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Posts Tagged ‘foxhound’

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I grew up in rural West Virginia. One of the most common types of dog during my childhood was the scenthound. People had beagles for running rabbits.  The hardcore houndsmen kept coonhounds and foxhounds, and the really die-hard ones kept what were always called “bear dogs,” usually Plott hounds or really sharp strains of coonhound, that were used to tree bears.

A beagle was put in the playpen with me when I was of formative years. The first dog that was ever designated as mine was a beagle. Unfortunately, he came home with a bad case of parvo, and in those days, that disease was a death sentence.

5-to-10-year-old me was a fan of the hound. But I noticed something early on. Most of the coonhounds and foxhounds that I knew never were kept as pets. They were usually kept tied up to oil drums or dog houses or they were penned up in the back.

The reason for this husbandry was simple. These dogs were never kept to be obedient pets. Their job was to run the trails of the quarry, give tongue, and maybe tree it or run it aground.

The dogs themselves were usually quite docile.  But they were bred to make lots of noise on the trail, and many of them made lots of noise when tied up or penned up at home. Some houndsmen broke their dogs of this behavior. Others didn’t care.

But it was deeply instilled within me that large scenthounds usually don’t make the best pets. Beagles could make decent enough pets, but one had to make allowances for their baying cries and the simple fact that they were not biddable dogs.

As I have moved on from that world, I have seen a big problem that is not being widely discussed in the dog world. Currently, adoption groups and shelters in the Northeast and West Coast are in agreements with Southern and Midwestern shelters.

In some rural parts of the country,  scenthounds make up a large percentage of the dogs available, and they then get shifted to the more urban environments, where they are usually offered for adoption pretty quickly.

Most of these dogs are quite docile and social, which makes them quite attractive to potential adopters.  However, the staff at urban shelters often have no idea about these dogs. For example, I know of a dog that was offered for adoption as a greyhound mix when he is actually a Tennessee Treeing Brindle, which is a sort of standardizing Plott cur.

Greyhounds don’t make much noise at all. They don’t have much activity level either. But this dog loves to bay and bark, and he needs a lot of exercise.

If adoption groups and shelters are not familiar with traditional American scenthounds and the potential problems in owning one, they will be doing the dogs and the adopters a disservice.

I ran into a older woman on Facebook. We were in agreement in politics, and she liked a lot of what I had to say about various issues.  She friended me, and it was all fine.

Until I saw that she had taken in two Trigg foxhounds from Mississippi as foster dogs. They had been found wandering the edge of a swamp during hunting season, and they were taken to a pound, where they wound up going to New Jersey as potential pets. The woman was excited because the dogs would “never be forced to hunt again,” and they would love living with her small dogs and cats.

I left a comment on her page that I didn’t think this would be a good match.  I told her that those dogs were never forced to hunt. They were probably going to miss not being run around the pine forests and swamps down there, and they might not be the best friends with her cats. And they might not be friends with her little dogs either.

But, of course, she didn’t want to hear it. And our short little “friendship” ended.

We see lots on social media about the problems with pit bulls and poverty and pit bulls and neophyte owners.

However, the same sorts of issues apply to hounds. I remember hearing stories of  someVirginia deer hunters who would go into the West Virginia “dog trades” and buy up all the incorrigible deer running beagles.  In West Virginia, dogs are not allowed to chase deer during the season, and many hardcore deer hunters will shoot a dog if they catch it running deer. In Southeast Virginia, running scenthounds on deer is a time-honored tradition, but not everyone does right by the dogs.

Beagles are a dime a dozen in much of West Virginia, and selling them to Virginia deer hunters is a good way to get rid of a dog that is no longer wanted.

But at least, Virginia deer beagles get to live lives doing something very much like what they were bred for.

Foxhounds and coonhounds in apartments and suburbia could be quite disastrous.  It is one thing to have an AKC-registered black-and-tan coonhound, which you got as an eight-week-old puppy. It is another to get a Treeing Walker that has been started on raccoons or even bobcats or bear and expect that dog to fit in nicely in civilization.

The amount of exercise such a dog requires is not trivial. The sound it will make will annoy the neighbors, and if it is really been trained on the raccoon or bobcat, it will probably not be safe around cats or possibly small dogs.

These dogs not make good pets for the average dog owner. They simply don’t.

You make think I hate these dogs, but I have seen enough people trying to make adopted scenthounds into tractable pets.  And no, they don’t have the potential issues that one might get into with pit bulls and BBMs.

But there are issues.

Now, a lot could be done on the supply-side of this problems. In some parts of the country, there are too many hounds being bred and offered to people who will not do right by them. If a foxhound or coonhound fails as a hunter, it is going to be a hard dog to pet out. No two ways about it, and it is incumbent upon people breeding and training these dogs to find these homes.

And no, the racing greyhounds are not equivalent. Most racing greyhounds transition better as pets than large scenthounds do.  Most of them will lie around the house all day, and if you ever hear one bark, you will be lucky.

These scenthound problems go even deeper than this adoption problem. Once a large scenthound breed loses its quarry, it isn’t long before it becomes defunct. Otterhounds are one of the rarest breeds in existence.  Virtually no place with otters allows them to be hunted with dogs anymore.

The dogs do have their devotees.  But they have the problems of all large scenthounds.  They make the noise. They aren’t particularly biddable. They have a lot of need for exercise.

How you adapt such a breed into modern existence is a good question. Either new quarry is found for the dog, and for a time, they were used on invasive American mink in the UK. But then the UK banned most forms of hound hunting, and the dogs became truly obsolete.

North American houndsmen have generally avoided all griffon hounds, such as the otterhound. All of the traditional American hounds are smooth-coated. Maybe if the dogs were found to be good at hunting coypu (“nutria rat”), they might have a future as a North American hound.

But that is an uphill battle.

The truth of the matter the otterhound’s problem is the problem of all these scenthounds. They are hard to fit into modern society.

And yes, there are people who love their dogs of these breeds, but just because you love your dogs and have no problems doesn’t meant that most people will have no problems with these dogs.

They just aren’t easy, and we need to be honest about them. Nice, docile dogs, yes. But they have real challenges.

 

 

 

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A Couple of Foxhounds, George Stubbs. 1792.

A Couple of Foxhounds. George Stubbs. 1792.

As strange as it may seem, the dog fancy’s sins began with the Enlightenment and stem from its rationalist, scientific values.

This may seem a bit of contradiction, but the best way to understand the dog world is that began with science but a science that largely ignores the modern concepts of population genetics. The modern science of population genetics says that closed registries that celebrate breeding only an elite within that closed off population are  a recipe for long-term disaster.

But that’s something we’ve only understood since the twentieth century. The beginning of the scientific dog breeding actually start at almost the same time as scientific selective breeding systems were starting to be used to improve livestock.

And this begins almost a century before the development of an institutionalized dog fancy.

It begins with advent of the English Agricultural Revolution in the middle part of the eighteenth century.  This was the era in which the manorial systems were replaced with fenced and walled off pastures and fields, and new techniques of crop rotation and selective breeding increased farm outputs.

The English Agricultural Revolution was important for the development of the Industrial Revolution, for now it became possible to feed large numbers of factory workers in the cities. And the Enclosure that came with the Agricultural Revolution displaced large numbers of people who readily moved into the cities to find work in factories.

Without the English Agricultural Revolution, there would have been no Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the British Empire in the nineteenth century probably never would have happened either.

But it is the part about selective breeding that affects dogs the most.

Now, before the eighteenth century people did selectively breed dogs and other domestic animals. However, it was not a systematic effort.  The world relied heavily upon types we would now call landraces, and selectively breeding landraces is a much slower going system.  Regional variants of the same basic animal develop in this system, which is why you have shaggy saluki-types in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan and smooth-coated ones on the Deccan Plateau. It also is why naturally bob-tailed collie-type sheepdogs were common parts of Wales but were virtually unknown in the North of England and the Scottish borders.

All domestic animals had pretty much followed this path for thousands of years, but systematic selective breeding of domestic animals would change all of that.

The most famous scientific selective breeder of the English Agricultural Revolution was Robert Bakewell of the Dishley Grange House in Leicestershire. Bakewell created improved strains sheep, beef cattle, and workhorses using a system that included a lot of inbreeding.

Bakewell lived before Mendel laid the foundations for modern genetics, and he lived long before there was even a concept of DNA.

All he pretty much knew was that if you selected for a trait and bred tightly for it, you would soon created a population that had those traits almost universally.

Understanding that one could do that with domestic animals meant that one could create new, greatly improved strains fairly rapidly using incestuous matings and rigorous selection.

The dog fancy’s roots are definitely out of Bakewell’s selective breeding notions, but I had always thought that it took quite some time before these ideas ever got applied to domestic dogs.

It turns out that I was wrong about that.

Only six miles from Dishley Grange is Quorn Hall, and at the same time Bakewell was doing his selective breeding experiments, a man named Hugo Meynell was working on producing the ultimate foxhound.

Contrary to what one might assume, foxhunting is not an ancient English custom. Indeed, the practice started in the seventeenth century and began to develop into its modern form in the eighteenth century. Before men rode to hounds in pursuit of the fox, they rode to hounds in pursuit of the deer. However, the violent political upheavals of the seventeenth century had resulted in deer becoming quite scarce in England.  Displaced people poached deer, and they soon were found only in a few parks and forests.

However, the English aristocracy wanted to run their hounds, and it wasn’t long before they switched their hounds from hunting deer to running an animal that most Europeans regarded as vermin. The red fox eats of a lot poultry. It also takes a lot of game birds that were kept for shooting purposes, and foxes do occasionally take the odd lamb.

So the deer hound packs were converted into foxhunting packs.

With the foxhound begins the modern Western concept of a breed.

Martin Wallen writes:

The first dog in the modern era intentionally bred following a scientific method was the English foxhound. This method proved so successful that it became the model throughout the nineteenth century as people developed increasing numbers of dog breeds. Significantly, the creation of the foxhound coincided with the fundamental shift in agriculture toward the understanding that animals and landscape formed an integrated system of resources capable of supplying human needs through methodical management and improvement. This same understanding of systems also began to examine what had hitherto appeared an incomprehensible variability among animals—especially dogs—as a parallel to the no-less-troubling variability among humans, and to arrange the varieties into taxonomies that grouped beings with similar qualities into categories that came to signify essential qualities in individuals (Cultural Critique, no. 70, Fall 2011, pg. 127-128).

Wallen points out that Meynell used Bakewell’s system of “scientific breeding” to produce the hounds:

The “science” that men like Meynell… and Bakewell put to use involved restricted breeding between closely related individuals and destruction of animals that did not clearly manifest the desired qualities. Just as Bakewell judged his animals with an ideal measure of rapid meat production (Overton, 165; Pawson, v), Meynell evaluated his hounds against the conceptual ideal, the telos of “foxhound,” characterized as “fine noses and stout runners,” the canine element vital to the success of hunting foxes in the modern countryside (Hawkes, 4; Vyner, 15). Although Meynell and the others did not set out to create a “breed,” they plainly intended to create an improved hound that would serve a single purpose they valued within the institutional framework that cast animals as resources. Instead of adapting their activities to available hounds, they created a distinctly modern hound that facilitated their sport. Toward that end, they regulated their hounds’ sexual activities and life cycles, segregating serviceable individuals into a group delineated by recognizable and consistently reproduced qualities. The segregation is actualized in the pedigree granting inclusion to the hounds conforming to the standard, and excluding those that do not. (John Hawkes, Whipper-in—or the man who controlled the pack—for Meynell, clarifies what “exclusion” would have meant when he recounts that “in the spring of the year, [Meynell] broke in his Hounds . . . and he drafted them according to their defects” [7]; “to draft” a dog means to kill it.) With such power of judgment, these privileged men created an actual breed that would reliably and consistently pass on its qualities to future generations, and that would only ever act and look in defined and expected ways (pg. 137).

Meynell’s entire outlook of foxhounds and foxhunting was heavily informed by the Enlightenment, and his ideas about breeding and training foxhounds appeared in a pamphlet called The Meynellian Science:  or Fox-hunting upon System.  It was written by his whipper-in, the aforementioned John Hawkes. The idea that hounds could be rapidly improved as cattle could be definitely caught on.

Over the next century, breed improvement programs of this nature would run deep into the world of dogs. The zeitgeist of improvement through consanguinity and ruthless culling is still very much a part of the world of dogs today.

Never mind that this is running in direct contradiction with what we now know about population genetics. Too many dog breeders think they just inbreed and select their way out of problems that are actually the result of a closed registry breeding system that celebrates breeding from an elite.

The modern concepts of conservation breeding require conserving as many genes as possible and allowing outcrosses to other breeds. Virtually every dog breed in the closed registry system is in need of some sort of conservation breeding program, including many breeds that exist in large numbers.

This is not say that Hugo Meynell and Robert Bakewell were bad people. They simply didn’t know what we do now, and their methods were good science for their day.

Modern science says that we’re causing lots of problems by holding onto the old science, and if dog breeding today were as concerned with keeping breeding current with contemporary science as Bakewell and Meynell were, modern fanciers would be changing their ways.

But the dog fancy isn’t changing.

As the nineteenth century progressed, dog shows became more important than the actual function of the dogs. The same methods that were used to produce the superior foxhound were used to produce the deformed bulldog.

It’s currently being use to produce the freakish creatures that now comprise the “exotic” strains of American bully.

Inbreeding depression issues are rampant in the world of purebred dogs, as are the rise in inherited diseases, but all we get are complaints about dog food and blame-shifting to the puppy millers.

The system we have put dogs into is simply wrong for them.

The Meynellian Science of Breed Improvement goes on and on.

And the only “improvement” being a sort of ironic gesture of what was once the most modern way of animal husbandry.

Our modern Western concept of  a “dog breed” began with foxhounds, not with dog shows. And there is no other animal in the UK that is more associated with the establishment than the foxhound. It was a creature bred by the elite to hunt an ennobled quarry. Where once the Anglo-Saxon and Normans had run the deer through forests, now came the red-coated hunters on horseback in pursuit of the little red dog with the black stockings. The fox became an ersatz deer, and the foxhound became the symbol of the English conquest of nature, which it exemplified through its improvement through “scientific breeding” and the simple fact that it was used to kill a wild dog that never knew any master.

The foxhound and the foxhunter are now reviled in their native country. The fox is given greater nobility in a nation without wolves or any other wild canids that now cannot be killed. Foxhunting is now under a rather porous ban, which may change with the Conservatives winning big in last week’s general election.

The policy toward the both animals has changed as the symbols have been manipulated and shifted in the public conscience.

As the dog fancy continues to crumble in North America, it is possible that we might be able to set a new course. Maybe we’ll reject the Meynellian science for some real science, and do what is right for the dogs. Conserve the populations, not preserve them as closed off entities.

This is not a call to end all purebred dogs. To say so is nothing but engaging in igniting a strawman. It is simply a call for better breed mangement strategies that look beyond closed registries and contests that reward breeding only from elite dogs.

We must have a concept of a breed that is better than the eighteenth and nineteenth century one.

Because that concept is not serving the dogs well.

It’s serving the egos well.

Just not the dogs.

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vermont foxhunter and hound

The hound is of a strain that was called the old black and tan foxhound, which was common through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. It was not a pack hound, but it was used by the fur-taker and market hunter. I believe these dogs are descended heavily from a English hound called a “Southern Hound,” which was primarily used to hunt deer and hares.

The many political crises of the British Isles in the seventeenth century resulted in large numbers of dispossessed people relying upon poached deer as a source of protein, and when things eventually settled down, the forests were depleted of deer. The nobles began to develop their hound packs for the pursuit of the red fox.

And the old Southern hounds found themselves without a job. They simply couldn’t run the fox as well as the true fox hound.

So large numbers of these dogs were sent to the North American colonies, which were full of deer and other game that didn’t need to be run as hard as a fox.

Further, red foxes were uncommon south of New York State until the end of the nineteenth century, and when the red foxes wandered down through the Eastern US, these dogs were used to drive foxes to the gun.

The Vermonters would have had a long time to train and develop foxhounds for gun before the rest of the East got their chance.

This photo comes from Fox Trapping (1906) edited by A.R. Harding, which says that the range for the red fox is from Virginia to Alaska. They’ve since made it as far south as Florida.

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It is one of the great myths that North American red foxes are derived from English imports that were brought over in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Our red foxes are native but only colonized south of New York State after colonization.

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Dad’s on the left. My uncle’s on the right.

 This was just an informal foxhound show. 

There was no AKC-sanctioning it.

And the next day, there would almost always be a foxhunt.

 

 

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A foxhound-dachshund cross named Juno. Notice the feral cat furs!

A foxhound-dachshund cross named Juno. Notice the feral cat furs!  Photo taken in 1909.

The story of a foxhound-dachshund cross being used as fur and varmint dog comes from an article in Hunter-Trader-Trapper from 1910:

A word about my little dog Juno might not be out of place. She is a good general purpose dog, being bred from fox and Daschshund (sic}, being one half each, and is broke on coon, skunk and rabbits. I have shot eight foxes ahead of her, but she is no good for running in heavy snow as her legs are too short. I have shot 90 rabbits ahead of her from November 1st until December 15th, which is our open season in this state (pg 126-127).

Juno has the bent forelegs that were once a standard feature in dachshunds. It has since been bred out of them, but originally, it was believed that the bent forelegs made them better diggers.

The author of the piece, a Mr. John Sherman of Susquehanna County mentions that he hates using the dog to dig out skunks because “digemouts” destroy skunk dens.

And yes, there are plenty of dogs that are so plucky that they will go after a skunk with zeal. Most dogs are broken from skunk chasing and killing with one spray, but some dogs almost revel in the challenge.

My guess is Juno slept outside quite a bit!

Juno lived at a time when people were always innovating through crossbreeding. It’s really the tradition of people who bred dogs for work.

The dog fancy, which is a very recent invention, made this innovation a sin.

This is something that should be rectified.

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michigan foxhound 1908

From Hunter-Trader-Trapper in 1908.  The fox was run for three hours.

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The fox and the hound

From Frank Townend Barton’s Sporting Dogs: Their Points and Management in Health and Disease (1905). Both the fox and the hound belong to a Mr. Walter Winans.

Tod and Copper, anyone?

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