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!”

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Hound of the Day, Oct. 7: Bonsai

Caption Here

"Dear me! So that's a coyote!"

Hounds out : Sayso, Parrish, Payton, Star, Sting, Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, Barman, Dragonfly, Bonsai, Stam, Stax, Sassoon, Savvy, Saba, Sage, Saracen, Griffin

ON one hand it seems improper to pick a “hound of the day,” because a pack of hounds should perform as a pack, and thus should equally contribute to the pursuit of quarry. It would do no good to have one or two hounds far superior to the others especially when hunting coyote. A coyote can weigh anywhere from 20 to 75 pounds, and their diet includes cats and dogs. If we are to serve our landowner farmers in keeping the coyotes dispersed, we have to chase them with multiple hounds who can find their scent and push them to get up and move. Most farmers don’t mind seeing the odd coyote passing through, but they do mind seeing four or five together, because there is strength in numbers and a coyote pack is a threat to livestock and house dogs. Coyotes have no predator, because they are at the top of the food chain in the animal world. Paradoxically, because of the hunt they are allowed to peacefully co-exist in the area. We have great fun and sport chasing them, and they are less likely to bother calves and humans. So farmers aren’t likely to shoot and poison them, which they would have to do if they were a menace.

On the other hand, there are moments on a hunt day where one hound does something so remarkable as to remind us all of their individuality even though they are supposed to be “just plain cooks and dairymaids.”

The chase is like a chess game between the coyote’s intelligence, instinct, and scenting ability versus that of the hound.  The “checkmate” really goes to both if they play a long and entertaining game, resulting in the quarry finally eluding the hounds.  All go home in hopes of meeting again another day.  This special matching of the wits between God’s creatures is what foxhunters really enjoy.  It is not, as some may think, a “sight hunt,” in which dogs see a coyote and chase it until they don’t see it anymore.  Instead, it is a “scent hunt”: hounds mostly use their noses to track the path of the quarry – and the coyote, aware of this, tries to throw them off the scent.  Coyotes behave cleverly while being pursued, using their complete familiarity with their own habitat to challenge the hounds.
The Oct. 7 hunt was a good example of the casualness with which a coyote will regard the chase on a day when poor scenting conditions give him the advantage.
The meet was from Dulin’s farm.  A long procession of trailers arrived with people and horses anxious to enjoy such a beautiful fall day.  The hound list included some first-year entries: Hailstone, Gaudy, and (of course!) Paper, plus three new drafts from England: North Cotswold Bonsai, North Cotswold Dragonfly, and Cottesmore Barman.  The new drafts have spent the summer getting used to all the new smells from unfamiliar plants animals and grasses native to Kentucky but not found in Britain.  One wonders what goes through their minds when they get the first whiff of a coyote.
The first draw was the biggest covert near this fixture, Pauline’s Ridge.  It is very thick with undergrowth and would likely take a long time for the hounds to work through thoroughly.  But, as it was, they found halfway through and erupted in cry.  A dark coyote was viewed across the top of the Ridge but was not the hunted one, as hounds moved west in the covert, full cry.  Hounds lost the scent at the end of the covert, casting themselves about madly in frustration.  It was clearly a bad scenting day.  However, this is good for the puppies, as they watch and learn from the older hounds to put their noses down and work.  They don’t really know yet what they are smelling for, but they feed off the energy and excitement of the pack, and they understand something important is happening.
Hounds continued to work well together, hunt staff counting all on after the next few coverts.  They were in the corn by Salts Barn when a coyote was viewed one field west.  Later in the season, hounds would be harked to the view, but today a training opportunity presented itself, and the hounds would have to work up to the line unassisted.  This is the kind of scene that thrills the field: first Stax became electric, his nose to the ground, as he frantically moved about, searching.  Then Payton, noticing this, hurried to Stax, then Sassoon, then Barman–all smelling the same little piece of earth.  Their bodies were coiled like springs ready to lurch forth, if their noses would confirm the scent in a certain direction.  Paper, sensing the excitement, dropped the small steno pad of paper he had found in Salts Barn and rushed over to help as well.  The houndwork was brilliant, they just couldn’t work it out solidly enough but kept moving west occasionally speaking as they would find and lose again.
After about a half mile, still feathering,  hounds came up a hill through a small clump of trees.  There on top of the hill sat a big blond coyote, casually observing the approaching entourage of hounds, huntsman, and field members. Hounds didn’t see him initially, as they all had their noses down.  Had it been a good scenting day, one imagines the coyote would have been long gone, but he wisely sat still knowing that by not moving he wasn’t throwing out a lot of scent.
The huntsman couldn’t contain herself and harked the hounds to the view.  They rushed forward, noses still down.  Bonsai raised her head, probably distracted and unsure about the noise the huntsman used to hark hounds to the view.  Bonsai hunted one season at the North Cotswold, and every huntsman has his own tones and voice inflections to communicate with hounds. Suddenly, Bonsai froze in place: she was face to face with a coyote no more than 10 feet away.  She stared, then looked over her shoulder at the huntsman with her intense, black-lined golden eyes, searching for confirmation that this was the right quarry.  She faced him again as the hounds erupted in cry.  His yellow eyes seemed to squint before he shot away.
In less than a second Bonsai showed much intelligence.  She didn’t just blindly rush forward to attack, she carefully thought things through, not wanting to run riot (I could imagine her saying “Dear Me” in an English accent).
This coyote took full advantage of the bad scenting day, weaving through cattle, disappearing into a 10-acre corn field. Found there, he passed into another large, thick covert, then vanished as the temperature rose and the sun began to burn any hope of scent away for good.
Special thanks … to field member Martha Johnson, who was last in line to go over a jump but pulled her horse up and waited to let one and a half couple of hounds go by even though the field was long gone, galloping
away.

— Lilla Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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