Friday, April 23, 2010

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!

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