Standing at the fence while watching the pre-puppy show last week I asked our co-Master, Anne McIntosh, if she thought there is much difference between the girl hounds and the boy hounds. (Ok, I’ll call them bitches and dogs, but my little girl is so sweet, it’s hard to call her a bitch. I know a few bitches and she doesn’t act anything like them.) Guy, our huntsman, and his whip, Neil, put the yearling hounds through their paces for the judges. They’re ready to hunt this season, cubbing anyhow, beginning the first Saturday in September. Galaxy, a bitch I walked last year, was in the crowded little yard around which spectators leaned to watch. “The bitches are just so full of life,” Anne said. I had to agree. They are, from day one, more lively, curious, and all around keener than the dogs. At least for the first few weeks.
Motive and Monarch have fit the mold so far. Motive learned her name before Monarch, who still doesn’t know his—he comes to “puppy” pretty well—and Motive got the hang of walking on her leash before Monarch. Each day I put a collar and leash on them to walk back to their stall in the barn for a nap or their night-time bed-down. Monarch has a temper tantrum half-way to the barn, jumping and squealing and trying to break away. After that he attacks Motive, who is trotting along happily because she knows she’ll get a treat when we get there. He snaps at her feet and tackles her from behind, fakes right, goes left, all while I’m trying to keep their leashes from wrapping around my ankles and tripping me up. Motive learned to follow me on our evening walk to the pond before her brother got the concept of staying with the pack. At first he was easily distracted by butterflies and grasses blowing in the breeze, stumps and logs with sweetly fowl-smelling grubs. When we reached the pond Motive dove in like an Olympian while Monarch stood without a paw in the muck, barking at her audacity.
I’m a mother of three boys and I can’t help notice the parallel. Watching my boys try to compete with their girl peers in elementary and middle school was amusing at times, heartbreaking at others. Let’s face it: in those early years, girls rule. Most girls (I’m remembering my first years in school) will do just about anything to please the teacher; boys couldn’t care less. Girls will sit still with their feet in front of them, say please and thank-you, stand in line, take turns, share their crayons and never ever fart in public. Outwardly, they are light-years ahead of their dumb male counterparts, and when I was in first grade I never let pass an opportunity to point this out. Then, in middle school, the estrogen takes charge and the testosterone kicks in and the boys take over. They’re the risk-takers, the back-talkers, the fine-line-walkers and the out-of-the-box thinkers. Raising three men turned me into a nature-over-nurture philosopher. Boys aren’t better or worse than girls, just different. Now in their twenties, my young men are finally recognizing their potential.
So it seems with the pups, only sped up in dog-years. The pups have been here for four weeks. Last week they stayed with Guy at the kennels while I was at the beach and when I returned the difference wasn’t only in their size but in their demeanors. Motive is still out ahead on most of our walks, but I see that it is Monarch’s willingness to put his nose to the ground and root for the scent that will make him, if not necessarily a better hunter, at least a different kind of hunter.
I called Guy to ask his opinion. “The bitches may be brighter and a bit faster,” he told me. “Some say the dogs are a bit more methodical.” I guess that’s what I’ve noticed about Monarch, he’s just more methodical, seems to give things a little more thought before jumping in.
Monday I climbed on my horse Smuggler and called Ashie, our German Shepherd who is their adopted mother, to gather the pups. It was time they learned to follow a horse. “Good puppies,” I said over and over as Motive fell in step behind Smuggler. Monday morning was cool and moist from a weekend of rain. A little moisture still hung over the Green Spring mill pond and I noticed that the grasses glowed golden-brown. It’s beginning to look and feel like hunting season.
Monarch hung back. His bark is a little like our young rooster’s crow. He let out a “woo-woo” as the other dogs and I left him behind. “Come on, Monarch,” I called over my shoulder. He finally came at a bouncy gallop down the path. He stayed well back at first, but then took the lead, practically smiling up at me as he passed Smuggler and dove down the steep bank into the pond. As in past puppy summers, the dog pup, though slower to mature, is gradually finding his stride.