A Good Hunting Dog by Erkki Santapukki

The barking started surprisingly, excitedly. Would she be barking at an elk? We had seen fresh elk tracks on the road which were headed for the same marsh where we now were. Angela Cavill from England was visiting. I had said on a number of occasions that one cannot fully understand the Finnish Spitz unless one has been hunting with them. Now she had arrived and, naturally, wanted to go hunting with her favourite dog, Pipsa.

The barking is coming from about 300 m away, from a marsh growing pine and dug with drainage trenches. Labrador tea gives off its strong scent and stalks of bilberry and dwarf bitch get entangled about our feet as we approach the barking. "You may soon see an elk", I whisper to Angela. The barking stays in one place. There must be over 100 barks per minutes, which is commendable. The purpose of the Spitz's barking is to indicate the location of game and keep it in that place. At the same time, the sound of barking masks the noises made by the approaching hunter. When barking at a bird, the dog is often under the tree in which the bird is sitting. One can often work out from the direction of his gaze how high in the tree the bird is sitting. This is called 'marking'. It is a quality which is also assessed at Spitz bird barking trials. Additional plus points are awarded for the dog's 'search', his ability to find the birds in the forest and frequency of barks i.e. output. The most points are awarded for how long the dog is able to keep barking the bird without losing it. In addition, how well the dog barks the birds which have been found is assessed. The dog's ability to follow a flying bird is scored, as well as finally finding new objects to bark. The dog's ability to find birds in the trees gives him a few extra points as well. The maximum score is 100. Dogs first compete in the open category. After gaining a first place, they graduate to the champions category. For the award of Show Champion in Finland, two second places or one first place in the champions' category are required. For the award of Working Champion, three first places in the champions' category are required, gained over two years.

Let's return to the marsh and approach. Pipsa's barking cautiously. Finally we catch a sight of the dog. What on earth, she's staring up a tree and barking, so she can't have been barking an elk. Could it be a squirrel?

Using a thick-branched fir tree as a screen we creep closer. A cautious glimpse behind the branches of the fir tree reveals the tree Pipsa is barking. The tree has branches at the top only and on one of the lower branches sits a hen capercaillie. I beckon Angela to come closer, point with my hand and whisper the word 'koppelo'. Angela spots the bird. I realise that she's excited. And, fair enough, for the first time she is seeing a Finnish Spitz barking at a bird. Angela digs a camera out of her coat pocket and takes a picture. Behind the bird there are branches that blend in with her camouflage. We manage to cross a trench and start crawling on all fours circling the barking and using trees and bushes to screen us as best we can. A bird that is being barked is less likely to be frightened away by a person who is crawling than one who is walking upright. "A bird respects a humble man", said one old hunter! Under cover of one small fir tree we finally get to a position where the hen is visible against the sky with Pipsa barking below. We take the picture, but then Angela's camera starts whirring. The film's run out!

So far the barking has been going on for 15 minutes. Having admired the bird and Pipsa's work for a while we decide to scare the bird away. This is not achieved by breaking twigs. Only after we have walked openly about 10 m from the tree does the hen get nervous and takes to flight. Pipsa gallops off after her. A new barking starts about 200 m away. I state the obvious. Pipsa has got a repeat barking. The point of barking is at a dense clump of trees right at the edge of the marsh. Pipsa is not able to mark clearly the tree in which the bird is. So soon it takes to flight as it sees us.

Pipsa follows again but now the hen is flying so far that there is no more barking. Angela is all smiles, "Pipsa is a good hunting dog", she says. I have known it for a long time.




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