I am also enjoying the walking and talking to all the other owners who come from far and wide for the Hunt. I enjoy passing on tips to those whose beagles do not run immediately (like mine). There are a lucky few whose dogs run first time, but many owners become discouraged when their beagles don't succeed right away. There are several factors that I have learnt have to be taken into account:
- Your beagle needs to get used to the idea that it is allowed to leave you and disappear from sight. From a small age we teach them not to get lost, not to leave our side. Now they have to learn that it is OK to do this at a Beagle Hunt.
- Most dogs are not used to being in packs (at least 30 dogs) nor to the incredible barking and howling as the experienced dogs bark in excitement at the start line. It can be quite intimidating and takes some getting used to.
- They need to learn to run with the pack.
- They need to learn to follow a scent trail (a mackerel scent trail). When the going gets hard and the pack breaks up, it is often the dogs that really know how to follow a scent who finish the trail. Many dogs only keep up with the pack because they are fast and fit, but when the pack breaks up, they lose their way.
- Your dogs need to be lean and fit. If they are carrying too much weight or have not developed stamina and speed, they get left behind by the pack.
- They need to develop callouses on their paw pads. Most of our dogs are used to soft grassy gardens and parks. Now they are expected to race over bush veld and rocky terrain and their paws need to get used to that.
At the moment I have put my beagles on a diet as they need to lose at least a kilogram or two. I also need to work out how to make them fitter and faster. I admit that I do not get my dogs to the park as often as I should because it is suck a "trek" to get there. What I am going to try to do is to increase the intensity of their training by getting them to follow me on a mountain bike.
They currently keep up with my walking speed with ease and spend a lot of time exploring different scents and smells. If I could introduce a bit of "speed training" and encourage them to sprint after my bike, the outing might be a bit more challenging for them.
Anyway that is the long term plan which hopefully will come together when I get a bike! I also have to plan what we are going to do when the Hunt season comes to an end. I will have to find something else to keep them entertained during the summer!