Monday, May 31, 2010

Vetkoek and Beagles...

There is nothing quite like a baying beagle ready to hunt the trail!

Ready, set....


Vetkoek, cheese, savoury mince and a variety of jams for tea after the hunt. Yum!

There were also a lot of hungry beagles tired of sniffing elusive pilchards on the scent trail and hoping the vetkoek was more accessible.
One hundred vetkoeke were devoured by hungry people and beagles alike after the hunt. The catering was courtesy of two chefs who run a cooking school in Johannesburg. However their beagles, tough competitors on the trail, are kept lean and mean. No vetkoek for Poppadom and Roti!
Jemma and Jamie are disappearing for longer periods of time but are yet to finish "a line" (a scent trail).
Each trail is about a kilometre long and over pretty rough terrain. Your beagles need to be fit and healthy to do this sport. I think Jamie (the previously anorexic puppy now greedy beagle) needs to lose a bit of weight!
This weekend I decided to try and do a bit of "home" training to see if it would help Jemma and Jamie get a better idea of what they are supposed to do. I roped in Santacruz and Little Helper as assistants.
Our first attempts were not very successful. I dragged a bag of pilchards a short distance and then hid, but we found that Jemma and Jamie were tracking me by following my scent and not that of the pilchards. When I was down wind from them, they battled to find me.
So we started from scratch. Santacruz persuaded them to watch and follow the bag of pilchards as she pulled it behind her. I slowly disappeared off the scene because my presence was a distraction. Also we needed them to cut the apron strings and realise it was OK to follow a scent trail being set by a stranger.
Eventually Santacruz and Little Helper started playing hide and seek with Jemma and Jamie again. Little Helper, being small and easy to hide, would drag the bag and disappear in the long grass. Each time Jemma and Jamie found her, they received a treat.
Our final conclusion at the end of the exercise was that they were beginning to associate the smell of pilchards in the morning with seeking people... one step closer to understanding the meaning of The Hunt!
I will have to try and get another practise session before the next Hunt. Let's hope it it helps improve their performance!
Thank you Santacruz and Little Helper for your generous time and patience with Jemma and Jamie!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The man with four dogs...

I met a man at the Beagle Hunt who owned four dogs - three beagles and a basset. Two of his beagles had been rescued. One was from the SPCA, the other from owners who wanted to get rid of their 5 month old puppy. But these dogs' background stories were heartbreaking.

One had been rescued after jumping out of a taxi in Johannesburg. She had a microchip (her original owners must have cared enough to implant one in her as a puppy). The chip was traced to Cape Town but the company that had registered it was now defunct. So the SPCA was unable to find her original owners. Imagine losing your dog and never knowing what her fate was. So check that your microchip in your dog is still traceable!

"She still bears the scars to this day" said her new owner and it was really upsetting to see such a "sad" looking beagle. Beagles are usually so cheerful and friendly by nature. But at least this beagle has finally found a caring home.

His second beagle is now a 13 month old male. The circumstances surrounding how he ended up being re homed were very disconcerting. He was bred by Onderstepoort Veterinary University where they use beagles to educate student vets. They sometimes sell their male puppies to raise funds for the university and these puppies are not cheap nor are they plentiful.

He was bought by a couple who wanted a puppy as a playmate for their 4 and 6 year old children.

Mistake Number 1: A puppy is not a soft toy to be handled by children too young to know what they are doing. This family decided to get rid of their 5 month old puppy because it apparently "bit" one of the children.

Now anyone with half a brain cell knows that puppies are highly active, destructive chewing machines. They chew all the time on anything and everything.

Bite inhibition is learnt by puppies when they interact with their litter mates. If they bite too hard, it hurts and so they learn to play more gently. But we owners remove them while they are still learning and it is up to us to continue their bite inhibition education. That's why puppy school or socialisation is so important. We learn how to teach "cute looking" puppies to grow up into well behaved, happy dogs without destroying their spirit or essential nature. It takes many scratches and bites before your puppy learns that when you squeak "Ow" and ignore them for a while that they must be more gentle while playing with you.

But it takes an adult to teach this and other lessons to your puppy. It's an adult responsibility. How ignorant can you be to think you can hand over the care and education of a small puppy to a small child?

Mistake Number 2: Puppies are usually sold at 2 months. After having the puppy for only three months, the new owners decided "Oh Dear! we've made a mistake. Let's get rid of it". This puppy's most important "imprinting" period, his first 4 months when he learns how to behave through socialisation and habituation, were mismanaged by thoughtless humans. The puppy was very nervous and insecure when he arrived at his next home. Luckily he has been taken on by someone who is patient and understanding.

Perhaps Onderstepoort should vet the people who buy their puppies as stringently as do many of the top breeders?

But while dishing out the onions on this issue, I also have to give Onderstepoort a bouquet. Two of their students came along to observe the beagle hunt. My understanding was that they are looking at possible ways of enriching the lives of the dogs they keep there. It is good to know that Onderstepoort is trying to improve their beagles' quality of life beyond cages and concrete floors.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Huntmaster Scenting the Hounds (with a smelly bag of pilchards)

Setting the Scent Trail & Blowing the Start Horn (size does not count)

Beagle Hunt Sequel...

Unlike most sequel events, Beagle Hunt II turned out to be slightly better than the first event.

Jamie and Jemma got into the swing of the rush of the pack from the start line. But when the pack broke up to search for the scent trail, they lost the plot and returned back to the waiting line of owners.

But this time Jamie and Jemma did disappear for longer in the knee high grass. And they did not seek me out immediately which means that the apron strings are slowly loosening. This needs to happen said the more experienced owners: the realisation that it is OK to leave MABeagle for a while.

Meanwhile I casually asked other owners for more winning tips (I had to be subtle because some owners are quite competitive!). The champions Roti and Poppadom had first been trained at home by playing hide and seek. Dad would make a big fuss and go and hide until Mom eventually let them go to seek out their master. Then on the hunt, Dad made a big fuss of his dogs and made sure they saw him leaving with the party that was laying the scent trail. So they knew that he had gone ahead and had to find him.

Some one else advised me to find a consistent finisher whose pace matched that of your own beagle. Stick your beagle next to the more experienced beagle at the start line in the hopes that they would stay together until the finish.

Fitness definitely plays a role if one wants to keep up with top dogs like Roti and Poppadom who get exercise every day. Their Dad also confided that they had been a bit overweight (typical of beagles) and when they lost a few kilograms, their speed increased. These two cleaned up again winning every heat. So if one is prepared to put the time into training them, your dogs can catch on faster.

Jamie and I broke the rules by crossing the start line before the horn was sounded. I was not concentrating and in the melee he slipped out of my grasp. He would have been disqualified not only for a false start but for distracting the other beagles. But the fact that he was a total non starter got him off the hook. He casually wandered off to the side to lift his leg. He was so busy doing his business that it took him a while to realise that the pack had left him in their dust! Luckily, as a newcomer his race bib does not bear his name yet. So when this happened a second time, I quietly disowned him.

One of the organisers who comes regularly has a beagle called Snoopy. He is yet to finish a heat and yet they still keep coming. That's what I call dedication. For some it is not about winning or even finishing, just having fun. There were a lot of new faces and I saw some bibs with numbers up in the 80's so there are a lot of members. But an average of about 20 to 30 beagles show up regularly. When it gets colder and more difficult to get up in the dark, it will be interesting to see who will hang in there (including yours truly). I think I need to pull finger and try and do some more home training before the next hunt. But there is a whole season of winter months ahead to see what happens.

Next time around they are arranging a "koeksuster" tea after the hunt. This South African sweet sticky treat will go down very well on a cold winter's day after getting up at 5.00am with nothing but a cup of coffee in the stomach!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Things that go bump in the night...

Jamie is the sweetest dog. I love him to bits but he does have some strange neuroses.
Firstly there is the fact that he still hates the car. This despite an intensive desensitisation programme on my part. It means that every outing is a bit of a chore because it takes ages to get Jamie into the car. (I know he gets car sick but it is pointless giving him anti nausea medication unless the trip is more than a hour in duration.)

Secondly he is afraid of large, strange objects. I think this goes back to his puppy hood. He was frightened by one of those big black garbage bins as it rumbled noisily down a pathway. Ever since then, if Jamie sees anyone carrying something large like a box, suitcase or furniture, he runs in the opposite direction.

Winter has definitely announced its arrival in Gauteng, South Africa. So heaters are becoming a necessity. But bearing in mind that we are about to be hit by huge hikes in our electricity bills, I have trundled out my gas heater and kept the electric heaters in storage. But the gas heater just happens to be big and black.

Jamie has refused to join us in the lounge since this heater made its appearance. Despite treats and endearments, he is unwilling to come very far into the room or he sits close to the door where he can make a quick escape.

Well Jamie might just end up having a chilly winter unless he comes to terms with the strange new object in the lounge. It is going to be the only source of heat this winter!