Monday, December 13, 2010

Trap Line Dog

This story of dogs, dog training, and dog respect is ripped straight from the pages of Hunting Dogs by Oliver Hartley, printed in 1909 and now in the public domainEnjoy!

Several years ago I had a partner who had a dog, part stag hound and the other part just dog, I think. One day he (my partner) asked if I would object to his bringing the dog to camp, saying that his wife was going on a visit and he had no place to leave the dog. I told him that if he had a good dog I would be glad to have him in camp. In a day or two pard went home and brought in the dog. Well, when he came the dog was following along behind his master with tail and ears drooping, and looking as though he never heard a kind word in his life. I asked if the animal was any good and he replied that he did not know how good he was. I asked the name of the dog. He said, "Oh, I call him Pont." I spoke to the dog, calling him by name. He looked at me wistfully, wagging his tail. The look that dog gave me said to me as plainly as words that this was the first kind word he had ever heard.

We went inside and the dog started to follow, when his master in a harsh voice said, "get out of here." I said, "where do you expect the dog to go?" I then took an old coat that was in the camp, placed it in the corner and called gently to Pont, patted the coat and told him to lay down on the coat, which he did. I patted him saying that is a good place for Pont, and I can see that wistful gaze the dog gave me, now. After we had our supper I asked my partner if he wasn't going to fix Pont some supper. "Oh, after a while I will see if I can't find something for him." I took a biscuit from the table, spread some butter on it, called the dog to me, broke the biscuit in pieces, and gave it to the dog from my hand; then I found an old basin that chanced to be about the camp and fixed the dog a good supper.

After the dog had finished his supper I went to the coat in the corner, spoke gently to Pont, patted the coat, and told him to lay down on the coat. That was the end of that, Pont knew his place and took it without any further trouble.

The next morning when we were about ready to start out on the trap line I asked Pard what he intended to do with Pont. He said that he would tie him to a tree that stood against the shanty close to the door. We were going to take different lines of traps. I said, "What is the harm of Pont's going with me?" "All right, if you want him, I don't want any dog with me." I said, Am, (that was Pard's given name, for short) I don't believe the dog wants to go with you any more than you want him to. Am's reply was that he guessed he would go all right if he wanted him. I said. Am, just for shucks, say nothing to the dog and see which one he will follow. So we stepped outside the shack and the dog stood close to me.

I said, "Go on Am, and we will see who the dog will follow." He started off and the dog only looked at him. Am stopped and told the dog to come on. The dog got around behind me.

Am said, "If I wanted you to come, you would come or I would break your neck." I said, "No, Am, you won't break Pont's neck while I am around; it would not look nice."

I started on my way, Pont following after I had gone a little ways. I spoke to Pont, patting him on the head and told him what a good dog he was. He jumped about and showed more ways than one how pleased he was, and from that day until we broke camp, Pont stayed with me. He showed plainly the disgust he had for his master.

It so happened that the first trap I came to was a trap set in a spring run, and it had a 'coon in it. I allowed Pont to help kill the 'coon, and after the 'coon was dead, I patted Pont and told him what great things he had done in capturing the 'coon. Pont showed what pride he took in the hunt, so much so that he did not like to have Am go near the pelt. I saw from the very first day out that all that Pont needed was kind treatment and proper training to make a good help on the trap line.

I was careful to let him know what I was doing when setting a trap, and when he would go to smell at the bait after a trap had been set, I would speak to him in a firm voice and let him know that I did not approve of what he was doing. When making blind sets, I took the same pains to show and give him to understand what I was doing. I would sometimes, after giving him fair warning, let him put his foot into a trap. I would scold him in a moderate manner and release him. Then all the time I was resetting the trap I would talk trap to him, and by action and word teach him the nature of the trap. Mr. Trapper, please do not persuade yourself to believe that the intelligent dog cannot understand if you go about it right.

In two weeks Pont had advanced so far in his training that I no longer had to pay any attention to him on account of the traps. The third day Pont was with me he found a 'coon that had escaped with a trap nearly two weeks before. My route called me up a little draw from the main stream. I had not gone far up this when Pont took the trail of some animal and began working it up the side of the hill. I stood and watched him until the trail took him to an old log, when Pont began to sniff at a hole in the log. He soon raised his head and gave a long howl, as much as to say he is here and I want help. After running a stick in the hole I soon discovered that the log was hollow. I took my belt axe and pounded along on the log until I thought I was at the right point and then chopped a hole in the log, and as good luck would have it, I made the opening right on to the 'coon, and almost the first thing I saw on looking into the log was the trap. Pont soon had the 'coon out, and when I saw it was the 'coon that had escaped with our trap, I gave Pont praise for what he had done, petting him and telling him of his good deed, and he seemed to understand it all.

Not long after this Am came into camp at night and reported that a fox had broken the chain on a certain trap and gone off with the trap, saying that he would take Pont in the morning and see if he could find the fox. In the morning when we were ready to go Am tried to have Pont follow him, but it was no go, Pont would not go with him. Then Am put a rope on to him and tried to lead him, but Pont would sulk and would not be led. Then Am lost his temper and wanted to break Pont's neck again. I said that I did not like to have Pont abused and that I would go along with him. When we came to the place where the fox had escaped with the trap Am at once began to slap his hands and hiss Pont on. Pont only crouched behind me for protection. I persuaded Am to go on down the run and look at the traps down that way while I and Pont would look after the escaped fox.

As soon as Am was gone I began to look about where the fox had been caught and search for his trail, and soon Pont began to wag his tail. I merely worked Pont's way and said, "Has he gone that way?" Pont gave me to understand that the fox had gone that way and that he knew what was wanted. The trail soon left the main hollow and took up a little draft. A little way up this we found where the fox had been fast in some bushes but had freed himself and left and gone up the hillside. Pont soon began to get uneasy, and when I said hunt him out Pont, away he went and in a few minutes I heard Pont give a long howl and I knew that he had holed his game. When I came up to Pont he was working in a hole in some shell rocks. I pulled away some loose rocks and could see the fox, and we soon had him out, and Pont seemed more pleased over the hunt than I was. There was scarcely a week that Pont did not help us out on the trap line.

Not unfrequently did Pont show me a 'coon den. I had some difficulty in teaching Pont to let the porcupines alone, but after a time he learned that they were not the kind of game that he wanted, and he paid no more attention to them.

I have had many different dogs on the trap line with me, and I can say to any one who can understand dog's language, has a liking for a dog and has a reasonable amount of patience and is willing to use it, will find a well trained dog of much benefit on the trap line, and often a more genial companion than some partners one may fall in with. But if one is so constituted that he must give his dog a growl or a kick every time he comes in reach, and perhaps only give his dog half enough to eat and cannot treat a dog as a friend, then I say, leave the dog off the trap line.


Aaron said...

Thanks for sharing that. Airedales, Irish, Curs,and Jagds are still used as trapline and calling dogs, but nowadays losing animals to broken chains and pulled trap stakes are inexcusable.

seeker said...

Thanks for this link. I really enjoy this type of writing and have passed it on to some friends and family who will also like it. It is wonderful Americana and all the more truthful for it.

Debi and the TX JRTs

The Dog House said...

When you get down to it, and the kind of man who wrote it, in the time it was written, this is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever read about a dog.

Despite the scorn he faced from the man with him, and the little food they had, he spared this beast simply for the sake of sparing it. He let it work because the dog enjoyed it, he never expected it to. He taught it about traps for the DOG's safety and his own piece of mind, and for no other reason.

Not only that, he goes on to speak out for other dogs who are treated as this dog was before he found a man who would treat him properly.

When the dog needed food, comfort, warmth or healing, he provided it. In return, the dog worked at pleasing the man who provided these things, which happened to include things the dog enjoyed anyways - win-win.

It's a beautiful story and one that should be passed to anyone who owns a dog, especially a working dog. That regardless of that dog's ability or worth, he is to be treated with dignity and respect at the very least - otherwise, he shouldn't be had at all.

Thank you Patrick, this was a great find.

Deborah said...

Read this article yesterday and have thought about it several times since.

It is such a simple and beautiful story about the basic, and actually, uncomplicated connection possible between human and dog.

Seem that almost always it's the human that can make it more difficult than it inherently is.

Dogs are the BEST and ask so little of us. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

Camera Trap Codger said...

A simple but great dog story. There could have been a happier ending. Am tells the trapper to keep the dog. That would mean Am realized he wasn't worthy of owning the dog. Such men rarely have revelations.