Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Important Is Breeding?

A couple of years ago I bought www.bloodtraildogs.com as a domain name and built a site to sell my Catahoulas as blood dogs. And because the Catahoula is versatile, has a good nose, is a hard working, eager to please it's master kind of breed, they are an excellent candidate for a blood dog.

What I learned from talking to people who called me through that site was that most people who want a blood dog, don't know how to train and handle working dogs, because we have become mechanized and industrialized in the last half century, and thus lost touch with working animals like horses and mules. Most people who called me about dogs they already had, were using bird dogs, such as pointers and labs, hounds and curs, and as breeds these were good dogs, but they couldn't get them to fire off, and thought that maybe they needed another breed. I think a lot of their problem was expecting too much too soon and the dogs just needed more time.

Now on the other hand, I have seen puppies six months old that were getting it, but they had been running training drills since they were weaned.

If you think you are going to find a breed that is a natural and not need time to repeat the drill again and again in training, good luck. No matter how well breed, you will need to put time into training. Some are easier than others.

I am a breeder and trainer of the Louisiana Catahoula, and as far as I am concerned they are the ultimate blood dog, so you could assume that I am prejudiced to that breed, but the truth is, I believe that most people do not need an elite, high performance breed of dog like a Catahoula to do blood trail work, because if you let the wounded deer bleed out and get weak or die before putting pressure on them your blood dog is usually following a trail that is only a few hundred yards long, and most breeds are capable of following blood if the circumstances are not too extreme.

By extreme, I mean crossing rivers, and going long distances like a mile or more. So if you are hunting in a place with a lot of water, or looking to buy a dog for a hunting club where you will encounter a lot of variables, a well bred working breed such as a lab or a cur, makes a lot of sense.

I believe based upon my experience as a breeder, in dealing with the public, most people cannot handle an elite, high performance breed of working dog, unless that dog has a regular job, to consume it's naturally high level of energy and so the best dog for most people who are shopping for a blood dog is quite possibly the dog that is already at their house as the family pet, and I don't care what breed it is. You might consider giving your lap puppy a try. I am not trying to talk you out of buying a started Catahoula if you think you can handle it, but a lot of people think they can buy a well bred, finished dog and invest no time in it and it will work for them.

Catahoulas are especially sensitive to the relationship factor, and that often takes time for a dog raised by someone else, to warm up to a new owner.

I say this because no matter how well bred, raised, and trained a dog is, especially if it is a Catahoula, that dog may not hunt for you until it knows you or as we say "warms up to you". For some dogs it may take months to relax around certain people.

The dog you have at home, already should be obedient to your program, want to go everywhere you go and travel well. To get a new dog that is already trained and experienced, or a new breed of dog, as a solution for finding lost deer, may be a very good idea, but finding one that is already well bred, raised, trained and experienced, will none the less, still need to be socialized and all this not only sounds expensive to me, and you will still need to invest time too. Finished dogs requiring no input of your time, quite frankly are, I am sure, hard to find. The high performance working breeds such as pointers, labs, and curs, are by their very nature, going to require and need more time being put into them in training and socialization, to make them easy to handle and not diminish that high level of hunting performance when on a leash. Although some dogs will drag you down a blood trail on leash, others for some reason will not hunt until unleashed. Ultimately, after years of experience, the dog should be able to be off-leash and work with you.

I prefer to work off-leash, but there are times when you are in an area with restrictions and you must have the dog on leash and certain breeds have so much hunting abilities and drive that you can't turn them loose, or you will loose them.

Just like certain breeds have unique qualities, also certain dogs no matter what breed, are in their own way unique and should be treated with respect of individuality.

Too many people are operating under the assumption that breeding is everything, and given the right breed, with a good nose, the dog will hunt. Well, maybe.

I have had several calls from people with Bloodhounds, who were still shopping for a blood dog because the bloodhounds were not getting it. A couple of the customers had young dogs, and I believe were expecting too much too soon, but several had mature dogs that were trailing blood just fine and finding deer, but...were too big and hard to handle, or too aggressive and prone to running live unwounded deer.

In essence, because of the breed, they had too much dog for the job. Think about it, do you really think you need or, want a 120# dog dragging you through the briars on a deer's scent trail that is not even the wounded, bleeding deer you shot? Another thing about a bloodhound; you better keep them on a leash so you can keep up with em, and if you have to turn them loose, never turn them loose without a tracking collar. I like a dog that works close and repeatedly checks back with me if it is not on a leash.

That is common with a Catahoula, but the hound breeds, tend to range out farther and have a drive that can go on for hours and for miles without looking back. And on that note, no matter what breed you go with, I recommend you invest in a tracking system, and always work your dog with a tracking collar, in season and off, so no matter how far, how fast it is moving, or what direction your dog takes, you know where the dog is, and can determine what plan to follow. No matter what breed you go with, tracking collars will save you a lot of time and guess work.

Another thing about certain breeds, and proper handling, is for the aggressive breeds such as Catahoulas and Pit Bulls which are short range and prone to catch and fight with a deer if it is not dead when they catch up to it,
I recommend you work your dog with a tracking collar and a protective vest.

The dog above is wearing a protective vest which was orange when it was new and clean. Not only is blaze orange easy for you to keep track of, but for the safety of your dog, just like us, don't you think a dog should be wearing orange during rifle season for deer for the same reason we do? The plastic coated wire sticking up behind the dogs head is the antenna on the tracking collar. If you hunt around as much water as we do here in south Louisiana, you might also consider buying a vest that is not only orange in color, but has floatation built into it. A good blood dog will not hesitate to hit the water in pursuit of a bloodied deer. I have driven the swamp in a boat, in the middle of the night, and picked up dogs on huge floating cypress logs that were a mile or more away from land. A floatation vest also has the benefit of insulation against the cold of winter.

Now does breed matter? Yes, of course it does, especially if you don't have enough hunt in the dog to cause it to work off of natural instincts to start with. But it can go the other way, and also have way too much hunt and be a pain in the ass to handle in the woods, because it is dragging you around on a leash, or if you turn it loose, it is gone because it is a too long range a dog to be a blood dog. Not to mention the problems that comes with keeping a working dog happy, healthy, and under control when it is not hunting season.

I like a dog that not only has a lot of hunt in the genetics, but is also easy to handle in the woods come hunting season, and is not a pain in the ass to live with all year.

No matter what breed, to have a good dog come hunting season, you must spend time, and haul this dog around with you during the off season. If it is a working dog, it needs to get out and do things with you so it can just be a dog in the woods with no pressure on it, and so it does not go crazy on a chain or in a kennel full time during the off season. Not only to fine tune the dogs obedience, and ease of handling, but to allow the dog to be evaluated in the woods, and get comfortable with the routines and program. Especially when you go squirrel hunting in October or scouting for sign, and to mow grass on the lease, or to fill the deer feeders. Bring the dog, and allow it to get to know the place where you hunt, the truck, the boat, ATV, horses, other hunters and the routes to and from, so they can get comfortable in the pre-season and know the routine when it is time to get to work.

No matter what the breed, you will need to get to know that dog individually, as a unique personality, and try to work with the dogs personal nature. All dogs, no matter what breed are neuvophobic, and what that means is; they are scared of anything new. They need to visit a new place a few times to get accustomed to it.

I like a Catahoula that pulls, because as a breeder, I am looking for a dog with natural drive, but there is a limit or balance of qualities that makes a dog a great one when it comes to working a blood trail. You not only want a dog with natural hunting drive, you want a dog that is easy to handle, and ultimately can work with you off-leash and on. For a dog, to effectively work off leash they should be checking back with you from time to time, and know to bark when they find the deer, but be silent on track the rest of the time. Most hound dogs do not check back, and can't keep their mouth shut if on a scent. I like a dog silent on track because it does not alert the deer to our approach. And... if the deer is not dead when we approach, and I can get close enough to get another shot without the deer getting up to run, great! Then again if the deer does get up and run, a pitbull or Catahoula often will try to stop a deer on the move by biting it on the throat and taking it down. Although some people use open mouth hound dogs to trail, I prefer a silent on track dog for the simple reason that I do not want to alert everyone in the woods when I am trailing.

A Catahoulas short range, intelligence, adaptability, devotion, and diversity of service can be a good standard or measure of a great blood dog, but extreme patience is required on your part to get them there, and that may take years to achieve no matter what the breed. But a Catahoula should not be the standard by which a good blood dog is measured, because the standard should be based on performance not breeding.

The standard, no matter what the breed, should be a balance of hunt and handle, and by handle I mean the hunters ability to control the dog by leash or verbal commands. Many people are intrigued by my ability to verbally handle so many dogs and so effectively. But I know how to talk to a dog and relate to them through their body language, and if I raise them up from puppies, and we have plenty of time to develop a relationship allowing me to work my dogs off-leash and have total control. If you are not familiar with high performance breeds like bird dogs and curs, you may need to consider finding an easier breed of dog to train and handle, and focus on training and diet to fine tune the dogs natural hunting abilities.

Far too many people are overlooking the fact that they have a family pet that already has a relationship with them and may work just fine given the right diet and training to figure out that following the blood is the name of the game.

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