Speed and Pack Dynamics
By: David Ward
As I read through different social media groups that are beagle related, I see a constant theme of a debate about speed. Which is better? Why one is great and the other is useless! I would like to discuss pack dynamics rather than speed. To be honest, when people hear what bloodlines that I run, they want to know how fast they are. More times than not, they actually ask how slow they are. LOL I often respond by asking if they are asking about an individual or my pack? Usually, they will respond,” What is the difference?”. I am amazed at how many people in the beagle world focus completely on the individual with little or no regard to their pack dynamic. I think that this is the reason that I rarely see as smooth of a quality run at a field trial as I do at home, even though I realize that there are obviously dogs at the trial that are of the highest quality, probably better than what I am running. With that said, this article is not to bash any style of format of competition. I do feel that competition sometimes gets in the way of building a quality pack.
Let me explain what I mean and give a couple of examples that will illustrate my point. While I realize that speed is very tough to gauge, I have always felt that my pack runs very close to a six. Six is my goal anyway. When conditions are right, I do not want to be able to walk behind my pack and watch them. They should make me run and do some serious skirting to stay within view. With that said, I do not think that I have an individual hound in my pack that runs over a 5.5 when running solo. I realize that sounds off to some of you. Let me give an analogy of how I view a pack. I currently have 14 running dogs in my kennel. With the addition of the cooperative members, we have close to 40 dogs at our disposal. The way that we match those dogs up in the pack, along with the conditions and terrain determines the pack speed. I look at the individuals in terms of basketball position. I need at least one guard, he is the driver, and he takes the front and directs traffic. He/she likes the front and wants to push the pace when possible. Because they are directing traffic, they will sometimes cause a turnover or loss. Then I have my center, this is not the fastest dog, but they are my anchor that holds the pack together and picks up lots of checks or rebounds. I like one or two of these hounds in the pack. Then I have my forwards, they can do the job of the point guard, they can gear down and work with the center, they may be the most versatile members of the pack. Now before I go any farther, I am not talking about a huge difference in speed, I certainly not implying that my point guard is a hare hound and my center is a traditional brace hound. When on a good line, a novice cannot determine a difference. You can usually throw a blanket over the pack with everyone having the ability to run the front and all will work a check from the inside out. Ideally, I like to run a five to six dog pack. The combination that I put together will impact the overall speed, but a lot has to do with their level of aggression and their understanding of where they are most comfortable.
An example, is a scenario that takes place when you are running and hit an obstacle like a plowed field or a road crossing. Ideally, I want my pack to continue across the obstacle without a breakdown, but if you run much, then you know that this does not always happen. In this case, I want my pack to start looking from the point of loss. The point guard will search the quickest away from the point from the inside out. If he doesn’t pick up the scent quick, he will look around and realize that the rabbit is not sitting out in the field or in the road so he will go where he thinks that the rabbit might have gone. My center, will stay where they last smelled scent, he works from that point and doesn’t range far from that point. It is like they think logically they know where the rabbit was and if they work thoroughly enough, they can find where he went. In between these two, we have the forwards. The scent conditions play a big role on how they respond. Often, if the forwards and point guards reach to far too fast, the center may give a few barks to hold everyone in. With a balanced pack, rarely does an obstacle provide a long breakdown. It is usually pretty equal on who will keep the race going.
If a pack is not balanced, it can be a completely different scenario. I have seen packs that have too many if not all point guards: they hit a check like I have described and the pack bust up like a covey of quail, they all go in different directions and you never know where they will end up. They will sometimes hit the track way out and be scattered all over creation until they can get back together. Sometimes they reach so far, they completely lose track of the point of loss and have to jump a new rabbit. On the other end of the spectrum is the pack with too many centers. They will hit the obstacle and bog down, everyone stays in one spot and argues about where to go next. I have seen these packs trail to the center of a road and literally let the track die and never find it again. I do not want that either. Ironically, the same hounds that I have seen participate in the described disaster can be great asset to a pack with the right balance.
A couple of years ago, I was working at the kennel making some repairs. I let a pair of young males loose while I worked. Both of these guys were dogs that I considered anchor dogs/centers. In a few minutes, they had a rabbit up not far from the kennel. For the next forty five minutes, they walked that rabbit to death! I would see the rabbit come hopping out of the thicket and the dogs would not be thirty yards behind. Neither the rabbit nor dogs were in any hurry. In the time that they ran, I saw the rabbit at least six times and he never left a half acre thicket. These two were walking/running a strong three or maybe a four. They would have fit nicely with many 2CP videos that I had seen. Out of curiosity, I turned my Bean dog loose. Bean tends to be a point guard. He is not fast, but he likes to go, I have always considered him to run about a 5.5. When he joined the pack, they all changed. The rabbit that had been hopping around in front of the dogs was now running for his life! He went from making a circle of about a half of an acre to making a circle that almost went out of hearing. Bean ran with more confidence than he would if he was running solo because he knew if he overran, that he had a safety net behind him, but at the same time he could focus on the rabbit because neither of the pack mates were going to challenge him for the front. At the same time, the other two ran with more confidence because they knew that they were in a support role and did not have worry about the front. If someone would have seen that part of the race, they could have easily said that these two were running at least a five, and at times a six and they would not have been wrong. So what is their speed?
I apologize for my ramblings and hope that it makes sense. I hope that it at least spurs some thoughts about your pack. I would love for other beaglers to share some of their experiences and thoughts on the subject. I am going to try to post an article like this every couple of weeks on the straightupthemiddle.com website and the straightupthemiddle Facebook page. I hope that you will join in on the discussion. The next installment will be how I personally use pack dynamics to influence my breeding strategies for my pack.