As I woke on the morning of 26th August, 2014, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the Countryman’s Weekly coming through the letterbox. It duly arrived at approximately 9.30a.m. Sitting down with a cup of tea, I was straight into the back pages in the hope of finding a pup for sale. I knew what I wanted, my mind was made up several months earlier, it had to be a collie x greyhound. I didn’t want the F1 version, that’s too much collie, it had to be 3/4 greyhound 1/4 collie and it also had to be a bitch.
The reason for that is simply that I like the streamlined form of the bitch, I’ve got nothing against a dog, I just prefer a bitch. Colour was not important to me, as long as it wasn’t a merle pattern. In the back pages there was an advert that caught my attention, ‘Collie/Greyhounds’. Great! ‘Two dog pups’. Damn!!
The guy who placed the advert was Dave Sleight of Mexborough, south Yorkshire. Now this guy has been around a long time and is of a good reputation. Time to give him a ring to see if he could put me in touch with anyone genuine who had a bitch pup for sale of the collie/greyhound variety. Mr Sleight never answered that phone call, but I left him a message explaining my situation.
Later on that afternoon I received a call from Mr Sleight, he had a bitch pup from the mating he had advertised, but I could have it if I wanted it. “She’s a red brindle, 12 weeks old, nice pup” he told me.
Mr Sleight also told me he’d kept dogs of her bloodline that went back to the 1970s. Nice to know. Her sire was the greyhound ‘Top Dollar’, her dam whose name was ‘Bell’, was a 10th generation collie lurcher that went back to his bitch ‘Kizzy’, with whom Mr Sleight won the first ever Chatsworth Field Trials in the 1990s.
I told Mr Sleight I would be interested in buying the bitch and would phone him again in about an hour to let him know what time I would be arriving in his neck of the woods. Train booked, I would be arriving at Rotherham train station about 1p.m. the following day.
Mr Sleight met me at the station and we went to his vehicle where he got the pup out for me. I liked the look of her straight away, nice colour, clear eyes, good tight feet, good scissor bite and a nice long tail. Brilliant, she was everything I wanted. I thanked Mr Sleight and bid him farewell.
August 27th, 2014, was the day my new lurcher pup came into my life and our life’s journey began. Wanting to keep the pup nice and calm for the journey home, I never uttered a single word to her, no need to put any pressure on her. The train ride home gave me time to think of a name for my new lurcher pup; I decided on Jess. My return journey had me supposedly leaving Nottingham train station about 3.30p.m., however, I arrived back in Nottingham train station about 2p.m., and I hate just waiting about. I spoke to a train inspector and managed to blag myself onto an earlier train back, this would get me home to Lowestoft an hour earlier. The pup travelled really well, she lay still all the way back to Norwich train station where I had to change for Lowestoft, and on arriving at Norwich I picked her up and quickly took her outside the station so she could relieve herself if she so wished. She did nothing. Not surprising, she’d had a big day and must have been overwhelmed with all the new sights and sounds and we were still an hour and half from getting home.
We got back into Lowestoft station about 8p.m., I felt exhausted and the pup must have been feeling likewise. I carried her from the station to my home which took about 10 minutes. So after approximately 13 and a half hours of travel, we were home. Heaven. A drink of water for the pup was the first thing on the agenda, then the pup was let into the back garden where she had a good sniff around the place before emptying herself about 10 minutes later. I then brought her into the home and put her into the crate where she was to spend the night. I never closed the door to the crate initially, as I didn’t want the pup to feel imprisoned in any way, this place was to be her sanctuary, a place where she could go to for rest and relaxation.
Finally I could make a cup of tea and sit and relax for an hour or so myself. Bliss!
Before retiring to bed a couple of hours later the pup was again put outside to relieve herself which she did instantly, resulting in me heaping praise on her for the deed. Finally off to bed for us both to get some much needed sleep, as an early start beckoned the following morning.
I woke at 6a.m. the following morning which is pretty much the norm for me, the pup had been brilliant all night, she never made a sound and didn’t soil her bedding, so I let her into the back yard for 20 minutes or so. Now it was time for a bath as I didn’t want her carrying any extra lodgers. That done it was time to let her out again in the back yard to dry off.
Jess was always going to be an indoor living dog, so first and foremost I wanted to build a bond with her. She was easy to train, using both verbal commands and hand signals. By her second full day with me she was letting me know when she wanted to go out to empty herself, this was made easy with her being naturally a clean pup and me heaping big praise on her every time she emptied herself. Jess was making good eye contact with me in less than 24 hours, she was looking straight at me every time I uttered her name. Being 1/4 collie the intelligence was there and it was evident in her learning behaviour. Dog intelligence can be measured through four areas: learning, working, problem solving and instinctual. It wouldn’t be long before she was demonstrating intelligence through all four areas.
My home has a nice little passage way between rooms and this is where she began to learn to retrieve. She did three retrieves a day most days, but not every day, it’s no good to let any training exercise become monotonous, stale and boring. With all the things I wanted to initially teach her, down, stay, blind stay, walking on the lead, retrieving, recall…, not necessarily in that order…, took no longer than 15 minutes combined every day, probably on average 10 sessions a day by a minute and a half each session, with plenty of play time and rest in between.
Just a personal note here, I never teach a lurcher/longdog to sit. Given the shape of a running dog I do think it to be an uncomfortable thing for them to do, therefore the down command is good enough for me, leaving the dog to make the choice whether it sits or lays down.
As Jess grew she got used to jumping on the chair on which she sits in my living room. Eventually I introduced the word “up” to her as she jumped and ultimately when I wanted her to jump. Keeping things simple and treating any animal gently helps you to get the best out of them and this has always been my policy. Jess is not perfect, (neither is her owner) but then again there is no such thing as the perfect lurcher, what counts is that I’m happy with her and I think she’s happy with me. More importantly we share a mutual trust and respect of each other, two requirements that are vital to developing a deep and meaningful bond.
Her feet are nice and compact. She’s always up on her toes due to her being exercised on a daily basis. A few times when we have been out mooching in the day she has found herself walking directly in front of my feet, which irritates me somewhat, but she’s young and still learning but she’s not done it for a while.
Her head is small, much smaller than I had anticipated it to be, she also has big bulging eyes that seem to protrude from her skull, but none of that stops her doing what she was bred to do and she was bred to do a job, she was bred to be a predator. Jess is a finely built lurcher weighing in at nearly 22kg, now fully grown, and measuring about 24/25 inches to the shoulder. She’s sleek like a racehorse, and like a big whippet in appearance, albeit better shaped than a whippet, she won’t win any shows that’s for sure, but I’ve never been a rosette hunter; I bought her to hunt with, pure and simple, and she fills that role more than adequately.
I’m nearly 56 years old now and can’t get out as much as I used to 30 odd years ago, coursing hares with the lurchers, lamping with the lurchers, digging to the terriers… those were the days being out with the dogs 5 and 6 times a week, every week, come rain or shine. Anyway I’m still able to get out and believe me, that’s all that matters.
When I was younger it was all about getting the dogs out and entering them to their quarry as soon as possible. Nowadays I have age and experience on my side. (and I still make mistakes) I could afford to take my time entering Jess to her quarry but there’s no guarantees in life, and life rarely pans out as planned where working dogs are concerned.
The Christmas of 2014, Jess would be about 6 and a half months old. I house sat for my niece and her new husband while they were away visiting family. They had a rabbit hutch in the back garden, in the hutch was a weird looking rabbit, my niece described it as a rabbit x hare. I have no idea if such a thing is possible, all I can say is, it DID resemble both creatures. Anyway, when I saw it, alas, it was dead.
Around that time I had my brother’s lurcher, Mac, he’s a second generation wheaten/greyhound, a big, powerful dog. He broke into the hutch and killed said ‘rabbit’. Jess was outside with him and obviously joined in the mêlée. When I got outside Jess had the animal in her jaws, looking mighty pleased with herself. I beckoned her to me and she retrieved the ‘rabbit’ straight to me.
That was the dogs Christmas dinner sorted anyway!
Boxing Day, about 2p.m., I took Jess and Mac for a walk along some woodland next to a few big fields and a golf course. I didn’t know the area too well and wasn’t expecting to see much, quarry wise, there were a few rabbits out on one of the bigger fields, they were only a few feet from their sanctuary. Me and the dogs took a stroll in their general direction and on seeing us they soon headed into their subterranean abodes. We walked another mile or so and the big dog headed off uphill taking Jess with him to another rabbit warren. As I followed along the path, not 10 feet in front of me, a sika stag passed by and jumped the hedge of blackthorn straight onto the golf course; a big, strong, beautiful, nearly black six pointer stag in pristine condition. I heard some golfers who were a mere 30 feet away shout “deer, look at that deer”. Fortunately the dogs were 80 feet away in the opposite direction and didn’t see a thing due to the lay of the land. The big dog wouldn’t have stood a chance of catching it in a straight run in daylight as age and previous injuries had taken their toll on him. Thankfully he wasn’t by my side when it passed in front of me because he would have been close enough to take it down due to the short distance and the power he possesses, but, back to said events, that would have left me with a big headache as well as a visit from the boys in blue, no doubt, via a phone call from the golfers, what with hunting deer with dogs being illegal. (What possesses somebody to play golf, especially on Boxing Day, suppose it’s a case of to each their own!) For sure, luck smiled on me that Boxing Day.
Sometime in between Christmas and new year I decided to teach Jess some lamping. She’s was approaching 7 months old and still too young in my opinion to go against the real thing. I was given a small toy rabbit for Jess a few months earlier, so I took this toy onto the grass at the side of my home when it was dark and with no prying eyes around. I stuck some silver foil on the toy rabbit’s eyes and put the rabbit on the grass some 40 feet away from where I was going to slip her from, fastening the slip lead to Jess’ collar to keep her by my side. I shone the lamp around the grass, stopping at the rabbit. Then I shook the lamp a little, highlighting the silver foil on the toy rabbits eyes. The little pup pulled forward and feeling the tension come in the lead, I slipped her in anticipation that she’d seen the toy rabbit.
She had, of course she had.
As she ran and picked it up I turned off the lamp and she returned to me immediately with ‘rabbit’ in her jaws. Having made a big fuss of her we repeated the exercise a couple more times and then called it a night. Jess is awesome at taking a squatting rabbit and I do believe the method I used with the ‘toy’ rabbit helped her in achieving this skill, and taking a squatter is definitely a learned skill.
I walk Jess every single day, a minimum of twice a day, come rain or shine. The only times she doesn’t get walked is if it’s raining heavily, or when she comes into heat. During the summer months I have to get up a bit earlier to get her walked before the heat becomes too unbearable and during the summer is usually when it’s down to one walk a day for her and me as the heat drains my energy. I’ve never been a fan of summer, I much prefer the cold. It doesn’t take much to up her exercise routine to get her into peak fitness, trotting at the side of me when I’m on the push-bike as well as taking the ball and thrower to the park and beach really help to build her muscle mass and bring her to peak fitness prior to her going lamping.
Where we walk there are plenty of opportunities to walk with Jess off leash and I’ve used these opportunities to teach Jess to walk to heal without a leash. On a particular path that cuts alongside a cemetery, a college and an housing estate, squirrels, foxes and deer are to be found there on a regular basis. I’ve counted no less than a dozen separate fox earths and more than a dozen drays. I’ve seen three different species of deer on this path: muntjac, roe and Chinese water deer. A good place to take a dog for a walk for sure. Jess won’t just bolt off on seeing any of these animals, she has learnt through her training that she needs my OK to pursue her quarry. Obviously she never gets the OK to go after them on this path, what with other pedestrians using it and given the current situation with the law and the diabolical hunting act of 2004.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking Jess doesn’t have enough prey drive because she doesn’t sprint off at the first sign of her quarry, she is a highly trained lurcher, we have put a lot of hours in training together and it has paid off, she has prey drive aplenty, and that’s a fact.
She is the best bushing dog that I’ve seen for many a year, better than most terriers in fact. She is a confident bitch and shows no fear in anything she attempts. Fingers crossed that won’t be her undoing. Every time a working dog is taken out there is always a risk of injury or worse, but a life half lived is no life at all. Thankfully injuries have not been too bad so far, and long may it continue. The thing is, every time Jess goes out of my front door she’s into hunting mode straight away, regardless what time of day or night it is. The only injury that she had to date was in September 2016 when I had taken her to the beach with the ball and thrower. After she had completed half a dozen retrieves, I threw the ball and she sped off, after about 30 yards she pulled up on her front right foot, it looked like she had stubbed her toe. She picked up the ball and came back to me, albeit at a slower pace and obviously in a little pain. My heart sank, I really felt for her. After feeling around her for any sign of an injury all seemed OK. We took a slow walk off the beach and when we got onto the concrete Jetty at the side of the beach I offered her a drink of water which she refused. She looked disappointed in herself. I washed her feet to remove any sand from between her toes as I didn’t want her to get any burn from the sand chafing her. We had a sit down for about 10 minutes before we headed off home at a nice slow pace. When we arrived home I gave her a gentle massage before feeding her and letting her rest for the night. All seemed ok the next morning, she was full of beans and walking about with no sign of a limp whatsoever.
Four days later the injury appeared at the bottom of her right shoulder, it was the tricep muscle that she had sprained, a lump the size of a ping-pong ball stuck out like a sore thumb. Over the next week I applied an ice pack to the injury, through a tea towel so as not to burn her, and massaged the area to help in her recovery. After 4 or 5 days the lump was gone. Gentle exercise over the next month or so ensured she got back to a level of fitness that I like to keep her at. Touch wood she remains injury free in the future.
Her first lamping session went well, very well in fact. It was a dark moonless night with a good wind and a little bit of rain thrown in for good measure, perfect conditions. We were back home 45 minutes after we set off. I lamped the first field which was no good as the rabbits were too close to the buries. The second field was much the same, finally the third field would give the pup a decent chance on making a successful catch. We walked up to the chosen quarry, five metres, four metres, three metres and still she hadn’t seen it, then it made its dash for freedom. She was on it in a flash, the bitch turned it in the field almost straight away then turned it again just before it reached the hedgerow – she now knew how to put it under pressure and make it turn and she did brilliantly. It probably made another twenty feet before she made her strike and snaffled up her first rabbit. I switched the beam off and she retrieved it straight back to my hand. Job done. I only wanted one run and one catch on her first outing and we had successfully achieved that. I made an extra big fuss of her for about five minutes before heading back off home; me proud as punch and the young bitch trotting at the side of me, full of herself, tail at half mast, proud as punch as well.
A quick rub down when we got home and then a little feed and a drink of water and it was time to retire for the night.
Jess, she’s not just a lurcher… she’s mine.
A big thank you to Mr Sleight for helping me put part of this article together. His knowledge of my bitch’s bloodline was captivating and much appreciated.