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Training... Lots Of Methods, Same Results

by Dave Fisher

          Well guys and girls, soon many of us will be hunting again. For me it has been a very fast summer, and now I have been striving to whip the dogs into shape. Plans that were formed over the late winter were wiped away in an instant when my mother and father were in a very serious auto accident. I felt sorry for the dogs as I fed them and headed to the hospital or some other place to take care of Mom and Dad. Finally, as they improved, I was able to get the pack out a couple days a week.

          I hope I’m not alone here, but I find it is harder and harder each season to run the dogs, get all my other work done and then begin hunting turkeys, deer, and finally finishing the fall and winter in full fledge rabbit hunting. I notice I don’t go up hills very well anymore, and I stay a little closer to the truck than I used to.

          Training, or just running the dogs to get them into shape, is very important, we all know that. Dogs that have lain around all summer are not much good if not exercised before the real hunting begins. As time goes by, and my body gets sorer and sorer I strive to create shortcuts to get the same results … continue rabbit hunting! And that goes for training the dogs before hand too.

         About 18 years ago, when I was a little younger and had a lot less fear of injuring myself, I bought my first 3-wheeler. It was a lot of fun and even after a few crashes I continued to ride. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, a dozen or more of us would ride for miles and miles in the local mountains. With the help of two other friends, I even founded a statewide organization called the Pennsylvania All-Terrain Vehicle Association. The organized riding went on for several years, but slowly we all got older and went our separate ways. During this time, I bought another 3-wheeler, A Honda Big Red. I still have this bike, now 16 years later, and I use it mostly for hauling firewood around the house, and last year I brought a couple of deer out of the woods with it.

          So as training season began, it didn’t take me long to look at the Big Red and incorporate it into the program. I know of a few people that train bird dogs and they use four-wheelers to "road" the dogs each morning. This is simply placing a chest-type harness on the dog and running a long leash back to the bike. I tried this with the beagles, but let’s face it, they are not the smartest animals in the dog world. They would fight and pull, and I had to stop so many times because I was on the verge of dragging them, it was impractical.

          Last year, however, my buddy, Bob Clarke and I came upon a pretty good system for running the dogs with the ATVs. We simply strapped lightweight boxes to the racks and rode the dogs a couple miles from the house into the areas where we normally ran the dogs. Almost all areas now are criss-crossed with ATV trails from kids trying out their new bikes. This keeps us very close to the action, and has the boxes nearby where we can place a pooped puppy.

          With the bikes close by, we’ve also headed off potential deer chases and been able to follow the dogs on long drawn out rabbit chases that leave the area. The bikes allow us to carry water for the dogs, extra equipment, and get us back to the house quickly for whatever reason. Bob actually had a cell phone on him one day. This system has been a lot easier on us, but of course it doesn’t get us any needed exercise, and does limit the amount of dogs we can take with us … usually about four or five is max.

          We did discover there is a way to "road" the Beagles with the ATVs; you just can’t leash them. As the morning wears on and the dogs slowly get tired, we simply wait until they are all around us and start slowly down the trail. The dogs are going to naturally follow, and the other day we were able to "run" them almost two miles back to the main road. If one gets really tired, you can pull over for a second or two and place him in the box. It works great and we have been able to squeeze a little bit more running out of each trip.

          Whether it’s with the 3-wheeler, truck, car … the training never ends. It seems like every year I have a new pack I’m trying to break in. I lost three good dogs in barely one year; my old pack leader Ralphie, Annie Oakley, and last year Lightning had to go into full retirement. In fact, I only have three "hold overs" from last season. This means the pack has new, young members in it again and training season is like exhibition football games. Evaluate each of them again especially the new draftees and see who might make the team. It’s a slow process, and many times I spend too much time on some dogs when I should cut my losses and move on.

          The ATVs are great for the hunter and the Beagles. They allow you to get in and out of the field quicker which allows for more running time.
Yesterday I ran only four dogs. The day before I had five and it was a bit much for me by myself when I had a bad split. Yesterday was going to be hot (and ended up at 93) and I wanted to get the dogs up early. I took the truck and left the 3-wheeler at home. I had my 3 experienced dogs; Bowser, Sammy and Stormy, and a new pup, Amber (an IFC Gun Creek Rock pup). Amber is doing real well, although I’m not crazy about her voice, a high pitch, fast chop, but I’m hoping it will deepen as she gets a little older. She has stuck right in there with the older dogs and really loves to hunt

          I’m trying to get the dogs in shape for the coming hare hunt in MI next month, so I try to get them out as much as possible. I drove down the dirt road I had selected early and there were two rabbits sitting right on the road. If there weren’t a couple houses close by I would have dropped them out right there. I went on down the road to a dead end and let the four out. I did not even have my chaps on when Sammy struck close by and the first chase was on. It lasted about 15 minutes or so, but the dogs lost the track on an old railroad track a short distance to the west.

          I took them back up the road I had come in on and it wasn’t any time before they were running again. This chase lasted about a half-hour, but I could tell the dogs switched rabbits maybe even three times. I don’t like that, but I don’t know what you can do about it. The place was loaded with rabbits and I didn’t care as long as they were running. Later, in the season when the brush is down, rabbit "switching" is minimal.

          Amber stuck right with Browser and the older dogs and I heard her pick up a couple checks. Later, two big deer, their coats a bright summer red, came bouncing out of the thicket. The dogs were coming hard for the road, but they did not seem to notice the deer, and never came out on the track. They veered hard right and went up along the road, just hidden from view. I saw the rabbit come out on the road about 100 yards up stream. I ushered the dogs down the bank and onto the road to see if someone could pick up the track. Sammy and Bowser both tried, but we’ve had almost no rain all summer, and it was not an easy task. Finally, I showed them about where the bunny broke back in and they milled around inside the thicket for a few minutes then began running again. I was disappointed. Maybe I expect too much. I try to remember … it’s just training season. But it’s still important.

          Another method of getting the dogs some much-needed exercise, (besides actual running) I’ve been experimenting with is a dog treadmill or a walking ring like is used for horses. Some of my dogs don’t need any rabbit running before the season, they just need exercise and a few pounds off. They have been running rabbits for a few years and they know all about it. Since they make up the core of the pack anyway, they will get all the running they can stand come hunting season. I have been talking to a friend who repairs appliances and he and I have been kicking a few ideas around.

          Creating an "exercise machine" for the dogs could save a lot of time. You could, in reality, put a dog or two on the machine while you were feeding the others, essentially getting a couple dogs a little exercise every night. If any one has any ideas I would like to hear them.

          I guess it doesn’t matter how we get the dogs the needed exercise, just so they get it. Training pens help, and running at the local beagle club is great; and an exercise machine would be good to fill in, but nothing can ever replace actual running in the woods with a few rabbits that have never been pushed by a dog.

          It was 89 degrees again today, so we decided not to run the dogs this morning. We went to town and bought new boots and supplies for the Michigan trip, but we have to get them out tomorrow! No matter how you do it …training never ends, it’s almost a year around operation … and it certainly never goes out of style!!

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).