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Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Training, Use, and Abuse of Nightdogs

Sporting Dogs: Their points and Management
Frank Townsend Barton M.R.C.V.S Published 1905

To Mr. W. Burton, of Thorneywood Kennels, Nottingham (per gamekeeper), I am indebted for the following account.

A perfectly trained and reliable night-dog is as useful to the gamekeeper as two or three additional assistants, and indeed, I personally heard old poachers remark they would rather face a dozen men than half that number accompanied by one of these animals, even if resistance would be offered at all where a dog was deployed against them. Such being the case, it makes one wonder why night-dogs are not more frequently used by gamekeepers in rough localities, and I'm afraid the animals have come into disrepute, owing to the manner in which their employment has been abused by careless watchers. It must not be supposed that a night-dog simply requires rearing, and then when old enough a muzzle has only to be put on and he will face everything he is encouraged to attack. The dog must be trained to his duty as a retriever is taught to bring in game, or he will never prove a satisfactory companion when poachers are about. When a puppy has been procured, he should be accustomed to wear a muzzle from an early age -five months for instance- and strangers should not be allowed to pet and caress him; on the other hand, they may tease him as much as they like, providing that he is not hurt. Of all the muzzles made I prefer those with a solid piece of leather beneath the jaw, and straps round the neck and nose having buckles so they may be manipulated as required. When a dog is ten months and used to wearing it's muzzle, he should be taken muzzled to a quiet place where you have previously arranged for a perfect stranger to be. This man should have a bag rolled up and strapped to one hand, and a glove on the other, and should be in hiding at the appointed spot; when the dog and his master get within a hundred yards or so, the stranger should 'break covert' and run out across the field. The dog at once must be released and encouraged to attack the man, his owner running with him the while. Upon the dog's coming up with his quarry, it is the duty of the latter to buffet him with the bag, pull his tail and flank, and tease him generally. Do not let this continue too long without a break, as a muzzled dog is soon winded. His master should reach the spot as quickly as possible, encourage him a little, and then take him off and loosen his muzzle; after a slight rest he may be permitted another run as before.

When the dog begins to display anxiety for the fray, the man may be provided with a thin cane, and instructed to give him a slight stroke or two, but, at this moment, great care should be taken to observe its effect. Some dogs, although game to a finish, are shy and sensitive, and a stroke with a stick will cause hesitation, not fear from the blow, but because an impression of doing wrong is conveyed thereby. Should the dog waiver at this treatment, relinquish the use of the stick for a time, and then introduce it again by degrees; if bred right, he will soon commence to resent it with fury. I have known pups from the same litter to vary greatly in the development of courage, one standing any amount of stick at a year, while others would not face it until six months older.

Such an instance I came across a short time ago. A keeper had a youngster from me and eighteen months later reported that it had been no good. I was surprised, and enquired if he had thoroughly tried the creature. "Yes!" said he, "I got one of the night-watchers to run across the park, and then set the dog on him. The dog followed all right, but when struck with the stick, returned to me and I shot him." This man knew I had retained one of the litter, and enquired how the puppy had progressed. I arranged for him to visit me and see the dog work, and he was surprised at what he witnessed. Afterwards I explained that an animal of this description required training, but my friend differed and asserted training ought not be necessary.

In no case should a dog be trained and tried on a lead of chain, or the result will be that he will not chase a man. Instead, he will only go for a poacher at close quarters, and then will continue to look round for his owner. Teach the dog to rely on himself. Some gamekeepers use their dog on a line rope and religiously keep hold of the end thereof, but the main reason for this I could never determine, unless to retain the animal for their own bodily protection. If so, the dog is not being put to his proper duty.

A night-dog is more valuable for catching a man than fighting one; still, he must be taught to give battle, because it is love of the scrimmage following which will cause him to give chase. A dog is certainly useful when a rough fight takes place, but he is doubly so when active poachers have a long start of their pursuers, for, if he jumps at a man, he is bound to bring his victim to the ground. Besides, if a dog refuses to chase a man, he is of no good in the case of a gang that freely stones the keepers, as then a resolute animal is a welcome assistant. The chances against the dog being hit with a stone as he makes for his assailants are ten to one, and once he is at close quarters, stones cannot be thrown at him for fear of comrades being struck, and while the animal is busy among the party the members of it will have plenty to do to stave off his attacks, and he will allow them little leisure for pelting the keepers who must now hasten to fight.

To hark back. Suppose the dog goes for the man when released and shows no fear for the stick, he must then be taught to keep up the attack and not have a jump or two and then return from the fray, allowing his foe an opportunity of escaping. As a means of accomplishing this, the dog's owner should be as close to the animal as possible and encourage him to maintain the assault. When it's plainly to be seen that he is scant of breath, at once take him off, because if permitted to become tired, the probability is that the dog will stand still, and, as the man promptly does the same, will return to his master, perhaps regarding the afray as over. Once he acquires the much-to-be-regretted habit of doing this, it will need some patience to correct it. It is a golden rule never to unduly exhaust a youngster, and then, when age has been acquired, he will be game all day or night.

Having progressed thus far, the dog should next be taught to find a man hidden in a ditch of up a tree. Candidly, this is a somewhat difficult undertaking, and it is not every night-dog which becomes clever in this particular. Instruct the man to secrete himself in a ditch at an opposite side of the field; be careful to give the dog wind, and in nine cases out of ten, will be noticed that he gazes as if looking for someone. Now move toward the hidden person and encourage the animal onward. As both near the ditch the dog will strongly detect the scent of his quarry, and at this point the hidden man should make a slight movement for the purpose of attracting the animal's attention. This action should be repeated until the discovery takes place, and, if the dog can thus be taught to use his nose, he quickly becomes adept at finding concealed poachers.

When this is asserted, it is not asserted that a man may lie despatched with few minute grace and if the dog is put upon the trail the man will be followed. Some bull mastiffs may become clever enough to foot the man but recent trials have proved that even bloodhound have to possess the best blood of training before they will unerringly hunt a man under these conditions.

Another important thing a night-dog should be taught is to at once leave a man he has thrown down and start after another of the men, when the keepers have arrived on the scene and laid hands on the first man. Suppose a party of watchers drop across half-a-dozen poachers, who all promptly take to their heels on seeing that the opposing side ire a match for them; the chances are the poachers get a good start, and are nearly certain to escape, if the dog is not competant to play his part. If he is capable, promptly slipped, and closely followed, he will soon bring one to book; he should then be taken of and encouraged to serve another likewise, and so on, until all have been arrested.

To train a dog to do this, two men should start at one time, both being armed with sticks. Instruct the two to keep together, and when they are well on the run slip the dog and follow him as before directed. When the animal gets close, the men must seperate; and he will confine his attentions to one; immediately the man he first attacks is down, despatch the dog after the second, who should be making good pace away, while his companion stands perfectly still. At first, the dog will plainly manifest that he prefers to stay and worry the one he has succeeded in defeating, rather than seek for fresh glories, but perservere with him until he does renew the chase without hesitation. You will succeed better in this if the second man is not allowed to get too far away, and it will be advisable for him to wave the stick and otherwise try to attract attention and invite attack. When the dog recognizes what is required of him, increase the distance between first and second man, or let each run in an opposite direction. It is very necessary that a dog should be taught to respect friends, that is, to attack only those at whom he is set, and then at no other time but when he is encouraged to do so. If he fails to learn this, he is as likely as not to go at one of the watchers, who happens to move or otherwise attract notice.

When a dog has been suffieciently tried to prove that he is game in every way, it is advisable to allow the man upon whom he has been exercising ill powers to sit near and endeavor to make friends with his four legged opponent. All dogs will not not consent to do the aggreable to this extent, but the majority will generally settle down and be quiet when they clearly understand that such behavior is expected. It is very necessary that the dog should learn to recognize when the battle is over and HIM having duly fulfilled his part he must be quiet, or it would be awkward to say the least, if a keeper has to struggle with the animal to take him off a captured poacher, and then the rascal takes advantage of the exhaustion of both keeper and dog, to escape.

A night-dog should never under any circumstances be tried on a person who may at some future time have to accompany the animal without watching. If so, the dog is nearly certain to go for this person when released for a scrimmage with poachers. Several instances like this have occurred, and in certain of them, the dog had not been tried on the watcher he attacked since a puppy. This proves that they do not easily forget the identity of an opponent.

There is one other thing a dog should learn, and, having acquired cleverness at in addition to the lessons mentioned previously, the animal may be regarded as the perfect night-dog. When lying out with a party of watchers he must not be allowed to get into the habit of curling himself up and going to sleep like a big fat pig. He must be taught to listen for the coming of poachers, as it is only natural that he should detect their approach by both sound and smell long before their advent on the tile scene is palpable to human senses. Some dogs do this naturally and the remainder only need encouragement to render them proficient watchers. If a young dog displays a tendency to fall asleep when out, arrange for a man to come to the scene just about the time the animal will be settled down. This individual should move as cautiously as he can, go straight to the dog, and have a good rough round with him. Repeat the dose at intervals, and the dog will soon take to watching attentively, expecting every sound to announce the appearance of the antagonist.

Never permit a night-dog to chase game or rabbits; if he is allowed to do this, the movements made by them will monopolize his attention, and the watchers will never be sure whether he is pricking up his ears at a rabbit rustling in the dead leaves or the approach of poachers; when released for a chase or scrimmage he will be likely to direct his attention towards the less noble game.

Opinions vary as to the weight a night-dog should attain, but a small dog, no matter how perservering he may be, cannot be so effective as one which has the qualities of being large, game, and active. Suppose a dog of 50 or 60 lbs weight only, were to jump at a man, the latter could not be knocked down. A clever poacher would wait his opportunity, catch the animal in his arms, and throw him over an adjacent wall or fence, well aware the dog could not jump back. A night-dog should not be less than 80 and if he is 100 lbs strong and active, so much the better. He ought to be able to jump a gate with ease and to get over ground at a good pace. For color, a brindle is to be preferred, not being so plainly visable at night as a red, fawn, or even black dog.

When a perfect dog has been bought or trained, every care should be taken that the animal is used properly. He should only be slipped at a man when absolutely necessary, and then must be securely muzzled. If a scrimmage becomes desperate and develops into a fight for life, the watchers must use their own discretion as to allowing then, dog freedom to bite; if his muzzle be taken off, the man he attacks will surely be marked in such a way that he will be easily identified. To slip a night-dog at lads trespassing for mushrooms, blackberries, etc., is the height of wanton folly, as the lads may be injured or terrified to a serious degree. Remember, it is best not to loose the dog at all if a man can be captured without his help, and he should be muzzled except in extreme cases. If a poacher who has his clothes torn and been bitten simply because he ran away is brought before magistrates, he may excite the pity of the latter, although he heartily deserves condemnation from his judges; besides, a civil action for damages may ensue.

It is entirely through forgetfulness of these rules that so many gentlemen object to night-dogs being used on their estates. But, if an animal of this kind is regarded in its proper light, and it's use not abused, its mere presence will do more to deter poaching then the employment of half-a-dozen extra hands.

Article originally posted by Dan Balderson

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