Over the past years, we have taken many JR owners hunting--some of these owners and their dogs have been seasoned and some very new and green. Regardless of the experience (or lack thereof) we have thoroughly enjoyed all of the individuals and their dogs, and have made some wonderful new friends. A number of newcomers as well as individuals with a longer tenure have expressed interest in pointers on the basics of learning how to hunt with their Jack Russells. Due to the comments, questions, and observations we have made, we believe some of these issues need to be addressed. One new hunting buddy specifically asked us to draw up a few brief guidelines for novices who want to learn to hunt their dogs and just don't know how to begin or what to expect. Therefore, this article is in response to novices everywhere. Remember, every terrier owner who spends time in the hunt field, began as a novice, eager to learn. |
First of all, we do not believe any club is under obligation to provide working judges to every region or state. The commitment and dedication involved in working your terrier is a personal one, and unfortunately cannot be instilled into everyone by the club. The commitment, dedication, and responsibilities of a working judge are even greater. However, if you truly want to work your terriers, nothing will stop you. Be prepared to get in your vehicle and drive wherever you must and as often as necessary to get to a working judge. These people are more than willing to work with you and your dogs, but please remember they have their own lives, and limited time and income just like the rest of us. This is a non-paying position! However, you must pick up the telephone and approach them. And you must be willing to work your schedule around theirs--they are doing you the favor and not the other way around. We have never known a working judge to be anything other than responsive and willing to help the novice
Do your homework. Talk to as many hunting people as you can to learn all you can about field etiquette both for you and your dog.
Once you get to the hunt field, don't just stand around looking decorative. Carry the post hole diggers, the bar, a shovel, and anything else that is traveling with the field. Be willing to help hold someone else's dog as well as your own. You are there, hopefully, to learn so that you can work your own dogs without assistance. Ask these people to teach you how to locate a terrier underground, how to use a bar, shovel, and post-hole diggers. Pay attention, keep your eyes and ears open and ask questions at the appropriate time. They will not only be more than willing to oblige, but actually excited to teach the novice who really wants to learn to hunt his or her own terriers.
Entering is only the first step although an important one. Working is far more than simply entering the ground. A terrier that enters and checks the sette is beginning to work. When your terrier locates, enters and then comes nose to nose with the quarry and begins to bay like hell, he is working. A terrier that simply lays in the whole, whines a couple of times, and comes out is NOT working. Don't expect your terrier to locate, enter, and work the quarry the first time out in the field. We have been truly blessed with several terriers that were automatic workers their first time out, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of terriers are just like children--it takes them a bit of time to get comfortable with their new role and learn the ropes. Please remember, it is your terrier, not you, that is expected to enter the dark earth and come nose-to-nose with formidable quarry. Be patient with your terrier. Although the instinct is (hopefully) bred into your dog, it takes varying amounts of time for the light bulb to go off. The time it takes your terrier to learn what he is supposed to do, that is locate, enter and work the quarry, has no correlation with how well the animal will work with a season under his locator collar. A slow starter does not mean an inferior worker, nor does an immediate worker necessarily make a better one down the road.
Don't get in your terrier's way. DO NOT encourage your JR to "get 'em" and DO NOT distract your terrier when he is in the ground working. Ignoring these simple principles will help ensure the making of a real head-banger (and the vet bills to prove it) or may cause your terrier to be unnecessarily injured. An additional risk you run by offering too much encouragement is setting the dog up to lie to you. In other words you may teach your dog to enter and dig at an empty hole just to please you. Keep your mouth closed and allow your dog to find his own way.
With a green terrier, do not assume anything. Until you and your dog are experienced, you do not know what to expect of your terrier when he is in the ground anymore than he knows what he is going to do when he gets there. Again, this is a learning process for both of you.
DO NOT hunt your terriers with the sole goal of obtaining a hunting certificate just so you can enter the working terrier class. This is one of the surest ways to turn a working judge off. A working terrier is NOT a JR that has earned a NHC and then retires. In the same vein, one NHC does not a seasoned working dog make. Hunt your terriers because you and your Jack Russell Terriers love doing so or leave it alone.
Back to field etiquette: The judge or individual kind enough to take you out is UNQUESTIONABLY THE BOSS. If your host instructs you to do something then DO IT. If he or she tells you NOT to do something, then DO NOT DO IT. This includes keeping your terrier under control by any means necessary to do so, including a leash if necessary. Remember, the person in charge probably has many more hours in the field than you, and it is precisely this expertise you are soliciting.
DO NOT, in the excitement of the hunt, allow your terrier to enter behind another, push another terrier out of the hole when your dog was NOT the first to the hole, or allow your terrier to growl or fight at the hole. Actions of this type will not be tolerated by other dogs in the field and should not be tolerated by either you or the other participants. When in doubt, err on the side of being overly courteous. Every dog will get his turn. Look to the hunt leader for guidance.
Relax and remember that you and your terrier are in the field to have fun. Your terrier will have fun regardless of whether or not you do.
Don't sit and home and complain that there are no working people outside your back door. Make the first move and don't wait to be invited. Call around your area and find someone with hunting experience. Go out with them and learn. If you do this, you will find that you will build your own network of hunting companions so that someone is always ready to hunt when you are. Remember that you do not have to have a working judge present to have a successful, enjoyable hunt. Reserve the working judges for the time your dog is more experienced and ready to earn a NHC.
When you feel you are competent enough to dig your own dog out, go hunting alone. This is the goal you have been working toward. When you get home from work, nothing will unwind you faster than a few hours out in the field with your terrier. And please remember that if your terrier gets into a tough situation out of your control, there is always help available if you just pick up the telephone.
Pass on what you learn from your hunting experiences to others and always be willing to help and learn more. You will never stop learning from your experiences with these dogs. You can't expect judges to go out of their way to help you if you are not willing to do the footwork to help yourself and others.
Learn your countryside: the quarry, location, etc. Scout for holes before you invite a working judge so that you can make the most of his or her time. Go to your local library and read about your quarry, its habits and habitats. Learn, learn, learn!! You will enjoy your time in the field and will have a much more productive hunt if you have done your homework.
When you invite a working judge, be prepared to house him or her, pay for travel expenses, food, and any other expenses the judge may have incurred. These people are not independently wealthy.
Take some responsibility and you will have countless hours of joy in the field with your terriers. You will never know your terrier inside and out until you get to know him in the hunt field. Nothing will ever bring the two of you closer and nothing is as rewarding as the mutual trust and respect the two of you will gain for each other in the hunt field.Happy hunting!