Some of the key supporters of any hunt are the ‘puppy walkers’! It is the puppy walkers who help and guide the young hounds through the first few months of life from the time they are old enough to leave their mum at around eight weeks of age. Hound puppies go out to walk in the same way as guide dogs, hearing dogs, police dogs and many other types of dogs that work in conjunction with us humans.
It is common place for a Puppy Walker to have a couple of hounds as they will be company for each other but it is not unusual for walkers to have more if they have the time and the space.
The pups are delivered to their temporary home by the Huntsman on a day that is mutually convenient to himself and the walker. The Huntsman will relay all of the relevant information to the puppy walkers and most importantly make sure that the walker knows the names of the hounds with the correct name being attached to the right puppy.
A supply of food is also delivered, being replenished when the Huntsman makes his regular visits.
During his visits the Huntsman will check the health of the puppies as they begin to develop giving worming doses and inoculations at the appropriate times.
Although the puppies may be allowed in the house when circumstances permit, it is usual for them to live in outbuildings such as a stable or a secure shed unless the puppy walker has a purpose built kennel complete with an attached run.
As the puppies get older it is expected that they will be given more time during the day to wander the farm or stable yards exploring all of the things that they will encounter when they are old enough to return to kennels and join the pack. The puppies will learn to keep out of the way of moving vehicles and not to chase the hens or any other livestock. The common hunting term for this behaviour is ‘riot’ which is attached to hounds chasing anything inappropriate. Hounds spend much of their time in the countryside, often out of the sight of human supervision and must be one hundred percent safe with any livestock. There can be no toleration of any hound chasing livestock.
Sometimes the young hounds are taken out for rides by their walkers to get them used to being in a vehicle. Some puppies even get to have a trip to the local supermarket but have to wait patiently outside of course. The young hounds must get used to people because as a member of the pack they will be subjected to endless petting by people of all ages while waiting excitedly at the meet to move off.
It is not always a good idea for a keen gardener to be a puppy walker as it is well documented that hound puppies enjoy digging but are not always understanding of the difference between granny’s favourite petunias and weeds!
At an age when the young charges start to need greater supervision they are returned to kennels. For some puppies this can be initially upsetting but it is not long before they are getting used to kennel life and the routine.
During the summer months many hunts hold ‘Puppy Shows’, which is a time for the puppies to be shown off to the members of the hunt and their invited guests from neighbouring hunts.
The puppies are paraded and judged, usually by visiting Masters and Huntsmen, with trophies being awarded for the best dog hound and best bitch with other awards being given where appropriate. It is a custom for hunts to give a silver teaspoon with the puppy’s name on to each walker in recognition of all of their hard work and dedication in caring for the puppies.
Puppy walkers are always happy to chat about their experiences and point out their former charges on hunting days, especially if is one of their hounds is at the front of the pack when they are in full cry.
In some areas of the country, hounds return to their walkers at the end of the hunting season and return to kennels at the beginning of the next. This practice is becoming less common as the years progress. It used to be customary with some packs for hounds to live with hunting families with hounds coming together on hunting days. These hounds were said to be ‘trencher fed’!
This has been a brief look at the role of the puppy walker but by talking to the ‘puppy walkers’, you will be given a far greater insight. If you are interested in being a puppy walker, talk to your Huntsman.