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The Use Of GPS Tracking Collars and E-Collars In Competition
Posted on 01/28/2013 in Coonhounds.

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The Use Of GPS Tracking Collars and E-Collars In Competition
Andy Clark, A Concerned Hunter
Chunky, Mississippi

Part 1 - Tracking Collars
The use of GPS and E-Collars in competition Nite Hunts seems to be a highly debated subject recently with the new Garmin« Alpha™ and SportDOG TEK 1.0 LT on the market.

As I was browsing the UKC coonhound forms, I came upon a topic talking about the use of GPS and E-collars in competition hunts. I was shocked at first to see how many diehard competition hunters are against their use in the licensed events. Then, after thinking on it for a while, I thought maybe everyone else knows or sees something that I don’t. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year and have tried to no avail to come up with one “honest’’ reason why they should not be allowed in competition hunts. It’s difficult for me to see the down-side of using such technology. Maybe you, the reader, can explain to me why they are looked at as the devil himself in competition events, but yet revered as the holy grail by the same nay-sayers while pleasure hunting!

The use of GPS collars allowed in the HTX events is a great thing and wonderful introduction of their use in the competition world. I have attended and participated in several HTX events and have had a few things come to my attention. First, I’ve noticed that people who have GPS collars use them religiously in the HTX events. Secondly, I haven’t seen that many diehard supporters of the Nite Hunts participate in HTX events. Why? Is it due to the use of electronic collars? Or is there not enough glory or a big enough title in the HTX events to draw them in? Could it be some are scared or nervous that their beloved Grand Nite Champion or Nite Champion won’t perform well? Maybe a little of it all. I honestly don’t know. I do believe that the use of tracking collars with the combination of putting your dog to the test on his own without the help of other dogs is a common denominator in the debate of using a GPS in competition. Why, you ask? Let’s take an in-depth look at it.

The number one reason I hear and see on the internet that people are against their use in competition is, “… handlers will use the treed mode on the handheld to call their dog treed.’’ I’m throwing the “Bull #### Flag’’ on that one! First off, anybody that has used a tracking collar knows that, even though the technology is exceptionally good, a dog that stays in a small area, whether it be due to tree’n, hung up in briars, working a track in a 15-yard radius or having a hard time crossing some water, the handheld unit will show that the dog is in fact treed when he’s in fact not. Heck, I’ve had the dogs in the dog box with a collar on and it shows treed!

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that while in a licensed hunt the cast members are using GPS tracking collars. Handler A hears his dog and believes he’s treed. He checks his handheld unit and it’s showing his dog treed, so he tells the judge to tree his dog. This call can go one of two ways. One, his dog may just be having trouble getting through some thick brush, etc., like I stated above and, if he is, then you’ll pay the price by receiving minus points. Secondly, the dog could in fact truly be treed. If he is in fact treed, so what? Aren’t we all competing in the hunts to see which dog is the best on any given night? How is that cheating? Using the treed mode on a tracking collar to call your dog is still a gamble; you still better know your dog well enough by his bark to make the correct call or you’ll pay the price on the scorecard. So does the use of a tracking collar give a handler the edge over other cast members? In my humble opinion, absolutely not.

Let’s take a minute and look at the advantages a handler, a judge and cast members have by using a GPS tracking system. Anybody that has competed or even heard of competition coon hunting events has either seen or heard of “slick handlers’’ or “gunslingers”. This is one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest problem, that we as avid lovers of this great sport deal with. I feel safe saying that this is the main reason most pleasure hunters shy away from the hunting events. I’ve heard countless people say they enjoy going to the events to meet new friends, look at dogs and just be around people with the same interest and passion as them, but they don’t enter their dogs ‘cause they’re not going to subject themself to the heartache or aggravation of being cheated or having a “slick handler’’ bend the rules for his benefit.

Keeping in mind that we should be welcoming and encouraging newcomers to the sport, as well as setting good examples, not only for our younger generation but to the public in general, let’s see how the GPS units can help. As an example, again let’s say that GPS units were allowed to be used alongside and in conjunction with the Honor Rules. We’ll say that all cast members, the non-hunting judge and the guide all have Garmin« Alpha™ tracking systems.

Before the cast enters the woods, the non-hunting judge and guide sync their handheld units to all the dog collars in the cast. The cast enters the woods and the non-hunting judge gives the okay to release the dogs and starts the hunt time. After 15 minutes of hunt time, the handler of Dog A strikes his dog in. Handler B is scratching his head thinking that Handler A just made a wrong call and, in fact, struck his (Handler B’s) dog. The dog was to the left of the cast, so Handler B checks his Garmin« and sees that his dog is to the left of the cast, so he formally questions the call Handler A made and brings it to the non-hunting judge’s attention.

The non-hunting judge can then check his Garmin« and sees which dog or dogs are actually to the left of the cast. Upon checking his Garmin« he sees that, in fact, Handler A did call another cast member’s dog and not his own. The non-hunting judge can then, without a doubt, make the correct call and warn/scratch Handler A. Wow! Does that not seem fair?

Later in the night, with the same cast, after 45 minutes into the hunt time, the guide on the cast informs the non-hunting judge that the dogs are getting very close to a major highway and posted property with a very grouchy landowner. The non-hunting judge can then make the call to call timeout and head the dogs off if he deems it necessary, or an individual can make his own decision to withdraw to keep from getting his dog run over or from getting in trouble with the local law enforcement for trespassing. Hum. Interesting, not only did they possibly save their dogs, but they avoided trespassing and upsetting a landowner. We all know how important it is to strictly obey all the local laws, etc., with animal rights groups and new government laws breathing down our necks about the use of puppy mills and banning of hunting hounds. Does this not go with the theme of “Honor”, as the rules imply?

Getting on with our simulated hunt, with all the commotion going on from catching and re-casting the dogs, the guide notices that they are one cast member short! The non-hunting judge, guide and other cast members can then make use of the Garmin« Alpha’s™ technology and use the new feature that gives the GPS location of the missing cast member’s Garmin« and easily find him. Or the missing cast member can make use of the electric compass and navigate his way back to the truck. This feature might actually save somebody’s life!

I believe it was at the beginning of this year that I heard about a young man who got separated from his cast and passed away that night due to the elements. Tragic! Yet this situation could be avoided if we made use of the technology at hand.

Our simulated hunt is almost over. After locating the missing cast member, the cast, along with the non-hunting judge and guide, have somehow gotten turned around in the woods. It’s extremely late and the deadline for returning the scorecards in is fast approaching. The guide then uses the Garmin« to find the quickest way back to the truck so the cast doesn’t miss the deadline. Whew. What a long night! But all our cast members made it safely out of the woods, made deadline, and a “cheater” was caught early in the hunt, which caused every handler to uphold the “Honor” in our Honor Rules.

Part 2 - E-Collars
Moving on to E-collars and their use in licensed hunting events, it is my opinion that they are more controversial than the GPS tracking collars. Mainly due to the fact that you can control your dog with one of these high tech necklaces, and because they are so highly debated among their users and animal rights activists. Heck, even E-collar supporters bicker about their proper uses and the how, when, why, and where to best use them.

As bad as I hate to admit it, I can see how a handler could abuse and use an E-collar to cheat in a competitive event. Needless to say, this same handler is the very one that’s probably already using “slick handling” methods in the Nite Hunts to tarnish our sacred “Honor Rules”.

The number one reason I often hear against the use of E-collars in Nite Hunts is, “E-collars are made for training, which should be done at home. If you’re hunting in licensed events, your dog should already be trained.”

Let me get this straight. You’ve never entered a young hound in a competitive event? And you’re against E-collars in licensed events because it’s a sign of an un-trained hound? Implying that your own hound is trained. If your own hound is indeed trained as you say, why are you nervous and worried about competing against a lesser, un-trained hound? Really, this makes little sense and even less logic to me!

Alright, people, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and speak on a level with each other! I’m about to bring up a subject that’s a huge problem in our sport, highly talked about, and often used as an excuse for not winning a cast, and rightly so. It’s most often whispered and talked about as if just mentioning it will cause an unimaginable curse upon ourselves. That’s right; I’m talking about the feared “Tree Fighter”. Nobody owns one, and never will (yeah, right), but everybody has been beat in a competition hunt by one, haven’t they? That’s what I hear! And that’s what a lot of pleasure hunters hear and one of the reasons they shy away from competing in licensed events.

Where do these mysterious “Tree Fighters” come from and who hunts them? I’d be willing to bet a nickel that there’s more of them being entered in our events than anybody will admit to themselves. Let’s take a look at how E-collars could be used with aggressive and trashy dogs in Nite Hunts.

Once again, let’s go on a simulated hunt in the sacred woods after dark. This time all the cast members will be allowed to use E-collars and will be abiding by the “Honor Rules” as well.

After receiving instructions from the non-hunting judge, the cast turns their dogs loose and the hunt time is officially started. The cast has been hunting for 20 minutes and Dog A’s handler strikes him in. No other dog has opened on track at the present time. After 10 more minutes, Dog A is declared treed. The cast waits the five minutes as required by the rules before they go and judge the tree. Upon arrival at the tree, it is certain that Dog A has treed a possum! The judge scores Dog A accordingly.

What if Dog A’s handler uses the E-collar to tickle Dog A? What are the effects of this and how do they affect the scoring of Dog A? He’s already been properly penalized for tree’n “Off Game”. None of the other dogs in the cast have been affected by the use of the E-collar on Dog A. Where’s the harm? Who got cheated? All that happened was the handler of Dog A was able to remind his dog that tree’n a possum is not allowed! I don’t know about you, but most serious coon hunters will not hunt their dogs with other dogs that trash on “Off Game”. I, for one, knowingly will not hunt my dog with one that runs deer or other undesired game. If Dog A’s handler reminds his dog that possums are off limits, isn’t he really benefiting the whole cast by doing so? We’re all for bettering the quality of our hounds, or at least we say we are while we’re not competing against each other.

Continuing on in our make-believe hunt, Dog C, our feared “Tree Fighter”, opens up and his handler strikes him in. A few minutes later, Dog C is declared treed. The cast is only about 50 yards away and is waiting the five minutes before going to the tree to score it. After the five minutes is up, they start toward the tree when Dog B comes in to the tree, but comes to a standstill due to Dog C growling and showing signs of aggression. This all takes place in front of the cast and the non-hunting judge. There’s no doubt what so ever that Dog C is the known aggressor.

Dog C’s handler makes use of his E-collar and stops Dog C long enough to put him on a leash and prevent an all-out bloodbath from taking place on the tree. Since Dog C was the known aggressor, the non-hunting judge scratches Dog C as required by the “Honor Rules”. Again, I ask you, the reader, what harm did using the E-collar do? The dog was still judged correctly, and once more the scorecard should still be the same as if this happened without the E-collar’s use.

Here’s the difference! If I was the owner of Dog D, I might be a little aggravated, but all in all very pleased that the handler of Dog C used the E-collar to stop and control his dog before it really became a problem. I’ll use the analogy of young children. If your two teenage sons/daughters were in a heated argument, and their tempers were beginning to flare, would you sit in your recliner watching TV ignoring the situation until they started throwing punches at each other? I think not! Most parents would do the opposite, stop the fighting before it started. Why should it be any different in the woods with our hounds? We treat most of them like they are our children anyway!

Our simulated hunt is almost over. All that’s left to do is catch the dogs and return to the clubhouse before the deadline and turn in the scorecards. For the most part, I can say that our cast of handlers is pleased and they had an interesting night in the woods. They stopped a fight before it started, and by allowing the use of E-collars in our hunt, we helped Dog A remember what we’re hunting for, which in return will only benefit us in the long run.

The regulation hunt time is up for this make-believe hunt. The only thing left to do is find our dogs, remember? Guess what, a storm is moving in and the winds are beginning to howl. We all know what that means! We won’t be able to hear our hounds, and they won’t be able to hear us. Rounding up the dogs has now become everybody’s top priority! Nobody enjoys staying out all night in bad weather looking for dog. In fact it’s downright miserable and we often loose our tempers while doing it.

Oh, guess what! Never fear, my friendly E-collar users. The cast just used the Tone-Button on their E-collars to call their dogs back in! How amazing! The dogs can actually hear the tone even in howling wind or across the next holler! Think about that the next time you’re at a Nite Hunt where your hound has preformed well and won his cast, but you’re not going to find your dog in time to be back before deadline!

I wrote this in hopes that something can be worked out to settle this debate. I mean no harm or ill intention, and I’m not scolding people or kennel clubs for their beliefs. I’m simply implying that it’s my belief that the use of such technology can be beneficial, if used properly.

It is my personal opinion that cheaters will always find a way to cheat, and I believe some don’t want to see the use of GPS collars because they might get caught “slick handling” just as I’m sure others have completely honorable intentions and reasons for not wanting them allowed in competition events. Keep in mind, the Nite Hunts are in a league of their own. Other dog events are done in a somewhat controlled environment within an arena, etc.

We take a gamble every time we turn our hounds loose in the woods at night. Why not take what risk we can away? You wouldn’t remove the fence from a playground where infant children play if it was close to a freeway! On the contrary, you would take every safety precaution within your power to protect them. Why should it be any different with man’s best friend? Are we not the caretakers of these beloved animals?

History shows that all good ideas come with a price to be paid, and are highly debated and talked about. Nothing worth having comes easy, and often is only acquired through hardships and trials. I hope there is a solution to this problem. I believe there is and that we, as a group, can find it. I’m a firm believer in the “Honor Rules’’ and really try to stress the HONOR in them.

I’d personally like to see UKC conduct an experiment with the use of GPS systems in Non-Licensed hunts. Hold several events with honest and open-minded handlers. Allow them, the judges, and guides to use any GPS tracking system they want and collect feedback from them. Let them hunt in different terrain, inclement weather, and land that they are unfamiliar with. That way it could at least be said that it was given a fair shake. Maybe post the results along with the thoughts of the handlers, judges, guides, and UKC in COONHOUND BLOODLINES. Just a thought!

I’m very passionate about coon hunting and my hound, whether its competition or pleasure hunting, and really would like to see it appeal to the next generation. I believe that’s something that we all strive and hope for. Let’s not be closed minded but embrace new ideas and technology. Hey, it took us to the moon didn’t it?

Responses to Mr. Clark’s article are welcome. Please mail them to COONHOUND BLOODLINES, 100 E Kilgore Rd, Kalamazoo MI 49002, Attn: Vicki Rand, or e-mail them to vrand@ukcdogs.com. Well-thought-out and detailed opinions on all coonhound-related subjects are also welcome and encouraged.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of COONHOUND BLOODLINES as a contribution to the “In My Opinion” column.