28. august 2001

Dachshunds for tracking

by John Jeanneney


    The image of the standard sized dachshund as a couch potato dies hard.  When I first started tracking wounded deer 27 years ago  I had a lot of fun with this. When I would show up on a deer call to track one that the hunters could not find, they would be expecting me to get out of the vehicle with an 80 pound bluetick coon hound or something similar. When they saw a "little" 20 pound wirehaired dachshund, some of them had all they could do not to laugh out loud. Usually that little dog seemed bigger before the night was over.

    Dachshunds can be pretty good at tracking wounded game, especially if they have  20 generations of selective breeding  for that purpose behind them. I don't want to claim  that they are the only tracking dogs in the world, but there is a big niche that they fill very well. Let's go over some of the reasons for this:

    Dachshunds work close to the scent line which is a big advantage  for the handler who has to know where the deer is hit.. This is the case in most of the Northeast and Midwest where bow hunting is big  and  blood tracking with a leashed dog has been legalized. Especially in bow hunting  retrievals it is tremendously important to see what little blood sign there is, what it looks like, and where it is placed. If the tracking dog  just drifts the line fast, going where the deer went, you may never know whether you have a one lung hit, a gut shot or a muscle wound. You may use the wrong tactics on the deer, or you may spend all night on a deer that is not mortally wounded and which you are not going to catch. A good dachshund will show you the visible blood on the ground and take you close to where it has rubbed off on weeds and saplings This is hard to believe, but one rainy night I had a good wirehaired dachshund bitch turn over a leaf with her nose so that I could see the blood  still there on the underside. Most other breeds that I have seen work much too fast; of course there are exceptions. The German wirehaired pointer is a popular tracking breed; I have seen some that would work slowly and deliberately, but these are not very common.

    The biggest problem in  finding wounded deer is keeping the dog on the right line. Hot lines and warm lines of healthy deer will distract the dog away from the old, cold line of the wounded deer. In the day time there are turkey flocks that leave a  cloud of strong scent that can drive dogs crazy. For these situations the smart cur dogs/cattle dogs like blackmouths and  Catahoulas are very good in scent discrimination and focus. But  dachshunds also discriminate very well, and they bring to the tracking task a hound's nose for ground scent. Dachshunds tend to be easy to read by their body language and  by the way they  are using their nose, You know what they are working on even though they work silently unless the wounded deer gets up and moves out right ahead of them..

    Dachshunds are small and handy. They ride on the front seat of a pick-up and they love to ride on a four wheeler. When  I have a line to track that starts near the top of a mountain  four wheelers appeal to me too. When you are going through green briar, bull briars or multiflora rose, the little dog goes under the thick thorny stuff, and does not  get torn up like a big dog would. As for yourself, you had better have a good cordura nylon coat and chaps. Also, when I am going over a barbwire fence, I don't need the 80 pound blue tick to help me go faster than I want to go at the critical point. If you don't have a dachshund-sized dog you had better have a big dog that knows the meaning of "whoa".

    If you track in a part of the country that requires the dog to track on a leash, there is no particular advantage in having a big dog that has pull-down power or that can bay a big old buck. In parts  the United States where you can legally and safely work your dog off lead, I would not want to push the dachshund  as the best suited tracking dog. If you have a bad snake problem dachshunds  are at greater risk than Labs. which  are used extensively in the Deep South. If a Lab. gets a bite on the leg he will probably recover. A bite at the same level bite on a dachshund  goes into the neck, shoulder or chest, and that is deadly. Prickly pear cactus in the Southwest can be pretty tough on a dachshund too. The spines of prickly pear begin right at ground level, and they are more difficult for a short-legged dog to avoid.

    There are breeds and types of tracking dogs suited for different parts of North America. In a good part of our deer hunting country, especially in the northern areas, the dachshund makes a lot of sense and will more than hold his own against any other breed.