Rudi van Kets outlines the work of a tracking dog and takes you through the tough decision of which breed of dog to go for
The work of a dog should be seen from two angles: before and after the shot. Before the shot, a dog is used to show the game to the hunter by either pointing or hunting freely in the drive (a tactic mainly used for wild boar on the continent). After the shot, the dog needs to find the game and locate or retrieve it. All animals, including vermin, should be searched for with a dog. Ethical practice in the field does not end with killing your quarry cleanly – you must also to try to recover it quickly.
A trained dog should be available to track. The gun is responsible for his shot, and he needs to know what happened, be able to tell others, and accompany the search. Excuses like ‘no time’ are not acceptable. Searching for wounded game is an integral part of the day.
A great many breeds can be used for tracking. Alpenbrack, basset hound, beagle, Bavarian mountain hound, dachshund, German wirehair, German terrier, German short hair, English setter, Griffon, Hanoverian scent hound, Irish setter, Kopov, Labrador, Munsterlander, spaniel, viszla, Weimaraner – the list goes on. In fact, the FCI, the international Federation of Kennel Clubs, recognises even more breeds.
The one condition for the use of a dog of any of these breeds is that the dog has passed a test. Each and every breed can track, but some individual dogs lack the ability to properly use their nose, some do not have a keen desire, and some are not sharp enough. The test is vital to distinguish the dogs that can track from those that can’t.
There are some breeds that have been bred especially to track: the Bavarian mountain hound and the Hanoverian scent hound. Because of their careful breeding, these can be seen as specialists. But other breeds – Dachshunds, Beagles and German Wirehairs among others – have tracking as an obligatory part of their continental tests. As I said, not every individual dog has an aptitude. Other breeds, especially the German wirehairs, can do excellent work, as shown in many trials and in the field.
The size of the dog is not important. Smaller dogs are closer to the ground, and with experience they work in a more slow, concentrated manner, and produce excellent results. Quiet concentration is the ideal in a tracking hound. A dog that races down the track is unusable – it will miss too many marks.
Smaller dogs are, as experience shows, more able to stop wounded game, as it seems to be less frightened of it. But a dog’s size can make it more affected by terrain. Heavy snow or thick cover do not make it easy for a small dog to stop a deer with a shot leg.
What is also important is the condition of the dog, and what we do with it apart from tracking. It is always important to look at the various breeds during tests and to decide which breed would be most suitable for the terrain where it will do most of its work. If you have a lot of hoofed game on your terrain, a scent hound should be high on the list, but do not exclude other breeds.
In conclusion: not every dog is suitable for every shoot. The important thing is what you want to do with your dog.
So which breed is right for you? This is a decision that should not be taken in one night, but only after mature reflection. You should not select a dog because of what it looks like, but because it is suitable for your way of hunting. So select a breed that can do what you desire. That is the first criterion.
Ask yourself the following questions: What will the hound be able to do? Have I sufficient opportunities to use its abilities? Can I use it in the surrounding hunting areas? Do I have enough time for it? Am I prepared to follow a course? All these questions should help you decide. But be prepared to spend a lot of time on it. I speak from experience – before I got my first scent hound I spent nine months getting the right information. All my deliberations contributed to me obtaining a Hanoverian scent hound. I have not regretted it.
So my advice is: Consider carefully. No rushed decisions – a dog is an investment that will take a lot of your time before you get anywhere near doing a real search with it. And it is you and you alone who decides on the breed that best suits you. Nobody can take your place. But you can ease the decision by obtaining information from people or organisations that specialise in different breeds.
Play it safe. Go for a dog with a recognised pedigree. It shows that the breeder has made an effort to get good dogs and is thus most likely a member of a breed society with strict rules for breeding and training.
So now you have made your choice and asked the breeder for a pup. A keen breeder will keep you up to date and transmit as much information as possible to you, so when you make a choice at 4-5 weeks old you’ll have already an impression of which pup will suit you best. There are many stories about choosing a pup. I don’t pay them much attention – I aim for a dog or bitch that is strongly built, keen and attentive.
Finally he or she is almost yours. It only remains to fix the collection date and to prepare for its arrival at home. Kennel ready, appropriate food, but more importantly, everybody in the house ready to receive this small pup with open arms. From now on you will experience lots of excitement and learn how a scent hound should be trained. We will also experience that perfection one day could lead to a disaster the next. An exciting story awaits us.