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!

It’s show time! Hound Show Primer (with video)

The Iroquois Hunt's young hounds--Paper, Gaelic and Hailstone, in this picture--are preparing for the season's hound shows

THE Kentucky countryside is lush and green, and hunt season has been over since the end of March. We’ve put our wool hunt coats in the closet until next fall. But some of the Iroquois hounds are still at work. This time, they’re preparing for upcoming hound shows.

How a hound performs on the hunt field–its fitness for the breed’s purpose–is the ultimate test of a hound’s breeding and physical conformation. But the show ring presents a chance for hunts to get outside opinions on their hounds’ breeding programs–at least regarding conformation. Even so, as at any dog show, judges at hound shows have their own likes and dislikes, in addition to their opinions on what conformation works and what doesn’t. In other words, judging a hound isn’t simply an exact science, it’s also an art significantly colored by personal preferences.

One common bias, for example, is against broken-coated, or “woolly,” hounds. I was once asked to help our huntsman, Lilla Mason, show one of our woollies at the Mid-America hound show, and while the two judges were looking the hound over, I overheard one of say to the other, “You know you’d love that hound if I threw a bucket of water over his back!” The hound won, by the way, so I guess Judge A convinced Judge B!

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason trains the hounds for showing. They will be required to stand in a way that shows off their good conformation. Working hounds also are often shown off leash, galloping after thrown biscuits, so that judges can see their way of going.

The art of judging hounds is mysterious to me. Conformation faults that hound breeders can spot at 300 yards while wearing a blindfold are often invisible to me. Unless a hound’s leg is actually put on backwards, or it has three ears, I am probably going to miss whatever it is the judges find–especially at a show like the upcoming Virginia Hound Show, where the competition is so fierce that the judges will be asked to choose, time and again, the best of a perfect group of hounds and will have to get pretty nitpicky in order to determine winner from runner-up.

We got a chance to get a judge’s eye view at a recent open house at the Iroquois kennel. Lilla and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller have been working with the hounds that are candidates to show this summer (Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell will be judging the American hounds this year at the Virginia Hound Show; because Iroquois only has English and crossbred hounds–meaning English crossed with Americans–he won’t be judging of his “home” pack!). At the open house, Jerry offered his view of some of the hounds’ conformation and Lilla described how she handles hounds in the show ring. Both talked about how important it is to build hounds’ confidence and obedience before shows. In a ring full of other hounds and other huntsmen tossing biscuits, Lilla’s hounds have to be able to concentrate on her and her alone–a big task for some puppies, for whom everything is new! Hound shows may be something of a beauty contest, but training for them also serves a good purpose on the hunt field, too, by reinforcing this concentration and attention to the huntsman.

IHC member Cooper Lilly says hello to one of his favorite hounds, Payton, a winner at the Virginia Hound Show in 2007.

We’ve followed Driver’s progress since he was a not-so-tiny pup, and in mid-April he got rave reviews from visiting huntsmen who toured the Iroquois kennel as part of the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar.

So we were especially interested to hear Jerry’s remarks about Driver now that he is developing into an about-to-be-entered hound (he’ll join the Iroquois pack this coming fall). Below, you’ll find a video showing Jerry’s take on the strapping young doghound, who is still developing as he reached his first birthday this month.

Jerry compared Driver favorably to some of the younger puppies, who were born about a month after he was last year, noting that Driver naturally has got more muscle development this year. His chief attribute, not surprisingly, is power. He springs lightly over the ground with little apparent effort, and he has a ground-eating stride. Lilla’s task with him is to control his exuberance and maintain his concentration, and in this clip you see some of the strategies she has to use in the show ring, such as keeping the hound far enough away from her so that they don’t hold their heads up too high in the air, which makes their necks and shoulders difficult for a judge to assess accurately.

As a reminder, Driver is one of our English hounds. Iroquois imported his mother, Dragonfly, from the North Cotswold.

While working with young Battle, one of the BA litter out of our imported English hound Cottesmore Baffle, Lilla and Jerry pointed out some of the finer points of hound conformation: does his left paw turn in slightly or does it not? These are the kinds of details that an experienced judge will be focusing on, especially when presented with a ring full of uniformly high-quality hounds like those at the Virginia Hound Show. Lilla and Jerry also provided a lot of insight into the art of showing hounds effectively. There are strategies a huntsman can use to, as the song goes, accentuate the positive and “lowlight” the negative in a hound’s conformation, and a hound’s own personality can also make showing him easier or harder. A shy hound, for example, is difficult to show and is far less likely to earn a good mark than a more exuberant one who appears enthusiastic in the ring. More on showring strategy later this week, including a lesson we can take from hound-show training and apply to better behavior in our house dogs! Except probably for Harry the charming villain.

In addition to discussing hound conformation, Jerry also touched on some of the history of modern hound breeding, specifically how the size of English hounds has changed somewhat over the decades. He also talked a little about the differences between chasing fox and chasing coyote, effectively a change of the working foxhound’s job description. To hear a short clip on those topics, see the video below.

The Virginia Hound Show is coming up on May 30, and we’ll keep you posted on the hounds and their training between now and then!

MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.

They sang along the creek (with video)

The Iroquois hounds, seen here with whipper-in Elizabeth Playforth, met Saturday at Boone Valley

IT wasn’t the best scenting day last Saturday, but the hounds got their run. And if you love to hear hounds’ voices in beautiful countryside, it was a glorious day to be out.

Huntsman Lilla Mason is currently on crutches after a riding injury, so the horn has passed to her mentor, joint-Master Jerry Miller. Saturday’s hounds were the bitch pack of twelve-and-a-half couple, and, after time away from hunting due to deer-hunting season, they were ready to get back to work.

“We’ve got to get them out of the kennel,” Master Miller explained to the field at the meet.

The challenge for Miller–as for anyone stepping in for an injured huntsman–was to “get the hounds’ eyes” and attention on him. In short, the recognize that he was in fact the day’s huntsman, even though he is not the person they generally see carrying the horn.

A quick switch in huntsmen can confuse a pack, and some hounds can be openly skeptical of the “new” huntsman’s authority. The story Clear Creek Beagles whipper-in Jean MacLean told us over the summer about her first experience walking the beagle pack is a perfect example of that!

Jerry had already hunted the dog pack in Lilla’s absence once before deer season, and their first inclination, on getting out of the hound trailer, was to search for Lilla. Simply handing over the horn doesn’t mean the hounds follow automatically. After months, even years, of close training and work with one huntsman, that switch is rarely easy.

“There’s no question that the hounds develop a close personal bond with their huntsman,” Jerry said.

That bond is so close that Lilla is careful not to let the hounds hear her voice while she’s car-following, because it would likely be a major distraction to them.

On Saturday, Jerry explained to the field and whippers-in that he would take the bitch pack to a fairly distant covert, Boyd’s Bottom, for their first draw. It takes about 20 minutes to get from the meet at Boone Valley to Boyd’s Bottom, and Jerry wanted to take that time to let them hounds get familiar with him as huntsman.

“That was the first time I’d hunted the bitches,” Jerry said later. “They’d had the loss of Lilla and then deer-hunting season, so they hadn’t been out for about a week and a half. Now they’re going out with someone strange to them. Even though I know them, they don’t know me. They’re only used to me walking with them. So I took them three or four fields south, and along the way, I kept calling each of their names and making them look at me.

“That sounds like it’s simple, but Lilla can tell you: you can call some of their names, and sometimes, like if they’re mad, they’re not going to look up at you. Some will look up immediately, especially the ones that we got from England, because Lilla hasn’t hunted them many times yet, and they’re used to a man’s voice.

“When we crossed the creek in David Estill’s going towards Boyd’s Bottom, they finally paid attention to me. I could stop and tell one to ‘bike,’ to come back in to me, and they did that. I couldn’t believe it. Why they all of a sudden decided to listen to me, I don’t know, but they did.”

The process of getting the hounds to “connect up” with a new huntsman can be slow, Jerry says, especially when the former huntsman has–as in Lilla’s case–been working closely with the hounds during all their early training and summer work.

“They do respond to me, because I say their names often,” Jerry said. “I did that all day long, saying individual hounds’ names so they could identify with me. But they got all their basics in the summer from Lilla. She knows all about them, and they know her.”

Lilla’s mount Saturday was our car Brabinger, a blue Hyundai Tucson that, while not yet schooled to jump, is a pretty good hilltopper. Plus, he has cup-holders.

(Off topic: Brabinger is named after the unflappable butler from one of our favorite comedy series, “To The Manor Born.” Our other car, the elderly but still very game Jeeves, is named after the wise valet in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. Highly recommended, as is the BBC television series starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves.)

Car-following has some advantages (see “cup-holders,” above). Your car is unlikely to spook. You can stay pretty comfortable and get a decent overview of the hunt. But it certainly does not compare to the wind-in-your-hair excitement of galloping cross country behind the hounds and the close-up view of good hound work. From our hillside, we couldn’t see the hounds when they struck off on a coyote line and ran along the tree-lined creek below us, but we could hear their spine-tingling cry as it echoed upward towards us.

We now know we missed quite a scene: coyote and hounds swam the creek and the run continued on the south bank. The coyote ran through a field of cattle, jumped a coop, circled back to Boyd’s Bottom, and generally gave the bitch pack plenty of exercise.

On Sunday, we tried the car-following again (this time in a truck), always being careful to stick to solid ground and roadways in order not to cause damage. Sunday’s hounds were the dog pack, consisting of eight couple. Again, the scenting was less than ideal in the warming afternoon, and there were only brief moments when hounds spoke and had a little run. Nonetheless, we had excellent views of the hounds and of the field, as shown below. You’ll spot Paper in an exuberant mood, woolly Sassoon, red-and-white Samson, and the enormous Hawkeye, the latter two among our most recent English imports. At the end of the video, as we’re returning to the meet, Gaelic stops by to say hello to Lilla.

The time off from deer season can make a significant difference to a pack, Jerry explained. Going into the two-week break while the deer-hunters are out, the pack was fit from cubbing. The sudden slowdown in activity can frustrate hounds, and when they do get back to work again, the conditions have changed.

“By the time you get them back out, scenting has completely changed,” Jerry explained. “The deer have gone into rut, the grass is starting to lose a lot of its smells, the leaves are starting to fall, and everything in those coverts is different. That can be a big setback, when you go from full covert to now where the leaves are falling off the trees, it changes everything. I would think it makes scenting better, but it’s the idea that they’ve got to sort it all out.”

These days, the hounds have more new information than usual to sort through: the new scents of late autumn, the changes in coverts, and, for now, a new huntsman. So far, so good.

A Pupdate: pack manners, playmates, and the kennel staff’s view of hound politics

Paper & Co.

Paper & Co. in a playful mood on Saturday afternoon

FOXHUNTING is on hiatus for now while the deer hunters are abroad in the countryside, and that gave us a chance to check in at the Iroquois kennels to see how the puppies are doing.

Paper, of course, has been out hunting now and is gradually maturing into an adult pack member. He’s had important lessons all summer and fall, and now the real education starts on the hunt field. There, he has to confront new situations and work professionally with the hunting pack. I guess to put it in human terms, he’s getting his university degree, and by next year he should be a full-time contributing member of the working world.

But what about our youngest puppies, Baffle’s litter and Dragonfly’s huge son Driver? They’re still in elementary school, but the lessons they’re learning now are critical to their future development.

These puppies were born in the spring, and for the last couple of months they’ve been getting their first exposure to working in a group, to pack manners, and to coming when called, Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards explained to us on Saturday.

Baffle's puppies in exercise field

Room to roam: all the hounds--puppies, current working pack members, and retirees--get plenty of free exercise in the two-acre field adjacent to the kennel

After breakfast each day, the 10 young puppies spend about three hours out in the kennel’s two-acre exercise field, one of the best tools the Iroquois staff has for the young hounds’ education.

“They stay out here while we’re getting stuff done in the kennel, and they play and play,” Michael said. “I try to get them out twice a day, once at the end of the day, too, so that they get four to five hours outside.

“Right now, the girls in this litter seem a little more rebellious than the boys,” Michael said of Baffle’s puppies. “The two bigger girls, Bangle and Bandstand, they’ll be the ones that won’t want to go in their kennel. But they’re all very lovable and want attention all the time.”

Assistant kennel manager Alan Foy (seen in the photo above with Baffle’s puppies) has also been working with the youngsters to start developing their sense of pack identity and cooperation.

“Alan’s been taking them out back here, just trying to teach them to stick together and respond when he calls them, and they’ve done really well at that,” Michael said, adding that it’s too early for most of the puppies to have learned their individual names yet. The kennel staff is trying to learn the puppies’ names, too! Many of them look so similar it can be hard to distinguish them, with a few exceptions. Bagshot is the woolly male of the litter; Bashful and Banknote are easy to pick out because they are the two smallest; and Driver, well, he’ll always stand out in a crowd due to his size and dark coloring.

Driver puppy picture 07-2009

Driver back in July.

Driver 11-14-09

Driver today with kennel manager Michael Edwards. A VERY big difference!

“Driver is the biggest baby out here,” Michael said, meaning both the biggest baby and the biggest baby. Recently, Michael set a five-gallon bucket out in the kennel yard, spooking Driver.

“He would not come out here on this concrete while that bucket was sitting there,” Michael said. “I had to get it and move it all the way out by the far gate before he would even come in here, and even then he came in looking at it real carefully. So we’re going to do something we did that worked well with the ST litter (Stam, Stax, Star, Stanza, etc., born in 2007). We’re going to put a windsock in their kennel, something that’s moving all the time so they get used to it. It made a big difference with them.”

In addition to their mini-houndwalks around the property, the puppies also have ventured farther afield with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason. On those, they rode in the hound truck to the old point-to-point course, the same place the older hounds have their early summer walks and pond exercise. Like the older hounds, the puppies got to practice sticking together in a wide open space–their first formal exposure to that critical lesson in the company of the people who will actually hunt them someday.

“All that is important,” Michael said, “because they’re learning how to be a pack.”

The hunt and kennel staff have found it’s useful to start building the pack sense early with puppies.

“With the PA litter (including Panda, Parish, Parody, etc., born in 2005), Lilla and I would take them all through the area together,” Michael said. “By the time we incorporated them into the pack, they already had an idea what was going on, so they just blended right in.”

The puppies don’t yet have the attention span of the older hounds, but already they are focusing on people when they are out on walk, said Alan.

Baffle's pups Nov. 14, 2009

Baffle's litter, shown here with Michael, seem all grown up at seven months of age, but their lessons are just beginning. "I'd say they're like teenagers now," kennel manager Michael Edwards says. "They're just kind of lanky, but they're getting well-balanced."

In the case of Baffle’s puppies, it helps that they are part of a nine-hound litter–a ready-made pack, in a way. For Driver, a singleton, it was especially important that he learn group dynamics as early as possible.

“He lets the little girls chew on his ears,” Alan said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy. But he’s fit in really well. I agree with Michael that he’s a little passive in the group, but I think it’s because when we first mixed him in with the other puppies he was so much bigger than they were. Now, he’s not quite as much bigger. Barwick and Backfire are getting pretty close to him in size. I think he knew he was bigger and couldn’t play as rough.”

“That all started when they were all at the lower kennel,” Michael said. “He was so much bigger at first that I monitored him closely. If he would be rough, I’d kind of get on him about it and growl at him.”

That lesson seems to have stuck. As Driver romped around with Baffle’s puppies, he was a perfect gentleman with his smaller playmates.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get him in with a group early was because an only child can sometimes have some trouble integrating,” Michael said. “When they’re on their own too long, I think they don’t get socialized with the pack. They don’t learn pack manners and how to respect other hounds. That’s why it was important to get Driver in with the other puppies as soon as we could, especially as big as he is. The longer we waited, the harder it would have been for him to understand that he is part of a pack.”

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

Baffle's litter in April.

“They learn how to be hounds from each other,” Alan said.

The next step, Michael said, is to start occasionally introducing older hounds to the puppies. Paper was one candidate, but evidently he felt pretty strongly that, having moved up with the big dogs in the pack, he was now too important to deal with the little kids anymore.

“He didn’t want any part of those puppies,” Michael said. “He jumped up on top of a bench and growled about it. I thought, being as young as he was, he’d adjust to it pretty quickly, but no, thank you. On the other hand, Panda went out there with them and loved it.”

“She educated them,” Alan said. “She didn’t get aggressive with them, but she let them know when they went too far and she let them know she didn’t want all of them piling on her at once. If they did that, she’d run away and hop up on the bench, and they couldn’t get up there with her. Then she’d wait until they scattered. Then she’d jump down again and play with one or two of them until all of them would pile on her again. She trained them in her way, which was very gentle.”

“Introducing older hounds to them out in that paddock is where I think they really start to learn about having manners toward other hounds,” said Michael. “I think they learn a lot out here in this field with each other, just about how to be a pack. Look at these guys out here right now. They’ve been running and playing for almost an hour. They’ll play to the point that somebody gets a little grumpy and growls, and then they’ll stop. These guys will say, ‘That’s enough,’ and it doesn’t escalate. Then they’ll play again.”

“Nobody knows more about being a hound dog than a hound dog,” Alan said. “We can let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. But those hounds know even better how to tell each other what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they know how to tell each other how far it can go before something becomes unacceptable. You’ll see them do it on houndwalk. A puppy will go off from the group and do something goofy, and when they come back, and older hound will growl at them to chastise them. Glog is really good at chastising the younger hounds on houndwalk when they do something wrong. He gives them a little scolding, like he’s saying, ‘That’s not how we act around here.’”

Paper at play 11-14-09

Paper (right) at play. Playing is an important part of learning.

While we were at the kennel, we checked in on the new English hounds, too. Cottesmore’s Samson, Strawberry, Structure, and Hawkeye arrived about three weeks ago and are adjusting well, Michael and Alan report. Like the puppies, they are having to learn their place in a new pack, and Michael and Alan are working to figure out which clique within the pack works best for them.

“I think a lot of their ability to adjust easily has to do with Neil,” Michael said, referring to the Cottesmore huntsman, Neil Coleman, who raised and hunted the four in England.

“Look at Samson over here,” Michael said, pointing to the group just turned out in the two-acre field. “He’s in there with all those males. They’re all at the age where they’re trying to show who’s top dog: Paper, Gaelic, Hailstone. But Samson’s the type you could probably stick him in any group and he’d adjust. Because he’s not aggressive. That has a lot to do with the way Neil has raised them. And the others are the same way.”

Samson and friends

Cottesmore Samson, the red-and-white hound closest to Michael here, has settled in well. Michael and Alan report that he is easygoing and adaptable.

Structure, Hawkeye, and Strawberry are kenneled in a run with the SA litter that includes Sassoon, Savvy, and Saracen. “They’re pretty easygoing, too,” Michael said.

One of the most important jobs Michael and Alan do is figure out which group of hounds should be kenneled together. Getting the mix right requires some experimentation, but it’s key to the hounds’ physical and mental wellbeing; getting it wrong could result in dangerous friction in the kennel.

“When I brought the English hounds up from the lower kennel (near Michael’s house, where they were quarantined before joining the rest of the pack at the upper kennel), I just started sticking them out in the field with different groups to see how they responded to each other. When they’re outside together with a lot of room, they’re more interested in what’s going on around them than they are in each other, and you can keep an eye on them. I stuck them in with the SAs and never had any issues with them, so that looks like a good fit.”

The process–the two-acre turnout paddock and essentially letting the hounds choose the clique they’re most comfortable with–is unusual, as the English imports let Michael and Alan know.

“When we first turned them out, they all just stood at the gate looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?’” Michael recalled. “But after a few minutes, they sort of went, ‘Hey, look at all this room! Let’s run!’”

Once the hounds have chosen their own group of friends, how do you get each set to merge comfortably with the pack? “We turn different groups out together,” Michael explained. “There are only a few groups that have a little trouble mixing closely, and you have to know all that, especially when you are loading them up in the trailer to take them to a meet. For instance, we can keep some hounds in the back of the hound truck instead of in the trailer if we need to.”

It’s also critical to know who the dominant dog is at any given time, Michael said. At the moment, it’s Alvin.

“Stalker was the big dog before we retired him,” Michael said. Stalker, one of our most beloved hounds, is now retired under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. You can read his story here. But now that he’s retired, he spends more time in the kennel office, where he can relax and keep warm, and suddenly he’s a mellow retiree.

“Showing his dominance doesn’t seem to concern him so much now,” Michael said. “I guess he’s old enough to realize he’s got it made in there!”