The 2011 Retiree of the Year: Stammer

Stammer '01 went from detention to stardom at Iroquois--and helped huntsman Lilla Mason learn how to trust hounds' judgment. Photo by Peggy Maness.

STAMMER is one of those hounds who could go on an inspirational tour, visiting hound high-schools and telling young dogs how important maturity is. The Hound Welfare Fund‘s 2011 Retiree of the Year came to Kentucky from England as a puppy and began his hunting career with Iroquois. He was so wayward when he first joined the working pack that Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller sent him straight back to the kennel for a long while. When he came out hunting again, Stammer developed into one of the pack’s most valuable members and taught huntsman Lilla Mason an important lesson about trusting one’s hounds.

“Stammer came to us from the Cottesmore,” said Lilla. “He wasn’t all Cottesmore breeding. Apparently, one day the Cottesmore had a joint meet with the Eskdale and Ennerdale, and one of the Cottesmore Masters particularly liked how an Eskdale-Ennerdale dog hound performed that day, so they asked [Cottesmore huntsman] Neil Coleman to breed a bitch to that stallion hound.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

The resulting litter by Eskdale and Ennderdale Woodman ’96 out of Cottesmore Family ’98 was large and contained an element you don’t see often in the Iroquois pack: fell blood. The Eskdale and Ennderdale have worked over the fells in the vicinity of England’s western Lake District since 1857. For those unfamiliar with the term fell in its topographical sense, the word is defined as “a hill or other area of high land, especially in northwest England.” That makes fells sound a good bit more innocent and gentle than they really are if you’ve ever tried to follow hounds up and down them. Especially up. To see what we mean, click hereherehere, and here for several spectacular views of hunting on the fells, whose steep and rocky terrain is gorgeous but also very demanding, requiring huntsman and followers take to their own feet and leave the horses at home.

With hunt staff on foot, fell hounds must necessarily be more independent about their jobs than hounds that are  accompanied by mounted staff over open grasslands. And though Stammer isn’t all fell hound, that independent streak was still pretty strong in him when he was young, recalled Lilla.

Photo by Peggy Maness.

“He went well through the summer program and seemed fine,” she said. “But then when we started hunting, he was a keen hunter who was hell on coyotes, but he was also hell on everything else that moved. It was hard to rate him.”

At that time, Master Miller was hunting the hounds, and he made an unusual decision about Stammer. “He decided that Stammer just wasn’t mature enough to handle hunting with the pack,” Lilla said. “He said, ‘I just don’t think he’s ready, and we’re going to put him back in the kennel.’ That was one of the first times we ever tried that, and I respected that decision a lot. So Stammer went back into the kennel, and he didn’t go out hunting again until, I believe, the next February.”

About four months out of the working pack gave Stammer some extra time to grow up and think things over. When he was invited to join the pack again for a few hunts before the end of the season, he showed better potential.

“And the next year, and for his next five seasons, he was really a top hound,” said Lilla.

Stammer at the Blessing of the Hounds last November.

“He taught me how to trust a hound, because he was independent, so he was a little bit of a different duck from everybody else. I remember sometimes, leaving a meet on what I thought possibly would be a poor scenting day, he’d start going through coverts very quickly. The rest of the pack would honor him and go with him. It was really annoying to me, because I thought, ‘Gee whiz, the hounds aren’t settling, they don’t have their noses down, we’re going to blow through all the coverts in this fixture and then where are we going to be?’ But every single time he found a coyote.

“That hound had coyote-sense. He just knew where they were. It might be two or three miles from us, but he knew where it was. And I know he was winding it the whole time he went, and he was in a hurry to get to it. That’s why he would blow through coverts. I finally realized that was just his behavior. He didn’t do it every time–sometimes he didn’t scent something like that and would draw coverts well–but when he was on a mission like that, the rest of the pack always honored him and trusted him. And I learned to sit back and be patient, because he always found a coyote. I knew when Stammer was behaving that way, just go with him.

Stammer (far left) on summer walk with Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller in 2009. Photo by Peggy Maness.

“I don’t think we ever had a blank day when he was out. We might not have found a coyote for two hours, but he knew where it was and we were going to catch up to it.

“Sometimes you just have to trust, and he taught me that.”

That Stammer could go from immature and indiscriminate hunter to such a key player convinced Lilla that sending a young hound back to the kennel for a little more time was an important tool in hound training. “It really did work with him,” she said, “and that’s when I really bought in to Master Miller’s ‘no hound left behind’ style of training, because it was clearly a maturity issue with this hound, not a behavioral issue. Otherwise, it would have come out again. But the rest of his life after that, deer could go by, he didn’t care. Raccoons could go by, he didn’t care. When he first came out with us, he’d chase deer, raccoons, rabbits, anything that moved, he was going after it. His mind couldn’t process what his nose was telling him. Master Miller understood that, and rather than waste him, and waste really good bloodlines and breeding, he gave Stammer that chance. After all, what’s a little time when it can save a hound’s life and make him productive?”

Stammer did develop another quirk. “After his second season, he wouldn’t tolerate puppies,” Lilla said. “You couldn’t take him out cubhunting, because he would just leave. Didn’t like being around puppies, didn’t like going on hound walks with them. So we never mixed him in with the puppies until they had maybe two months of cubhunting under their belts.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

These days, Stammer is enjoying life as a senior gentleman with the other retirees at the hunt kennels.

“Hounds show you in different ways when it’s time for them to retire,” Lilla said. “In Stammer’s case, he became independent. “He would leave the pack and go hunting on his own. That sometimes happens, and once an older hounds gets independent, we have to retire him because it can ruin the other hounds.

“But he was one of the smartest hounds that ever was, and he had coyote-sense like no other. He had such a keen nose he’d immediately pick up even a very old scent and follow every place that coyote had been until we found it, and then he would open up. He  just knew.”

Stammer will be honored at this year’s Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Reception, which HWF supporter Uschi Graham will host at her home on Friday evening, November 4, the night before the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds.

Tickets to the cocktail party will be up for auction on June 4 at the Hound Welfare Fund’s dinner and live/silent auction on June 4 at the Iroquois Hunt Club. For more information about the dinner and auction, please contact us before May 27 at beagle52[at]aol.com.

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Samson’s baby pictures

Cottesmore puppy walker Nina Camm with Samson and friends. Believe it or not, Samson is the light-colored hound in her lap. There's no sign of that red color that's so easy for us to spot now!

LAST year, after we wrote about Samson’s trip to the United States, we got an e-mail from Nina Camm, the woman who was Samson’s puppy-walker in England. She explained that she had always loved Samson and was happy to keep up with his adventures since his departure from the nearby Cottesmore pack. We were delighted to hear from someone who knew Samson “back in the day,” and we asked her if she’d mind sending some baby pictures and any recollections she had. They finally arrived this week, and we are happy to be able to share them.

According to Nina, Samson was born on February 20, 2007, and came to her from Cottesmore huntsman Neil Coleman’s kennel and April 8 of that year.

“The first picture,” Nina writes, “shows his mates who became his ‘brothers’ whilst at walk with me. From the left is a hunting beagle pup Blenheim, next is the Belvoir foxhound Bellman, then Samson, who at this time was the youngest, and lastly, on the right, is beagle pup Dawlish.”

The thing you’ll notice right off the bat is how much Samson’s color has changed. He was a towheaded youngster, but he’s a redhead now–one of the things that makes him easy to spot on the hunt field. In fact, in his baby picture Samson looks uncannily like our own Mr. Box–maybe this is as a result of hanging around with all those beagles? He grew out of that pale coat color, though. Nina also sent along a sort of high-school-age picture of Samson and pal Bellman, which shows Samson’s coat beginning to darken. “This is when Bellman and Samson had become accustomed to collars and would go off walking around the village with me,” Nina writes.

Belvoir Bellman and Cottesmore Samson walking in England with Nina Camm

“Bellman was born on 10th January 2007, so was that bit older than Samson,” writes Nina. “Bellman had been with me at walk since 9th March 2007, so he, Blenheim, and Dawlish had their feet firmly under the table by the time Samson arrived. All four slept, ate, and played together.”

Here is Samson today, so you can see how much his coat color has changed.

Samson, as photographed by Dave Traxler in December 2010.

Nina also sent along a picture of the Cottesmore’s puppy show program, which showed Samson’s name. “Sadly, Samson didn’t come in the top three, but I never worry too much about that,” she wrote to us. “As long as they hunt, I always think.”

Nina shouldn’t worry about that. Since arriving in the U.S., Samson has been a real asset to the Iroquois pack. Kennel manager Michael Edwards reports that Samson is outgoing and friendly to the people who work with him now, and Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has been tremendously pleased with the red-and-white hound.

“He’s such a hard-working hound, and he’s invaluable,” Lilla said. “He always has his nose down. He’s quick to straighten out a line, and when they make a lose he’s often the hardest-working hound. He’s a leader to the puppies, for sure, because when he’s working hard they emulate that. He’s a top-notch hound.

Samson in profile. Dave Traxler photo.

“It’s quite a bit different hunting coyotes than hunting foxes, and you wonder how hounds will do when they come here and the quarry switches. To come to a different country where the smells are different, and where we have raccoons and skunks and different animals and trees and grass, I think it can take them time. Jerry was very complimentary of Samson when he hunted him last year, and this year I’ve really clicked with him. He loves hunting coyotes.

“We’re considering using him as a stallion hound, which is a compliment in our pack, because we only breed one litter a year.

“I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve been hunting the hounds, I’ve said, ‘Thank you, Neil!'” she added. “Because Samson is just a heck of a hound, and I’m so happy he was drafted to us. I really appreciate that Neil did that. The Cottesmore bloodlines have proven themselves to be superb on coyote. Coyotes run so much farther than foxes, and when you look down after a six-mile point, who’s there? Those hounds with Cottesmore bloodlines.”

When Samson is pensioned from the working pack, he’ll live out the rest of his days in happy and dignified retirement under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund. (By the way, our 2011 fundraising dinner and auction are coming up in March–watch this space!)

“If I won the lottery, I would be on the first flight over to see him and give him a massive hug,” Nina writes. “I know for certain he would still remember me, but until then please give him a big hug and kiss.”

Will do, Nina!

We have pups! (with video)

Baffle, the dam of the current BA litter, with her new puppies by Hawkeye

BORN just in time for St. Hubert’s Day and the annual Blessing of the Hounds, which kicks off the formal season, Baffle had 11 puppies. You read that right: there are 11 (or five and a half couple, as they’ll eventually be counted), almost enough to start a new pack! These are by Hawkeye, who, like Baffle, is an import from England. Baffle and Hawkeye both are from the Cottesmore hounds.

The puppy scrum.

Baffle started to whelp on Friday night, and the last of the puppies was born on Saturday morning. Mother and puppies are doing well so far, and we are looking forward to following their adventures as we have those of Baffle’s first litter for Iroquois, the BA litter who are now in their first season with the working pack. And doing extraordinarily well, we should add!

An interesting side note: because there are already so many BAs (Baffle’s first litter was nine puppies strong), it looks likely that this litter will not have names starting with BA, the first two letters of their dam’s name, as is the usual custom. Instead, to prevent confusion from so many BA names, they’re more likely to be named with HA, for their sire. In which case, we humbly suggest one name for consideration, considering their birthdate: Halloween!

To see about 20 second of adorable puppiness—more than 20 seconds would risk cute overload–click on the video below. Congratulations, Baffle and Hawkeye!

Like driving someone else’s racecar

Substituting for an injured huntsman means taking over a pack that has been trained by (and that has bonded with) someone else, and it takes more than just knowing how to blow the horn.

WHEN Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason broke her ankle out hunting in November, she was lucky in one respect: she had an experienced huntsman to whom she could pass the horn. And that person, Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, was someone who works with the hounds daily alongside her.

That mattered, because as we’ve seen, Lilla has put a lot of time and training into the hounds (Jerry has had an important role in that training too). Having someone who knows the hounds and the huntsman’s style is vital to ensure the hounds’ steadiness until Lilla returns.

“Unfortunately, I got hurt right after the opening day of the hunt season,” Lilla said. “I’ve spent months since the last hunt season–from April to October–training the hounds and getting the pack exactly where I want them: responsive, together, controlled by voice. I’ve done that in the training style that Jerry has devised over the years, which is a kind, humane, quiet style. The reason it’s such a relief to have Jerry hunting the hounds for me now is that I know he knows he is a substitute. He hunts the hounds in that quiet way, but he’s also going to be very careful not to take the hounds over as his own, because I’ll be back.

“The worst thing would be if someone were to come in and hunt them in a different way from the way I do and try to take the pack over. That would usurp all the work we’ve done, and when I came back, it would be much more difficult for me to finish the season in the manner which it began.”

His years as Iroquois huntsman and his role as architect of the pack's training program has stood Jerry in good stead during the times he has subbed for Lilla out hunting and on hound walk. (Photo kindly given by Peggy Maness)

For Jerry, the prospect of taking over the Iroquois pack was more complicated than just accepting the horn and blowing it. A pack of hounds doesn’t automatically respect a horn; they respect the person who has worked to forge a bond with them through training. In order to maintain the continuity of what is effectively Lilla’s team, Jerry is careful to leave as little of his own imprint on them as he can.

“As much as I like them and would like to have these hounds be mine, that’s like taking somebody’s racecar and driving it as a substitute in the next three or four races,” Jerry explained.  “The first thing you need to do is not to wreck it. That’s the worst thing you could do. You don’t want to tear the transmission up and don’t tear the motor up, either. Just take it around carefully, because you’re not really the driver of that car. You’ll take it out because people want to come out and see the race, but the idea is to race it fairly and competitively, but don’t do any damage to it.

“The thing about a pack of hounds, and the reason you like your huntsman and Masters to have longevity, is because you breed the hounds not only for your country, but also for the way the huntsman hunts hounds,” he continued. “You can read about this in all the literature, but you can ruin a pack of hounds in a week or two weeks. If someone else other than Lilla came in and tried to impose their own personality on those hounds through the way they discipline them or reinforce them, and especially if they try to push them around or bully them, these hounds react to that. Some hounds won’t come back because they’ve gotten upset, and they’ll just be unruly. And the longer they stay away, the more they learn bad habits.”

Having temporarily turned her horn over to her back-up huntsman, jt-MFH Jerry Miller, regular Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wore a regular member's black coat when she returned to the hunt field for the first time since her injury.

This hunt season, we’ve seen two strong examples of how important a hound considers the bond with its huntsman to be. When Strawberry first arrived this fall from England, her confusion at finding a completely new huntsman was clear. Since her birth, Strawberry had only ever known one huntsman–the Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman–and she was perplexed to find herself without her usual leader when she debuted under Lilla in November. Her first response was to head straight back to the hound trailer.

Similarly, when Jerry hunted the hounds for the first time after Lilla’s injury, he had to endure the pack’s initial skepticism about him, even though he knew them from training.

When he first blew the horn, the pack remained at the trailer, waiting for Lilla. Sure, that guy who walked with them in the summer had the horn now, but he wasn’t their huntsman. Their huntsman was Lilla. And they would just wait for her to show up, thanks. It took Jerry some minutes to get the pack away from the trailer.

Hunting history is riddled with similar accounts of hounds who, once “joined up” with their regular huntsman, will only have eyes for him (or her). Consider the case of whipper-in Jean MacLean in her first attempt to walk out the Clear Creek Beagles when huntsman Buck Wiseman was out of town:

When Buck was away and needed her to walk the hounds out, she discovered that the young hounds she’d helped raise from puppyhood merrily packed up with her when she opened the kennel gate for morning exercise. But the older hounds that had been there before she arrived were so skeptical that they would sit just outside the kennel and refuse to come along with her. They were, she realized, waiting for Buck. To them, she wasn’t the real deal, and no amount of biscuit-tossing could convince them to follow her.

Once the hounds finally moved off, Jerry still had his work cut out for him. One crucial element he had in his favor is his knowledge of the individual hounds and the philosophy under which they are trained.

Jerry Miller's role as back-up huntsman, he said, is to maintain the pack's steadiness and "not to do any damage" until Lilla can return

“A hound doesn’t just react to a couple of toots on a horn,” he said. “You have to know every individual hound. If you were going to play the piano and I took every third key away, that’s going to make it harder for you to play. You have to know which hound is acting up, which hound you have to pick up, which one you have to set down.”

Hunting hounds without imposing his own hunting style on them has required restraint from Jerry.

“He’s hunted them slowly and very deliberately, waited for any hounds that are missing so that the pack doesn’t get too spread out,” said Lilla, who has been following the hunt in a car regularly while she’s recovering. “It might be more fun for riders if he went out and hunted them the way  he would if he were always the huntsman, but he’s doing it this way so that the hounds will be better off when I come back.

“This helps me. If he had done things differently, it would have completely confused the hounds, because they’d have gotten used to a totally different style than mine, and I’d have to start over with them,” she added. “The ultimate honor you can do another human being is to do something for them that you know is not going to make you look your best. He knew he wasn’t going to look like a hotshot huntsman. He did it for the hound program.”

Part of "Lilla's team," as portrayed by Peggy Maness

Mind you, it’s taken some restraint from Lilla, too. While Jerry is hunting the hounds, she minimizes her contact with the hounds and rarely even speaks, in case the familiar sound of their regular huntsman’s voice distracts them.

“The worst thing I could do while he’s hunting is come out and be too loud, because pretty soon they’re going to get around me and stop doing what he’s asking them to do,” she explained. “They have to be obedient to the person who has the horn.”

“She has the golden thread with  her hounds,” Jerry acknowledges. “They know her personality, they know what she’s doing and when she’s upset. You can see it in them. When Lilla gets upset with a few of them, the others react to it, too. They just tighten up together and go on.  But if someone new comes in and gets uptight with them, those hounds will just disappear. They’ll decide they want to stay away from that person.

“And if a new person comes in and tries to be their best friend and keep them right next to his horse, that can be just as bad, because instead of working, the hounds will just trot along next to his horse like they were on a trail ride. So there’s a fine line between discipline and reinforcement. I try to put them in, let them work the covert, then be on the other end to pick them up and go on to the next covert, without imposing on them.

“I have to maintain things. I have to make sure that everyone responds and that I don’t get three or four hounds that decide they’ll refuse to listen and go hunting on their own, that decide since Lilla’s not out they don’t have to listen to anybody.”

It’s a slower style of hunting, but it preserves the pack and their training in the near term while Lilla recovers.

For a glimpse of Lilla’s relationship with the hounds, see how they gaze at her in this video taken from the huntsman’s point of view on hound walk this summer:

There’s a code of honor among huntsmen that holds the relationship between huntsman and hounds, that golden thread, as sacred. Jerry ‘s restraint in hunting “her” hounds is honoring that tradition, Lilla said. She has reciprocated, too, by wearing a black hunt coat–rather than her red huntsman’s coat–when she returned to the hunt field for an hour (with her leg in a cast!) at her first hunt since the injury.

“What Jerry has done for me is the most honorable thing a retired huntsman can do for one who is active,” Lilla said. “He’s not out there for the sake of his own ego. He’s not trying to look like the best huntsman in the world, and he knows he’s not going to look like the best huntsman in the world doing it this way. But he knows they’re not his hounds now; I trained them. And that’s the way he looks at it: ‘I’m just the substitute.’

“One huntsman would never insert himself or do anything to possibly damage or interfere with another huntsman’s relationship with his own hounds,” she concluded. “Your relationship with your hounds is like a marriage, and you wouldn’t step in between a huntsman and his hounds any more than you would step between husband and wife.”

So how is Lilla’s recovery coming? Very well, she says. She’s started riding again, and she had that happy hour out with hounds just before Christmas.

“Since I got off crutches, it seems like every day there’s been immense improvement,” she said. “I’ve been riding, but I still have this inconvenient boot on my leg. I need to go see a welder and get a big stirrup made. I’m riding in a dressage saddle and in a controlled environment, and, with the weather we’ve had, nobody’s riding outside anyway. So I’m very encouraged.”

Copyright 2010 Glenye Cain Oakford, http://www.houndwelfare.wordpress.com




NSL Dispatches: Yellow Earls and Red Foxes

Reynard

THE stacks of the National Sporting Library continue to yield colorful tales from the hunt field. Today we have anecdotes from two familiar hunting characters known for their color: Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale who was known as “the Yellow Earl,” and the red fox, also known as Reynard.

The Yellow Earl

Hugh Lowther unexpectedly inherited his title as Earl of Lonsdale, and all the riches and lands that came with it, after his older brother St. George died in 1882. At age 25, he had free rein to indulge his love of horses and hunting, and he did, in very fine style, as recounted in Douglas Sutherland’s hugely entertaining biography, The Yellow Earl:

Lonsdale Boxing

“His hunters had to submit to  … rigorous standards: not less than 16 hands, 6 feet round at the girth, and 8 3/4 inches of bone.

“Soon the lavish stabling behind Carlton House Terrace was filled to overflowing and additional accommodation had to be rented in the vast Police stables at Scotland Yard. Barleythorpe, the luxurious twenty-bedroomed hunting-box which Hugh had inherited in Rutland, vied with Squire Abingdon’s stables both in the numbers and the quality of horses he kept there. It was not long, however, before he discovered new and even more extravagant ways of impressing himself on a startled Society. In the days when the fashion for liveried servants and dandified dressing had largely fallen out of vogue, Hugh Lonsdale set a standard of colorful perfection with his turn-outs, which, almost overnight, became one of the sights in London. All the Lonsdale servants were dressed in canary-yellow jackets with dark-blue facings, white beaver hats and white buckskin breeches. …

“His six-inch cigars were specially made to his order, and christened by a gratified toacconist ‘Lonsdales.’ The cigar became almost as much his trademark as the perfect white gardenias which he wore in his buttonhole, and which were sent to him daily regardless of cost wherever he might be.”

The Yellow Earl’s carriages also were a bright yellow. His personal life was equally flashy. Lonsdale had affairs with the actress Lily Langtry and the married stage actress Violet Cameron; the latter situation was deemed scandalous enough that Queen Victoria made it known that Lord Lonsdale should leave England. He went to Canada and embarked on “a 3,000-mile trek across the frozen wastes.” He initially took four springer spaniels and his valet with him, but, fortunately for the spaniels and the servant, Lonsdale sent them back home again when he realized how daunting the Canadian tundra is.

Showy though he was, Lonsdale was an excellent horseman and an expert hound man who held Masterships at the Quorn, Cottesmore, and Woodland Pytchley.

Of his riding:

“Once when he was out hunting with the Quorn he was taking a line of country he had not followed for some time,” reports Sutherland. “Putting his horse at a post-and-rail fence with a shallow ditch at the other side, he was not aware until he was too far committed that another fence, topped with a strand of wire, had been erected a yard on the far side of the dutch. Collecting his horse he cleared the entire obstacle. When it was measured afterwards, the length of the jump was found to be 32 feet.”

Lord Lonsdale's 32-foot jump

Lord Lonsdale had a lot to say about hounds, too, and he was not afraid to advise huntsmen. In 1908, he wrote to the Cottesmore huntsman, Gillson, after the man had been there a year, offering him some tips on relating to the hounds:

“… I should like to see you a little more demonstrative and to converse to your hounds on the way to covert. Noe that you are a professional receiving a salary for hunting them, but that you are glad and pleased and delighted to see them, talking to them as you go to the meet, and showing each one that you take a personal interest in him or her. Speak to them, whistle to them, and let them understand every word and sign. If you are at exercise canter along and stop short, giving some sign by mouth or whistle, and make friends of them  and get off and pat them when they are doing what you want–more can be done this way than in any other, and if you do it continually no whips are needed–pointers, sheep-dogs, retrievers–all animals–are the same–they are all amenable to sound, providing that it is always the same sound or signal. …

“You must talk to your hounds with your mouth inclined towards them, not the back of your head, for your speed through the air reduces the sound by half, so please remember my wish when casting: always wait before cantering away, until your hounds realize that you are about to be off; convey some private signal that they will understand.”

The Red Fox

Much has been written about the wiles of the red fox, and the 19th century sporting writer “Cecil” has some of the best accounts I’ve heard. Two favorites:

“His lordship was informed that that a fox had been seen constantly in a field of turnips on Hatch Warren Farm, and was induced to go in search of him; the hounds had spread all over the field without touching upon him. Not being accustomed to find foxes in such situations, very probably they did not draw well. As the land seemed alive with partridges, it did not appear likely that the fox was there; and Lord Gifford was in the act of taking his horn out of the case to call the hounds away, when the fox jumped up within fifty yards of the spot; a singular instance of concord between the fox and the feathered tribe. …

“I have often known known hounds to run their fox to a certain point with a good scent, and lose him instantaneously, as if he had vanished into ethereal space. On those occasions, it is evident they must have gained some unaccountable place of safety, to which the hounds had not the power of scenting them. I remember hearing of an event which occurred with the justly celebrated Mr. Meynell’s hounds, which shows the great patience, perseverance, talent, and keen-sightedness for which he was so eminently distinguished, and also what extraordinary places foxes will sometimes seek for refuge.

“They were drawing a gorse covert, when a single hound, that could be relied upon, spoke. ‘That will do,’ exclaimed Mr. Meynell; but the hounds could make nothing of it. They were drawn round again to the place where the single hound had spoken; but they could not roust him out. Still persevering, I believe upwards of two hours, the field became impatient, and the greater portion went home. At length, holding a consultation with Raven, his huntsman, he inquired the exact spot where the hound spoke, which was close to a bush that he pointed to.

“‘Then get off and examine it,’ said Mr. Meynell. It was a low bush or stump of a tree which leaned over the gorse, and in which was an old magpie’s nest, where the fox had rolled himself up and was peeping over the side of the nest at the proceedings below.”

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!”

Hound of the Day, Nov. 4: Strawberry

Strawberry 11-05-09

English import Strawberry made her debut at Iroquois on Nov. 4.

CALL it culture shock. Strawberry only arrived from England on Oct. 21, and the Nov. 4 meet from Boone Valley was her first day out with her new pack, the Iroquois hounds.

Strawberry and the three other Cottesmore hounds who came with her from England last month are now adjusting to a new kennel and staff, a new pack, new countryside to navigate, and new game to chase (coyote). Most importantly, they must learn to build a relationship with a new huntsman.

It’s hard to overstate how close hounds feel to their huntsman. Working pack hounds are trained to focus entirely on the person who carries the horn, and, as we’ve seen during hound walk and training this summer, the huntsman’s attention and approval is something hounds strive (and even compete) for. So to move from one pack to another isn’t just a change of environment; it’s like changing your whole family. Fortunately, hounds are highly adaptable animals. After a period of adjustment, they do figure their new lives out.

For Strawberry, that process got serious on Wednesday. Ever since she was born, she has known one huntsman: Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman. And when she stepped out of the hound trailer at Boone Valley on Wednesday, it was only natural, as she scanned the unfamiliar countryside and sniffed the new smells, that Strawberry would be looking for one person: Neil.

Neil Coleman with hounds

Strawberry's former huntsman, the Cottesmore's Neil Coleman

“Until now, he’s all she’s known,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “When she left the trailer, she looked around with a quizzical look on her face. She ran back to the trailer to Alan (Foy, kennel staff member). The rest of the hounds were going on.”

But Samson, another Cottesmore import who was on his second trip out with the Iroquois pack this time, stayed back with her, too, as if trying to tell Strawberry, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s still hunting, we have a new huntsman!’

Strawberry still looked skeptical, so Lilla turned and tossed her a biscuit. That helped, but Strawberry still wasn’t fully convinced. Where, after all, was Neil?

Samson 11-05-09

Samson, imported from Cottesmore at the same time as Strawberry, provided encouragement

Iroquois has imported hounds before, and so everyone knows well how to make their transition as smooth as possible. As she rode with the hounds to the first covert, Lilla was keeping Strawberry and the other new English hounds out that day–Samson, Hawkeye, and Structure–very much in mind.

“I picked some pretty open places to go, because I had a feeling that they would be nervous, and I didn’t want to go into a real dense covert to start with,” she explained. “I didn’t want them to get in there and not know where they were, not know the sound of my voice, not know the sound of my horn. So we went north where there’s low grass.”

Pack of hounds, sounds of horn, trotting to a covert–yes, it looks like hunting, Strawberry must have been thinking, but where is my huntsman? Where is his horse?

“She got back with the field, walked all through the horses, looking up at everyone,” Lilla said. “And then she just sat down and started howling. She just didn’t know what to do.”

Lilla and Alice

Hounds and huntsman develop a close bond. A change in huntsman can confuse a hound, but they also can adjust quickly to having a new leader.

“You can tell by looking at her that Strawberry is a wise old girl,” Lilla added. “She just has that face. When you go visit her in the kennel, she’ll come to you wagging her tail to say hello, and then she’ll go gently sit down and watch everything. She’s kind of above it all. She’s very regal.

“But that day she had the most confused look on her face!”

Strawberry hung back from the pack at first, still, it seems, trying to figure out where her leader was.

“I tried to use my voice, but that didn’t work as well as the horn,” Lilla said. “I would blow the horn, and she’d come a little way. She’d get up with the horses in the field, then start looking around, then sit down and howl again. It was like she was thinking, ‘I know I’m supposed to go to the horn, but it’s not the right horn, and I don’t see Neil, and something’s not right about this.’ But after the first hour or so, she started to get it. She wasn’t going to be with Neil, there was a horn, and the horn meant the same thing as it did before. But it was gut-wrenching at the start. I could see she was so upset not to be with Neil, and she didn’t understand my voice.”

Hawkeye 11-05-09

Hawkeye got into the swing of things quickly on his first day out with Iroquois on Wednesday

The other new Cottesmore hound debuting Wednesday, Hawkeye, had a similar moment of confusion but rapidly got on with the job. Structure and Samson debuted last week and also did well, but, again, they had to figure things out at first.

Structure 11-05-09

Structure also hunted Wednesday, her second time out with the Iroquois pack

“Structure wasn’t as expressive about it as Strawberry was,” Lilla said. “But she was confused and a little bit concerned. She was going to come, but she wasn’t sure she was supposed to, that kind of thing.”

Structure did get “thrown out” on her first day–not thrown out the way a baseball manager gets thrown out for yelling at the ump, but thrown out as in accidentally getting separated from the pack. “Then she spent the rest of the day looking for me,” Lilla said. “It’s just that she doesn’t know yet where she is. The other hounds know the score, they know where the holes under fences are.”

You might be interested to know that Samson, he of the mighty airport bark, has been quiet and professional so far! He, too, had an early moment of doubt. But as we saw Wednesday, he felt confident enough about the American style of hunting to encourage Strawberry to join up.

One thing everyone’s noticed about these English hounds: boy, can they ever jump.

“A wire fence is no boundary to them,” said Lilla. “They just sail right over it.”

Those are between three and four feet tall, ladies and gentlemen.

Strawberry performed one of these stag-leaps on Wednesday. Having found herself well away from the pack, separated from them by a fence, and having decided that the horn was indeed a cousin of the one she knew in England, she took a bold decision.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be off by herself,” Lilla said, “and she knew she had to catch up with that horn somehow. So she just leaped right over the fence.

“When we got back to the trailers at the end of the day, I hopped off my horse before the hounds were all in the trailer, because I wanted to give Strawberry a big pat. She looked at me like, ‘Okay, I get it now.'”

Which reminded Lilla of Neil again. On the trips she used to make herself to pick up hounds from the Cottesmore in England, the most difficult and wonderful part was the last moment at Cottesmore, when Neil would say his goodbyes to the hounds before helping Lilla load them up for the drive to the airport and flight to America.

Neil is a big, burly man, not necessarily the kind of guy you expect to crouch down and speak lovingly to a hound, stroke it under the chin and tell it goodbye, personally, one-on-one. But this is exactly what he did.

“That’s why they love him,” Lilla said. “Watching that, it makes you feel the great reponsibility to make these hounds happy, to do well by these gifts.”

Strawberry dances with kennelman Michael Edwards. She really can jump!

Strawberry and kennelman Michael Edwards share a dance: she really can jump!