Blood hound specialist Thomas Müller says that the Hanoverian method of tracker training can be adapted by substituting the hare for a red stag
Training specialist scent hounds is really a variation of two different methods. Most hunters will opt for the artificially laid trail method, mainly for its relative ease of use and certainty of the trial direction, which is made increasingly difficult as one goes on. Using less and less blood over a longer trail and the inclusion of scent shoes using deer or wild boar cleaves will create as natural a looking trail as possible for the hound. However, never underestimate the dog’s abilities – he will know that this isn’t the real thing, but he will get the idea of what you want him to do.
The trick here is to keep him occupied and always make it fun for the hound, the minute he loses interest suspend the activity, and always endeavour to make the hound succeed and achieve its reward. Do not overdo the tracker training – basic training should always be reinforced as part of the young hound’s growing up process. This will form the foundations of recovering wounded game, and produce a well-trained, obedient hound to be proud of.
Once every two weeks is enough for artificial scent trail training, and there’s definitely no need to do it more than once a week. But if the second method of training using the old Hanoverian way of schooling is used, this can be done more often. This method is only limited by one’s ability to find a suitable stag and both watch and mark its progress to be later followed up by the hound in training – not an easy task, as I am sure you will agree.
A variation of the Hanoverian method that I use involves using the humble hare as an alternative tracking subject. I understand this suggestion may cause a collective breakdown among British hound handlers as the hare is often considered anathema to any sort of gundog training, but please, hear me out.
In my area, individual hares are much easier to locate and observe than the elusive red deer stags. Therefore I have adapted the training of my young hounds to include hare hunting as well as stags. In operation it is simplicity itself, as the hares are quite easy to locate and I watch closely their chosen path across the fields before introducing the young hound to its trail at a point of my choice with the necessary command.
I must make mention of the obvious here: avoid substituting rabbits for hares. All tracking hounds must be broken of their natural inclination to chase rabbits – there is no benefit to a hound tracking a short distance to a burrow. The hare, however, will cover its area over lesser and greater distances, with the added advantage that it won’t take refuge under ground.
In reality the hare’s track is a difficult one to follow and loses its scent very quickly, which concentrates the hound’s mind and nose, effectively conditioning the hound to focus on the scent and forsake all others. I work hare tracks just like any other trail, and the training effect is absolutely great. When the hound has flushed the hare, I will let him chase it for a while, as a reward. This really cements the training to follow a single track and is always fun for the hound – they will never tire of the real thing, unlike artificial scent trails. German and Austrian houndsmen actually have a saying that a good hare chaser – or ‘courser’ to use the British parlance – will always become a good scent hound. In my experience, this is absolutely true.
I must again stress the fact that basic training must always be instilled into the young hound so the handler can effectively harness its natural hunting ability. The hound must be steadily conditioned to work for you and not for itself. Ultimately the handler will be able to call the hound off a hot trail if it makes a mistake and it must only be allowed to hunt trails of the handler’s choice. Of course when the hound is fully trained and experienced it will often be let off for long periods to hunt a trail on its own, but although it will be tracking free, it will be tracking a scent it was instructed to by the handler. This is worlds apart from a hound rioting off any interesting scent it likes.
So please do not dismiss the humble hare as a way of using the Hanoverian method of schooling, the handler can always break the hound off hares at a later stage of training, and indeed using artificial scents across areas frequented by hares is a great away way of conditioning the hound to hunt hares where commanded. Over time, all will fall into place, just don’t forget that some hounds will learn faster than others.
Expanding on this theme with a hound that has properly instilled basics, which has also shown promise on artificial tracks, the next step would be to lay a trail in a deer park. Getting permission may not be that easy, but look for a deer park manager with a tracking hound and you may be successful.
This is a sure way to teach the hound that it must stay on the line instructed by you, despite the more interesting scents around it. Again do not over-do the artificial scent training and always be inventive and make it as interesting as possible for the hound.
A combination of the above methods is what I have used successfully, and I have no doubt that they will be as successful in the UK, too, if adapted by forward thinking handlers who have confidence in their charges.