Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Is There So Great a Demand for Finished Dogs?

Amos, a 2 yr. old Plott/Catahoula cross.

There are three main factors I will address here collectively.

1. There are many new people getting into hog hunting.

2. The hogs of today are fighting and running hogs, due to genetic selectivity.

3. Too many people are breeding dogs that are not the elite, hunting stock necessary to keep up with our modern wild hogs.

Before I contemplated the answer to this posts title, I was in awe as to the number of ads listed in the "Dogs Wanted" section of As I thought about why the demand was so great, it was clear to me that many new people are getting into hog hunting and want a ready to go finished dog now. So they attempt to buy a finished, ready to go dog and have no clue as to the breeding, raising, and training that goes into a finished working hog dog. Not to mention how to handle the dog when you get to the woods, marsh or swamp. I understand that it might seem simple to many people to simply buy a finished dog and then you are hunting. But not so fast.

Although many people regard a Catahoula or YBMC as the ultimate hog dogs, they fail to understand that a large part of these breeds of working dogs hunting ability, is in their natural instincts which goes back to the Red Wolf, and thus genetics is responsible for the hunting ability, more so than in the environmental conditioning or "training" of the dog.

In the dog's mind, their natural instinct motivates them to hunt for the leader of the pack. Because you, the owner, feed and control the dogs on chain or kennel, in their mind, you are the leader of the pack, not your "best" dog.

Failing to understand the dogs natural instincts and "cooperating" with the dog or even learning from the dog, causes many people to do more harm than good in the training of hog dogs. And on that note, a bay pen should not be used by novices trying to train a dog to hunt hogs. If you are new at hog hunting, best thing you can do is go to the woods with someone who knows what they are doing or just bring your dogs to hogs and learn from the dog. Of course this, "learning from the dog", does not make sense to many people. But, think about it, if we are so smart, and hogs are so stupid, why do we need a dog?

For instance taking a dog to a baypen too many times, often causes a dog to think it is your job to bring them to hogs when in fact, what you ultimately want, is for them to bring you to the hog! It is good to take puppies into a baypen up to about 8 or 10 months, then bring them to the woods. The only exception to the rule is maybe if your puppies have never seen a hog before you can use a pen to help them get focused and know what a hog is. But make sure the hog is tough enough to not be caught in the pen.

When I advised Reggie Little that I realized my dogs were smarter than me and thus I was now learning from my dogs, he stated: "Now there is the sign of a true dog man".

So why are there so few finished dogs and such a great demand?

This is only the beginning of a very big and complex situation.

1. There are many new people getting into hog hunting.

In essence, most people want to invest money in a dog that is ready to go and not invest the time needed to develop a relationship that is in line with the dogs natural pack insticts. This relationship is built in time and it cannot be bought or over looked. My belief is the best hog dog you will ever have is the one you raise from a puppy. Because simply put, you must establish a relationship that is built over time. If... that puppy is from a proven line of hunting dogs and you raise them up for a couple of years, you will spend time with the pup and develop a close personal relationship. The problem is we live in a society that wants instant gratification.

And worse than that many people don't understand that you can't get "finished dog" performance from a dog until they are about 3-4 years old.

2. The hogs of today are fighting and running hogs, due to genetic selectivity.

So let's look at the problem of people misunderstanding wild hogs. Too many people think hunting hogs is like hunting deer.

Although deer will live and die in a one square mile area of where they are born, hogs on the other hand are very adaptable and travel great distances in a short time and may never return to where you find their sign from last night.

Often times hogs will hunker down and hide as we walk or ride through them knowing if they move they are more likely to draw the dogs attention.

Many times I have seen hogs go to deer or cattle hoping to use the deer and livestock to distract the dogs in a chase and lose them.

I also assume it is no accident that hogs run to the highway or gator hole and hope to get the dog killed. If you think hogs are dumb, guess again.

In terms of genetic selectivity or "only the strong survive"(a.k.a. survival of the fittest), if hogs don't run, and fight hard, they get caught and don't reproduce. For this reason, running hogs are the only one's to reproduce and it gets worse every generation down the line. The running hog factor is getting to be a real problem compared to the way it was when I first started hunting hogs 15 years ago.

3. Too many people are breeding dogs that are not the elite, hunting stock necessary to keep up with our modern wild hogs.

If the hunter does breed and most don't, they breed something that hunts, but doesn't come from a foundation breeding program that has produced generation after generation of high performance dogs. If you have a dog that hunts, but did not come from generation after generation of elite hunters, what makes you think it will reproduce it's hunting abilities? Unfortunately, hog hunters are often left to breed the survivors of hog hunting who are not the tight baying, find or "strike" dog because that elite dog got killed before reproducing due to running with too many dogs and catching before the bulldog got there.

Worse yet, a newbie often doesn't understand that buying a hog dog is only one element of successful hog hunting. Hunting hogs is like unlocking a treasure chest. You need a key, you need to know where to put the key and how to handle it. The dog is the key. The woods is the chest. The hog is the treasure.

Most breeders I talk to express frustration that 95% of the people calling them want finished dogs. Often times the problem with a finished dog of the catahoula breed is, it won't hunt for just anyone. Maybe if you give the dog a warm up period, which may take weeks or maybe months, they will come around. Best thing to do in my opinion is get a good started dog at about 1-1&1/2 yrs old and spend time with it before you attempt to evaluate the dogs hunting abilities. Also call the previous owner/breeder periodically and get as much info about the dog as possible. The breeder/seller may also be a wealth of information about how to raise, train and develop the kind of relationship that best fits that bloodline or specific dog.

I have found that some of the most aggravating, shy, hardheaded puppies come to be the best dogs in the end, because what makes them such a problem as a puppy is intelligence and natural instinct, ultimately leading to a great dog in the woods. Most people dealing with these problem puppies are going to ruin the puppy before it ever gets to the woods, because they punish it for doing natural puppy activities. That is not the puppies fault! My advise; let the puppy be a puppy for two years.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about his hunting partner who buys about 8 or 10 YBMC a year, and about every 4 or 5 years he gets a good one. Meaning he goes through about 40 or 50 dogs before he finds what he really wants. And what he wants is a dog that will find his own hog, and get behind a running hog and stay with him for 8 or 9 hours if that's what it takes.

He went on to tell me about a dog that they hunted as a one dog wonder until he got killed and then they had nothing coming up behind him because they failed to breed the dog before it died. Then they couldn't find anything like him for years until Clyde bought a son of Patch and Ruby from me. When he called to advise me he was about to give up on Catahoulas and wanted to know if I had anything. I told him yes, I had started pups from Patch, a new Blair bred bloodline crossed over my old Maurice line.

I sold him my pick of the litter female for $400 and gave him the pick of the litter black and tan male for free. That male went on to be the best Catahoula hog dog he ever owned and when it got killed before it was almost three years old. I predicted the female would then be even better than the male, now that he was gone. A true prophesy to this day, but initially he asked why do you say that, she was always there and helped, but he was the real find dog? I advised him to take her out and see what she'd do.

He later called me to ask, "How did you know she was gonna turn on?" I replied, "Now that he is gone, she is the lead dog and may well be a better dog than he was."

Although I only paid $100 for Patch, I looked for about 4 or 5 years before I found the elite, Blair bred, find his own hog, silent on track, don't trash, catch on command, don't need no help, load up in the truck, ready to go 24/7/365, one dog wonder, who found his own hog first time out, who is now the foundation of my breeding program.

I did not buy Patch based upon his papers, I bought him on sight. Then I got a hold of his papers and said to my self, "No wonder"! I won't mention any names, but you can go to this link on the Old Dog Hall of Fame page at the Fort Bayou Ranch website and see for yourself.

Bear in mind, I went through many culls to get where I am with Patch.

Once I had Patch for a few months, I put him in the baypen and he bayed like a master. Patch was a pet for two years before I got him. Until I brought him to the baypen that day, he never saw a hog in his life. The first day he saw a hog being bayed at my pen he was chewing the lead to get in there and get him some!

So based upon that, we went to the woods. I thought he would learn to hunt from Bob, my best dog at the time. In about 5 minutes, Bob was bayed up and as we worked our way to the bay, I heard another dog start baying over to the left. It was Patch. Instead of helping Bob and learning from an old master, Patch went and found his own hog, first time ever in the woods! Wow! I was surprised to witness the true to form performance of a one dog wonder. Just like the old timers told me; "You need to hunt him, by his self". But if you never tried it, it don't make sense.

Patch is a natural born hog dog. I can take no credit in teaching him to hunt. The experience started in his genetics. All I did was take him to the woods and he went and found his own hog in about 15 minutes out of the truck.

Better than that, it didn't stop there. Patch has produced generation after generation after him who are just like him.

Although I do still hunt Patch, I am careful to keep him from harm. He has scars to prove his grit, but Patch is much too valuable to me as a stud dog for me to risk his life at this point in the game. I hunt his children and grandchildren and hopefully I will find at least one more good cross like Ruby to breed him to before he is gone.

On the other hand when most people get a dog like like Patch, they hunt him until he gets killed and then go looking for another one to buy as a finished dog for $200. But why would anyone sell an elite, high performance, finished dog for $200? Temporary insanity? That would be my guess. Or maybe like when I bought Patch, the man did not know what he had. I even asked Mike who sold me the dog, why so cheap? I asked him that after he had my money, mind you. He said the dog was some one's pet, who had a lifestyle change, and the dog couldn't go with him, so he asked Mike if he wanted him. In essence, Patch was a rescue who ultimately found a home and a lifetime relationship with me.

Because a one dog wonder should be hunted alone, if they hunt with a pack and gang bang the hog, when help(the pack) arrives the best dog catches. If he catches before the man is there to throw the hog, guess who is most likely to get seriously injured or killed? The best dog!

To understand how to handle an elite hog dog today, you must have a fundamental understanding of the pack instinct in wolves, which is still a strong motivating factor in hog dog behavior at present.

Like the old timers tell me, "You got to go back to nature".

The alpha male or lead dog, does not lead by location, but by dominance. Meaning in a hunting situation he is not in front, the scouts are. He is none the less the boss of his pack because no one can or will challenge his authority and win.

When the scouts locate a hog, they chase, stop and bay to alert the rest of the pack as to the location. A trailing wolf is always silent on the track in order to close in on the hog as quickly as possible.

When the dominate alpha male arrives at the bay, often he stays back awhile to evaluate the strength of the prey, and let the scouts weaken the hog. When the time is right, the alpha male who is well rested, powerful and skilled at killing, rushes in and catches the hog by the ear, throat or neck. The scouts help in the catch after the alpha male catches. Being caught off guard, the hog was until now, convinced that he could not be caught.

Once the hog is caught, he either bleeds to death or suffocates from choking or maybe dies of exhaustion and heat stroke.

There is something called genetic selectivity, in layman terms this is often stated as "only the strong survive". Meaning in the end, only the strong reproduce. But when it comes to hunting hogs with man and dog, if the best dog is the one getting killed, because he catches before the man is there to back him up, he is very likely to get killed before he reproduces because the person who owns him is only thinking about the short term goal of hog hunting and not breeding. And if the man is hunting with a pack of dogs the way most people do, often the dogs will catch before the man can get to the bay.

Although some of my best hunting dogs are female, I rarely hunt them because I am careful to guard my breeding stock and hunting females can distract the males if they are close to coming in heat. Too many times I left with a bitch not knowing she was close to her heat cycle. And here I am an hour or two from home and letting the dogs out at the boat landing and all the males are smelling where she just pee'd. Ohhh, Ohhhh. For this reason, I prefer to hunt males only and run my young started females to evaluate where they are. But, I also have the added benefit of keeping my best girls from harms way.

And on that note there is a lot to be said for spaying females who hunt, so to avoid the influence of a heat cycle screwing up a hunt, big time! Of course, because I am a breeder I don't practice this as a rule of thumb.

In my opinion the main reason there is suddenly such a great demand for finished dogs is that the best dogs are getting killed before reproducing and what survives to reproduce is not worth breeding because they are not the elite high performance strike dogs. Then people buying these puppies are often disappointed with the lack of performance of the dog as it matures, so the next time they buy a dog, they want to buy an experienced, finished dog. If more people would breed foundation, high performance, elite dogs, then dog buyers would be satisfied with started dogs because a well bred started dog often is finding his own hog at 1 1/2 yrs old to 2 yrs old with very little woods experience up to that point.

Unfortunately the present supply of finished dogs cannot meet the demand because most people who hunt, do not want to invest the time in raising a puppy and most breeders are not interested in raising dogs for other people to use for hunting.

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