By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
On Christmas afternoon I found time to sit in a deer stand overlooking a food plot, getting away from my job as family toy assembler and tech gadget technician for a while and, before I left, it reminded me of what’s important in life.
In the course of three hours I saw rabbits, a red tailed hawk, a few doves, two small bucks and, finally, a beagle in an orange collar that had wandered over from the neighbor’s property and happened upon the green field I was watching about 15 minutes before prime time.
Most good hunting beagles are difficult at best to call up and catch, especially for people they don’t know. Exactly what part of their instinct this trait touches on, whether it’s a desire to keep hunting or a reluctance to submit to the will of another, or something else altogether, it’s always been part of my experience with the little hounds. They’re hunting dogs, not pets, and it doesn’t take much time spent around them to realize that.
When you see a ranking of dog breeds on a comparative intelligence scale, you’ll almost always find 79 or 80 breeds ranked, and you’ll typically find beagles within easy reach of the bottom. I think this is a bad rap. Rather than intelligence, I think the scale ranks breeds by their desire to please their master. It’s haughtiness on our part to assume willingness to please equates to intelligence.
I don’t have any formal training in dog behavior, but I have quite a bit of informal experience, and it’s been my experience beagles are interested in pleasing their owners in the same way five-year-old boys are interested in calculus. It’s not that they’re not intelligent, it’s just that they don’t have the slightest concern about what you want. When they do respond to a command from a person they’ve never seen before, it’s either a case of outrageous coincidence or dire need. That probably applies to people as well as beagles, for that matter.
When I got to the end of the field this beagle had walked through, I found he’d wandered down a field road about a hundred yards in the direction taken by the two deer he’d just spooked, just sniffling and snuffling along. He wasn’t interested in the deer and probably never had been.
When I whistled he turned immediately and shambled my way. I scooped him up, read the name plate on his collar and headed to the house. My brother-in-law and I took him home, where he was happy to be. Greeted by his kennelmates, his best Christmas present was simply returning to a place he’d left. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, and it doesn’t take a high-tech gadget to find it.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.