When it's good to talk
Shooting Times & Country|July 29, 2020
When it's good to talk
Hounds are expected to speak but whining or barking is frowned upon in gundog circles. David Tomlinson asks whether silence really is golden
David Tomlinson

DOGS BARK BUT hounds give tongue, a euphemism widely used in the gundog world, too. Hunting with silent (mute) hounds would be very dull, for much of the pleasure of a day’s hunting comes from listening to the pack.

There’s a whole vocabulary to describe the noises they make. Hounds speak to a line but if they are scoring, it’s when the scent is extremely hot and every hound in the pack is speaking to it.

A babbler is a noisy hound, defined in an old hunting book of mine as a hound flinging its tongue without cause, a definition that would also describe many politicians. When a pack is in full cry (a chorus of tongues when all the pack acknowledges a burning scent), the resulting sound might be described by a hunting enthusiast as a crash of hound music.

In total contrast to the hunting world, where hounds are expected to make a noise, gundogs should be seen but never heard. The Kennel Club’s J-regulations, the rules that control trialling, list whining or barking as eliminating faults for all breeds — retrievers, spaniels, pointers and setters and HPRs. The sole exception is the Sussex spaniel, which is permitted to give tongue when on ascent, but at no other time.

“In a lifetime of shooting, I’ve never come across a noisy labrador”

In a lifetime of shooting, I’ve rarely come across a noisy labrador, or at least one that barks when hunting, though I’ve met a good few that would whine or whinge. I remember a trialing friend (who was also an A-panel judge) telling me the story of running a labrador in a trial. He had experienced a particularly difficult journey to get to the venue on time, so was not in the best of moods when he came in line. He had been there for less than a minute when the judge told him to put his dog on a lead. Mystified, he asked why he had been eliminated, only to be told that the judge had heard his dog whimper. Unable to argue, he did as he was told, though he insists to this day that his dog was silent.

Noisy hunters

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July 29, 2020