A visitor’s view of the kennel

Author and flat-coated retriever owner/breeder Gina Spadafori gets some face time with Salsa

THIS week the houndbloggers have been hosting Gina Spadafori, an influential author and blogger on dog and companion-animal subjects and the writing partner of “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker. She’s also a breeder and owner of flat-coated retrievers and strongly supports letting working breeds do the jobs they were bred to do. Which led her to the Iroquois kennel.

She visited the kennel on Tuesday and had some interesting observations about our hounds’ lives there. If you think kennels sound dreary, you might be especially interested in Gina’s perspective on how dogs–in our case, working pack hounds–can live happily in kennels.

To read the piece, click on over to Pet Connection.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.

Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part I

TO RIDERS  in the hunt field, Michael Edwards and Alan Foy appear as two white trucks in the distance, if you even spot them at all. The two men serve as the hunt’s road whips: their function during a hunt is to protect the hounds if they run toward one of the country roads that cross the hunt country. They also collect hounds at the end of the day.

But that’s just the time they’re out and about with the hunt. Much of the rest of their working lives is spent in the kennel, well behind the scenes, doing the daily work to keep the pack (and the retirees) healthy, happy, and fit.

Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards keeps a watchful eye on all the hounds

They’re like the backstage crew at a big Broadway show, and their work is critical to the hunt. In the kennel, they handle the daily feeding, medicating, and general care of about 85 hounds who range in age from newborn pup to 11-year-old retiree. Most–about 65–are working pack hounds, athletes in the prime of life. Fit and full of themselves, they have their own tribal rules and office politics, which Michael and Alan have to keep abreast of and manage, when necessary.

If you think working in a foxhound kennel is only about pouring Purina and cleaning drains, welcome to Michael and Alan’s office:

The office has a computer system that allows Michael Edwards and Alan Foy to track hounds' exercise schedules and veterinary updates, among other things.

The kennel computer and database track almost everything about each hound: when it hunts or goes on hound walk, when it goes to the vet and what procedures were done there, who needs what medicine when. It also allows the kennel guys to inventory supplies.

The daily medicine rounds are obviously important, but they aren’t easy when your intended target is walking around among a jostling crowd of 80-pound hounds, all of whom think you probably have a dog biscuit somewhere on your person. But on the day I visited, Michael waded through the hounds with surprising ease, even managing to get an eyedropper full of ear medicine into the proper ear, without a) fumbling the dropper so it gets trampled under everyone’s paws,  b) getting bitten by the hound whose ears have to be medicated, or c) accidentally squirting the dropper full of liquid onto, say, his own shirt. I have tried this at home with Harry, without four or five other curious hounds in my face, and it never went that well.

Michael keeps careful track of who gets which medicine and why. Dealing with veterinary medical issues is a key part of the job, both for maintaining herd health and for treating incidental cuts, scrapes, and other ailments

Michael keeps the medications for each group of hounds in one hand as he slips into each run. He learned long ago that digging them out of a pocket among the hounds was an invitation to chaos. Hounds are wildly curious about pockets, because everyone knows that’s where treats live, and a person reaching into a pocket is a person to mob before every other hound in the run can get there first. “They all think someone else is getting something special,” Michael explained.

Result: crushed pills or, worse, dropped pills that get snatched off the floor by the wrong hound. Hound rule number one: if a person’s got it, it’s probably a treat. Hound rule number two: if it drops on the ground, eat first and ask questions later. Fickle, Michael says, is particularly adept at that, and will even eat her own medicine right out of his hand.

Not everyone is so easy. Landsman, one of the retired hounds, is shifty about medication. He ate his breakfast with the other retired hounds but kept a wary eye on Michael. Landsman needs ear medication, which has to be dripped into his ear canal. Understandably, it’s not something he’s fond of. He licked the last of his breakfast off his lips, then made a stiff turn to the right to evade Michael, who was approaching due west with the offensive eyedropper of medicine. Landsman tottered quickly between me and the concrete-block wall, apparently intending to make a break for it down the kennel’s center aisle.

The double-decker hound trailer. Much like a school bus, really: everybody has his favorite seat.

“Landsman always thinks he can outrun Michael, but he hasn’t done it yet, has he?” Michael said as he intercepted Landsman. The old hound stopped, shoulders between Michael and the wall, and actually tilted his left ear slightly toward Michael. This was just part of the game, and, once caught, Landsman didn’t seem to mind the drops at all.

As they make medication rounds, Michael and Alan also check hounds over for unusual bumps, scrapes, heat, and swelling or other symptoms that something could be wrong. That’s important for many reasons–not least because an illness left unchecked could spread through the entire kennel.

Alan Foy, an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne, and some of the Iroquois hounds earlier this year

To the hounds, the guys in the kennel are both alpha dogs and sources of comfort. “If they get out hunting and they get somewhere where they don’t know where they are, when they see us, I think they feel like, ‘There’s Michael and Alan to come save us,'” said Michael. “I remember in Stomper’s first year hunting, he didn’t come in with the rest of the hounds. When I got down to Nan Price’s driveway, I saw this lump laying by the road. It was Stomper. I guess he just decided, ‘Well, it’s dark and I don’t know my way home, so I’ll just sit here and hope somebody finds me.’ I picked him up and got him in the truck, and he was just like, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ You have to build that type of relationship where they’re like that, where they’re loyal to you.”

When Michael and Alan arrive at the kennel each morning, the hounds start up in greeting. First one, then another, then a couple more, until finally the whole kennel is singing.

“They know when we get here they’re going to be fed, they’re going to get to go do something,” Michael explained. “It’s just part of their day to be with us.”

A hunt day starts like any other for Michael and Alan, except that the hounds Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has selected to hunt don’t get breakfast–an immediate tip-off to them that they’re going hunting. Do they know? Michael thinks so.

“The fun part is separating out who goes from who doesn’t go, because they all want to go,” he said. “Finish will bite on your boot if you don’t take him out to go hunting, just to let you know he’s mad as hell he’s not going hunting.”

There are several reasons the hunting hounds skip breakfast. As with any athlete, you wouldn’t want their bowels to be full before they have  to run long distances. But Michael and Alan do scatter biscuits in the grass before they let hounds out of the hound truck at a meet, which helps prevent the hounds’ stomach acid from building up. They toss them biscuits again at the end of the hunt. That’s to help keep the hounds’ blood sugar reasonably high, says Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, and it helps give them a good appetite for the full meal they’ll get back at the kennel after hunting.

A woolly welcome: Sassoon says hello before heading out to hunt

Before loading The Chosen Hounds in the hound truck and driving them to the day’s meet, Michael and Alan put blaze-orange tracking collars on them, then turn them out into the grass paddock alongside the kennel for about 20 minutes. The idea is to let them empty themselves and gallop around a bit, but it was pretty clear on the day I was there that the hounds mostly just wanted on that truck. After a few minutes of perfunctory piddling and pooing, they filtered back over to the paddock fence and sat shifting their intense gazes between us and the hound trailer parked tantalizingly behind us by the kennel’s main gate.

Soon a few hounds started whining, and then more joined in, and eventually they were all sitting and whining, plainly trying to hypnotize us into loading them up now. Noooooooooooow. NOW.

Alan puts a tracking collar on one of the hounds before hunting

Even loading the double-decker hound truck requires a surprising amount of thought. For example, if one hound is intimidating to another, it might be best to keep them in separate compartments. Michael and Alan must always be aware of these developments that are part of the pack’s complex and changeable dynamics. For the most part, though, they allow the hounds to choose where they’re most comfortable.

“It’s kind of like the school bus when you were a kid,” Alan said. “You’d have the little area of seats you liked.”

Alan drove the hound trailer to the meet, while Michael took care of another important duty: setting the warning signs out on the road closest to the meet, a hint to drivers to keep their eyes open and their speed moderate.

This particular meet at Foxtrot was a special one, because it was Lilla’s first day back after breaking her ankle back in November. The hounds didn’t seem to notice the change at first, but as soon as she spoke to them from the back of her horse, it was clear they recognized her and were glad to see her.

But we’ll save that story, and the tale of the day’s hunt, until tomorrow!

Cold day, warm hearts: the kennel open house (with video!)

Undaunted by bitter cold, more than 30 people attended the Iroquois kennel open house Sunday to meet the puppies, hunting pack, and retirees

IT was so cold the cream for our coffee froze in its pitcher. But it didn’t matter a bit. The brave souls who arrived Sunday for the Iroquois Hunt kennel’s open house at Miller Trust Farm were in excellent spirits. Then again, it’s pretty hard to be in a bad mood while snuggling a hound!

Still, I think the crowd that attended the open house deserve the second Game as Grundy Award for showing up on a day when the high temperature was about 25 degrees.

Driver, one of the puppies born back in the spring of 2009 and easily the biggest pup of the bunch, figured he was the host of the whole deal and was really, really pleased to see this interesting crowd at his house! When someone went out to visit the puppies in their turnout field, Driver wormed through the gate and made a beeline for the guests. And, like any good host, he mingled, but at high speed, bounding around until kennelman Alan Foy reminded him that it was time to leave the grownups. Driver is expected to join the hunting pack next season, if all goes according to plan.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller and Jack van Nagell were on hand, as was huntsman Lilla Mason, who talked about some of the things that make the Iroquois kennel special. Two especially interesting features are the 15-acre fenced turnout field and multiple indoor-outdoor runs that allow hounds to live among smaller groups that they are comfortable with (this differs from the traditional set-up, in which the hounds are kept in two large runs, one for doghounds and one for bitches).

The hounds were as interested in the visitors as the visitors were in them.

Another kennel feature worth noting: the warm room, where older, ill, or injured hounds can keep out of the cold. The warm room has a television, too, where some of the Iroquois retirees–whose care is supported by the all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charity Hound Welfare Fund–were listening to a game show while visitors recalled their exploits on the hunt field.

The retired hounds enjoyed the extra pats, and the puppies were delighted to meet some kids their own age for playtime in the turnout field. We were most impressed with one of the parents on hand, who managed to negotiate all the puppies–including Driver!–without spilling his hot chocolate.

Thanks to everyone who came, and to all who helped prepare the smorgasbord of edible treats: hot coffee, hot chocolate, and three kinds of Liquid Warming Additives to put in said beverages, plus warm little quiches, chips and dip, cookies, and more.

Thanks also to the Masters, Susan Miller, and kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for making the day so much fun and for making the cold day seem a whole lot warmer.

Want to see who came? Check out our group photo, and try to identify your friends under all their winter woollies:

Unfortunately, the weather forecast has only gotten worse since the weekend. Now they’re talking about things like single-digit lows and accumulating snow.

*sigh*

Well, if you’re stuck inside this weekend and need a pick-me-up, please consider making a donation to the Hound Welfare Fund. Your donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes directly to the retired hounds.

A Pupdate: pack manners, playmates, and the kennel staff’s view of hound politics

Paper & Co.

Paper & Co. in a playful mood on Saturday afternoon

FOXHUNTING is on hiatus for now while the deer hunters are abroad in the countryside, and that gave us a chance to check in at the Iroquois kennels to see how the puppies are doing.

Paper, of course, has been out hunting now and is gradually maturing into an adult pack member. He’s had important lessons all summer and fall, and now the real education starts on the hunt field. There, he has to confront new situations and work professionally with the hunting pack. I guess to put it in human terms, he’s getting his university degree, and by next year he should be a full-time contributing member of the working world.

But what about our youngest puppies, Baffle’s litter and Dragonfly’s huge son Driver? They’re still in elementary school, but the lessons they’re learning now are critical to their future development.

These puppies were born in the spring, and for the last couple of months they’ve been getting their first exposure to working in a group, to pack manners, and to coming when called, Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards explained to us on Saturday.

Baffle's puppies in exercise field

Room to roam: all the hounds--puppies, current working pack members, and retirees--get plenty of free exercise in the two-acre field adjacent to the kennel

After breakfast each day, the 10 young puppies spend about three hours out in the kennel’s two-acre exercise field, one of the best tools the Iroquois staff has for the young hounds’ education.

“They stay out here while we’re getting stuff done in the kennel, and they play and play,” Michael said. “I try to get them out twice a day, once at the end of the day, too, so that they get four to five hours outside.

“Right now, the girls in this litter seem a little more rebellious than the boys,” Michael said of Baffle’s puppies. “The two bigger girls, Bangle and Bandstand, they’ll be the ones that won’t want to go in their kennel. But they’re all very lovable and want attention all the time.”

Assistant kennel manager Alan Foy (seen in the photo above with Baffle’s puppies) has also been working with the youngsters to start developing their sense of pack identity and cooperation.

“Alan’s been taking them out back here, just trying to teach them to stick together and respond when he calls them, and they’ve done really well at that,” Michael said, adding that it’s too early for most of the puppies to have learned their individual names yet. The kennel staff is trying to learn the puppies’ names, too! Many of them look so similar it can be hard to distinguish them, with a few exceptions. Bagshot is the woolly male of the litter; Bashful and Banknote are easy to pick out because they are the two smallest; and Driver, well, he’ll always stand out in a crowd due to his size and dark coloring.

Driver puppy picture 07-2009

Driver back in July.

Driver 11-14-09

Driver today with kennel manager Michael Edwards. A VERY big difference!

“Driver is the biggest baby out here,” Michael said, meaning both the biggest baby and the biggest baby. Recently, Michael set a five-gallon bucket out in the kennel yard, spooking Driver.

“He would not come out here on this concrete while that bucket was sitting there,” Michael said. “I had to get it and move it all the way out by the far gate before he would even come in here, and even then he came in looking at it real carefully. So we’re going to do something we did that worked well with the ST litter (Stam, Stax, Star, Stanza, etc., born in 2007). We’re going to put a windsock in their kennel, something that’s moving all the time so they get used to it. It made a big difference with them.”

In addition to their mini-houndwalks around the property, the puppies also have ventured farther afield with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason. On those, they rode in the hound truck to the old point-to-point course, the same place the older hounds have their early summer walks and pond exercise. Like the older hounds, the puppies got to practice sticking together in a wide open space–their first formal exposure to that critical lesson in the company of the people who will actually hunt them someday.

“All that is important,” Michael said, “because they’re learning how to be a pack.”

The hunt and kennel staff have found it’s useful to start building the pack sense early with puppies.

“With the PA litter (including Panda, Parish, Parody, etc., born in 2005), Lilla and I would take them all through the area together,” Michael said. “By the time we incorporated them into the pack, they already had an idea what was going on, so they just blended right in.”

The puppies don’t yet have the attention span of the older hounds, but already they are focusing on people when they are out on walk, said Alan.

Baffle's pups Nov. 14, 2009

Baffle's litter, shown here with Michael, seem all grown up at seven months of age, but their lessons are just beginning. "I'd say they're like teenagers now," kennel manager Michael Edwards says. "They're just kind of lanky, but they're getting well-balanced."

In the case of Baffle’s puppies, it helps that they are part of a nine-hound litter–a ready-made pack, in a way. For Driver, a singleton, it was especially important that he learn group dynamics as early as possible.

“He lets the little girls chew on his ears,” Alan said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy. But he’s fit in really well. I agree with Michael that he’s a little passive in the group, but I think it’s because when we first mixed him in with the other puppies he was so much bigger than they were. Now, he’s not quite as much bigger. Barwick and Backfire are getting pretty close to him in size. I think he knew he was bigger and couldn’t play as rough.”

“That all started when they were all at the lower kennel,” Michael said. “He was so much bigger at first that I monitored him closely. If he would be rough, I’d kind of get on him about it and growl at him.”

That lesson seems to have stuck. As Driver romped around with Baffle’s puppies, he was a perfect gentleman with his smaller playmates.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get him in with a group early was because an only child can sometimes have some trouble integrating,” Michael said. “When they’re on their own too long, I think they don’t get socialized with the pack. They don’t learn pack manners and how to respect other hounds. That’s why it was important to get Driver in with the other puppies as soon as we could, especially as big as he is. The longer we waited, the harder it would have been for him to understand that he is part of a pack.”

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

Baffle's litter in April.

“They learn how to be hounds from each other,” Alan said.

The next step, Michael said, is to start occasionally introducing older hounds to the puppies. Paper was one candidate, but evidently he felt pretty strongly that, having moved up with the big dogs in the pack, he was now too important to deal with the little kids anymore.

“He didn’t want any part of those puppies,” Michael said. “He jumped up on top of a bench and growled about it. I thought, being as young as he was, he’d adjust to it pretty quickly, but no, thank you. On the other hand, Panda went out there with them and loved it.”

“She educated them,” Alan said. “She didn’t get aggressive with them, but she let them know when they went too far and she let them know she didn’t want all of them piling on her at once. If they did that, she’d run away and hop up on the bench, and they couldn’t get up there with her. Then she’d wait until they scattered. Then she’d jump down again and play with one or two of them until all of them would pile on her again. She trained them in her way, which was very gentle.”

“Introducing older hounds to them out in that paddock is where I think they really start to learn about having manners toward other hounds,” said Michael. “I think they learn a lot out here in this field with each other, just about how to be a pack. Look at these guys out here right now. They’ve been running and playing for almost an hour. They’ll play to the point that somebody gets a little grumpy and growls, and then they’ll stop. These guys will say, ‘That’s enough,’ and it doesn’t escalate. Then they’ll play again.”

“Nobody knows more about being a hound dog than a hound dog,” Alan said. “We can let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. But those hounds know even better how to tell each other what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they know how to tell each other how far it can go before something becomes unacceptable. You’ll see them do it on houndwalk. A puppy will go off from the group and do something goofy, and when they come back, and older hound will growl at them to chastise them. Glog is really good at chastising the younger hounds on houndwalk when they do something wrong. He gives them a little scolding, like he’s saying, ‘That’s not how we act around here.'”

Paper at play 11-14-09

Paper (right) at play. Playing is an important part of learning.

While we were at the kennel, we checked in on the new English hounds, too. Cottesmore’s Samson, Strawberry, Structure, and Hawkeye arrived about three weeks ago and are adjusting well, Michael and Alan report. Like the puppies, they are having to learn their place in a new pack, and Michael and Alan are working to figure out which clique within the pack works best for them.

“I think a lot of their ability to adjust easily has to do with Neil,” Michael said, referring to the Cottesmore huntsman, Neil Coleman, who raised and hunted the four in England.

“Look at Samson over here,” Michael said, pointing to the group just turned out in the two-acre field. “He’s in there with all those males. They’re all at the age where they’re trying to show who’s top dog: Paper, Gaelic, Hailstone. But Samson’s the type you could probably stick him in any group and he’d adjust. Because he’s not aggressive. That has a lot to do with the way Neil has raised them. And the others are the same way.”

Samson and friends

Cottesmore Samson, the red-and-white hound closest to Michael here, has settled in well. Michael and Alan report that he is easygoing and adaptable.

Structure, Hawkeye, and Strawberry are kenneled in a run with the SA litter that includes Sassoon, Savvy, and Saracen. “They’re pretty easygoing, too,” Michael said.

One of the most important jobs Michael and Alan do is figure out which group of hounds should be kenneled together. Getting the mix right requires some experimentation, but it’s key to the hounds’ physical and mental wellbeing; getting it wrong could result in dangerous friction in the kennel.

“When I brought the English hounds up from the lower kennel (near Michael’s house, where they were quarantined before joining the rest of the pack at the upper kennel), I just started sticking them out in the field with different groups to see how they responded to each other. When they’re outside together with a lot of room, they’re more interested in what’s going on around them than they are in each other, and you can keep an eye on them. I stuck them in with the SAs and never had any issues with them, so that looks like a good fit.”

The process–the two-acre turnout paddock and essentially letting the hounds choose the clique they’re most comfortable with–is unusual, as the English imports let Michael and Alan know.

“When we first turned them out, they all just stood at the gate looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?'” Michael recalled. “But after a few minutes, they sort of went, ‘Hey, look at all this room! Let’s run!'”

Once the hounds have chosen their own group of friends, how do you get each set to merge comfortably with the pack? “We turn different groups out together,” Michael explained. “There are only a few groups that have a little trouble mixing closely, and you have to know all that, especially when you are loading them up in the trailer to take them to a meet. For instance, we can keep some hounds in the back of the hound truck instead of in the trailer if we need to.”

It’s also critical to know who the dominant dog is at any given time, Michael said. At the moment, it’s Alvin.

“Stalker was the big dog before we retired him,” Michael said. Stalker, one of our most beloved hounds, is now retired under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. You can read his story here. But now that he’s retired, he spends more time in the kennel office, where he can relax and keep warm, and suddenly he’s a mellow retiree.

“Showing his dominance doesn’t seem to concern him so much now,” Michael said. “I guess he’s old enough to realize he’s got it made in there!”

Kennel characters: Foxy, the boss

Foxy checks everyone out on entry to the kennel. A biscuit gratuity is always appreciated!

Foxy checks everyone out on entry to the kennel. A biscuit gratuity is always appreciated!

FOXY does what she likes. And why not? She’s the boss. Foxy is a hound, but, strictly speaking, she’s not part of the pack. Jerry Miller adopted her about seven years ago when her first owner discovered that Foxy’s two main attributes (as she sees it) made her incompatible with life as a house dog. First, no fence is big enough to keep her in. Second, she’s loud. Really loud.

Now about 10 years old, Foxy can still scale any fence, but she doesn’t seem as inclined to these days. Probably that’s because she takes her kennel duties so seriously.

“She bosses the hounds around,” says Michael Edwards, the Iroquois Hunt’s kennelman. “I guess it’s because she’s so loud, and it intimidates the hell out of them. When we turn the hounds out, Foxy runs them out, and when we bring the hounds back in, she runs them back in the kennel. If we turn them out and someone doesn’t want to come out, she goes in and pretty much runs them out, barking at them.”

Like any good den mother, Foxy doesn’t take any guff, either. The “GL” puppies–the litter of hounds whose names begin with the letter combination GL–learned this early on when a few of them got a little sassy with her one day, getting in her face and barking back at her. Foxy gave them a good growl and unleashed her most ferocious bark, startling the GLs, who promptly rolled over in submission. Foxy’s authority hasn’t been challenged since.

Does she boss the kennel staff, too? “You know, I guess she does,” Michael acknowledges. “She barks to be let out and barks to be let in again.”

Foxy on patrol!

Foxy on patrol!

Interestingly, Foxy always seeks out the largest male hound for a playmate. “I don’t know whether she’s showing her dominance or whether she thinks they’re handsome, but she always seems to go for the big guys to run around and play with,” Michael says.

Foxy’s job has its perks. She comes and goes as she pleases. She gets to chase rabbits all over the farm. She used to follow the hunt during the season from the comfort of the hound truck, “but she just wanted to hunt too much, and she was also just too loud,” Michael explains. At the end of her long workday, Foxy usully dines with the retired hounds cared for by the Hound Welfare Fund, and then she retires to her bed in the kennel office, which is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Her duties don’t always end at bedtime. “When we have a hound that’s sick or injured, we usually separate it out from the group and put it in the office while it’s recovering,” says Michael. “She seems to know that when there’s someone in the office with her, they need a little extra care. She’ll settle down with them, and her demeanor changes then. She’s not as bossy then.”

Becoming leader of the pack (with video!)

The Clear Creek Beagles: They like their walks!

The Clear Creek Beagles: They like their walks!

NOTE: For those who had trouble viewing the Iroquois hounds video below, my apologies! I mistakenly had it listed as “private broadcast,” but it is now public. Please try again!

It was a houndful weekend here at Full Cry, and while we apologize for missing our self-imposed deadline of posting these words over the weekend, we must beg your indulgence and hope you agree that time spent with hounds is generally happier than time spent in front of a computer!

We started this weekend walking with the Iroquois hounds in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday and ended walking with the Clear Creek Beagles in Louisville, about an hour and a half to the northwest of Lexington. This is the ideal summer weekend, as far as we’re concerned.

At Iroquois, the hound walks are almost ready to make the shift from the ground to horseback as huntsman Lilla Mason and the whips mount up in preparation for the season. But, for now, everyone is still accompanying the hounds on foot, and the training emphasis, Lilla said, is on “getting the hounds’ eyes.”

Remember the dog biscuits? They’re still a training tool, but Lilla is feeding fewer of them these days, preferring instead to reward good behavior with pats and attention,which make the hounds equally happy. Lilla also has subtly changed some of the biscuit-feeding routine. These days when she stops mid-walk to toss a few cookies to the hounds, she doesn’t say anything to them to let them know she’s stopping. This tests their attentiveness. If the hounds ahead of her have let their minds drift, they’ll miss the crucial moment when Lilla has halted and silently started throwing out treats to the hounds that have stayed close and kept an eye on her, waiting for just this opportunity.

This trains the hounds to keep their focus where it always should be, on the work of the pack and the location of the huntsman, the pack leader.

“The biscuits make them learn to watch you,” agreed Buck Wiseman, joint-Master of Beagles and huntsman at the Clear Creek Beagles.

But it’s not just about the biscuits

Biscuits are a great tool for huntsmen (and dog owners!), but they are not the sole source of a hound pack’s loyalty to its huntsman. Building that loyalty is a pretty complex thing, we find when we ask huntsmen about it.

Consider this anecdote from Neil Coleman, professional huntsman of the Cottesmore hounds in England (whose bloodlines, incidentally, are to be found in the Iroquois kennel).  Coleman arrived as a whip at Cottesmore in 1981 when the renowned Capt. Brian Fanshawe became the hunt’s joint-Master of Fox Hounds and amateur huntsman. Working so closely with Fanshawe and the hounds, Coleman saw first-hand how hounds form attachment and loyalty to a huntsman–even when biscuits play little role in the relatonship. Coleman has said that, at the end of each hunt season every spring, Fanshawe would head off to other business, returning again in the fall to take up hunting the hounds again. Despite the fact that they rarely, if ever, saw Fanshawe throughout the summer months of hound walking and training, when the hounds heard the engine of Fanshawe’s car pulling into the drive to the kennels again each autumn, they went nearly beserk with joy. Why? He gave them their sport, and his arrival heralded the opening of hunt season again, something hounds appear to value at a “price above biscuits,” to paraphrase the old saying.

Keys to the pack: mutual respect, affection, and a common language

Keys to the pack: mutual respect, affection, and a common language

Visiting the Clear Creek Beagles, we had a chance to get another huntsman’s perspective on this, too. Buck, who’s been hunting hounds since he was a 13-year-old in Virginia, says a close connection between huntsman and hounds sometimes seems mystical and is, in fact, exceedingly difficult to explain. Whether or not a huntsman has a magical way with hounds, he’s got to develop a language that both he and his pack can use to understand each other. That language is verbal, but it also has to do with body language and setting rules and routines that the hounds can understand, and that they expect the huntsman to play by, too.

“You’ve got to encourage them,” Buck said as his pack of about 15 couple leaped and bounded at the hem of his kennel coat. “You’ve got to make cheerful sounds when you want to be cheerful. You’ve got to sound truly gruff when you want to get their attention. It’s more art than science.”

Walking with the Clear Creek Beagles looks much like walking hounds at Iroquois, but on a smaller scale. The emphasis is the same: to reinforce hounds’ focus on the huntsman, to provide exercise, and to build pack rapport (especially for the puppies that form the upcoming season’s new entry, or first-time hunters).

Individuals make up a pack, of course, so a huntsman has to get to know individual hounds and their personalities,  quirks, and habits in order to help that hound make a place in the pack successfully. Buck points out a bitch named Eve that Clear Creek had sent to another beagle pack as payment for a stud fee to one of its doghounds.

“She was miserable there,” Buck said. “They couldn’t get their hands on her. So they sent her back. But she’s just as happy as she can be here. We have others, like old Mason here, who are great with me, great with Jean (MacLean, Clear Creek whipper-in), and are fine out hunting, but they don’t like strangers in the kennel much.”

Is it time for our walk?

Is it time for our walk?

A huntsman can’t hunt very well unless he has the loyalty of the pack, and that means having the loyalty of its individual members. Jean got an early lesson in that when she first started working with the Clear Creek Beagles in college. When Buck was away and needed her to walk the hounds out, she discovered that the young hounds she’d helped raise from puppyhood merrily packed up with her when she opened the kennel gate for morning exercise. But the older hounds that had been there before she arrived were so skeptical that they would sit just outside the kennel and refuse to come along with her. They were, she realized, waiting for Buck. To them, she wasn’t the real deal, and no amount of biscuit-tossing could convince them to follow her.

Clear Creek Beagles puppy Hadley starts off feeling a little shy but soon joins up

Clear Creek Beagles puppy Hadley starts off feeling a little shy but soon joins up

As we walked along, surrounded by a pack of wagging, panting beagles, there were few obvious quirks in the Clear Creek pack at the moment. There were only two I could spot. One was Hadley, a shy puppy who hung back well behind us as we walked with the pack through fields and along Buck’s dirt and gravel drive. Buck and Jean kept an eye on Hadley but didn’t push him to join up with the pack, even when he would stop, tail down, and watch the pack recede for a long while. Left on his own, he’d then gallop forward again, always remaining some yards behind the pack, Buck, and Jean. At one point, an older bitch, Salute, trotted back and rounded Hadley up, bringing him back into the pack with her. Eventually, about halfway through a walk of just over a mile, Hadley had screwed up his confidence enough to stay mid-pack, where he trotted along, holding his tail up cheerfullyand casting glances at Buck.

“He’s joined us, but I still have some work to do with him,” Buck observed. “I’ll put him in a yard, pick him up and put him over a wall into his yard. That’s important, so they get handled. He’s not in a yard right now where he’s getting handled so much, so I’ll move him. I’ll just keep picking him up and playing with him every day.”

The other unusual personality was Sancerre, an independent-minded five-year-old bitch that Buck and Jean say they’ve kept in the pack because she’s such a good hunter. Otherwise, she can be aggravating, because she likes to play tricks like hiding in long grass until Buck and the pack have passed, then scurrying off on her own for a private hunt. (She also, incidentally, loves to swim, which doesn’t generally present a problem)

“Sancerre is biddable, she’s just … rebellious,” Buck explained, laughing.  He sounded like an indulgent father describing why he had left a delinquent child in his will.

“Right,” said Jean. “Sure.”

“Sancerre is tolerated,” Buck said with a smile.

“Sancerre is smart,” said Jean. “She likes to fake him out sometimes.”

The creek is a favorite stop on the Clear Creek Beagles' hound walk

The creek is a favorite stop on the Clear Creek Beagles' hound walk

It all looks very informal, this little pack of hounds busily traveling up the farm road together, stopping for a swim in the creek, scouting for biscuits in the grassy verges. But there’s training going on, as Buck pointed out.

“Every time I stop and toss biscuits and talk to them, that’s training for control,” he said, echoing Lilla back at Iroquois. Also like Lilla and Jerry Miller at Iroquois, Buck likes to let his hounds walk and hunt in a looser pack formation rather than in a tight little squad around him.

“I’ve always believed that anyone who has to keep them around him in a little bunch doesn’t really have control of his hounds,” Buck said.

So how do you create the loyalty that leads to real biddability, that makes the hounds want to be with you, even when you’re in the middle of an open field on a sleeting hunt day, when your hounds are some ways distant and you need to call them back to you, with not even a biscuit to use as a lure? Sure, you can breed for a certain amount of biddability, and Buck has stuck with old English and American pack bloodlines to maximize biddability. But that’s not the whole story, not by a long way. The golden thread, that perfect sympathy and communication between huntsman and hounds, is hard to describe.

“To some degree it’s the breeding, and to some degree it’s walking them out every day,” Buck acknowledged. “But the rest of it, I don’t know. They just listen.”

Sancerre, one of the beagle pack's more challenging characters, catches biscuits mid-swim

Sancerre, one of the beagle pack's more challenging characters, catches biscuits mid-swim

Like Lilla, Buck spends a lot of time communicating with individual hounds, stopping to give them a pat or a biscuit and speaking to them by name–Hazelnut, Sweetbriar, Snuffbox, Harlequin, Mister, Mermaid, Socket, Matchbox–they all leap to attention or look in Buck’s direction and wag their tails when he speaks to them.

Buck places a good nose and a strong desire to hunt at the top of his “must have”  list, but biddability is a close third.

“If you can’t take them out and bring them back, particularly if you’ve got a day job, your life is hell,” said Buck, an attorney in his non-beagling life. “You’ll spend the week recovering hounds all over your country.

“You know, it’s kind of a two-way street. They’ve got to trust you, and you’ve got to believe they’re going to respond. Because if you don’t believe in them, they’ll know you don’t. But how do you build that? I don’t entirely know. That’s the magic.”

Puppy Love

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Springtime means puppies at the foxhound kennels.  We’ve got 10 puppies at Iroquois this year. The biggest by far is Driver, who is king of the kennel–or at least of the puppy pen! He’s out of Dragonfly, while the other nine pups are out of Baffle; both bitches are English, as are the puppies’ sires. Dragonfly hails from the North Cotswold, and her puppies are by the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07. Baffle is from the Cottesmore, and her puppies are by Cottesmore Stampede ’06.

It’s not clear quite yet which puppies will turn out to be “woollies,” with the distinctive wiry coats, but one thing is already obvious: they’re all awfully cute.

Puppies in the kennel July 2009

In hound breeding, a litter of puppies always get names beginning with the first two letters of their mother’s name. That’s how Dragonfly’s son got to be named Driver. Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller already has a list of BA names for Baffle’s puppies, but he and the kennel staff haven’t assigned all of the names yet as they wait to see which name suits which hound. A few already are settled. Bangle is a female with a light buff-colored heart shape on one shoulder. Bashful, another female, is the smallest hound in the litter and got her name partly because she likes to do her, er, business in private, as far away from the other puppies as she can get.  Two males, Banknote and Bagshot, have some black on them and the names just seemed to suit their striking looks. And a third male, Barwick, got his aristocratic-sounding moniker because he seems so unflappable and stiff-upper-lip-ish.

These puppies probably will be entered — joining the hunting pack — in the fall of 2010. Eventually, at the end of their careers with the pack, they all will be retired at the kennel under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.

 

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

Puppies are both delightful and devilish, as Driver recently reminded a person at the kennel who, understandably expecting a lick, lowered his nose to Driver’s–and raised it again with Driver attached like a small alligator! As Cuthbert Bradley wrote in 1914, “In the character and disposition of foxhound puppies and boys — and we speak from experience, having walked a couple at a time of each species — there is a striking similarity which prompted the great writer Foster to say, ‘I never saw so much essence of devil put in so small a space.’

“Like all gigantically sinful people, the foxhound puppy wears an easy air of perpetual and exaggerated innocence that tends to put the unwary off their guard.”

But we should quickly point out that Bradley also noted: “It is a well-known fact that the most mischievous puppies and boys grow up to become the most useful in after life, for it is the active brain that prompts mischief, and when this has been developed and disciplined it stands for good work later on.”

This means you, Driver!