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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Upcoming workshops and seminars

A down side of tracking wounded deer is the frequent discovery that the coyotes got there first and devoured the venison. “The Coyotes Don’t Wait” and that is the tile of a panel discussion that will be given at the New York Bowhunters Meeting and Banquet on April 4 at Syracuse, NY. Participants will be trackers Kevin Armstrong, Gary Huber and John Jeanneney.

A deer devoured by coyotes overnight

Quebec is a Canadian province surging with interest in the use of tracking dogs to find wounded moose, bear and whitetails. Last spring the Quebec Association of Tracking Dog Handlers hosted a workshop presented in French by John Jeanneney from New York State. This spring, on April 25-26, the Association will offer a second workshop featuring Patrice Stoquert and Philippe Rainaud, two experienced “conducteurs” from the multi-breed tracking organization in France.

Above - last year's workshop in Quebec (John was a presenter)

Below - Patrice Stoquert with his yellow Lab Raoul. The picture was taken by John when he visited Patrice in France in December 2007

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prayers needed for Anabel

Today brought some tragic news. Susanne Hamilton's nine week old puppy "Anabel" was hurt by another dog. In Susanne's words:

"I am begging everyone to pray for Anabel, who is Buster's nine week old little daughter, and our total delight! She is in the emergency intensive care unit, with a severe brain swelling. Our big dog was protecting his toy, and grabbed her way too severely for her size. She has been stabilized, but she is fighting for her life tonight. Please send good thoughts her way.

Update March 28, 7 pm
As Anabel got a bit worse, Susanne and Cliff decided to let her go. They said a final goodbye and held her while she was put to sleep. Words cannot express how heartbroken they are. They both are very grateful for your prayers and support.
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necesssary plan.
from Separate Lifetimes by Irving Townsend

Monday, March 23, 2009

Randy Vick and his tracking dogs

Randy Vick lives in Pavo, Georgia, close to Florida border. He used to track with Bob, an excellent beagle/Walker cross, but he passed away a year and a half ago. At present Randy owns two tracking dogs, a Bavarian Mountain Hound called Little Brown (bred by Ken Parker) and Annie, a Kemmer Cur.

Above: Randy with Annie, soaking wet, with V. Stewart's 10 pointer after a four hour old track in the rain (no visible blood).

Below: Randae, Craig and Annie after a long night in the swamp. Randae's 140 class 10 pointer.

Below: Randae Davis, Annie and a 10 point buck

Randy and Little Brown started this track 10 hours after the shot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Blood tracking in Montana?

Is Montana going to accept the use of tracking dogs for recovery of wounded game? Let's hope so. For more information go to

Deer Search handlers in Otsego County, NY

I have not caught up yet with all the pictures and stories submitted by blood trackers during the last tracking season. I am going to make an effort to post all the backlogged posts within this upcoming week. Today I would like to focus on two Deer Search handlers who track in Otsego and Delaware counties of New York.

Fred Zoeller is based in Cooperstown, NY, and he tracks with two dogs. The first two pictures show the younger one of the two - a Bavarian Mountain Hounds imported from Germany. Her name is Mika, and she is showing a lot of promise. More information about Bavarian Mountain Hounds can be accessed at Ken Parker's website at

Fred's more experienced tracking dog is Cretchen whose registered name is Demi von Moosbach-Zuzelek. Cretchen is four years old now, and she is out of Alfi and Elli.

This spectacular buck was recovered by Fred Zoeller and Cretchen.
Mario Montana lives in Brooklyn, NY, but during the deer hunting season his base is in Sidney, NY. Mario is a highly successful tracker who also uses a wirehaired dachshund - her name is Cheyenne. Cheyenne's registered name is Lea v Moosbach-Zuzelek and she is out of Billy von Moosbach-Zuzelek and Gela von Rauhenstein. Cheyenne is four years old. Below there are pictures of some of Cheyenne's recoveries in 2008. You can read about her at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Karma passes Deer Search certification test

Yesterday we heard from Kevin Armstrong that his Karma passed Deer Search certification test. Our congratulations to Kevin and his blood tracking dachshund Karma who got Prize II and 65 points. Karma is one of those dogs who are very good natural trackers but are not that turned on on artificial lines. The line was 21 hours old, 1000 yards long. Karma did it in 70 minutes. The judges were Bob Hageman, Ronald Hausfelder and Gary Neal.

Kevin wrote: "Winter kill carcasses all over the place (there were remains of at least 4 or 5 dead deer scattered all around the 3rd turn. At one point Karma picked up a hoof attached to a leg bone and hip bone and looked back at me as if to say - is this what you want?). The carcasses gave us quite a bit of trouble at the third turn but the thermal was carrying scent from the reward in our direction. Once we made it through the carcass area and made the third turn she had it down as solid as on the first leg of the track.

The advice the judges gave me is to "trust your dog". Karma was on the trail 90% of the time. Though she often tracked 10 to 20 yards down wind of the trail, she was steady the entire way except at one point where she was slightly distracted by a flock of turkey and live deer that crossed the trail during the day and when she was in the area where the carcasses were.

I interrupted her several times because I was trying to verify the track with blood or a track. The errors were handler errors. The dog was a solid, steady tracker. They told me to watch her body language. When she lost the trail she would stop, lift her head and look back at me. When she was at her best her tail was straight back. When she was very hot on the scent her straight tail wagged. When she was not on the trail her tail drooped. I found the advice VERY helpful. I'll use it a great deal in the future."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Breeding disappointments

by John Jeanneney (April 2006 for Full Cry)

At least two breeds of German origin have been imported into the United States specifically for tracking wounded deer. Wirehaired dachshunds from Germany came into the country in the 1960s and 1970s. Much more recently Bavarian Mountain Hounds, which were developed as tracking specialists, have been arriving in response to the legalizations and expansion of blood tracking into many new states.

I was in right in the middle of the first invasion of wirehaired dachshunds, so I had an inside view on what went on. Back in the early days of Deer Search we had some pretty good tracking dogs, and some of us began breeding puppies without much understanding of what we were doing. Within three or four generations the breeding program was going down hill. Very good dogs were occasionally being produced, but the majority did not show much aptitude for tracking. In my own litters I found only about 20% that pleased me. It’s curious, but not completely surprising that almost none of the wirehaired dachshunds tracking successfully today trace back to those imported wires of the sixties and seventies. Those were the original dogs responsible for launching wounded deer tracking in the Northeast. What went wrong? Why was it necessary to take a fresh start with new imports in the 1990s?

At the beginning we were dealing with a small gene pool of standard wirehaired dachshunds that were separate and distinct from any wires that came down from lines that had been in the United States or England for a long time. They were really two different types of dogs although all were registered as “dachshunds” by the AKC.

There were two outstanding bitches, my Clary vom Moosbach and Don Hickman’s Adelheide von Spurlaut. These two bitches were as much co-founders of Deer Search as Don and I were. They put wirehaired dachshunds on the map, at least in our small area of eastern New York State, and they demonstrated to skeptical observers, and the Fish and Wildlife people, that good dogs were capable of finding deer that could not be found by any other means.

Clary von Moosbach and her dam Carla vom Rode (Carla was imported from Germany in 1965)

Clary von Moosbach

Clary and Addie were products of random outcrosses to German studs belonging to a German war bride, who was widowed a few years after she came to live in the United States. It is mostly luck that both of these bitches were outstanding; they were naturals, and educated their owner/handlers in the art of tracking wounded deer. The problem was that Clary and Addie were never able to produce many offspring that were in their league in terms of ability. As is often the case with out-crossed dogs, the second and third generations did not have a concentration of the genes, which had made their parents great. Breeding the descendants of Clary with the descendants of Addie did not seem to produce a high percentage of good dogs either.

Don Hickman with Addie. Though best known for her tracking, Addie pushed this grey fox all around a brushy 50 acres until Don got his shot.

The breeders in Deer Search all went through a period of outcrossing to any wires from Germany that they could find. Our na├»ve thinking at the time was, “If it’s German, it’s got to be good.” Of course, many of the German dogs that we located around the country had been purchased as pets from German breeders who were trying to get rid of them to Americans who did not know any better. Generally, what was lacking in many of these pet dogs was a strong desire to track, combined with the calm steady temperament and patience needed to work out old, cold lines. Correct double coats tended to deteriorate from tough and wiry to soft and fluffy. Curiously, the size of the dogs went up as the quality was coming down. After two generations, almost of them were well over the 9 kilo (20 pound) German standard.

A myth prevailed within Deer Search that bitches were much better trackers than males. This seemed to be based on good evidence and experience, but almost no one tried seriously to evaluate or develop males. For the backyard breeders the male in a breeding really didn’t matter much. The best stud was simply the one closest in distance to your own house. Why not? Breeding dogs should be as simple as breeding rabbits.

By 1990 there were more than 75 German wirehaired dachshunds either tracking and running some rabbits or living in pet homes. Most of them were related, some pretty closely. Every dog, like every human, carries some undesirable recessive genes. Problems arise when the same undesirable genes come together from each of the parents of the litter. If the gene pool is small, the chances of that happening are greater. You get puppies, which actually have the defect because they got it from each of their recessive carrier parents.

In the case of the German wire colony in America a deadly genetic malady, osteogenesis imperfecta (O.I.), appeared. Puppies that manifested this disease had brittle bones because the collagen that held the bone material together had a molecular defect. Puppy teeth, when they came through the gums, were a translucent pink instead of a healthy white.

Translucent teeth are one of the symptoms of osteogenesis imperfecta.

These pups were usually incapable of living to maturity, and they were put down young as soon as a diagnosis was certain. As luck would have it, the recessive gene for O.I. came in from four or five different dogs imported from Germany. At the time, the Germans did not recognize the disease; they simply put down unthrifty puppies, which kept the disease under control. In recent years the Germans have taken serious steps to eliminate the breeding of dogs who have proved to be carriers of O.I. There is no way of eliminating all the carriers of O.I. because there is not way of identifying them until a DNA test is developed. However, in the United States puppies affected by the disease seldom appeared once we understood how it was transmitted.

This genetic problem did not seriously compromise the “old gene pool” of German wires in America. From a hunter/tracker’s point of view the weaknesses in temperament and “hunt” were more disturbing. Dogs in the third and fourth generation after the great founding bitches often had to be coaxed to track and sometimes they just didn’t want to do it. Desire, especially early desire, is strongly determined by genetics, and it just wasn’t there in many cases. I can remember working a veteran dog right behind a young underachiever. The idea was to get the young dog to track out of competitiveness, so that the old veteran wouldn’t have a chance to take over. Today, we don’t have to play these kinds of games.

Some of us sent bitches back to Germany to be bred to well advertised stud dogs with many tracking titles. We also formed a partnership to purchase a well-known and much-used German stud, whose owner subsequently had been challenged concerning the true pedigree of that dog. None of these steps really turned the situation around for us, although one son of the famous stud from Germany produced consistently well when bred to a certain bitch. This son, named Cato, was, 2½ times the weight of his little German sire and he did not track very well himself! However, bred to the right bitch, Cato produced some excellent dogs.

What we learned from our many experiences is that a great stud dog may or may not produce well from a certain bitch. It not just a matter of comparing strong working pedigrees, and putting the best together in a new litter. Breeding the “best” of what we had to the “best” that we could find, did not necessarily work. We found that you had to keep trying until you found what did work. That doesn’t sound very scientific, but it was much more effective than a theoretically perfect breeding on paper.

Our experience with one of our own bitches, a German import Gerte vom Dornenfeld, is typical of what we learned. Gerte came to America as the old German gene pool was dwindling. She was very intelligent and had an excellent nose; her weakness was a certain lack of toughness and drive. To preserve her good qualities and to improve on her weakness we bred her to two different studs of the old gene pool. The offspring were not as good as she was. Then my wife Jolanta, who is a trained geneticist, heard about a Czech-born wire owned by an old Czech tanner on Vancouver Island off the Pacific Coast of Canada. The Staccato kennel, from which “Zalud” came, was well known for producing very hard dogs for tracking and for underground work on the big East European foxes. We bred Gerte to Zalud, and this bitch, who had never produced anything special, produced the best litter we had bred up to that time. The pups became tough but careful workers very focused on the scent line. We shipped Gerte out a year later for a second breeding, which also produced well. The Zalud/Gerte breedings marked the transition from the old gene pool, which was dieing out, to the new, more successful dachshund gene pool that is expanding today.

"Gustav" (Zalud Staccato) in 1994. He was owned by George Krs who resided in British Columbia, Canada

Gerte was one of the key dachshunds of the genetic transition in the ‘90s. She bayed these two red foxes underground and then tracked the wounded buck, all in four hours.

The problems that we had could not all be blamed on our ignorance and backyard breeding practices. Underlying the history of breeding mistakes were personal tragedies that curtailed promising breeding experiments. For example the death of Don Hickman ended the activities of one of the most active and dedicated Deer Search breeders. There was no one to replace him. Don was also a superb handler, who could get more out of a dog than anyone else.

For tracking dog people there is something to be learned from this story of mistakes and bad luck with the first gene pool. It can happen again when small numbers of a European breed are imported and then interbred. At the beginning of this article we mentioned the Bavarian Mountain Hound. The new American breeders of this great hound seem a lot smarter than the tracking dachshund people were twenty years ago. But no doubt they will face problems similar to what we experienced. Here are some suggestions:

- Don’t believe that all dogs of a certain breed, or from a certain foreign country, are good ones. Unless you have excellent connections, you will not have the opportunity to buy the best. - You can get lucky with intelligent outcrosses, but it is hard to carry your good fortune into the following generations.
- Be aware of the pedigrees, the faults and the strengths of the dogs you use in your breeding program. This is especially important for minimizing the appearance of genetic defects. It will also give you a better chance of introducing the working qualities you are looking for.
- Never breed two dogs that have the same physical or psychological weaknesses.
- The best stud dog is not necessarily the one who lives closest to you.

In wirehaired dachshunds, it was the old gene pool that helped introduce the idea in America that a dachshund could be more than a companion dog and couch potato. As a group, these dogs did not entirely live up to their early promise. There were always some very useful dogs, but the percentage of good ones was not what we wanted. However, much was learned, and probably I was the one who learned the most. We’ll continue this story of tracking dachshunds in another installment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sally and Petey hit the jackpot - evolution of the tracking team

In his latest book Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me John Katz writes: “If you spend time around breeders, rescuers, trainers, vets, shelter workers, you hear this expression now and then: Someone’s hit the jackpot. It means some matchmaker scored: A dog and a human found one another and mesh beautifully, embarking on one of those great interspecies love affairs. A number of elements need to fall into place—a person and a dog that need and complement one another, that intersect at the right time and fit snugly into each other’s lives. Sometimes when you wait for something, it arrives and proves worth waiting for.” I am convinced that Sally and Petey hit the jackpot.

We were contacted by Sally M. from Vermont in October 2006. I received this long thoughtful e-mail:

“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Jeanneney,

I am emailing you because I would like to be put on the waiting list for a puppy from your next litter. I have been doing blood tracking with my two-year-old Beagle but after a year and a half of mediocre performances during training, 1-1/2 hunting seasons with absolutely no success and especially after having the opportunity to watch Tom DiPietro's dog Musket work, I have to finally admit that he doesn't have what it takes to do the job. I have had to cut this year's season short and pass all my deer calls on to Tom since it doesn't feel right taking calls knowing my dog and I won't be able to help. Although my Beagle has a good nose, he's an anxious dog and after half an hour of frantically trying to track a deer, he's an exhausted, confused, quivering ball of nerves who can't think straight. This has been frustrating and somewhat embarrassing and not a whole lot of fun for my dog.

I'm a single mother with a 13-year-old daughter as well as a seven-year-old Basset mix and four cats. We live in northern Vermont off a dead end dirt road surrounded by 100s of acres of woods. I work at home so my dogs are my constant companions and my best friends. I spend a lot of time outside with my dogs and take them up into the woods for a couple of hours every afternoon, depending on the weather. I also have an underground dog fence encompassing my house, pond and five acres of woods which has worked very well, even for my Beagle.

I have read your book and have had a good look at your website and am impressed by your obvious love of the dogs, and especially by the care and attention you give your puppies. Since three dogs is all I think I can manage and "getting rid of" someone is not an option, I would like to maximize my chances of finding a solid tracking dog and I think having one of your puppies is the best way to do that. I am ready for a level-headed, calm, gentle but tough little dog with a lot of guts who will be a good friend and hopefully a great tracking dog. I realize you are in the midst of hunting season and probably very busy, so please get back to me when you have the time.”

I was very impressed by Sally’s introduction but highly skeptical. A single mother with two dogs and two cats, and, as I later found out, she was not a hunter. This request was highly unusual. There are very few women trackers. Most of the time we get inquiries from hunters who would like to have a dachshund for tracking and at the same time have a pet for their family. Or occasionally we hear from dachshund people who’d like to get involved in blood tracking so their dachshunds have something to do. But Sally’s only motivation was her fascination with tracking. Also, even though our success with selecting puppies for their new owners is quite successful, what would happen if we made a mistake? What if a puppy did not turn out the way Sally desired? In spite of our doubts, we decided to go ahead, and we put Sally on the waiting list for Keena’s next litter.

Keena's litter of seven puppies was whelped on March 19, 2007

I asked Sally to join our borntotrack yahoo group and United Blood Trackers, and she promptly did. I also sent her 2nd edition of John’s book on blood tracking dogs. Her next e-mail was somewhat surprising: “I received the new book yesterday. I wasn't expecting such a beautiful hard cover book. That was very kind of you to send it to me and I greatly appreciate it. I see the part about the scent shoes is quite a bit more positive than it was in the last book. I just know there's a way to make a pair of homemade ones and I have a few ideas I'm going to be trying out. I also found the appendix about the e-collars interesting. My older dog doesn't need to be on a leash in the woods but my Beagle does. One of these collars might work well for him since he respects the underground fence very well. It sure would be nice to walk in the woods not attached to an energetic Beagle so I'm going to look into these.”

Sally’s resourcefulness about scent shoes was impressive, and she ended up constructing her own shoes: “I did end up putting together some homemade scent shoes by cutting the soles off a pair of old boots and taking a trip to the hardware store. I only tried them out for a few minutes in the front yard and they seemed to work fine though it felt like I had high-heeled shoes on (at least I think so as I've never worn heels). I have no idea how they'll hold up - they might fall apart after a few uses, who knows.

I also invested in an e-collar for my Beagle and the results are nothing less than miraculous! I had to use it twice the first day and once the second day, but we have now spent 8 afternoons in the woods without a leash and without having to use the zapper. We are both so much happier. What a pleasure to watch him running back and forth with his tail going and his ears flapping. He now gets to chase chipmunks with my other dog without being frustrated by the end of the leash. I'm so glad he responded well and quickly - I hated to have to cause him pain but there was no other way and I think he would even agree that it was worth it.”

I liked Sally more and more. The fact that she was willing to learn and had an open mind was invaluable. So many times we come across people who “know better” despite their limited experience or are not willing to change their approach when things do not go well.

On March 19, 2007, Keena whelped a litter of seven puppies, and one of them was to go to Sally. After many communications with Sally, we selected for her a nice male whom we called Matthias (it was an M litter). He was a very laid back pup, with nice personality, and he had a suitable functional conformation for tracking in Vermont. He did not have a super strong tracking drive but we were pretty sure that this would come with age, training and experience on natural lines. Sally came to pick him up when he was 11 weeks old.

Pete (aka Matthias) has a red collar

We really liked her as she is a rare combination of no-nonsense attitude, sensitivity and toughness. We spent several hours with Sally going over puppy training and tracking, and next day we heard from her: “Puppy is doing just fine. It was a long ride home yesterday because there were some trees down, one of the roads was closed and I had to find another way home. I stopped once to take him out but otherwise, the puppy was quiet and slept most of the time in the car. He has handled himself quite well at home too. He's been brave and friendly with my other dogs and even the cats. My older dog is not impressed and after meeting the puppy, has since ignored him. My Beagle is very interested, though nervous and a little afraid of the puppy, as I expected. The puppy spent midnight to 6:00 AM in the crate without a peep. He's been very affectionate and friendly and seems to be quite taken with my daughter. He's eating well too. I will email more in a few days and send pictures. “

Just three days later we got another message: “The puppy is doing very well. We are calling him Pete. He seems to be very comfortable here and I'm impressed with how well he has taken all the changes. He is quiet and calm and sure of himself, and not afraid of much. He's been swimming, gone for a car ride, walked in the woods with the other dogs. He's also pulled one of the cat's tails, humped the other dogs and eaten cat poop. What a life! He's doing well in his crate at night and eating well. He doesn't seem to be a very destructive chewer but if something moves, he wants to kill it - like my broom. My Beagle is still a little snappy with him - he's always been second to my other dog and I think he's enjoying being the boss over someone else for once and can take it too far. He's much better outside but I have to watch him closely in the house. Since things are going well, I'm planning on laying a track this weekend. I will keep you updated.”

At the end of June we heard “We finally got a nice uninterrupted practice track in yesterday and Pete did a beautiful job. 100 yards, 2-1/2 hours, 3 turns, slow and steady with no help. Feeling good about trying a four-hour line this week.”

A month later: “Pete is doing just fine. He had his second round of shots last week and all is well. He's just about 14 pounds now. His housetraining is going well - not quite 100% but close. He's up to 1 hour walks in the woods every day with the other dogs now. I watch him closely and carry him when he seems tired, but that's becoming less often. He's comfortable around the water and rides on my floatie with me on the pond like he's Cleopatra. He'll jump right in if he sees something interesting. He had his first four-wheeler ride last week which didn't seem to bother him a bit except he wanted to get down to run with the other dogs. His manners are coming along well. My other dogs are very well behaved and responsive so I think he's learning a lot from them. He's a lot of fun to have around and has fit in very well.

We had 2 good 4-hour lines over the last week or so, so today we tried a 7-hour line. He had trouble in one spot that he just couldn't get but the rest of it went well and he got both of the 90 degree turns. We're still doing not quite 100 yards and using about 2 ounces of blood on the sponge stick. For the last 2 lines I've used the tracking shoes as well. He definitely knows what is going on now and when he sees me get his tracking leash out, he gets excited and heads for the door. “

And again a month later: “Pete is doing just fine. We did our first 10-hour line yesterday and he did fairly well. He gets pretty excited about it now and is starting to rush and not be as careful as I would like. I'm going to start leaving treats along the way and see if this helps. Otherwise he seems to be coming along well. He's pretty close to 100% reliable with housetraining and he's growing well. He has graduated from the crate at night to my bed and he's doing well on the leash when we walk on the road, though handling 3 dogs on leashes is a little tricky. One of his favorite things is chasing butterflies which he will eat if he catches one. So all is well, more updates later.”

Sally wanted to train Pete to handle in the woods and since she had such a good and quick success with her Beagle, she wanted to try e-collar with Pete. I advised her to talk to Andy Bensing, who is a professional dog trainer. She wrote: “I did manage to finally get hold of Andy. He seemed to really know what he was talking about and explained the training process very well. It was simple, it made sense and it was humane. The video he suggested is the Tri-Tronics e-collar training video. I haven't received it yet to tell you what I think of it. Apparently I lucked out with having it work so well with my Beagle and was a lot more ignorant that I thought. Please know that I'm only planning on using it as a last resort when it's either that or lose my dog. I will only take the training as far as I have to go to make sure that if I ever have to use it, it will have the desired result. Pete has responded very well to training with treats and is actually very reliable with "come", but I need to have a backup just in case or I won't feel comfortable walking him off leash.

We've been stuck on 18-hour overnight lines for the past couple of weeks. He only just completed his last one without help so I'll wait until he's done a few more before I move on to 24-hour lines. He's always excited about it and certainly tries hard though.”

In September Sally wrote: “Here's a picture of Pete from the other day. He's doing great. The e-collar training is done and was very quick and easy. He passed the ultimate test yesterday when three or four deer jumped out in front of us. All dogs stopped dead when I yelled, including Petey. I didn't have to use the collar so maybe I never will. I hope not, but at least now he knows what it means.

He's been having some trouble with his training the past three weeks or so - starts off well but easily distracted, can't keep his mind on the job - though he did very well at Tom's house last weekend on some lines he laid out at his house. Not worried though, maybe he's just getting bored at home. I'll try to spice things up a little in the next couple of weeks.”

In October Sally was writing about her disappointment about tracking real deer with her seven month old puppy. “Pete and I have been out on five calls but as he is still so young, we have been struggling and I'm not sure how to proceed.

On a good note, we did have one find. The hunter really should have found it himself, but just didn't look hard enough. Petey tracked about 50 yards to the edge of a stream and the hunter said he had heard a splash but for some reason "knew" the deer hadn't crossed. We eventually found the deer on the other side of the stream across from where Petey had taken us. The hunter actually found it, but Petey was pretty close and heading in the right direction. After a minute of getting used to the deer he put on a pretty good show of trying to tear its legs off and then had to be dragged out with the deer as he was attached to its neck. So at least that was a good experience for him.

On the other hand, our other four calls have been the same thing - deer hit the night before (18 hours ago) with a blood trail that quickly ends. He can track what blood is there but then is unable to go any further. I don't get a lot of calls and I've never gotten one with the deer hit less than 12 hours ago so if I waited for an easy, fresh one, we'd never get to track at all. Even though I tell everyone I know who hunts to call me if they get a deer, this has yet to happen.

I realize that asking a seven-month-old puppy to track with no blood is unrealistic. John's book says it will take 30-40 real life calls before he can be expected to do this. Even though I tell people he is a young, inexperienced dog, they still get their hopes up and I feel terrible using these people as practice calls knowing that finding their deer is highly unlikely. I'm also concerned that this is doing Petey a disservice by putting him in these situations where he is in over his head and not getting rewarded. I'm afraid he will lose his enthusiasm and just end up confused. How can Petey get these 30-40 calls under his belt without getting frustrated and bored?

I talked to Tom on the phone about this tonight and we thought about taking calls together with Petey doing what he can and then Musket taking over. This sounds great to me but might be hard to coordinate as we would both have to be available to take the call.

So basically, should Petey and I keep banging our heads against a wall hoping for a miracle? Should I wait for that easy, fresh call even if it means waiting until next year? I want to do what is best in the long run and am willing to be patient, but hunting season is short and I'd like to get what I can out of it.”

Tom DiPitro with Musket and Sally with Petey

John’s response to Sally was: “Sally, I think that you are expecting much too much from a young puppy. Some puppy owners may be finding deer, but we don’t know all the circumstances. Their lines were probably not as difficult as the ones you have encountered. It is OK to take easy calls with Petey, but I don’t think there is much point in taking on 18-hour-old scent lines without blood. You don’t have a finished tracking dog yet, and you should not expect him to act like a mature, experienced dog.”

December brought this e-mail: “Petey is doing just fine - actually seems to like the snow. I got him a nice coat that he doesn't seem to mind too much. He has successfully demoted my beagle to third dog position as expected, but I think old Fred is pretty safe as top dog. I think he's off to a good start with his tracking and I'm very pleased with what he's done this year. He's very well-behaved when we're in the woods at home - his early training has really paid off. He wears the e-collar but I've never had to use it. He's a great little dog and I'm very lucky to have him.”

Five months later we got a longer update: “He's doing great and I couldn't be happier with him. He's a wonderful little dog with a big personality, very funny and quirky, has impeccable house manners, friendly and outgoing, and is very reliable off leash in the woods. He continues with his ball obsession - thank you for the raquetball suggestion, they're perfect.

We've done two training blood lines so far. On the first one, Petey was so excited he was all over the place, but the second one went a little better although he was still pretty excited. That's certainly understandable - you should have seen his face light up when I got the tracking harness out.

I have a Basset mix named Fred whom Petey idolizes and whose life Petey saved this week. I was working on the computer, Fred was outside and Petey was inside. Petey started barking frantically at the door which is very unusual for him, and when I went to see why, I found Fred having a seizure outside on the doorstep. I managed to get him to the vet in about 15 horrible, frantic minutes which was a good thing because she said it was one of the worst seizures she's ever seen and would have soon killed him. He spent two nights at the vet's office and is still weak and very shaky on his hind end, but lucky to be alive. He's on phenobarbital now and I just have to wait and see how far he will come back. If Petey hadn't barked at the door, I would never have known anything was wrong and I would probably have lost old Fred. I will be forever grateful to Petey for that.

Petey's doing great, he's happy and healthy and looking forward to a summer's worth of training. You definitely chose the right puppy for me and I thank you.”

After the tracking season 2008 was over we received this e-mail:

“Now that bow season is over for us, I thought you'd like to hear that Petey has done an absolutely beautiful job this year. We had a pretty discouraging summer as far as training was concerned - he had plenty of enthusiasm, but just seemed to be all over the place and wasn't able to finish even a simple line by himself. When we started taking calls, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Every time we went out, he was all business and did exactly what he was supposed to do and did it well. He was enthusiastic, focused and determined, wasn't distracted by squirrels or chipmunks, would swim a brook without hesitation and never gave up. We had 6 finds out of 15 calls plus 1 we kicked up and let go. I can't tell you how thrilled and proud of him I am.

One night he tracked steadily for two hours before we found the deer. It had been shot through the butt so it went a long way. He got stuck a couple of times but figured it out for himself and never showed any signs of slowing down. Another night, Tom DiPietro got a call but Musket was exhausted so we took Petey and their puppy, Scout, so he could follow along. We found that one too, and since Petey got to follow Musket a few times last year, I felt pretty good about being able to return the favor.

We only had 1 embarrassing episode on an old track on a dry day with not much to start with. Petey didn't take us any further than the hunter, and eventually went into a hollow log and after lots of barking and thumping, came out with porcupine quills in his mouth. So, not only did the hunter not get his deer, but he ended up having to help me pull quills out of Petey's mouth. Other than that one though, on the calls where we didn't find the deer, Petey always took us further than the hunter and twice was able to find the blood when the hunter wasn't able to find any.

The only thing I don't like about his tracking is that he pulls so hard and tends to rush and get too excited. He's a very solid, strong 25 pounds and I'm not a big person. He will use up twice as much energy than is necessary. Gloves are a necessity and a collar is not an option. He will do this especially if the track is fresh and often needs to be brought back a few times before he'll settle down. Holding him back so he's not attached to the deer while the hunter drags it out of the woods is more exhausting for me than actually finding the deer. On an older track or when there's not too much blood, he's slower and more methodical. I'm assuming that as he gets older, this will get better. He also barks when he's tracking, but it’s only either when there's good, fresh blood and we're close to getting the deer, or if he's gone off and is after a fresh, healthy deer track. So if he's barking his head off and I'm not seeing any blood, I bring him back and this has worked so far.

I've learned an awful lot this year. I now feel confident in being able to read Petey's tracking body language and the way he feels at the end of the leash. I also feel a lot more confident about talking to the hunter - what questions to ask and telling him how he can help me. I've also learned that very often the hunter is completely mistaken about the situation and things can look very different when you get there than they sounded on the phone. I've also learned that the hunter doesn't necessarily appreciate it when your dog pulls his deer's tail off.

When I came to your house to pick Petey up, John told me I needed a gun and he was absolutely right. Two of the deer we found were down but still alive and the hunters had to cut their throats. This was extremely unpleasant for me, to say the least, and I don't ever want it to happen again. I know nothing about guns, but I have some friends who are going to help me with this and I will make sure I have one next year.

Other than his tracking, Petey is doing extremely well. He's gained four pounds since the spring when I finally found a combination of food that agrees with him. He's been healthy except for when he got squirted by a skunk directly in the face. He threw up that night and it smelled very strongly, so I'm pretty sure he swallowed some of it. It took three days and a trip to the vet before he would eat, but he bounced back quickly. He's active and happy, funny, smart, and has healthy relationships with my other dogs and six cats. He has impeccable house manners and is reliable off leash in the woods. I can't begin to explain how much he means to me and how good it makes me feel to be able to give him the opportunity to do what he was born to do and obviously makes him so happy. After four long, frustrating years, I am finally on my way with a fantastic little dog - Thank You! Sally”

I am sure that Sally and Petey will go through ups and downs, and there will be challenges ahead. But I am convinced that this a great match, and they both hit a jackpot.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

...and the winner of the best caption contest is

Is the ice cream ready yet?

submitted by Andy Bensing

In total we received 31 responses, and here they are:
  1. Do we eat em when we catch em?
  2. Dear who?
  3. Slow down mom, I need a drink
  4. Got milk?
  5. I'm not lying Mom, it had a big white tail and a dead tree on its head!
  6. I'll be glad when tracking school is over and I can get my own license!
  7. Mom, don't look now, but we lost the rest of the pack!
  8. Now let me get this straight, if we find something...we get to eat it?
  9. Udder curiosity!
  10. Got milk?
  11. Move over Mom, I was born-to-track
  12. Are we there yet?
  13. Mama tell John to lay me a blood trail...I`m a big boy now.......I`m tired of these milk trails.
  14. This little piggy went tracking
  15. I just love Mom's built in hydration unit!
  16. Mama's boy
  17. There are dreams in your eyes, Ollie. Tall reaches of wind sweep the clear blue. The winter is young yet, so young. Only a little cupful of winter has touched your lips. Drink on … milk with your lips … dreams with your eyes.
  18. Hey Mom, are we there yet?
  19. I smell it too, Mommy, but I’m having a hard time getting the same view as you.
  20. Cold-nose hounds!
  21. Darwin may have been on to something...
  22. Cold scent hounds!
  23. What's a guy gotta do to get a meal around here?
  24. I don't know about you, but I like cold milk.
  25. So I put my nose down like this - and then what happens Mum?
  26. Neither rain, nor SNOW, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep THIS tracking puppy from his appointed LUNCH.
  27. If I TRACK her long enough, she'll STOP to rest and the PRIZE will be all MINE!
  28. She's going away and taking the milk with her....HEY, not a problem, I was BORN TO TRACK!
  29. You mean like this, mama?
  30. Is the ice cream ready yet?
  31. I know I smell a milkshake somewhere

A big THANK YOU to all for the creative captions - we had a lot of fun going over them. Some of you submitted multiple entries, and we really appreciate your participation. Even though the decision was not easy, there can be only one winner. It was a close call, but in the end, no other entry caught our imagination as much as Andy Bensing's "Is the ice cream ready yet?". Congratulations Andy!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Deer Search's Blood Tracking Competition

The Deer Search Annual Blood Tracking Competition is going to be hosted this year by the Western New York Chapter on the weekend of April 18-19, 2009. For details contact Dale Clifford. Only Deer Search members are eligible to participate. For rules go to

Last competition was won by Sabrina (registered name Jessie von Moosbach-Zuzelek) owned and handled by Dale Clifford. Sabrina was born on May 5, 2003; her sire is FC Falko von Moosbach-Zuzelek and her dam was FC Sabina von Moosbach-Zuzelek. The above picture shows Hans Klein (judge) and Dale Clifford with Sabrina after winning the competition in 2005. In fact Sabrina has won so far three blood tracking competitions -- a huge accomplishment for the dog and her handler.

Mickey's last deer

Tim Nichols' beagle Mickey was one of the great tracking dogs of the North East. He died a year ago on March 24 at the age of 12 ½. Mickey found more deer in his career than any other dog in Deer Search. This was in part due to the fact that Tim his handler had drive and stamina to match his hound’s. For eight successive years the pair took more calls and found more deer than any other tracking team in Deer Search. They were licensed to track on both sides of the New York/Vermont border, rough country with plenty of mountains and beaver swamps.

Their grand total of deer finds was 160. In addition Mickey found three bears and even found two lost dogs. He would track whatever Tim requested.

Here is Tim’s account of Mickey’s last deer call in November of 2007. As you can see from the photo taken at the end, Mickey had nothing left but heart and the desire to do his job. This story says a lot about both Mickey and Tim.

The End is Near

It was Thanksgiving day of Vermont’s 2007 deer season and very wet outside. It had been a mixture of rain and snow and just a raw day. At around noontime the phone rang, and to my surprise it was a hunter from near my home calling for help to locate a buck that his girlfriend had hit. Both of them had shot at it but he knew that his shots were off the mark as the buck was hitting high gear going across the field. However, the deer had buckled when the girlfriend took the first shot.

So I loaded the old beagle Mickey into his crate, not knowing that his time was dwindling away faster than his old body made me realize. We headed up the road about two miles to search for this wounded buck. When I got there, the boyfriend came out of the house to inform me of what had happened. After filling out the tracking report we headed out his back door and up a very steep ridge to get to the last blood he had found. After a 15 minute walk we finally arrived at the scene. I snapped the lead into Mickey's harness and we were off, now at a much slower pace then in his younger years. But we still had a steady pace and within 15 minutes Mickey started to bark which meant we were 20 to 30 minutes behind the deer.

As we were moving from ridge to ridge we hear a shot ring out up ahead of us. I stopped to listen, but there were no follow up shots. So we continued to track and within a few minutes we approached a very shaken hunter just standing in the woods looking puzzled. As I got to him I asked him if had shot. His reply was "I think so!". I thought for a second and asked him again and this time he confessed that he had buck fever and missed. He then asked if he could join us. I told him, “Sure, come along and watch. It’s going to be a long day.”

So we proceeded along and within 10 minutes a shot rang out, then another, and another. We stopped and waited for a few minutes and then went on tracking. When we hear another shot, I didn't want to continue, but we did. As we tracked through some pines I looked ahead to see a party of about five hunters all looking at the ground. As I approached I could see a buck laying there with a few holes in him. As I got to the hunters, I recognized my next door neighbor standing over the buck smiling. He yelled that, “It took a few shots but we got him.” I then said to him ," Who is going to claim this prize?" He replied " The guy who called you to track for him drew first blood, so its his deer.".

After a few minutes of discussion about what had taken place, all the hunters left, and I was left with a deer, a dog, my back pack and very little idea where I was. So I gutted the deer and started to drag it in the direction I came from.

Thank God, one of the hunters had called my wife to go get the girl who had originally shot the deer and meet up with me to help get it out of the woods. Everything finished up well, the girl was happy, and I made it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Mickey and his last deer

Monday, March 2, 2009

Leroy and Caroline - new additions to AJ's pack

We wrote about AJ Niette from Georgia a couple of months ago. At the time he was working with two dogs, Jake (above) and Molly. Since then he has added two more - Leroy and Caroline. He wrote recently:
"This deer tracking can get in your blood...only eight more months before it starts again and it will be here before you know it.....especially when you are working with two pups.....I run a lines for Jake and Molly atleast once a month.

The above picture is of Leroy (beagle/walker mix) and it was taken about 6 wks ago when I first got him and the second one is current. Leroy loves me very much and he makes great effort to show me. He has a great nose (cold) and he can track a 24hr track with no problem. He will get out about 40 yds and look back to see if I`m coming. He will be one of the best trackers by the end of next season, he is 6 months old now and he wants to please me so much. He is very gentle and appreciative of everything. I can see it in his eyes and in his actions as though he is telling me watch me I can do this for you.

It is March 1, 2009 and it is snowing . It been snowing for three hrs and it 3 inches deep. My dogs have been out in playing and running it is their first snow.

This is Caroline and she has brindle markings on her black coat and a white blaze on her head. Her sire is a Plott/Bluetick mix and her dam is a black mouth cur."
These dogs hit a jackpot. AJ has an extraordinary talent for bringing out the best in his dogs by giving them a lot of attention, affection and training.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Contest for the best caption

I took the picture of Emma and her six-week-old son Ollie this morning, and we decided to have some fun with it. I think it lends itself very well to the contest for the best caption. You can submit as many captions as you wish by e-mailing them to me The contest will be closed on March 8 at 12 PM EST, and John and I will be the judges. The winner is going to get the autographed hardcover edition of John's book. Enjoy!