Friday, April 23, 2010

The Beagle Hunt Gathering...

Getting used to wearing race bibs...

Ready to Race...

Beagle Hunt!

My dogs were very surprised to woken at 5.00am by me instead of the other way around. Dog bowl, water, coffee, sandwiches and directions in hand, we set off for the country side. The terrain was a mix of hillocks, trees and tall green grass.

Gathered under a cool sky were between 20 to 30 beagles and their owners. Most of us were "newbeags" and not exactly sure what to expect.

We were given instructions by the "hunt" leader about how to handle our beagles before the start of each hunt. Then we set off to the start of the first trail. Each beagle is given a sniff of the bag of pilchards by the hunt leader. He then sets off dragging the bag behind him to create a scent trail. When he reaches the end point, it is communicated back to a team member at the start. A piece of string is the indicator of where to line up your dogs. You have to carefully get their leads off and hold onto their collars until a horn is blown and then the dogs are set loose.

The veteran beagles knew exactly what was about to happen and began excited barking and baying which the "newbeags" found confusing. What was all the excitement about? The owners were warned to keep absolutely quiet and still so as not to distract the beagles from being swept up by the rush from the start line.

The horn blew, I let go of Jemma and Jamie and.........nothing. They sat looking a bit confused at first, rushed off for about 20 metres, then turned back to rejoin the group of owners - a reaction that was typical of most of the "newbeags".

The end of the first scent trail became the beginning of the next trail and we did a total of six trails that day. The owners and beagles left behind would wait until the beagles (who knew what they were doing) reached the finishing line. Then we would walk the shortest route to the end (as the crow flies).

Each dog wears a bib with its name and number so that the judges at the finish know who has crossed the line and award them points. There were two beagles named Roti and Poppadom who were the clear winners each time. Their owner is apparently a chef and they are obviously after the winners title this year. I asked the chef how long it takes for a beagle to learn what to do. He explained that because we spend most of our time training our dogs to stick close to us, not to wander off and to obey a recall, their first hunts are a bit confusing. To suddenly be allowed to go off on their own and leave their owners behind takes a bit of getting used to. Sometimes their pack instinct will kick in but most people have a single beagle, so they have never experienced the call of a baying pack.

One owner of a "newbeag" said that he was going to train his beagle to follow a scent trail by dragging a pilchard bag behind his golf cart! There is no doubt that if you have the time and space, you could train your beagles by yourself. (I must ask the chef what his secret is).

But many owners say that it can take a season or two before your beagle will click (and some never do!). I met the owner of a 10 year old beagle who was too old to run but just came for the fun of the day. And there were two "newbeags" who cracked the trail first time around.

I have a feeling that Jamie may click because though he did not follow the scent trail and stayed with the human/beagle pack, he often disappeared from sight and I would only find him when we arrived at the end point. Jemma on the other hand nearly got lost the first time and headed off in the opposite direction back to the car park. Luckily my red whistle re-orientated her back to me. But after that she tended to keep me in her sights.

But whether your beagle succeeded on the scent trail or not, did not seem hugely important. Everyone (dogs and owners) had loads of fun socialising, sniffing and walking. The mood of the day was very relaxed and enjoyable. And it was wonderful to be out of the city!

All in all it was a great day in the country side. I got more exercise than I bargained for and my beagles less than I expected. But by the time we headed home, Jamie, Jemma and I were all pooped and spent the entire afternoon snoozing. I am really looking forward to next event!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to exercise your dogs and not kill yourself in the process...

You may have read my post where I was whining about how difficult it is to truly exercise a working dog in the city. Well I might have found a solution. There is a group of beagle owners who organise a bi-monthly "Beagle Hunt". Before the bunny-huggers squeak in protest, just like I did at the thought of a "blood sport", it is nothing like that.

There are no live animals or blood involved except a very smelly sack of pilchards (dead that is).
These fish are excellent for laying a strong scent trail through the bush and the idea is to tap into the beagles' breed trait of a strong sense of smell and working well together in packs.

There are strict rules about how the "hunt" is run but it is apparently all done with the dog's best interests at heart and is relaxed and fun for owners. It is also out in the countryside!
So the idea is that they follow the scent trail to the finish and are awarded points (if they finish) and the overall winners are announced at a Beagle Ball at the end of the season.

Apparently they don't need to be trained but it can take a while before they catch on. But I have started giving Jamie and Jemma the occasional pilchard as a treat just so they recognise the smell and know that it should lead to something tasty and nice.

What appeals to me is that the owners sit back and wait for their dogs to return. So my dogs are not restricted by my level of fitness. They have several heats and your dogs can do as many as they want. At the end of the morning there is a bit of a social get together with sandwiches and coffee for dogs and owners alike. We will be doing our first hunt soon - so will keep you posted.

I think the concept of creating a relaxed event around what a particular breed of dog enjoys doing and which is also enjoyable for the owner, is great. Another brilliant solution to the problem of how to mentally and physically stimulate your dog!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why does curiosity only kill cats and not dogs?

It was only a matter of time before Jemma figured out how to empty the trash can in my kitchen. Now that she knows the trick, no garbage container will ever be safe again in my house.
She loves ones with a pedal that she can paw or lids that she can push open with her nose.

This particular day, I had woken up at 4.30am and staggered to work before sparrows for an exhausting 12 hour shift. I had thrown some marrow bones at the terrible twins to keep them occupied and switched the radio to soothing classical music. But while the Boss Cat is away the dogs did play.

As I crawled home in the thick traffic, all that kept me going was the thought of a hot bath and bed. But when I opened my door, what greeted me was not a pretty sight. A tornado of garbage debris was everywhere. As I picked my way through the smelly, sticky putrid mess, I noticed that Jamie and Jemma looked ominously bloated.

So instead of a hot bath and bed, I had to pull on the rubber gloves and force myself to start the back breaking task of picking up the garbage.

Whenever there is monkey business in my house, the main instigator is usually Jemma. She is far too bright and curious for her own good. She is literally always sticking her nose into my business.
She is often the unlucky recipient of a tongue lashing. Then I feel guilty. But I don't know why because quizzy-lizzy is soon up to her tricks again.

It seems curiosity does indeed only kill cats because my dogs are immune to this fate.