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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Working with a young blood tracking dog

John Gereau is Managing Editor for Denton Publications, and he is based in Westport, NY. You can read about him and his wirehaired dachshund Cedar here.

Cedar was born in June 2008 so she is still a very young dog. She was bred by Dale Clifford, and is out of "Sabrina" (Jessie von Moosbach-Zuzelek) and a wirehaired male imported from Poland Henri Anons.

John wrote in his recent e-mail: "After half a dozen unsuccessful calls & much encouragement from Dale Clifford out in Hamburg, we located our first deer Oct. 16 and then another small deer that had been gut shot with a muzzleloader on Oct. 22."

John Gereau and Cedar - a tracking team from the Adirondacks

The correspondence that we get from new handlers shows how easy it is to get discouraged when you start with a young pup. Some deer are not mortally wounded and even the most talented and experienced dog is not going to recover them. Don't evaluate your dog by the number of recoveries but by the effort and quality of her work. Blood tracking dogs get better with maturity and experience, and what you see in their first or second tracking season is just a glimpse of their potential. Be patient.

We discussed this topic on our borntotrack yahoo group and this is what Kevin Armstrong from Deer Search wrote to a new handler with young pup:

My experience with hunting dogs boils down to one simple principal: If you want a good hunting dog hunt him a lot. You can bet that a 6 month old pup who has not found a deer yet is going to screw up. She will screw up quite a bit the first year or two.You'll have to get used to it and not let it bother you too much. Do as you are doing. Try to learn from the experience. My experience with these Billy/Gilda bitches is that they are hard headed and self willed. The night time woods is full of wonderful scent of all kinds of creatures that she would like to meet. Finding deer by following the body and blood scent may have not even clicked in her head yet. She wants to follow the coon scent and the skunk scent and the healthy deer scent. That is the most natural thing in the world. Be happy that she wants to follow scent. You know she is following animal scent by the way she is pulling you. You know that the fake blood trail is just an exercise with her by the way she does not pull like that on a training line. She is just like my dog. Karma could care less about an artificial line. She will follow it because she knows I want her to but her little heart is just not in it. On a real deer trail she pulls as you so aptly put it "like a plow horse". Don't worry, it will click but it will take some time.

I whole heartily agree that she needs trails with dead deer at the end. I grill the hunter mercilessly before I take a call. I only take calls where I feel there is a fair chance to find a dead deer or where the hunter is so sick from wounding a deer that I follow the deer till I (we) jump it and the hunter can see that he (she) has not damaged the deer very much. In Deer Search we send new dogs and new handlers out on any call that comes up just so they can get experience. It is a good thing. After a dozen trails or so and the new handler becomes certified he can pick and choose his trails as he sees fit. As a result Karma did not get a recovery until the third trail she took. Even though she was with an experienced tracking dog, a Master Handler, and a couple of highly experienced deer hunters we still did not get the 16 hour old trail of a gut shot buck figured out until the second restart. After that she had a couple of set-up kills and a few more trails with unrecovered deer until at 7 months old she made her first solo find. Payday!

In theory this work is a piece of cake. We take the dog to a few drops of blood and expect it to lead us over hill and dale to a dead deer. Fact is that it is never anywhere near that easy. Even a seeming slam dunk is rarely a slam dunk. It is really hard work to recover several deer in a season. Really hard!

I advise that at the first opportunity to get her some set-up kills that you take her out to them. When she finds the deer let her maul the deer till she works herself into a frenzy and you can hardly pull her off. Hold her back but let her stay with her prize while the deer is being dresses and pulled out of the woods. Tell her what a good girl she is. Make sure she knows that this is what you want her to do. She will take it from there.

Bottom line is you have an inexperienced puppy who doesn't yet know what her role in life is. She needs experience, the more the better, and the handler needs patience, the more the better. With ample experience and patience you two are going to be a great tracking team before you know it.

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