This is an article that John wrote many years ago before he got into blood tracking. Now we take our blood tracking dogs to field trials and they do well. Usually a good blood tracker is a good field trial dog. We find that preparing for the trials by running rabbits is a good way to keep dogs in shape in the off season. Young dogs also learn how to use their noses well, work checks and recognize backtracks.
PREPARING A DACHSHUND FOR FIELD TRIALS
(or Starting Your Dachshund on Rabbits)
(originally published in The American Dachshund, 196?)
At a field trial a dachshund has the opportunity to demonstrate the scent hound aspect of his character by trailing wild rabbits with other dachshund bracemates. Strictly speaking you do not train a dachshund to do this sort of hound work, but you can provide the circumstances in which the dachshund trains himself to do what comes naturally.
Ideally, start with your puppy at seven weeks by going on walks in brushy areas. It is best to take the puppy alone because you wish him to relate to you as his handler and point of orientation in the field. The puppy should learn to use its own nose to investigate tantalizing new smells, to track its way back from a patch of long grass to familiar ground or to find you. Hide from the puppy and praise him when he finds you with his nose. Your puppy will become "brush wise" developing a natural sense of how to pick his way through rough cover. Because he is alone and undistracted by romping puppy companions, he will more easily come when called. It is much easier to establish the handler/dog relationship with a small, submissive puppy than with a ten month old adolescent outlaw that can run five times faster than you can.
The introduction to wild rabbits or (hares) is best accomplished between the sixth and twelfth month. At an earlier age there is some risk that the puppy will become an overexcitable sight-chaser; after the first year it may be more difficult to motivate your dog to follow game by scent. But there is no fixed timetable of hunting development for all dogs; individual dachshunds vary enormously in the ages at which their hunting desire begins to burn bright, and in the ages at which unfed fires die down to cold ashes. The important thing is to bring your dog up in an enriched environment so that he comes to serious rabbit work confident, curious and reasonably obedient. If he has fallen into the habit of solving mysteries with his nose, so much the better. Wild rabbits are most active early in the morning and just before dusk. This is the best time to start your dachshund on game. With him on a leash walk along the edges of fields, golf courses, bridle paths or fire lanes. Rabbits prefer to feed on short grass next to dense brush cover. When you see a rabbit feeding in the open pick up your dachshund and hold his head so that he sees the rabbit as you walk toward it. When the rabbit flushes and disappears in cover put the dachshund down exactly on the course of the fleeing rabbit and release the dog from the leash when he shows by whining, barking, or tugging that he has the scent and wants to follow. You may have to repeat this procedure several times before the dachshund begins to trail successfully for a few yards. If you have a good relationship with your dog your enthusiasm will be infectious and the starting process will go much faster.
There are many variations on this theme. Another dog may be used to flush rabbits out of heavy cover so that you can place the beginner on the hot line and encourage him to follow. However once a rabbit is started grab the experienced dog before he races up to take command of the scent line. You want the beginner to become an independent worker who figures things out for himself rather than becoming a dependent follower of more experienced bracemates. Monkeys and raccoons may learn through observation and imitation. Hounds learn their natural work by doing.
Some dachshunds learn well if they are allowed to roam off lead in heavy cover, flushing rabbits for themselves. This may work for you. However, be aware of what your hound is doing and do not let him drift from one short sight chase to another. A small bird dog bell on his collar will help and also preserve your peace of mind.
The "trainer's" main role at this point is to let the dachshund do what comes naturally while preventing the development of undesirable habits. For a dachshund a most common fault is to leave a difficult part of the scent line where he has "checked" to go bounding off in search of that rabbit, or another one, in a hit or miss fashion. If the dachshund stops working systematically around a point of loss, it is better to leash him or pick him up. If you allow the dog to drift out into a random search from the point of
loss, you will develop what the judges call a rough, sloppy hound who will cover a lot of ground at a field trial but seldom finish in the ribbons, It is not enough for the dachshund to hunt with enthusiasm; he must trail efficiently so that he keeps the rabbit moving as he follows its every twist and turn by scent. By imposing some structure on your dachshund's learning experience you can influence his working style and efficiency up to a point. Unfortunately, working style, like physical conformation, is to some degree, an innate part of the individual dog.
Giving tongue on the line, that is barking on the scent trail, is "desirable" according to the current field trial rule book. Some dachshunds have a natural tendency to give tongue on scent, while others trial silently even when in the company of open-trailing dogs. Many breeders believe that the open trailing tendency is genetically determined to some degree. Most dogs begin working silently, and as they become more confident and enthusiastic, some of them will begin to give tongue. The hotter the scent and the better the scenting conditions, the more hound music you will hear.
Some of the best field trial performers have been slow to start trailing. Many promising puppies seem to regress and lose motivation in those adolescent months after the first birthday. The best traits that you saw in naive puppy days will come back in the mature adult. You cannot "train" the hound or force the pace of learning. Working with hounds is like sailing. Sense how the wind blows and steer with the tide of natural development.