FIELD WORK TRAINING


     Rabbit hunting is a wonderful sport because anyone can do it.  It doesn’t require any special talents on the part of the owner,  expensive equipment or complicated training for the hounds.  The
only thing both you and your hound need is desire.  I guarantee that once you start you’ll be hooked and a bond with your hound will be formed like no other.

      The excitement of the hound as you prepare yourself to take him out is contagious and every outing is as different and as unpredictable as the last.  Out in the fields is a place where your hound can be just what he is - a hounddog.  The exercise alone benefits both the hound and the human mentally and physically.  There is no cheaper medicine than exercise in the fresh air. 

     The training of a Petit for hunting is in fact easy. First you must have to know what it is that you want your dog to do when he is an adult and then train him in that direction. Do you want your
dog(s) to take much field and cover great distances, or do you want them to stay with you and search "under the gun"? 

     After selecting the puppy with the most promise for field work the first and most important task is to then develop a working relationship with the puppy.  The puppy must come to see you as his pack leader whose decisions are best taken seriously.  From the start he must feel he can trust you and this is developed mostly through kindness and care.  At a very young age he is still capable of remembering abuse and mistreatment and anyone who tries to gain the respect of a hound through these harsh means should not even own a hound because, in the end, nothing productive comes out of fear.  The hound responds well to praise and touch, but must also be disciplined if he disobeys. 

     Although no fancy equipment is needed there are a few items that are helpful.  The collar the hound wears, if he wears one at all, should be a flat buckle collar.  Never a choke chain.  There are a variety of  collars serving different purposes.  The two I recommend is either a plain buckle collar or what is called a ‘safety collar’.  This safety collar is equipped with a large ring in the centre and designed in such a fashion to allow the hound to pull his head out of the collar if he gets it tangled in wire fencing or thick scrub.  It is worn slightly loose around the hounds’ neck but tightens when it is hooked up to a leash.  These collars come in a variety of colours as well as reflective materials.  Make sure any collar the hound wears is not so loose as he can get his foot tangled through it or too tight as to restrict his breathing.  An identification plate should be attached to the collar in case your
hound gets lost.  A dog bell can also be slipped onto the collar and this will help you keep track of  your hound when you cannot see him.  Bells come in a variety of sizes and metals to produce
different tones.

     The leash need not be a specialty leash but there are those available as well.  I use a 4’ leather leash with a coupler on the end (to accommodate 2-3 hounds) and a ring in the handle to clip it back on itself and drap across your shoulder.  This way the leash is always draped around your body,  handy, and will not get lost.  There is no fear of it falling out of your pocket or  putting it down and forgetting to  pick it up again.  There are a variety of snaps as well which make hooking-up or unhooking easier than with  bolt snaps.  What is often called a French snap is popular because you squeeze the entire snap to open or close it which makes hooking-up or releasing quick and easy, even if you are wearing gloves. 

     Now your hound is outfitted and it is your turn.  What do you want to use to call your hound; a whistle, a hunting horn or just your voice?  This is a personal preference and whistles come in an enormous variety of styles and tones.  It is easier to get a variety of sounds from a whistle, short blasts or long blasts, but for some the horn is more traditional and the sound of a horn being blown to the hounds is all part of the tradition. 



     If using a hunting whip, the crack of the whip should be a signal to the hound to cease and desist from what he is doing.  It also indicates to the hound to “get back” and with this in mind be careful not to crack the whip if the hounds are drawing.  Usually the crack of the whip is more than enough to discourage an errant or  distracted hound.

     One of the mistakes that is often made  is nagging at the hound.  Especially if you are used to a more biddable breed of dog.  Nagging will only serve to bore the hound with your voice and eventually he’ll start to tune you out completely.  The hound does not need to learn a lot of obedience, but what he does learn he should learn well and be expected to perform.  The most basic commands he needs to learn are his name (which he should stop and look at you to see what you want), to come when called, and to search.  Extra commands like, stay, heal up, over here (giving direction), no!, etc. just make things run smoother and more efficiently. 

     Around the kennel and at home he will already have started to understand certain commands and gestures.  Continue using these in the fields where he will start to associate the command with what may be expected from him in the field.  The puppy will only be learning and building his confidence in these early months and there is no need for discipline.  Encouragement and showing what you expect from him by example is the most effective manner in which he will learn.  At a later age when you
know your pup understands these commands and might become a little distracted and not obeywhen he is spoken to. Discipline should be given out  swiftly then forgotten about.  If you carry a grudge he will start to become wary of your inconsistent behaviour.  Always end an outing on a positive note -a good experience for all. 

     The two most important commands the pup should understand is  to pay attention  when he hears his name, a whistle or a horn signal, and to come when he is called.  To get the pup to ‘pay attention’ should be easy.   You call his name, blow a horn or whistle and the pup stops with what he is doing and looks at you or waits for instruction.  This action is rewarded with praise or food.   Once you have his attention you can give him another command to obey, like “Come”. First the name, then the "here or come!" pointing with your finger in front of you, and reward! In fact this is all basic dog training and more than enough to fill a young puppy’s brain for the time being. 

     A walk out in the fields is a great novelty at first and here he gets accustomed to the sights and smells and also continues to develop a trusting relationship with you, his huntin’ buddy.  As a
youngster, he does not want to lose you  and happily follows along all the while exploring as much as possible.  Ideally you want the hound to search in front of you and beside you, moving forward, and reporting back to you  - without guidance.  Experience will ultimately help him in these endeavours.  You can never get "enough" experience and taking your hound out two or three times per week is a good start  for him helping him to gain strengh, stamina and self-confidence.



     When he stops to sniff at something that has taken his interest call him along to teach him to follow you.  Stop every so often and encourage him to sniff around the area and see if he can pick up any enticing odours.  Wait a while until the pup has lost interest in the area, then call him along again.  From this he learns that you are partners out in the fields.   As more distance developes between the two of you he will also learn to start following his own tracks back to you. It is very important that you are in the same place that the hound was last with you.  He will learn you can be trusted  to be where he expects to find you.  This is an important lesson for the hound to learn and you will be less likely to lose him.  Must of the time you may be out with your hound but have no idea where he is then all of the sudden he'll turn up at your feet.  Searching around for a lost hound only lays more tracks for him to figure out and confuses him. 

     On your first few outings are strictly for the purpose of training.  The puppy is learning more valuable bonding and obedience lessons and the scent of a rabbit is not needed for these
lessons to be learned. When taking him out in the fields we first go to a place where he can run off  some excess energy and warm up.  Petits have a lot of enthusiasm and sometimes need 10 minutes or so to settle down to some real work. 

After that we progress to a place where know rabbits live or have seen evidence such as their droppings.  It is in these places that you may  have spotted a "rabbit road" going into the bushes.  They are very subtle to the untrained eye but once you have seen a few of these ‘rabbit roads’
they will be easy to spot. Call the dog’s name and  give the command for searching and point with a flat hand in the direction of the "rabbitroad".   Encourage him with your voice, if necessary in an excited tone and he will wonder what all the excitement is about and
immediately start sniffing around.  If the trail is fresh enough the hound will probably snuffle about with little yips but may still be unable to follow the scent trail the rabbit has left behind him.  The
pup might run out along the trail then run back.  All the while his tail wagging vigorously.  It will take a few tries before he figures out how to follow a trail in the proper direction and it will also be a while before he is old enough and confident enough to follow the scent far away from you.  Don’t be impatient.  Give him lots of time to sniff up and down the trail before you decide whether or not there is any scent worth trailing.  If there is no interest being shown by the hound try to follow along the ‘rabbit road’ yourself and maybe the hound will pick up a scent farther along
or you might scare up a rabbit yourself.



     If the hound is showing no interest on the ‘rabbit road’ then keep moving along through the bush all the while giving the command for the hound to keep searching.   This command is usually a voice command either just a sound, such as I use “Yut, yut, yut” or a word, such as “bunny, bunny, bunny”.  Whatever command you use the action you are wanting from your hound is to put his nose to the ground and cover the ground within a certain vicinity looking for rabbits. 

     Since the hound is now working with his nose to the ground he is not watching you but he is listening to you.  If you change your direction let him hear another type of command from you telling him so.  For this I use my hunting horn - one short blast or a vocal command.  Any vocal or whistle command will work  just as well.  The hound is now learning that he has a trusted partner to
work with and that he isn’t making all the decisions. 

     Eventually a rabbit will be found and it is usually just a rustling blurr out of the corner of your eye.  If the puppy or hound happens to stumble across it he will probably be a little taken aback before he decides to run after it.  When he looses the sight of the rabbit, and it won’t take him long to do that, he’ll wonder what to do next.  Sometimes the hound will return to the spot where the rabbit first jumped out.  Sometimes he’ll have already come to an understanding about the scent he is smelling and will try to follow as best he can.  Encourage the pup to follow in the direction the rabbit ran.  Remember, you can’t smell the rabbit but the pup can.  The pup only needs to connect the two. 

     The most exciting time is when he gives voice for the first time while sniffing a rabbit trail.   Celebrate this with him.  This is the first step he has taken in understanding what he is all about. 
All this time you try to stay with him, watch the rabbit and your dog When the rabbit goes underground or when he looses track you call the puppy in and reward!   If the rabbit did go underground,  forbid him to dig. That is for Terriers, not for noble hounds.  If the track 
is lost by the puppy, but you did see where the rabbit went yourself,  put him in the right direction and start the search again. 

     Making artificial tracks can be a help as long as you remember to make the reward the same as the track. Many hunters do have an enclosed area filled with rabbits to start their puppies. Sometimes a freshly killed rabbit can be found on a roadside and brought home so the puppy can actually catch it. Whatever you do, always make sure you stay in control even if your hound looks
to be having so much fun you don't want to spoil it.  You must be the leader of the game.

     Practice and more practice will sharpen all these skills and then he will be ready to join other hunting companions.  It may take up to two or three years before the puppy has enough experience under his belt to live up to your expectations so be patient. 

 


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