98 UTILISING HOUNDS
UTILISING HOUNDS - Appreciating their skills
Hounds around the world have not always been understood by writers, artists or even kennel clubs. Sir John Buchanan-Jardine MFH wrote a book ambitiously entitled 'Hounds of the World' in 1937 which only covered the pack scenthounds of France, Britain and America, ignored the scenthounds of all other countries and all the sighthounds. He also failed to mention the scenthounds which hunt 'chasse a tir' or for the gun. Artists down the centuries have often portrayed hounds in strange postures in their efforts to dramatize the chase. Kennel clubs divide the hound breeds very arbitrarily into scent or sighthounds, leaving no sub-division for 'par force' hounds, which hunted 'at force' using scent and sight, or for the heavy hounds which pulled down big game.
Par force hunting was eventually replaced in Britain by 'hunting cunning' in which the unravelling of scent became more important than the steeplechase of the former style. But 'fleet hounds' were preferred in the north of England, where par force hunting lasted longer. Contemporary breeds like the Great Dane, the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Dogo Argentino are classic par force hounds, perhaps better termed 'running mastiffs'. It could be that the Dalmatian was once one too, its name possibly coming from 'Dama-chien' or deer-dog. The heavy hounds were the hunting mastiffs, used as 'seizers' to pull down big game.
Mastiffs were once used both in Scotland and Ireland to complement deerhounds and wolfhounds in the hunt. In his 'Hunting and Hunting Reserves in Medieval Scotland' of 1979, John Gilbert records: "Mastiffs are mentioned in those English clauses included in the Scots forest laws and were capable of attacking and pulling down deer. Wearing spiked collars, they were often used to attack wolves." In Lord Altamont's letter to The Linnaean Society of 1800, he states: "There were formerly in Ireland two kinds of wolfdog - the greyhound and the mastiff. Till within these two years I was possessed of both kinds, perfectly distinct, and easily known from each other."
It is difficult to imagine the Mastiffs of today's show ring being at all useful in such activity. But they might be bred more athletically if they were correctly classified as a heavy hound. Kennel clubs the world over would promote a better design for such dogs if hounds were sub-divided into four categories: those which hunt mainly by stamina, those which hunt mainly by speed, those which hunted 'at force' or the running mastiffs and the heavy hounds used as 'seizers' or hunting mastiffs. Hunting with hounds took many different forms and gave us the breeds we cherish today; we would honour their lineage more if we recognised their distinct functions.
Whatever 21st century thinking may bring to hunting with dogs, historians have demonstrated man's long need for dogs as pot-fillers in primitive times, his regard for hunting as a noble pursuit and the fascination it held for mankind all over the world. The Ancient Greeks would not have been impressed by a 'civilisation' which frowns on hare-hunting whilst tolerating hare-hounds being imprisoned in cages for 'scientific experiments'. They respected both the hound and its quarry--and revered the hunter. No educated person would regard the Ancient Greeks as uncivilized.
Artists like Snyders, Tempesta and Desportes have recorded great hunting scenes for us and portrayed the dogs involved with their customary accuracy. But these portrayals have sometimes led to needless confusion. The boar for example was pursued by boarhounds but seized by catch-dogs or boar-lurchers, the boarhounds being too valuable to be risked 'at the kill'. It is likely that more dogs were killed on big game hunts than the quarry. Favourite hounds were protected with padded jackets of brown fustian (a thick hard-wearing twill cloth) or of bombazine (a twilled fabric of worsted and silk or cotton), with whalebone on the chest and belly to reduce the ripping action of the boar's tusks.
Because of Buchanan-Jardine's book, and that of George Johnston, his excellent 'Hounds of France' of 1979, we know a great deal about French hounds. But regrettably our knowledge of Baltic, Balkan, Swiss, Dutch and German, even American hounds, is far from complete. The most impressive entries at the World Dog Show in Helsinki a couple of years ago were the Finnish Hounds, handsome and functional. We all know about the Dachshund, the badger-dog, but little of the Dachsbracke, the badger-hound. We classify the Dachshund, an earth-dog, and the Finnish Spitz, a bark-pointer, as hounds but shove the German mastiff or boarhound into the Working Group. Strange!
Dachshunds may come in six varieties but the Swiss hounds come in even more forms. Unexaggerated and unsung, the Swiss hounds deserve wider recognition, ranging from the Jura hounds, showing French influence, the Lucernese, showing Bavarian influence and the Bernese hounds to the Swiss national hounds. Each of these four groups come in Beagle size (or Niederlaufhund, literally lower running dog) and Harrier size (or Laufhund). The latter resemble the German Steinbracke and the Dutch Steenbrak, the latter now saved from extinction by a small group of devoted fanciers. We may need similarly committed fanciers if our hunting packs are outlawed.
In time the Greeks became aware of the hounds from the Rhineland called Sycambrians, the Pannonian hounds of northern Serbia and the Sarmatian hounds from southern Russia. Russian hounds were almost swamped by blood from our foxhound until Count Kisenski drew up a standard for the national hound in 1890, based on the famous Belousov pack, which originated in Tartary. There is probably truth in Betteloni's opinion of 1800: "...mastiffs from Tartary, molossians from Epirus, hounds from Flanders..." The Greeks described hunting mastiffs as 'Indian dogs' coming from Hyrcania by the Caspian Sea.
Some foxhounds developed a skill for tracking on roads; one sporting magazine describing a particular hound as "a warranted macadamiser". Lord Henry Bentinck kept a detailed hound book, detailing each hound's special gifts; against 'Regulus 1861' he noted 'Regulus for roads'. Over a century ago, in France, Comte Elie de Vezins set out the blend of skills needed to compose a pack. He built his pack around a leader or chien de tete, possessing great scenting skill and pace, a natural leader, supported by three types of chiens de centre. The latter were made up of chiens de centre pur -- happy to follow and verify the leader, the chiens de centre avance -- to back the leader vigorously and keep the pack up with him, and the chiens seconds -- one or two hounds which press the leader, replacing him if he tires. He also mentions the chien de chemin, like Regulus, and the 'skirter' which always looks for short cuts -- brainier, perhaps, but not a team player.