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At the weekend I went over to Belgium to meet Rudi and pick up the new pup from him.
I spent the Saturday afternoon with Rudi and a friend of his, Chris who brought his HS bitch along to let me see her working on trails. Rudi took this time to show me what he had done with the pup so far, as she is only 18 weeks old or so.
He started by laying a track for her using a roe deer skin. It was a fairly straigt forward track for her as it was so fresh but she followed the track well covering the 100m or so without too much trouble. As well as the following 2 tracks laid thereafter.
Then Rudi laid another track over a longer distance to show me Chris's dog work. She is 3 years old and experienced so it was never going to be a problem for her but what was a real surprise was the speed in which she covered the ground. I was then handed the tracking lead and told to follow the next track with her! I genuinely struggled to keep up through the cover and was breathing a bit heavily by the time she finished. This was all very interesting having never had any experience with scenthounds before.
However, what followed later was a real eyeopener for me at least with these dogs.
As the afternoon wore on and following a drink of some delicious local beer in Rudi's front garden brought to us by his wife, Rudi suggested we go and find some roe deer so I could see how the dogs indicate their presence. From reading previous threads this seems to be one of the criticisms of these dogs, in not indicating and being almost one dimensional in the way they are worked.
Rudi brought out a BMH he has and took her into the forest where he had previously lain a track. He let her go alone without a tracking lead and she took off running the scent line at speed. She never once came off it or had to lift her head into the breeze. It is difficult to describe here how fast she did this and the photos I took are blurred trying to keep up with her through the trees coupled with the low light, but they at least give an impression of the speed she was going at. Allowing the dog to run freely is more akin to the way we or certainly I hunt my GWP and the reason that the scenthounds are often criticised for being unable to do this. Well I don't think I have seen any dog at home that could have done it quicker than this BMH! And as Rudi said, she is more than capable of holding onto a roe deer as well.
Anyway, she was then put on a lead and along with my pup we went in search of some deer, finding two after about 15mins, roughly 100m ahead of us through the trees. The first thing I saw was Rudi's BMH lifting her head in a very obvious indication that she was scenting them on the wind. Then my pup did exactly the same thing! I thought afterwards, why wouldn't they as any dog would probably react to the scent of another animal, I suppose it is just down to learning to read the signs from your animal just like my other dogs. The BMH then took us to where the ground scent was left by the deer and she began to track them, nose now on the ground. As did the pup but at a slower pace. Rudi handed me the lead and I was dragged along again at speed as the BMH was now following a hot scent on live deer. She took us over 200m to where they crossed a small road. She led the way straight across the road and up the small embankment on the opposite side before Rudi said we would stop there.
We stood for a while having a chat about the afternoon and in Rudi's opinion the dogs following the live scent was really no different to them following a trail left wearing scent shoes, which is true. But if we had been out to shoot deer and that dog had started to follow that track they had just laid, she not only indicated their presence by lifting her head at them, but could have led us to where they were perhaps actually out feeding if we had not bumped them on the way through. Now my GWP would not do this as she is taught to simply walk to heel until a shot is taken.
Rudi has no problem with the scenthounds being used on hot scent (less than 4hrs old) or having the dog stalk with you. They are simply trained to walk to heel and sit and stay as we would any other dog. Providing however they are kept sharp with far more testing trails during training.
What was interesting for me though, is that because of the way they track or more importantly the type of scent they follow, the conditions are irrelevant to the dog. Whether it is hot, cold, wet, dry windy or calm it makes no difference at all to them. Nor if there is a wind coming from the side, behind or towards them.
What they will do though that I know none of mine in my kennels would, is literally work for anyone. They are so 'locked on' when on a track that anyone could be holding the tracking lead. My GWP is worked in a similar way to any other gun-dog I have, and would expect some direction and being cast off to look for the deer. Well, both Rudi's and Chris's dogs could not have cared who was behind them as they work with a more 'remote' style.
I have trained a few gun dogs over the years, and before having a dedicated deer dog, would have simply got the pack out to find a lost beast, until I got the GWP 8 years ago. Someone with more experience than me could have made a better deer dog out of her but regardless I know she has limitations. My fault.
But I do think there is a place for these scenthounds in this country and they will easily adapt to our way of stalking as Rudi proved to me.
It's now me that has to learn as well.
Anyway, I would like to thank Rudi and his family for providing such warm hospitality, the fantastic start to the young dogs working life, and the abundance of local beer at the pub. That pub sells over 200 different brews, some at 37% alcohol!