Friday, December 20, 2013

Deer, Distance, and Discretion

To order the magazine.

Sarah B. and I hit a warm spot for coffee after a few hours in the field yesterday, and the topic turned to dogs -- imagine that! 

Sarah has Russian Laikas and now lives in Italy, at the foot of the Alps, and she has been to Finland, Norway, Latvia, Slovakia, and other places to run her dogs and watch others do the same.

She noted that in Europe pig dogs drive boar a long distance to the guns, and the dogs are not expected to engage and hold the pig until some cowboy or hillbilly rushes in, a few minutes later, with a bowie knife to lift a hind leg and slit a throat. This ain't Texas, and the dogs are not done up in cut vests made from old fire hose and Kevlar.  A dog that closes with a Russian boar may be a long way from a human, and in such a situation a dog may have a very short life if it does not exhibit a little sensible discretion.

Sarah said, however, that there were a couple of large Russian kennels breeding dogs for export, and that when these trial dogs were of age, they were put in five acre pens with Russian Boar and were expected to do "gladiator" work right out of the box.  The result were dogs that, whether due to nature or nurture, were a little too hard-charging for the kind of diversified hunting and field work that the Laika was actually supposed to do.

I noted that we have the same thing in the world of working terriers -- people creating "rip cord" dogs that are as hard as a cut nail, and which too often end up getting injured on the job as a consequence. 

The problem of over-caffeinated dogs is a complaint I have also heard from my friends in the bird dog world as well.  It seems the use of potted birds and stop watches at field trials has resulted in dogs that hunt too fast and too far.  Nature or nurture, or a little of both?  Either way, what people and dog are learning is not the way it was once done.

And is it much the same in the world of running dogs?  Apparently.  In the December issue of Earth Dog - Running Dog magazine, Dave Sleight has a nice piece entitled "Greyhounds, Gamecocks and Gangsters," in which he notes:

[I]t is by no means an easy matter to train a Greyhound to both race and work successfully in the field because you are asking the dog to do complete opposites.

On the track, a dog has to go flat out from start to finish, running as fast as it can for as far as it can. In the hunting field the dog has to think, pace and position itself to catch regularly. Uneducated track dogs taken from racing into the field will often kill or severely injure themselves pretty quickly. Unused to obstacles and conditioned to always run flat out, they are just an accident waiting to happen and I would strongly recommend that you don't give it a try just to see if I am right!

I have, on numerous occasions, seen the result of a track dog hitting a barbed wire fence at top speed, and believe me, it is not for the likes of those with faint hearts or weak stomachs.

Greyhounds reared purely for field work don't take well to track racing because they are too cautious and some just won't have the artificial lure; you can hardly blame them when they have seen plenty of the real thing.

Of course, the pretenders will always claim the fake work is exactly like the real stuff, and besides you can't hunt with dogs any more in the U.K.

You can't? 

Well, don't tell the 300,000 people who will be turning out for Boxing Day next week, and don't tell all the folks digging on their terriers the world over, and for God's sake, don't tell the running and long dog men in the U.K. who are out day and night chasing things down. 

Digger and running dog man Jon Darcy does not seem to think his hunting world is too constrained.  It seems he has rabbits, fox, and roe deer enough.

Earlier on in the day when we’d been chatting the subject of deer cropped up and I was told that roe were ‘easy’. Fair enough, we’ve all got our own opinions, but I said that if they thought roe were easy then they hadn’t run enough of them. As we were getting ready to leave the field later on as dusk started to creep in we noticed a pair of roe had left a strip wood and were standing out on the crop, maybe eighty yards away.

“Go on then,” I said “give them a slip” at which the lad slipped his good bitch on the roe. The running dog was a fairly swift article with a pile of hares under her belt but she coursed that roe down three big fields and never so much as got the bend in before a lump of thick wood was found and that was the end of that. My argument was that if that deer had been a hare then the bitch would have been bending it all over, and it certainly wouldn’t have straight-lined her for three fields. A good roe is just that: good. We all argue about what we think is the fastest quarry in our lands and it’s a close call, but I think that a good roe is faster than a good anything else.

Ah well, what does he know?  All he has is a lifetime of experience!

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