In America we call them Bavarians although the official German name, translated into English, is Bavarian Mountain Bloodhound. There are about three dozen of them working now in the United States, and they’ve generated a lot of interest. Basically they are a smaller, lighter version of the Bloodhound as we know it, and they are indirect descendants of the European hounds that were used for tracking in the Middle Ages.
We’ve written about Bavarians in this column before. Each year even more information on Bavarians comes to light. This will be one more of many updates. Last December, after the snow in upstate New York closed down most tracking, I went to Alsace in eastern France. I saw some very fine tracking by a Labrador Retriever, but I also went out on 11 calls with Meyer Didier, who has an experienced, truly excellent Bavarian bitch named Tikka. Tikka weighs about 45 pounds and she is a light Redbone color. Most of the time we were tracking wild boars, but we also found a roe deer that a less experienced dog had been unable to locate.
We found two boars, and as I explained last month these boars are tough to track. They don’t bleed much, they are very tough and they go a long way. The younger ones are most comfortable in a herd so often it is hard to keep track of the wounded animal, not bleeding, that is running with a half dozen healthy animals.
In France and Germany they have the manpower and the dog power to check out “possible” hits. This is surprisingly productive. Typical was a case when a good-sized sow had been shot at while crossing a wood road during a drive the day before. There was no sign on the road but scuff marks. The sow went up a steep slope of the type you climb hanging onto tree trunks. There was no visible blood on the way up, but Tikka found the sow dead on top. No problem.
In a somewhat similar situation we tracked a wild boar in very rough terrain for a good three miles and never caught up with it. Approaching darkness closed down the operation, but we knew by this time that there was no possible chance of catching up to this boar.
What impressed me about Tikka was the quality of her nose combined with intelligence and responsiveness. She worked with her handler on the long leash, but she did not drag him around. One of the complaints I hear about some 100 + pound American bloodhounds is that they take their handlers for a very rough trip.
Tikka was a hound that adjusted to the needs of her handler and also to the scenting conditions. We tracked a boar that had been hit down in the plains the day before. Wind was blasting across the open fields and Tikka had to search hard for scent in the short mowed grass that the boar had traversed. She took the leg-hit sow a long way before she finally ran out of line. Often you learn most about a dog by seeing her work in nearly impossible conditions.
Every breed of dog has characteristics that will not appeal to all handlers.
Americans are drawn to the big nose, convenient size and responsiveness of the Bavarian. One of the downside aspects is the delayed psychological maturity. Everyone I talked to in France and Germany agreed that you don’t see most Bavarians settling down to do consistent focused work until they are at least three years old. We Americans, who like to see results fast, are not prepared for this.
Didier Meyer was working a three-year-old Hanoverian Bloodhound along with Tikka, the Bavarian. Sometimes he let young Agna track along side Tikka off lead. If a line looked like it would be easy, he would work the young dog on it solo. If he had doubts about Agna’s work, he would recheck it with old Tikka.
The European method is to release the tracking dog from the leash when a game animal is bumped from its wound bed and takes off. A good bay dog is required and bay power is not something that comes early to Bavarians and Hanoverians. They need time to mature in this respect also.
It’s standard procedure for French and German handlers to have an understudy dog that works with the old dog. This takes extra time and patience on the part of the handler, but it pays off in the long run. When the old veteran dies or has to be retired, there is a mature but younger dog ready to take over.
Another drawback of the Bavarians is their comparatively short life span. They live longer and have fewer problems than American bloodhounds, but nonetheless they are usually ready for retirement at ten. Earlier maturing, longer-lived dogs like Labs or dachshunds will probably gives their owner three or four additional years of good work in their lifespan. Of course these breeds don’t have the nose power of Bavarians, particularly in arid conditions. If someone is likely to get 60 hour old calls to track trophy bucks, even if the venison is spoiled or destroyed by coyotes, then a Bavarian is a particularly good choice. The Bavarian doesn’t make much sense for the ordinary guy who wants a household companion with which he will track two or three deer a season for his buddies. This is a breed for the tracking specialist who takes thirty or more calls a year and has the patience to develop the dog’s potential.
The Bavarian Club of Germany has very tight breeding restrictions. Hounds used for breeding have to be judged sound in conformation. Then they have to prove their tracking ability on both artificially laid blood lines and on actual tracks of wounded game. The standard for Bavarians suitable for breeding is set very high, and the Club does everything it can to prevent indiscriminate breeding.
Bavarian puppies are bred and sold in other countries, and registered with the FCI, the same international registry that the German club uses. However all of the rigorous controls of the German Bavarian Club are not applied in other countries. Most of the Bavarians being imported into the United States are now coming from Poland and most of these dogs are doing very good work here. I know of a number of Americans who have been well pleased with these dogs once they had passed through adolescence.
The best source of current information on Bavarian imports is Ken Parker of Williamson, GA. Ken uses Bavarians himself for tracking and he is a discriminating breeder. The waiting list for his pups is a long one, but Ken is generous with his experienced advice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part of the problem grows out of the very restrictive policies of the official German Bavarian Club. For most serious blood trackers in America there is simply no way to get a Bavarian for tracking work from sources approved by the Klub Bayerischer Gebirgsschweisshund. The parents may be registered by the FCI, but they have not been validated by the working tests and real hunting. Some of these dogs may be good; some are purely ornamental.
When the demand for a breed exceeds the supply, a bell rings for the puppy mill people. If they can find some dogs to breed together, they are ready to start cranking out puppies for buyers inexperienced enough to buy on the basis of a breed labels. Today you can buy Bavarian pups on the Internet that have nothing going for them but the names of their untested parents. I know of two that were purchased from a German web site for the modest amount of $1800 each, plus transport from Germany. It’s possible that they will turn out to be good blood trackers, but it’s a big gamble!
Years ago I went to a big dog show in Dortmund, Germany to check out the dachshunds. In the great hall of the dog show I ran into a German gentleman all decked out in a traditional loden green hunting suit. He had a Bavarian on a leash and I stopped to chat with him. “No, he didn’t really track with his Bavarians, but he liked the way they looked.” He was into the whole bit of German hunting folklore; he liked the atmosphere and the tradition of it all, and he was obviously not too concerned about working ability. There are people like this in Europe, and they breed and sell puppies too.
Mike Petrillose (left) with his young Bavarian "Cooper" and the buck they have found just few days ago.