Treating Your Rabbit Hound "Right"

Though tough, your hard-hunting four-legged friends still need caring, watchful eyes when chasing cottontails in the brush.

by Bob Kornegay

People expend a lot of time and effort accumulating a worthwhile pack of rabbit hounds. A cottontail hunter is seldom fortunate enough to find himself owner and master of what he considers just the right dogs for the job during his initial efforts at acquiring his longed-for good brace or pack.

The cottontail-chasing sportsman who is serious about hunting with the best canine partners possible must study, breed, buy and train until he hits upon that often once-in-a-lifetime combination of nose, desire and stamina that makes a decent team of beagles he may look upon with pride. After all, most folks readily admit the only reason they are rabbit hunters is the pleasure they get from the dogs with which they spend their time afield.

A rabbit hunter's dogs - beagles or other breeds - need and deserve the best care possible. Even those who claim to hold no real affection for such utilitarian canines must take certain steps to ensure their dogs' health and well being, especially during the hunt itself.

Though pure pleasure for both hunter and hound, rabbit hunting is fraught with potential hazards for these tough little canines with the beautiful voices that enjoy nothing more than chasing Br'er Rabbit around in circles. Even if you don't love your dogs (I know better, tough guy, but I won't tell), it's only practical after all the trouble you've gone through to build your pack to look after them and preserve your investment.

The rabbit dogs you now own have been allowed to take up your kennel space and consume your dog ration for but one reason. They are good at their jobs. They live only to run and hunt full-tilt, ignoring all obstacles in pursuit of their bouncing quarry. The careful pooches that looked toward their own safety afield have long since been given away to the neighbors' kids as house pets or fat, flower-bed yard dogs. Your canine hunting partners are the four-footed equivalent of valuable professional athletes. They should be treated as such.

You need to remember to give your hounds several breaks -- and plenty of clean water -- during each hunt. Photo by Tom Evans

With that in mind, let's have a look at some in-the-field hazards you need to consider and be prepared for on behalf of the rabbit hunting "troops" you command.

Rabbit hunting is a tradition associated with crisp, cool late-fall and winter days, times when getting thirsty seldom enters into a hunter's thoughts. Not so with his dogs. While the human may be moving along at a pleasant, leisurely pace, the well-schooled rabbit hound is rapidly burning up energy from the time he is put on the ground. Since replacement water can enter the body only from an outside source, it is up to the hunter to supply it, regularly and as often as the dog feels a need for it.

Keep a generous supply of clean water in your vehicle and make frequent trips back to base for canine "refueling." If your plans call for hunting an inconvenient distance from your main water supply, equip yourself and others in your hunting party with a canteen or other such receptacle. Your hounds will appreciate it and you will find it worth the effort for yourself as well, particularly on those unseasonably warm days when you've logged more miles than you really wanted to.

By nature, a rabbit hunt normally takes place over less-than-hospitable terrain, particularly where dogs are concerned. Though you may be able to negotiate around briars, brambles, stickups, and other thick ground cover, the hounds are forging through it, intent upon driving the quarry into range of your gun. All veteran rabbit dogs are battle-scarred with superficial signs of old cuts and abrasions. These "Red Badges of Courage" attest to the selfless attitude and single-mindedness of a truly good rabbit dog.

Nicks and scrapes are a rabbit hound's occupational hazards and most are minor things requiring little or no attention. However, this does not mean they are to be neglected. When one or more of your dogs emerges from cover bleeding or limping, don't pass it off and assume the wound will repair itself.

Before moving on to the next chase, give your buddy a quick, hands-on examination. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out whether or not an injury needs some sort of first aid or medical attention. Look at your dog's eyes, nose, ears and tongue. In the case of male dogs, check the genitals. Look to the feet for cut pads or thorns and make sure toenails are intact and have not been severed to the quick or separated from the foot.

Equip your first aid kit with your hounds, as well as yourself, in mind. Consulting a veterinarian as to the best topical medications and first aid procedures for minor injuries is helpful. Gently washing out the dog's eyes with water and applications of ophthalmic ointment is good for foreign matter problems. Small, bleeding wounds that require attention can often be stanched with applied pressure or a styptic pencil. Use basic antiseptics to disinfect minor cuts when the hunt is ended. Seek immediate veterinary assistance for any bleeding that cannot be stopped within a reasonable period of time.

Dogs with minor muscle injuries (strains, pulls) should be retired for the remainder of the hunt. Never, under any circumstances, continue to hunt a hound whose wounds are obviously causing continued pain or discomfort.

The hunter who ventures out during rabbit season is unlikely to give much thought toward poisonous snakes and the potential danger they harbor. Snakes aren't out at this time of year, are they? It all depends upon the weather. Actually, there is little likelihood of snakebite to either you or your hounds at this time. However, old no-shoulders is still out there and he will emerge from hiding during unseasonably warm and sunny days. You must not become too complacent. Your dogs, after all, are rooting through the thickets where snakes may be lying and it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that they may stumble upon a venomous reptile that will take offense at having his off-season sunbath disturbed.

As with humans, the current school of thought concerning snakebite in dogs is to get professional medical treatment for the victim as quickly as possible. First aid attempts often do more harm than good and wastes valuable time between the bite and the veterinary clinic. A small dog's chance of survival depends on the offending reptile's size and species, the amount of venom injected, and the length of time it takes to receive medical attention.

As with most endeavors, sporting and otherwise, hazards are usually best dealt with through prevention rather than remedy. How many cut pads and eye injuries, for example, are caused each year b

y exposed nails or ragged wire inside ramshackle, thrown-together dog boxes? How many short-legged little hounds are allowed to sail off a high tailgate only to break a leg or seriously injure a shoulder or hip? Would you believe there are still rabbit hunters who transport dogs loose in an open pickup bed?

By the same token, many rabbit dogs sustain injuries or die each season because hunters are not more careful in choosing their hunting sites. Those briar thickets near the busy highway, for instance. It may be great cottontail habitat, but it is also a death trap for beagles that don't know to stop, look and listen before following their quarry across the road.

The hunter who does not work diligently to "break" his rabbit dogs from running marathon game such as deer and foxes may run a similar risk when these fleet-footed animals lead the hounds miles away toward unseen dangers where hunter intervention is impossible.

Such mistakes are not made cruelly, but neglectfully. When it comes to our hunting dogs, neglect will always come back to haunt you, one way or another.

Your rabbit hound is the primary reason you are a rabbit hunter in the first place. He provides you with pleasure, sport and hours of enjoyment. He's your partner and friend, plain and simple. Take care of him. There's no good reason why he shouldn't be around to hunt with you for many seasons to come.

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