A FORESTER’S DOG

© John Jeanneney

published in DCA Newsletter, September 2004

 

Early in the last century the ideal image of the dachshund depicted “a forester’s dog”. To be sure foresters were not the actual breeder/developers of the early standard dachshund. And by the early 1900s most dachshunds in Germany were actually household companions of town and city dwellers. Yet the identity of the dachshund, its mystique, was tied to a vision of a loyal, responsive dog, who accompanied the local forester on his daily rounds of inspection of the forests and game under his jurisdiction. There were a few, supremely fortunate dachshunds who actually lived this life.

                It was the role of the forester’s dachshund to extend his master’s awareness of what was going on in the forest. The nose and inquisitiveness of the dachshund, the vision and the intelligence of the man came together in a superior symbiosis, a mixed pack of two working together.

                The dachshund ranged out, but not too far, 200 meters at most, and he checked back frequently with the forester. Voice and body language expressed what the dachshund had discovered: Perhaps the wild boars were back again, rooting out the young transplants in the pine plantation, or the old fox den was reoccupied, its entrance graced with the bones of a roe deer fawn. This was the idealized role of the dachshund: a devoted and responsive working partner.

                A hundred years later we don’t see much of this in America. We have “obedience trials” where well-trained dachshunds follow the commands of their owners. And we have field trials where many dachshunds exhibit little obedience at all. There is little that brings obedience work and field work together into a “complete dachshund.” For example, one of the most talented field trial dachshunds of the 90s was an imported wire who also earned AKC Obedience tiles. He failed to win several field trials because he did not recall after his run and was unavailable with other brace mates. Somehow, there was a difference between “obedience within eye contact” and obedience and responsiveness in the wild, brushy yonder of the field trial grounds

                This was not an isolated experience. All too often at field trials the dachshunds with the most “hunt” are the ones most difficult to control. They would not be very useful in actual hunting. The handler would spend more time hunting for his dog than hunting for game. Here, I write from personal experience.

                On the whole the minis seem better than the standards when it comes to field obedience. Their smaller size reduces their range a bit and this helps. But more is involved.

                One of the best examples of field cooperation is to be found in the multi species pack made up of Teddy Moritz, a Harris hawk and two or three longhaired miniature dachshunds. The key to their success is that they all work together almost daily. Each species knows its role, and they work together as efficiently as a small pack of wolves. When the hawking season is over, the Harris takes a vacation. The object of the hunt shifts from cottontails to ground hogs, and a greyhound crossbred known as a lurcher replaces the hawk. The cooperative pack work continues.

                Some of the same psychological and social dynamics come into play when a handler works with his dog to find wounded game. The dog learns very quickly that he has a nose and line sense very superior to that of his handler. Handler and dog come together as a working team when the handler learns to trust and respect his dog, and to praise him for his accomplishments. This can evolve into an intuitive bond not unlike a good marriage.

 One of the keenest pleasures of living with a dog comes with the enrichment of our own consciousness through the senses and perceptions of another, very different intelligent species. As well as we can we must bridge the gap between our dogs and ourselves without giving up our respective identities.

                If we hunt game regularly with our dogs, working cooperation comes easily. We recreate the primitive circumstances that originally brought dogs and humans together. Of course, most dachshunds owners cannot to this. They will seldom or never have the opportunity to solve hunting problems together with a canine companion. Still it is possible to use the pack instinct, hard-wired into our dogs, as they cooperate with us in other activities. In the wolf pack the alpha male does not boss and micro-manage other pack members all the time as to what they should do. Often Alpha allows other members, with particular gifts and specialties, to take over. As human alphas we should not approach every joint venture with our dogs as a matter of “command” and “obey”. Sometimes alpha authority is required, but the best times transcend this. We can experience this in agility, and human tracking as well, as well as in hunting. There can be a carry-over to field obedience from activities that have nothing directly to do with hunting. Formal obedience training is one of these, but it is not enough.

                We must recognize certain obstacles that stand in the way of developing a cooperative pack relationship with our dogs. One of these is immaturity. The “silly puppy” stage of early development is something that we must outwait. Little can be done but to offer affection and firm, gentle guidance. Then just as we emerge from the young puppy phase, we run into the stubborn rebelliousness of adolescence. Those who have parented teenagers are best prepared for this. Don’t expect your dog to emerge as a reliable partner in much of anything until he is a year old at least. A dog’s youth is the time to lay the foundations of trust for the future.

                 Another obstacle to establishing close relationships with dogs is having too many of them. Those of us who breed dogs seriously lament that there is never enough time to establish a working relationship with each one. The German forester, with his solitary canine partner, did not have this problem. Developing his dachshund was a natural extension of his daily work.

 In the 21st century few of us can live and work with one or two dogs as a part of our profession. We have to make difficult compromises; sometimes we have to realize that a policy of equal time for every dog means that we will never have a “forester’s dog” relationship with any of them. For example if you have ten dogs, you may find it hard to focus “unfairly” on the most promising of the two to five year olds. Dogs do not enjoy seeing certain pack mates get more attention. Still this is not cruel as it would be for a human child. Dog society, like that of wolves, is hierarchical; dogs accept inequality as part of the natural order.

                As mentioned earlier a practical starting step to a special cooperative relationship in the field is gentle obedience work, not just indoors or in the yard, but also during walks in the woods and countryside. Dachshunds can learn what “Come” means through the use of a 30 to 40 ft long of plastic clothesline. The challenge begins of course after the clothesline phase is over. When the dog is out at a distance of twenty clothesline lengths and out of eye contact, his sense of loyalty and cooperation may not kick in as we would hope. Space-minded as they are, dogs do often go through a stage of feeling that there is a “sphere of cooperation”, outside of which they are free to do anything they want.

 By closing the distance with the dog, and by firm command, the dog can be brought back into cooperative control. This is not always easy, especially when you don’t even know where to find your dog. But it can be done; long distance recall training has been accomplished for many centuries. It requires patience and some running; a horse helps.

Two modern technological developments make it easier to establish control and co-operation, and they can be used without brutalizing your dog or destroying your relationship with him.

The first is the beeper collar, which was developed for pointing dogs. For older human ears it is easier to hear than a bell, but another great value is that it is less intrusive for the dog. When the dog is on the move the beep is issued only once every ten seconds instead of every second when the dog is stationary. I find that it is very useful to tell me where the dog is so that I can reestablish communication. At fifty feet, even out of sight in thick brush, a dog is more likely to listen to me than at long-range shouting distance.

The second item is the e-collar or electronic collar formerly referred to as the “shocking collar”. You don’t have to shock your dog, although the potential to do this certainly does exist. The e-collar, by that other name, has inspired visions of a torture tool or a slightly less than lethal electric chair. This is akin to being against motor vehicles because they have the potential to cause great pain and suffering. Modern e-collars have adjustable levels of “electrical stimulation”. In training you work at very low levels, somewhat milder but more sustained than the sensation of a static electrical charge when you have been walking a wool rug on a winter morning. In training I never use a “stimulation level” which I have not tried on myself first.

In the field when I call and am ignored, I transmit a signal to the e-collar, I may hear a surprised yelp, but no more than that. In any case I want to see the tail wagging again within thirty seconds. The tingle on the dog’s neck seems to impress him more than shouts of “come”. I don’t think that the dog is impressed by any pain; but he is aware that Alpha has “Big Magic”, establishing Alpha’s presence  even though  he is a 100 yards away.

The beeper and the e-collar are no substitute for the psychological base created through hours of cooperative work and gentle, close-in training. Correctly used these tools are extenders and facilitators because the obedience class approach, in itself, is not enough to turn a spirited hunting dog into a cooperative partner.

Even in Germany the old fashioned German forester is long gone, but developing a “working pack” relationship with your dachshund can be done in other ways. Use the methods of firm and structured discipline combined with lots of praise. Present, as much as possible, formal discipline in a broader emotional framework in which you and your dog do things and explore together. The sphere of cooperation will expand because the dog loves to please his pack mate. There is more to the human/dog relationship than command and obey.

 

The basic books on obedience training are certainly relevant to training for cooperation in the field. You will find that the following works present valuable new perspectives when you are training your dog to work with you at a distance.

 

Training the Sporting Dog, 2nd Ed. by Don Smith and Ervin E. Jones is a very comprehensive training manual for all sporting dog breeds. The book includes over 300 pages of step-by-step instructions with photographs demonstrating the more subtle aspects of training. This book has been selected as the official training manual of the American Hunting Dog Club (AHDC). Published by AHDC 2002; Soft cover: 300 pages; $35.00. ISBN 0-9664759-2-5

 

Bones Would Rain From the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs by Suzanne Clothier. Published by Warner Books 2002, Hardcover: 320 pages: ISBN: 0446525936