Tips on Starting Young Dogs
By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)

Bear Hunting Magazine July/August 2005

For me one of the most frustrating tasks used to be starting a young hound. Now it is one of the most rewarding, due to techniques I developed. Over the years we have all tried to find the methods that produce the best results. Each hound needs to be handled differently and each responds in its own way.

Before I go any further I want to clarify that I do not consider myself an expert on hunting with hounds. I have developed some techniques that have worked for me over the years. Other hunters have other methods and each of us need to select the one that is most suited to our own style of training.

Last year we had a new houndsman hunting with our group. A classic case of a guy who loved to hunt but who thought hound hunting for bear was not very sporting. A good friend of his, that has hounds and hunts with us, talked him into going with us one weekend. By the next training season Keith had a bear hunting truck, tracking equipment and a young dog to get started with.

Keith mentioned to me a couple of times during the first week how frustrated he was. About two weeks into our training season he was getting really frustrated. I had been doing my normal morning runs each day and I was treeing fairly regular, the tally was adding up fast because I was running every morning and every night. I always get to the first bait in the dusk. I love to get up early and get my day started, whether hunting or working. Plus, I still get that quick rush of adrenaline each time I load my dogs for the run. I had been running off what we term our “north baits” alone but occasionally with one or two others. Keith actually lived right by our “south baits” so he had been running there with his young dog. To date, the dog had not done much more than chase other dogs and never stayed on the track very long.

I have to admit I love to run by myself. Just turn out six dogs on a track and let them roll until they finish the track, hopefully at a tree. Over the years I have learned that I can make dogs that suit me better by training alone. One of my favorite hunts during training season is when I can pull up to a bait station and the dogs are rigging coming into it. At that point I turn in six dogs and let them run from strike to finish. No replacing and no cutting more in. By doing this I can follow them and see what each dog is made of. Who is the first one to cross trail on the track, who is barking hard, who is dawdling, who straightens out the track if there is a loss? These are all things I watch for when I am running these hounds. One of the other big things is who wants to really run and catch. Not just run the track, but run to catch. If I get ahead of them on the road and happen to see the bear cross, if he is ahead of the dogs, who drives straight across the road and who hesitates? Just little things that help me evaluate what my dogs are doing as individuals and as a pack.

When I start a young dog, I always try to get that dog used to handling, loading and unloading. There is nothing worse than having to fight a dog to load or unload. Imagine you have jumped a bear and your dogs are pushing him hard towards the road. You have a young dog in the truck that is scared of handling, loading and unloading. There goes the bear right ahead of where your truck was parked. You race to the back of the truck and unsnap the door for your prize student and what you find is a dog backed into the back of the box as far away from you as possible. You reach in and he braces his feet against the floor and sides trying his best to keep you from getting him out of the box. What a great way for him to start, scared out of his mind. The other option I have seen when hunters are starting young dogs is they open the door and find a young dog that is car sick, slobbering to no end or maybe has even retched in the box from being nervous.

This problem of getting used to the dog box could have been eliminated by the owner just taking the time to load and unload the dog every time he went to town for groceries or gas. By loading and unloading the dog at times when you are not in a hurry the dog will sense that and be more willing to load. Also, it is like riding your bike when you first learned. The first time you were scared and most likely did not go very far. Each time you did better and were praised as you progressed. That young dog is the same as you were. It just takes some time to help them get used to riding in a dog box. I prefer to use a box that has plenty of ventilation and one the dog is able to see out if possible. I believe it all adds to the comfort of the training with better results.

One of my pet peeves in handling hounds is when the hounds have no idea why they are on a leash. I absolutely insist that all of my dogs heal when they are on a leash. Many times, because I hunt alone, I have gotten to the tree, leashed up six hounds and walked back out. If I have six dogs pulling different directions or charging ahead or at right angles to me, I could not handle six dogs with out assistance. I know very few hunters that could, unless the dogs are broke to lead properly.

Back to the bear that crossed the road and we are trying to get a young dog out of the box to put on the track. Let us say we got the dog out and snapped a leash on him, if he is already used to being handled on the leash, it is not a big deal to him. If not, you now have another battle to contend with. He is choking himself, pulling back and trying to get away from you. Again, not a good experience for the dog or for you. If he is used to the leash and trained to heal, you can snap the leash on and take off to the track. It sure makes it a lot easier to work with other portions of the training if your young dog loads and unloads easily and will follow at heal when on a leash.

I invited Keith to run with me and told him I would try to help him get his dog started off better. He met me the next morning at one of the baits at daylight as agreed. I pulled two older dogs out of the box and had Keith bring in his young dog to the bait. I explained my theory on releasing the dog at the proper time. It is not just about turning him loose to see if he will follow; to me there is more to it. We turned Angel and Heat in on the bait. When they opened I told Keith to turn his dog into to them. My older dogs were cold trailing and now Buddy, Keith’s young dog, could see and hear them and was headed toward them. One of my next steps was how to follow up with more dogs so not to allow Buddy mind the chance to wonder from the task at hand. I grabbed a two year old that was running hard for me and sent her in following Buddy. Now he had two old dogs in front of him and if he stopped to sniff butterflies he had another hound coming slightly in back of him to redirect his attention to the track.

That totaled four dogs on the track and room for two more. I waited a bit, then went back to the truck and snapped two more hounds on the leash. I walked them into the bait and held them awhile before turning them in on the race. I knew these two hounds would drive hard to get to the lead of the race so I was not worried if they started some distance behind. If Buddy happened to fallout this would again hopefully redirect his attention. Again these were experienced hounds with a great desire to run and catch. If Buddy did dawdle and did not hook up with the fourth dog now there were two more driving hard to get to the bear and running wide open.

I never turn in two young dogs at the same time. It just doubles the chance of failure on the track. They have like minds and have a tendency to follow each other rather than the pack. If they have made some races and their mind is not on chasing butterflies and frogs, then I will turn in a couple young dogs on a running track, but not on a cold track. The minute I catch them falling back or not concentrating on the race with the pack, I switch back to just one young dog in the race.

The other thing that I strive for when starting a young dog is once he does go with the other dogs and is trailing, to let him run. Where I hunt, the country is bigger and rougher than most areas in our state. I like it because when I put a dog on the track, they have a chance to run it for awhile and it helps the dogs develop their trailing ability. In some areas where roads are more frequent, it is difficult to get the dogs to run from strike to tree because when the bear crosses the road, someone puts dogs in ahead of yours, which is an accepted practice, but bad for the dog morale. I think the young dogs do better when allowed to run those tracks all the way. Plus, they are less likely to cross a road and see a vehicle or hunter and therefore breaking their concentration on the tracking.

For me personally, this method has made starting young dogs a simple task. Some of my own dogs, when handled this wa,y have made it from strike to tree on the first race they are ever put on. Buddy did fine that day and Keith was happy. His dog had gone the farthest and shown the most interest to date. It was just a couple of days and we had him rolling hard and if not finishing races he was making a good three quarters of the distance. Before training season had ended he was helping on the cold tracks, running lead on some races and treeing hard.

I again want to stress that I am not saying that this is the only way to start young dogs. It is simply the best method I have found.