A Trip to the German Blood Tracking Championships for Dachshunds
By John Jeanneney (Full Cry November 2006)
Wirehaired dachshunds are one of the leading breeds used for tracking wounded deer in the northern states where this has recently been legalized. Almost all of these dogs trace their ancestry back to working dachshunds from Europe, especially Germany. The Americanized wirehaired dachshund has not played a role in this expansion. What American show breeders are producing is a very different type of dog, lower, longer and heavier.
My wife and I try to keep in touch with what is going on with German dachshunds, more often called Teckels. We went through an early phase of expecting that any dachshund imported from Germany would be a good one for what we do. This was naïve. But we know that the best, bred by serious hunters and breeders are very, very good at finding wounded big game.
Over the years we have imported a number of puppies from Germany. Not all of them were “keepers”, but there was always a good pet home for the ones we couldn’t use due to lack of hunt, or a bold, outgoing temperament. It helped a lot when we founded a North American branch of the German Teckel Club (Deutscher Teckelklub). Through the DTK we made many friends, and certainly got much better treatment than if we had been American tourists looking for a cute little dog.
This September we observed the German blood tracking championships, which were held at Chorin in Brandenburg north of Berlin. We figured that this was a way to see the best German tracking teckels in action and possibly pick out a stud dog to which we could send one of our bitches later on. We were also hoping to pick up a young pup to bring back with us.
As I explained in an earlier article, we have a problem with a small gene pool when it comes to wirehaired dachshunds in America. We don’t want to outcross to the heavy American dogs that were never bred for tracking work, but on the other hand we can’t keep breeding with the German descended dogs over here that are all closely related. With some breeds, close line breeding and inbreeding will work well…for quite a while…, but with dachshunds you get into trouble right away.
All these thoughts were bouncing around in our heads as we flew the long eight hours to Berlin. Settling down out of the clouds over eastern Germany we realized just how different this region was from population packed western Germany. There were vast stretches of managed forest land. It was in one of these big blocks of state forest that the championships were to be held.
When we got into those forests we realized that tracking can be a gentleman’s sport if the conditions are right. The woods were flat and park like; the old growth stands of oak, European beech, and Scotch pine had no understory so one could have tracked a deer in bedroom slippers and pajamas. Multiflora rose, honeysuckle and privet are not allowed!
German hunting has centuries of tradition behind it, and hunting dogs are part of that tradition. The drawing for tracking lines and judges was done at a medieval monastery to the mellow sounds of German hunting horns. There was no formal uniform, but the theme was generally Loden green. My wife went with one group of dogs and judges and I went with another. We were able to follow closely behind the judges and really see each teckel work. It was cool, but very dry, which is good if you want to see how experienced dogs handle tough scenting conditions. Each dog had a 1000 meter blood line, laid with the metric equivalent of a half pint of blood (250 cc) and aged about twenty hours.
The best of the 21 dogs were very, very good. The star in my group of seven teckels was a little black and tan smooth bitch. Gitta vom Muhlbuckel stayed slow, calm and steady on the line, giving her handler lots of time to evaluate the visible blood when she pointed it out. I would have liked to work with that bitch on a tough old track in early bow season. Gitta found the game, a road-killed roe deer, without any problems , and her find was honored by hunting horn music blown by a guardian placed at the kill to protect it from wild hogs and hikers. The chief judge awarded the handler and the teckel each with a sprig of oak leaves to wear in commemoration of the find. We Americans haven’t reached this point when it comes to hunting style and tradition!
One of the following handlers looked even better than the first. He was not the kind of sloppy guy who would go hunting in America wearing an Advantage Timber shirt and Mossy Oak Break-Up pants! But what surprised me was that neither teckel nor his handler had much of an idea of what they were doing under those tough conditions. Since the teckel could not pick up the blood line easily, he just looped around in 50 meter circles. The handler, who carried the end of the long leather leash in a neat coil, followed the dog around but made no attempt to restart him at a known spot on the line. The judges called him back three times for getting too far off the line, and that put him out of the competitions. No hunting horns for him.
So it went throughout the day. In each judging group about one third of the teckels got a Prize I rating, a third got passing, but lower scores, and a third flunked out. This was much worse than the overall average for the German Blood Tracking Championships, and part of it could be attributed to the dry conditions. And of course on a given occasion almost any dog can have a bad day, especially if there are observers.
But I think that there is a deeper problem. Germany is a country where there are so many tracking dogs that many of them cannot find enough natural work to do. Some of the handlers told me that they don’t do any natural calls, just practice lines and test lines. These handlers seemed to be as proud of test scores as I would be in finding a difficult deer Having a good-looking teckel, passing tests with high scores, savoring the tradition and the folklore of it all was enough for them. It made be feel fortunate to have German dachshunds that I can work in America where I have real things to do.
There are true experts in Germany and I have met a few of them. Hunting and tracking with their dogs is their life and they are very good at it. But the competition at Chorin underscored what I learned a few years ago after many expensive mistakes. A dog (or a handler) doesn’t have to be good just because he’s German. Keep your eyes open and ask lots of questions.
The awards at the end of the day took place in the medieval court yard in the ruins of the Chorin monastery. When the sounds of the hunting horn music echoed against the old brick walls, it brought tears to my eyes. The judges picked two champions of the competition, both bitches, Gitta, the black and tan smooth, and a wild boar wire. The judges praised them for the slow, careful work on the difficult lines. In terms of deer hunting and tracking, we were speaking the same language.
Pictures from this trip can be viewed at http://jola.smugmug.com/gallery/2018939