The charming hunting song “Drink Puppy Drink” encapsulates within it the many different aspects of hunting that make it such a unique activity and one which is still enjoyed today by so many. The hound of course is central to the whole operation, for without him or her we would not be going very far. So this piece covers the life of a hound and how important to us they actually are. But before we start it will be helpful to take a few words from this great song and see what they truly mean to us. It begins like this, “Drink puppy drink, let every puppy drink, until he is old enough to lap and to swallow, for he will grow into a hound and we will pass the bottle round and merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll holloa”! These few words are as relevant today as they were when they were written in the nineteenth century and remind us just how crucial their welfare is to all who are luckily enough to hunt now, in the twenty first century.
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So with enough puppies having been born and nurtured through their early months, the time will come, when they are approximately eight months old, for them to enter into the pack. However before any of this they will need to go out to walk, normally at about eight weeks old. This is when they will be more than likely be spoilt rotten but at the same time, learn a lot about the outside world. It is as they reach maturity that we should start keeping a close eye on their conformation for this must be correct as they ” Grow into a Hound”. The wear and tear of the seasons that lies ahead of them will be considerable but if a hound’s body is put together correctly, it will certainly help. Seeing them develop from small pups into fully grown hounds is fascinating in both mind and body and this is of course a vital part of being sent out to walk. Once they are back in Kennels their basic training starts and when they reach around twelve to fourteen months the Puppy Show will be held. Some would describe such an event similar to a beauty competition, however there is also a very serious side to it. It is important that a hound is constructed correctly in order to give him or her a better chance of lasting longer than one than which is not.
Good strong feet where the toes don’t go down flat but are upright and not too tight are what the judges expect. Those that are flat are inclined to be injure themselves on hard ground. Then we progress up to where the shoulder meets the neck. A hound should have a nice length of neck with a shoulder that slopes at just the right angle to keep everything in proportion. One with a heavy shoulder, short neck and flat feet will probably hunt as well as one with everything in the right place, but will not necessarily last the pace. We must remember these chaps do a considerable amount of miles in a day and it is important they can cover the distance without knocking themselves up. We then need to proceed to the driving machine which is what will propel them along, in a hound’s case the hindquarters. A weakness in this part of the body is not helpful. They should possess a good strong back as you do not want to see a hound fading away behind. Evenly placed hocks are then required and moving back down to the feet, as mentioned before, toes must be firm. I have attached some photos which I hope may help you in your judgement.
This then is one of the reasons for the Puppy Show, it encourages those who breed the hounds to attain perfection and is a great showcase of their results. However it is also more than that. It is a day to thank all those wonderful people who through their interest in the hounds have taken these puppies on and given them a really good start in life. Over the last thirty-three years I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to judge a large number of Puppy Shows and Hound Shows and what a great privilege it has always been. Whether Bassets, Beagles, Harriers, Staghounds, or Foxhounds the amount of work that goes into this day from their Walkers and the Hunt Staff always impresses me. There is nothing that gives greater pleasure than to see a happy hound back at the kennels or at a meet who suddenly recognises their Walker and is off to them in a flash. So, as the Spring of 2015 began to turn to Summer it was a real pleasure to be invited have an early look at the Grove and Rufford, Cottesmore, Belvoir, Blankney, and Burton young hounds. All were well grown for that time of year, but as we say in the trade, “a week or two of sun on their backs can make a tremendous difference,” and that is all they needed. By early to mid June they really started to show themselves off to their true potential and of course by July and August, anything slightly lacking in size or confidence should have made up ground. By the time it was their turn to be judged, sure enough they had all made up well and showed to perfection. Of course none of this would have been the case if the homework we have mentioned hadn’t taken place.
With Puppy Shows over, serious hound exercise begins firstly on bicycles and then horses. Muscling up is process important for horse, hound and human and puts us all in good shape for the season ahead, which this year was slightly later than normal.
So as they have gone through the various stages of their development, the hound has always been there giving us the utmost pleasure and for this we must all be grateful. Therefore as the 2015 /2016 season gets underway, let us for a moment just stop and recognise what we owe them and in this case it would only be right for us to do exactly as the song says and that is to “Pass the bottle round” in the honour of our hounds.