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Selecting a Breed
If you are looking to start with a new pup, the Wirehaired dachshund is a spirited blood-tracker that is favoured by many professionals. Labs, shorthairs, curs, bloodhounds, and most hounds or versatile breeds also make great trackers. I am partial to the Deutsch drahthaar.
Along with a keen nose, a calm, focused demeanour is integral to success at tracking. Equally important is selecting a breeder with a proven breeding program who can provide future training support. Training can begin as soon as you bring the pup home.
While puppy training can begin with treats, you’ll need to source several litres of blood from a local butcher, or better yet, save some from the next deer you harvest. Coagulation can be dealt with in a food processor or in a bucket using a drill with a mixing attachment. Blood can be stored in the freezer in ¼-litre portions in empty water bottles or plastic sandwich bags.
A wide collar with a swivel is important for the dog’s comfort because it will be pulling against its neck. I am partial to Permatack’s 10 metre tracking leash and 2-inch wide collar with a swivel. Both products are easy to clean and flexible in the cold. TufFlex and Mendota also manufacture quality training collars and leashes.
Be sure to use the tracking collar and leash solely for tracking, as this helps a dog to know what it is being asked to do, and to apply learned skills to real situations.
Scott Leindecker, founding member of the recently formed Big Game Blood Trackers Ontario BGBTO, recommends reading Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer by John Jeanneney. He considers it one of the best books on training leashed tracking dogs on the market.
Initial training is simple. While trainers have differing methods, which include dragging a piece of fresh liver on a short track, or laying a trail of treats, the goal is the same: teach the dog to lower its head to the ground and follow its nose along the length of the track to your command.
“Track, track, track” or “find the deer” are 2 commonly used commands—be sure to be consistent in any phrase you choose.
After advancing past puppy training, track training should occur no more than once per week to keep things interesting for the dog.
Things will quickly progress to where having an experienced mentor is essential. I turned to my dog’s breeder and accomplished trainer, Ken Dinn of WillowRock Kennels, whenever I felt stuck. Fortunately, Ontario is home to many hard working trainers, breeders, and testing organizations. BGBTO provides support, information, tracking services, workshops, and testing events with internationally acclaimed judges and professionals.
In the beginning, the handler should lay the track and memorize exactly where it flows. This will help you learn how to read your dog. Once your dog is able to follow a well aged tracked with minimal amounts of blood, it’s a good idea to try some blind tracks by having a helper lay them. Over time, the dog will gain confidence in following its nose, and most importantly you will be able to read when your dog is on or off track, leading to greater success. Blood tracking is an exercise in teamwork.
Dinn emphasizes the importance of starting the same way each training session, creating a ritual. Part of this is achieved when laying the track, simulating a wounded game bed by scraping the ground at the beginning of the track. Dinn also says to keep things entirely positive when training. There is no need for negative corrections, as it is vital to make the process as fun as possible for the dog. This is important in creating desire to complete the task at hand, and remain focused through distractions that dwell in the forest such as squirrels, birds, and other live deer trails.
An edible reward, like a chunk of raw liver, should be hidden for the dog to eat at end of a track. This is in addition to leaving a prize at the end for the dog to find – a frozen, raw, or salted deer hide is a popular prize, though you can start with an old sweater. The importance is having an end point. When it’s reached, you’ll heap on the praise, switch back to an everyday collar and leash, and walk away on heel.
Using the proven methods of professionals, blood tracking on leash is an excellent tool for conservation, and a great excuse to spend extra time in the woods with your best friend. While no hunter plans for a poorly placed shot, reality dictates that blood tracking skills are an integral part of the hunting tradition, and a trained dog is second to none.