Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to Digging on the Dogs

The temperature has come down, and so it's back to Sunday digging on the dogs.

The weather was just about perfect, and we hit the fields at about 9 am after piddling around at a general store getting ice, taping up collars, and generally doing all the stuff we should have sorted out the night before.

Chris had Moxie with him -- her first time out with me since March, when she had a major wreck on a groundhog. She has healed up, but some of her lip on both sides is permanently gone. On the upside, Chris says she has changed the way she works and is baying now. A hard lesson, and a reminder of two things: 1) You cannot completely control a dog underground, you can only hope they learn a sensible working style quickly, and; 2) anyone who says they value a hard dog is an idiot and probably a pretender.

We decided to stay away from the creek to avoid the undiggable hole in that one trunk we hit last month, and instead headed uphill to see what a small woody hedge in the middle of an alfalfa field held. The answer: a lot of trash.

There were at least three old refrigerators, an old chicken coop, old plastic barrels, wire fencing and God knows what else in this hedge -- not quite what I wanted, but about the habitat you would expect to find a possum in.

And sure enough, there was one. Moxie got in on it, and we tied up the other dogs and let her work it. This was a good soft catch for her, and about perfect for me as I wanted to see her working style a bit before we let her get in on a hog. She bayed a bit, and then gripped as she should, while Chris dug down and located a tail to pull a not-too-large possum, which was humanely dispatched.

While Chris was digging, I took out a minute to watch what I think was a Cooper's Hawk and a Crow battle it out in a mid-air dogfight. It was pretty intense, with the hawk initially on the attack, and then the crow coming back on his own terms, and with enough intimidation to rout the hawk. In the end, it was a draw, but if there had been a camera crew standing by, it would have made for a good National Geographic moment.

Moxie is not quite finished with this very dead possum.

The next hole was right along the fence line, with a huge eat-out in the soybeans in front of it. Pearl got in and bayed it up well. I barred the ground in front of her, and when I thought I was just behind the groundhog I dug down. In fact, I was right on top of the groundhog, and tailed it out without too much trouble and gave it a quick dispatch. Pearl came out of the hole with a small ding in the middle of her forehead, which had the odd effect of making her look like a devout bindi-wearing Brahman. This was a pretty nice groundhog that tipped the scales at 13 pounds (Pearl weighs a shade less than 10 pounds).

Pearl and her first groundhog of the day.

The next sette was just up the field and was a bit of a fortress, as the groundhog had dug his den right next to an enormous push-pile of brush. Pearl was in on it, and she stayed and bayed until we got down to her. We pulled Pearl and opened up the pipe a bit. We thought the groundhog was quite a bit farther on than where she had been baying, but in fact it turned out to be right there. There was no explaining why it had not gone back farther up the pipe (there appeared to be room), but it had not. It certainly could not dig away; the ground was like stone at the level she had esconced herself.

Due to the location of the brush pile, there was going to be no getting this groundhog out if it decided to back up the pipe, so we pulled Pearl and tied her up, and set Chris up with a pole snare. I then climbed on top of the brush pile and began slamming the bar into the ground behind where I though the groundhog was located.

I was down about three feet, and rattling the bar good, when the groundhog decided the noise behind him sounded worse than the silence in front of him, and he came forward just enough for Chris to snare a leg with the pole snare. Another quick dispatch, and we had a very fat pot-bellied 14-pounder accounted for.

The dogs slid in to another sette on the way back to the truck, but it was under an undiggable push pile of brush, and we left Mountain underground and walked away with the other two dogs. We were three-quarters of the way back to the truck when she came running down the field. Mountain knows I will not dig in every location, and if I am not digging after 20 minutes or so, she will generally come out to see what's up unless it's a fox or raccoon which seems to get her jazzed up a little more. We have a partnership, and by now we more-or-less understand how each other think ... or at least I think that is happening.

Chris and I loaded up on cold drinks at the truck, and decided to hit the creek but avoid the impossible tree sette we had gotten stuck in last month.

In short order, we got into two settes, Chris working solo with Moxie, and Mountain in on another sette farther back up the creek.

Moxie bolted her groundhog straight into Chris, who managed to dispatched it with quick footwork, a little luck, and one more assist from Moxie. Not a huge groundhog, but a nice no-dig bit of work from a dog learning (thankfully) to bay. This was a good-experience day for Moxie.

Chris and Moxie with her groundhog.

Mountain was in on a five-eyed sette, and though we had a pack over one of the possible bolt holes, the groundhog pushed past it and flashed off into the high weeds and thicket of the creek. Count one for Mother Nature. It did not help us humans, or the dogs, that there was a nest of ground bees in this sette.

With three groundhogs and a possum accounted for, and a fourth groundhog bolted, we decided to call it a day. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon, but there's no need to bleed a farm white, and every reason not to. There are still large parts of this new farm that remain unexplored, and I look forward to working it for several more years.

This day ended with all the dogs healthy and my muscles reasonably sore. Nothing more can be asked for; a perfect day in the field.


Meryl said...

Wow--looks like everyone had a great time! I love reading your stories.

Anonymous said...

Great to see Moxie back in the field. I am expecting my second Pat, after losing my first. I always bred my working Catahoula cow and hog dogs because it made them better workers, but it seems to make the little dogs get too territorial, and develope "car disease". I guess you can't work little breeders. Keep digging. Kelly in Wakulla.

jo hendley said...

ot ohhh, i guess i'm an idiot, or a
c'mon now patrick, you know better than that.

PBurns said...

Jo, if you're digging week in and out as you do and I do (or I try to), and you can field the same dog most of the time from one week to the next (as you and I can most of the time), then your dog is NOT that hard.

I suppose it's a matter of definition, but I don't consider a dog that puts his teeth in a hard dog -- that's just a working dog. If putting in the teeth is the definition of "hard" that folks are using, then that's not mine. All my dogs do that, and always have and I consider them soft. For example, I consider Pearl quite soft, but she was gripped on to the face of that firt groundhog when it was tailed out. She's still a soft dog, as I use the term, as she uses her brain and voice and knows more than one way to handle the situation as young as she is. Yes she puts in her teeth, but she does not work silent all the time either.

A hard dog only knows one way -- teeth -- and uses that no matter whether it's a good idea or not. My border is a hard dog and was fed through a trach tube for two weeks last time I took him out. And no, he's not inexperienced or stupid (best trained dog I have). He's just hard (and stone silent) and only knows one way to work a critter in a hole. He does not care if he gets wrecked or killed -- but I sure as hell do, and it was my job to step in and I have. No regrets and it was the right thing to do. The dog is still owned by me, and will be until he dies. But he is too hard to hunt.

What sickens me is the folks who think the mark of success is a dog that routinely comes away with large chunks of its face missing. There are quite a lot of these poeople aren't there? Yes, a working terrier will come away with scars and some bits missing (look at the noses of any of my dogs), but those should be the result of hundreds of digs over years, not four or five digs.

Yet, it seems the goal of some is to put up a picture of a badly scarred dog who is missing half its face after just five digs. Now the question is this: Is that the Red Badge of Courage or the Scarlett Letter of inexperience?
Mostly, it's the latter -- either on the part of the dog, or on the part of the human (or more often both). There is one person I know has dug on less than 6 fox and his borders have chewed up faces that he is so very proud of that he posts the wreckage to show he knows the business. But of course he does not know the business. He is simply an idiot who does not know he is waving the red flag of idiocy.


Anonymous said...

I don't own a hard dog, but I believe Jo does , my dogs all use their mouths on game but not like Jo's male and surprisingly , he doesnt take the damage you would think. I have watched mine spar with fox and get the job done but take some damage , Jo terrier goes in and smashes them and doesn't take the damage I'd expect. Now on the other other side of the coin, I have met a few pretenders that keep soft dogs but talk a great game, I think a pretender is a fake, I think that is based more on the behavior of the person then the terrier. If I had a hard dog I could find uses for it, different tools for different situations is how I see it. I guess we all see it differently but because someone feeds a hard dog doesn't automatically equate to idiocy IMO or being a pretender

jo said...

patrick, i see your point-to an extent, but trust me, i know a hard dog when i see
sometimes i could shoot him out of frustration brought about by his ways-i'm at the point where the scar tissue is very hard to repair, but if i need to get a job done, he's the one i put in the truck.
there is no ego, no machismo, no making up for inadequacies, no idiocy-he is what he is and i'm grateful for that-most of the time..
as said-he's earned his keep till his last day.
i'd prefer a mixer most days, and the lay-up time stinks,but i have to respect a dog that's gone out for almost 8 years straight and done what he's done.
perhaps he's hard AND smart, but there's no denying his

PBurns said...

I think you and I are saying the same thing, though in my original line I truncated it a bit more than I probably should have as I was not really writing about hardness.

We do not control the style that our dogs works, and we always love the dogs we have. What I reject (and which you have never done) is the folks who brag on the wreckage as if that is the mark of success. Some boards seem to show ten pictures of wrecked dogs for every day spent in the field, and it's a poor representation of the sport. Since you never actually hear about a dig from most of these people, you begin to wonder if they dig at all. Wrecking dogs is certainly not a way to sustain time in the field, as we all know.

Trooper, my border is VERY HARD, and he was fine in the field for many years (rip knicks, cuts, gouges, but nothing serious), and then he got in on a bad place and grabbed wrong and it was $3,000 to sew his face back on (and I mean it lifted off like the bonnet of a Buick). I paid it (and I think you have some idea of how cheap I am) because I loved the dog but his field days were over. To this day, I count a day in the field in which the dogs leave more-or-less intact a good day, while a day which ends with a month-long lay up(or 6-month one in the case of Moxie) a bad one. Sounds like we are on the same page on that one. For the folks that dig twice a year, however, a 6-month wreck is al lifetime of bragging and no time out of the field. Lots of those folks, it appears. You're not one of them, and neither am I, but we know the type :)