The variety of the Dachshund breed is mirrored in the vast differences we see in the Dachshund field trials across the country. From the level, open terrain at the Lone Star Dachshund Conservancy Grounds in Ladonia, TX to the olive groves in Chino, CA to the steep hills in Vacaville, CA to the rolling hills at the Louisville, KY and White Hall, Maryland trials. Not only does the terrain differ but out West they often run jackrabbits with their long strides and mile long runs vs. the cottontails that tend to run a circle in a couple acres in the rest of the country. The sizes of the grounds vary also, from the 470-acre Lagoon Valley Regional Park in Vacaville, CA to the 16 acre fenced grounds of the Lone Star Dachshund Conservancy and many sizes in between. One thing remains the same, the joy in watching our breed perform in the field.
The only thing you need to get started training your dachshund for these events is a field with some rabbits. If you live in a populated area, some good places to search for rabbits are schoolyards, industrial parks, and other areas with bushes for cover and wide open lawns. At dusk, when the rabbits will come out to feed, take your dachshund on leash to one of these sites. Watch for a rabbit and be sure to watch the exact path he takes. When you are starting your Dachshund on rabbits, you need to be sure to keep him close to the rabbit’s tracks so that he learns from the beginning to work closely and not swing wide. It is similar to starting a dog tracking, in that you are setting the good habits from the beginning. And ALWAYS remember that this is not a coursing competition but a scent hound competition. You do not want to show your dog the rabbit but rather get him focused on the scent trail the rabbit leaves for him to follow.
When you walk your Dachshund up to the spot where you saw the rabbit, quietly, use the words you will use to release him at the field trial. Some people say, “Find it,” others use “Hunt.” There as many commands as there are handlers. You don’t want to excite the dog. Always remember that running a rabbit requires a dog to problem solve in order to work out the line when the rabbit turns (this is called a ‘check’); to have patience in working difficult lines, and to think in order to determine direction on the line.
I have found that a dog that is a good obedience prospect is usually a good field trial prospect. He wants to work with the handler; is a good problem solver and has patience to figure things out.
At first your dog may not understand what it is you are asking but just keep walking him along the line the rabbit took and quietly encouraging him with your voice and by patting the ground. Once he puts his nose down and is following the line, stop talking and just let him do his work. If he comes to a spot where the rabbit turned, wait patiently and see what he does. If he keeps coming back to the last track he smelled then he is doing exactly what you want. If he wants to run off and bounce around looking for the next track, gently restrain him and again encourage him to get his nose down. Then, since YOU know where the rabbit went, encourage him in that direction. Once he is going on the line again, let him work without interfering with him.
Dogs learn by being exposed to their work often. So if you have a chance to work your dog more than once a day on rabbits, so much the better. The more often you get your dog out the quicker he will learn. And by keeping him under control, he won’t be able to pick up any bad habits. Once he is learning to follow the trails of the rabbits on the lawns and open areas, it is a good idea to find some place where he will be forced to follow the tracks into heavier cover or in the woods. While he is learning to follow rabbits you can also just take him for walks through cover and the woods so that he is used negotiating the obstacles he may find at a field trial, such as brush piles, logs, ditches, etc.
Now is also a good time to investigate Dachshund field trials! To learn more about what goes on at a field trial, visit a local club’s event. Also, contact your local club and see if they ever have practice sessions or someone in the club who would be willing to take you out to work your dog.
Another good way to learn more about field trials is to attend a Beagle field trial in your area and talk to the beaglers. You will find them very willing to talk to you about field trials and beagles. And if you go to a brace trial it will be very easy to see all the positive and negative traits covered in the Dachshund field trial rulebook. Many of the Dachshund field trials are held at Beagle Clubs. All hounds work a bit differently but they also have a lot of similarities. So the more hounds you see work, the better you will understand how a Dachshund should work.
So while you are getting your Dachshund started in the field, you will also want to read your Dachshund field trial rulebook; attend a few Beagle and Dachshund field trials; contact your local Dachshund club for any help they can offer but most of all enjoy the special time you are taking to expose your Dachshund to some of the work he was bred to do and the camaraderie you will find with other Dachshund owners!