Guest blogger: Buck Wiseman on rapport between huntsman and hounds


Clear Creek Beagles huntsman and joint-Master Buck Wiseman. Photo by Brian Blostica.

Recently, while writing a short description of foot packs at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, I made the mistake of wandering off task and shedding some thoughts about pack cohesion and pack response, both to a huntsman and to one another.  Mrs. Houndblogger picked up the line and reminded me that I had told her, well over a year ago, that I’d write something on the subject.  She’s now run me to ground, I suppose.

What follows may be a lot of nonsense, and, for the most part, it certainly isn’t science, but having hunted packs of hounds, foxhounds, beagles and bassets, mostly beagles, with a couple of short reprieves, since the mid-1960s, I do have views, and, right or wrong, I’ve never been overly restrained in expressing them, so here goes.

Rapport, hound sense, the “golden thread” is no one thing.  It is a complicated amalgam of hound breeding, hound management, practice and, I believe, a certain genetic component on the human side as well.  Of the terms, I prefer “rapport” which is defined as “relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity”, which is about as close as one can come to my view of this subject, especially as to mutuality, and it is particularly appropriate that it derives from Old French “raporter” meaning “to bring back.”

"Biscuits, lots of biscuits!" one early mentor advised Buck when he formed his first pack. Houndblogger photo.

We have all seen huntsmen for whom hounds just “do.”  They seem to have the touch, the right body language, to hit the right note of voice or just have a feel for hounds and seem to have always had it.  They can hunt a large pack of hounds without resort to a whipper-in, walk out the entire kennel likewise and pick up the horn with a strange pack almost without missing a beat. In many cases, I believe that they may not know exactly how they do what they do, may be puzzled that others cannot duplicate their results and may take years to really analyze what it is that they do. At this point, we’ll put that subject largely aside because the purpose here is to look at intentional and conscious acts with the goal of approaching, if not equaling, the results that those huntsmen achieve.

The right personality in the pack helps.  A good huntsman can get response from a gaggle of thick-headed independent types, but we all know that some hounds are more responsive to a huntsman and to one another than others.  I believe that the two are clearly linked.  As an example, if hounds need to be moved from one spot to another across a field or within sight or sound of the huntsman, the entire pack need not see or hear the huntsman.  If the pack is responsive both to the huntsman and to one another, it’s only necessary to catch the attention of the hounds nearest you as you call and point to where you want them, the other hounds will respond to the first who have responded to you and stream over.

Buck and the beagles at Shaker Village in March. Houndblogger photo.

I often walk out hounds by myself. Puppies need to learn to walk with the pack, but you can’t discipline them until they understand what it is that they are to do and to not do.  When I got my first pack of beagles, many of the hounds came from the Nantucket Treweryn Beagles of Bun and Becky Sharp.  Becky knew that I would be largely handling my new little pack alone and gave me one of the best tips of all time: “Biscuits, lots of biscuits.”

I make a concentrated effort to address each young hound, every hound for that matter, frequently by name and to toss a biscuit to catch.  Each must not only learn his name, but also learn that response to your voice and to your hand brings good things. Only when a hound has learned those things should you touch them with the whip and chastise them.  Each has to understand that the discipline is the result of ignoring someone who otherwise dispenses blessings.  It’s also at this point that the pack sense is important.  If, say, two couple of puppies start up the road bank on their own little mission, if you can, with an encouraging voice, swing one couple to you, with the right sort, the other will turn right with them. Have the biscuits ready when they reach you.

Lilla Mason (and the biscuit bag) with some of the Iroquois hounds. Houndblogger photo.

If you have the luxury of assistance in walking out and of whippers-in in number when you hunt, teach yourself not to rely on them.  A whipper-in should be viewed by a huntsman as the last, not the first or even the intermediate resort.  If hounds are always or even frequently put to you by your whippers-in, then, in some measure, their return to you is a response to the threat of the whipper-in, not to their rapport with you.  It is better to have the sometimes slightly slower response deriving from rapport with the huntsman than the faster coerced response.  In fact, when walking out with whippers-in, discourage them from being more than a reminder of the possibility of reproach unless that whipper-in is pretty well endowed with hound sense or knows the hounds very well.  Whippers-in tend to want to be helpful and, if overly so, are not helpful at all.  This is especially true if you have puppies out.  Develop rapport and trust it.  Whippers-in should do likewise.

When hunting, I do not want my whippers-in even near me.  Ideally, they should be eyes and ears, your distant early warning and spotting system.  The title “whipper-in” should relate to their function only in difficult circumstances.  The goal is that rapport will fill the gap.

Studies in animal behavior and language have shown that certain types of sounds have similar effects across a wide range of mammals.  Without going into a great deal of detail, suffice it to say that higher-toned, excitable sounds encourage, soft tones soothe, growls caution or chastise.  It works for hounds and humans.  Your voice must change constantly to match your message.  Cheer them on, cheer them in, growl and crisply bark warnings.  Again eye contact and body language is also critical. Many times, when getting the attention of a particular hound to return into the pack while walking out, I will not only call the hound’s name, but once he looks at me, point directly and growl “Yes, you” or “You know your name.”  Recent scientific work has, in fact, shown that the dog is one of the few non-primate species which will follow the point of a human hand. They do.  If you can get eye-to-eye contact, you’ve got him, at least as long as you are the dominant personality in the pack, not the hound.  If you are not, go for a softer sort.

Modulate your voice at all times in tune with the circumstances.  When walking out, a conversational voice is probably just right. Talk to your hounds.  If you are drawing cover, suit your voice to the way the hounds are drawing.  If they are quite close, not much above conversation is necessary.  If hounds are drawing widely, as mine typically do, the volume must increase.  The goal is that all of your hounds can always hear you when drawing because you must be at the center of that process, if you are going to direct it.

Huntsman Lilla Mason with the Iroquois hounds on summer walk.

When calling hounds in from a distance, don’t yell for them.  Instead, go for a deep in the chest, rolling tone of encouragement.  They will respond.  It’s not unlike the signaling howl of a coyote or hounds singing in kennel.  Hounds being put on to a line, once they have reached the huntsman, should be put on quietly with low encouraging sounds and with the arm, hand and body motion directing them in the direction that they should go.  Rapport is bi-directional. Watch every hound for the body language and focus that tells you when they are “with” you.

Also watch hounds for the signals, sometimes very subtle signals, that hounds can give you–and trust them if they do.  Hounds may appear to be simply drifting from a check.  The temptation is to pull them back, but if watched closely, slight body signals may indicate that, while they are not speaking or even visibly feathering, they are focused on some slight scent, perhaps even air scent on a bad scenting day, to which they are drawn and which may result in a recovery. Even if those hounds fall in with the movement of the pack and return, if the line is not recovered, go back to where they went, if it is the only message that the hounds have sent you, and a more diligent cast in that direction may work.  It has before.

In the houndbloggers' experience, some hounds are beyond controlling, even if you have a rapport with them! Houndblogger photo.

Try never to give a command which you do not believe will be obeyed.  Your voice will convey your hesitancy.  When calling hounds, say out of covert, you must believe that they are coming to you even though you may curse their dawdling under your breath.  If hounds start to break as we are walking back to the trailer, if you can rate them just as they start when you see the first change of focus from you to the trailer, they’ll stop.  If you can’t because you were distracted and didn’t catch the first hints, let them go and make a mental note that next week they’ll come in packed up behind you until they get that foolishness out of their minds.  If they go away on deer and do not stop at the first rate, turn your attention at once to how you and the whippers-in are going to get to their heads.  Roaring at them futilely merely teaches them that your voice is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

With that thought, I’m going to leave rapport because, in a real sense, I already have and drifted, like hounds losing the check, on to the role of dominance in working with hounds which is a subject better left to another day.

Many thanks to Buck for contributing this great piece! If you’d like to read more from Buck, please click here to read his earlier piece on hunting over game-rich restored native grasslands.

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.

Pups on the March

The new HA puppies test the waters at Brookfield on their first hound walk Saturday. Gene and Christine Baker photo.

THERE was a break in the weather last weekend, and that meant the houndbloggers finally were able to get out and see some hounds again! Is it just us, or were people kind of giddy about being back outside in some sunshine again? It felt strange and liberating to unfold ourselves out of the traditional mid-winter hunch and go out walking instead of, say, snow-shoveling.

The last day of January is an unusual time for a hound walk; those usually take place in the summer, as you can see from our posts and videos in June, July, and August. But on Saturday we got a chance to tag along with four of Baffle’s second litter of Iroquois puppies, known as “the HAs” because their names, to recognize their sire Hawkeye, will all start with the letters HA. The HA litter were born at the end of October, so they’re about four months old now.

They were joined on the walk by Magic, an eight- or nine-month-old who came to us from the Live Oak hounds; in the video below, she’s the larger hound with a light honey coloring. Also along for the walk were three of the HA puppies’ older half-siblings, Bandstand, Bashful, and Bangle, and retiree Saddle.

The hounds weren’t the only “new entry” out enjoying the wide world. Wells Pfister also was making her debut. Wells is the daughter or Iroquois members Knox and Matt Pfister and granddaughter of Iroquois Hunt joint-Master Jack van Nagell and his wife, field secretary Betsy van Nagell.

Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell (center, green coat) hosted the puppy walkers at Brookfield farm--and provided some warming port before we set off! Gene Baker photo.

The van Nagells hosted the hound walk and provided a warming stirrup cup–or, I guess, walking cup–before we stuffed our pockets with dog biscuits and set off across the pastures, the puppies bouncing along with us.

To the amateur eye, two things were remarkable. First, the puppies’ confidence. They were a happy lot and just as exuberant as you’d expect puppies to be, but, in addition, they were not afraid to roam away from their human chaperones and follow the older hounds off to examine the pasture’s many curiosities.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason with the HA puppies and some of the hunting hounds at Brookfield. Gene and Christine Baker photo.

Second, they were already highly responsive both to the older hounds’ lead and to people, cheerfully returning to the group after their more distant explorations. Naturally, it didn’t take long for them to realize that the people walking with them were Good Things who readily rewarded the puppies with biscuits and pats when they came to them.

As you can see in the video, the puppies enjoyed learning more about their world, and they didn’t appear spooked by anything they found: creeks, ditches, a livestock feeder.

The HA puppies got a chance to tag along--and learn from--some of their older counterparts on Saturday's walk.

The walk also provided a good chance to see hound-to-hound teaching in action, as the puppies followed the older hounds, clearly picking up on what they did–the first budding of what you can see later when young hounds join the hunt field and rely on their older packmates to show them the ropes.

Baby Wells Pfister, here with mom Knox (sporting a Hound Welfare fund cap!), was on her first hound-walk, too, and came away with some puppy kisses.

I think it’s fair to say that a good day was had by all. Certainly, the puppies had a good time–and slept well afterwards, as this photo, taken by Lilla on her phone, shows:

Sweet dreams for some contented puppies! Photo by Lilla Mason.

And speaking of the hunt field, on Sunday the houndbloggers got out with hounds again, this time for actual sport, before wintry weather returned. Next up, we’ll have some updates from that day, including the story of our young friend Paper’s complete transformation from Playper the Class Clown to serious working hound!

Bedtime Stories: Gary Paulsen

An occasional series in which we wish our readers a happy good night, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

IT never hurts to look for wisdom in other disciplines, and it’s in that spirit that I picked up a copy of a book about sled-dogs. I’ve never had any particular interest in sled-dog racing, but I guess the reason I reached for this book was because of our recent post that featured a great video of their summer training as well as a nice description by New York Times writer Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Whatever the reason, I picked up a copy of Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Whether or not you care about the Iditarod, this book is a real find. It’s the story of how the author tried to build an Iditarod-caliber dog team out of a pretty random selection of dogs he scrounged from pretty much everywhere–and with shockingly little knowledge or experience of his own.

Along the way, he learns a hell of a lot about dogs and gets some magical glimpses of wildlife. On one long-distance run, his team “adopts” a coyote. Later, a chickadee rode along on the edge of his parka and would take food from his hand as they zipped along on the sled.

Winterdance is funny, painful, and insightful about dogs and how they work, both as a team and with people. It dishes out some food for thought that seems to apply pretty handily to working hounds, too. In short, it ‘s one of the best dog books I’ve read. And now I’ll hand the page over to author Gary Paulsen for one of the more misguided and hilarious episodes:

“Napoleon once said good morale among troops is as four is to one, and something similar happens to sled dogs. As they gain strength from training, and knowledge and confidence, as they understand that you will give them beef when they run and fat when they run and love when they run and your soul when they run, as they learn to feel that, understand that, know that, they become something completely different. They are no longer just sled dogs or pets–they become distance dogs, dogs that cannot, will not be stopped.

“When it first happens it is frightening–like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. Their shoulders grow, they gain weight in both fat and, more important, muscle, and their coats sleek up with the added meat and fat (as much as they can eat when the training is going full bore). And they get strong–god, how strong. …

“On a light rig, ten or twelve sprint dogs could be run easily. So I was told and so I did. But with distance dogs in good shape on the same rig you should never use four or five–not if you expect to live. And the magic number–seven–should never be exceeded on anything less than a full car body (which I later used) with the engine gone. Something happens between the seventh and eighth dog that is truly phenomenal. A power curve is passed and with eight and up you’re in a zone that defies control without special gear.

“I knew none of this. Once I had the light rig I started getting dogs, adding them to the overall team as I found them. … I ran them the way I thought I was supposed to run them, putting new sections of gangline on as each new dog or set of dogs arrived and just adding them to the team.

“But a kind of infection of will had occurred that I hadn’t understood. I had the trapline team, the original seven. They had been nice dogs, happy dogs, peaceful dogs. I had worked them all winter and never had a problem with them, especially Cookie. I frequently brought her in the house and let her run loose. That original team was easy to control, though already very strong, and I thought it would help me to gain and maintain a control over the new dogs.

“It went the other way. The trapline team became a distance team and the problem came about because they were already in shape from running all year. The other dogs, the new dogs, the wild dogs, the Canadian dogs, the native dogs swept the old trapline team up in their wonderful madness and I … I was just part of the rig.

“It was insane.

“When I started to run eight dogs, then nine and ten–with the first three Canadian dogs–I realized something was different. something was hard to control. But when I added three more, running eleven on a light rig, and then two more after that, I entered a world that felt positively surreal. …

“My first run with a large team was the classic one, and should have warned me about the rest of them. I had decided to run them a little long. … So I thought I would try thirty miles. It isn’t much–not even a third of the hundred or more miles first runs should be–but it seemed like a long way and I thought I should carry some gear with me. I loaded the rig down with a backpack tied in place and a box of dog food, a tent, a rolled-up tarp, a winter coat–just in case it cooled off–pots and pans for cooking, a small ax, a bow saw, a lantern, a gallon of fuel for the lantern, and a full-size, two-burner Coleman stove.

“I looked, and sounded, like a hardware store leaving the yard. But leaving the yard was as far as most of the stuff got. …

“The dogs were fired up and I hooked Cookie in first, let her hold the gangline out, then went for each dog and hooked them into position. Each new dog affected the other dogs until, by the time I had eleven and twelve in place and only one left–Devil–I was going back and forth from the kennel to the rig in a dead run, trying to hurry and let them run. …

“I don’t think the rig hit the ground more than twice all the way across the yard. My god, I thought, they’ve learned to fly. With me hanging out the back like a tattered flag we came to the end of the driveway, where we would have to turn, must turn onto the road.

“The dogs made the turn fine.

“The rig started to as well, but I had forgotten to lean into the turn and it rolled and once it rolled it kept rolling–it felt like two or three hundred times. I had time for one quick look back–it seemed like a dry goods store had blown up across the road and in the ditch–and grabbed at something to hold.

“In some fashion I don’t understand I hug on–I think because I’d lost them [before] and was determined not to lose them again–and we set off down the road with the rig upside down, all the gear gone, and me dragging on the gravel on my face.

“It took me four miles to get the rig up on its wheels, by which time the pipe-handlebar I had welded into position had broken off and I had nothing to hang on to but the steering ropes. I was also nearly completely denuded, my clothes having been torn to shreds during the dragging.

“We did thirty miles in just under tow and a half hours, and never once was I in anything like even partial control of the situation. …

“In subsequent runs I left the yard on my face, my ass, my belly. I dragged for a mile, two miles, three miles. I lost the team eight, ten times; walked twelve, seventeen, once forty-some miles looking for them. The rig broke every time we ran, torn to pieces, and I finally borrowed a welder and rebuilt the thing every night. Every farmer within forty miles of us knew about me, knew me as ‘that crazy bastard who can’t hold his team.’ I once left the yard with wooden matches in my pocket and had them ignite as I was being dragged past the door of the house, giving me the semblance of a meteorite, screaming something about my balls being on fire at Ruth, who was laughing so hard she couldn’t stand.'”

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!

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!

Teachable moments, thrilling hound work, and Paper’s first word!

Tall grass, a suicidal raccoon, and a cooling line provided excellent lessons for the hounds Tall grass, a suicidal raccoon, and a cooling line provided excellent lessons for Paper and the other young hounds

AS humid as Friday morning was, you could smell a little fall in the air. Undoubtedly the hounds can smell it better than we can, and now that they’re getting fit and the mornings are dawning cooler, you can see that the older ones know what we know: cub-hunting season is only a few weeks away.

Paper and his fellow freshmen don’t know about cub-hunting yet, but they do know this: morning exercise has gotten a lot more interesting recently. Their leader, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason, is on horseback now, and so are the whippers-in. We all–hounds, horses, hunt staff, and field members–move along briskly these days. And there are alluring trails left in the dewy grass when the hounds pass across the fields, smells that intrigue them and are stronger in the cool early air. Things seem somehow more serious and purposeful. “Yes, things are very interesting now,” the puppies must be thinking!

At this time of year, just before cub-hunting, we can begin to see the summer’s lessons paying off, especially for the puppies. Trotting along with six couple on Friday morning, Lilla pointed out how the older, experienced hounds were leading the way, straight through a field of tall grass and tangled clover and toward a covert known as The Sinkhole. The grass was thick and breast-high to the hounds, but they bounded along, with puppies Paper, Gaudy, and Hailstone willingly following their elders.

“This is good for them, to teach them how to get through tall grass,” Lilla said. Much of the grass will die back in the winter, but the fact that the young hounds plow through it now reinforces their confidence to jump into coverts, too, which can remain dense with brush, vines, and briars even in the winter.

Paper had an outstanding day and spoke for the first time on a line! Paper (left) had an outstanding day and spoke for the first time!

The older hounds went straight into The Sinkhole’s heavy brush without a pause; they learned long ago that this is a likely place for a fox or coyote. Again, the young hounds gamely plowed in behind them, though a few puppies popped out again before pushing back in.

Suddenly, a field member exclaimed, “Raccoon!” A young raccoon, disturbed by our arrival, had bolted from a hedgerow and was hustling through the deep grass, visible only by the rustling trail he made as he went. But he wasn’t running from the pack. He was racing toward them.

“Not one of your smarter raccoons,” someone observed as we watched in dismay. Sure enough, the juvenile met up with two couple of hounds right at the edge of The Sinkhole, who looked just as startled as we did to find a raccoon right under their noses. The surprise, we assume, was mutual. But the raccoon, taking advantage of the hounds’ surprise, shot into the covert just as the two couple pounced. There was a lot of growling from all parties, but the covert was so thick we never were exactly sure what became of the foolish raccoon. We think it’s possible he got lucky and found a safe spot in the overgrown debris that clutters the middle of The Sinkhole. We never saw any evidence that he didn’t survive the encounter! On the other hand, we didn’t see any evidence that he did survive it, either. There’s just not much to do, we agreed, if something decides to run harum-scarum into your hounds rather than away from them.

The puppies, Lilla said, actually got a good lesson from the bizarre episode.  “Now they’ll know that coverts are interesting places where interesting things happen,” she said.

Paper was in on the raccoon, but he quickly discovered something else at least as wonderful and much easier to catch and carry out of the covert: an old bone. And here he came, with a graceful leap, straight out of the thickest part of The Sinkhole, the priceless artifact in his jaws. Tail curled, he darted around the covert, advertising his find and clearly hoping to make his colleagues jealous of it. To be fair, it was a lot better than the usual dirt clod, and even better than last week’s highly desirable stick. 

Paper: “Ooooh, bone! I’ve got a bone! Catch me, I’ve got a bone!”

The pack: “Dude. Get over yourself. It does not compare with the wonders of The Sinkhole.”

Even Paper soon saw the logic of this and rejoined the group inside, exploring the thickety depths. But when Lilla moved off, he came out promptly with the others, ready to trot on to Davenport’s Corn.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason

One hound, however, did not follow everyone out: Barman, one of the four English imports that arrived from the Cottesmore and the North Cotswold in the spring. A pure white hound as handsome as a pinup, he has become the Big Man on Campus in the kennel, according to kennelman Michael Edwards. But he and the three other new imports–Bonsai, Baffle, and Driver’s mother Dragonfly–are still learning American culture.

You wouldn’t think it would be that different; isn’t the Currier-and-Ives scene pretty much the same around the world? Not a chance. Consider it from the hound’s-eye view. In the Cottesmore’s hunt country, the grass doesn’t grow to such a monstrous size as it does in the hot, humid Kentucky summer. (The hot, humid weather is, in fact, another thing the English hounds have to get used to.)  And each huntsman has his own distinctive way of blowing the horn. The Cottesmore horn’s English accent, so to speak, is not the same as Lilla’s American one. It can be pretty confusing for a hound who finds himself on the far side of a woolly covert while the pack is disappearing into the grass on the other side.

With the aid of whipper-in Blaine Holloway, however, Barman soon got sorted out and found his way back to the pack.

The morning air was lush with the scent of mowed grass, late wildflowers, and the slight tang of decaying foliage that signal the coming autumn The morning air was lush with the scent of mowed grass, late wildflowers, and the slight tang of decaying foliage that signals the coming autumn

The best part of the day came shortly after The Sinkhole, when the hounds, after exploring an overgrown fenceline, moved out into the low grass of Davenport’s field. Suddenly, the first group, a couple and a half of older hounds led by five-year-old Stax, had their noses down and were running excitedly in tight formation, each trying to own what appeared to be a coldish line, probably one from early that morning when a coyote had made his way across the field.

We all sat up straighter in our saddles, alert for what we knew would come next, and it did: Stax spoke, and the group of white hounds took off faster, criss-crossing the field as they puzzled out the faded scent. This was a beautiful scene, but even more exciting was that, as they wound around in front of our horses, Paper was right in among them, periodically lowering his nose, too. From the way he carried himself–loping along a little more relaxed than the older hounds, not working hard as they were, and putting his nose down only here and there, a little more tentatively–it was clear that Paper had felt the stirring of instinct but wasn’t quite sure yet exactly what it meant. He was excited, he knew something was up, he was catching the whiff now and then of a something that excited him, and the rapid, electric movements of the older hounds excited him, too. All at once, he put his nose down and spoke, a brief, clear note. It was thrilling.

The hounds quickly charged to the end of the field and into an adjoining one, but they were silent, the line now fading further as the day heated up, and in the end Lilla collected them and took them to a cool creek for a much-needed drink. We had been out less than two hours, but there had been so many little victories. The hounds lolloped along in front of Lilla’s dappled-gray horse, their eyes bright and their tongues hanging out as they went along, completely at ease and satisfied with their morning’s work. 

Approaching a gate, Lilla extended her right arm and lowered the thong of her whip over her horse’s shoulder. “Come behind, come behind,” she called out to the hounds, and they obediently moved behind her horse to go through the metal gate,  as disciplined and professional as an Army platoon. Once through the gate, they spread out and trotted along again, always casting an eye back to their huntsman. They were the picture of canine contentment.

“You see how relaxed they are?” Lilla said. “They’ve had their run, and now they know it’s time to go in. It’s the worst thing if you take them in before they are ready–it’s like they feel cheated. I did that once, and I’ll never do it again. It broke their hearts, and it broke mine, too.”

Remains of the Day: the biscuit bag after a morning's work Remains of the Day: the biscuit bag after a morning’s work