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.

Iroquois at the Virginia Hound Show (with video)

The Virginia Hound Show: foxhounds everywhere you looked!

IT was hot, but it was fun. Hundreds of hounds, from horizon to horizon. If you can’t be out hunting, freezing in the sleet and gale-force winds atop Pauline’s Ridge or some other place while the hounds go singing along Boone Creek, well, if you can’t be doing that, standing in the shade of massive old trees and watching just about every kind of foxhound with every kind of coat–English woollies, American tri-colors, and black-and-tan Penn Marydels–parading by isn’t too shabby as an alternative. Especially when one of your hounds takes home a trophy, which is kind of nice!

Best fun of the day: seeing relatives to our hounds, such as Hailstone’s sire Live Oak Hasty and Iroquois Gloucester’s son Mill Creek Rasta.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Virginia Hound Show 2010
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But now, as Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason put it, the fun really begins: summer hound walk. That starts in just a few days, and the houndbloggers are especially looking forward to it. Paper, the clown of last year’s puppy crop, is now a hunting veteran, and it’s time for Driver and the BA litter to start walking out with some of the big pack. We’ll be following their adventures!

All hail Hailstone!

Iroquois Hailstone with huntsman Lilla Mason (kneeling) and (back row, left to right) Jim Maness, kennel manager Michael Edwards, Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, Sally Lilly, Cice Bowers, and Cooper Lilly, and (front row, left to right) Peggy Maness and Robin Cerridwen.

THE RESULTS  from the Virginia Foxhound Show are in! The big Iroquois news from the show was Hailstone’s victory over a crowded and highly competitive group in the Single Crossbred Dog – Entered class. He showed well throughout the class, demonstrating great composure despite the crowded showring and the Virginia heat, and he wowed ’em with his beautiful way of going.

Judge Tony Leahy took his time looking over the doghounds in Hailstone’s class, and it’s easy to see why. They were a gorgeous group, and we’re so proud of Hailstone for putting in a performance that helped him stand out in such a group.

You can see Hailstone’s class, which was one of the largest and toughest of the day, below.

Other highlights of the day:

Dragonfly ’07 finished second in the Best English Brood Bitch class, a real testament to her value for the Iroquois breeding program. As the dam of our promising young puppy Driver, she’s already proving her worth!

Sassoon ’04 came up against Live Oak Maximus, the eventual grand champion foxhound, in his class (Single English Dog – Entered) but showed himself with his typical dazzling presence and that charming face. He placed fourth.

Stanway ’08 finished third in the Single English Bitch – Entered class, another encouraging result for the Iroquois breeding program. Stanway is by our handsome stallion hound, the late Gangster.

Iroquois Sassoon, in the ring with Peggy Maness (left) and huntsman Lilla Mason, finished fourth in the Single English Dog - Entered class.

The Puppy Report: Not all of our youngsters showed with confidence, but there were two particularly important positives for them. Driver and the BAs got strongly favorable reviews from English judge Nigel Peel, who noted that they were showing against older puppies and, while less mature than many of their show-ring rivals, they were beautiful hounds who will have promising futures. That’s the kind of take-home message any hound person loves to hear, especially from a judge as well-regarded as Peel.

And the pups gained vital experience in the deep end of the hound-show pool, experiencing a road trip, a stay away from home, several hundred new hounds, countless spectators, golf carts crunching along on gravel, big fancy hats, hordes of babies and toddlers, and lots of other entirely new things.

We should point out that Bagshot showed well, and Bailey and Barwick received third place in the Couple of English Dogs – Unentered class!

Handlers and hounds at Morven Park on Saturday, the day before the Virginia Hound Show.

We’re proud of everyone!

Over the next few days, we’ll post more video from this extraordinary–and extraordinarily beautiful and old-fashioned–hound show, and we’ll give a more complete description of the Virginia trip, too. With pictures! But for now, your houndbloggers are going … to … go … get … some … sleep.

“Hark to Sthenon!”

The hounds, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness

The hounds, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness

CAME across this advice from Xenophon this afternoon, complete with examples. The advice is good, but the names? Maybe not so much anymore.

“Give the hounds short names, so as to able to call them easily. The following are the right sort: Psyche, Thymus, Porpax, Styrax, Lonche, Lochus, Phrura, Phylax, Taxis, Xiphon, Phonax, Phlegon, Alke, Teuchon, Hyleus, Medas, Porthon, Sperchon, Orge, Bremon, Hybris, Thallon, Rhome, Antheus, Hebe, Getheus, Chara, Leusson, Augo, Polys, Bia, Stichon, Spude, Bryas, Oenas, Sterrus, Krauge, Kaenon, Tyrbas, Sthenon, Aether, Aktis, Aechme, Noes, Gnome, Stibon, Horme.”

That’s from Xenophon’s Cynegetica, written sometime around 400 B.C. You know, on second reading, I kind of like some of those names!

Meanwhile, more recently, in the 16th century Gervase Markham put forward this formula for composing the perfect symphony of hound music:

“If you would have your kennel for sweetness of cry, then you must compound it of some large dogs, that have deep, solemn Mouthes, and are swift in spending, which must as it were bear the base in the consort; then a double number of roaring and loud ringing Mouthes, which must bear the counter tenor; then some hollow plain sweet Mouthes, which must bear the mean or middle part: and so with these three parts of musick you shall make your cry perfect. … Amongst these you may cast in a couple or two small single beagles, which as small trebles may warble amongst them: the cry will be a great deal the more sweet.”

And, finally, George Tuberville (1540-1610) on “sundrie noyses of hounds”:

“As you heare hounds make sundry different noyses, so do we terme them by sunry termes: For hounds do call on, bawle, bable, crie, yearne, lapyse, plodde, baye, and such lyke other noyses. First when hounds are firste cast off and finde of some game or chace we say, ‘They call on.” If they be too busie before they finde the Sent good,  we say ‘They bawle.’ If they be too busie after they finde good Sent, we say ‘They bable.’ If they run it endwayes orderly and make it good, then when they holde in togethers merrily, we say, ‘They are in crie.’ When they are in earnest eyter in the chace or in the earth, we say ‘They yearne.’ When they open in the string (or a Greyhound in his course) we say ‘They lapyse.’ When they hange behinde and beate too much on one Sent or place, we say, ‘They plodde.’ And when they have eyther earthed a vermine, or brought a Deare, Bore, or such lyek, to turne head agaynst them, then we say ‘They baye.'”

Now, lest I bable, I will plodde to a halt and go feed ye dogges, who are telling me their sweet Mouthes are a good deal too hollow. But before I go, I’ve been hearing good things about our friend Paper, so we’ll check in on him again in our next post.

Many thanks to Peggy Maness for the use of the great photo accompanying this post!

Harlequin gets his gold watch

Harlequin, as captured by Peggy Manness of Maness Photography

Harlequin, a nine-year-old son of Shamrock Xray '96 and Bicester Harmony '97, as captured by Peggy Maness of Maness Photography

THEY call Harlequin “the boomerang.” Two times Iroquois drafted him out to another hunt, and two times he came back. How lucky that turned out to be for us!

“He was a difficult puppy. He didn’t respond to authority well,” is how Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason puts it.

But the boy sure turned out to be a good hunting hound. When Iroquois got him back the second time, MFH Jerry Miller decided it might be best to try neutering Harlequin, and that helped. So did the passage of time.

“As with a lot of hounds, I think he was just immature,” Lilla says, “and as he hunted more, he matured and became a really good hound.”

One creative training strategy Jerry used to correct Harlequin whenever he was errant was to leave him home from a hunt when Harlequin misbehaved.

“He was frustrated when he saw his pack mates leaving to hunt, and he would straighten up very quickly in order to be invited back out hunting next time,” Lilla recalls. “Hounds really do understand when everyone goes out to hunt. They know the pattern of a hunt day: you get drawn out, you get your tracking collar put on, you get loaded into the hound trailer. They know what all that means, and they know they’re missing it when they’re left behind. They realize that they’re part of the pack, and I think they get humbled. The cockiness that made them errant is dashed in the disappointment of not being invited to participate.”

This year, when they open the kennel gate at Iroquois to load the hounds up for the first meet, Harlequin will stay behind. He’s the newest member of the shuffleboard-and-golf set, living out the remainder of his days with his new pack, the Iroquois retired hounds. He can rest on his laurels now, and there are plenty of those. Despite his rebellious beginings, this good-looking young tough with those jaunty spots–a sort of Rebel with Four Paws–became a leader of the pack.

“I can tell you he was a good leader,” Lilla says. And I’ll turn the mike over to Lilla to tell you how, because she tells the tale better than anyone, having seen it first hand:

“One time hounds were in a covert in Possum Hollow, and it had been a blank day up to that point, dry and hot, one of those days in the drought. It seemed hopeless. But we got in Possum Hollow, and one hound spoke, then two hounds spoke, and then they just erupted. At the very west end of Possum Hollow, out popped a coyote. There just happened to be a medium-sized cow standing there eating by itself. It had obviously gotten out of the field where it belonged. When the coyote came out of the covert, the cow took off and ran down the fenceline. The coyote got right underneath it and ran along with it for about 200 or 300 yards. Then the coyote turned right under the cow and went straight west while the cow continued on north.

Many thanks to Peggy Maness for these beautiful portraits of Harlequin! You can visit her at manessphotography.com

Many thanks to Peggy Maness for these beautiful portraits of Harlequin! You can visit her at manessphotography.com

“That particular day, we had a few older hounds and a lot of younger hounds, because the fixture was a good place to bring younger hounds. One of older hounds was Harlequin. The hounds came spilling out of covert in full cry, but when they got out they quickly had a check, I suppose because they could smell that cow. We’d all seen the coyote come out, but the cow had foiled his scent. So the hounds swirled around and around, and it was Harlequin that left the group and went up and down that fence line, up and down, again and again. You could see he smelled smething but wasn’t sure. But then he struck off on the line right where the coyote had split off from the cow, like he was saying, ‘Here it is! Here it is!’

“He was that kind of hound: he would rely on himself to help. He puzzled it out, and he was the one who went back on his own to do that. And that does a lot for the puppies coming along, when you have a seasoned hound like that to lead your puppies. That what makes your puppies.”

Harlequin, a Crossbred, was bred at Iroquois out of Harmony, an English bitch Iroquois imported from the Bicester. Harlequin was entered at Shamrock, before he boomeranged back to us the first time. He’ll have a home for life here at the Iroquois kennels now under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund. Incidentally, like pretty much everybody’s 401(k) these days, the hounds’ retirement fund can always use support, so we encourage y’all to donate.

Thank you, Harlequin. Happy retirement!

Hound’s Life: Summer Walk

Summer hound walks: physical and mental exercise

Summer hound walks: physical and mental exercise

YOU can hear the hounds coming well before you see them.  They sound like a ghost pack, their howling and baying rises over the hill to where we stand waiting. Conversation stops. And here they come around the bend of the hill, not on foot, but singing from the back of a white customized double-decker hound trailer pulled by a pick-up truck.

      It’s not your traditional Currier-and-Ives foxhunting scene. There’s no red coat for the Master: he’s wearing a T-shirt and khaki trousers that are damp with dew and stained by pawprints from cuff to beltloops. Those of us who have volunteered to help as whippers-in on this muggy midsummer morning are equally casual: baseball caps instead of hunt caps, bermuda shorts and faded jeans instead of breeches. 
     Foxhunting is a winter sport, but the pack’s school days are in the heat of the summer when many of the hunt’s riders and horses are on vacation. Hound walks sound like a jaunt around the neighborhood, and it’s true that the basic exercise is important, just as it is for any house dog. But there are also two critical tasks on the hunt staff’s agenda when they open the back of the hound trailer and let the hounds rush out into the long summer grass this morning: to reinforce the steadiness of the older hounds and to integrate the first-season puppies, who will make their hunting debuts in September, into the pack.
     The two puppies in today’s group are easy to spot. They are predominantly black and tan rather than the white and buff more usual in the Iroquois pack. And they are more easily distracted than their older packmates, who long ago wised up to the importance of keeping an eye on Jerry Miller, the Master who will be walking them today. Miller was the longtime amateur huntsman as well as Master at Iroquois, but he turned his hunting horn over to Lilla Mason, one of his whippers-in, almost a decade ago, though he is still crucial in their training. He is walking the hounds today while she is out of town. It’s a good opportunity to get his views on the pack he has bred and on hounds in general.
     The puppies lollop around, sniffing cow pats and nosing up to the whippers-in standing quietly in a loose circle around the pack, but the older hounds don’t roam too far. They’re waiting for Miller to put on The Biscuit Bag.
     The Biscuit Bag has intense appeal, because it is made up of pockets several inches deep, filled with colored dogs biscuits the hunt buys in bulk. Whoever slips it over his shoulders becomes a sort of Pied Piper.
     But it’s not an absolute authority. If the pack comes across a night line–the scent line of a coyote that crossed the field overnight–they’ll choose a good run over biscuits any day. The only things that might stop them at that point will be the huntsman’s authority over them and quick thinking by us, the day’s volunteer whippers-in.
     The whips act as the long arm of the law, heading off wayward or breaking hounds and pushing them back toward the huntsman–Miller, in today’s case. They’re forbidden, incidentally, to crack their whips except in cases of dire necessity, and are never to strike a hound. The whips can growl, extend their arms in front of a hound, unfurl the thong of their whips so that it hangs down, and waggle their whips in a warning, and generally that is all that is needed in any case to turn a hound–especially an older one that knows better–back to his huntsman.
     The idea on hound walk is not to coerce, but to convince, not to intimidate, but to encourage. In short, to make it easy for the hounds to make the right decision: to stay with the pack and to listen attentively to the huntsman’s commands.
The idea is to encourage, not to intimidate

The idea is to encourage, not to intimidate

     That takes a relaxed, happy hound, Miller says. To keep the hounds relaxed, he doesn’t harp at them to stay in a close bunch around him. He lets them range away from him, but still within the circle of the whips, calling to them when he spots one whose attention is wandering or whose  nose is taking him a little too far afield.
     The main points of interest for the hounds are two areas near a creek that borders the large cattle field. The creek is swollen and brown with eddies swirling on its surface today after a stormy night. Miller points to a place where it bends around a tree, forming a corner that’s filled with brush.
     “Something lives down in there,” he says, then swivels right and points to another spot farther upstream. “And that’s a troublesome spot, too.”
     Rather than risk the hounds breaking off on a run near the fast-flowing creek, he opts to keep them higher up the sloping field. Many of the 22 hounds in this group, roughly a third of the Iroquois hunting pack,  are older, steady hounds. Some are graying around their muzzles and eyes, but they are still keen hunters.
     “Some of these don’t look like they could do much anymore, but if they hit a line, they’ll be on it,” Miller warns.
     “Take Stammer here,” he says, reaching down to scratch the ears of a heavy-boned older hound with a black and tan face and black ticking over most of his body. The hound was so sedate he had hardly left Miller’s side since we’d started the walk, usually padding along at a flat walk or, at most, a slow jog. “He looks so laid back and calm all the time. But he’d be right out in front if they hit a line, and he’d keep going.”
     Miller stops at a gate and the pack moves behind him to wait for it to be opened. He laughs and flicks the lash of his whip gently at a hound sneaking too far forward on his left, attempting to get ahead when the gate opens. “Some of them might not look like much,” he says, “but they can still run like smoke.”
     The two puppies in this in this group are Paper and Gaudy. The hunt has four puppies that will join the hunting pack this fall, and, to prevent chaos during their initial integration, the hunt staff has split them into two pairs. Paper and Gaudy walk with the first set of hounds at 8 a.m., and the second pair, Gaelic and Hailstone, go out with the rest of the pack at 10 a.m. In each case, the older, more knowledgeable hounds help keep the puppies in line and teach them the mores of pack life. 
     But puppies are like little embers in a pack, and each time they run, wrestle, or stray from the main body of the pack, it’s like a little brush fire flaring up. If the older hounds ignore the unruly behavior, it generally will burn out quickly on its own as the puppies get bored with it. But if an older hound joins in, or objects and gets aggressive with a puppy that won’t give up his game, it can disrupt the whole group. 
     As the pack crosses the next field, Paper catches the whiff of a black cow and her calf up ahead–a new sight for him. He trots forward to investigate. A few of the older hounds follow, spotting an excuse for some fun. They know better.
     “Hey!” Miller yells. “HEY!”
     Paper slows and looks over his shoulder at Miller.
     The whips step in closer to Paper, their arms extended.
     Miller, meanwhile, has gone silent and halted the rest of the pack well behind Paper and his new pals, and it’s clear Paper is beginning to feel insecure out on his own. With a final, sly glance at the cow as she trots away with her calf, Paper turns back toward the pack.
     “When one does that, instead of screaming at him and all that, we just give it the opportunity to come back and get with the pack,” Miller explained. “That’s what we’re doing out here, is getting them to where they know they’re supposed to be with the pack. “
     Miller tosses out biscuits as a reward both for the hounds that didn’t follow and for Paper and his friends, who heeded the order to come back.
     DSC_0026_Hound_walking_1st_group“If we took out a bigger group, like 20 or 22 couple of hounds, you’d always have some hounds that didn’t get the attention they need,” Miller says. “What you’d find is that there would be five or ten hounds that were troublemakers. You’d end up giving them all the attention and saying their names all the time, while the good hounds wouldn’t get any attention from you. This way, with 11 or 12 couple, we can pamper the good hounds and give everybody the individual attention they need.”
     That communication reinforces the bond between huntsman and hounds, spinning what huntsmen call “the golden thread,” a huntsman’s holy grail.
     “Lilla and I try to say everybody’s name,” Miller says, reaching out to touch individual hounds as we walk or toss them a biscuit as he speaks their names: Finesse, Griffin, Stately, Alice, Parody. A well-known huntsman once advised against ever speaking a hound’s name when it is out with its pack, but Miller strongly disagrees.
     “You’re not only reinforcing their names, but the connection between you and them,” he says. “If you’re out there and can’t call an individual hound and have it come, then you have a problem. If he’s the hound that is about to do something wrong, if you can’t influence him, you can’t influence the pack.
     “And, remember, when you’re hunting out there on horseback, you don’t have this kind of help close around you,” he adds, indicating the whips striding along on the sides of the pack.
     Miller moves on and has the whips spread out again to give the hounds more room to wander a bit on their walk.
     “See those hounds over there?” he asks, pointing toward a group of five, noses down, sniffing and pawing at something in the grass about 25 feet away. “Some people would look at them and think they were out of control, off on their own like that. But say any hound’s name, and he’ll come back when I call it.”
     “Try Harlequin,” I suggest. No sooner had I said the hound’s name than a brown and white hound in the group raised his head and looked inquiringly at Miller, then trotted obediently toward us.
     “I promise you, they hear everything you say,” Miller says. “They’re listening and paying attention.”
     The last stop before heading back to the hound truck: a shallow pond. It’s a chance for the hounds to cool themselves in the rising heat, but also another opportunity to reinforce pack discipline. Miller stops about five yards short of the shore and turns to face the pack.
     “Get behind,” Miller says to the few hounds that try to bypass him and plunge into the water. The rest of the pack waits, facing Miller and the pond, like schoolkids before recess.  A few stand up and bark at him, then fall silent, understanding that this will only prolong the lesson. Most sit still and wait, including Paper and Gaudy.
     “They’re figuring it out,” Miller says of the puppies. “They’ve learned they’re supposed to sit down here and wait. They don’t know why yet, but they’re figuring things out.
     “Now, those are some good dogs,” he says to the pack. Here and there tails thump in response. Then, almost under his breath, Miller says, “Whooooosh, whoooosh in there,” and on that quiet signal the pack surges forward into the water, baying and splashing joyously as Miller hurls biscuits into the water for them. Hounds leap to catch them in mid-air.
"Whooooosh! Whoooosh in there!"

"Whooooosh! Whoooosh in there!"

    Sitting on the shore and watching are two older bitches, both white with the longer wiry hair that marks them as what the hunt staff call “woollies.” They are sisters, Finite and Finesse, and Miller and Mason refer to them as “two bodies, one mind.”
     They are a testament to this hunt staff’s patience. They showed little real interest in hunting early on in their careers and usually could be found loping along together as if in their own world. But one day, something clicked.
     “Lilla spotted them on a run out hunting one day near Blue Fox Farm,” Miller recalls. “She said over the radio, ‘It’s Finesse!’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got that wrong,’ and she came back on the radio and said, ‘And Finite!’  I couldn’t believe it.”
     But there they were, the two sisters leading the whole pack.
     “They lost 10 or 15 pounds that season because they finally started hunting,” Miller said. “Before then it seemed like they could just live on air. We used to feed them about this much”–cupping his hand–“and they still stayed fat because they expended so little energy on the hunt field.”
     Such turnarounds can be difficult to predict, and time in the pack is often as good a teacher as any. But the hound walks lay a crucial foundation in the hounds’ early education, and continue to reinforce those important lessons as a hound matures.
     “Out here, you’re teaching all the time,” Miller says. “If half of them are learning, you’re very fortunate, because you don’t have a lesson plan where everybody is definitely going to do this. You can say, ‘Everybody’s going to practice at the pond,’ and you can plan to practice having them stay behind you. And if you don’t have any other variables, it works. But if somebody takes off, you have to deal with that. That’s hounds, that’s just what they do. You have to realize what authority you have and what authority you don’t have. I think the only magic to doing this is just to do it every day until they get it right.”
Many thanks to Peggy Maness of Maness Photography for the photos accompanying this piece!