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Exposing The Ute-Finding Myths. (Troy Crittle)

A ute-finding dog is simply a pig dog that will jump from a vehicle when it smells a pig and track the pig using its nose.  Once the pig is found it will either bail the pig up or hold it until the owner arrives.  

The Ute finding dog or whatever else you want to call it has reached god-like proportions among some of the pig hunting community.  Iíve heard stories of people paying in excess of $1500 for a ute-finder.  Iím sure people have paid more.  If someone wants to pay that sort of money for a pig dog then that is their decision, but frankly I canít see the value.  Itís not hard to train a dog to ute-find, nor does it take any special dog.  This will explain what I think are the keys to starting and working a Ute finder. 

The Dog

To me the breed of the dog is largely irrelevant; almost all dogs have a good sense of smell and are more than capable of finding pigs.  Itís up to you.   What kind of dog you want to hunt?  Choose the type of dog that you like, youíll be happier with it and probably put more effort into its training.  When I choose a pig dog I donít categorise it in terms of being a ďfinderĒ or ďholderĒ.  I like dogs that will both find and hold cleanly.  There are three factors that I consider when getting a dog - parents, confirmation and hunting drive. 

There is no doubt that a lot of good pig dogs had parents that have never seen a pig and yes, hunting is instinctive to most dogs but its important to me that the parents of any dog I select work and work well.  It probably takes 12 to 18 months to train a pup to ute-find on its own.  When you add up the time, money and patience required, a new dog is a big investment.  And you want it to work.   Thatís why I choose pups from the best working parents I can find, there is no guarantee that the dog will work but if both the parents are good solid workers your chances are maximised.  Iím wary of getting pups from breeders that only work the father and not the bitch or vice versa.  Sure, she may have grabbed a pig or two that another dog caught but what is the full story?  Did she bite pigs on the leg?  Was she aggressive around other dogs? Hard to control?  Unless the both parents are hard and regular workers from someone you can trust give them a miss.  You may have to wait a little longer or travel a bit further to get the pup you want but believe me it will be worth it in the long run. 

I said before that the breed of the dog is unimportant.  Well I think that is true to a certain extent.  There are many breeds and crosses of dog used to catch pigs and stating that one breed of dog is better than any other is a quicker way of getting into a fight in a bush pub than arguing about the one or two shot rule on the pool table. Regardless of what breed or type of dog you choose confirmation (shape and size) is important. Too small a dog and itíll lack the leg speed and power of the larger breeds.  Too lightly built and you compromise holding ability.  Too large and itíll overheat quickly and lack the agility to chase and corner effectively.  Itís a fine balance. Iíve had most types and shapes of dogs and I believe that a dog with a body about the size and shape of a Dalmatian is just about ideal. 

Just for the record the dogs that I prefer are Wolfhound and Staghounds crossed with Boxer and Bull Mastiff or something of that sort.  If you get a good medium sized, three quarter staghound bull mastiff or boxer cross   about 30 Ė 35 kg that is agile and with plenty of leg I reckon they are very hard to beat. 

If you in the business of creating a good ute-finder then without question the most important quality your dog must have is the will and drive to hunt.  A dog will never find pigs without it.  Itís the want and need to find and chase game that makes a good Ute finder and itís the extra commitment and determination to hunt that separates the good finders from the exceptional ones. 

Almost all dogs have this instinct to hunt and chase game.  Normally itís a case of turning it down rather than brining it out of a pup, but more on that later.  Itís this drive that makes dogs you wouldnít normally associate with pig hunting pretty good finding dogs.  Border Collies, Kelpies and Pointers can all make excellent ute-finders, some say the best.  Iím certainly not going to argue against them.  But when you choose a Ute finder from traditional pig dog breeding how do you know if itís got this ďdriveĒ?  If you are choosing a pup less than six months old then itís really important that you look closely at the parents.   I reckon that there are a couple of things you can look for in the parents that help you decide if their pups are worth buying.  Firstly, have a look at the parents, are they nervous or aggressive?  Ask how often the parents are worked.  The more they are hunted the better the chance is that they are good, hard workers.  Ask if the parents have been bred before, if so how did the pups go?  Did they work at a young age? If this is their first litter then ask how quickly the parents started working.  I think that this is the most important question that you can ask of a pig dog breeder.  Iíve had lots of dogs over the past few years and had more than my quota of dogs that didnít make the cut.  Without exception all of these underachievers took a lot to get started.  Some hunters will make excuses for pups and say ďitís just the type of dog; they donít come good until there 18 months oldĒ.  I couldnít disagree more.  Just as all the failures that I have had didnít work as young dogs all the good dogs I have owned or worked have shown some interest in pigs from the first couple of times they are taken out, normally about six months of age.  You may be thinking that this is fine if all you need is a pig holding machine built like a fridge.  But it seems to me that the drive, instinct and hunting qualities that make a dog want to hold or bail pigs at a young age are the same qualities that make excellent ute-finders. 

Choosing a young dog up to about 12 months of age from a breeder or hunter requires some care.  My advice is to go to someone you either know or someone that you trust.  When considering a young dog ask the same questions that you would when buying a pup, plus a few more.  Has the dog had any work? How did the dog perform?  Did the person selling the dog breed it?  If not who did?  Buying a dog that is a bit older allows you to assess its character more fully than a young pup.  Get the breeder to let the dog out and have a run around.  Does it tear around crazy like it hasnít had a run for weeks?  Does it run around, do its thing and come over to you or the owner for a pat?  If the dog is only socialising with the other dogs in the yard or is timid (not just shy thereís a difference) give it a very big miss.   

Does it run around and then jump up on the back of a Ute.  If it does thatís a good sign.  Ask the breeder if you can take the dog for a drive up the road, preferably around some stock or kangaroos.  Once youíre driving along does the dog stand up and sniff the air or look scared or lay down immediately?  If the dog is an older pup say 6- 12 months old what does it do when you drive past stock?  Youíre looking for pups that are interested, have a sniff, work out that those things are stock and none of their business and look away.  This shows that the pup is keen and will hunt but knows the difference between game and stock. 

So ok youíve got your great new pup with heaps of ability.  Its parents are great workers and it really looks the goods.  All of that ability is not much use unless the young dog knows what it is supposed to be looking for.  Thatís the part where you come in. 

Starting your ute-finder 

If you get a bunch of pig hunters together the odds are that they will all have different ideas on how to start young dogs and how best to get them finding pigs from the ute. 

All of the different training methods have their merits but there is one overriding rule to teaching dogs to find pigs.  Ready?  Here it is.  Pig dogs chase pigs.  Not exactly brain surgery and I donít think it will win me a Nobel Prize.  But trust me, the most important thing you can teach a dog is that pigs are the only thing it should be interested in.  All the other things can come later.  

Why is it so important?  Letís talk a little bit about hunting.  Almost all pig hunters that do lots of Ute finding hunt with the dogs loose on the back of the Ute.  This allows the dogs to jump from the back of the vehicle to investigate every time that they smell a pig.  Itís important that the dogs do not jump off and chase anything other than a pig.  If the dogs are jumping off and sniffing around you should be sure that its pigs they are after or youíll be chasing them all over the place on the trail of kangaroos. 

I know that some hunters out there will be saying that their Ute finding pig dogs will also catch foxes on command, point Quail and retrieve Ducks.  Fine, if thatís what you want but I like to know that when a dog of mine jumps off the Ute that itís after a pig.  

I personally know professional kangaroo shooters that use their dogs to find shot roos in long grass.  Most of them say that the dogs wonít jump of and chase roos and mostly thatís true.  But if you quiz them further most would admit that the dogs would chase roos if youíre walking up pigs on the ground.  

Moral of the story?  Just as one size does not fit all there is no dog that can hunt different game.  So donít try to find it.  People smarter than you or I took hundreds and in some cases thousands of years to develop breeds that have unique traits.  Be specific and clear in what you want your dog to hunt. If you want to retrieve ducks then buy a Labrador, letting your pig dog do it will only cause you problems. 

So how do you teach your dog to be so specific?  Again itís a simple but important rule.  Start them early, work them often. 

By starting them early I donít mean that you should take your eight week old pup hunting.  Iím talking about introducing the pup to all the sorts of things that should not concern it.  Get a light lead and show your pup the neighbourís chooks or your kidís pet rabbit.  Let the pup get used to all these things, allow it to sniff and investigate but if it gets rough or wants to chase in any way pull it back on the lead and chastise it.

I normally progress training to the paddock and the pup to being around stock and kangaroos at about four months of age.  The first couple of times just let the pup have a sniff and a run around, let it enjoy the area.  If it runs around too much put it on the lead so that you retain control.  The next step is to put the pup in a situation where it wants to chase something.  I normally do this with kangaroos but the same theory would apply to stock, wombats or cassowaries.  Find an area where there are lots of  kangaroos that are relatively quiet and used to humans, such as you would find at a camping ground, youíll also need a dog lead about 1.8m long and a long piece of thin nylon rope about 15m in length.  Walk around with the pup on the short lead and get as close as you can to the Kangaroos.  When they start to move watch the reaction of the dog, if it lurches forward shout pull it back on the lead and yell, loudly, stare at the dog and yell a couple of more times.  Go over to where the roos were sitting.  If the pup sniffs the ground and tries to follow the rooís scent repeat the shouting and staring.  Walk around for a few minutes more and repeat the process if the dog shows any interest in the kangaroos again.  For the next phase of the training put the dog on the nylon rope and let him run around loose.  I like to do this on the same day as the short lead training as it seems to reinforce the message.  Let the pup run around and explore the area, call it back now and then and give it a pat.  The dog will probably be feeling a little unsure about the whole episode and will probably stick fairly close to you anyway.  Walk around the area and try to find some more kangaroos.  This time if the dog starts after the roos stand on the end of the rope and yell No! Chastise the dog and pull it toward you on the rope.  Repeat this process a couple of times.  Finish up back at the car and do something that the dog enjoys doing, chasing a ball, a swim or just a bit of a game, itís up to you.  This tells the dog thatís it has done a good job and you are happy with it.  Donít worry that the dog will associate the fun thing with the kangaroos.  They have a very short attention span and if you watch and older dog discipline a younger one the younger one comes back almost immediately seeking reassurance.  This is what you are simulating. 

Depending on the pup I like to do this sort of training for an hour or so on a weekend afternoon.  I try to do a block of about 4 weekends more or less in a row so the message sinks in.  Pups in their ďteensĒ 8 to 12 months may take a little longer to get through too.  I find it easier to take pups out at the 4 to 6 month stage. 

The next natural progression is to walking through kangaroos or stock with the dog off the lead.  Let the pup hunt about naturally but when you see kangaroos or stock call the dog and give it a pat.  This will teach the dog to come to you when it sees something other than a pig. 

Training pups in this way may not stop pups chasing game altogether, especially after you start the pup on pigs.  You really need to work hard at it and have lots of patience.  This training though gives you a great base to work from and will make the pup much more controllable.  If it does chase a roo or rabbit you should at least be able to call the dog back and discipline it.  By the time the dog is 8 to 10 months old you should be reasonably comfortable with the pup around stock and the main types of wildlife.  It will take some time for the dog to get used to other things such as foxes.  But with a good amount of training already done the pup shouldnít be too bad.

Iíve found that when the dog matures a bit and has caught a few pigs that instead of coming back to you when kangaroos are in sight it will stop and look back to you as if to say ďlook boss Iím not chasing these thingsĒ.  Thatís the stage you want to get your dog to. Itís not easy and it takes a lot of work, but its worth doing. 

Working your young ute-finder 

Work them often.  At the 8 to 12 month stage you should work the pup as much as you can.  Twice a week is good if you can manage it.  I try to take my dogs hunting at least every weekend and then one afternoon during the week.  This is easier said than done of course as all of us have work and family commitments.  I find it difficult to squeeze in a hunt in the winter when the days are shorter. 

Depending on the timing I try to use short weekend hunts and quick afternoon runs in the summer to get pups to a stage where they can catch smallish pigs on their own or lug with another dog and are stock and kangaroo proof.  I then try to organise a couple of four day or even a week long hunt out west in the cooler months.  You simply canít get better work for young dogs than catching 8 or 10 medium sized pigs in a day.  I like to take my 4-wheeler bike and ride along the lignum creeks or scrubby patches with 2 young dogs.  This gives you the opportunity to correct the dogs if they are showing interest in wildlife.  This is also an excellent way of teaching the pups to ute-find. After you flush and catch a few pigs the pups will be very keen to look for more pigs and the progression to jumping off the bike when they smell a pig is an easy and natural one. 

Work, work and more work.  The next stage is the finishing one.  At about 12 months you should be able to work the pup as a part of a team or on its own under a little supervision.  Try to work the dog as much as you can.  Always work the young dog with other ďstraightĒ dogs that only chase pigs. 

When your dog starts to find pigs it will be jumping off the Ute, probably at night and going tearing off into the bush.  Youíll have to put a lot of trust in the dog and hope that it is doing the right thing.  Donít call the dog back unless you are sure that itís after something it shouldnít be.  Youíll also probably get a lot of false starts and missed pigs at first but as the dogís tracking ability improves so will the amount of pigs caught.  Be patient.  Most dogs only get better with more experience. 

Itís a lot of work training a dog to ute-find and getting it to work properly.  There are no shortcuts.  It can be frustrating and expensive.  But seeing a dog locate a pig scent from the thousands of others that waft past, trail a pig and then catch it is fantastic.  If thereís a bigger buzz in pig hunting I havenít found it yet.

Bonk,  a Blue Great Dane Bull Mastiff Wolfhound that I bought from Kevin Grob.  A good fast dog that found to a medium range from the ute.  The first dog that I taught to ute-find.
Boyd, a Bull Mastiff cross owned by Cliff Rose.  A good honest finder that lugged very hard.  He found to a long range so he was kept in the cage until he started making a noise.  Heís an old dog in this photo and is showing it.
Axle, a Wolfhound, Boxer, Bullmastiff cross at about 8 months.  I started him for a mate and had to give him back.  This was one of the first pigs he caught.  He was an A grade ute finder.  He would scream in the back of a ute if he could smell a pig.  One of the best dogs I have ever seen, he was the complete package.  My wife Natalie on her first pighunt is not quite sure what its all about.
Rambo, a Bully, Stag, Cattledog cross.  Owned by Shane Mundy.  The first dog that I saw find off the ute.  He was a great finding dog in any situation, heíd find and bail until another dog arrived.  He is an old dog here and was mainly letting his pups do the hard work.

 

Buddy, a ĺ Wolfhound owned by Noel Johnson from Clermont.  A good finder off the ute or on the ground.  He was very reliable.  If Buddy jumped youíd get pigs.  The best dog that I saw for getting pigs from a mob.  As soon as he saw you had the pig he would be one gone and have another.  He was a huge dog and he could run down boars very quickly.  He caught 3 boars from one mob on his own, all between 90-100 kg.  He has lots of offspring in the Clermont region.  There is 33 pigs in the trailer.
Major, the big black dog gives it to a boar.  Major was a Mastiff, Boxer, Dane that I bought from a guy from Sydney.  He was a great ute finder and had a really good nose.  He was a bit slow and sometimes it took him a long way to pull up a pig.  I would have liked to put him over a stag bitch.  He was too hard for a long range finder and it bought him unstuck in the end.
Rip, the dog on the ground is a Bully, Boxer, Dane I think.  He was given to me by a mate from Nyngan.  He is one of my current dogs.  No world-beater but is reliable from the ute.  He gets out of finds.  He is good at catching his own pig from a mob and will go past dogs on pigs to do it, more to do with him being half deaf than a smart dog though.

 

Bill, on the right of the photo.  He was a Dane, Wolfhound, Stag, Bully cross.  He was bred by Jason Hodges from Croppa Creek in NSW.  He was an outstanding finder and started finding off the ute on his own before he was 10 months old.  The best dog that Iíve ever owned.  Jason has bred this line of dog for years and Iíd recommend them to anyone.  The bitch on the left is Becca, a Mastiff Wolfhound cross, she was a good hard bitch.
Jack, on the left of the photo was bred by John Loud from Molong owned by a mate.  He was a very hard lugger and hunted hard both off the ute and on the ground.  He often pulled off some fantastic finds.  One of those dogs that would hunt himself into the ground.  Here he has just caught a NT boar and is well in control.
Another photo of me and Bill.  He was the only dog I had for quite a while and used to be called on to do all the work.  He caught 7 one after the other on this afternoon.
Fred the foxhound.  Fred was a really nice dog but hunted too far and hard.  He was very open mouthed and scared the life out of everything for miles.  Major in the background.  The white bitch is a sister to Rip (above).

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