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Monday, September 22, 2008

A Dachshund is NOT a Beagle

This article was written by John several years ago and was published in Full Cry. It is long but worth reading!

The dachshund is not a beagle, but the fact that some people are breeding brown and white spotted dachshunds will confuse the issue for sure. I am counting on the natural smarts of my fellow houndsmen to see the light and know the truth. A dachshund is not a beagle. Believe it or not past confusions have created problems which hurt dachshunds, of course, much more than they hurt beagles. Even when it was recognized that they were entirely different dogs to the eye, it was easy to miss the point that the brain wiring was quite different as well. This brain wiring, the way the neurons of the brain develop and are linked together, is in good part a matter of breed genetics. This is as much a part of breed characteristics as the superficial things which show judges look at.
The dachshund originated in Germany as a forester’s dog; dogs were selected who worked well, one on one, with their masters. Dachshunds don’t pack well, compared to beagles because they were never developed to be a pack hound. However, hunting dachshunds as a group may well be the most biddable of the scent hounds. If for your special purposes you are looking for a small hound that handles like a good cur, the dachshund may be the hound for you.
The purposes for which the dachshund was developed are very different from those of a beagle. In part the dachshund was a dog to be used for underground work on foxes and badgers. “Dachshund” actually means badger dog in German, but these dogs were used much more on fox. In Germany and in the rest of Europe foxes were always much more plentiful and a much bigger nuisance than badgers. Also a good dog can usually drive a fox from the den to the gun. A badger is an even tougher on the defense. He goes very deep and will seldom bolt. A dog small enough to get down to a badger is not is strong enough to kill him. Usually the hunting party assisting the dog has to dig down to the quarry. This is old fashioned hard work that is not very popular these days.

The dachshund in Germany was also seen as an above ground dog that handled well and could be used to flush game, especially the small European roe deer, out of heavy cover of young growth forest. As a jump dog the dachshund was expected to give tongue on a fresh scent line and warn the hunters posted around the gridiron pattern of forest roads that game was on the way.

It was also discovered that the dachshund, bred to be the biddable hound and attuned to the needs of his handler, was very useful for finding wounded big game which left little or no blood trail. The good ones could learn to work the right deer even if it meant picking out the body and foot print scent of the individual deer. The dachshund was bred to be versatile dog, although individuals tended to excel in one or two categories, and less often in all three.

Really small dachshunds, from nine pounds down to less than seven were developed later from the standard sized dogs. There were some out crosses to other very small breeds but mainly it was accomplished by breeding down from smaller and smaller dachshunds that had the necessary type and abilities. It was not an easy task. The smallest ones were called Kaninchenteckels, rabbit dachshunds, could actually go down a rabbit hole. The European rabbit which is entirely different from our cottontail was very prolific to the point of being a nuisance even though it was good to eat. It did not run well for a dog preferring to dive immediately into holes that it dug for itself. If you wanted to kill rabbits one of the best ways was to use a Kaninchenteckel that could follow the rabbit underground and push him out.

The small dachshunds could do all the work of the standard dachshund, although they lacked the body mass and the power to cope with cold conditions and really rough terrain for long periods of time. Their small size empowered them for certain tasks and presented certain limitations for others. For some hunters it was very desirable to have a dog small enough to ride in a hunting coat capable of flushing the small roe deer from cover, or tracking a wounded one for a few hundred meters. They enjoyed working with the world’s smallest hunting dog.

None of this dachshund work in Germany has much to do with the tasks that a beagle is asked to do in the United States and Canada. When dachshunds were brought to America most of them became show dogs or family pets. Even for those who wanted to keep the dachshund as a hunting dog, their underground purposes were soon forgotten. Teddy Moritz, who writes the first part of this column, is the person who had the most to do with reinventing the dachshund for underground work in America.

Teddy Moritz's longaired minis are well suited for den work and falconry. Photo by Teddy Moritz.

As for the standard dachshund the first disastrous move was the attempt to make him over as a beagle. For example the AKC developed field trials which are modeled after the AKC beagle brace trial rules. I personally bear part of the blame for this.

Taking a dachshund to an AKC field trial really designed for beagles is a little like taking a springer spaniel to a retriever trial. The spaniel, bred as a flushing dog, can retrieve, but not as well as a Lab. In a brace trial on rabbits the better dachshunds can do it, but not on the same level as the real rabbit specialists. The dachshund is a versatile hound, but rabbit work under brace trial rules is not the best act in his repertoire. When we get calls from beaglers asking about dachshund puppies, we ask a lot of questions about what they are looking for. A good many callers are really looking for a beagle that will please them more than what they have at the moment. If the man doesn’t realize that he would be getting into a completely different kind of dog, he is going to be disappointed. There are things that a good working dachshund can do as well or better than a field bred beagle; he had better be interested in one of these or there is no real point in getting a dachshund.
Personally I think that the most important work in this country for the standard sized dachshund (about 20 pounds) is tracking wounded big game. They are easy to handle, they learn fast and most of them can come to understand that the only deer to be tracked is a wounded one. That same tracking dachshund can bring rabbits around to the gun, handle in close to flush pheasants. He can tree coons. But don’t expect he will compete with a breed specialist in all these specialties. The standard dachshund is for the hunter who puts a high priority on finding wounded big game and in addition needs a useful dog for the other tasks. And of course it must be added that a working dachshund has to have decent leg length and ground clearance if he is going to have the necessary agility and stamina. You are not always going to find this in dachshunds bred to please American show judges.

Our tracking dog Billy is a good example of the dachshund with good ground clearance and proper proportions.

If you want to add underground work to the job description of the versatile standard dachshund, then you have to think in terms of a smaller dog. How small depends on the underground work that you have in mind. The standard dachshund of 20 pounds can be a useful dog in Germany on fox because the foxes over there are heavier and cobbier in their bone structure. North American red foxes run a lot smaller and can get into much tighter spots than their European counterparts which are of the same species. As a rule our gray foxes live in rock dens that are ledgy and even tougher and tighter to work than those of the reds. Ground hogs, the housing contractors for so much other wildlife, make dens that are too small for the standard dachshund to work consistently.

Over the years I have taken foxes with small standard dachshunds. I had a small standard dachshund bitch which bayed two foxes from a den and found a wounded deer, all in four hours. But this is the exception that proves the rule. Don’t count on it happening for you. Gerte, the 18 pound German bitch shown in the picture was lucky. She was really too big to get up to most foxes in Northeastern dens.

Gerte with two foxes and a deer - all taken in one day.

If you are a falconer, or if you want to get rabbits out of their dens in order to give your bigger hounds a run, then you should consider the really small miniature dachshunds which the Germans call Kaninchenteckels. These run from eight pounds down to six and a half. They would not be your first choice for heavy-duty blood tracking, but they can certainly do it in a pinch.
I hope that nothing I have said here will be taken as anti-beagle. I own a good gun dog beagle and I have been active in beagle clubs for many years. Beagles are great hound breed; and there is certainly some overlap in dachshund and beagle work. For example I know of several beagles with established reputations for tracking wounded deer. The individual characteristics of the dog are usually more important than its breed. This is certainly the case when it comes to dachshunds and beagles. Select the breed and the individual most likely to fit your personal needs.

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