Some pieces of Paper (with video)

Paper (left) is growing up.

IT TAKES a village to raise a hound, in a manner of speaking. Huntsman and kennel staff are key in any hound’s development and training, and his interactions with the whippers-in are also educational. And don’t forget the importance of positive peer pressure: his fellow hounds are crucial teachers, too, providing lessons in everything from pack and kennel etiquette to the do’s and don’ts of the hunt field.

Earlier this year, he was “Playper,” always finding some object to carry around in his mouth or some curiosity to tempt the other puppies with. Now, as his first season in the hunt field unfolds, our Paper is showing more maturity. He still gets separated from the pack more than one  would ideally like, but he’s clearly mindful of the Golden Rule huntsman Lilla Mason schooled him on during summer walk: with pack=good, away from pack=bad. Now, when he finds himself out on his own, Paper follows the sound of the huntsman’s horn and voice and makes his way back to the pack.

We can see his maturity in other, more subtle ways, too. Though he’s still a teenager and throws in those joyous leaps now and again, he’s leaner and more professional these days. If we were to sit down for a parent-teacher meeting with Paper’s first-season profs, they’d probably say he needs to apply himself more to the work at hand, but he’s definitely shown some improvement as the season continues.

The hunt met at Foxtrot on Saturday and enjoyed an early run, but warming temperatures and a brisk breeze (which you can hear on the video) played havoc with scent. At least four, and by some counts as many as six coyotes burst out of the Cabin Covert. From our position as car-followers, we could tell for certain that one ran east and at least one ran south. The hounds screamed after the one heading south, but when they lost their coyote nearing the border of a neighboring farm hosting deer hunters, it became necessary to bring the hounds back toward the Cabin Covert again rather than cast them again in an attempt to follow the south-bound coyote; the chance of barreling full tilt into a deer hunter was just too great.

Car-following has its limits, and we experienced those on this run: we could hear the hounds but couldn’t see them from our vantage point. We did hear some beautiful hound music, and there are times I’m just as happy to hear the hounds on a run as I am to see them, but I am disappointed not to have captured that on videotape.

We were able to capture some good examples of hounds feathering when they returned to the Cabin Covert, knowing as they did that a coyote had left there. They clearly found a low spot where the east-bound coyote had crossed when leaving the covert and racing through a field of corn stubble. The hounds that passed that spot feathered and feathered, obviously smelling the last remnants of scent, but in the challenging conditions–an older line on a breezy day as the temperature climbed–it did not, alas, result in a second run.

Middleburg's Red Fox Inn, dating from 1728, is the town's most famous landmark

Half of the houndbloggers are now in Middleburg, Virginia, in the heart of the commonwealth’s hunt country. It is in the nature of houndbloggers that they do not, as a rule, like to be separated from each other, but this is one of the rare cases when we considered that two weeks apart was worth it. Why? Would you be surprised to know that hounds are involved? I’ll be here in Middleburg doing some research at the National Sporting Library, while Christopher (above, the one wearing tweed) stays at home and continues the futile effort to keep the Beagle House hounds off the bed and under control.

I hope to have some interesting things to report on from Middleburg, including the National Sporting Library, some thoughts from local huntsmen, and some photos of a couple of local packs, both foxhounds and beagles. And a real highlight, the December 5 Christmas in Middleburg celebration, when the Middleburg Hunt meets downtown and trots up Washington Street–we’ll try to get photos and, if possible, video of that!

This little fellow greets visitors at the National Sporting Library

Full Cry now linked on Baily’s

One final note of interest: the hound blog is now linked online at Baily’s, the worldwide hunting directory that is based in England! The new online Baily’s site is really excellent. It does require a subscription to access full stories and large photos, but you’ll be glad to know they’re running a special subscription rate of about $25 at the moment; for more information, check the link above (a link to Baily’s is also listed under our “Interesting Places” and “Hound Resources” link lists to the right-hand side of our home page). In the meantime, it doesn’t take a subscription to enjoy the great photos in the Baily’s online gallery or the photo slideshow on their homepage. Tell ’em the Hound Welfare Fund sent you!

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Things we’re thankful for

Harry is thankful for the gas logs and the huge Orvis dog bed

IT is, after all, the day to give thanks. So we at Beagle House are totting up the things we’re especially glad for this year. It’s not a complete list, because probably even cyberspace isn’t big enough for that, but here are the ones that are hound-related, in honor of Thanksgiving Day on the hound blog.

Let’s face it: 2009 has been a pretty rough year. But even in the midst of various losses and traumas, we still have a lot to be thankful for. We are thankful that when our elderly beagle Felix, king of the house and our hearts, died on February 12, it was peaceful and painless, and he was surrounded by the people who knew and loved him best. We’re grateful, too, that we had him so long.

The great (though tiny) Felix

We’re thankful that Harry has not yet managed to blow up the house. “Not that I can’t,” Harry reminds. Harry himself is very happy about that new giant-sized Orvis dog bed we got. It was meant for all three of the dogs, but, you know, Harry is reviewing the other dogs’ applications for occupancy with “great thoroughness,” he says, and will get back to them on that, perhaps later in the decade.

All three dogs are thankful for the gas-log fireplace at this time of year.

Mr. Box is thankful for biscuits, and Bingo is especially thankful to be out of an animal shelter and into a home, his own home, with a pack and a family and, my goodness, all those toys.

Bingo with his rope toy

Snaffles, my very old gray hunter, is thankful that the summer wasn’t too hot and for the cooler weather having finally arrived. Sassoon, my young(ish) hunter, is thankful to be alive and only wishes he could hunt a little more these days. Both of the horses, collectively known as The Snaffoon, are thankful to Lilla for helping make me a better rider! And speaking of Lilla, we’re thankful to her and to Jerry for teaching us about hounds and their training, and for allowing us a glimpse at what carrying the horn is like.

Mr. Tobermory Box lines up to catch a biscuit

The houndbloggers are thankful for the Hound Welfare Fund, which keeps the Iroquois hounds happy and healthy in their days of dignified retirement. We are especially grateful to all the HWF’s donors, supporters, and volunteers, who make the whole thing work–and make it an example of what can be done, which we hope other hunts and their supporters will follow. And we’re thankful for all the hunt’s hounds, current working pack members and retirees alike, for showing everyone so much fun and for helping us learn what hunting is really all about.

We're thankful for new friends and HWF supporters, like Bruce Bryant of Linens Limited

We’re thankful, too, for all the landowners, without whom there would be no Iroquois hunt country, and to the Masters and their work crews who keep that country in good repair, who install the coops and riding gates for our convenience, and who bear a great deal of work, expense, and time-consuming hassle just so we can go out and have fun from October to April.

We are thankful for the hunt country itself, with the great beauty of its rolling hills, leafy spinneys, grassy pastureland, clear-running creeks, and generous coverts. And we are thankful for the conservationists that have kept it that way, abundantly full of wildlife and game.

Many, many thanks to our landowners who allow us to cross their beautiful countryside

We are thankful for our horses, who carry us without complaint (most of the time, anyway!) and seem to enjoy their hunt days as much as we do.

We’re thankful that the flood at the hunt club wasn’t worse!

We’re thankful to Michael and Alan in the kennel for their thoughtful care of the hounds.

We’re thankful to our many various veterinarians and our farrier, who keep our animals in working order. They have gone the extra mile for them more times than we can count, and we are grateful that they don’t mind explaining the technical stuff in simple language that we can understand, even when we are worried to death.

God knows we’re thankful to be employed so that at least we have some chance of paying off those vet and farrier bills!

And we’re thankful, enormously so, for all of the readers that have stopped by Full Cry: A Hound Blog since we first opened the door on June 29. You’ve looked in on the hounds and their blog more than 3,700 times since then (as of today)! We’ve got good friends, old and new, that the blog keeps us in touch with, and we’re very thankful for that.

Hounds and huntsman are thankful for each other, and we're thankful for both

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

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.

Some of the best of YouTube

WE’RE still in the deer season doldrums, when our hunting pauses; our huntsman is sidelined with a leg injury; and I’ve been watching a horse sale where the prices are dropping. Sounds like a good time to import some good cheer!

Over the last few nights I’ve spent some happy hours toodling around YouTube to see what good hound and foxhunting videos and slideshows I could find. Here are a few I’ve come up with.

David Ryan is a photographer in Ireland whose photos are tremendous. Below is a photo slideshow from his day following the Galway Blazers, set to excellent music. Some of these will just make you sigh, they’re so beautiful. A few others will make you laugh (fall in the mud, anyone? Been there, done that?). And there’s an early one of a hound trying to get through a closed gate that is just downright puzzling (how did he do that?).

The one below is from England, and I post it here mainly for the very good scenes of hounds. And there are some woollies! The huntsman’s monologue also holds interest in that it shows the deep concerns hunt staff and hunting folk generally had in the lead up to England’s foxhunting ban.

Next is a two-minute photo slide show that shows all the ambience of an American hunt, presented by the Washington Times and featuring the Bull Run hunt.

Hikers’ chance encounter with the Dartmoor resulted in this brief clip. Features more horn than hounds, but it’s nice nonetheless. And listen to that wind on the moors!

The next video is from a HorseTV piece about foxhunting (also videoed pre-ban, apparently), including some really nifty footage filmed from a helicopter as hounds were in full cry. Those shots show how well a pack works together, turning together almost like a school of fish. There’s something for everyone in this video: daring jumps, a few spills, and, best of all, some great views of the hound and the fox (which got away). My one complaint: for some reason, at least on my computer, it’s all a bit dark. Well worth watching anyway:

The Bray Harriers in Ireland hunt through some of the world’s most beautiful country. In this video, you also get to see a drag hunt’s “fox” at work, laying the line on horseback (and a lot of jumping).

Finally, if there’s anything cuter than a hound puppy, I don’t know what it is. Besides, I love the way this guy calls his pups.

There. I feel better. How ’bout you?

Beagles, burglars, and Mr. Cocks’s midnight chase

THIS was such a nice little video that I thought I’d post it to help get you in the spirit of the story that follows, even though the film’s timeframe is slightly later than the story’s. I guess you could put both in the category of “found objects” relating to hunting.

The video clip is from a hunt that appears to have taken place in the 1920s in America, but I can’t tell anything else about it. Note the top hats–what a lovely sight!

About a decade earlier, in April 1910 in Hempstead, N.Y., another chase with hounds took place. It was a highly unusual one, although the hounds appear to have provided good sport, of sorts, and a brief account was written up in the New York Times. A friend of the houndblog came across it and forwarded it. If you know anything about U.S. steeplechase racing, you’ll recognize the name W. Burling Cocks, but this Burling Cocks was not our Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer by the same name; this is his great-uncle. The “Meadowbrook set” mentioned here is the Long Island horsey set, including foxhunters, horse-show competitors, and polo players (The Meadowbrook Polo Club is the nation’s oldest).

My only question is, were the hounds in question foxhounds or beagles? The New York Times seems undecided on that point!

Under the headline “Cocks Chases a Thief: Rides After Him with Three Foxhounds on the Scent,” the story continues:

HEMPSTEAD, L.I., April 16. – It became known to-day that W. Burling Cocks of Locust Valley, a prominent member of the Meadowbrook set, had a lively chase after a burglar early yesterday morning.

Mr. Cocks was hunting foxes with four beagle hounds on Thursday afternoon. He lost trace of three of the hounds. When he reached home he sent the only hound that he had brought back with him to the kennel. Later the three others returned, but instead of sending them to the kennel he kept them in the house for the night.

Not long after midnight the hounds set up a tremendous howling, and Mr. Cocks, not waiting to dress, ran downstairs in his pajamas to find what all the commotion was about.

The commotion, it turned out, was about a burglar, and when Cocks peered out on his porch he saw the man leap off his porch and make a run for it. Not one to waste an opportunity for a good run behind hounds …

Mr. Cocks lost no time in dressing, and going to the stable he saddled a horse, and calling the beagle hounds to him set forth on a midnight burglar hunt. The dogs trailed the burglar through the woods near Locust Valley, but lost the scent at a stream into which the wily thief had plunged to throw the hounds off the scent.

Cocks and his hounds returned empty-handed. At home again, Cocks discovered that the man he’d been hunting had been trying to jimmy open the parlor windows, which set off the hounds. I must say those hounds must have had good noses and a fine night for scenting to find the burglar’s line after the time it took Cocks to get dressed and saddle up a horse!

Incidentally, Cocks was about 43 when this midnight ride took. He was a principal in the real estate firm of Cocks & Willetts on Wall Street. When he died just three years later, his estate was valued at over $414,000, including his 100-acre Locust Valley farm. In his will, he gave $14,000 to his servants, and we’d like to think there were some dog biscuits for his burglar-chasing beagles!

We hope the Cocks beagles got a good retirement with their master at the end of their hunting days. Ours do! Please remember the Hound Welfare Fund in your charitable donations this year; donations are tax-deductible, and all money goes to the care of the hounds!

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!”