Small Poem about the Hounds and the Hares

Release the hounds!
Photo I took of a local hunt in central North Carolina, November 2012.

Small Poem about the Hounds and the Hares

Lisel Mueller

After the kill, there is the feast.
And toward the end, when the dancing subsides
and the young have sneaked off somewhere,
the hounds, drunk on the blood of the hares,
begin to talk of how soft
were their pelts, how graceful their leaps,
how lovely their scared, gentle eyes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Even though I am not a fan of hunting, I love this little poem, and the notion that the dogs could be having such dreamy thoughts about their prey. Most likely, they’re just like, “OMG HARE MUST EAT.” But still. It’s a nice idea, Lisel Mueller.

Has your dog ever killed a wild thing? What do you think was going through his or her mind?

(Oh, yeah, and happy Friday!)

Thanksgiving recap: First trip to in-laws

Pyrrha had a wonderful first Thanksgiving with us and a very successful first visit to her other set of “grandparents,” my husband’s parents. I was very proud of her.

She thinks she owns the place

General recap:

Pyrrha handled the revolving door of new people with grace and aplomb. We had tons of relatives and new people in and out of the house all week, and Pyrrha was marvelous with everyone. She still hung back in the beginning, when people showed up, but she did not seem disturbed at all by the constant flow of strangers in this new house. I felt like that was a big victory. Everyone also kept marveling at how calm she was. I think this is because a) she is fundamentally lazy, and b) flopping down in a corner is less scary than having to go up and engage with new humans. However, she wanted to be wherever people were, and she was always planting herself down in the middle of the kitchen or living room, keeping an eye on the action.

She also met children without (too) much fear. Guion’s young cousins, aged 12 and 7, attended the Thanksgiving meal and they were both very interested in Pyrrha. (Their family had recently acquired a young, energetic German short-haired pointer.) I always monitor her interactions with young children VERY closely, because I can tell that she is still pretty unsure of children. Guion’s cousins, however, were really great with her. They are calm, quiet children and they seemed to make her feel a little less anxious about their presence.

After the photo below was taken, I took Pyrrha out in the backyard on her leash and the kids followed. In the yard, she sniffed and circled the kids and even kissed their faces and hands. It helped a lot that both kids had been eating sausage biscuits right before! Now if I can just get all young children to cover themselves in sausage before interacting with Pyrrha, I think we could have her fear of children mostly solved…

Rollie IV meets Pyrrha

We took lots of long, brisk walks around the neighborhood. They have a lovely, mostly flat neighborhood that’s great for walking and Pyrrha got at least two miles of walks in every day we were there. (This also surely contributed to her general behavior of calmness and placidity in the house.)

Following birds

Pyrrha also showed interest in retrieving for the first time! My in-laws have a great, spacious, fenced-in backyard and Pyrrha just loved it. Their yard is chock-full of squirrels and there’s lot to explore. Plus, the yard backs up to a golf course, so she spent many hours quietly observing the golfers.

But retrieving! That was great. She’s never really retrieved before, except for chasing the thrown item, picking it up for a moment, and then getting distracted by something else. But this long weekend, she was retrieving actively — running after balls and actually bringing them back to us multiple times. She seemed to really enjoy this a lot.

Fetch with Guion

I was delighted, of course. Retrieving is the best way to exhaust a dog without having to expend any of your own energy. I hope she’ll keep up an interest in this game.

Retrieving at last!

And a semi-dog-related event we attended: The Blessing of the Hunt. My in-laws live in a big equestrian town, and every Thanksgiving morning, there is a “fox” hunt and a blessing of the horses, hounds, and riders by their Episcopal priest. Hundreds of people turn out for this event and I was delighted to attend — particularly as there was no actual fox being chased. They drag around a fox scent before the dogs are released.

We heard, however, that the hounds aren’t fooled by this faux fox scent. They don’t really seem to follow it, according to the riders, and really just like to run around in a pack with the horses. I find this kind of adorable.

Release the hounds!

Hounds setting off

Riding off after the "fox"

Hope you all had nice weekends! Whew! I am looking forward to a few weeks of respite before the holiday traveling circuit starts up again…

On the intelligence of dogs

The smartest of them all? Click for source.

Many people like to cite Stanley Coren’s now notorious list of “the most intelligent dog breeds.” People who have breeds in the top 10 like to remind other people of such and tease those who have dogs who fall anywhere below Coren’s top 10.

Stanley Coren’s Top 10 Most Obedient Breeds

  1. Border collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German shepherd
  4. Golden retriever
  5. Doberman pinscher
  6. Shetland sheepdog
  7. Labrador retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian cattle dog

*Cited in his book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Links are to my “Breed Love” posts.

I think the problem with this list is the title. As many before me have pointed out, and as Coren’s own study acknowledges in the fine print, this oft-cited list measures canine intelligence by how quickly or effectively dogs obey humans. His study is a nice measure of obedience, but that’s primarily what it is. A more accurate title might have been “the most obedient dog breeds.”

Hounds rank very low according to this list, but that’s because Coren’s study cannot measure the independent-thinking and creativity that is employed by most hounds, especially scent hounds.

I’ve noticed this with hounds, even in my short tenure as a volunteer at the SPCA. Our SPCA has a ton of scent hounds, because we live in a part of the countryside that is popular with hunters who employ large packs of hounds and then don’t keep track of them if one goes missing. That said, I spend a lot of time at the SPCA walking hounds. These hounds are notably unresponsive to humans. They often seem to look right past you at something else (or, more accurately, at some other, more interesting smell). But this doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent; it just means they’re harder to train. These hounds are rather adept problem solvers. They figure out what they want then they plot how to get it, with or without any human aid.

Sight hounds, in my limited experience, are also very intelligent but prefer to follow their own direction. (The Afghan hound is famously ranked last on Coren’s list, in terms of what he calls intelligence.) When you ask a sight hound to do something, I imagine their internal response to be something like Bartleby the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.” They are independent and self-directed and seem to weigh the pros and cons of following your commands.

Selfishly, I’ve always really loved dogs from the herding group, because these are some of the most human-responsive dogs of all (many in the herding group are in Coren’s top 30 “most intelligent” breeds). My favorite breeds–Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies, to name a few–are incredibly attuned to their people. These high-energy dogs were made to watch human faces, study human body language, and follow human directives in their line of intense work. I’ll probably always prefer these dogs, mainly because they are so easy to train, but I think this just means that I’m lazy/afraid of how frustrated I’d get with a less responsive dog.

But at the end of the day, this list doesn’t matter. Because we know the truth: We all have the smartest dog in the whole world.

Pup links!

Release the hounds! Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the web this week:

Snow Day in March! We had an unusual dumping of snow in my town yesterday. The city’s best-loved photographer takes some photos of her dogs in the snow; their joy is infectious! (Cramer Photo)

10 Simple Ways to Show Kindness in the Dog World. I thought this was a beautiful and inspiring post, reminding us of the simple things we can do to show gentleness and respect to other dogs and dog people. (Rescued Insanity)

How to Get Your Dog to Answer Your Call. Helpful reminders about training and receiving reliable recall. (The Inquisitive Canine)

How to Choose the Right Dog. Lindsey shares her wisdom about choosing a dog from a shelter. Decide your non-negotiables up front! This is helpful to me right now, because I’m in such a state of concentrated dog-longing that I could very well make poor, haphazard decisions based on any puppy face. (That Mutt)

6 Best Pet-Friendly Hotel Chains. Brief but useful reviews of the pet-friendliest hotel chains across the U.S. (Pawnation)

The Morran Book Project. I love this. A collection of illustrations from all over the world of artist Camilla Engman’s beloved terrier, Morran, made into a beautiful little book! (Miles to Style)

Hank, Cat for Senate, Responds to Attack Ad. Hank the cat is running for Virginia Senate, but he’s been smeared by an ad campaign from the super-PAC Canines for a Feline-Free Tomorrow. Which is hilarious. (Animal Tracks)

Brisk winter day at the SPCA

After a regrettably long hiatus, I went back to the SPCA yesterday to spend my morning walking the dogs. Boy, were they ready to get outside!

Amigo.

I started my morning out with this bro, Amigo, who was easily twice as strong as I am. He was also terrible on the leash and aggressive toward every single dog we passed. He was exhausting. I found myself getting frustrated and even angry with him. I tried stopping to see if he’d respond on the leash; he just kept dragging me forward. It took all my strength to stop him–or prevent him from lunging and snarling at every other dog. He was a good reminder of the futility of frustration with a dog. My welling anger with him wasn’t helping the situation, and I’m sure it was only exacerbating it.

Finally, I just resolved to make it through the walk. I had a ton of others to attend to, and not much energy or ability to help him at that time. I wish I’d had more patience in the moment, but I confess that I was really ready to just get him back in that kennel and move on to someone else. I feel guilty admitting it, but that’s how I felt. Am I the only one who gets totally blinded by frustration by a stubborn and unresponsive dog? I hope not…

Blair.

But then I got to spend some time with Blair, who was a doll. Blair is a dude, actually, and he’s very strong himself–barrel-chested like a pit bull or boxer–but he walked politely (most of the time) on his leash. How pleasant it was to take a walk without being dragged everywhere, pulling out your shoulders in the process. Also unlike Amigo, Blair was very playful and probably dropped a play bow in front of every other dog we passed. He was dying to get some play time. After talking with a more experienced volunteer, we determined that he and a lab-mix puppy, Marsh, may make good playmates, so we were able to put them in a big run together and watch them romp their hearts out. That’s always one of my favorite things to witness.

I also spent a lot of time with another volunteer, wrangling the hounds. As I’ve mentioned before, our SPCA is overrun with hounds, because we apparently live in an area of irresponsible hunters. We always have dozens of scenthounds looking for adoption, but they often linger for a long time, because they’re 1) not especially attractive, 2) somewhat large in size, and 3) not very responsive to humans. But they do make great house pets, despite that; hounds just want to lounge around on your sofa.

Hounds are also extremely sociable with one another, which is something I was reminded of yesterday. They adore the company of other dogs, especially fellow scenthounds, and you can pretty much trust any of the hounds with any other dog (for the most part). In the huge fenced-in run, we usually have four or five scenthound friends in there together, romping around for an hour or so before we put them back in their kennels. They just love each others’ company. It’s always sweet to see.