The Road Trip

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

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

Finishing touches, and revisiting the National Sporting Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need a smile?

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

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

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

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Hounds and Volunteers
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
A free photo slideshow by Smilebox

Good luck at Virginia, everyone! We’re pulling for you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driver: Happy happy happy!

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

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

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

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

It’s a two-way street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason with Starter and Stanway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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