When Dave and Sandy Weik, of Dunmore, got their first bloodhound, they had no idea their love for the breed would grow into two businesses – Appalachian Bloodhounds and Appalachian Mountain Man-Trailing and Rescue.
“It was suggested to us, ‘you ought to get involved in man-trailing. You won’t believe what that dog will do,’” Dave said. “Once we started, that was it. We knew where we were going to go with it.”
The Weik brood of pups has grown to seven registered bloodhounds, four rescues in various breeds and a five-week-old litter of 12 bloodhound pups.
“We enjoy the breed so much, we started thinking about breeding,” Dave said. “We focused more of our attention on the science and we started looking at pedigrees – the strong points, the weak points, the aspects of the breed.”
The quality of the Weik breed of bloodhounds has made Appalachian Bloodhounds the number one source for people from all over the world who are looking for an AKC pup.
Through their research in finding the right lineage to breed, the Weik’s have created a line of bloodhounds with less hereditary medical issues.
“It has been proven that different cancers and what not are somewhat hereditary, and if you stay away from those particular lines, you basically end up with a cleaner line of your own,” Dave said. “What we have is very healthy bloodhounds. Your better hounds cost you more money, but they come from your more reputable breeders. If you want a pet, great, but you can still have a good quality bloodhound. You don’t have to go buy something that’s substandard just because you only want it for a pet.”
The Weik’s aren’t particular with what the dogs are used for, as long as they are treated like part of the family. Whether they are show dogs, rescue dogs or just a house pet, it doesn’t matter.
Their second business – Appalachian Mountain Man-Trailing and Rescue – is a way to use the innate abilities of the bloodhounds to keep humans safe. Dave and Sandy are certified trainers for people interested in learning to use bloodhounds for search and rescue.
The training begins at a very young age, although it’s less of a training and more of a way to bring out the abilities bred into the dog.
“We start with what is called puppy games at about eight weeks of age,” Dave said. “All you do is run away from the puppy. Let them watch you and run away, and duck behind a tree. Then you call them. When they get to you and they do it often, you just go farther and farther away until you’re running out of sight, then you call them.”
Once the dog is familiar with the routine, it is able to track a person up to two miles away and follow a trail that is up to a week old.
While the dogs are very good at what they do, they aren’t exempt from the distractions that most dogs succumbed to.
“The easiest distraction is what we call crittering,” Dave said. “There’s a squirrel, there’s a groundhog. What we have to do is give a back command and tug on their trailing lead to break them of the crittering. They have to know that when that harness is on them and the trailing lead is attached, and the handler is behind you, it’s not play time. It’s work time.”
Even if the Weiks don’t start with the bloodhounds from the very beginning, the dog is able to pick up on its duties fairly quickly. It’s the humans who take more training.
“There’s a misconception that you have to train the dog to do the man-trailing,” Dave said. “You don’t. It’s what the bloodhound was bred to do. You have to train the handler. As humans, we have a tendency to overrule the dog. We have to be the master, but yet when you’re man-trailing, you don’t want to be the master. The dog’s nose is more sensitive than ours. You have to relinquish all power to the bloodhound and let them decide where you want to go and follow.”
As with many types of rescue training, there is never an end in sight. Dave and Sandy attend seminars annually and add to the repertoire they offer in their training sessions.
“Our training continues constantly. It never stops,” Dave said. “You never consider the dog or the person fully trained. It’s one of those things much like an EMT. You’re constantly going back for retraining.”
The Weiks hosted a man-trailing training weekend at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park last fall and plan to offer training weekends this coming spring and fall.
The training is open to people who are either bloodhound owners or those interested in learning how to utilize dogs in a search and rescue situation.
“We have people that don’t even have a bloodhound that want to get involved,” Dave said. “We can actually put them with one of the more experienced dogs and they can handle that dog for a day just to get a feel for it, or they can volunteer to be the person who goes and hides from the bloodhound.”
The “runners” or people who volunteer to hide for the training will follow a map provided by the Weiks to “lay the trail.” The runners lay the trail between 24 and 48 hours before the training session and then the dogs and trainers are released to find the runners.
The Weiks draw from real world experiences when they provide training. They have been called on by individuals and law enforcement to assist with search and rescue emergencies. Although he cannot give specifics, Dave said they have helped in a variety of emergency situations.
“We’ve done some very self-rewarding things for the dog and us as handlers,” he said. “What happens, the general public may contact us directly if say an autistic child or an elderly Alzheimer’s patient wandered away and they can’t find them. We have had instances where people have called through county dispatch and a sheriff or conservation officer will stop by. We’re trying to become another tool for local emergency management.”
Their passion and pride in their dogs is evident when the Weiks speak about and spend time with their bloodhounds. One of Dave’s goals is to quell misconceptions and educate those interested in the breed.
“If you’re thinking about getting a bloodhound and you’re not sure if the breed is right for you, come spend a couple hours with them,” he said. “The biggest problem we have with the bloodhound is everybody wants a bloodhound until they get to be about a year and a half old and they weigh 140 pounds. That’s where a lot of times we’ll get into ending up with a rescue.”
The bloodhound breed originated in the Saint Hubert Monestary in Belgium. While the breed is known as the Saint Hubert Hound in Europe, the name bloodhound was derived from blooded hound, meaning purity. The breed was kept as pure as possible, leading to the American name – bloodhound.
The puppies bred at Appalachian Bloodhounds have traveled to homes all over the country and one now resides in China.
The Weiks can tell stories for days about where the dogs are now and the owners who love them.
“Some of our dogs are now in the state of Pennsylvania as autistic children service dogs,” Dave said. “What they’ve found is if they train the bloodhound to grow with the child from a very young age, that bloodhound becomes very attached to that child. If that child should go wander off or go missing, it’s a quick way to find them. It’s like a leash without a leash.”
Another story involves a very determined 11-year-old boy from Pennsylvania who wanted a bloodhound so bad, he did research and contacted breeder after breeder until he found Appalachian Bloodhounds.
“This kid was so inquisitive and he said ‘I’d really like to have one,’” Dave recalled. “I told him our price and he said he would talk to his mom and dad. The next day, he emailed me and said ‘my mom and dad said I have to buy this puppy with my allowance and I’m a couple hundred dollars short.’ I said, ‘between you and me, how much money do you have?’ He told me and he was proud about it because he was working on the farm for this and doing chores for the neighbors.
“I said, ‘how would you feel if I told you that would buy you that bloodhound?’” Dave continued. “This kid just went ballistic. He said, ‘you’re kidding me’ and I said, ‘no, you worked for this. You deserve it. It’s done. That’s your dog.’”
The parents were thrilled Dave treated their son like any other customer and explained that the other breeders he spoke to didn’t take him seriously.
“That kid is going to adore that dog and he’s going to give it the best possible home in the world,” Dave said. “It’s not all about the money. There’s little stories behind the scenes that make it all worth it and that’s just one of them.”
Once the 12 pups from the latest litter head out to their new homes, their will be 12 more stories to remember.
The man-trailing training weekends are June 7 and 8, and September 20 and 21. For more information on the events or anything regarding bloodhounds, contact Dave and Sandy at 304-456-4446 or AppalachianBloodhounds @gmail.com
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org