WE don’t want to say anything too soon, but … it looks like spring finally is here. With hunt season behind them, the change of seasons mean the hounds’ attention turns to hound shows and summer walk. For the newest puppies at Iroquois, the so-called HA litter (click here for pictures and video from when they were teeny, tiny pups!) by Hawkeye out of Baffle, everything is brand new–including the change of season. Well, almost everything. While we were out hunting (or, in my case, riding with Michael Edwards in the hound truck), Iroquois member and kennel volunteer Cice Bowers was back on the farm, working with the HA puppies.
As a result, the growing hounds have made an extraordinary amount of progress. At just five months of age, they already have been taking daily walks and learning to come back as a group when called. So by the time we and an enthusiastic group of Iroquois members showed up for the first official puppy walk of spring, walking and coming back when called was almost old hat for the precocious HAs.
“Cice has been taking them out on walks and letting them go out away from her, then rewarding them for coming back, so that they learn to come back,” Lilla said. “She’s also taken Magic, who is quite a bit older than they are, so they’re exposed to someone they don’t live with, and she’s given them a lot of individual attention.”
“We try to give them as much exposure to other people as possible at the age they are, because you don’t want them to grow up knowing only the two people in the kennel who manage them,” explained Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “We want them to experience people, children, the house dogs, and strange environments. These puppies had never been away from the kennel and loose in the direction we went on Saturday.”
Why let the puppies run loose on the walk rather than put them on leashes or the traditional couples?
“They learn more,” Lilla said. “They get to make their own decisions. I wanted to see whether they would stay with us, which they did. They’re kind of young yet to leash train, but even if we had them on leashes, it would be like having a fish on the end of a fishing line. They wouldn’t experience the walk we wanted them to experience: to be free in the woods, walk along with us, and go out from us and come back.
“We also wanted them to be exposed to house dogs, which we seemed to collect along the way, since we had biscuits upon us!”
On Saturday’s walk, the puppies did get some new experiences, including meeting the local terriers and chasing after their companion, Magic, when she found what can best be described as an ex-rabbit. That presented a special challenge to the puppies’ discipline. You might forgive a five-month-old hound puppy, or a litter of puppies, for getting so distracted by a dead rabbit that they forget to come back when called. But, amazingly, no forgiveness was necessary. Magic galloped down a narrow path with her long-eared prize, pursued by a line of wildly curious puppies, and they all disappeared around a bend. But when Lilla called out to them, here they all came back again, one by one. Except Magic, who enjoyed her rabbit lunch and met up with the group a bit later on the walk.
It was frankly amazing to see how responsive the five-month-old HA puppies were, especially under circumstances that could invite disorder. You can actually see one of the puppies, Hanbury, making the decision whether to chase after Magic or return to Lilla at the 2:17 mark on our video from the walk; click below to see it. To see the high-definition version, roll your cursor over the video window; you’ll see a box that says “HD” appear in the upper right-hand corner. Click it!
“When they’re all together and following another dog, that’s when they’re more likely to switch off to commands and keep going, so I was extremely pleased that they came back when we called,” Lilla said. “It showed a lot of focus on their part. They had to make a decision. They had to hear the command then decide to come back; they didn’t just blindly run on. That was great.”
That good decision-making will be important when these puppies eventually join the working pack for summer hound walk and then hunting.
“It’s immensely important,” Lilla said. “You want to turn them loose, but you want them to have that invisible thread with you at the same time. In our training program, this kind of training has been much more successful. We’re lucky to have the leeway to train this way rather than on couples. When they’re on couples, they learn nothing. But on a walk like this one, they get to make a lot of decisions, and they learn a lot. We want to let them make decisions, and then reward the right decisions.
“The hounds have to have the confidence to go away from you but the attention to come back. That’s what the invisible thread is.”
There’s a happy side-effect for the human participants, too–especially the younger ones.
“What a wonderful way to get these young kids hooked into the sport,” Lilla added. “They relate to puppies and love puppies, and it’s a fun outing for the parents.”