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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Keeping your tracking dog in shape!

by John Jeanneney

Now that tracking season is over, there’s a real risk that your dog will get soft and fat. You can’t keep him in shape by working  training line a week, and his excess energy may make him a difficult companion in the house. Exercise is needed for both dogs and people, and this is especially important as we get into middle age.  At 78 I like to think that older dogs and handlers are the most experienced and skillful, but we do have to pay attention to muscle tone and tummy tuck-up.

We all have worked hard to teach our tracking dogs that hot deer lines are a No! No! We are not ready to turn are dogs loose in the off season and run the risk that they will bump deer and forget what they have been taught. Depending on your own age and condition you can jog a few miles with them or “road” them from your ATV. Better yet train your dog to roam about off lead as you search together for sheds or trim out your deer stands for the upcoming season.

Taking a walk in the woods with your tracking dogs is not as simple as it should be. Labs and curdogs will usually stay fairly close. Hounds, including dachshunds, have a greater tendency to range out too far. Your dog must handle, stay in contact and explore the area within a 100 yards or so. If there is a problem with recall, the best solution is a remote (electronic) collar used gently and intelligently. If the dog drifts out and doesn’t respond to your voice, give him a buzz with the vibrator on the collar and follow up with a low level electric “nick”. The dog must have a clear idea of what “Come!” means before you begin this collar training. You have to work upward from the lowest electric nick levels until you find what is just powerful enough to get the attention of your dog. The sensitivity of individual dogs to electrical “stimulation” varies. Once your dog learns to associate the buzz of the vibrator and the mild electric shock, you will be able to communicate by vibrator alone. This means that you can let the dog work out around you without calling him and spooking any wildlife you might be interested in.

Long walks with your tracking dog in interesting terrain are something that will keep you both in shape for fall. Think how steep those hills are going to be if you let that belly fat build up. A word of caution for small dog folks:  Avoid dusk, after dark and early dawn outings. These are the hours when coyotes are on the move. I know of three cases where coyotes killed small dogs at night. One was my own Jack Russell, who was a great underground dog if not much of a tracker.

Some handlers are reluctant to let their dogs do anything but track wounded big game. What if the dog bumps a deer and forgets everything he has been taught? Actually mature dogs are more discriminating than we sometimes realize. For a smart, versatile pointing dog like a Drahthaar there is no contradiction between hunting birds  and tracking wounded deer. Dogs are very aware of cues. When the tracking collar and leash go on at the hit site, this is their signal to focus on the scent line of wounded big game.

Dachshunds and beagles can be used for both tracking and rabbit hunting. We consistently do this with our dachshunds. In both activities they use their running muscles and their noses. On rabbits they learn to work checks and backtracks; this enhances their blood tracking skills. For dachshunds competitive AKC field trials on cottontails are another activity to keep a tracking dog sharp and in shape.

Susanne Hamilton's Buster (FC Clown vom Talsdeich) 
is an outstanding blood tracker and winner of two 
Dachshund Club of America National field trials.
When you are dealing with versatile dogs, from dachshunds to Drahthaars, you do have to determine your priorities. If tracking wounded big game is going to be the most important activity, it is best to introduce the puppy to this sort of scent work first. As the young dog understands that tracking wounded big game is the most important thing in the world, he will learn to ignore rabbits or birds when tracking on the long leash. A Drahthaar may end up not being as high headed and wide ranging as a pheasant specialist, but he will perform both jobs well.

The more you work with your dog in different  hunting activities, the more the dog/handler cooperation will carry over from one activity to another. This brings to mind the career of Clary, my second wirehaired dachshund, and my most versatile dog of all time.

With Clary, I could not begin with training for tracking wounded deer. In 1971  this has not been legalized yet in any of the northern states. We started by hunting rabbits, squirrels and raccoons.  Clary was a puppy sensation until her first birthday. Then she crashed into six months of adolescence incompetence until her brain began to function well once more. At 18 months she rediscovered her old self confirming all my early hopes. Clary would run rabbits in daylight and ignore them at night when coons were our game. During the day she quickly sensed whether I was hunting pheasants or rabbits, and she would quarter closely or range farther out as the situation required. This early introduction to small game work is not what I would recommend today for every dog, but in Clary’s particular case it was not a problem.

When a DNR official with law enforcement credentials legally requested that I track a wounded deer, Clary took a bloodless  four hour line a quarter of a mile to the deer. Clary was then four years old and had never chased a healthy deer or tracked a wounded one. Yet Clary immediately sensed what I wanted her to do and acted as if she had been “blood tracking” all her life. Her earlier experiences of cooperation in hunting with me carried over to this new task.

In the case of most breeds a tracking dog does not have to be a specialist for just one thing. If you work with your dog year round, he will understand you and cooperate better during the tracking season. And he will stay in shape.

Clary von Moosbach with her dam Carla vom Rode. By the way, Carla was the first dachshund imported by John from Germany; she was born in February 1965.

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