By Lane Batot, Scout, Frontier Partisans, North Carolina Sector I
It’s hard for me to know just where to begin on this subject — SO MANY potential discussions, including actual historical Frontier Dogs, beloved fictional Frontier Dogs (in both books and movies), what makes for an ideal Frontier Dog (and lots of various angles there!), and modern day Frontier Dogs — their uses and stories; ahhhh, the possibilities are ENDLESS!
But just to FINALLY get started, I can think of no better stimulus than to relate what my own criteria for a “Frontier” or all-around “Woods Dog” is in relation to my personal lifestyle and territory–which I’m hoping will stimulate others to expound on their own experiences and preferences on the subject.
One reason for getting into this relates directly to the ongoing subject and numerous interesting posts on this blog of “Stuff That Works,” and one of my Pet Peeves (ahem!) has always been how people often elaborate the whys and wherefores of their various camping equipment, tools, weapons, and clothing, but never a mention of that (to me) MOST indispensable ally of outdoor rambling — one’s DOG(s)!!! Though often historically and culturally taken for granted, it is my opinion as a trained Anthropologist(for which I apologize) that the alliance of Paleolithic hunters and wolves, which led to the domestication of the Dog, is as MAJOR a development in our evolutionary and cultural advancement as the ability to control fire! But it is so rarely recognized for the important influence on humanity that it was, and still IS.
Dogs are some people’s only decent connection to Nature, and they are still an excellent bridge even for the most uncivilized of us, as I can attest! Various modern restrictions, and erroneous “politically correct” notions regarding the keeping and usage of dogs should be of great concern to any true Frontier Partisan. Although I can branch off into numerous different views on modern doggy etiquette that raises my hackles, I’ll try and just concentrate on one particular aspect for this post: that of picking a particular type or breed of dog to fit one’s lifestyle and circumstances. Which will ramble on right into how it is becoming considered virtually criminal to take yer dog for a run just about anywhere, a sad, anal, tyrannical notion that I will defy as long as I have breath, the ability to ramble on foot, and a dog…
First, it has become quite the “politically correct” notion that one should ONLY adopt strays and rescues when acquiring a dog, to the point that quite a few holier-than-thou but ignorant sorts will vehemently lecture you about if you DARE to admit you bought your purebred dog from a breeder, or even more taboo — bred dogs of your own! These are always people — usually “townies” — who have no specific purpose to have a dog, other than casual companions or pets. Which is fine, if that’s all you want a dog for. I think rescuing dogs (mutts or purebreds) is GREAT, but it SHOULD NOT be considered the ONLY (anally controlling) ”right” way of acquiring a dog.
I, myself, despite my specific interests and needs in a dog, have still ended up with quite a few unplanned, unpedigreed rescues in my pack, for which I have no regrets. But what such an attitude (rescues ONLY) doesn’t seem to grasp in it’s dictatorial ideology, is that, if everyone carefully chose (DO YOUR RESEARCH! NO EXCUSES!) purposefully bred dogs with somewhat predictable characteristics to fit in their particular lifestyle, from conscientious, ethical breeders, there would be very little need to “rescue” anything! To me, ANY dog that you take in and give a good life its whole life, no matter how you acquired it, is a “rescue.” And even though I applaud those that do rescue dogs from shelters or abusive situations, every dog that I have taken in like that (and there have been considerable over the decades in my pack that has usually numbered 10 or so dogs at any one time) has had ISSUES, that are often difficult to overcome, or that can NEVER be fully resolved, and must just be dealt with for 10 to 15 years.
Gosh, how much nicer it is to get a young pup, NOT screwed up by some callous ignoramous, and raise it right without psychological problems! And how wonderful when you’ve done your research, and find a dog breed or type that fits your lifestyle like a glove! Although of course, one must not expect the dog to do ALL the adapting — one must meet one’s canine companion at least halfway, in my opinion. And you tend to get out of your dogs what you put into them — not unlike kids (the human kind).
I have also taken great pleasure in learning about, and acquiring certain rare, exotic breeds and types of dogs over the years — something about keeping a breed of dog developed, often over centuries, by a particular culture — gives one a perspective and a connection with the people of that culture (even if long past) that is unique and especially enlightening. Something of such cultures lives on in the dogs they developed. All this will be lost, if the “shelter rescues ONLY” knee-jerks have their way…..
I used to live in a wild, remote area deep in the Southern Appalachians on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, where I didn’t have to worry about livestock, busy roads, or other human presence at all (except only rarely, and easily avoided), and my “needs” of a dog were far broader, as I could get away with ranging around with just about any canine type imaginable, and I kept quite an eclectic pack. Including a bunch of wolf-dog crosses — a favorite of historical American Frontier Partisans of the past, but considered extremely politically incorrect in modern times — another subject I hope to delve into detail about in future K-9 posts, to hopefully enlighten the ignorant majority on these much maligned beasts and their TRUE characteristics!
But these days, I do not live in a place where it is safe to free range with part-wolves, or many of the other dog types I’ve kept in the past. Not that I couldn’t make it work, but certainly not the ideal circumstances for such. It is far too developed where I now live, though I do have some decent woods to roam, but I have to be rather secretive to do so, as times have changed, and someone out taking their dogs for a good run are not viewed as benign, but more often viewed as poachers or trespassers, and treated accordingly. It is a very sad cultural change, one that I have witnessed creeping into the fabric of society slowly but surely over my half-century lifetime. It is not dissimilar at all to how things have been in the U K for some time — wealthy landowners calling the shots, while the peasants get by howsoever they must, even if it is a bit under the “law.” Of course this is a human designed and enforced “law,” not one of Nature, and just as the country folk of England (and other parts of Europe) have developed cultural ways around such laws, so must we also do so in many parts of the U. S. A. now, at least in more developed, populated and human controlled areas.
Hence my need now, where I live, for a good Trespassing Dog! The qualities of such are very like the needs of a good poacher’s dog in England, for which the indigenous “lurchers” were developed — the greyhound X collie crosses of such notorious fame. Although I have great admiration for such hunting dogs that “reduce to possession” such game as poachers target, I personally have no need to hunt for the pot, though I rather like having a dog that COULD, did it ever become necessary. My requirements in my present territory, is for a dog that, first and foremost, STAYS CLOSE, and does not tend to range out of sight, not only to avoid detection, but mainly for the safety of the dog!
I unfortunately live in an area where dogs seen running free are often shot on sight by some individuals, so the Staying Close bit is very important for the survival of the dog, as well as less stressful outings for me! It is no fun worrying about your dog that continually runs out of sight! Not to mention a definite giveaway that someone might be about in the woods, when one wants to remain unheard and unseen.
Which brings us to the next very important Trespassing Dog characteristic: that of being QUIET! There is nobody that loves hound music better than myself, or with such a softspot for a good trailhound, but alas, where I now live, the very LOUD, far ranging trailhound types are a real liability, and although no truer, fully American Frontier Dogs were ever developed.
Thanks to busy roads and the dangers of getting hit by cars, as well as those anal dogshooters, it has become harder and harder to find places to safely free cast yer hounds anymore. I still have one 13 year old doddery Bluetick hound (named Roland) that I managed to take out (late at night, usually!), that with his loud bawl, the entire county would hear it every time I did, and I’d usually be listening to him five miles away or so! Very sad to me, but those days are GONE here, and I feel more than lucky that old Roland has survived to 13 (he mostly just sleeps and dreams of his old ranging days now).
Another consideration I like in a dog when out roaming and trying to avoid detection, is COLOR. Where I live, a dog with much white coloration can be spotted MILES away, and can be a real liability. So camouflaged coloring is a big plus in a Trespassing Dog. Also necessary, is a dog that can be trained to a high degree. I’ve done well with very independent types in the past (wolf crosses, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Basenjis, Trailhounds and Sighthounds), but in my present circumstances, a dog that OBEYS, quietly and quickly, is a must.
Reliably coming when one calls is a MANDATORY command a good Trespassing Dog needs to learn, and to further disguise my presence, I train my dogs to come to a Crow Call, so my yelling for them doesn’t give me away. I suppose a silent whistle would serve the same purpose, but then, how do you really know the thing’s working, if you can’t hear it yerself? I prefer that Crow Call, even if it does tend to piss off the local crows somewhat.
I also like a dog that is somewhat distrustful of strangers, and won’t just go running up to anyone they meet — although that has some to do with how one trains the dog. There are quite a few dog types that are “one man” dogs, however, or at least aloof to strangers.
A dog that will be PROTECTIVE is something I seek as well, and is a quality that can be quite an asset in a Trespassing Dog.
I personally also like a dog large enough to train to carry backpacks–that comes in quite handy on outings and camping trips. Where I live, I need a dog that can handle weather extremes — especially HOT, humid weather in the Summer. We do have cold Winter weather, but not so frigid as places further North (I’m now live in central N.C.). Dogs too sensitive to either cold or heat can be a real liability, and just not much use certain times of the year. I want a dog that can trek anytime of the year, with enthusiasm, no matter what the weather!
There are several dog types that, believe it or not, can meet ALL these characteristics, and after filtering through them, I settled on a WEIMARANER, as my main Trespassing Dog, and I can say that, after ranging with mine for 12 years now, he has fulfilled every category listed above reliably and enthusiastically, and brought versatile hunting and retriever skills to the package.
Weimaraners get a BAD RAP in America, where too many are just show dogs, or dressed up like buffoons for William Wegman photography “art,” or are lamblasted by bird hunters as not being bird crazy enough bird dogs, which is what they are erroneously categorized as in the U. S.A. In Germany, where they were developed, they are called the Forester’s Dog (you can bet I pricked up my ears when I discovered THAT!), and they were developed NOT as just bird dogs (though they can point and retrieve), but as all around hunters, and for protection — to protect the foresters from poachers ( what’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander, I have always heard!)
After my experience with my beloved, faithful-to-a-fault, totally biddable, versatile and very protective Griswold, I rather think a more appropriate description of a Weimaraner, is as a German “Cur” — like our multi-purpose American Cur breeds developed by our frontier ancestors, as dual purpose wilderness dogs! And oh my yes, we will most assuredly need to cover the American Cur breeds in a future “K-9s of the Frontier Partisans” post!
Most people getting a dog, any dog, hardly consider more than they just like it’s looks or that it‘s cute, or a status symbol of sorts. For them, any old mutt will do. And that‘s just fine, so long as they do not try to force everyone else to conform to their formless, shallow philosophy!