By Travis Reggear
When most people talk about style, they are referring to the latest fashion in dress, you know skinny jeans and dark framed glasses. When a houndsman is referring to style, they are usually speaking about how a dog performs one of the several tasks that it does while hunting. Like striking, baying, and treeing. Here are the four categories that build the overall style of dog.
Striking is where a dog lets you know when it smells scent. Whether it is of the top of a truck driving down the road or when they find the track as they come to it while hunting in the woods. Most dogs strike a track in one way or another, but some are much better at it than others. Some dogs have the desire to look for the scent, whether it is off the rig (back of truck) or on the ground. Dogs that are searching the wind currents for scent while they are being rigged or casting wide circles on the ground, usually find scent before dogs that don’t.
The dog that rides the box asleep, or shuffles around on the ground waiting for the right scent to slap them in the face, usually does not make the caliber of strike dog that most hunters are looking for.
Some dogs, after they strike a track, have a better ability to find and line the track out the right way. For example, if a dog is rigging or casting and smells scent that is drifting down the hill on wind currents, it must be able to go to the origin of the scent. Maybe it’s the bear itself that the dog struck or just the scent from out of its track that was left behind. Either way, opening on the scent and being able to go to it and start it the right way is huge. It is the difference between having a fine-tuned piece of radar searching the atmosphere and landscape or a spin the bottle approach to finding and starting your quarry’s track. I myself hunt dogs both ways, off the rig and walking. I can tell you that having a good strike dog is one of the most important parts of a dog’s style because if you can’t start it, you can’t catch a bear.
Trailing or running a track is probably one of the most talked about characteristics when looking at a dog’s style. You always hear hunters talking about a dog’s track style and a dog’s speed while running a track. Many hunters look at a dog’s physical make up on how they are built to decide if they are fast or not. Now for the record, a dog having a good physical build is important for how fast it is but not nearly as important as what kind of track style the dog has. I was once told by houndsman, George Duncan, that “The speed of a dog is determined from the collar forward not the collar back.” Over the years I have found this to be very true.
It is all about how the dog handles the track when running. Some dogs straddle a track when running. These are dogs that want to smell every track left behind by their quarry. This track style usually yields a slower speed of dog. They fall into the category that I refer to as “the man trackers.” There are the ones, when you are listening to them go through the woods, you think they are dragging their house behind them.
Another type of track style that some dogs have is what I refer to as a drifting or running style. These are the types of dogs that are usually at the top end of the speed chart. These dogs tend to hunt the wind currents a lot with their heads high. When trailing a track they take to drifting approach on moving the track. Instead of trailing track-to-track they cast and slash the countryside apart hitting the track here and there skipping many bends and twists that the animal made. This track style is one that you see most running dogs possess, and for good reason. This style means sped and no matter what anyone says, it’s lethal. Simply put, “speed kills.”
Baying is a quality that not all hunters look at in their dogs because they may or may not be necessary for what game they are hunting. It is though, a trait that most dogs have that describes their style. When talking about the style of bay dog, it usually leans toward big game hunting, like bear hunting. Dogs have different styles of baying. Some dogs when baying put a lot of pressure on their quarry. They work their animal with aggression and vigor. These types of dogs are the kind that are always trying to make something happen. They will take a bear that doesn’t want to tree and make them tree or just the opposite, take a bear that wants to climb a tree and not let it. Either way they are always pressing the issue. When several of these dogs are lumped into a pack, vet bills are inevitable.
Some dogs are the type to stand back and bark at their quarry. Their style of baying is more bark than bite. In most cases these dogs make pretty good bear dogs and are a lot cheaper to hunt (less vet bills). These dogs can go hunting more days out of the year than the other more aggressive types. Not as many sick days for them. Besides it is up to the hunter to kill the bear, not the dogs. Then there is the “me too” type of bay dog. These are not really bay dogs at all. If they are not in good company when the going gets tough, they get going. These are the type of dogs that you don’t usually have to find, they will find you.
Lastly, we have treeing. A dog only has two different styles of treeing. Either the dog trees or it doesn’t. The dog that trees might tree hard, barking several times a minute or maybe just enough for the hunter to go to them. Many hunters prefer a dog that barks several times a minute; something that a deaf person could walk to. Although it’s nice having a trip hammer tree dog, it’s a quality that an average tree dog versus an exceptional tree dog still yields the same outcome. As long as the dog’s style of treeing is to locate the right tree and stay treed until you get there, all is good. For the dog whose style is not to tree, well, that speaks for itself.
When talking about hounds and their styles describing them, one thing is for sure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The only person that the hound has to impress or make happy is the one person that feeds and cares for them daily. End of discussion.