would always rather be out with horses and hounds than being seen on the screen. On the other hand, they were delighted to talk about the hounds they’ve been working with and how much they enjoy it. That they do enjoy being part of the hounds’ lives is entirely clear from the way they talk about their favorites, what kind of progress young so-and-so has made since last week, or a new discovery they’ve made about hounds that has opened up a new way of looking at the hunt.

Working with the hounds has done that for all of us: given us a new and interesting perspective on what’s really happening when we’re galloping behind Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason on the field. Now, when we’re trotting behind the hounds on the way to the first covert, we’re watching not just “the hounds,” but individual personalities we’ve come to know. We look forward to the day our favorite young hound, now entered, will own the line for the first time. We strain to hear a familiar voice in the thickets. We watch them and take pride in their progress. We love them.

Gene Baker and his wife Christine are often on the scene at kennel events, and Gene also helps by doing photography. Unlike me, he has lenses--plural--and knows when his lens cap is closed!

As one kennel visitor who frequently drives over with his wife from Louisville put it recently, “I always thought of hunting as galloping and jumping. That’s what it was about for us. But I see now that this part is the real fun!”

Driver: Happy happy happy!

Here’s another benefit: working with the hounds gets you through the gap between hunt seasons that other people call “summer.” If you show or event your horse, it’s not so bad, but I’ll be the first to tell you that, as a person who loathes the heat, to me summer was always the price I paid for fall. At least, it was until I started going out on summer hound walks. Getting to watch the hounds’ training behind the scenes makes summer as interesting as fall, and it makes fall more interesting, too, for the reasons mentioned above.

Kennel manager Michael Edwards with Bree Morton, a vet tech at Richmond Road Vet clinic. Bree stopped by to work with Driver. Bree bottle-fed Driver at the clinic for almost six weeks last spring when he was a newborn.

For the hounds, having this group of volunteers expands their circle of friends–and that’s not as trivial as it might sound. By making contact with lots of different people, the young hounds learn to be comfortable outside the relatively cloistered community of their kennel. They get exposed to other sights, sounds, and smells, other voices and pats, while still identifying Lilla as their leader. They learn to approach the world and people around them with confidence and curiosity.

"Did you mention biscuits? I'd love one!" Sassoon knows what's in the pockets of Lilla's kennel coat.

It’s a two-way street.

So today we’re thanking the hound-program volunteers. All of you who have pitched in and helped the Iroquois hounds, here’s to you! Some of you are in the video above, and some of you weren’t there on that particular day, but you’re appreciated, and you know who you are (Eloise, are you reading?): THANK YOU!

Gaelic cools off after a tough afternoon of biscuit-chasing.

Whether you’re a hound-program volunteer or not, please consider donating to the Hound Welfare Fund to help care for our retired foxhounds! To donate online or by snail mail, click here. Rather sport a nifty HWF cap, T shirt, or polo shirt? We can help you with that! All proceeds go directly to care for the retired hounds, and your donations to the HWF are tax-deductible.

Space Invaders, or How to help your dog train you (with video)

Gaelic and Hailstone with Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason, proving that training can be fun.

ONE of the problems handlers face in training hounds for the show ring is The Biscuit Lean or its cousin, The Biscuit Crouch. Those aren’t the technical names, but they’re pretty accurate. Huntsmen showing hounds have pockets full of biscuits for the hounds to chase when off-leash in the show ring, and they’re handy for keeping a hound’s attention while you’re surrounded by other huntsmen and their hounds.

Thing is, the hounds learn to anticipate getting that biscuit, and while waiting for the huntsman to reward them they will start to leeeaan forward or even crouch back slightly on their hind legs, preparing to launch themselves at the biscuit when it’s tossed. Bad, bad dog. Why? A leaning hound is in an unnatural, unrelaxed stance that makes it harder for a judge to accurately assess his conformation. A crouching one will tend to place his hind legs too widely, making them look conformationally suspect.

Joint-Master Jerry Miller, who has developed the Iroquois training program, and huntsman Lilla Mason often conduct hound training together.

These are ways hounds in the ring can “push” or pressure a handler, and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller has devised a way to stop this mild dominance behavior: by playing a gentle game of Space Invaders. For the last several days, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has been trying this on the young hounds, and its proven remarkably effective (and fast) at stopping this pushy behavior. Lilla demonstrated it for us on Thursday and explained the philosophy behind this common-sense training technique, which is easily applicable to some house-dog behaviors, too.

One of the things that appealed to us about this is the way it encourages the hound to think for himself and make his own decision, not because he’s afraid of being punished, but because he wants the outcome that results in a treat for him. It also allows the hound to trigger the desirable outcome (biscuit!) himself by his actions. When the hound leaves the show board, Lilla simply “shuts off.” The hounds we watched quickly learned that they themselves could reactivate her attention only by stepping back on the board, and they could restart the biscuit reward by standing square. By leaning or pressing forward on Lilla’s space, they only activated Space Invaders.

We used the “off switch” technique  with one of our dogs, Mr. Box, when he developed the annoying habit of barking incessantly at us while we made the dogs’ meals. Here’s how it worked: as soon as he barked, we immediately stopped whatever we were doing–opening the canned food, scooping kibble into bowls, whatever. We’d put the dog-food-making items down, step away from the counter, and slump, looking down at the floor and avoiding any contact, visual or verbal, with the dogs until Mr. Box stopped barking.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason with Starter and Stanway

As soon as he stopped, we’d return to the counter and pick up making dinner wherever we had left off. Rinse and repeat as needed (at the first sign of barking). Within a week, Mr. Box had learned to “control” how fast dinner arrived by not barking, and now he sits silently (but gazing very intently) while we make his meal.

Jerry Miller has spent much of his career as a huntsman and hound breeder trying to figure out these training puzzles, and many of his solutions, like the invading a domineering hound’s space, deal directly with a hound’s psychology. Teaching a dog merely to avoid punishment seems to us a blunter instrument.

Side note: for a funny take on training people this way, you might enjoy Amy Sutherland’s piece in the New York Times about how this worked on her husband.

Kennel manager Michael Edwards also is on hand at training sessions.

Late last month at a kennel open house, Jerry and Lilla talked about showing and judging hounds. They didn’t just talk about training, they also talked about the showmanship and showring strategy that huntsmen have to use to make their hounds stand out well in their brief time in a crowded show ring.

The hound you’ll see in this video is young Battle, one of the BA litter out of our imported English bitch Cottesmore Baffle. After you watch this video, scroll down to the next one to check out how much progress he has made just since late April, when we made this first video. In this video, you’ll also see a vivid case of a hound pushing his handler–that was before the Space Invaders lesson!

Another aside: if you didn’t get Jerry’s reference to Peterborough, check out our post (with some video) about the world’s most prestigious foxhound show.

Here’s the “big, overgrown puppy” today. One surprise: he shows signs of shyness, as Lilla discusses in the video. It’s not clear yet whether this is temporary or a part of his personality, but it’s information Lilla files away in her mind, because it could affect how she handles him on summer hound walk and, later, in the hunt field. In the meantime, her work with him now will focus on increasing his confidence.

Finally, there’s Driver. The Big Shark. We’ve been following the pupposaurus since he was in utero, but now he’s turned into a real pin-up boy with some serious jaws in his biscuit-catching style. Enjoy:

The Virginia Hound Show is on May 30. The houndbloggers plan to be there, and in the meantime we’ll keep you updated on the doings at the kennel!

The Hounds of the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event

Scout the American foxhound attended North America's only 4-star event wearing a sporty jacket that said ADOPT ME! He's available at the Lexington Humane Society at (859) 233-0044. Please consider adopting him! The houndbloggers ran into him several times on Saturday, and he's got a great personality!

THE annual Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington always brings out the dogs. Cross-country day, which always takes place on Saturday, is as good for dog-watching as it is for keeping an eye on the world-class equine athletes that are competing.

So this year the houndbloggers, aided by their trusty iPhone, took some snapshots of every hound we passed. We start with Scout, a lovely American foxhound currently up for adoption at the Lexington Humane Society (telephone number 859-233-0044). We ran into Scout everywhere we went, and we stopped to say hello each time. We’d have adopted him ourselves except that we already have three hounds and have committed to adopt a fourth if she needs a home within the next year, and that puts us at capacity. Our favorite thing about Scout: he’s a leaner. If you’ll stand there talking to him, patting him, or scratching his ears, he’ll lean gently against your shins. It’s a wonderful, trusting gesture that is also very pleasant for the leanee! Please consider adopting Scout if you have the room and inclination. He’s been at the Lexington Humane Society since October.

Chillin: Faith the six-month-old bloodhound found a comfy spot to nap.

When the weather looked threatening, we did what anyone would do: we headed for the trade fair! The first dog we bumped into in the indoor arena where the trade stands were was Faith, a six-month-old bloodhound who was napping at the Bluegrass Search and Rescue stand. Between calls to go find people, she sure is laid back. She happily allowed all and sundry to pat and scratch and fondle her enormous jowls and giant-sized puppy feet, and she only opened her her eyes once.

Cyril, the happy shopper.

Nearby, but at the opposite end of the age spectrum, was Cyril, who was accompanying his human companion around the trade fair booths and wearing a big smile. Take a picture? No problem! Cyril was happy to pose before heading off into the merchandise again.

A basset hound who thought we looked more interesting than the popular Head of the Lake water jump.

Fortunately, Saturday’s stormy weather held off for the cross-country portion of the event, so the houndbloggers got to spend a lot of time walking from jump to jump and watching some truly outstanding horses and riders. At the Head of the Lake (see eventual Rolex Kentucky 3-Day winner Cool Mountain and William Fox-Pitt jump this complex in the video below), we found a basset watching us instead of the course. You can see why: if you’re a basset, it’s not that easy to see through the forest of human legs.

Cody and dad.

Nearby, Cody and his people also were enjoying the action at the Head of the Lake. Cody, they informed us, is a coonhound. he reminded us of Driver, and not just because of the color: he was massive! His owner told us both Cody’s parents were about 100 pounds, and he’s even heavier. But he’s still got some height to gain to catch up to Driver.

Avalanche, a former racing greyhound, enjoyed pats at The Hollow.

We came across two greyhounds on opposite ends of the cross-country course. This gratified our guest for the day, Robin Foster, one of our favorite people and the devoted owner (with her husband Steve) of several greyhounds: Badge, who died in 2009, and now Popeye and Donny, all former racing greyhounds.

Robin, if you’re reading this, congratulations! We’re giving you the coveted Game As Grundy Award for completing almost the entire cross-country course on foot, as well as a round of the extensive indoor AND outdoor trade fair, all with a broken toe!

The first greyhound we met was Cleo (short for Cleopatra), who was more than happy to pose for a photo, which was messed up slightly by my fame-seeking finger peeking in on one side of the lens (continuing the houndblogger tradition of photographic mishaps).

The lovely Cleo on a brief stop between fences on the cross-country course.

The second greyhound we met was Avalanche, who was allowing charmed passersby to give him as much petting as they wished. That was a lot of petting, including from us. Avalanche was stationed at The Hollow, where rider Oliver Townend and his mount Ashdale Cruise Master had a scary fall that knocked them from the competition. Both horse and rider are okay. Here’s a more successful ride through The Hollow: Townend last year on Carousel Quest. Note that this year, the path through The Hollow ran the opposite way; in other words, horse and rider jumped a fence, then jumped down the two steps into the  grass bowl, then galloped up to an exit fence on the opposite end. In 2009, the took the two steps and fence combination on exit.

Do you know someone who has room for Scout?

Those of us who have bought Lexington Humane  Society t-shirts will recognize that Avalanche’s owner, holding the leash, is wearing one. Which brings us back to Scout. Here’s another view of this nice hound, who is currently at the Lexington Humane Society and needs a good home soon!  Please consider adopting him.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote

In the last 50 years, coyotes have spread widely across the United States and are now frequently found in city limits and in the suburbs, as well as in the countryside

IN the months leading up to the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar, we’d already heard a lot about Dr. Stanley Gehrt and his urban coyote presentation. He’d done this presentation at an MFHA meeting in January that had everyone talking, so we were especially curious to hear it ourselves. And, boy, was it worth the price of admission.

Gehrt is an assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Ohio State University. His urban coyote study in Chicago started in 2000 and is the longest-running coyote research project in North America. Using radio tracking collars, the study has followed 440 coyotes in 10 packs and revealed fascinating details about their lives, including how they form packs, which ones don’t pack up, how they develop their territories, what they hunt, and how they adapt to living in an urban environment. The results, as presented in his lecture “Uncovering Truths and Debunking Myths about City Coyotes,” were eye-opening.

The first startling fact: coyotes, once found almost exclusively in the southwest as a prairie animal, has spread throughout North America, Central America, and up through Canada and Alaska in the last 60 years or so. That rapid, widespread expansion tells you something important about the coyote: it is a highly adaptable animal that can adjust to rapidly changing environments. And they don’t just adapt by, say, changing their hunting habits or other behaviors. They adapt in more surprising and fundamental ways, like by producing larger litters in time and places where food is readily available and smaller litters when coyote populations are peaking and food is in danger of running low.

Keep in mind that the American coyote’s expansion in population and territory since about 1945 has taken place even as urban areas, highways, and development have also been expanding.

“Coyotes could handle everything thrown at them, and all they did was increase their population and increase their range.” Gehrt said.

As a result, Gehrt said, the coyote is the nation’s “most unprotected game animal,” and many states allow year-round hunting of them because their populations tend to increase so quickly. “They don’t need much protection,” Ghert explained. “They are built to withstand that kind of pressure. And because of that, they view us as their predator. And we are their pretty much only predator.”

We should note here that even though coyotes can be hunted in many areas year-round, the foxhunting season still attains. Foxhunters only chase game, whether fox or coyote, from early fall to spring, and do not hunt year-round.

Ghert’s study area in the Chicago metro area covered 300 square miles and included such seemingly un-coyote-friendly areas as the O’Hare airport, the Navy Pier, and the Sears Tower. The area encompasses about 18 cities in the Chacago metro area and contains about 1.5 million people. And yet Gehrt and his team found coyotes almost everywhere. One, a near-legendary female that is one of the study’s oldest at age 10 and was the first Gehrt put a radio collar on, has her main hiding place immediately behind a local post office. Another managed to get through three sets of fences and into a county jail, where “it scared the crap out of the prisoners,” Gehrt said.

Coyotes mate only once a year, in February, and they are monogamous for life. When one mate dies, the survivor generally will take on a new mate, but only then. The resulting litters typically range from four to seven pups that usually are born in April (which is one reason foxhunters who chase coyote generally have wrapped up their season by then), but litters can range up to 15 pups; in ghert’s study area, the urban Chicago coyote litters averaged eight.

Most coyotes, he found, are killed before their third year, and in urban and suburban ares, not surprisingly, the chief cause of death is the automobile. In rural areas, hunting and trapping are the leading cause of mortality.

But coyotes can live much longer if they are crafty or in safer environments, and Gehrt still has one of his original radio-collared coyotes in the study at age 12. Another significant cause of death: sarcoptic mange. Ghert noted that mangy coyotes are seen more often near houses, usually because they are attempting to stay warm.

Packs typically number anywhere from two to eight coyotes, but–and here’s a surprise–coyotes, or at least urban ones, rarely hunt in packs unless the environmental conditions demand it.

There are three main types of coyote:

  • The resident, who remains in its particular territory, usually covering about seven to eight square miles in rural settings (and less than five square kilometers in urban settings);
  • The solitary, often seeking its own territory, that is just passing through and is not yet settled in a location, and
  • The disperser, a coyote that has left its natal territory and is roaming over long distances.

A solitary’s regular roaming area runs between 30 and 100 square kilometers, while dispersers, the great long-distance travelers among the coyotes, have been known to travel within a space as large as 352 square kilometers. And as hunters well know, coyotes will jump fences if they need to, but they prefer to cross man-made boundaries–fences, in other words–by going under them.

And how about that howling? It’s a chilling sound when you hear a pack of coyotes singing together with yips, barks, and long sustained notes. Gehrt says coyotes howl primarily to determine how many other coyotes are in an area but also as a way to call a pack together, usually to defend a territory.  Unlike wolves, he says, they aren’t known for carrying a tune or holding notes for very long.

“They’re the rappers of the canid world,” he said.

Here’s an especially interesting thing Gehrt and his colleagues found. When only two coyotes are howling, it tends to draw alpha pairs from other ares in, as if for an “alpha meeting.” But if five or more howl together, coyotes in the area tend to run the opposite direction, away from the howlers. That suggests that large groups in concert are advertising their readiness to fight any invaders in their country.

According to the Chicago study, packs do tend to respect each other’s territories, as marked by scat or by the howling described above.

Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, and their diet, even in urban ares, reveals that they scavenge from human garbage less than you might imagine. Studies of coyote scat show that their preferred food items are rodents, especially meadow voles, which make up about 42% of their diet,. “They really are rodent-catching machines,” Gehrt said, recounting that he once found nine rodents, including several large rats, in the belly of a coyote that had been killed by a car. Coyotes also seem fond of goose eggs.

Coyotes increasingly are appearing in urban and suburban settings, and even rural coyotes are adapting to traffic and other products of human civilization as development encroaches on the countryside.

“The eggs are basically McDonald’s meals,” Gehrt said. “It’s something you can pick up and take with you, and they are loaded with fat, which is good for these animals.”

Fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbits (18%) are also common components of the coyote menu card, but human garbage accounts for just 2% of the diet, which might say more about us and our eating habits than we’d like to know. Interestingly, Gehrt said rural coyotes do not rely heavily on deer in their diet, again preferring small rodents and rabbits, but they will eat fawns in spring.

Easy prey is appealing to any predator, but that doesn’t mean coyotes aren’t afraid to tackle larger potential food items when they need to, and they can be surprisingly clever at this. Gehrt recounted how one pack in his study repeatedly would herd healthy bucks onto an iced over pond, harass each buck until it fell and could not get up on the slick ice, and then killed it.

People living in rural communities have long known that coyotes will kill cats and dogs. Gehrt confirmed this but noted that, except in unusual circumstances, coyotes rarely eat the cats and dogs they kill. But keep those pets locked up, all the same, as coyotes present a real danger to them.

In Gehrt's study, red foxes survived predation by coyotes better than gray ones did. But fox populations of both kinds drop precipitously when coyotes move in, Gehrt confirmed.

Foxhunters who have seen coyote populations take over in former fox territories have long suspected that the coyote has a negative impact on local foxes. Gehrt confirmed that popular assumption.

Citing a study in Illinois from 1980 to 2000, Ghert said, “They saw coyotes increase dramatically during that time. Red foxes, as you might imagine, decreased but then rebounded a little bit in recent years, but not to their previous levels. Gray foxes crashed. Gray foxes seem to have crashed in a number of states, and we think that’s due to coyotes.”

To find out, Gehrt’s team also put some radio tracking collars on some of the few remaining Chicago-area gray foxes.

“It took us quite a while just to find them, and, when we did, we found that coyotes did kill over half the animals that we monitored, and the other half died from distemper,” he said. “Basically, in two years, all the animals we had radio-collared were gone and we couldn’t find any more.”

The study area’s last group of fox holdouts retreated to a cemetery and made dens there. “It was a Jewish cemetery in a pretty rough area on the south side,” Gehrt said. “The headstones are really close together, and the foxes could run in between the headstones but we couldn’t. They burrowed in those places, but eventually coyotes found their way to that and ended up wiping out that family. So coyotes do have an impact on foxes.”

Gehrt said red foxes, strangely enough, seem to survive coyote predation better than grays–and that’s another surprise, because, unlike reds, grays are known for their ability to climb trees. But Gehrt said red foxes tend to live “in the cracks between coyotes territories,” or, in rural areas, by getting as close as possible to human habitations, where healthy coyotes are less likely to appear.

In fact, at least one of the “old guns” on the older huntsman’s panel at the MFHA seminar, Marty Wood of Live Oak, confirmed this finding in his own experience in the Live Oak country in Florida. Once a fox-chasing pack, Live Oak has been pursuing coyotes increasingly since the mid-1980s and now only finds some red foxes in its country, particularly in areas close to houses, Wood said.

Part of the coyote’s ability to survive and even thrive in conditions that have decimated less resilient animal populations comes down to one character trait: paranoia. That extends to an unwillingness–except when chased or when giving birth and nursing young pups–to go into their own underground dens.

“We have video of mothers coming to their own den with their own pups inside,and it takes them forever to go in, to work up the courage to go inside their own den,” said Gehrt. “When you think about it, coyotes have incredible senses of hearing, sight, and smell, even touch. Those senses are of no use when they are underground.”

A single mating pair might have four or five dens. “The mother likes to have those different dens as an option, because if she thinks you know where that litter is, she’ll move them. And she moves them all the time. We often go through a game of multiple dens trying to find that litter.”

“One thing I hope you take away from this is that there’s still a whole lot of stuff that we don’t know about this animal, and I mean a whole lot,” Gehrt concluded. “They remind us of this every day. Every day they do something that we didn’t think they could do or didn’t think they would want to do.”

For more information on Gehrt’s research, check out the book Urban Carnivores (which also includes information on foxes). It’s published by Johns Hopkins Press and is available on Amazon.com (click to book title above to go directly there). You can also find out more online at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/urbcoyot.htm.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 2: Masters of their craft

Some of the Iroquois members at Sunday's MFHA hunt staff seminar. Left to right: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Mary Moraja, huntsman Lilla Mason, and Gene Baker.

IF Saturday at the MFHA biennial hunt staff seminar was field trip day (for a tour of the Iroquois Hunt Club’s kennel and a visit with our retired hounds), Sunday was more of a lecture series. But not some musty, fusty maundering on by dull speakers, no way. There were panel discussions featuring some of the hardboot Masters and huntsmen from hunts around the country and from the “young guns” of a new generation of hunting stars. There was a meaty and highly entertaining presentation by a scientist who studies the urban coyote. And there was a panel on the eternal question: how do I get and keep my horse hunting fit?

The houndbloggers attended three of the four discussions, missing the equine fitness one, and so we can offer a summary of the presentations that related to hounds and coyotes.

It's all about the hounds!

The Young Guns

We should say right off the bat that Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason was among the presenters as a member of the “young guns” panel. She was the only amateur huntsman, and the only woman, alongside fellow huntsmen Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds (Arizona), Ciaran Murphy of Golden’s Bridge Hounds (New York), Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hunt (Virginia), Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Hunt (Maryland), and Ken George of the Moingona Hunt (Iowa).

Lilla Mason (Iroquois) focused on the process by which field members become hound lovers, just as she did. Like many of us, Lilla was drawn to hunting primarily due to her passion for riding, but the more she learned, and the closer she got to the hounds, the more she came to love hound work–a process that eventually led to her carrying the horn as the first female huntsman at Iroquois.

Lilla emphasized the success Iroquois has had through inviting hunt members to help with summer walk, leash training for the puppies, and other similar activities that give members a window onto the hounds’ everyday lives and the hunt’s breeding and training programs. She noted that giving the field printed out hound lists at each meet has also given riders an opportunity to learn the hounds’ names and follow them through each hunt day. And other initiatives, such as Lilla’s “Hound of the Day” reports, also help give the field (as well as Iroquois social members) a connection to the hounds and a different perspective on the hunt day.

IHC member Cooper Lilly and Payton: kennel visits are mutually beneficial!

“It brings the members closer to the hounds,” Lilla said. “It’s important to open up those doors for them. … The more you bring the members into the hound program, it helps enhance their enjoyment of the day, their enjoyment of the sport.”

“On the first day of cubhunting, the measure of success I hold myself to is, did I come with a pack or did I come with a bunch of individuals? The training program is about bringing each individual to become part of the pack. It’s like a symphony: each violin has had to practice and practice until they’re really good and can be part of the symphony that is the finished product.”

Lilla, the hounds, and hunt members at the 2009 Blessing of the Hounds

Lilla recalled vividly the first time Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller handed her the horn and gave her the opportunity to hunt the hounds herself.

“I wasn’t going to back down from a dare,” she quipped. “So I left the meet, tooted on my horn, and all of a sudden my whole world changed.”

The most startling change: suddenly, no one else seemed to know what they were doing, from Lilla’s new perspective as huntsman. All the whippers-in Lilla knew and had worked with on the hunt field as a whipper-in herself suddenly seemed to have become inept fools.

“They weren’t in the right place, I wanted them here and they were over there,” Lilla said, laughing along with the audience as she recalled her bemusement. “And nobody was back there, where I wanted somebody. And they were all walking, why weren’t they trotting? Why weren’t they doing anything?

“All of a sudden, this ball started rolling that I couldn’t stop,” she continued. “I was having to decide this, and that, and this,  and there was this fieldmaster with all these people breathing down my neck, and it was just overwhelming.”

Summer hound walks provide a good opportunity for Iroquois members and guests to learn about the hounds and their training.

“If you hold your thumb out in front of you and stare at your thumbnail, everything else is a blur,” she said. “When you’re hunting the hounds, all of a sudden you’re using your eyes to collect information from the whole world. You’re looking for every opportunity to get information: what the body language of the hounds is telling you, what the temperature is, where the wind’s coming from, what you see in the coverts. Collecting information to try to take advantage of any opportunity that might help you help the hounds produce good sport. And when something interrupts that canvas, it’s really irritating.

“I made a promise to myself after that day that I would never belittle or think worse of an ill-tempered huntsman, because you have no idea until you do it what that feels like!”

Iroquois Driver with one of his friends at the kennel. When members visit the puppies, they learn about the young hounds, and the hounds gain confidence around with new people.

All of the huntsmen on the panel except Lilla were professionals, and a majority advocated a quiet attitude in dealing with hounds, something the houndbloggers were gratified to hear.

“I think handling hounds on a loose rein is an art form,” Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds said. “A pack that is sensitive to what the person who is hunting them wants is a wonderful thing. Hounds that go along without any chasing, whip-cracking, and turning by staff is great to watch even on a poor hunting day. In my opinion, the hounds’ legitimate ideas have to be followed and honored by quiet huntsmen. Getting wound up at the wrong moment because of anger or excitement can mess up a day’s hunting very quickly. It’s easy for a huntsman to get frustrated without realizing how much it affects his hounds. So much of what the hounds cue on is the tone of voice and posture and body language, so it is easy for them to mistake your general frustration for being angry at them. Their keenness and confidence will go way down if a huntsman is too preoccupied with his own mood rather than doing what is best to help his hounds.”

Many of the "young guns" on the panel recommended a quiet style with hounds.

One common concern the huntsmen voiced: loss of country, a complaint that almost every hunt has as rural land is eaten up by development.

Ciaran Murphy, who hunts Penn Marydel hounds at Golden’s Bridge outside of New York City, noted that his hunt has a “small, tight country.” That means, he said, “Radios are absolutely essential.”

Like Iroquois, Murphy uses radios as well as road whips to help protect hounds in an area where roads and development are encroaching. One of the more interesting things Murphy said, at least to us, was that he is still chasing both fox and coyote at a ratio he estimates at about 50-50. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of a fox percentage that high, as most countries seem to have all but made the switch from foxes to coyotes as coyote territory has expanded (more on that in our next post, when we report on the outstanding presentation Dr. Stanley Gehrt made on the urban coyote!). Murphy said his tactic, when he’s chasing coyote in a small country, is to try to turn the coyote to persuade it to stay in the country.

Several huntsmen on both the "young guns" and the "old guns" panels advocated handling hounds loosely and letting them range rather than keeping them in a tight group, especially when hunting coyote

“We’ve had days where we’ve run a fox for 45 minutes and put it to ground, and then on the way to the next covert a coyote pops up and hounds are gone,” Murphy said. “It’s almost like following a different pack of hounds, in a way. Everything changes. Some hounds start to shine. I have some hounds that are good fox hounds and some that are good coyote hounds, and, on average, they run both equally well, but it’s really a humbling thing, when you have a fox and then you have a coyote, to see the difference in how they run and how it affects the hounds.”

Murphy also made one of the day’s nicer observations–and one that got a knowing laugh from the huntsmen in the audience–when he observed that his job “is one of the few things you can do where every morning there are 60 to 80 faces that are happy to see you!”

Diminishing hunt country remains a concern for nearly every huntsman and Master.

Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hounds–home of the unique red ring-neck hounds we’ve written about before–hunts two packs, divided by age. “The younger pack goes to the grasslands with open fields,” he said. “They stay together a lot better, they honor each other when the first strike hounds open up. When they cast themselves and they’re trying to find their quarry, they get together a lot quicker, honor each other, and go.”

Spreadborough said, in his experience, a mixed-age pack is more liable to get strung out on a run as older hounds pull ahead of younger ones; stringing out, he said, is “my pet hate, if I have one.” But he acknowledged that he still hunts foxes, and that allows for different tactics.

“With foxes, we don’t tend to get the hour-and-a-half, two-hour hunts that the other packs would hunting coyotes,” he said.

Spreadborough made an interesting point when he said that, just as there’s ideally a “golden thread” of communication between huntsman and hounds, there also should be a similar thread linking huntsman and hunt staff.

“If you find a whipper-in that you can key off, you almost don’t even have to say anything,” he said.

It's ideal if the huntsman and whippers-in also have a "golden thread."

Also on that point, Lilla recalled a story in which an English huntsman she knows once stood ringside with her at the Peterborough foxhound show and relayed what one of the judges was saying as the class progressed some yards away. “He was able to do that because he had served as whipper-in to the judge for many years and had learned to read his lips!” she said.

Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Foxhounds spent a good bit of time discussing the importance of whippers-in to a huntsman’s work.

“I translate a measure of our success out hunting to our staff,” Townsend said, adding that the De La Brooke’s whips are all volunteers. “Each of the individuals that whipped in had a different background, and each made the commitment that the job requires. The De La Brooke pack hunts three days a week from September until March. In looking for the right individual to help with the pack and effectively whip in out hunting, several factors had to be taken into consideration. I try to look at their first attempt at correcting a hound. Many people take an aggressive approach, believing if you yell at it, it will obey. To me, this would not be the proper first response in dealing with a hound on exercise or even, in some cases, out hunting. Less is more.”

Many huntsmen prefer a quiet, relaxed whipper-in, believing they help keep the hounds relaxed in their work as a pack.

Townsend explained that. on hound walk, he walks the hounds “loosely, not in a restrictive form.”

“I’ve found that new whips tend to be ‘whip happy’ and want the pack to be tighter,” he said. Townsend added that he does not encourage his staff to crack their whips unless it is truly necessary, as in a safety situation out hunting, when, for example, hounds might need to be kept off a road.

“I don’t like tense whips, because that makes for tense hounds,” he observed.

Ken George of Moingona proved an able storyteller and kept the audience’s attention with his vivid description of hunt days on the Iowa plains and, more recently, to newly opened country in Kansas.

Do whatever it takes to get out with the hounds!

George explained that he Moingona pack is a bitch pack of mostly Crossbred hounds, and their quarry is almost entirely the coyote. He has drafts from a variety of hunts, including Midland and Fox River Valley, “so there are straight July dogs from Midland that can flat fly. We’ve got some nice English dogs that can flat fly. We’ve got big dogs, little dogs, pretty dogs, ugly dogs–but they are a pack. They hunt as a pack. They sound like a pack. They look like a pack. From a hundred feet, you can tell the difference between them. But from a hundred and fifty yards, we have the best pack class in America. They’re demons, that’s what I call them.”

Unlike Spreadborough, who hunts fox exclusively, George said he didn’t mind if hounds get strung out on a run and viewed it as a natural effect of chasing the coyote.

George’s main theme, though, was one every serious huntsman and hunt follower knows well: the true fox-chaser (or coyote-chaser) will do whatever it takes to watch those hounds work together to puzzle out a line. George pointed out that he shoes horses and works cattle for landowners, all free of charge, in order to ensure his country stays open and he can keep hunting. When the opportunity to open hunt country in Kansas some six hours south, George said he jumped at it.

“I drive six hours because I’m ate up with foxhunting,” he explained. “You have to do what it takes.”

Next time: The “Old Guns” panel!

Notes from the curio cabinet

Tulips at Beagle House: one good thing about spring. But does it make up for the end of hunt season?

WE have mixed feelings about spring. Sure, it’s great to be done with icy footing, frozen-out hunt meets, and high heating bills. It’s good to see the sun again. It’s even better to have daylight after 4 p.m.!

But it also means another hunt season has ended. In spring, we swap hunting for houndwalking and our own personal hunt stories for those in sporting books.

Needless to say, there’s less news at the moment than there is during hunt season, so today we offer a selection of notes on recent happenings as well as some to come.

The MFHA biennial seminar this weekend!

The U.S. Master of Fox Hounds Association will hold its biennial hunt staff seminar in Lexington, Kentucky, this weekend. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the agenda. Iroquois huntsman and hound blog contributor Lilla Mason will be on one panel with five other young huntsmen, discussing their work with the hounds on the hunt field. Coyote expert Dr. Stanley Gehrt will give a talk about “Wiley Coyote.” And there’s more, including a kennel visit to the Iroquois Hunt kennels and the Hound Welfare Fund. By the way, if you haven’t seen it  before, check out the MFHA website’s gorgeous introductory slide show.

There are stunning pictures of hounds, coyotes, foxes, and horses. My favorite part is the excellent audio: hounds in full cry, the horn, and the sometimes eerie echoes of huntsmen calling to hounds. It’s a fine way to recall the past hunt season. Incidentally, the very first picture is of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds from a few years ago. That’s Lilla being blessed, and the photo was taken by hunt member and former Iroquois president Harkey Edwards.

The Goodall Horn at auction

At long last, here’s our video from auction at Cheffins in Cambridge, England, where Will Goodall’s hunting horn sold for 2,600 pounds. To learn more about the horn and the remarkable story of the couple who found it in Zimbabwe, click here and here.

Sellers James and Denise Davies say they remain convinced, at least until further evidence to the contrary, that the horn belonged to Will Goodall of Belvoir Kennels, not to his son, Will Goodall of the Pytchley. We wonder what the buyer thinks? If we find out, we’ll let you know!

Dog days

And not just any days: birthdays (or what we consider birthdays). Spring is the season for all of the Beagle House hounds to celebrate their adoption days. Harry, the wickedest beagle in the universe, joined the family on April 30, 2003.  That was before I knew how bad he is; at this very money (that was a Freudian typo. I meant “moment”; can you tell I have a vet bill due?), he is sneaking by my desk with a contraband paper towel he plucked from the trash can. We adopted Tobermory Icebox, the former Clear Creek beagle, on March 27, 2005. And the most recent addition, Bingo, arrived on May 9, 2009.

Mr. Box is now seven years old!

Here’s another kind of Dog Day, and it’s hound-related. You don’t get to see Scottish deerhound puppies terribly often, but, man, are they ever cute. Pet Connection blogger Christie Keith took her new puppy, Rawley, to visit an office the other day, and the resulting photographs are cute (surprise!). See more of Rawley, including video, here and here. He’s about 12 weeks old, which gives you some idea of how big a Scottish deerhound will turn out to be full grown. Isn’t he beautiful?

As promised: Royal Artillery hounds video

THE video is from our visit to the Royal Artillery Hunt’s March 24, 2010, meet in England. In addition to seeing the hounds that belong to Great Britain’s last remaining military-affiliated foxhound pack, we also enjoyed a very tasty stirrup cup that included sausages, cake, and port. And, though I didn’t see any, there probably was also some whisky mac in attendance. Foul, but traditional.

We described the meet a little in a previous post, but I’ll add a few more words on the pack, because its history is interesting. The pack was organized in 1907 when a Mr. Arthur Ernest Hussey gave his harriers to the Royal Artillery officers stationed in Bulford, and the pack was first known as the RA (Bulford) Harriers. At least as early as 1903, the artillery officers had been known  to hunt with Hussey’s pack from his Netheravon kennels and environs. During World War I, the pack was largely destroyed as the artillery went to war and wartime privations made keeping the pack impossible. Hussey himself had joined up as a Lieutenant in the Wiltshire Regiment. He never was posted to France, and for a time he took over the Mastership of the RA (Bulford) Harriers as well as of the nearby Courtenay Tracey  Otterhounds (now defunct). But in her excellent book about the hunt’s history, Hounds, Hares and Foxes of Larkhill, author and longtime RA Hunt member Estelle Holloway provides this sad description of the events of 1917:

“In 1917 England was starving due to the menace of German U-boats, and lack of food forced Captain A. E. Hussey to put down his beloved pack of RA (Bulford) Harriers.”

But after the Armistice in 1919 the Isle of Wight harriers went to the RA on loan for a single season so that the artillery could start up hunting again. A year later, the artillery purchased the Instow pack of the West Country Harriers, mostly old hounds that had survived wartime and many with pedigrees that the Hunt Record noted politely as “unobtainable,” for 300 pounds.

Brigadier J. H. Gibbon DSO (left) was the first Master to hold the position when the pack switched to foxhounds.

According to a history of the RA pack, “it was originally laid down that each brigade at Bulford and Larkhill should provide at least one whipper-in, and opening meets were always celebrated at Bulford Mess.”

Hunting legend Ikey Bell, the master of the nearby South and West Wilts pack, was impressed with the RA hounds of the era. Of them he wrote:

The only occasion on which I began to feel anxious for my pack’s laurels was when Major Scott-Watson brought down a couple of his little hounds from Bulford Camp. This couple was of Quarme Harrier blood, and all day they held their place in front, and once when the pack were checked by sheep, carried on the line. No-one was more delighted than their gallant Master when I cheered his little couple with a “Forward to Bulford! Yooi!” and later on handed him the mask of a good fox, which his little treasures had played a full part in bringing to book.

When World War II broke out in 1939, most of the harrier pack was destroyed again as the hunt staff and members went to war in Europe. The Hunt Record notes that seven couples were saved. But feeding them proved difficult, because only foxhounds, considered important for keeping down foxes that killed sheep, were classified as “pest control” and therefore could receive rations.

The Royal Artillery foxhounds today.

A general, Gen. John Frost, heard that the small Quarme Pack in Exmoor–which had contributed some fine blood to the RA harriers Bell had so admired 20 years earlier–also was about to be destroyed because they could not be fed adequately during wartime. He intervened, bringing the pack to Bulford and kenneling them there with some of the RA Harriers’ remainders. With these, he got in some hare-hunting on the Plain despite the war.

Eventually, the pack was added to five couples of foxhounds from four other dwindling packs, and the cavalry at Tidworth took over the lot.

The war did not, in any case, prevent some soldiers from trying to hunt while in their units. As Holloway writes, “Major Selby-Lowndes took a pack of beagles to France with the British Expeditionary Force, while Freddie Edmeades was somewhat unlucky. He included a couple of harriers in his baggage and was forced to spend an uncomfortable night in a French gendarmerie accused of poaching!”

After the war, the pack gradually regrew and transitioned to foxhounds. It was recognized by the Master of Fox Hounds Association in the fall of 1946.

The Royal Artillery hounds with professional huntsman Rob Moffat on March 24.

The kennels are still located at Bulford Camp, where they were built in 1934, and in a day out with the Royal Artillery you are sure to meet many military men and women.

To learn more about the hunt and to see some marvelous pictures of their hunt country in the Salisbury Plain military training area, we heartily recommend the hunt supporters’ club website. Photo galleries of the hunt can be found here. The slideshow of the Packway meet, located here, also features some very nice photos of riders in military dress for the hunt, giving you some sense of the hunt’s style and panache.

A postscript about Ikey Bell

I recently came across a quote attributed to Bell on behalf of working dogs everywhere. Considering the purpose of the Hound Welfare Fund that is linked so closely with this blog, I thought I’d share it. It describes the houndbloggers’ view very well.

Cherish us for our courage

Instead of our looks;

Look on as more as comrades,

And less as picture books.