Beagle and Dachshund Field Trials:

Looking Backward and Forward

 

By John Jeanneney

DCA Newsletter March 2007

 

A dachshund is not a beagle! No reader has to be reminded of this. At first it may seem paradoxical that the dachshunds, so very different in character and working style from any of the various types of types of beagles, enjoy field trials with the same general structure and rules as that of the brace beagle. I was there in the 1960s, back in the mists of antiquity, when field trials began to take off as a sport sponsored by many dachshund clubs.

In 1982 work on a greatly expanded version of the original “Dachshund Field Trial Rules”, which  eventually became official in 1985. Gordon Heldebrant, President of the North California Dachshund Club, took the initiative in getting the project moving. He was first the Chairman of an “Ad Hoc Field Trial Committee”, and later he chaired the official Field Trial Committee recognized by the DCA. I worked closely with Gordon from the East where the majority of dachshund field trialers were located at the time.

The details of our draft would be tedious to review here, but rest assured it was no great flight of creative imagination; it followed beagle trial procedures quite closely. Still it was a vast improvement over the old dachshund rules that offered little structure or guidance on procedures. Our new model was the Beagle Brace Trial Rules, adjusted so that it was not mandatory that field trial dachshunds give voice on the scent line, and with an affirmation that the dachshund should make every effort to reach the rabbit after he was driven to ground. Gordon, who lived, trialed and judged in jack rabbit (hare) country, believed that there should be an option of a small pack format for dachshund trials, but he graciously gave way on this point when he got little support from the cottontail East.

In light of what we know today about the European development of the dachshund for above-ground work, it might seem strange that we came up with these modified beagle brace trial rules as they became official in 1985. For Europeans it does seem strange that Americans would do such a thing. What Gordon Heldebrant and I proposed was more a reflection of circumstances at the time than any particular understanding or concern for the way the dachshund was used for hunting in his place of origin.

Is this a confession that we made a mistake? NO!  But we were lucky that things worked out so well. We slipped into a basic brace trial format that already existed for beagles and bassets. And this was to produce many years of enjoyment for dachshunds and their owners. Although I hunt with dachshunds, I do find that the pleasure principle is good and sufficient justification for the rules of 1985. Our field trials are great sport for many people. I see no reasons why our dachshund field trials must be justified as realistic tests of a dachshund’s usefulness as a hunting dog. There are other means of doing this.

This said, let’s return to 1967. Dachshund field trials had been restricted to a single National Field Trial until George Wanner and Charles Campbell of the Dachsund Club of New Jersey worked hard and gained AKC approval for a second licensed trial, which was given by their club. These early trials were held on the James Brady Estate or on public hunting areas. Cottontails were usually scarce. Compounding the problem, our vague field trial rules allowed for highly impressionistic judging. There was no clear guide of procedures. We wandered in a wilderness.

The guide, our Moses who led us out of this wilderness and into a land of rabbits, milk and honey was Lloyd Bowers of Somerville, New Jersey.   Mr. Bowers was an AKC  beagler and field trial judge, who had endless patience and good will. He judged many dachshund field trials, and he introduced me, and many other east coast field trialers to the world of beagling.

First he invited the Dachshund Club of New Jersey to have trials at his Central Jersey  Beagle Club in Sergeantsville. What a difference! Rabbits were everywhere. A grid of neatly mowed feed strips framed tidy blocks of brush that gentlemen and ladies could stride through as they brandished their beating sticks. There was a club house with a kitchen and heat for cold spring days.

This was the heyday of beagling, and many of us were entranced by the system. The long affair of dachshund field trials with beagle running grounds had begun. Other dachshund clubs began to offer field trials across the country, and we were on our way.

In this atmosphere and under the tutelage of Lloyd Bowers it was the most natural thing to adopt the format of the beagle brace trial. When Gordon Heldebrant and I took up the dachshund field trial rules project, we never considered anything but this, or possibly a small pack format on jack rabbits. By this time I was swept up in atmosphere of beagling. I went to beagle field trials. For a month I placed my first dachshund, Carla vom Rode, with a beagle trainer. I subscribed to the beagle magazine Hounds and Hunting. And I dreamed that my dachshunds would become more like beagles. My dogs did improve but they never became like a beagle!

It would be many years before I learned that the standard dachshund in Germany was never developed or used as a "rabbit dog". And the dachshund is used in Germany on hare in a very different way from what we know or can do in this country. Even today I am not sure that a better understanding of German origins would have, or should have made much difference. The American dachshunds and their owners were very different from their German counterparts. The American brace trial format met the recreational needs of our majority much better.

The only thing certain in history is that things will change. While our sport of dachshund field trialing was expanding from coast to coast, our template, the beagle brace trial was beginning to crack apart. There was rebellion in Beagledom. Under the brace trial format the “ideal” beagle had evolved into an extremely slow, close working dog, who tracked meticulously but took a very long time to get things done. These brace beagles did not need an instinct to range and search for game because the gallery flushed the rabbit for the hounds that were then led up to the scent line on leash and released.

 A strong faction of the beagle field trial community revolted against these developments. The contemporary brace beagle, they said, had been developed into a dog that was worthless in hunting. One of the great values of a hunting hound was that it would search for game, and get it up and running so that it could be tracked.

Exaggerated precision on the line, the critics maintained was useless if it came at the cost of such slow speed that the scent line, and the hunters themselves, grew cold waiting and waiting. Derisively, the “gundog beaglers” said that watching a traditional beagle brace trial “was about as exciting as watching paint dry.” In 1980s the deepening rift between brace trialers and those who wanted beagles for hunting led to the AKC recognition of a new, very different trial format for gun dogs known initially as “small pack’.

The dominant variant of small pack became known as “small pack option”. Here a pack of about a half dozen hounds were released together to find their own rabbit and get it up and running. The hounds were expected to hark into one another and run efficiently as a unit. They were expected to drive the rabbit hard, but if was perfectly acceptable for hounds at a check to swing 25 feet or more to keep the line going in a speedy fashion. For a beagle to do this at a traditional brace trial would ensure immediate elimination.

AKC gundog trials proliferated. Many beagle clubs were convulsed by bitter disputes about which type of trials should be supported and what type of hounds should be favored. In my own club, the New Scotland Beagle Club, there was less than the usual acrimony as the club went over to the basic small pack, gun dog format.

A very important innovation accompanying the growth of gun dog beagle trials was a significant difference in how the running grounds were managed. Since the hounds were expected to find and start their own rabbits the blocks of  cover could be much larger and these were allowed to grown up to a height and density that made it extremely difficult for beaters to press through. Gun dog field trial grounds became unusable sites for brace trials where the rabbit had to be flushed by the beaters. I remember well the long, exhausting trial that ensued when the Albany Capital District Dachshund Club attempted, for the last time, to hold their field trial on the modified New Scotland grounds. The weekend trials ran over into Monday.

While the revolution in beagle field trialing was taking place, dachshund field trialing grew merrily on its own following the original template of the brace trial. The beaglers’ problems appeared to have little relevance to us. As a whole the rabbit trailing capabilities of the dachshund participants did improve, although there were very few dachshunds that even approached the meticulous, slow working style of the brace beagle.

The affair linking dachshund field trials to beagle brace grounds had become a marriage. Would it be an enduring union for the future? Sadly, no.

Today, to a considerable extent, our dachshund brace trials on rabbits are being jeopardized by the split in the beagle world. As was the case with my New Scotland club, some clubs began to sponsor the small pack trials described above. They modified their running grounds to have bigger blocks of thicker cover.

Some brace clubs, such as the famous Long island Beagle Club eventually dissolved themselves and sold the real estate. In other clubs aging memberships were not replenished, and especially in the brace clubs there was an insufficient work force to maintain the running grounds. Most beagle clubs, brace or small pack, have sought actively to recruit younger members, but often this generation, acculturated in a world of “virtual reality”, finds that there is not enough action in beagle trials to hold their interest.

The outcome of these developments is that the number of brace trial grounds, which now seem essential for dachshund trials on cottontails, has declined. The situation seems worst in the Northeast where many of the surviving brace clubs hold their licensed trials elsewhere, on the grounds of the strongest clubs which have better running grounds. Things are actually worse than the field trial statistics make them seem. My old, now defunct, brace club, Mid Hudson Beagle Club still exists on paper, but a Mid Hudson licensed

trial is held each year many miles away on other grounds. This happens to be a small pack option trial!  

The dachshund field trial leadership, especially TAC, will be faced with a dilemma which will require flexibility. The beaglers offer a possible solution, with the emergence of a new AKC recognized trial structure known as “Gun Dog Brace”, which is somewhat different from the old brace system, now referred to as “Traditional Brace”.

Most important for us, the Gun Dog Brace Trial can be held on the more densely vegetated grounds that the small pack beagle clubs maintain. In the gun dog brace trial, the brace is cast to search for the rabbit, and beaters are not needed to buck the brush. The preferred running style in a Beagle Gun Dog Brace trial is usually something of a compromise between Traditional Brace and Small Pack Option,

If the DCA and AKC were ever to accept the Gun Dog Brace format as an optional alternative to the old style of dachshund trial, certain significant modifications would have to be introduced. Much more emphasis would have to be placed upon the responsiveness of the dachshunds to handler commands. Handlers would be required to interact with their dogs, short of picking them up, until one dog jumped a rabbit and the brace was off on it more or less together. Dachshunds do not normally hark in to another unfamiliar dog; they were not developed as a pack hound. But if they will handle, they can be guided in by the handler to run with their bracemate, who has the rabbit. I have even seen this done in beagle trials.

In Europe one of the above-ground tasks of the dachshund has always been to perform as a close-working flushing dog for drives. The dog is expected to find game in the designated cover and then drive it to the hunters who surround the area. A Gun Dog Brace trial for dachshunds would require some of these same abilities.  

Gun Dog Brace trials for dachshunds would not appeal to everyone. The big-running, go-for-the-horizon dogs would have to be trained to mend their ways if they were to be competitive in this trial format. But it would be most useful exercise for the falconers’ dogs who work in cooperation with their handler and the hawk. The agility performer, who knows how to work closely with his human partner, would have a significant advantage. It should appeal to people who have a close relationship with their dogs.

The Gun Dog Brace Trial would emphasize that quality of responsiveness that distinguishes the dachshund from other scent hounds. Judges would be rewarding dogs for certain qualities largely neglected in our trials at present: searching ability to be sure and also biddability. The ability to stay on a scent line and push the quarry, once it is started, would continue to be rewarded as in our present system.

Handlers and dogs, who are real working partners, would be the winners if this type of trial were ever adopted. And such a trial would go a long way to solve the problem of dwindling beagle brace trial clubs and grounds.

 

The author has had some experience to support his thoughts..  He has been an active member in beagle clubs of both the Traditional Brace and the Small Pack varieties. He has judged with an experienced senior judge in both Traditional Brace and Gun Dog Brace sanctioned trials. He currently owns a beagle that has placed three times in highly competitive Small Pack Option Licensed Trials. Of course the dachshund has been his first love throughout his long field trial career as a competitor and as a judge.