Rudi van Kets welcomes a new deer dog training recruit but must teach him all the tricks of the trade before he’s allowed to hunt.
Not a lot of people know this: but sometimes when you’re hunting it makes sense to put a second dog with your tracker, let’s say a Hanover Hound with German Hunting Terrier, for example. Why? Well, let me explain…
In the middle of last year there was a surprise announcement at home. One of my family announced out of the blue that they had ordered a puppy. After we got over the surprise we were, of course, full of questions.
It turned out that the incoming pooch was a German Hunt Terrier, bought from a local hunter and dog breeder. In September 2019, he arrived, an unprepossessing black mutt with a few brown dots; his only striking feature was a white breast spot.
Cut to a few weeks later, after assimilation into the domestic brood, and imagine a Hanover Hound, called Jazz, trotting through the garden with a Terrier puppy, called Cas, following. It was time to start training with our newest family member. It wouldn’t be easy – but we were up for the challenge.
If you want to know more about Cas’s breed check out the FCI website and you will find the Deutsche Jagdterrier or ‘German Hunt Terrier’. There’s lots of info to be had, but most importantly you will pick up that it is a dog that despite its relatively small stature is renowned for its big heart and enormous will to work – under any circumstances.
So after our initial settling in period was done we began the training in earnest, knowing that we would have to be very, very patient. The stubborn little puppy was always alert and vigilant, and wasn’t even very keen on being stroked to begin with.
The kitchen was his home, and the bench was his kennel. Cas was very quickly toilet trained and started to understand that as part of his routine, dinner was always followed by the instruction “outside”.
This was his chance to explore the garden and to catch up with Jazz, who was herself having to learn some new things, including how to share her space with this intruder.
Deer dog training: new dog, new tricks
Weeks passed, and the walks with basic exercises continued: learning “heel”, “sit” and “stay” went better than expected. He was clearly a smart little dog, and I think it helped that we took Jazz along with us.
Soon enough we started our first tracking lessons. We began with a boar skin, and despite his youth, Cas was extremely good. Whenever we went to the forest with our training materials Cas would start to bark as soon as he caught sight of them, and he wouldn’t stop until he got home. Cas would get very frustrated waiting for his chance to track, he wanted to work and it showed.
From the very first simple trails I put in the meadow to see if Cas could use his nose properly, he would correctly follow the trail. To start with I used a long leash.
Now I know some readers won’t like that, but that’s what I did. The trails were around 500 yards long, on open fields with the wind disregarded, and over ditches. But no matter how old or long I made these trails they were no problem to Cas. So we quickly moved on to the tracking shoe.
Under the collar
The German Hunt Terrier
German Hunt Terriers, like Cas, are versatile hunting dogs, suited in particular to hunting under ground or as a flushing dog.
After the First World War a group of active hunters separated from the Fox-Terrier Club, aiming to create the ideal hunting breed. The experienced hunters decided to select a black and tan dog, in particular suited for the hunt under ground.
After many years of intensive breeding efforts, and through skilful crossing with the Old English Wirehaired Terrier as well as with the Welsh Terrier, they successfully bred a multi-talented, well trainable, hard and water-happy dog with an explicit hunting instinct.
The German Hunting Terrier Club was founded in 1926, and breeders continue to value the breed for its steadfast character, its courage and its drive.
The Hanover Hound
Hanover hounds, like Jazz, are used for tracking wounded game. As a highly specialised scent-hound, the Hanover has to display the required hunting abilities and endurance to be used for tracking the most difficult game.
The Hanover hound is almost unchanged from the so called ‘leash hound’ of the early Middle Ages (about 500AD) With the invention of firearm the methods of hunting big game altered, so dogs were needed to search for wounded quarry.
However, the breed remained largely the same until the hunting estate of Hannover got more involved with the breed. Nowadays, the dogs are used exclusively in the hunting grounds for big game, as specialists in tracking cloven-hoof game.
The Hanover is a calm and assured hound, with high capabilities in tracking work and a strong loyalty to the hunter or handler.
This period of training also went smoothly, with no discernible hitches. Once Cas found the site of the shot he would confidently set off, and I would just need to follow along behind. The only corner we cut was that sometimes I would have to help him find the start.
So on to the next step. It was always my intention that Cas be used in tandem with Jazz; they would have to work together. I’ve called this article “The Bodyguard”, and that’s because that was what Cas was set to become. His primary role might be to flush out wild boar, but his secondary role was to protect Jazz.
He would have the kit: his full working outfit would consist of a kevlar vest to protect his vital organs against wild boar attack, he would carry a GPS tracker stitched into his collar, and the collar would have a bell attached.
Of all the kit, the bell was probably the most important safety device. When he was flushing he would be off the leash and running up to a quarter of a mile in front of us. So the bell was to warn hunters that he was there and to be careful. We didn’t want him shot.
With two dogs working together, the tracking would be challenging. So I started working with Jazz on a long leash. Cas would have to learn to follow along independently and to stick by my side.
It’s only when there is very dense cover that I will struggle to get through that Cas will be sent into action alone. And I will only do that if I am sure there is injured quarry in there. In that close environment a small, agile dog is safer than anything else, especially with a wounded boar on the loose.
Deer dog training: all that jazz…
So now we have got through many long hours of training, and with varying degrees of success. One thing is certain, the little black dog is filled with passion for his work. He also thinks everything is up to him, which is not always the case.
We have worked many miles together, and if I send Jazz forward and keep Cas close there is usually no problem. Call Jazz to come back, and again there is no problem.
As long as Cas knows what’s going on everything is hunky dory. But whenever Jazz disappears into dense pine we have a problem; suddenly Cas is straining to get to her, no matter what cost. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
At the start of this year, we had the opportunity to participate in a driven hunt with a friend in Germany. We decided to take Cas along and see how he would react when other dogs were hunting wild boar out in the forest and he had to stay with us.
We kept Cas on the leash and my daughter was instructed to keep him close. That lasted for a whole 10 minutes. For the rest of the day we had no option but to let him go out flushing with other, more experienced dogs. And could we call him back when needed? Surprisingly, that worked very well. So he was at least taking orders.
So we kept on with his training, it began to feel neverending. We practiced locally, making tracks with the tracking shoe that were 15 to 18 hours old, still no problem for Cas. His basic obedience was excellent – he would follow, and come on command.
But ending his training was not an option. He loved to be out working, he would demand to work. In August we had the opportunity to go for several practice trails in the Ardennes, in the middle of incredible scenery. Here too the little ‘bodyguard’ showed his best side and behaved impeccably.
So with everything going to plan we now just had to wait for 1 October, and the start of the season…