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Tally Ho! It’s Field Trial Season

2 dachshund dogs at a field trial


As a kid, the family Dachshund was my dog. He was the one that I taught to skate board, the one I played cards with and dress up, and the one who slept in my bed. My grandmother’s Dachshund, “Mr. Bojangles,” and the other two she had were not my friends. They bit first and asked questions later. Maybe they were throwbacks from the days of the more aggressive Dachshund?

That type of aggression was utilized back in the day when the Dachshund was created to fight the badger and any other critters that burrowed underground in the farmers’ fields. When you think about it, it takes a lot of courage to go down a tunnel or flush out game that may be larger than you. That type of aggression is no longer desired or needed in any ethical breeding program. However, the ability to hunt or find game is a sought-after trait in many breeding programs.

My venture into the world of dog showing also brought me to other opportunities to run Performance events with my Dachshunds. I decided that I wanted to try the Field Trials and Earthdog. My jump into Field Trials started with reading as much as I could about it on the Internet. The first time I read about a Dachshund Field Trial, I was laughing so hard I was in tears. The gallery lines up and, in a line, walks forward, beating the brush. Once a hare is spotted, you yell “Tally Ho!” Not ever being involved in anything other than Conformation shows, I could not imagine what this would look like.

It was 2003 before I drove down to my first Field Trial in Castle Rock, Washington. I spent the entire day in the gallery, never seeing a rabbit or having an idea as to how my dog had actually done. There was something like 14 dog braces, with lots of stopping and waiting around. People yelling “Tally Ho” while others followed up with “Oh, that rabbit is too small” or “Oh, that rabbit ran toward the river” or “Oh, that line is too old.” I had no idea what was really going on. I left still rather confused, but I spent the next three seasons showing up in April, September, and October for the Field Trials. I learned more along the way, and actually had a dog that placed and one that was getting better at it.

In 2006, I made the decision to take the judges seminar. Not wanting to judge at that time, I took the seminar to learn more about the sport, and in the future, I could judge if I chose to. This is where the past meets the present. Twelve years later, I look forward to every fall in the Pacific Northwest. It is Field Trial season! So, what have I learned over the years? I have learned to identify early the dogs that I want in my breeding program; those that have the natural hunting ability. As a breeder and an exhibitor, I have found that keeping the form and function of the dog, along with conformation, is where I want to be.

Dachshund Field Trial

Conformationally sound dogs are the building blocks of a breeding program; however, failing to breed in or keep natural instincts may be a disservice to the breed—no matter the breed. Does this mean that you have to go out and get a Performance event title on your dog? No. It simply means that the dog should be able to perform the tasks or have some inclination toward what they were bred for. Not every dog that I breed is going to be a Field Champion. I would, however, like to see some hunting/scenting instincts. What happens when we have a bunch of pretty dogs that can no longer perform their job?

Having had both Standards and Miniatures in two coat varieties, I have learned that personality can go a long way. This also comes out in the hunting style. Here are my opinions (which are not always the case) based on observations I’ve made along the way. The Standards that I have seen in all three coats tend to “blow out” a little faster than some of their Miniature counterparts.

Some get the line and off they go. Some do not get the line and still off they go, and this is true in any size. Some circle back and around to find the line again, and some have made up their mind that they are going to hunt what they want on that day. Some Longhairs will “snarffle” or air scent by picking their head up off the line, scenting through their nose and out through their cheeks. I have seen Miniatures run the line at a very slow pace. I see this in very young dogs also. Often, they start to find the line, and follow a portion of the line, and then turn back looking for guidance from their owner.

Dachshund Field Trial
Dachshund Field Trial

Scent itself is a funny thing. It wafts up in the air, taken by a breeze or the wind. If the ground is damp, the scent will stay longer; the hotter it is the faster you lose it. The scent line can travel off the line and be nearby. It is acceptable for the dog to not have to be on the exact line that the rabbit traveled. It will always depend upon the conditions outside, wind and temperature.

There are so many aspects when it comes to Field Trials. Just wait until you get to the portion where you as the handler are the reason your dog did not place—because you did something to throw them off. Being able to “read” your dog when you are out Field Trialing with them is key. The dog is looking to you to be the leader and they want to please you. At the same time, your dog needs to have the confidence to leave your side. If you release your dog and they do not go anywhere, some training is needed.

Dachshund Field Trial
Dachshund Field Trial

People often ask, “How do you train your Dachshund for Field Trials?” There are many ways to start your dog out. I took the advice of a long-time Field Trial judge and a person who has many Field Champions, Dr. Jean Dieden. Her advice is to start your dog off with Tracking. Now, I have not ever participated in Tracking nor have I ever had a Tracking Dog. I have taken a few Tracking seminars to get some basics and I train with the basic knowledge that I have. I also introduce my dogs to rabbit scent items.

Over the years, I have picked up actual rabbit cottontails from the field and let the dogs smell them. It gives me a good indicator of which dog actually has an interest in the “bunny.” The puppies with eyes that light up as they try to grab it are the ones I start out with first. I also do some off-lead work. I pair up a new dog with an experienced field dog. I have bells on their collars so that I can hear them and I let them off-lead in a place where I know rabbits are. Be careful about what you have on the collar, as the dog can get stuck in the brush via their collar. I also work on calling them back to me and send them back off. Dogs must have a recall or they can be timed out at a Field Trial.

Sometimes a dead rabbit makes its way around. Yes, I said “dead” rabbit. These have been used for lines to train new dogs. I have also found that my dogs were tracking my scent too. So, having another handler run the line is helpful. I had one such deceased rabbit until the freezer quit working one day. After that mess, I decided that I was no longer going to have such a thing in my freezer again.

Dachshund Field Trial
Dachshund Field Trial

The best part of a Field Trial is actually seeing your dog run the line. There is a lot of pride when you see your dog turn on to rabbits for the first time and actually make a nice run. I recently saw my Standard Longhair nose around, find the scent for the first time, and off she went. It was like she was on crack the way she reacted. When she actually saw a rabbit run in front of her later that day, it was very difficult to get her back to the car!

Getting to run second series is the highlight you are waiting for—besides winning. For most of us, it means we are “in the points.” Second series is where the judges announce who will be running for first through fourth place. Each dog must run again until the winners are determined. Other notable highlights are being outdoors and meeting some really awesome people who all have a vested interest in the future of the breed at heart.

To obtain a Field Trial Championship for Dachshunds you must accumulate a total of 35 points, three placements, not under the same set of judges and one first place. Every qualifying dog counts as one point in that brace for a first placement, half a point for a second placement, one-third point for a third placement, and one-quarter point for a fourth placement.

If you are a Conformation judge, I’d highly recommend coming out and seeing the dogs in action. Every judge I have spoken to after the experience has been so glad they came out to watch and learn.

Tally Ho!