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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Field trial beagles

There are several different types of beagle field trials, and several very different types of beagles bred to run in a style appropriate for that type of trial. Of course these beagles also hunt.

At one extreme are the brace trial beagles, bred and trained to track cottontails slowly and precisely in a brace of two. A hound that “reaches” more than a foot or two on a check gets picked up at a brace trial.

At the other extreme are the large pack hounds that drive northern hares at great speed. The “large pack” can number up to 40 hounds. To win a large pack trial speed and endurance are more important than staying close to the line and picking checks with precision.

Some might say that the “small pack option” trials are designed for the beagle that is a happy medium. The trial judges are looking for both speed (with control) and clean check work. The size of the “small pack” is usually about seven and the hounds are supposed to work well together.

If you plan to use a beagle for tracking wounded deer, a hound out of an outstanding small pack background is your best bet.

The following video clip shows a winners pack of 13’’ bitches, which ran today at our New Scotland Beagle Club Small Pack Option field trial. At the end of the video you will see the working style and check work that would also be very appropriate for tracking a wounded deer.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Working with young blood tracking puppies

We received this question recently:
How many lines had the dogs in the videos at the bottom of you blog completed before the videos were taken? Those seemed to be some fairly advanced lines and I'm wondering what kind of progression would be considered good for a dog. Thanks.

John's answer:
The dogs shown in the video were 13 weeks old at the time. They were conditioned from 4 weeks of age to associate deer blood and tarsal gland scent with good things. At six weeks they began to work 25 foot deer liver drags, about two per week. Gradually the drags were lengthened up to two hundred yards with the sharp turns that you saw in the video. We usually work them on a twice-a-week basis, and always in a different place.

I think that this work, which is not unusual, is based on good genetics and early tracking work while the puppy’s brain is still developing. There is a big difference between the work at seven weeks and the work at 13 weeks. Some puppies take a few weeks longer to get their act together. And a few just don’t have it. Last spring and early summer we had 19 puppies. 18 of them were doing very good work when we sold them to tracking/hunting homes. One was a nice bright puppy, but she never developed the desire and line sense that we insist upon. She went to a pet home.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this: 1. Make sure that your puppy is stimulated to track at a very early age. 2. Don’t let a breeder sell you a seven week old puppy. This makes much less work for the breeder, but you can’t judge what you are buying.

Jolanta's comments:
Right now Andy Bensing is working with pups, which were born on June 18. I saw them a week ago when they were 9 weeks old. Andy was working them at the time on a 40 yard long drag made with deer liver. The line had one left turn. This is an example of puppies' work:

This is a precocious litter, and it is nice to see most pups working so well at such an early age. More video clips of Andy's pups (their names start with "B") are posted at For more info contact Andy at 610-413-7094 or

Monday, August 24, 2009

Outfitters who use our tracking dogs - Richardson Farms Outfitters

Few days ago we received a nice e-mail from Jeff Richardson, and I realized that it is about time to give a plug to outfitters who use our blood tracking dachshunds.

Richardson Farms Outfitters located in Mount Sterling, IL, is composed of 9000 acres which have produced giant bucks at a rate unmatched by any other outfitter. Read more about this outfitting operation at We are very proud that they use a dog out of our breeding.

To quote from their website:
"You finally got the shot at a buck of a lifetime. Hopefully, everything went as planned and you made the perfect shot. Your buck ran fifty yards or so and piled up. Occasionally, it doesnt work out this way. The shot was not perfect, The blood trail was thin or played out. What happened?

It is times like these when you can breathe a little easier knowing that you have some of the best tracking dogs in the world waiting to help. These dogs have been selected from long lines, bred for only one purpose, tracking whitetailed deer. They include long and short haired jagdtterriers and a wire haired dachshund. Watching these animals do what they have been bred to do is an amazing site to behold.

We believe that every effort should be made to recover any wounded animal and we will exhaust all available resources to recover your trophy. The Recovery Team is a big part of the Illinois Whitetail Tradition at Richardson Farms. Their services are included in your hunt. If you need them you won't have to wait, they are ready, willing, and able to save the day."

One of Jeff's tracking dog is Nadja who is registered as Nettie v Moosbach-Zuzelek. She was born on June 22, 2007 so she is just two years old. Her parents are Buster and Emma. Surprisingly, even though both parents are around 19 lbs, Nadja matured at 12 lbs only!

To see Nadja's picture with the spectacular buck she found click here.

Jeff writes:

I just wanted to drop you a line on Nadja. She is doing very well and I couldn't be happier with her progress. We are getting ready for our third tracking season and she shows constant improvement and is always teaching me something. She has really calmed down (and slowed down -- concentrating more) when working blood lines over the last year. One thing that she is doing more of is throwing her nose in the air. She actually will stop at different locations when working blood lines and toss her nose up and look around... I can actually "see" her thinking and planning her next move.... I have to laugh when I see this because it is, to me, incredible that she has developed this trait-- I mean this is something that I cannot teach.

Nadja does have her days that she is not "on" or doesn't appear that she is really into the tracking mind set BUT these days are few and far between. Nadja is 26 months old now and weighs around 12 lbs. She is very calm and has only ever shown any type of aggressing when another dog tries to controll her. She stand up for herself VERY well -- even at 12 lbs.

Nadja as a puppy

Friday, August 21, 2009

Labs as deer trackers

by John Jeanneney, Full Cry August 2008

The origins of the Labrador retriever breed actually go back to Newfoundland in the 1800s; it was the intelligence, trainability and willingness to please of these early imports that made them gun dogs of choice in Great Britain. Back in North America they had been developed from a gene pool of dogs that were truly versatile in multiple tasks on land and in the ocean.

Today the Lab is more than just a bird dog. Of all the breeds registered in the USA the Lab ranks first, and this is in good part due to his good temperament and suitability as a family dog. This popularity has exposed the breed to the expected risks. Unfortunately, a good proportion of registered Labs have been modified, we could say “dumbed down”, for the purposes of show and pet breeders who could care less about hunting. In these suburbanized dogs the original toughness and can-do drive have been lost. On the other hand, the responsiveness and intelligence of the original Lab has led to some good things too without threatening the basic qualities of the breed. Labs have become the favored breed as guide dogs for the blind, search and rescue dogs and drug dogs.

In view of its origins and adaptability, it’s not surprising that the modern Lab can be highly useful as a tracker and finder of wounded big game. Hank Hearn of Vicksburg, MS demonstrated the new Lab possibilities while he was working as a hunting guide on the 27,000 acre Tara Plantation near by. In the 1980s Tara was becoming famous for its quality bowhunting for whitetail deer. In 1988 Hank took his Lab puppy J-J and began to develop him as tracker for Tara’s hunters. J-J was a highly intelligent dog out of Mississippi duck hunting stock. He was constantly with Hank, and after a few uncertain puppy attempts they both found their calling as wounded deer trackers.

J-J was a hunting dog that could do almost anything. Duck retrieving and coon hunting were minor parts of his repertoire, but by the time of his death in 1998 it was his fame as a wounded deer tracker that had spread across the South. Bo, currently the top tracking dog at Tara, is a great grandson of J-J. There are many other blood tracking Labs at work in the South that come out of J-J’s duck retriever bloodlines. Today Mississippi and Louisiana are probably the best places to look for American Lab litters from strong blood tracking backgrounds.

Al Wade in Bogalusa, LA has a chocolate Lab named Scout that is carrying on the Hearn/J-J tradition with modern equipment. This Lab shows the characteristic balance of responsiveness and initiative that is so important in practical tracking. He knows what Al wants, but he will override Al’s instructions if that’s what it takes to find the deer.

Scout has been wearing one of the new Garmin GPS units for dogs, and this turns out to be very handy when the wounded deer goes a long way, off lead in the dense cover of the Delta. Generally Al starts Scout on the right line by working him on the long lead. Then when the cover gets impossibly thick, or when he jumps the live wounded deer, he turns Scout loose. The GPS allows Al and Scout to always stay in touch no matter how poor the visibility becomes.

Scout, a chocolate Lab, with one of his finds.

One of Al’s posts on the United Blood Trackers web site gives us a sense of how he and Scout work together to find a deer. This particular call was over in Alabama, and in some other ways it was not typical. Expect the unexpected!

“The hunter told me that he had shot a doe and that it was dead, but he couldn't find it because the rape (a plant like a turnip green) was too high. I told him no problem; we would take Scout and let him wind it. I figured since the deer was dead I didn't need that tracking vest with the gun, the gps, the spear, etc. I did grab my head light, put Scout in his vest and put his beeper collar on. When we got to the spot where the hunter thought it was standing, I let Scout go. That rape was knee deep and I could see how the hunter couldn't see the deer. Scout was working around pretty close and suddenly he started working straight down the field. The hunter said "it wasn't that far down." Does this sound familiar? He seemed to have a good mark for where he shot it so I called Scout back. It didn't take long before Scout was headed back the same way.

This time I let him go and within a couple of minutes he stopped in the center of the field about 100yds down. When Scout finds a deer he stops so I headed that way. The closer I got the more excited he became, and he was jumping around. Suddenly two sets of eyes. I yelled back to the hunter that it was still alive. About the time this came out of my mouth the doe got up and headed towards the woods with Scout in close pursuit. The deer was almost to the wood line when Scout caught up to it and tackled it. They cut a flip and the deer got up first, took off again and hit the woods. I was closing in and got in the woods just in time to see another take down. This time the deer stayed down and Scout started baying it. I called Scout back, approached the deer and got close enough to see that it had been hit high on the neck and wasn't bleeding much. That's right about the time she took off again. Again Scout goes for her and caught her quick.”

My special interest in Labs and my long-time obsession with all tracking dog breeds led me back to Europe this fall after snow ended tracking work here in up-state New York. One of my objectives was to see the work of an outstanding Lab in the Vosges Mountains of France right on the German border. I took ten wounded boar calls there with Patrice Stoquert and Raoul, his seven-year-old yellow Lab of Scottish bloodlines. Patrice is a French forester, who tracks back and forth across the border, speaks German and is equally at home in the forests of both countries. The Germans call him Hundeflusterer, dog whisperer, because of his ability to communicate with dogs.

Patrice Stoquert’s Raoul, a yellow Lab

What I saw of Patrice and Raoul re-enforced what I had already learned from 32 years of practical tracking in New York State. Nose is important, but the quality of intelligence is even more so. A dog that uses his nose intelligently on an old, cold line of ground scent can be more effective than a dog with bloodhound quality nose lacking intuition and persistence to search or “dig” for the right scent beyond the point of loss.

Getting a good start on the right line is an important part of tracking. When the wounded animal is a wild boar, this can be especially difficult. Boars, when shot on drives, are usually running in a group so there is individual scent from many different pigs lingering in the same place. Also wild boars, even when shot with big center fire rifles, generally don’t bleed very much. Patrice had a unique way of starting his Lab in these cases with the scent of many animals and little or no blood.

He would release Raoul at the general hit site and then let him cast slowly in a 100 meter circle as he stood and watched. When Raoul found the right scent line he would sit down and bark. If Patrice did not approach him quickly enough, Raoul would go to Patrice and nuzzle the tracking collar and leash in Patrice’s hand. Clearly this dog understood that the cold tracking itself was to be done on the long leash. It was Raoul’s job to follow the line; Patrice’s function was to observe and interpret what little blood was there to be seen.

I’m not suggesting that this is typical Lab tracking work. Stoquert is a gifted handler, unconventional in some of his handling techniques, and it must be remembered that Raoul is a mature, experienced dog, thoroughly in tune with his human partner. Close cooperation, built on intelligence, and a close bond, are necessary in all effective tracking dogs, but the psychological make-up of the hunting Lab facilitates this.

In Europe it is customary and legal to release dogs if the wounded animal is still alive and departs from his bed in front of the dog. On larger boars, over 100 pounds, and on big red deer, the dogs act as bay dogs rather than catch dogs. Even in bay situations Raoul has taken a pounding from wild boars that are very aggressive.

Raoul mixes it up with a wounded wild sow.

I had a chance to watch Raoul track and catch a sow of about 100 pounds. She had been wounded in both front legs during a big drive in Germany. There was amazing little blood for about 300 meters to the wound bed. A whitetail, wounded in the same way, would have left much more sign. Raoul worked on lead until he jumped the sow; then once released, he caught her in a 100 meter chase. She had no tusks, but you could see that Raul was experienced and not taking unnecessary risks as he held her for the knife. He knew his game well.

I think that Hank Hearn in Mississippi and Patrice Stoquert in France would understand one another pretty well. Their own languages may be English and French, but they both speak the same dialect of “Lab”. Both men agree that responsiveness and brains are the most important things to look for in a tracking dog. Hank believes in a tough, patient duck dog sort of Lab, not the hyper field-trial type that has to be trained with heavy applications of e-collar. Patrice would agree although he uses the British Lab rather than the American type.

Tracking wounded big game is not a command and obey exercise like the classic American retriever trial. It’s a matter of working in partnership with your dog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

United Blood Trackers workshop in Laconia, NH

On the weekend of August 8-9, 2009 United Blood Trackers (UBT) held a blood tracking workshop on the property of Belknap County Sportsmen's Association in Gilford, NH. Many thanks go to Dennis Whitcher and Paul Lerp for making it possible and for supplying delicious lunch.

Fourteen dogs and 24 people participated in the workshop conducted by John Jeanneney and Andy Bensing with help from other UBT members: Al Wade (who travelled all the way from Louisiana), Susanne Hamilton from Maine, Ed Wills from New Hampshire and Jolanta Jeanneney from NY. We were very lucky that in spite of the lousy summer this time the weather cooperated and we had two days of blue skies with a slight warm breeze.

On Saturday introductions and update on the blood tracking status in New England were followed by a presentation on blood tracking as a teamwork of handler and dog (techniques of tracking, handling leash, communicating with and reading your dog) conducted by John Jeanneney. Andy Bensing talked about how to lay artificial blood lines, collect and store blood, mark the trail, use scent shoes.

New Hampshire was well represented. The picture shows Ed Wills (who was instrumental in legalizing blood tracking in New Hampshire), Maribeth McEwan, Dennis Clark (ME) and Kevin Marrotte.

Andy Bensing did a demo on how to use scent shoes for laying blood/scent lines. The shoes in the picture were designed by Alan Wade.

Several breeds were participating in the workshop: bloodhound, coonhounds, German shorthair pointers, lab and dachshunds. Above a six-month-old bloodhound owned by Shawn Marsh from NH. Below a seven-year-old GSP owned by Kevin Dawson from Maine.

Before we started to lay blood lines John Jeanneney and his wirehaired dachshund Gilda had done a tracking demo in the woods (below).

In the afternoon we split into three groups, and experienced trackers - John Jeanneney, Andy Bensing and Alan Wade - accompanied less experienced trackers with mostly novice dogs.

Ed Wills worked with his wirehaired dachshund Veela (above).

Dennis Clark did really well with a three month-old puppy Bogey.

Rich Stollery and his six-month-old pup Ember

Joanne Greer and her three-years-old wire Angie

Darren Doran with his six-month-old Karl

Dan Valdez and his seven-month old lab Buddy

Saturday ended with a critique of field work of individual dogs. On Sunday three wirehaired dachshunds worked overnight lines. They were one-year-old brothers Scout (handled by Chris DiPetro from VT) and Avi (handled by T.J. DiPietro) and a two-year-old Petey handled by Sally Marchmont from VT.

Above - Susanne Hamilton with Buster, a sire of Scout, Avi and Petey

Above - Chris with Scout, below Sally with Petey

Avi was handled by T.J. DiPietro, Tom's son
No doubt everybody involved learned a great deal not only by working their own dogs, but also watching other handlers in action. A hands-on experience like this is invaluable.
On Sunday we had more presentations in the club house. They were focused on equipment, working with hunters, dog training, working with adolescent dogs, obedience and GPS. Workshop participants also had a chance to network, compare their notes, and exchange experiences.
On the personal note, I enjoyed very much meeting new people interested in blood tracking, reuniting with old friends and seeing a new generation of dogs with so much tracking potential.
You can see more workshop pictures taken by Jolanta Jeanneney here. The only regret I have is that I did not get to take pictures of some dogs that were participating - Pete Mercier's mini long dachshund Trooper, Kevin Marrotte's coonhounds and Chris Spear's GSP. I'll do better next time!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Command and Obey?

by John Jeanneney, Full Cry June 2009

It’s still a mystery to me that hunters are so often mistaken about where their deer went after the shot. They can show you only a little hair and blood, but they know that their deer went “right out along the ridge to the left.” All too often they actually saw another deer and were confused. I talk with many other trackers, and they all report that this happens often.

So what do you do when you and your dog go in to the hit site and begin tracking? You don’t want to insult your hunter, so you start the dog on the line supposedly taken by the deer. Then with his body language your dog says “No!” Your dog wants to go the other way and he knows his business much better than any of the humans present His nose knows. Your relationship with him is such that he will take the initiative and override your commands in such a case. This is what you want in a tracking dog.

Of course this sort of independent initiative is not the relationship that you would want with a Lab trained for retriever trials. In field trial world it’s “command” and “obey”. Follow the handler’s signals exactly. Take a straight line to the bird. If the retriever deviates from the straight course given by arm signals and whistle, a nick on the e-collar will straighten things out. Command and obey. Well, this is far, far away from the psychology of tracking dog work.

Even in early training the puppy should be encouraged to solve his own problems. If he wanders off the blood line or overshoots a right angle turn, don’t correct him right away. Wait and see if he will correct himself. If he doesn’t, twitch the plastic clothes line of the puppy leash and ask him, “Is that right?” The words themselves don’t matter. It’s the questioning tone of your voice which will encourage him to pay attention. Dogs are very sensitive to tone of voice. Only as a last resort, pick him up or lead him back to the line.

Of course a dog must learn basic obedience, to come when called for example. But at the same time he learns that in his own specialty, scent work, he knows best. Here his role is to lead, like a guide dog for the blind. We humans are very nearly “blind” when it comes to scent. Some handlers, themselves, can have difficulty realizing that the dog is the one most likely to be right. They unconsciously pull the dog off the correct line, and after a few of these blunders some dogs will get disgusted and quit.

Now, even in the blood tracking world there are authorities who would strongly disagree with what I am writing. They are comfortable in the command and obey school. They evaluate a dog by tracking tests. To train for one of these tests, where there is always a drop of blood at each stride, it may be effective to work the dog under tight discipline. Here the task for the dog is to find the next drop of blood, and then go one meter to the next. But real trails of wounded game are not like that, there are gaps with no scent, dead spots, back tracks. This is another world, and those who are concerned first with test scores don’t worry much about the natural stuff.

Some blood tracking tests are better than others. In Swedish blood tracking tests, gaps are intentionally placed in the blood line to evaluate the dog’s ability to take the initiative and reach ahead. There are also natural tests, run on game wounded in the course of actual hunting. Tests can be very useful, but it’s too bad when they encourage dogs to be trained as command/obey automatons.

A few years back in this column I wrote a story about “Max, the Dog Who Learned to be Brave.” Early on, Max had difficulty taking the initiative. When he arrived from France as a very young puppy, he was allowed to get lost in the woods almost immediately. I searched all night, but it was 24 hours before he showed up on our doorstep as we ate a sad breakfast. I heard a whimper, opened the back door and in tottered little Max. Immediately he rolled over on his back and peed high in the air. As a result of the whole nightmare of being alone under a farm dump, he lost all confidence in himself. Growing up he wouldn’t stray from my side. When stumped by a problem on a blood line, he would come back to me, put his paws on my knee and ask with his eyes, “Now what should I do?” He wasn’t much of a tracking dog, but he was the best I had at the time.

I remember the night that Max made his breakthrough and began to gain his self-confidence. That night he solved some tough checks by reaching out to regain the line. He found his deer in a vast overgrown field, and he was immensely proud of himself. He became a focused, persistent dog who would work a check for half an hour if necessary, ranging out carefully and then returning to his point of loss until he finally reestablished the line. He was always a “soft” dog, not what I prefer, but he learned to take the initiative, which is so important in natural tracking.

When the handler has no clue where the deer went, he has to trust his dog. I did learn to count on Max when the going was tough. Trust your dog! And work to develop his initiative that’s the basis for this trust.

Of course you can’t blindly trust every young dog at the beginning, but if you learn to read him, you will know when to believe him. With experience he will become more and more reliable, and you will grow together into a special pack of two, each with his own talents. The dog and handler, working together, will begin to accomplish things that neither partner would ever accomplish on his own.

Max' last deer

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Grit on three legs - a pictorial tribute to Bear

Thursday brought bad news. Henry Holt from Illinois called that his wirehaired dachshund Bear (Attila von Moosbach-Zuzelek) got away when the kids left a yard gate open. The Holts looked for him for four days. Luckily, Julie, Henry’s wife, found him close to a highway underpass. He was injured (must have been hit by a vehicle), and his femur suffered multiple fractures.

Yesterday Bear underwent a surgery, and today we got this e-mail from Henry: "Well he's alive but the leg had to be amputated. He was in surgery for 3 hours and it got to the point where the vet made it clear that, as much as I wanted her to try and save it, she thought it was a bad idea. She called in a second orthopedic surgeon to look at it and they had no doubt that at best Bear would be in pain for the rest of his life if the limb weren't removed. Not only was the femur shattered but the knee was fractured in two directions and partially crushed on one end. The xray was scary to begin with but the damage was much more extensive than what could be seen on the film.

Bear is a tough dog, and he seems to coping just fine. He came home a couple of hours ago and hopped around the yard, amazingly fast for his first day after surgery, marking his favorite spots and wagging his tail at our other two dogs. For now he's a little lopsided from the swelling but when that goes down and he works on his gait I'm sure he'll be quite agile. It's his rear left leg and I hate to say it but I had to smile as I walked him around. He's taking two front steps for every hop in the rear. He was always a little light and high in the rear end, but this is light and high in the rear times ten."

I thought about Bear a lot today and decided to post some of his pictures. Both, Bear and Henry, are very special, and they share an extraordinary bond. The pictures show how devoted they are to each other.

Henry was a driving force behind legalization of blood tracking in Illinois. He is a great dog man, and we were lucky that he had approached us about buying a puppy six and a half years ago. Bear has always been a tough dog with enormous hunting drive. Even as a pup he required special, knowledgeable handling, which Henry provided. Knowing them both, the tracking dog and the handler, I am sure they will be out together in the field this coming fall.

I have a lot of pictures of Bear as Henry brought him to many NATC events, where Bear passed successfully two blood tracking tests, versatility, water retrieve and obedience tests. Read more about his accomplishments here.

Bear as a puppy - the one with red collar, to the right (the pup on left is Sherry Ruggieri's Auggie)
Henry's wife Julie with Jamie (who now is ten years old)

Above - Henry and Bear after successful completion of the NATC blood tracking test

Above - the NATC Fahrtenschuh test

Bear - we wish you a speedy recovery! Our hearts are with you and your family.