The Beagle Boogie
dogs were stumped. They didn't know they had to swim for rabbits.
They learned that the next morning. Overnight, a thin sheet of ice formed on the water. A swamp rabbit on the run fell through the ice and made quite a commotion breaking ice as it labored to the other side of the ditch.
This alerted the beagles, and they went in after it. This was the first time I had ever seen them swim.
I sat behind a tree and waited. Before long, the beagles returned, still trailing the rabbit. This time, when the trail ended at an unfrozen ditch, the beagles sniffed to make sure they were on the right track, then entered the water one at a time.
Another important part of our training is teaching the dogs to come up to the house in the evening after our walks. If they are chasing rabbits, I usually leave the dogs in the field. When they lose interest in trailing rabbits, I want the dogs to come to the back door. I reward them for this by letting them inside and feed each one a small portion of dry cat food. Dogs love cat food.
The final aspect of my training involves desensitizing the dog to the sound of a gun. This is a critical step, especially for a timid dog. In my opinion, the best way is to start in the field while the dogs are chasing a rabbit. As the dogs pursue a rabbit, baying and running, I shoot a toy cap pistol. I watch their behavior carefully to see if the young dogs stop or look around when I fire.
After a few times, they usually don't react to the sound. I then increase the volume by shooting "blanks" from a starter pistol. Finally, I switch to a .22-caliber rifle. Standing well away from the dogs, I shoot into the ground until the younger dogs don't react to the sound. The desensitizing process usually takes about half of a day.
I have had many different rabbit dogs over the last 14 years. Some have been purebred beagles from good hunting stock, but most have been mixed-breed dogs with some beagle in them. These dogs are my favorites because they learn quickly. Not only are they are fast and efficient rabbit dogs, but they make good family pets.
My three sons are now grown and have moved away, but we still try to have at least two rabbit hunts each winter.
Fortunately, I took many pictures of our rabbit hunting adventures. When I send my Monday morning e-mail message to my sons, I include a digital photo from one of our trips. The picture-of-the-week is now a tradition. If I miss a week, I can count on getting a reminder call. Occasionally I get a call from one of my boys who just wants to reminisce about the latest picture.
It's amazing to think that all our rabbit hunting memories began when my oldest son looked up at me with a new puppy in his hands.