When the time was right I decided to take Tawny to Norfolk for her first time ferreting. We went to Norfolk, because I wanted to see her work in the kind of environment that will become her bread and butter: long-nets, plenty of ferrets and deep, expansive warrens.
Obedience wasn’t the only facet of her upbringing that would be put to the test on the day. Her concentration, patience, determination, excitement and luck would be tested, too — and how would she react to rabbit-coloured ferrets running about with rabbits? Would she become bored and start to wander, both physically and mentally? Would she run through the long-nets after a rabbit? How would she react to the gallery watching her working?
I was also conscious of the fact that my new ferreting companion would not mature until well into her second season — sadly, many people heap too much expectation and pressure too soon on their young dogs. For this reason, I would pay scant attention to her rawness and naivety, because there would be plenty of time to polish her in the coming months.
First time ferreting
Connected to her leash, Tawny remained wholly focused while I scooped up a handful of ferrets. The octagon of long-netting awaited. Once I had slipped the leash off, Tawny was independent for the first time. Her angular stance gave away her strong collie ancestry. She searched around the holes and mounds of rabbit droppings and then her demeanour changed, signalling the occupancy of our bounty underground. The mark was given; it was now my job to honour this and produce the goods. Because Tawny sees rabbits every day, she knows when they are at home. Her strong marking had now reached a level where I wanted to reward her mark with the production of rabbits. This would show her that when she marks, I enter a ferret and out comes the rabbit.
Marking the open warren, Tawny constantly looked at me for reassurance. I entered the four ferrets at each of the far corners, and I stood back. It would take time for the ferrets to stamp their authority on the rabbits, so the novice dog must exhibit a degree of patience, not look into the distance or go in search of something more appealing. These bad habits are easily formed yet are hard to eradicate.
I left her to her own devices to see how she would react. The ferrets took their time, even after I added a further brace. Tawny sat beside me, as her large bat-like ears scanned the air for any sounds, her nose twitching and her pupils dilated.
The ferrets raced around, both above and below. What we needed was a lucky break, a bolt or at least a hole-hopping rabbit. Unfortunately, when one did pop its head up — then down — Tawny was inspecting part of a large warren at the opposite side and didn’t see it.
The lack of action didn’t appear to faze her, but I didn’t like the way in which she preferred to sit rather than stand. I gently raised her to a standing position, because this would make it easier for her to accelerate. Fortuitously, a rabbit bolted into the waiting net with Tawny in hot pursuit. But what would she do? Would she follow the rabbit into the net?