In Hot Pursuit - The Benefits of Cross Training

Good for the Body | Good for the Mind

You have probably watched ESPN or Monday Night Football and listened to the commentators blather on about what makes each individual athlete unique and how the athletes train. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Dion Sanders are still discussed at length, not only because they were/are the best of the best (arguably, I'm a Steph Curry fan myself) but also because they were high level performers in multiple sports. Lebron was an extremely talented football player before entering the GOAT discussion in the NBA. Dion Sanders was a outfielder for the Yankees at the same time he was untouchable in the NFL. Jordan retired from basketball and played baseball, albeit not very well, before un-retiring and returning to the NBA where he was king.  
There are numerous other examples of athletes training and competing in multiple sports. There are just as many examples of brilliant minds applying themselves to something new and challenging to hone their mental edges. The flexing of their literal and proverbial muscles is almost always positive for all aspects of their “main” area of expertise; be it basketball, baseball, or astrophysics (did you know Neil deGrasse Tyson was the captain of his high school wrestling team?). If cross training in its various forms is so popular among the super elite in multiple fields and sports, then what about us hound folk? Would it benefit us, and what would it even look like?  
One of my favorite parts of training hounds is the frequency and regularity in which I find myself in situations that leave me scratching my head, wondering how best to react to something. I once had a hound start to track a lynx, switch to a fox, and then switch again to deer. To add insult to injury, she crossed the road with all three while I stood with a group of guys who had come to hunt with me, making it thereby impossible for me to lie about what actually went down. This all happened in the span of about 10 minutes. I was left picking my jaw up off the ground while my face turned red from embarrassment, which was made worse by the not-entirely-good-natured ribbing I received as my friends found the entire episode to be hysterically funny. This was a young hound, and my embarrassment coupled with the fact that I thought she was old enough to know better, made me very angry. This was early in my career with hounds butluckily for everyone involvedI had been training sled dogs for 20+ years at that point and knew to keep my temper in check as I went to fetch the wretched animal and banish her to the box for the rest of the day.  
Through my podcast, I have had the pleasure of talking to many great houndsmen. Some are a wealth of information because they have never done anything else; their level of experience is unparalleled. Some of the guests have, over the years, trained multiple types of dogs for multiple tasks. Steffan Kichta had catch dogs for pigs, terriers for ground work, and beagles before he got into the treeing hounds. Becky Dwire trained labradors and bird dogs before starting to run lions with hounds. Ross Ellwanger and Jared Moss both train and breed bird dogs as well as extremely high performing packs of hounds. My mediocrity as a houndsmen would be even more critically bad if I hadn't trained sled dogs for years prior to beginning with hounds. I have found that every breed and type of working dog I have trained has given me new tools and techniques to use while training my hounds.  
I once had a lead sled dog that came to me as an adult. He was experienced enough to know that some dog mushers are idiots and, as far as he was concerned, the jury was still out on me. Shortly after he arrived, we left for an early season run to break trail and open up a section that would connect us to a bigger trail system. I knew where we were; Blue, the lead dog, did not. When we had broken trail for a few hours, I could see the reflective stake that marked the groomed trail about 30 feet in front of us. Blue couldn't and decided that he had had enough. He suddenly hung a left turn and spun the entire team around to head back the way we had come. I went forward and got him and pulled him and the team around again towards the groomed trail. As soon as I let go, he turned again. This happened 13 times. He finally got so angry with me that he bit me. We exchanged ideas about acceptable behavior, and I told him to hold the team out in the direction I wanted to go. When I returned to the sled, he pulled the team the remaining 30 feet and we dumped down onto the groomed trail that allowed for easier pulling. From that moment, Blue decided that I was actually worth the powder to blow me up with, and it was the start of a long and beautiful relationship that lasted until he died of cancer at 13 years old.  

That experience was applicable 15 years later when I was given an adult hound that had experienced so many strange things in her life that the road to a good working relationship between us was rife with potholes and emotional baggage that had fallen off the proverbial car roof. Remembering Blue, and how a seemingly innocuous interaction paved the way for one of the greatest relationships I have ever had with a dog, held me in good stead with this hound. She never became the hound equivalent of Blue for me. However, we did work through a lot of her problems and she has enjoyed a long and still ongoing career as a brilliant hound with demons that still trip her up on a regular basis. She gave me the best bear race I have been a part of, running a bear alone for several hours. She managed to stop it multiple times despite the bear venting its frustration about being jumped out of the blueberry patch we found it in.  

Training another type of working dog compensated for my lack of experience with hounds, and it has made the transition from one type of working dog to another less daunting. Even as I train my hounds, I continue to train other breeds for other things. I currently have a border collie that I am training on sheep. I even see good trainers doing this as well. Becky Dwire is currently training an Alaskan husky for skijoring, and she says it has given her some insight into dog movement while in motion.  

Hounds, unlike bird dogs or border collies or sled dogs, are pretty self-sufficient while out working. The connection between the hounds and the houndsman is long-distance and tentative at best. Still, Jared Moss has credited his experience with bird dogs for giving him the tools to put a handle on his hounds. Anyone who has spent multiple days trying to catch a hound that doesn't want to be caught can attest to the practicality of having a handle on your hounds. Basic manners in the kennel was also something that I taught my sled dogs and have reflexively taught to my hounds. I had my nose broken five times by a husky jumping up when I bent down to feed—that is enough gushing blood and tears for one lifetime. Teaching my hounds to sit has kept it from happening again. The other three times my nose has broken was purely by my own stupidity (I could have sworn I mounted that rifle scope farther forward).  
Doing the work to expand our dog/hound training toolbox is rarely a mistake. Unlike me, you may have this hound thing pretty well down, but there is always room for improvement. I believe that you and your hounds will appreciate that you did something to become a better version of yourself, even if that means needing to train a bird dog to make it happen.