There are many ways to turn a young coonhound into a top-notch trailing dog, but one of the biggest things I think you can do to help him along is to help him learn independence. I’m going to tell you the basics of how I do that as part of my training routine. I hope you can work some of these tips into your own training.
The type of dog I want is one that has confidence and thinks for himself. If I have a litter of pups, I’m always watching for the one that goes off and does his own thing. I want one that doesn’t worry too much about what the others are doing and doesn’t get easily distracted. Once I’ve picked that pup, I spend as much one-on-one time with him as I can. He’s learning as much about me as I’m learning about him, to the point that if and when I need to discipline him, he’ll know exactly what he did wrong.
I get a young pup started at around four months old by having him trail a coon hide that I use as a drag. At first this is just trailing it around the yard, but then as he gets better at finding it I make that drag longer so he has to work harder.
Once a pup is really fired up and has gotten confident in trailing the drag, the next step for a lot of people is to progress to a caged coon that they turn loose and let the dog sight-chase it. After that they turn one loose where the dog can’t see it, making him use his nose to trail it. I don’t do that though. I skip past the use of a caged coon and go right to letting that young dog hunt in the timber with an older dog. I believe the dog either has the instincts to figure it out that way or he doesn’t.
Spring is the best time to get that young dog out into the woods because there are lots of young coons out and about, so there’s lots of scent for him to work on. He’ll have the chance to trail and be successful, but there are times that he won’t be. That’s OK, because in that way dogs are like humans; they learn from their mistakes. This is the kind of experience a pup just can’t get by chasing a caged coon.
If you take a pup with that independent attitude and spend lots and lots of one-on-one time with him, give him lots of opportunities to find game and let him learn on his own, you’re going to end up with a great dog. What you do need to watch for, however, is the type of dog that just runs along behind the others. If you see that happening, you need to pull that dog out of the woods and spend some time training him by himself. That’s the type of dog that maybe actually does need the chance to sight-chase a coon to get fired up.
After I’ve had a young dog run with an older one and learn a few things, then I go back to hunting him by himself. It’s up to that dog to figure things out on his own. He might have to work on a cold track, for example, and I know if he works it out, he did it by himself. If I have a dog that’s treeing by himself at six months old, I’m going to keep hunting that dog by himself and he’s going to get better and better. I really believe that too often people run dogs together and the ones that don’t have a lot of independence will start relying on the other ones. Of course, one you have an experienced dog that’s two or three years old, you can pretty much hunt him with other experienced dogs and not have to worry about him developing bad habits.
So, ask yourself what kind of dog you want. Do you want an average hound that runs with the pack or a top-notch dog that can do it all? If you want to get the most out of a hound, one-on-one time in the timber going after wild coons is the way to get there.