Summer strolls

The BA puppies are taking their first summer walks with older members of the pack this summer.

AND SO we come back to where we started–on summer hound walk! Driver has yet to make his debut, but the year-old BA puppies are gradually being introduced to the working pack. At this early stage, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason is bringing them out in small groups with some of the older hounds, who can lead by example as the youngsters meet up with new sights, smells, and adventures off leash and away from the kennel. Cattle are one of the important new sights and smells combined, and it’s crucial that the puppies get a good introduction to them, because once they join the pack on hunts, the hounds must be able to ignore cattle (and their scent) when tracking coyotes. The quarry often will run through cattle in an attempt to foil the scent, and hounds must maintain professionalism under those circumstances, parsing out the coyote’s scent without disturbing the cattle.

The Iroquois pack’s early summer walks take place in a large cow pasture. That gives the hounds the opportunity to work around cattle every day, to learn that they are simply part of the landscape, and to grow comfortable with them.

In the video, you’ll recognize quite a few of the puppies: Bangle, Banknote, and Bailey feature prominently!

Other goals on hound walk: to teach the puppies to come, even when something interesting has their attention, and to introduce the concept of working as a pack. It’s early days yet, and the walks at the moment are very gentle affairs as the puppies explore the wonders of the cow pasture, particularly the pond, where they take a dip twice in the course of the walk. But everything serves training.

The hounds clearly enjoy wading and chasing the biscuits Lilla tosses for them in the pond.

Stay tuned for more of their adventures, including Driver’s debut on summer walk!

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!

Puppy’s Life: Leashes 101 (with two videos!)

Houndbloggers, kennel staff, and hunt members helped with the puppies' first day of leash training. Sorting out leashes, volunteer walkers, and wiggling, puzzled puppies is harder than it looks!

HOUNDS aren’t born walking on leashes, after all. On the two-legged team were huntsman Lilla Mason, joint-Master Jerry Miller, kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy, and a phalanx of volunteers: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Christine and Gene Baker, Robin Cerridwen, and the houndbloggers.

The four-legged team were Dragonfly’s son Driver and “the BAs,” Baffle’s puppies who all have names beginning with BA, following the custom that puppies are named using the first letters of their mother’s name.

Before the leash-training exercise started, there was some introductory biscuit-throwing. There’s a style to it. If you’re preparing hounds for a show, you need to know how to make a nice long, low throw that gets the hound to gallop lightly over to the biscuit–while showing off their way of going to the judges. This is all new to the puppies, who have to learn this new game. It’s more than a game, Lilla explained, because this kind of training also exposes the young hounds to new people and teaches them to keep their focus on the huntsman without getting distracted by the other things around them at a show: spectators, spectators’ ham sandwiches, squalling children, other hounds in the ring, and other huntsmen’s biscuits. Not to mention the stands just outside the ring that sell custom stock ties and hunting-related doodads, which I personally find hugely distracting at hound shows!

Paper, who was entered in the hunting pack this year, was very happy to demonstrate how good he is at chasing biscuits. And bouncing around–isn’t he beautifully light on his feet?

Our “Playper” has learned a lot this season and has grown into a truly handsome young man, hasn’t he? To remind yourself of his adventures in his first season with the pack, read about (and see some video) his days on summer houndwalk hereherehere, and here. Check out his performance on the hunt field, also including some video, this year here and here.

But the real task of the day was to introduce the puppies to leashes. If you’ve ever taken a child for a first haircut or applied the first pair of “hard” shoes to a skeptical baby, you’ll understand that putting collars and leashes on young hounds that have never known them before isn’t always straightforward. Hounds might not object, but they might. They might not worry, but they might. A few did. One bolted right back into the kennel, leash trailing behind. “Can you outrun it?” Michael said as the puppy, one of the BAs, made her dash, seemingly pretty convinced she could. She soon returned to the group with the understanding that this snaky-looking leather thing was not, in fact, a snake, and was not going to hurt her.

Bagshot wrapped himself around a houndblogger and suggested that a biscuit might make him feel better about this whole leash thing ...

... and got a biscuit. Well, what would YOU have done?

The few puppies who worried about their new leashes were teaching us, too. The lesson was about patience and kindness, perhaps the most critical elements in handling young hounds. Confidence-inspiring pats helped (especially when reinforced by biscuits!).

Biscuit-chasing and leash training are important early steps in a puppy’s life for the upcoming spring and summer hound shows. And, like those shows, these early sessions galloping after biscuits and learning to walk politely on a leash also teach some critical skills that will be important on the hunt field. How to focus on a single person in the midst of distractions. How to be confident in the face of new situations. How to adjust. How to work one-on-one with a person.

For the record, Driver was a star at walking on his leash!

To see more of the puppy-walk, including Lilla’s explanation of the training philosophy and her comments on what she and the hounds learned from the session, check out the five-minute “documentary” below.

And just as a reminder (not that I even need an excuse to post cute puppy pictures!), here’s what those BAs and Driver looked like last spring:

Baffle's litter in April 2009.

Driver as a tiny (well, okay, not THAT tiny) pup.

Have a great weekend, everyone! The houndbloggers will be beagling and basseting–yes, basseting!–this weekend and hope to post some video from that over the weekend!