Hard-working hounds

TOMORROW is Blessing Day, so today presents a good moment to look back on an excellent cubbing weekend. The last weekend in October was damp, misty, and chilly with highs in the 40s–a perfect weekend, really, for a spooky Halloween. Despite a stiff breeze, the hounds had no trouble finding coyote lines, and, in fact, the pack hardly ever stopped working during two days of hunting. The video above is from both days combined and gives you some indication of hounds’ general work ethic. You’ll spot quite a few familiar faces, too: red and white Samson, whose trip from England to Kentucky made him very conservational; bounding, powerful Banker; Sage, the mother of our current SA puppies, and their father Driver, too; as well as Paper, better known in his youth as “Playper”!

Tomorrow the formal season begins. Looks to me as if the hounds have absorbed their lessons well during the informal training season!

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.

What we’ve been doing this summer

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.

Spinning the Golden Thread (with video!)

The van Nagells' Boone Valley Farm provided a splendid setting for an unusual training tactic by Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. Photo by Dave Traxler.

DRIVER and some of the BA puppies took it amiss when their huntsman, Lilla Mason, stopped walking out with them on foot and came out on horseback this past week. It’s a change that signals a transition from gentle, summertime on-the-ground training to faster-paced fitness work, but the year-old males weren’t so sure they liked this new way of doing things. They pouted and avoided looking up at her, even as their sisters went about business as usual.

Eye contact is important, Lilla explained.”It’s absolutely paramount,” she said. “On a hunt day, when I leave a meet, the first thing I do is call the name of each hound that’s hunting and I look them in the eye. It’s a way of saying hello to them, and it means I’ve got their eye. It means, ‘Okay, we’re a team now. I’m in control, I see you and you see me, and we’re on our way. We’re on a mission, and we’re a pack.’

One regular follower found a good way to keep her flash cards with the hounds' pictures handy!

“On a hunt day, if you can’t ride to the first covert, call a hound’s name, and have it look up at you, it’s not such a good thing. I don’t want them to tune me out going hunting.”

Bonsai says hello to Lilla during hound exercise on Sept. 5. Photo by Dave Traxler.

To reconnect with the year-old males, to “get their eyes” again, Lilla employed an unusual tactic at Boone Valley last Saturday. Instead of riding immediately, she started off the exercise by leading her horse as she walked with the hounds. The idea was to get the young hounds to associate her with her horse–in this case Bonfire–and to know that she is still the same leader she was for all those summer walks. This also let the puppies, male and female, get used to working close around Lilla’s horse.

As she and the hounds made their way around Boone Valley, Lilla alternated riding with walking, giving the once-pouty males every opportunity to see her on horseback while also letting them know that she is still among them and paying close attention to them. The hounds seemed to be learning this lesson.

And was there anything new that Lilla learned about them?

“One thing I see is that Driver really needs attention,” she said. “One interesting thing is that, you know, sounds echo. When you’re on a horse, you have to be very careful about when you do and don’t call hounds. If your voice echoes off a wall of trees, or if you’re in a low place, the sound comes to the hounds from another direction. You have to be careful when you call them when it’s windy, too, like it was Saturday. I could see the puppies looking around. There were also a lot of people out yesterday, and sometimes when I would call them they’d run to someone and then realize that wasn’t who called them. Then they’d come back to me. They need to focus more on just me and not other sounds.”

Tall grass and windy conditions were additional challenges for the hounds.

Now that Lilla is generally on horseback with the hounds, the puppies also must learn to be comfortable farther away from her, while still tuning in to her and coming back when called. Developing the trust to allow the hounds to work farther away is not always easy, but it’s critical for a hunt chasing the fast-running, wide-ranging coyote.

“An overly controlling person would want them right around their horse all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily serve me well during hunt season,” she said. “I could do that, go out on hound walk and have the whips keep them in really tight and under my horse’s legs, but then when hunt season comes and I want to cast them into a covert, why would they go away from me? I need them to have the freedom to go away from me. So, on hound exercise, I need them to be close to me, then away from me to a degree–but not as far as they might want to go–then stop when I stop and come back to me.”

Summer is finally beginning to turn into fall. The cooler temperatures are providing better scenting, and as the scent improves and hounds get fitter, the pack is readying to hunt. They got a chance during their last walk at the hog lot, where, suddenly, the older hounds in the group struck off in full cry on a hot coyote line. The puppies, who have yet to go hunting, knew there was some great excitement afoot … but what, exactly?

“You never realize how much hounds hunt by scent until you see puppies try to figure out what the heck the older hounds are doing with their noses,” Lilla said. “The hounds came right upon that coyote, and the older hounds got right behind it in full cry. The puppies, who were with me, heard it and decided to go toward the cry.”

When the older hounds stopped speaking and Lilla called, the puppies immediately headed back toward her. But when the older hounds spoke again, the puppies halted in their tracks, then heeded the sound of their packmates.

“They know they want to be over there where the older hounds are speaking,” Lilla said. “Every time the older hounds would make a lose and go quiet, the puppies would come right back to me. But when the older hounds would speak again, they’d go running over to them.

“They actually passed the coyote on their way to catch up with the older hounds! They may or may not have seen it, but they still don’t know what their noses are. They don’t know what they’re doing. It was funny to see that. The most exciting thing about hunting hounds is to see a puppy realize what it’s doing with its nose. That’s what they don’t know yet.”

Autumn’s in the air

The hounds with huntsman Lilla Mason on their Aug. 26 walk.

DID you catch a whiff of it this morning, too? The faint scent of autumn? The houndbloggers did. I love the smell of autumn. It reminds me that, no matter how miserably hot the summer, cooler weather–and hunt season–are right around the corner.

Cool temperatures also sharpen the hounds’ senses. They’re also fitter, and the puppies (Driver and the BA litter, all just over one year old), who have yet to join the pack out hunting, are getting clued in to the fact that there’s a point to all this training they’ve had on summer walk. By the way, they seem to be asking now that the air is cooler and morning scents are stronger, what’s that delicious smell?

“The challenge today is that it’s cool and the ground’s really moist,” Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason said. “The whips need to be on their toes to see if any of the hounds put their noses down. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if a puppy puts his nose down, but if you get some of the older hounds putting their noses down, you better watch out.”

A keen, fit pack of hounds plus cool air plus scent lines could equal chaos. The Iroquois hounds are keen, all right, but they were remarkably relaxed when the houndbloggers joined them on summer walk this morning. Their lessons about cattle also seem to be sticking. On Wednesday, Lilla brought 17 couple out for hound walk only to discover an entire herd of cattle had crowded up to the front of the field where she walks the  hounds.

“Cattle were stretched everywhere,” kennel manager Michael Edwards said. “Calves, mamas, bulls. Calves were running all over the pace, and these hounds were unbelievably good.”

Everything, at this point, can provide a good lesson for hounds that are almost ready to hunt–especially for the puppies, who are nearing their debuts with the working pack this fall. When two young women accompanying the hound walk on horseback began chatting, Lilla pointed out that the extra voices–while not ideal in the hunt field–could be useful today.

“They’ll have to get used to that in the hunt field,” Lilla said of the hounds. “They have to learn to distinguish my voice from other chatter.”

The hounds rushed into the pond, eager to play in the own waves and catch the biscuits Lilla threw to them. Paper, now an old hand at summer training, simply stood and waited for a biscuit to come his way.

"Toss a biscuit over here, please," says Paper.

“They’re ready to hunt,” Lilla said. “There’s not much else I can teach them on hound walk. They’ve learned to stay behind when I need them to, they’ve learned to stay with me. We’ve hit lines on certain days and gotten them off those and settled back down again. You can see that they’ll trot off and then turn around and check on where I am. I’m still carrying biscuits, but I’m not using them very much.

“They’re really on schedule,” she added. “Kind of ahead a schedule, really. We’re still working on a few little things. For example, when I say ‘Come behind,’ Bangle and Bandstand still shoot ahead. It isn’t a big deal, but I do need to fix those kinds of things. Out hunting, if I’m trotting toward a coop and say, ‘Come behind,’ if they get ahead I can’t jump the coop. They might get hurt. So I need to keep working with them on that.”

Lilla believes one reason the hounds stay so relaxed out walking even at this energizing time of year, is because the Iroquois kennel provides a lot of turnout. The hounds give themselves plenty of exercise in the 15-acre fenced paddock adjacent to their kennel, and even that has offered some unexpected training.

Three deer, Lilla explains, have taken to jumping into the hounds’ turnout pen. That gives the hounds more opportunity to get used to –and ignore–deer and their scent, and it seems to be working, because the deer keep jumping in. That’s a sign they don’t feel threatened by the hounds, which means the hounds aren’t pursuing them.

Pats all around from huntsman Lilla Mason and kennel manager Michael Edwards as the group pauses at Cormac's Elbow.

This seems a good time to get an update on Driver, whose first hound walk we remember so vividly! How has he progressed since June? There have been some surprises about this pupposaurus, Lilla tells us.

“He’s doing well, but he’s gotten shy a couple of times,” she explained. “One time we had to walk by some work trucks, and he was shy about that. I hope that was just because he was exposed to a new thing where he normally walks and that the shyness is something he’ll get over. But it’s something for the whips to keep in the back of their minds when we start hunting, to make sure nothing happens to make him scared or that, if he gets scared, he doesn’t get left behind, or something like that.

“That’s what the summer is for, to file away little personality traits or issues that might surface later and cause a problem,” she added.

Samson and Barman

This hound walk also marked the return of two much-loved English characters, Samson and Barman. Both haven been off in recent months due to health issues. Samson, whom you probably will remember very well as the opinionated traveler, had a tumor removed from his right hind leg back in February and looks to be back in good form. No doubt he’ll be glad to get back to hunting! Last season, despite his imperious style at the airport, Samson turned out to be a surprisingly laid-back hound who also helped another import, Strawberry, figure out the new surroundings shortly after their arrival from England.

Red-and-white Samson

Barman was taken out of the hunting pack after having a seizure and is now doing very well on the anti-seizure medication phenobarbital. Fortunately, both phenobarbital and potassium bromide–the two treatments of choice for seizures in dogs–are both highly effective and relatively inexpensive.

Barman, one of the kennel's Big Men on Campus.

Phenobarbital is something the houndbloggers know a little bit about, thanks to our late king of the household and his successor, Felix and Harry. Felix had epilepsy, and Harry, too, has had seizures regularly; in both dogs, the seizures were controllable by one or the other medication at a very doable price.

We’re very glad to see two of our most personable hounds, Samson and Barman, back at work!

Hounds among cattle

Getting hounds used to cattle is an important part of the summer training regimen.

CATTLE are boring. That’s the message Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wants to give the hounds. Whether or not you happen to like cattle, or even find them exciting, it’s important that the hounds find them as unexciting as possible. Why? Farmers don’t like their cattle to be chased or harassed, and it doesn’t aid in chasing the quarry–coyote, in our case–if the pack decides they’re too interested in visiting with the cattle in a field the quarry has run through.

But hounds (and especially puppies) are curious beings, and so are calves. Letting the two populations meet and find each other dull company is something that has to be managed carefully.

“In our training program, our goal is to let the hounds investigate something, make the right decision, and learn from that,” explained Lilla. “What you don’t want on hound walk is, every time you get around cattle, the whips and I get nervous and all the hounds want to do is, like a child, the thing you tell them not to do. That’s what you don’t want. What I prefer is for them to go out, investigate the cattle, maybe make a mistake, but see the cattle and get bored with them.

“What you don’t want to do is create a situation where the cattle were fun and it was fun to chase them. You want them to get close to the cattle and smell them, get around their legs and maybe get pushed around by one, things like that. You don’t want them to find a lone calf that runs and they chase it. Then you’ve got more homework to do, because that was fun.

“It’s a fine line,” Lilla adds. “But the summer is when you want them to make their mistakes. So at some point you’ve got to just let them experience things. They say God is your best whipper-in. So on a hot day, that’s a good time to take them through cattle, on a day when the cattle don’t want to run, and with cattle that are used to seeing hounds so they don’t react to the hounds because they’re bored with them, too.”

A lone calf that runs away from the hounds can present a particular temptation.

Lilla started the summer’s hound walk at The Pig Lot, where there’s a herd of cows and calves in several large fields. “A lot of times the cows will encircle the babies when they’re lying down, so they’ll all be together,” Lilla said. “That’s ideal, because the cows are being protective, and the babies won’t get up and run, and the cows will swing their heads at the hounds to discourage them.”

There’s plenty of room for hounds and cattle avoid each other, but there also are good opportunities for the twain to meet, as we saw earlier this summer when a young steer sidled up to the pack by himself and tried to engage the puppies. You can see it at about the 3:48 mark :

By mid-July, the year-old puppies Driver and the BA litter had seen and smelled plenty of cattle at The Pig Lot under circumstances that usually weren’t very titillating: hot summer mornings, few lone calves, and plenty of watchful mama moo-cows with plenty of hound experience.

But when Lilla started walking the hounds twice a week at Boone Valley in late July, things got a little more challenging. On a recent Saturday, the hounds met up with a herd of curious young heifers who were both forward and prone to run–a mix the puppies hadn’t experienced before and a real test of their discipline.

“We do a lot of work with cattle before we ever go to Boone Valley, because those heifers are young and very curious, and when they see something they’re curious about, they’ll surround it,” Lilla explained. “They won’t stand still. And they’re young enough that they’re very mobile. They’re like a school of fish.

“It was a perfect test. They were at a distance, and we moved into their field. They came at us, and there were a lot of them.”

Then someone barked. The heifers spooked and ran. Did the hounds give in to the temptation to chase after them? See for yourself how they handled it:

“That was a really good test of our summer program so far,” Lilla said. “What the hounds didn’t do was switch off mentally and think, ‘I’ve gotta chase that, I’ve gotta chase that.’ What they did instead was make a decision, hear me tell them no, and come back. That’s the invisible thread.

“Any pack of hounds, any young puppy, has a tendency to run after what’s moving. You’ll see that during hunt season. Just because a deer flushes out of a covert and a hound gallops a few steps after it, that’s not rioting. If the hound then gets the chance to see it and smell it and then says, ‘Oh, right, I’m not supposed to do that,’ and comes back, that’s what you want. Rioting is when they take those few galloping steps and then switch off to the huntsman and say, ‘I’ve gotta chase that.’ Then you’ve got a problem.

“What was nice about that day,” she continued, “is that the whippers-in were very calm and I was calm. We didn’t create tension for the pack, where they get like a coiled-up spring ready to pop, where they’re thinking, ‘Everybody’s tense! We’re tense, too! What are we tense about? Oh, cattle are moving, we’ve got to run!’

“The whips did the right thing, because they got where, if there was a problem, they could correct it, but they didn’t come running in and push the hounds back to me. They allowed the hounds to obey me.'”

There’s still time for more training this summer: the informal hunting season, which will mark the puppies’ debut, doesn’t start until around October. But already the young hounds have passed some important tests. Next up: horn training. So far, Lilla hasn’t used the horn much at all on hound walks. How can she teach Driver and the BAs what it means? Find out next time, on the hound blog!