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.

A Tale of Three Litters … and One Stick

A Puppy For Everyone! The BO puppies back in December with friends Hannah Emig, Mary Hicks, Nancy Clinkinbeard, Maggie Wright, Eloise Penn, and Christine Baker. The BO puppies are by Samson out of Bonsai. Photo by Gene Baker.

The puppies of the Iroquois Hunt foxhound pack have been keeping busy these days, as you can see in the videos below. The younger set, the SA and BO litters, even went on their first “hunt” for unusually wooden quarry! Luckily, the chase–with good cry, we might add–was captured by huntsman Lilla Mason, who put together the first video. And, no, that sound was not dubbed in! Those are the puppies themselves taking charge of the soundtrack.

Meanwhile, the “big puppies” of the HA litter have matured into breathtakingly noble and elegant creatures. They might have stepped right out of a medieval tapestry.

It’s not many more months now before the HAs will join their elders in the pack, where the BA litter, the first puppies the hound blog started following back in 2009, are now leaders. More on that later. For now, please just relax and enjoy some warm puppies on a winter afternoon!

Strolls with the HASABOs


SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

Sault, Sawmill, and Sayit (foreground) explore some snowy branches. That looks like Sample in the background. Photo by Dave Traxler.

WHEN winter weather freezes or drowns out hunting, we’re lucky that we still get to spend time with the hounds. It’s been a week since any of the houndbloggers have hunted in the saddle, but we’ve made it out three times recently with the Iroquois Hunt’s boisterous batch–make that batches–of puppies.

Two of these litters you’ve already met: the HAs (by Hawkeye out of the great BA litter’s mother Baffle) and the SAs (by our former pupposaurus, now houndasaurus, Driver out of Sage). There’s a third litter that also has illustrious parents, and which the houndbloggers have been remiss not to introduce you to before now. They are the BOs. Their parents are two of the great Iroquois characters, easily recognizable by their color and by their prowess on the hunt field: their mother is Bonsai and their father is Samson, known to the houndbloggers as The Voice,  who famously made a scene at Heathrow airport.

We’ll start with the HAs, who have matured into elegant, leggy individuals, something you could see coming even in their early days, and they certainly have been stamped by their sire, Hawkeye.

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Their training is progressing well, and you can see during this walk that they’re figuring out exactly what those powerful noses can do! There are a few wistful looks toward the rich hunting grounds of Pauline’s Ridge. No doubt the alluring scent of coyote was wafting down from the ridge and into eager HA nostrils, and although they can’t know all that that scent means yet, it already seems to pique the HAs’ interest (and instinct)!

If the HAs are the high-school set, the SAs are still in elementary school. You probably already have noticed something wonderfully unusual about them: they’re not white! A number of the HAs have a bit of subtle buff, lemon, and oatmeal here and there, but the SAs have made a dramatic departure from the paler shades that dominate the Iroquois pack. This gives the houndbloggers some hope that, at some point in the future, they will be able, finally, to reliably identify hounds galloping full throttle half a field or more away.

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

The SA puppies and friends at Brookfield. Photo by Dave Traxler.

And here’s another tremendous thing that has the houndbloggers all atwitter about the SAs: they’re wire-haired. We had hoped, not very secretly, that matching the dark Driver and the luxuriously woolly Sage would result in some dark or tri-colored woollies, and while none of the SAs are as flamboyantly woolly as their mother, they are distinctly broken-coated and completely adorable to look at. Their names are Saigon, Sample, Sault, Savvy, Sayit, and Sawmill, the females being Saigon, Sample, Savvy, and Sayit, and the males Sault and Sawmill.

The BOs also have enjoyed romping in the great outdoors. Most recently, they’ve been out and about with their bigger packmates, the SAs, who seem to relish their roles as worldly “big dogs.” The BOs are smooth-coated and colorful, as you’d expect from the pairing of the dark, bronze-eyed Bonsai and the red-and-white Samson.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit having a big time! Photo by Dave Traxler.

The houndbloggers were out for two recent walks with the SAs and BOs, first at Miller Trust and then at Dulin’s. You can see the results–including Savvy’s courageous pursuit of a waterbound dog biscuit!–in the video below. The BOs, the kindergarteners, are named Bobbsey, Bombay, Bombshell, Boone, Bootjack, Bouncer, Bounder, and Bourbon.

With three litters of puppies, it’s going to take some time for everyone, from hunt staff to houndbloggers, to learn which name goes with which hound. And, as huntsman Lilla Mason pointed out, it doesn’t really work to ID a hound by some small mark you only see when you’re up close. Come the day these puppies take to the hunt field, the staff most often will be identifying them by watching them run across a field or by looking straight down on their backs from the saddle. So everyone now is trying to familiarize themselves with the three litters’ back and side markings and tail markings, for example.

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

So far, the houndbloggers only reliably know a handful, if that. But as we follow the puppies through these initial walks, and on to spring training and summer hound walk, we’ll learn more about them as they learn more about working in a pack. Stay tuned!

Casting back on a rainy day

Photo by Dave Traxler.

Thank heavens for rain. God knows we need it sometimes, and so do our landowners. But does it have to fall, and fall so heavily, on days when hounds are supposed to meet? At least there is a silver lining: poor weather provides a fine opportunity to think back to sunnier days. The summer hound walk and roading season ended several weeks ago, but we thought we’d cast back a bit and enjoy a last look at some video and photographs we and photographer Dave Traxler collected over the summer.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Now, of course, our thoughts have turned back to fall and the new hunt season. Which means the return of the Hound of the Day series, as well as more photos from Dave, and video when the houndbloggers are out with the camera. Stay tuned for all of that when the weather allows us back out again, and, in the meantime, stay warm and dry!

What we’ve been doing this summer

The HA puppies take a hike (with video!)

The HA puppies on their recent walk, as photographed by Dave Traxler.

WE don’t want to say anything too soon, but … it looks like spring finally is here. With hunt season behind them, the change of seasons mean the hounds’ attention turns to hound shows and summer walk. For the newest puppies at Iroquois, the so-called HA litter (click here for pictures and video from when they were teeny, tiny pups!) by Hawkeye out of Baffle, everything is brand new–including the change of season. Well, almost everything. While we were out hunting (or, in my case, riding with Michael Edwards in the hound truck), Iroquois member and kennel volunteer Cice Bowers was back on the farm, working with the HA puppies.

As a result, the growing hounds have made an extraordinary amount of progress. At just five months of age, they already have been taking daily walks and learning to come back as a group when called. So by the time we and an enthusiastic group of Iroquois members showed up for the first official puppy walk of spring, walking and coming back when called was almost old hat for the precocious HAs.

Creek crossing were part of the adventure for the HA puppies. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“Cice has been taking them out on walks and letting them go out away from her, then rewarding them for coming back, so that they learn to come back,” Lilla said. “She’s also taken Magic, who is quite a bit older than they are, so they’re exposed to someone they don’t live with, and she’s given them a lot of individual attention.”

“We try to give them as much exposure to other people as possible at the age they are, because you don’t want them to grow up knowing only the two people in the kennel who manage them,” explained Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “We want them to experience people, children, the house dogs, and strange environments. These puppies had never been away from the kennel and loose in the direction we went on Saturday.”

Cice Bowers (left, in gray fleece and light cap) has been working closely with the puppies all season. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Why let the puppies run loose on the walk rather than put them on leashes or the traditional couples?

“They learn more,” Lilla said. “They get to make their own decisions. I wanted to see whether they would stay with us, which they did. They’re kind of young yet to leash train, but even if we had them on leashes, it would be like having a fish on the end of a fishing line. They wouldn’t experience the walk we wanted them to experience: to be free in the woods, walk along with us, and go out from us and come back.

“We also wanted them to be exposed to house dogs, which we seemed to collect along the way, since we had biscuits upon us!”

A walk in the woods benefitted everyone, not just the puppies! Photo by Dave Traxler.

On Saturday’s walk, the puppies did get some new experiences, including meeting the local terriers and chasing after their companion, Magic, when she found what can best be described as an ex-rabbit. That presented a special challenge to the puppies’ discipline. You might forgive a five-month-old hound puppy, or a litter of puppies, for getting so distracted by a dead rabbit that they forget to come back when called. But, amazingly, no forgiveness was necessary. Magic galloped down a narrow path with her long-eared prize, pursued by a line of wildly curious puppies, and they all disappeared around a bend. But when Lilla called out to them, here they all came back again, one by one. Except Magic, who enjoyed her rabbit lunch and met up with the group a bit later on the walk.

It was frankly amazing to see how responsive the five-month-old HA puppies were, especially under circumstances that could invite disorder. You can actually see one of the puppies, Hanbury, making the decision whether to chase after Magic or return to Lilla at the 2:17 mark on our video from the walk; click below to see it. To see the high-definition version, roll your cursor over the video window; you’ll see a box that says “HD” appear in the upper right-hand corner. Click it!

“When they’re all together and following another dog, that’s when they’re more likely to switch off to commands and keep going, so I was extremely pleased that they came back when we called,” Lilla said. “It showed a lot of focus on their part. They had to make a decision. They had to hear the command then decide to come back; they didn’t just blindly run on. That was great.”

That good decision-making will be important when these puppies eventually join the working pack for summer hound walk and then hunting.

The HA puppies and the kids on the walk found each other entertaining. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“It’s immensely important,” Lilla said. “You want to turn them loose, but you want them to have that invisible thread with you at the same time. In our training program, this kind of training has been much more successful. We’re lucky to have the leeway to train this way rather than on couples. When they’re on couples, they learn nothing. But on a walk like this one, they get to make a lot of decisions, and they learn a lot. We want to let them make decisions, and then reward the right decisions.

“The hounds have to have the confidence to go away from you but the attention to come back. That’s what the invisible thread is.”

Magic (far right) joined the HA puppies on their walk. Photo by Dave Traxler.

There’s a happy side-effect for the human participants, too–especially the younger ones.

“What a wonderful way to get these young kids hooked into the sport,” Lilla added. “They relate to puppies and love puppies, and it’s a fun outing for the parents.”

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!