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How To Build A Pack Of Hounds

by Brad W. Kolden and Carey L. Kolden

          So, you’ve decided you like hunting with hounds and are ready to jump in head first and start running your own pack. Should you buy trained hounds or start with puppies? And what does it take to make a good hound, training or genetics? Personally, I think it is a combination of the two. A great breeder is an important part of the process, but the time spent training your hound makes all the difference in the world.

          To start, I would suggest looking for at least one adult dog, preferably 4 or 5 years old if you can afford it. At this age, dogs are usually in their prime and are very effective in chasing and treeing big game. The drawback, however, is the cost. Well trained and able to strike and tree on their own, these animals can cost $3,500 to more than $10,000 if it possesses exceptional bloodlines. Another possibility is to purchase a 7 to 9 year old dog that is healthy, has the ability to strike and tree, but is slower than one in its prime. The cost will probably range from $1,500 to $2,500. The pups should be able to keep up with the older dog, making for more effective training.

          Next, add a pair of pups, preferably 12 to 15 months old. Much younger than that and you could end up with immature dogs that are unable to hunt until the following season. An exception, of course, is if you live in the great state of Idaho where there are spring and fall bear seasons and a cougar season that runs from the middle of September through the end of March. You’ll pay between $500 and $1200 depending on the breeder, the bloodlines, and the amount of training invested.

          Finally, search for a couple of good 6 to 8 week old puppies that you can raise exactly the way you want, and expect to pay between $250 to $500 per pup. Before you buy, you need to decide if you want registered dogs. If you plan to breed and the animals are registered, you can expect to get more out of your puppies. If they are not registered your only concern will be if they hunt well, as a piece of paper isn’t going to chase a bear or cougar.

          When selecting dogs, seek out characteristics that you have predetermined you want in your pack. Some of those may be size, color, ability to tree, quality or sound of voice, whether the hound has a cold nose or needs a red hot track to follow, or other traits that might be required for the type of prey you are chasing or terrain you will be hunting in.

          If you decide to purchase an adult dog that is considered "proven", ask to go out with the dog’s handler to watch the hound work, and request a trial period. This allows you the opportunity to work with the hound before purchasing it. However, if the hound gets hurt during the trial period you may be responsible, even if you choose not to purchase it. I would suggest a trial period for two reasons; if the handler turns you down it could be a good clue that the hound will not perform as advertised, and it will give you the opportunity to work under your set of parameters. This will expose any personality conflicts the dog may have with you or other hounds.

          When choosing a breeder for your puppies, search carefully. Don’t buy from the first breeder you come across, as you could get taken and never know it until you get the pups out and discover that they are ineffective. To start, ask around at sporting goods shops, or at local pet stores, or contact your local houndsman association. Don’t forget to look in the various hound publications. But remember, the ads in publications tend to promote puppies as having every possible desirable trait available in a hound. When choosing a breeder try to find one that is as nearby as possible so that you can meet the breeder and inspect the facilities that they are using for whelping their pups. It will give you the opportunity to view the parents and possibly observe them at work, depending on the time of year. If your choice of breeders is not within a reasonable travel distance, ask for references, videotape, or recent photos of the parents, as well as the kennels and breeding facilities. If the owners are not willing to supply you with those items you should consider looking for another breeder.

          I speak from experience. When I purchased my first puppy, it was by telephone and I never once saw the parents. I ended up with a great pet but not a great hunting dog. Once you have narrowed your choice of breeders, look at how they train their hounds. Are they aggressive and work the dog with fear, or do they use a soft hand and affection, incorporating discipline as necessary? You don’t want to end up with a hound that is too headstrong for you to handle, or one that is afraid of you either. Some of the best hounds I have worked with have been raised in the house and have been given so much affection that they would do anything for their handler.

          Now that you have your starting lineup, whether a pack of young hounds or a combination of adults and pups, the real work begins. Ongoing training will be a necessary part of the dogs’ lives as long as you hunt with them. Since training is an extensive topic, I won’t get into it very deeply, except to say that it is one of the most important elements in cultivating a quality pack of hounds. One of the most vital aspects is to remember that each dog has a unique personality and they do not learn alike. What may work on one may not work on another. It may take several trips to the woods with trained adult hounds before a pup catches on. Don’t get discouraged. Be prepared to invest substantial time and effort, and don’t be too quick to blame minor problems on the breeder. I’ve seen too many pups culled because they didn’t catch on quickly. Unfortunately, too few puppies and young adults get a second chance when working with an impatient handler. For example, one of the best dogs I’ve ever hunted with was a seven year old Walker named Rambler, who had little previous experience. After only 12 months at his new home he was striking bears from the box, and demonstrated one of the coldest noses I have ever seen. Fortunately, he was given to a very understanding gal who was willing to work with the dog for as long as was necessary. Keep that desirable trait in your mind when selecting a breeder, and you are bound to end up with a good pup.

          When training dogs, try to set them up in situations that will result in positive results. However, if you do get a negative result, do not be afraid to use discipline. Just be careful not to overdo it. Too many houndsmen get in the habit of excessively punishing their dogs. Over the course of your hound hunting career you will have to work with the adults just as much as the pups, otherwise they will revert in their behavior and ruin your hunting experience.

          Hunting with hounds can be a very rewarding experience that can be shared with family and friends. It can result in a lifetime of unconditional love in return for taking care of your dogs. One final suggestion is buy a good adult that will compliment a couple of smart puppies and stay hooked. There’s nothing more satisfying than running a pack of hounds that will listen and work in harmony.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).