John Jeanneney © 2007

Published in Full Cry


††††††††††† The value of tracking dogs to find wounded deer has recently been recognized in the United States. The rapid expansion of interest amazes me, and I did not dream that this was possible 20 years ago. The current craze to hunt super big bucks has certainly contributed to this, and the growth of quality deer management by outfitters has made it obvious in these circles that lost deer are lost money. Currently the demand for tracking dogs and tracking dog prospects is way out in front of supply. This is all so new that few prospective buyers have a clear idea of what they want or what their expectations should reasonably be.

††††††††††† The prospect of tracking wounded deer with dogs is bringing a whole new type of owner into the hunting dog world. On balance this is a good thing, but most of these people do not have the deep background of hunting dog experience that is typical of Full Cry readers. They are deer hunters first, and for most of them dogs have always been a no-no in their beloved sport. Not enough of them have the strong coon hunting background that I was blessed with as a boy. An old coon hunter knows how to read a dog, understands scent and is comfortable in the woods at night. Not enough new tracking dog handlers have these skills and understanding when they start out.

††††††††††† When dog ideas come out of a life with house pets and from watching Disney movies, it confuses matters. Dogs with the drive to search and find game have never come into the world of these pet owners; they donít realize that a good tracking dog has an overwhelming and focused desire to find game. Such a dog will not be content to sit on the couch watching TV; contrary to expectations he will not develop well,and he will never be content to go out on a couple of deer call a year.

These confusions arise from a situation in which dogs with no hunt or aggression left in them, have become the ďnormalĒ dog in many peopleís minds. The pet market has demanded placid, passive companions, and many breeders of hunting or working breeds have calmed or ďdumbedĒ down their dogs to meet that market. To take a safe example, German Shepherds out of American show/pet breeding are almost never used here in modern day Law Enforcement.The GSDs in US Law Enforcement come mainly from Eastern Europe where the breed was never made over to meet the expectations of the pet trade.

In the minds of many first-time owners, his puppy prospect is supposed to track superbly, and then hang around the house and unfenced yard the rest of the time. My wife and I have a personal policy of guaranteeing the dogs we sell. If they donít track well and satisfy their owner, we refund the purchase or replace the dog. We may not continue with this policy for future litters because of our experiences. Most dogs that come back are darn good trackers that have shaped up very well once I began to work with them. The problem has usually been unrealistic expectations and poor training on the part of the owner.

††††††††††† We just got a wirehaired dachshund back from the South. He is eager to please, handles well and loves to run with a four wheeler. His great sin, down South, was that he would just take off and hunt on his own and be gone for hours if there was no one to go with him. Now what experienced hound man would expect anything different, if they turned their tree dog loose, unsupervised, to water the trees in the back yard?

††††††††††† Given his own expectations, the owner of the returned dog would have been more satisfied with a black mouth cur since they are more territorial and focused on guarding the home place until given another job to do. The problem was that the buyer wanted a small dog.

††††††††††† Some mature tracking Labs are very good at sticking around until they have a wounded deer to find. The Labs at Tara Plantation in Mississippi lounge around on the porch of the Hunting Lodge until there is a job to be done. But donít expect this of the hound breeds including the hunting dachshunds!

††††††††††† Unrealistic expectations abound when it comes to training. Iím asked ďHow many artificial blood lines does it take to train a dog? Will he stay trained after you have done this?Ē As a tree dog man would you assume that you had a trained hound after you had run him on ten drag lines to a coon in a cage in a tree?

††††††††††† I talk to many people who assume that you can just train a dog on a few artificial lines and then park him until you need him. Guys tell meĒI just want to have a tracking dog so Iíll have him if I ever lose a deer.Ē We donít have pups for this kind of buyer. We donít want to get a spoiled bundle of trouble back in a year because this neglected puppy did not meet expectations.

††††††††††† The problems of canine adolescence cloud the bright expectations of many first-time dog buyers. Some patience is needed if you work with dogs! We all love to report the wonderful tracking jobs that our pups have done at a tender age, but this can create unrealistic expectations. Iím as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. Tracking dog breeders have to do a better job of warning buyers that the second year can be a very trying time. Parents of teenage sons seem to grasp this faster than others.

††††††††††† I donít want to suggest that disappointments in tracking dogs are always the fault to the owner. We had a dog that came back because he was spooky when tracking at night. This dachshund would see a dark tree stump, stop, growl, bark and forget all about tracking. This wasnít right. Obviously Victor wasnít as stable as he should have been. I gave him training lines at night with black plastic garbage bags draped over bushes along the blood line When he balked I would take him up to the bag and show him it wasnít dangerous. We worked through his problem, and he became a good but not a great tracking dog, who found quite a few deer. I sold him at a modest price with a full explanation of what his history had been.

††††††††††† Gilda is another dog that came back, returned by a handler who had successfully owned and used wirehaired dachshunds before. We kept Gilda and she has turned out to be a fine dog. She just didnít get along with her owner. It was partly a personality thing. Like her dam Sabina, who is my best tracking dog, Gilda always had a very high opinion of herself. She lacked respect for the frail old dachshund who was supposed to be the boss of the canine household.

††††††††††† Gilda was always a high energy dog. She could be decent in the house, but she had to let off steam somewhere. Gildaís owner was very good about taking her out in the fields every morning but because of the very real coyote threat, he kept her on a long check cord at all times. Gilda would bound back and forth on the end of that lead, but she seldom got all the exercise she needed. And unfortunately that swinging back and forth on the exercise lead led to swinging back and forth on the tracking leash as well. It has taken several years for her to learn to stay straight on the line and to work a check smoothly from the point of loss.

††††††††††† Gilda and her former owner are both very good individuals, but as in some marriages, it was just a bad match. Things are going much better now with one of our less assertive bitches.

††††††††††† Matching buyer expectations to dog realities is one of the hard lessons a serious dog breeder has to learn. To reduce the number of mismatches, we actually ask our puppy buyers to fill out a questionnaire in which they state their expectations. We steer some people to other breeds or encourage them to do more research.

††††††††††† A good tracking team of dog and handler is not quite a marriage, but it is certainly a close working partnership. Good match making, based on realistic expectations, is very ††important, but it doesnít solve all the problems. We are still working on this.

Caption for photo:Cleo, my black mouth cur, was a tracking dog who seldom ranged out more than 200 yards from the house unless I went with her. Many buyers are looking for this type of dog.