Tracking hound expert Thomas Müller looks at the various methods of introducing your young hound to training proper, and the actual equipment involved
Traditionally all scent hounds in Germany and Austria were trained according to the old Hanoverian Schooling, a method where you solely used natural tracks of red deer or wild boar – no roe deer, though, as the scent is too attractive for the hound – to train the youngster. In Hanover the scent hounds were left in their kennels for almost two years without any contact with game, fresh venison or blood, just being fed with bread and thinned milk. The Hanoverian professional hunters thought they had to keep the young hounds away from any exciting experiences because it would spoil them and make them too hasty when tracking.
After World War One the Hanoverian schooling was changed, and the young hounds were now brought in contact with the game they had to work with at a much earlier stage, usually at about six months old. Nowadays the puppies will be shown a large variety of game that they might have to track in the future as soon as they can walk. The training starts at the age of about six to seven months.
The trainer will go out and watch for red deer or wild boar moving around in areas where there isn’t too much high grass or dense vegetation. He will try to pick a single animal and make notes on where it walks for as long as possible. After about three hours – that is roughly the time the body scent takes to vanish – the young hound will have to work the tracks themselves on the leash. The tracker will follow on as far away as he is able to monitor the pupil. Then the hound is taken away from the track with a special command, so he will eventually realise that the handler took him off a track he has worked on purpose, not by accident.
This training will continue with an increasing degree of difficulty until the hound is following the tracks slowly and in a concentrated manner over longer periods of time. Then the trainer can start tracking animals with lung shots, as they will definitely find these, giving the young hound a positive experience.
This method has the advantage of being the most realistic way of training. However, it is often difficult to implement. The terrain has to suit your wishes, the deer will have to be there, and the trainer able to observe over distance. Furthermore, you have to have absolute confidence in the route the game has taken, so the young hound will learn to follow the track of the animal he has been put on without changing to other tracks.
The other way of training a scent hound is by using artificial scent trails. When starting training, most trackers will drag a piece of lung or rumen and produce a drag trail. I use this easy method of training quite often, especially when I want to train the hound’s stamina. It is easy to drag some piece of rumen with a long bamboo stick next to my own track for a few kilometres, wait for a couple of hours and work the trail with the hound. The disadvantage is the large amount of scent particles the hound will find on the trail.
Therefore, in the mid-18th century German foresters and professional hunters developed a method of making an artificial blood trail using game blood and putting it on the ground at intervals between one and two metres. I use a small piece of sponge, 2cm by 2cm in size, fixed to a thin stick with a nail or screw, and apply small amounts of blood from an open can or jar on the ground. I prefer this method when I have shot a deer whose blood is either coagulated or mixed with contents of the intestines.
I often have to lay tracks in difficult or very steep terrain. Having to use an open can for the blood has sometimes left me without any blood to continue the trail because I tripped or slipped and spilled the whole lot. Now I prefer to use filtered blood, which will fit in a small plastic bottle with a hole in the lid. I can put single drops on the ground and lay my trail even in very steep terrain without the fear of spilling much.
When the training starts I use about a quarter of a litre of blood for 300 metres. My experienced hound will work artificial blood trails laid with half a litre of blood some 2,000 to 2,500 metres long. The less blood you use, the better. The blood can be taken from the shot animals by using a big syringe, then transferring it into small plastic bottles. I always keep some bottles in my deep freezer.
However, my favourite way of training both my young hounds and my experienced hounds is by using the scent shoe. This shoe was been invented in the late 19th century, and was initially a split wooden plate that attached to a boot like crampons. The deer cleaves were attached to them by cutting them short and squeezing them between the two halves.
At present, several different types of scent shoe are on the market and they are all much better than the old wooden shoe. I used them a lot in my youth, and while walking on flat ground they were ok, but as soon as you had to lay trails in the hill country or the mountains, they became dangerous because you tripped and slipped permanently. New models are either made of aluminium, soft but durable rubber or steel with claws to prevent slipping.
The attachment of the shoe to your boot and the attachment of the cleaves are both extremely important. Both have to be very secure and easy to operate. When I lay a trail I start with red deer cleaves and a little bit of blood from the same animal. I put a few drops of blood from a bottle on the ground, scratch the ground with my shoes, then step into some of the blood and walk in my desired direction. This gives my young apprentice a better chance of following the trail.
This method has several advantages in my opinion. Cleaves are easy to procure and can be frozen as well. I have a large, deep freezer at home where I keep blood, cleaves and skulls of deer I have shot, which I then put at the end of an artificial trail. This is an important point. I always use blood, cleaves and either the whole deer or at least the skull from the same animal. The young hound will identify all of these as being from the same prey. This will teach him to stay on the trail I put him on.
When laying trails you will have to mark them so you will be able to verify where the hound is going. You can use clothes pegs, but I prefer coloured paper tape that I can tie onto trees or grass. Use a colour you can actually see – I choose bright blue, because even yellow or red are colours that occur everywhere. And it is imperative for you to control the young hound and to be sure he is on the trail.
It is sometimes difficult to choose a certain method of laying artificial trails. Some specialists prefer to train by the Hanoverian Schooling. I use all methods, depending on the opportunities that arise. When I see a single stag early in the morning, walking where I can see him for some distance, I will definitely take the opportunity to follow him up. Out of season I work regularly with the scent shoe. Sometimes when I have the feeling my hounds need to do a long trail, I just drag something for a few kilometres.
Be inventive but never ask too much of your hound. It is still an animal, and just like us has some good and some bad days. Take this into consideration and you will have a great companion that will serve you well for many years.