Updated 5 June 2017 The Sounding BoardWhere you can sometimes read what I (and others) think, and why.
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The following is offered as something that many folks seldom think about before letting their dog go into a groundhog's hole.
A somewhat more in-depth essay on this subject can be found as a PDF on the More Info page if you want to know more details.
and the special hazard they represent!The
groundhog can be very dangerous to a dog in the ground.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before letting a dog enter a
mostly has to do with the shape of their teeth. They're the teeth of
gnawing herbivores. Such teeth are square-edged like a chisel and
very sharp. These teeth are designed to make a wide cut and do it
efficiently. When fighting, such teeth easily cut everything their
path. Any veins, arteries or connective tissue in the path are likely
to be cut cleanly in the process. Medical professionals will tell you
that clean cuts bleed more readily than puncture wounds.
Puncture wounds tend to be painful and heal slower than
clean-cut wounds. These are medical facts
stark contrast, most other
beasts normally found in the ground have the pointed teeth of
carnivores. Only the points are sharp. Teeth of this type make a
variety of wounds that are all spin-offs of the “puncture wound.”
Any real damage comes from additional bites or “working” a bite.
The teeth of carnivores are great for gripping, holding and to some
extent tearing but they're not designed to actually cut anything.
Veins, arteries and other tissues are often pushed aside by the shape
of these teeth. It's the back teeth of carnivores that're shaped for shearing to facilitate eating. That shearing action can usually only be done after the prey has been subdued. In a fight there is
not much cutting action coming from the teeth of a carnivore. They
might tear a bit but they don't cut.
we've come to the crux of the matter. It's a matter of bite-wound
wounds are more likely to push blood vessels aside than to penetrate
them. In contrast, chisel-shaped teeth are likely to cut any blood
vessel in their path. This difference in teeth is significant because there
are some important blood vessels in the face of all God's creatures.
There's a vein and an artery running down either side the muzzle of
every animal on earth. Since the animals in the ground do most of
their fighting in a face to face posture the dog is in real
danger of having an artery severed with any good bite the groundhog
might inflict to his face. If this occurs, the dogs life is measured in
the number of minutes it takes for him to “bleed out.” The dog is
engaged in an active fight at the time and has no clue or
understanding of the severity of that wound. It's just another bite
to him. He'll fight on until he passes out because of blood loss
or, (just as likely,) from lack of oxygen, or
both. When you finally dig to his location you just find a dead dog
with little to explain the cause. The blood soaks into the ground.
There is rarely the proverbial “pool of blood” to explain what
Without knowing bite wound mechanics the dog's death may be
a mystery to you.
Now we come to the character of the groundhog as compared to other
beasts. Other beasts prefer not to fight, period. By contrast,
when the groundhog has the home town advantage he's not so shy
about engaging creatures that have the temerity to barge into
his home. Some groundhogs become quite bold in the ground where
attack can only come from the front. The groundhog may have forced
other beasts to retreat from the den and he'll expect the
same this time too. I've personally seen a ground hog hold its
position just inside a hole when it could have turned and gotten
away. That was always a lethal decision but it speaks volumes about
the nature of that beast. The younger groundhogs will normally turn
and run or try to dig away, often successfully. Older groundhogs are
sometimes willing to defend the entry way. Their personal experience
tells them they can expect to win if they are aggressive enough.
Common predators don't like to risk getting hurt. However, the dog
is different. He comes in looking for a fight. He doesn't know or care about the risk.
His last thought as he slips into unconsciousness will be, “I've got
him now!” (We like that about him.)
is also the very real risk of asphyxiation. That's dying from lack of
air. This danger is shared by both animals. If the dog is able
to work his way to the beast, he may very well be blocking the
only source of air in the tunnel. It's a certainty that his nose is
getting less air than his tail. This brings us to the subject of size
and you may be sure that size matters! If the dog is small enough to
be able to easily make his way through the tunnels there is little
likelihood of asphyxiation. However, if he's that small he doesn't
pose as much of a threat to the hiding vermin. Such a dog might be
wise to be a “barker.” If a dog is going to be a “biter” he
must be able to carry out his threat. Whether a barker or a biter,
the dog is better off if he's not a “dainty little thing.” Such
dogs are the darlings of the show ring but they often lead short
lives if they face too many big old groundhogs. Ditto if they can be
honestly called a biter. No matter what, the dog should be able to
physically carry out his threat. Possessing lots of strength will
help a lot if he wants to fight a beast in the ground. A hard bite will help too. Physics seem to indicate the smaller dog is better off if he's a barker instead of a biter. (Either way there's plenty of digging in your future. wink)
America the “show type” Patterdale Terrier is very different from
their brethren in Europe and other countries. I've actually been
asked, “Are your dogs bred to be pets or for hunting?” (You can
sure tell they didn't read much of my site.) In
any case, the mere fact that anyone would think to ask such a thing
should be disturbing to any serious breeder of these awesome little
Terriers are bred to be unafraid of entering a confined place with a
dangerous opponent. It's his owner that's supposed to make the
important decisions about entering any particular hole. If you're
pretty sure that's a groundhog hole you should understand the subjects embodied in that fact and apply appropriate thinking.
finding a hole it's wise to set up a trail-camera aimed to observe it
for a few days before letting a dog enter. After all, there could be
a skunk in there too. Something to think on, huh?
Here's another one from me. It's copied from an email I sent to a close friend some time ago.
My Closest friends know that I feel very strongly about this. So strongly, in fact, that I can't really look at this without my eyes getting wet. The look on a woman's face when she learns that she's lost "her man" is an awful thing to witness. Some of you will know what that means.
Any Questions? (I don't think so.)