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A Good Finder?
Finders, whether you hunt the Native, Pine Blocks or Open Tussock, they are an important part of any pig hunter’s pack. The difference between a successful hunt and a ‘dry run’ more often than not depends heavily on one dog working his magic and putting pork at the end of that elusive scent trail. Off the back of the cruiser on a Game Trail or cruising around with the Dogs on the Bonnet, Winding or Ground Scenting, the owner of a top-notch finder has the quiet confidence that if there are pigs in the vicinity the old mate on the back will deliver.
No matter if man or dog, all eyes are focused on this dog for the slightest reaction as he or she constantly works the wind looking for that tell-tale scent. Even the meat headed smash and grab merchants know that when he or she goes over the side, a chance to grab a mouthful of bristly pork is not too far way. Countless hunters will be able to see this scene played out in their mind as the finder jumps and the vehicle is stopped; all senses now on full alert as they wait for the Bail, whether it is a Bail up, Instant Scrap or maybe a combination of both. As you become more familiar with these dogs and how they react in certain circumstances, you can soon predict the success rate of a jump or working a scent trail if walking.
‘Finders’ should not be confused with ‘bailers’; however, some hunters use this term when talking about their finders. A bailer is basically a dog that won’t hold clean like a ‘holder’ but will instead try and keep the pig anchored to one spot by getting in its face and barking or maybe ducking in every now and again for a nip. All bailers are not necessarily finders, as some operate purely by sight and have no idea on how to use their nose and are reluctant to cover the ground in search of a pig.
However, are finders necessarily dogs that hunt by scent only? I always thought so, but then, thinking a bit more about it, I have changed my mind slightly. At the end of the day if the dog produces a pig by getting out there and looking, they should be classed as finders also. This statement is made after I observed lots of dogs covering heaps of country, obviously not using their nose but increasing their chances of a find purely by the amount of country they cover. Most of these types of dogs seem to have terrier blood in their linage somewhere, and the most obvious examples in my experience are dogs with English Bull Terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier blood in them. Don’t get me wrong some of these crosses do use their nose, but a lot also rely on the ground coverage technique.
Modern day pig dogs have been categorised to a certain extent into either holders, finder/holders or finder/bailers and the more experienced hunters out there will tell you the easiest of these ‘types’ to acquire is a holder. If all else fails you can pick up a Pitty or a Bully and most will hold from the start. Getting a good finder is another matter altogether, they don’t grow on trees and to find a proven line of consistent finders is a challenge in itself. Over the years I have been associated with some brilliant finders, I have been fortunate enough to have owned a couple and a few mates have also been lucky enough to be blessed by the presence of one or two. On the rare occasion you will fluke a top finder that doesn’t carry a link to a renowned hunting breed such as the Pointers, Hounds, Crosses like Blue Healers, Deer Hounds, Boxers, Bull Terriers etc all have the ability to become a stand out dog that is miles above the competition but these dogs don’t come along every day.
If you are starting afresh, trying to replace a departed dog or maybe adding another finder to an existing pack, where do you start? This is not an easy task in most cases and can be likened to a lottery win for some people, but you can improve your chance of success by firstly trying to find a proven finding line or making sure the pup or dog you purchase carries genes from a proven hunting breed. My personal preference is the finder/bailer type as opposed to the finder/holders that will mostly hold without making a murmur and not an ounce of bail in them, where it is necessary to run tracking collars on these dogs to save countless hours of searching and screaming yourself hoarse. The finder/bailer types also help reduce the need to open the wallet as often at the vets when running ‘hard’ finders.
Let’s start with dogs that are of the working type such as Kelpies, Eye Dogs, Huntaway’s etc or descendants and combinations of these breeds. They have a lot to offer a hunter looking to add that little bit of extra versatility to an existing pack. Most are very active dogs, they cover a good amount of ground, have heaps of energy, most are smart and quick learners, they have a high heat tolerance and they have the drive and instinct to get out there and please the boss. Probably one of the most appealing aspects of these types of dogs is that they love to bark, and when they locate a pig at a good distance they can be heard quite easily.
For the proven hunting breeds like Eye Dogs, Greyhounds and Whippet, it is a good idea to have a think about how you require your dog to work. The Greyhound, Smithfield and Whippet breeds rely on wind scent; this means they work the relevant breezes etc trying to pick up an indication of game. Mostly, and I say mostly because there are always exceptions to the rules, Eye Dogs, Huntaway’s won’t range as far as a Greyhounds and Whippet cross. From my experience some Greyhound, Smithfield and Whippet types tend to mature slowly and patience with a new pup may be required when you start to ask the question if the dog will ever work. Kelpies, Greyhound, Smithfield and Whippet breeds not only add scenting ability, they are also very active with some bordering on being hyperactive, they have good heat tolerance, intelligence and most are the ideal size for a hard-working pig dog.
The Smithfield & Lab Crosses on the other hand are a ground scenting dog and have a different hunting style. Most readers would have watched movies or documentaries where there are Dog packs in action where the police are pursuing a criminal with a trace of baying hounds dragging their handler along at a brisk pace whilst following a scent trail. The baying or open-mouthed dogs when running a scent is a negative in my books, because it alerts hunt savvy pigs that it’s time to clear out. A good Dog will still deliver but you will be miles further away than you would have been using a silent dog.
First cross hounds still tend to be open mouthed when running a trail, the ideal percentage I think is around a quarter hound blood or less to get the perfect combination of hunt and silence on the trail. Endurance is one thing a hound cross will add to any cross, when they are in pursuit of their quarry, the nose rules supreme, and the distance they travel will depend on how much hound is in the mix. If you consider one of these types of dogs give some thought to the size of the properties you have access to and how wide ranging you want the dog, the closer hunting style required, the less hound for me.
Training your new pup will depend on your individual circumstances. The most effective way is to run the new pup with experienced dogs, remembering the age old saying the more work and exposure the pup gets, the quicker they learn. But like any dog they need to be trained basic obedience and to ignore non-target animals such as Sheep, Rabbits & Cattle.
Obedience is an interesting point to consider, I believe that basic obedience is a must for a finder, the dog needs some control, you should be able to call it back etc as required. However, the top finders I have owned over the years have a personality that is a little different to most dogs. They tend to be loners and they seem to enjoy their own company and always like to do their own thing. Too much discipline with these dogs tends to curb the drive to hunt; sulking is probably the closest way to describe it. I just like to let them do their thing, and most times it works well.
But remember, with letting a hunting dog do its own thing, you will need the confidence that the dog will only target pigs and will behave itself when it encounters a mob of sheep or cattle in a gully 500 meter away from you. Access to good country is too hard to get these days and to lose the right to hunt because of a badly trained dog is senseless.
A slight digression there, back to training your finder. If you don’t have the opportunity to hunt with experienced dogs the process is a lot harder but you tend to get a single-handed dog as the end result. Once the basic training is complete, exposure is just as important, get the dog out in the bush, but wait until it is at least at an age where he can keep up with walking and he has a chance of being able to catch his target quarry. If too young, the dog will get disillusioned quickly and it will make your job harder.
Just getting the pup familiar with being on the vehicle, exposure to stock etc is also a major part to training a hunting dog. Take your young dogs with you if you are just going for a drive to the tip etc, it all helps with the learning process.
I used the following method before & it works well. Get a piece of pig skin(Works with Deer Skin, training a Deer Dog to) and tie it to a rope or your Ute and drag the skin through the bush, grass, forest roads etc and keep the skin out of the dog’s sight. Keep the skin well away from your body so the dog doesn’t confuse your scent with that of the pig skin. The idea being that you then let the dog go, take it to the drag and encourage the dog to find the skin at the end of the scent trail. Make sure your praise the dog up when it succeeds. Over time you can increase the length of the drag, as the dog’s ability and confidence grow.
In finishing up, one the major requirements for me when trying to identify a potential finder are how they act when young. When walking the new pup, regardless of age they should be inquisitive and out in front with their nose on the ground, or at least trying to follow the other dogs around. If the pup just plods along behind you with little interest in the smells and sights of the surroundings I feel they don’t have the finding qualities I am looking for.
When young, my top-grade finders would drive me mad, before learning basic obedience they would be off in a world of their own and ignore the commands from a very frustrated owner.
If you can get through the learning stage with all your hair intact maybe you will be on the way to owning a finder that could be a cut above the rest.