By Jason Mitsin
Hound hunting is a sport that requires a lot of time, effort, and most of all, great hounds to pursue big game. There is a great amount of time that is required to develop a top dog and endless effort from the houndsmen. There will be many hours of work that goes into training your pup, and there will be countless mistakes, too. It’s a sport that requires a lot of patience and time, but the end result is very satisfying.
Selective breeding plays a key role in in the potential for a dog’s overall success. Key genetics include a dog’s nose and keen sense of smell for tracking, a dog’s drive to want to hunt even when the situation gets tough, and the strength and endurance that a dog needs to last and stay in the whole race. This doesn’t mean that every pup will inherit every trait, but selective breeding ensures that the chances are that much higher. Starting with good stock is the first step in hound training. You can’t train desire, treeing ability, speed on the track, or grit to stay on a bear. These things are bred into a hound and are expressed over time with exposure in hunting situations.
The pup’s first year is crucial in many ways. This is the time to socialize your pup with the other dogs that she will be hunting with. Let the pup explore her surroundings such as the woods and introduce her to bodies of water and gunshots. It will give her the confidence she needs to hunt on her own. Get the dog in as many situations as possible by exposing them to new people, livestock, ATVs, etc. Teach it commands, such as “load,” “no,” and “come.” A pup that obeys commands is much easier to work with, and these commands are easier to teach when the dog is 4-6 months old. A good tool to use in the training process is a training collar. Most training collars have a tone and shock button on them. Once the pup knows her simple commands, the tone and shock is to just reinforce if they decide to disobey. It reminds them that you are still in control even if you are out of reach of them.
Start training your pup by doing draglines with them at an early age. I like to start when the pup is 4-6 months old. Take a rag with some scent on it and drag it on the ground and through the woods with a marked out path. Put your pup on a lead and walk the dragline with them. Remember to put the training collar on also. Start out with a short drag and work into longer lines. You always want to keep your dogs attention and make sure she stays focused. When the dog starts to lose interest it’s time to stop. Remember it is still a pup and may not stay focused for long. As your pup gets older and stays focused on the dragline with a lead, try creating a dragline and allow her to follow it off the lead. If she overruns it, give her a minute to see if she will come back and correct herself. If she does not, call her back and put her on where she left off. Give your pup praise when it does well; it’s a bond you want to create with it. You want the dog to craze your praise. This does not happen overnight. It is a continuous effort for the houndsman. It takes a lot of time, mistakes, and patience.
When the pup is old enough to keep up with the broke dogs, try letting her run a hot track with them. Wait until you know that it’s jumped for sure. It may or may not take a few times for her to want to go with them. When she decides to jump in the pursuit, this is the time she will watch the other dogs and learn from them. She will want to smell what they smell, and over time it will come together. She will get excited from hearing them bark and will learn what to do just by going with them. She may not be able to stay in the whole pursuit the first year, but by allowing her to go when she can will keep her interested.
You will figure out with time whether she is a jump dog, can start a track, or is just simply going to be a turn in dog. Over time you will also be able to tell if she has a cold nose or just a nose. You will find out what each dog is good at and use him or her in that area. It will make your hunts much more enjoyable. Learn your dogs bark and know whether they are still tracking the animal, have it jumped, or have it treed.
Hound hunting is a very rewarding sport, especially when you know how much time and effort went into each pup. Not every pup will turn out, but when they do, the excitement is overwhelming. It’s the feeling of knowing that you and your dog have achieved your goal and can only get better from that point on.
Patience is key with all hounds, and you really don’t know what you’ve got in a hound until it is over two-years old. Hounds will continue to improve even up until four and five years old. The key is to be patient, and don’t break the dog with too harsh of discipline when it’s young. Be consistent, don’t make commands that you can’t enforce, and don’t be too zealous with the training collar. More than anything, time in the woods with other mature hounds is the best medicine for training. However, if you do things such as socialize the dog with other hounds when its young, teach it to obey a few simple commands, get it started trailing and treeing on drags when it’s young, you’ll see the rewards when the dog is older.