Bedtime Stories: Siegfried Sassoon

Trudy asleep

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

“Ringwell cubbing days are among my happiest memories. Those mornings now reappear in my mind, lively and freshly painted by the sunshine of an autumn which made amends for the rainy weeks which had washed away the summer. Four days a week we were up before daylight. I had heard the snoring stable-hands roll out of bed with yawns and grumblings, and they were out and about before the reticent Henry came into my room with a candle and a jug of warm water. (How Henry managed to get up was a mystery.) Any old clothes were good enough for cubbing, and I was very soon downstairs in the stuffy little living room, where Denis had an apparatus for boiling eggs. While they were bubbling he put the cocoa-powder in the cups, two careful spoonfuls each, and not a grain more. A third spoonful was unthinkable.

“Not many minutes afterwards we were out by the range of loose-boxes under the rustling trees, with quiet stars overhead and scarcely a hint of morning. In the kennels the two packs were baying at one another from their separate yards, and as soon as Denis had gotten his horse from the gruff white-coated head-groom, a gate released the hounds–twenty-five or thirty couple of them, and all very much on their toes. Out they streamed like a flood of water, throwing their tongues and spreading away in all directions with waving sterns, as though they had never been out in the world before. Even then I used to feel the strangeness of the scene with its sharp exuberance of unkennelled energy. Will’s hearty voice and the crack of his whip stood out above the clamour and commotion which surged around Denis and his horse. Then, without any apparent lull or interruption, the whirl-pool became a well-regulated torrent flowing through the gate-way into the road, along which the sound of hooves receded with a purposeful clip-clopping. Whereupon I hoisted myself onto an unknown horse–usually an excited one–and set off higgledy-piggledy along the road to catch them up. Sometimes we had as many as twelve miles to go, but more often we were at the meet in less than an hour.”

From Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon (1928)

“There’s nowt so queer as scent”

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

As Mr. Jorrocks said in Handley Cross. Jorrocks ended this pronouncement by adding,” ‘cept a woman.” But I think I’d end it differently: “There’s nowt so queer as scent, ‘cept what we’ll do to try to understand it.” More of that in a moment.

“Oh, that weary scent!” exclaimed Mr. Jorrocks, “that weary, incomprehensible, incontrollable phenomenon! ‘Constant only in its inconstancy!’ as the hable hauthor of the noble science well said.”

Indeed. Everyone knows what scent is, by definition: it’s an odor, or “an odor left in passing, by means of which an animal or person may be traced,” according to But it’s almost impossible to get a precise understanding of how scent behaves, though many have tried. How, exactly, does something generate a smell, what carries the scent, and how does a hound’s nose capture the odor? The jury is out on that, apparently. There are two basic theories of how smells work that are competing for subscribers. One says that molecules’ shapes and how those shapes fit with sensors are what give something a distinctive scent; the other says that the particular vibrations of molecules are what does it. We do know that hounds, like dogs generally, have large olfactory lobes in their brains, meaning that scent and the ability to detect it is important to them and they are highly attuned to it. No one understands that better than the people who handle working hound packs, whether beagle, basset, or foxhound, as well as the people who work with bloodhounds.

And yet we still know so little about the thing that is at the very center of our sport: scent and the ability to track it. There have been many attempts to understand and measure scent, to unravel the effects of temperature, geography, moisture, and wind on its behavior, and these efforts have driven scientists, huntsmen, and curious amateurs to some peculiar (and highly entertaining) experiments. One book by Milo Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen noted that “experiments have shown that a person traveling above the ground when suspended from a cable trolley could not be tracked by dogs.” (More importantly, what did the neighbors think?)

If that were not alarming enough, consider the next phase, in which Pearsall and Verbruggen tested the importance of human skin flakes to a hound’s ability to track a person: “A person dressed in full surgical gear, wearing total body isolation garments, laid track for a dog who had successfully tracked that person several times. The result: the dog showed no interest at the starting flag, nor anywhere else even when led on lead. When the person removed hood and mask, the dogs easily could follow a fresh track … When the person’s boots were cut off but while he wore the hood and mask, the dog easily followed both a fresh and aged track.”

On the other hand, responding to that experiment’s conclusion, one Lieutenant Weldon Wood wrote an essay for the National Police Bloodhound Association Book and asked, “If this is true, then how is it explained that a dog has followed the trail of a person on a bicycle or in an open car?”

Good question, Lt. Wood, and we still have no idea, despite decades upon decades of study.

Happily for trackers of hare, cottontail, fox, coyote, and the like, game doesn’t wear “total body isolation garments,” although there are times when scenting conditions are so poor it seems as if the quarry is. Scent and its operation on the canine nose are mysteries, but the more pressing mystery, from a huntsman’s point of view, is why scent is so changeable and how conditions of land and weather can change its behavior. Here again, ceaseless study has not led us very far. It is generally understood that hot weather and sunlight are bad for scenting, but there are myriad theories as to why this might be true.

The English Master of Fox Hounds H. M. Budgett wrote a classic text, Hunting by Scent, in 1933 that amply illustrates the lengths hunters were driven to in their fervor to get a grip on scent. Budgett employed a pair of magnificent bloodhounds, Ledburn Baal and Hopeful of Hambrook, to help him test his theory that what hounds actually track are particles and oils left behind by the quarry (human or animal) touching the ground ahead of the hound and laying a scent trail directly on the grass or soil, not by the mere whiff of air over the body as it moved past. He was ferociously thorough. He used runners on glass-capped stilts, runners in tall wooden sandals, runners clad in riding boots and rain gear secured with rubber bands to prevent any particle from flying loose to make even the fragment of a trail, convinced that if the man did not contact the ground, the hound would not track him (more or less what Pearsall and Verbruggen had found). But it didn’t always work out that way.

“Even when these precautions were taken the bloodhound picked out the trail with perfect ease, and appeared to have learnt by experience how to follow the scent left by the stilts and foot-boards,” Budgett reported in some frustration. “I must confess that at this point my faith was badly shaken. I had hitherto felt convinced that  the ‘body scent’ theory would prove to be fallacious, and that scent tracks would be found solely to consist of particles of matter left by the contact of the quarry. It now appeared, however, that I had been mistaken, as it seemed impossible for any odorous particles to be deposited on the ground from the carefully washed glass bottles on which the stilts were mounted. My family marvelled at the obstinacy with which I stuck to my convictions; they suggested that I should give up the unequal struggle and accept the opinion of others having a wider experience of bloodhound tracking than myself.”

I don’t think I blame them.

Budgett, however, didn’t stop his inquiries, and the subheadings of a couple of chapters in Hunting by Scent will sound very familiar to hunters who have asked the same questions, and devloped their own theories based on their own experiences, about what variables affect scenting on a hunt day–and why. The subheads outline every hunter’s quest for understanding: “Conditions under which scent is good or bad. Direction of air currents on which scent is carried. Relative temperatures of air and ground. Examples. Effect of sun. High wind. Woodlands. Ploughland. Snow and frost. Hound’s knowledge of scent conditions. Meterological considerations. Forecasts of scenting conditions. Effects of moisture in the ground and in the air. The use of smoke to determine movements of air currents. Experiments with anemometer fan and spider’s web. Valuable results obtained with this delicate apparatus. Reasons for its abandonment. Electrical scent instruments. Walking-stick scent indicators.”

If that reads like a cross between Merlin’s lab book and the diary of a man slowly going insane, well, probably there are many huntsmen who feel a little like both as they try to parse the scenting and the weather and then determine where to cast their hounds.

Puppy Show! Behind the scenes at the Berkeley Hunt

The Berkeley Hunt, one of England's most renowned packs. The Masters and hunt staff wear yellow coats with green collars, which represent the indoor and outdoor liveries of the Berkeley family.

The Berkeley Hunt, one of England's most renowned packs. The Masters and hunt staff wear yellow coats with green collars, which represent the historic indoor and outdoor liveries of the Berkeley family. Photo courtesy of Sarah Jones and the Berkeley Hunt.

Hunt season might not start until the fall, but midsummer is plenty busy for working foxhound packs. One highlight of the season: the annual puppy show, when hunts parade their new entry for judges and local landowners, taking the occasion to thank the puppy-walkers who have helped raise those hounds in their own homes before returning them to the kennels for hunt training.

We’ve found an excellent depiction both of puppy-walking and the puppy show tradition in England, thanks to Great Britain’s wonderful Horse and Country television channel.

VIDEO LINK: For the moment, we’re having trouble embedding the video directly here, but until we solve that issue you can easily view the episode at Note that there is a short ad for Horse and Country at the beginning, which might make you think you’ve gotten the wrong show. You haven’t!

Horse and Country has been following activities at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, home of the Berkeley Hunt, in a series of documentaries. The Berkeley’s pack is one of the best in the world and is England’s oldest, dating back to the 12th century. Much of Horse and Country’s documentary series on Berkeley Castle deals with the estate’s care, daily life, and renovations, but the pack gets some good airtime! Episode Five covers the puppy-walkers and the puppy show in good detail and offers lots of beautiful scenery–both canine and countryside–to boot.

The Berkeley hounds today hark back to the oldest bloodlines in England, as described at the hunt’s website:

There are 6 main male lines in existence, 4 of which can be found in the Berkeley kennel. The 6 main roots are Mr Meynall’s Stormer 1791, The Earl of Yarborough’s Bumper 1743, Lord Darlington’s Benedict 1812, Glog Nimrod 1904, The Earl of Scarborough’s Saladin 1830 and Geilligaer Topper 1916. In the Foxhound world most will have heard of the celebrated Tiverton Actor 1922. He is a descendant of The Earl of Yarborough’s Bumper 1743 whose line is the oldest in the Foxhound Kennel studbook. Berkeley is full of Actor blood going back through Duke of Beaufort Ardent 1930. This line is a great example of how careful line breeding can produce superlative progeny with plenty of drive and longevity.

With such a long history, it’s no surprise the Berkeley family has some colorful characters. One who has left behind some fun sporting stories is the Hon. George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, youngest son of the 5th Earl of Berkeley. He resided for much of his hunting career in Buckinghamshire, where he hunted both stag and fox. He was also, as one biographer put it, “a well-known if somewhat eccentric member of society.” Grantley Berkeley’s mode of dress alone, which Herbert Maxwell called “a coarser kind of buckish coxcombry,” was attention-grabbing: “He delighted in wearing  at the same time two or three different-colored satin under-waistcoats, and round his throat three or four gaudy silk neckerchiefs, held together by passing the ends of them through a gold ring.”

However odd his wardrobe, Berkeley knew hounds. In 1854, he published Reminiscences of a Huntsman, chock full of amazing stories from the hunt field. An example from his stag-hunting adventures:

The chase … frequently ended in mansions, cottages, or barns, and I cannot help but saying that, in almost every instance, I met with the greatest good nature. On one of these occasions we ran up to the entrance of a gentleman’s kitchen, in the rear of his premises, and the hounds bayed at the closed door. Heads of domestics through the pantry window informed me that the stag was in the house, and that they would admit me ‘if I would keep the dogs out, as the children were afraid of them.’ The door being opened and closed carefully behind me, I went in, ushered by a butler, and peeped at by many maids; and, on asking where the stag was, the butler replied that he had been in all the lower offices, and when he last saw him he was going up the drawing-room stairs. … The butler introduced me to the drawing-room, but neither master nor stag were in it, when at that moment a door at the other end opened, and the owner of the house came in, under visible though suppressed excitement. I began all sorts of apologies, as usual, and for a moment the gentleman was civil enough. But on my asking where the stag was, all restraint gave way, and in a fury he replied, ‘Your stag, sir, not content with walking through every office, has been here, sir, here in my drawing-room, sir, whence he proceeded upstairs to the nursery, and, damn me, sir, he’s now in Mrs. ——-‘s boudoir!'”

Grantley Berkeley formed his own first pack at the age of 30 in the Bedfordshire country by receiving older hounds drafted from notable hunts. One of his favorite early hounds was Stamford, whose provenance he couldn’t quite remember by the time he wrote of him many years later: “Old Stamford’s soft and prolonged note, when he found a fox, sweeps by my ear now: and often and often had I to cheer the young ones to him throughout my first fox-hunting season. What he must have been in his youth … I can easily guess; and if these pages meet the eye of the gentleman who bred him, he will accept this tribute to the memory of as gallant, as sensible, and as attached and faithful a hound as ever killed a fox.  … I shall never forget how proud that old hound was when he found I petted him, and that he was still to be treated with all the ceremony and usages of a well-ordered foxhound kennel. And when we began cub-hunting, his alert dignity and industry was so great that he still more won my heart.”

This respect for a hound’s work ethic is key to the breeding  today at the Berkeley Hunt, which says “looks come second to performance, for a good-looking hound is nothing if it cannot hunt.”

For more information about the Berkeley Hunt and its hounds, view the hunt’s history page, which details both the hunt’s background and its breeding philosophy.

Guest blogger: Lord Henry Bentinck

Lord Henry Bentinck: Legendary 19th century hound man and Master of Fox Hounds

Lord Henry Bentinck: Legendary 19th century hound man and Master of Fox Hounds

Okay, okay–Lord Henry Bentinck, MFH of the Rufford and then the Burton hunts in England, actually died in 1870.

But he can still post here, thanks to the written words he left behind in “The Late Lord Henry Bentinck on Foxhounds: Goodall’s Practice.” (Hey, if the man can be published beyond the grave, he can certainly blog)
The Goodall that Bentinck refers to is William Goodall, who hunted the Belvoir hounds in England for 17 years before his death in 1859 as the result of a riding accident.
The grandson of another well-known huntsman, Stephen Goodall, William Goodall had started his hunting career at age 11 as a second horseman and began carrying the horn at the Belvoir when he was just 25. He was widely admired for his natural ability with hounds, and there is no doubt he was devoted to his work with them.  In 1849, the author of the sporting guidebook The Hounds of England observed, “William Goodall is, perhaps, one of the hardest-working men alive. After hunting on Monday–no matter at what hour he returns–he feeds his hounds, and then has to ride to the kennels at Ropsley, a distance of fourteen miles. Here he hunts on Tuesday, feeds, and hacks it back to the Belvoir kennels; then hunts on Wednesday. On Thursday he travels with the hounds to Ropsley; hunts on Friday, and back again to Belvoir that night, where he hunts on Saturday.”
Bentinck greatly admired Goodall’s method of handling hounds. Shortly after his 1863 retirement from the Burton mastership, Bentinck, stuck indoors during a blizzard, felt moved to write a letter to the pack’s new Master, Henry Chaplin, extolling the virtues of “Goodall’s practice.”  Inspired by the lengthy letter’s wisdom, Chaplin published it privately and then, after Bentinck’s death, publicly.
Here, then, are some of Bentinck’s words about Goodall’s relationship with his hounds, one that Bentinck and many others in hunting’s heyday held up as ideal.
“In handling his Hounds in the open, with a Fox before him, he never had them rated or driven to him by his whips; never hallooed them from a distance. When he wanted them he invariably went himself to fetch them, anxiously watching the moment that the Hounds had done trying for themselves and felt the want of him. He then galloped straight up to their heads, caught hold of them, and cast them in a body a hundred yards from his front, every Hound busy before him with his nose snuffing the ground, his hackles up, his stern curled over his back, each Hound relying on himself and believing in each other. When cast in this way, the huntsman learns the exact value of each Hound, while the young Hounds learn what old Hounds too believe in and fly to, and when the scent is taken up no Hound is disappointed. When the huntsman trails his Hounds behind him, four-fifths of his best Hounds will be staring at his horse’s tail, doing nothing.
“The Hounds came to have such confidence in Goodall that with a burning scent he would cast them in this way at a hand gallop, all the Hounds in his front making every inch of ground good; while with a poor scent he would do it in a walk, regulating his pace by the quality of the scent; the worse the scent, the more time the Hounds want to puzzle it out.
“On this system, the Hounds are got to the required spot in the very shortest time, with every Hound busily at work, and with his nose tied to the ground.
Foxhunting in England, 1906
“On the opposite vulgar plan, the huntsman galloping off to his Fox, hallooing his Hounds from a distance, his noise drives the Hounds in the first instance to flash wildly in the opposite direction; four or five minutes are lost before the whip can come up and get to their heads, then they are flogged up to their huntsman, the Hounds driving along with their heads up, their eyes staring at their huntsman’s horse’s tail, looking to their huntsman for help, disgusted, and not relying upon themselves, especially the best and most sagacious Hounds.
“A few minutes are lost before the best Hounds will put their noses down and begin to feel for the scent, a second check becomes fatal, and the Fox is irretrievably lost. Often enough, in being whipped up to their huntsman in this way, when crossing the line of the Fox with their heads up, they first catch his wind, and then, as a matter of course, they must take the scent heelways, the Fox as a rule running down the wind. This fatal piece of bungling–so injurious to Hounds–is always entirely owing to the huntsman; it is neither the fault of the whips nor the Hounds; it can never occur when the huntsman moves his Hounds in front with their noses down. …
“Goodall’s chief aim was to get to the hearts of his Hounds. He considered Hounds should be treated like women; that they would not bear to be bullied, to be deceived, or neglected with impunity. For this end, he would not meddle with them in their casts until they had done trying for themselves, and felt the want of him; he paid them the compliment of going to fetch them; he never deceived or neglected them; he was continually cheering and making much of his Hounds; if he was compelled to disappoint them by roughly stopping them off a suckling vixen or dying Fox at dark, you would see him as soon as he had got them stopped, jump off his horse, get into the middle of his pack, and spend ten minutes in making friends with them again. The result was that the Hounds were never happy without him, and when lost would drive up through any crowd of horsemen to get to him again, and it was very rare for a single Hound to be left out.”
Lord Henry Bentinck's Foxhounds, by his son Lord Charles Bentinck

Lord Henry Bentinck's Foxhounds, by his son Lord Charles Bentinck

As Lord Henry Bentinck’s son Charles later wrote in his book Lord Henry Bentinck’s Foxhounds: “A huntsman may never actually make a tactical mistake in the way he draws his coverts, makes his casts, etc., etc., but without sympathy between himself and his hounds he will never make the mythical ‘Heaven Born’ or even a good huntsman.”
You can read more about Lord Henry Bentinck’s thoughts on “Goodall’s practice,” as his letter to Chaplin is often called, online. There are several free copies available on the internet, including a scan of the published booklet at
The full text, including the introduction by Viscount Henry Chaplin, is available (with a few typos, but still very readable) at

Hound’s Life: In Dog We Trust

Much of hound training and exercise is about developing mutual trust between huntsman and pack

Much of hound training and exercise is about developing mutual trust between huntsman and pack

We’ve been blessed with cooler temperatures recently. Good news: it feels much better, and less sweat gets in your eyes as you walk up hill and down dale with the hounds. On the other hand, cooler weather makes for a real test of control, because it makes the scenting better. That means the hounds are more likely to pick up the trail of a coyote who passed through their exercise field overnight–and it’s very tempting to follow that trail.

You might think controlling a pack of hounds is a function of force, but it isn’t. It’s more about the huntsman knowing his hounds, their habits and personalities; out-thinking them when necessary; and, probably hardest of all, having a level of trust between huntsman and hounds. If your hounds trust you, they’re more likely to follow your instructions than if they’re merely intimidated by you.

The huntsman really is the leader of the pack, but it takes time and effort to establish the kind of communication that makes for the most effective leadership. Summer hound walk is key to that, because it gives huntsman and hounds a chance to work in the open as a team–the members of the pack with each other and the pack together with the huntsman.

On a recent hound walk with 12 couple of hounds, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason’s “lesson plan” for the morning was to keep the hounds’ attention closely focused on her and encourage a quick reponse to her orders. As you might expect, any huntsman’s lessons might not always go as planned when 24 hounds trot through pastures filled with the alluring scents of nature and livestock; there are many variables in walking, as in hunting, and those too inspire lessons! But this walk goes much as expected, despite the cooler, gray morning.

The first thing Mason does is to look the hounds over carefully as they spill out of their double-decker hound trailer for their walk. She has been gone for 10 days on a rare vacation, and she’s seeing the hounds again with a fresh eye for subtle changes. One she spots immediately: Alice has emerged from the hound trailer looking slightly “spooky,” as Mason puts it. Her tail is down rather than up and perky, while her nose, which usually would be down to investigate smells, is up. Her ears are pressed slightly back against her head. These are small changes that an inexperienced visitor would easily miss as the hounds mill and bound around together, but to Mason it’s evidence that Alice probably has been intimidated by another hound in the trailer, although now that they are all out of the trailer and in the exercise field, the other hounds don’t appear to pay Alice any mind.

To brighten Alice up a bit, Mason quickly gives her some extra attention. She reaches into her vest pockets, which are filled with dog biscuits, and quietly calls Alice’s name. When Alice looks to her, Mason tosses a few brightly colored treats specifically at her, and Alice catches them expertly.  Alice’s day is looking up!

As Mason collects the hounds and moves off with them on foot, Alice’s tail already is rising, and her ears are forward. She’s back in the game. As the pack heads down a shaded dirt lane toward the cow pasture where they spend most of their walk, Lilla points her hunt whip in Alice’s direction. “She’s getting better now.” In fact, she already looks much better, striding out and sniffing the air, her confidence fully restored by the simple attention from her huntsman.

A Study in Stillness

Mason keeps the hounds in a fairly close group and is quick to speak up at the occasional hound who strays a little too far from the circle or pushes on a little too far ahead. The whippers-in are all but silent, a policy Mason prefers. A whipper-in, she feels, should not call a hound’s name unless it is absolutely necessary. Their silence helps the hounds focus more acutely on Mason and every word she says, reinforcing her bond with them by keeping her communication direct and uncluttered. To correct an errant hound when Mason is walking them, a whipper-in generally will walk toward it silently, extend a whip and perhaps drop the thong down to the ground from its usual position, curled like a lasso in the hand. If the whipper-in says anything, it will only be to quietly hiss “Psst!” or “Pfft!” or, at most, to say “Get back to her” quietly to the hound. Otherwise, the whippers-in, or whips, keep quiet as they walk. They will never hit a hound and almost never have occasion even to crack their whips.

Even their movements seem quiet and unfussy, with no excess motion, no waving and gesturing, no idle conversation, and no running except when the situation calls for it. This quietness in voice and movement is vitally important. The whippers-in are like extensions of a huntsman’s arms, eyes, and ears, spotting and turning any hound that the hunstman cannot see or reach. Otherwise, the whips should not do anything that might distract the hound’s attention from the huntsman and the business at hand.

“I need the whips to the side of me and behind me,” Mason explains, “never in my peripheral vision and not in front of me. You should never see a whip unless something is wrong. Have you seen Herman at all on this walk?”

No, I confess, turning reflexively to look for the whip in question. There he is, just outside of my vision, to our left and slightly behind us, striding noiselessly through the damp grass.  He is where he can see, and intercept if necessary, any hounds behind Mason that are out of her view.

“That’s what I mean,” Mason says with a smile.

Paper: from puppy to switched-on pack member

Paper: from puppy to switched-on pack member

The Education of Paper

As we walk along, Mason has noted another change in one of the hounds. Paper, a puppy who will join the hunting pack for the first time this fall, is noticeably more responsive today than he has been before. The light bulb is going on, and Paper is figuring out that he is part of a team that responds to a leader, rather than just a puppy out for a walk in a group. When he lopes ahead of the loose circle of hounds surrounding Mason, she calls to him. He stops, turns, and immediately bounces back to her, getting a biscuit for his trouble.  In earlier days, he was slower to turn and would look back blankly, maybe take a minute to consider whether he really wanted to leave whatever fun was calling him. The return now is automatic and happy.

At a pond,  Mason makes the hounds wait patiently in a group before letting them dash in for their swim. The old Paper was inclined to wander down to the waterline alone, completely unaware that the rest of the pack was sitting behind Mason for a reason and that he was sticking out like a sore dewclaw. But the new, switched-on Paper promptly sits down among his peers with a certain amount of pride, beaming at Mason along with the older hounds. He’s begun to glean that there’s  not just a pattern to the exercise, but there’s a point to it, too. He’s no longer just following the pack; he’s participating in it.

Mason lets them go with a “whoosh” said under her breath, in about the same tone you might use in a confessional. But the hounds have been listening for this faint signal, and they hear it and respond like an opening floodgate. With howls of delight, they rush past Mason and into the pond, disturbing a blue heron, who flies up and flaps across to the opposite shore, disgruntled.

Having plunged into the water, most of the hounds come right back out again. It’s chillier than usual, and they’re content to wade up to their knees or come back to Mason to ask for biscuits.

When a huntsman achieves the highest level of trust and understanding with his hounds, he is said to have "the golden thread" between himself and the pack.

When a huntsman achieves the highest level of trust and understanding with his hounds, he is said to have "the golden thread" between himself and the pack.

“You didn’t stay in very long this morning,” she says to the hounds gathered around her, tossing a biscuit at one of the smaller bitches. Jerry Miller, the Master who had been walking the hounds in her absence, tosses biscuits in a high arc, but Mason throws them like a major league baseman making a double play, fast and in a flat line direct to a hound’s mouth. Even this is a sort of exercise: they must pay very close attention to Mason. If she says their name, a biscuit will likely be fired in their direction in short order. Sometimes one heads their way with no verbal warning. All of this–her low voice, her fast pitches, her few words–draw the hounds’ attention closely to her and her alone. The hounds hang on every word, and, what’s more, they listen for the words rather than simply react to them. Their eyes on their huntsman are intense and keen.

A few biscuits do go astray, bouncing off a nose or richocheting off the snapping jaws of the intended target, and that causes three or four hounds in the area to pounce simultaenously wherever the biscuit lands. But there are only occasional growls over the spoils, a marked difference from my house, where a bit of dropped toast can spark a three-dog melee. In the Iroquois pack, the hound who missed his biscuit usually pops right back up again, steps a little closer to Mason this time, eyes fixed on her, and there you see a glimmer of the communication Mason is building between herself and the hounds: I trust, the hound is saying, that you will do right by me. She does. It’s a little gesture that creates, stitch by stitch, that vital bond between Mason and the hounds when it really counts: in the hunt field.

Paper’s Indiscretion

Leaving the edge of the pond, Mason heads up a grassy hillside. “I don’t like them to get too far out in front of me going up a hill,” she says after calling a few leading hounds by name and slowing them down, “because, if they do, you can lose sight of the first few before you reach the top of the hill, and they can get away from you that way.”

She stops the hounds frequently to teach them that when she stops, they must, too. Interestingly, she does this with her voice, her body, and the biscuits, but her hunting horn stays tucked between the second and third button of her shirt, unused. The other tools are enough.

“They’ve got to know that when I stop they need to,” she explains, “because if I’m out hunting and have no whips nearby to help me collect the hounds, the hounds have to know to stay with me even without a whip there reinforcing that.”

The huntsman is the leader of the pack, and, to lead effectively, must understand and communicate with the pack

The huntsman is the leader of the pack, and, to lead effectively, must understand and communicate with the pack

While we are stopped in the grass, Paper, who had been on the group’s leading edge, looks back in our direction. Suddenly, he turns and begins trotting purposefully past us, his eyes fixed interestedly on a point directly behind our left shoulders. We turn, too, and see what he’s spotted: a pair of black calves galloping away down the hill together. Paper, now past us, picks up speed and heads for a gap between Herman and another whip, Hagan. Instead of calling out to Paper, Mason turns quickly on her heel and walks briskly away from him, leaving him to the whips to collect. “Hey up!” she calls out brightly to the rest of the pack. “Come on!” She walks forward in double-quick time, and the other hounds turn away from Paoer, too, and join Mason in the walk, tails wagging merrily.

Paper’s indiscretion is therefore minimized, with little trouble and no fuss or yelling. The whips have intercepted him and blocked his path. He halts,  looks for a moment at the retreating calves, then runs back to the pack, which has moved on without him.

“If I had kept standing there and yelled, ‘Paper! Paper!’ then they’d have all turned and thought, ‘Oh, what’s going on down there with Paper?’ And they’d have wanted to go with him,” Mason explains. “You’re always having to outmaneuver that curiosity–their jealousy, really–over what some other hound has found, is doing, is smelling.

“You try to minimize new things so that the puppy gets the idea they’re really not a big deal, but you also have to understand that puppies do need to see things in order to learn to ignore them or work around them without getting distracted.”

“Let them hunt”

If the hounds must trust Mason enough to follow her communications to them, she must also trust and listen to them. It’s not always easy, she admits, because watching your pack take off in full cry, and then galloping after them yourself, is a leap of faith. Are they chasing what they are supposed to be chasing? Will they come back? Can they be stopped if necessary?

“It’s the hardest thing,” Mason says of letting yourself go, not overthinking, and trusting the hounds you’ve trained–especially at those moments when you’re out there alone with them in the country with no whips close enough to offer immediate aid.

Mason remembers one incident in particular. The pack was on the scent of a coyote, speaking as they ran the line. But suddenly they went silent

“They had lost the line,” Mason recalls. “They swirled around, but they didn’t speak. Then, collectively, they all ran by together, still not speaking but going somewhere with a purpose. It was confusing to see. They clearly had something in mind, but I was at a loss to know what it was.”

Having moved to a different place in the field on their own initiative, the hounds started speaking again and took off on a line.

A retired huntsman who had been watching from his car on a country road bordering the field had seen the pack before Mason had gotten up to them, and he told her what had happened. Two coyotes had been running ahead of the pack. They separated and ran in opposite directions when they reached the field, and the pack had lost the scent of the one they had been following. They tried briefly to regain that line, but then quickly made a single-minded decision: to turn back to the spot where the coyotes had split and follow the second coyote instead.

“It turned out that, as a pack, they had made a really wise decision,” Mason says. “Foxhounds hunt by scent, not by sight, and that means you have to have a lot of trust in them, because often you can’t see what they’re chasing. That day was a good lesson to just stay out of their way and let them do what they’re dying to do, what they’ve been bred for centuries and trained to do. Let them hunt.”

In the News: Service Dogs for Veterans

A Wall Street Journal article caught our eye this morning. It’s about dogs in service, helping veterans not only with physical injuries but also with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can affect many who have served in combat zones. Check out the article and accompanying video feature  for an interesting take on how these dogs change lives for the better–and in more ways than you might think, because their trainers, as well as the veterans the dogs go to, are benefitting from working with the animals.
The WSJ provides more evidence of what we already know: dogs ARE man's best friend!

The WSJ provides more evidence of what we already know: dogs ARE our best friends!

The video starts after a brief ad, and the feature lasts under four minutes, for those of you in a hurry!

Aside from the great story itself, what particularly struck us here at Full Cry was this part of the article:

Tuesday was eight weeks old when he and five siblings were turned over to Puppies Behind Bars, who moved them to New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility. The pup shared a cell with John Pucci, a convicted killer who assumed primary responsibility for molding Tuesday into a service dog.

“No one thought he would make it,” said Mr. Pucci, explaining that Tuesday would fall asleep in other prisoners’ laps as they watched television and would sometimes hide under Mr. Pucci’s bed and refuse to leave the cell. Inmates bet Mr. Pucci some cigarettes that Tuesday was too affectionate to be a service dog.

Mr. Pucci discovered that Tuesday loved the jail’s small inflatable pool and would run through commands perfectly if he was in the water. In nine months, Mr. Pucci taught Tuesday to respond to 82 commands geared mainly toward helping the physically disabled — turning on lights with his nose, retrieving food from shelves, helping load washing machines.

“I got released before I could collect the cigarettes,” said Mr. Pucci, 64 years old, who served 29 years and now lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he continues to train dogs.

The dog Tuesday’s transformation from problem child to solid citizen is one we’ve seen in working foxhounds, too. The philosophy at Iroquois Hunt  is that any hound, given enough time and training, can become a successful member of the pack. The key is to find out what makes the individual tick, then use that knowledge to train the hound. Not always easy, but always worth it, for hound and human both.

Puppy Love

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Springtime means puppies at the foxhound kennels.  We’ve got 10 puppies at Iroquois this year. The biggest by far is Driver, who is king of the kennel–or at least of the puppy pen! He’s out of Dragonfly, while the other nine pups are out of Baffle; both bitches are English, as are the puppies’ sires. Dragonfly hails from the North Cotswold, and her puppies are by the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07. Baffle is from the Cottesmore, and her puppies are by Cottesmore Stampede ’06.

It’s not clear quite yet which puppies will turn out to be “woollies,” with the distinctive wiry coats, but one thing is already obvious: they’re all awfully cute.

Puppies in the kennel July 2009

In hound breeding, a litter of puppies always get names beginning with the first two letters of their mother’s name. That’s how Dragonfly’s son got to be named Driver. Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller already has a list of BA names for Baffle’s puppies, but he and the kennel staff haven’t assigned all of the names yet as they wait to see which name suits which hound. A few already are settled. Bangle is a female with a light buff-colored heart shape on one shoulder. Bashful, another female, is the smallest hound in the litter and got her name partly because she likes to do her, er, business in private, as far away from the other puppies as she can get.  Two males, Banknote and Bagshot, have some black on them and the names just seemed to suit their striking looks. And a third male, Barwick, got his aristocratic-sounding moniker because he seems so unflappable and stiff-upper-lip-ish.

These puppies probably will be entered — joining the hunting pack — in the fall of 2010. Eventually, at the end of their careers with the pack, they all will be retired at the kennel under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.


The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

Puppies are both delightful and devilish, as Driver recently reminded a person at the kennel who, understandably expecting a lick, lowered his nose to Driver’s–and raised it again with Driver attached like a small alligator! As Cuthbert Bradley wrote in 1914, “In the character and disposition of foxhound puppies and boys — and we speak from experience, having walked a couple at a time of each species — there is a striking similarity which prompted the great writer Foster to say, ‘I never saw so much essence of devil put in so small a space.’

“Like all gigantically sinful people, the foxhound puppy wears an easy air of perpetual and exaggerated innocence that tends to put the unwary off their guard.”

But we should quickly point out that Bradley also noted: “It is a well-known fact that the most mischievous puppies and boys grow up to become the most useful in after life, for it is the active brain that prompts mischief, and when this has been developed and disciplined it stands for good work later on.”

This means you, Driver!

Harking Back: Words of Wisdom and Fun Stuff from History

Is there anything better than spending a rainy morning with a stack of old sporting books? Lessons abound. Modernity has changed many things for the better in kennel and hunt field, but there are also some wonderful pieces of advice that still ring true many decades after their proponents wrote or said them. And some are simply fun to recount.

 “Don’t use the whip for every mistake your dog makes. Dogs are not like lions in a cage to be subdued by a show of force. Talk to the dog and prove to him by action and expression that he has done wrong. A dog follows his master’s expression more than the lash.” — Gen. Roger D. Williams, founder of the Iroquois Hunt, in The Fox Hound (1914)

“Every generation of breeders has warned its successors against any harmful blood which they have noticed may have crept in–not, perhaps, in quite such a drastic manner as did a famous huntsman to his son as he lay on his death-bed, his last words being, “Goodbye, son. Remember to avoid the blood of Grafton Silence!” — Isaac “Ikey” Bell in A Huntsman’s Log Book (1947)

“Without doubt, hounds would do more for the huntsman, if he loved them better. Dogs that are constantly with their master acquire a wonderful deal of penetration, and much may be done through the medium of their affections.” — Peter Beckford, Thoughts on Hunting (1781)

“No one who has not conducted a pack of foxhounds on early morning exercise has tasted the joys of life to the full; no one who has not accompanied them has lived at all.” — D.W.E. Brock, ca. 1930

“A first-rate handler of hounds knows just how much liberty he dare take with his hounds so as to pull off a good day’s sport or catch his fox. On the other hand, he will also know exactly ‘how to make it up to them’ the next time out hunting.” — Bell in A Huntsman’s Log Book again

Hound’s Life: Summer Walk

Summer hound walks: physical and mental exercise

Summer hound walks: physical and mental exercise

YOU can hear the hounds coming well before you see them.  They sound like a ghost pack, their howling and baying rises over the hill to where we stand waiting. Conversation stops. And here they come around the bend of the hill, not on foot, but singing from the back of a white customized double-decker hound trailer pulled by a pick-up truck.

      It’s not your traditional Currier-and-Ives foxhunting scene. There’s no red coat for the Master: he’s wearing a T-shirt and khaki trousers that are damp with dew and stained by pawprints from cuff to beltloops. Those of us who have volunteered to help as whippers-in on this muggy midsummer morning are equally casual: baseball caps instead of hunt caps, bermuda shorts and faded jeans instead of breeches. 
     Foxhunting is a winter sport, but the pack’s school days are in the heat of the summer when many of the hunt’s riders and horses are on vacation. Hound walks sound like a jaunt around the neighborhood, and it’s true that the basic exercise is important, just as it is for any house dog. But there are also two critical tasks on the hunt staff’s agenda when they open the back of the hound trailer and let the hounds rush out into the long summer grass this morning: to reinforce the steadiness of the older hounds and to integrate the first-season puppies, who will make their hunting debuts in September, into the pack.
     The two puppies in today’s group are easy to spot. They are predominantly black and tan rather than the white and buff more usual in the Iroquois pack. And they are more easily distracted than their older packmates, who long ago wised up to the importance of keeping an eye on Jerry Miller, the Master who will be walking them today. Miller was the longtime amateur huntsman as well as Master at Iroquois, but he turned his hunting horn over to Lilla Mason, one of his whippers-in, almost a decade ago, though he is still crucial in their training. He is walking the hounds today while she is out of town. It’s a good opportunity to get his views on the pack he has bred and on hounds in general.
     The puppies lollop around, sniffing cow pats and nosing up to the whippers-in standing quietly in a loose circle around the pack, but the older hounds don’t roam too far. They’re waiting for Miller to put on The Biscuit Bag.
     The Biscuit Bag has intense appeal, because it is made up of pockets several inches deep, filled with colored dogs biscuits the hunt buys in bulk. Whoever slips it over his shoulders becomes a sort of Pied Piper.
     But it’s not an absolute authority. If the pack comes across a night line–the scent line of a coyote that crossed the field overnight–they’ll choose a good run over biscuits any day. The only things that might stop them at that point will be the huntsman’s authority over them and quick thinking by us, the day’s volunteer whippers-in.
     The whips act as the long arm of the law, heading off wayward or breaking hounds and pushing them back toward the huntsman–Miller, in today’s case. They’re forbidden, incidentally, to crack their whips except in cases of dire necessity, and are never to strike a hound. The whips can growl, extend their arms in front of a hound, unfurl the thong of their whips so that it hangs down, and waggle their whips in a warning, and generally that is all that is needed in any case to turn a hound–especially an older one that knows better–back to his huntsman.
     The idea on hound walk is not to coerce, but to convince, not to intimidate, but to encourage. In short, to make it easy for the hounds to make the right decision: to stay with the pack and to listen attentively to the huntsman’s commands.
The idea is to encourage, not to intimidate

The idea is to encourage, not to intimidate

     That takes a relaxed, happy hound, Miller says. To keep the hounds relaxed, he doesn’t harp at them to stay in a close bunch around him. He lets them range away from him, but still within the circle of the whips, calling to them when he spots one whose attention is wandering or whose  nose is taking him a little too far afield.
     The main points of interest for the hounds are two areas near a creek that borders the large cattle field. The creek is swollen and brown with eddies swirling on its surface today after a stormy night. Miller points to a place where it bends around a tree, forming a corner that’s filled with brush.
     “Something lives down in there,” he says, then swivels right and points to another spot farther upstream. “And that’s a troublesome spot, too.”
     Rather than risk the hounds breaking off on a run near the fast-flowing creek, he opts to keep them higher up the sloping field. Many of the 22 hounds in this group, roughly a third of the Iroquois hunting pack,  are older, steady hounds. Some are graying around their muzzles and eyes, but they are still keen hunters.
     “Some of these don’t look like they could do much anymore, but if they hit a line, they’ll be on it,” Miller warns.
     “Take Stammer here,” he says, reaching down to scratch the ears of a heavy-boned older hound with a black and tan face and black ticking over most of his body. The hound was so sedate he had hardly left Miller’s side since we’d started the walk, usually padding along at a flat walk or, at most, a slow jog. “He looks so laid back and calm all the time. But he’d be right out in front if they hit a line, and he’d keep going.”
     Miller stops at a gate and the pack moves behind him to wait for it to be opened. He laughs and flicks the lash of his whip gently at a hound sneaking too far forward on his left, attempting to get ahead when the gate opens. “Some of them might not look like much,” he says, “but they can still run like smoke.”
     The two puppies in this in this group are Paper and Gaudy. The hunt has four puppies that will join the hunting pack this fall, and, to prevent chaos during their initial integration, the hunt staff has split them into two pairs. Paper and Gaudy walk with the first set of hounds at 8 a.m., and the second pair, Gaelic and Hailstone, go out with the rest of the pack at 10 a.m. In each case, the older, more knowledgeable hounds help keep the puppies in line and teach them the mores of pack life. 
     But puppies are like little embers in a pack, and each time they run, wrestle, or stray from the main body of the pack, it’s like a little brush fire flaring up. If the older hounds ignore the unruly behavior, it generally will burn out quickly on its own as the puppies get bored with it. But if an older hound joins in, or objects and gets aggressive with a puppy that won’t give up his game, it can disrupt the whole group. 
     As the pack crosses the next field, Paper catches the whiff of a black cow and her calf up ahead–a new sight for him. He trots forward to investigate. A few of the older hounds follow, spotting an excuse for some fun. They know better.
     “Hey!” Miller yells. “HEY!”
     Paper slows and looks over his shoulder at Miller.
     The whips step in closer to Paper, their arms extended.
     Miller, meanwhile, has gone silent and halted the rest of the pack well behind Paper and his new pals, and it’s clear Paper is beginning to feel insecure out on his own. With a final, sly glance at the cow as she trots away with her calf, Paper turns back toward the pack.
     “When one does that, instead of screaming at him and all that, we just give it the opportunity to come back and get with the pack,” Miller explained. “That’s what we’re doing out here, is getting them to where they know they’re supposed to be with the pack. “
     Miller tosses out biscuits as a reward both for the hounds that didn’t follow and for Paper and his friends, who heeded the order to come back.
     DSC_0026_Hound_walking_1st_group“If we took out a bigger group, like 20 or 22 couple of hounds, you’d always have some hounds that didn’t get the attention they need,” Miller says. “What you’d find is that there would be five or ten hounds that were troublemakers. You’d end up giving them all the attention and saying their names all the time, while the good hounds wouldn’t get any attention from you. This way, with 11 or 12 couple, we can pamper the good hounds and give everybody the individual attention they need.”
     That communication reinforces the bond between huntsman and hounds, spinning what huntsmen call “the golden thread,” a huntsman’s holy grail.
     “Lilla and I try to say everybody’s name,” Miller says, reaching out to touch individual hounds as we walk or toss them a biscuit as he speaks their names: Finesse, Griffin, Stately, Alice, Parody. A well-known huntsman once advised against ever speaking a hound’s name when it is out with its pack, but Miller strongly disagrees.
     “You’re not only reinforcing their names, but the connection between you and them,” he says. “If you’re out there and can’t call an individual hound and have it come, then you have a problem. If he’s the hound that is about to do something wrong, if you can’t influence him, you can’t influence the pack.
     “And, remember, when you’re hunting out there on horseback, you don’t have this kind of help close around you,” he adds, indicating the whips striding along on the sides of the pack.
     Miller moves on and has the whips spread out again to give the hounds more room to wander a bit on their walk.
     “See those hounds over there?” he asks, pointing toward a group of five, noses down, sniffing and pawing at something in the grass about 25 feet away. “Some people would look at them and think they were out of control, off on their own like that. But say any hound’s name, and he’ll come back when I call it.”
     “Try Harlequin,” I suggest. No sooner had I said the hound’s name than a brown and white hound in the group raised his head and looked inquiringly at Miller, then trotted obediently toward us.
     “I promise you, they hear everything you say,” Miller says. “They’re listening and paying attention.”
     The last stop before heading back to the hound truck: a shallow pond. It’s a chance for the hounds to cool themselves in the rising heat, but also another opportunity to reinforce pack discipline. Miller stops about five yards short of the shore and turns to face the pack.
     “Get behind,” Miller says to the few hounds that try to bypass him and plunge into the water. The rest of the pack waits, facing Miller and the pond, like schoolkids before recess.  A few stand up and bark at him, then fall silent, understanding that this will only prolong the lesson. Most sit still and wait, including Paper and Gaudy.
     “They’re figuring it out,” Miller says of the puppies. “They’ve learned they’re supposed to sit down here and wait. They don’t know why yet, but they’re figuring things out.
     “Now, those are some good dogs,” he says to the pack. Here and there tails thump in response. Then, almost under his breath, Miller says, “Whooooosh, whoooosh in there,” and on that quiet signal the pack surges forward into the water, baying and splashing joyously as Miller hurls biscuits into the water for them. Hounds leap to catch them in mid-air.
"Whooooosh! Whoooosh in there!"

"Whooooosh! Whoooosh in there!"

    Sitting on the shore and watching are two older bitches, both white with the longer wiry hair that marks them as what the hunt staff call “woollies.” They are sisters, Finite and Finesse, and Miller and Mason refer to them as “two bodies, one mind.”
     They are a testament to this hunt staff’s patience. They showed little real interest in hunting early on in their careers and usually could be found loping along together as if in their own world. But one day, something clicked.
     “Lilla spotted them on a run out hunting one day near Blue Fox Farm,” Miller recalls. “She said over the radio, ‘It’s Finesse!’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got that wrong,’ and she came back on the radio and said, ‘And Finite!’  I couldn’t believe it.”
     But there they were, the two sisters leading the whole pack.
     “They lost 10 or 15 pounds that season because they finally started hunting,” Miller said. “Before then it seemed like they could just live on air. We used to feed them about this much”–cupping his hand–“and they still stayed fat because they expended so little energy on the hunt field.”
     Such turnarounds can be difficult to predict, and time in the pack is often as good a teacher as any. But the hound walks lay a crucial foundation in the hounds’ early education, and continue to reinforce those important lessons as a hound matures.
     “Out here, you’re teaching all the time,” Miller says. “If half of them are learning, you’re very fortunate, because you don’t have a lesson plan where everybody is definitely going to do this. You can say, ‘Everybody’s going to practice at the pond,’ and you can plan to practice having them stay behind you. And if you don’t have any other variables, it works. But if somebody takes off, you have to deal with that. That’s hounds, that’s just what they do. You have to realize what authority you have and what authority you don’t have. I think the only magic to doing this is just to do it every day until they get it right.”
Many thanks to Peggy Maness of Maness Photography for the photos accompanying this piece!