How can I give my coonhound adequate exercise?
I live in the suburbs, in Westchester, NY. My Coonhound Sparky is 1 year old. I take him to the dog park regularly, and he loves playing with other dogs, but he clearly needs to run in a much bigger space. I take him for a long walk/run (1.5) hours once or twice a week and have been attempting to train him to run off the leash. Do you have any tips for doing this safely/effectively? I was interested to read that they normally hunt out of sight of their handler, because he often does go into the brush, away from me, and I try to stay in contact with him vocally, and he generally does come back. But we have had some challenges, such as, his swimming across and pond and running out the other side (after geese) or swimming way out into the Hudson River (also after geese), which he did this morning. How can I teach him to stay close enough to be safe? Thank you.
A from Emmy Sue
Let's separate this into two different issues: 1) How much exercise does my coonhound need? and 2) How do I keep my coonhound safe off lead?
1) How much exercise does my coonhound need?
At a year old, Sparky is the equivalent of a young human teenager, and is probably as boisterous as he will ever be. You say he loves to play with other dogs at the dog park, but clearly needs a much bigger space to run around in. I'm not sure that's accurate--the easiest way to physically tire out a pet coonhound is to give him another dog to play with. My hounds have a very big fenced yard to play in, but don't use the whole thing most of the time--they stick pretty near the porch. My younger hound, George, prefers to charge up and down the stairs when he is wound up. He also wrestles on the bed with our neighbors' Australian shepherd and circles the flower bed. These activities are very vigorous but don't take up a huge amount of space. A young coonhound is very agile and is perfectly happy running around in pretty tight circles and jumping on and off large objects (like a picnic table or bench at the dog park). Most coonhounds spend a lot of time just lying around punctuated by short bursts of intense physical activity.
You may find that Sparky gets tired out by exercising his nose as much as by exercising his body. While that won't keep his muscles toned, it will teach him to respect you as his partner by showing him you appreciate what he is good at. You can find some descriptions of simple scent games you can play with your dog on the late Suzanne Clothier's website here: https://suzanneclothier.com/article/scent-games-educating-dogs-nose/
Many hunting coonhounds live large portions of their lives tied up or confined to pretty small kennels, punctuated by long runs (sometimes many miles) in hunting season. The luckier ones get taken out for exercise runs in the closed hunting season, often on farm roads accompanied by an off-road vehicle. If you have access to a large public park or private farm or estate, there may be a place near you with little traffic where you can let Sparky off lead on a dead end road and keep him in sight while you slowly drive your vehicle or ride a bicycle.. [A hound's maximum speed is usually about 20 mph, but a long run is typically closer to 5 mph]. When at their prime, my hounds could easily do ten or twelve miles, although we rarely did more than five. There are dead end roads near me in the Catskills where I can do this, and I sometimes do, but it is not entirely safe. There is the possibility of other vehicles and unfriendly dogs, there are all those blind spots when the dog is running close to the vehicle, plus the possibility that the hound catches a whiff of a raccoon or bear or house cat and takes off hunting. The hound will usually stick near the vehicle if you keep it running near its maximum sustained speed. My dogs are allowed to hunt and wear tracking collars when they do this so I can find them again, but most hounds, once on a scent, can't be called off easily, so I have to go to them if they tree something. Almost all hounds will make a racket if they tree something, so they can be found if you listen carefully, but it may be a porcupine or in thick briars or poison ivy, and you will have to get to the dog and leash it up to get it away from the game. This requires a good sense of humor and sometimes some bravery. My hounds are often out of sight when I am doing this--just below road grade in a river bed next to the road, in a blind spot around the truck, etc. This can be heart stopping until you get used to it. I ride with the windows open even in winter cold and the radio off so I can hear panting and feet pounding nearby. I put a bright LED light on their collars to improve visibility. Also, a hound that doesn't get out very often may be reluctant to get back in the vehicle when you've had enough. I keep a jar of extra good treats (freeze dried lamb lungs) in the glove compartment for bribing them back when necessary.
2) How do I keep my coonhound safe off lead?
First, get an LED collar light to improve visibility in thick brush, poorly lit areas, etc. These are cheap--a really fancy one costs $15. Blue is the highest visibility color and can be seen well before you can figure out it's a dog with it. My hounds have scared a few joggers wearing them.
These days, most hunters use GPS tracking systems on their hounds when they are hunting them. These are a considerable investment--a complete system with handheld display device and one collar can cost around a thousand dollars, with extra collars $250 or so apiece. These are available at hound hunting supply stores online, such as Valley Creek, Lion Country Supply, etc. and the big hunting supply chains like Cabela's and Dick's. Garmin is the industry standard brand. Before GPS systems, there were radio based systems. These were harder to learn to use, and can echo off reflective geographic features. Because these are no longer the state of the art you can get some bargains on these. Try CollarClinic.com for used systems. There are other brands that are designed for keeping track of pets and/or use in Europe that involve a monthly fee, and work on your cell phone, but they are not as sturdy. I live where there's no cell phone service, and some geographic formations (mountains, iron mines) make satellite based systems unreliable. The radio systems can be annoying in mountains--nothing like climbing a mountain to find your dog and discovering that the signal was reflected and you climbed the wrong mountain. The GPS systems allow you to track your dog in real time and to know whether it is getting close to a house or road. They also record other things like your dog's average speed and whether or not it is treeing. The old radio systems lasted longer, however. The GPS systems lose their charge in less than a full day, whereas the radio systems lasted up to a week.
Hunters often put shock collars on their hounds as well. While pet owners, myself included, don't usually like to do this, they can be used humanely and they can stop a dog in it's tracks instantaneously and save it's life when it is about to run into traffic or out on thin ice. I do have a shock collar and put it on my dog when it is hunting someplace unfamiliar to me. If you purchase a shock collar, make sure it is one that has multiple settings, including one that is just a tone with no shock. These can be very useful training devices, but make sure you read/watch the training instructions. Most hounds only take a few light tickles to learn to respond to a shocking system. However, they are smart enough to know when they have a shock collar on and when they don't. Dogs trained with a shock collar may need to wear at least a dummy shock collar to behave. [A dummy collar has the probes that administer the shocks but doesn't have power. Hunters sometimes use an old broken collar or uncharged collar for this purpose.] You can't leave the shocking collar on full time because the probes will create sores if you leave it on for more than about 12 hours.
Many hounds (but not all) love to swim. A few hate going over their head. They are typically strong natural swimmers, although some need experience or a swim with a better swimmer to learn from. But swift currents can cause problems. If you need to call your hound back to shore in a river with a current, like the Hudson, make sure you call him from downstream. Hounds can drown fighting a swift current either from exhaustion or being swept under an object like a fallen tree or ice.
You can teach your hound not to chase geese easily enough. Just reprimand him gently after he does it. Geese don't smell much like coons, and he'll want to please you, so he'll learn. It may be harder to teach him not to eat goose turds.
You may enjoy watching a competitive hound water race. There is a hound club I sometimes go to in Wingdale NY (Dutchess County) that holds competitive water races, including one upcoming on July 22, and my home hound club in Sullivan County (near the original Woodstock festival) will be holding one on August 5. Go to https://www.ukcdogs.com/coonhound-events-calendar to find other water races. Without papers, Sparky won't be able to compete, but there are usually practice races he would be allowed in. Attendance is free for spectators, although purchases from the kitchen help support the club. Bring a leash for Sparky.