Posts Tagged ‘training hunting dogs’

Bear Dog

(note – I wrote this post months ago, but simply forgot to post it until now)

 

 

Late in the afternoon on a very hot, humid and thunderstorming day, I let my dog out of the front door to do his business.  Greeting us was a magnificent hound dog with a radio collar attached to his neck.

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July and August are training season for bear dogs.  Radio collars – – the fancy ones have GPS units built in – – are attached to the dogs’ necks.  Usually their owners set them out in the woods – – they travel mostly in packs – – in search of bears.  The dogs, who are highly motivated by the hunting genes that have been bred into them, as well as the promise of a meal following a successful hunt, roam at a wicked running pace throughout the White Mountain National Forest for five to eight hours non-stop over the roughest terrain imaginable, seemingly impervious to rocks, rivers, thorns, heat, and heavy foliage.  When they locate a bear, they chase him into a tree, where the poor bear cowers above.  The sensors on the dogs’ radio collars alert the owners that they’ve found a bear, and using antennae, the dogs’ owners race their trucks as close as possible to the located site, hiking and bushwhacking whatever additional miles are necessary to reach the dogs and their quarry.  In these months of July and August, the bears are merely observed and the dogs rewarded with a treat, but come Fall once hunting season begins for real, the bears are shot and killed, their furry hides sold for use as rugs or taxidermied trophies; the meat is consumed.

The dog facing us had clearly gotten separated from his pack.  He seemed bewildered and wary, but was sweet as pie.  Oh, those hound dog eyes!  It was killing me.

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Even though bear-hunting dogs are lean by nature, upon closer examination, the dog was clearly underfed, with his ribs showing painfully through his skin.  The pads on his feet were very thick, but worn, clearly a sign that he regularly traversed many miles.  His toes were somewhat splayed – – perhaps the sign of being in a kennel with a metal mesh bottom.  The skin by the white areas of fur was pink with sunburn.  I figured he’d be traced by radio collar soon enough to our house if he was missing.  I thought the owner would be upset if I fed him, since food is a great motivator for his training and a well-fed dog is a dog who might not feel like hunting.

But those hound dog eyes!

I approached him gently and with soothing words, gave him a pat.  His ears were soft like corn silk.  He nuzzled my dog gently.  I ran into the house to get him some dog food.

I didn’t want to overfeed him, although he looked like he could have used it, because I was afraid that if he over-ate in his malnourished state he might get sick.  I also gave him a bowl of fresh water.  The food he simply inhaled – – it was gone in seconds, so unlike my own dog’s polite picking.  I don’t even know if he had a chance to chew before swallowing.

One thing that is hard for me about country life is getting used to the working dog mentality.  My dog is my pet.  He’s not really good for anything practical but I do enjoy his companionship on walks and hikes, as well as his unconditional love.  We have fun together, and I love the way he interacts with children and other dogs.  But unlike dogs that are pets, working dogs are tools, a means to an end.  Most are liked and well cared for, but many are not.  Few working dogs see the inside of their owners’ houses, although they may take shelter in the barn in winter.

A couple of hours passed and the dog was still hanging around.  My husband decided to go to the Inn a mile up the road, and see if anyone had reported him lost.  Indeed, a young man in his twenties had come by a few hours earlier and left his contact information with the clerk at the Inn.  My husband returned home and I called Matt, the owner.

Matt and his wife had been riding the back country roads for several hours in search of “Chase,” the beautiful dog now in my possession.  Their relief at our finding him was palpable over the phone.  Fortunately they were only about 10 minutes away.  I quickly gave Chase another bowl of food and decided to reserve judgement until they came to pick up their dog.

Chase was their youngest dog, only 18 months old, out of the six Blue Tick and Walker Treeing Coonhounds that they owned.  They clearly loved the dog.  When I expressed my concern about his emaciated state, they told me that these dogs are extremely driven, and once released to hunt, they will keep running at a steady pace until they locate a bear.  Poor Chase had been outside since 9 a.m and it was now 9 p.m.   They had been looking for him since 3 p.m, when their other dogs has successfully treed a bear but Chase was nowhere in sight. He had been running for at least 10 hours and they thought he probably went 50 – 70 miles over the course of the day!  In a usual training session, the dogs commonly run 30 – 50 miles.  They burn up a gargantuan number of calories in the process, but make up for it during the week when they are kenneled back at home and get plenty of nourishment.

I had to take Matt’s word for it, and released Chase to his happy and very grateful owners.

But I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of Chase.  He knows how to find us on his next White Mountain foray, and he knows that a tasty meal and gentle pat awaits him.

 

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