Life Lessons from Hog Dogs

My PawPaw, Lloyd Iles, with his hog dogs. Circa 1965
My PawPaw, Lloyd Iles, with his hog dogs. Circa 1965

It’s a new year.

Always a good time to think about the speed of life and balance.

This story from my childhood sums up what I’m still searching for: the balanced life.


“Come apart or you will come apart.”  – Vance Havener

I come from a long line of men and women who lived in the woods and loved their dogs.  Here is a dog story with a reminder as we start a new year.

My grandfather raised woods hogs.  To raise, catch, and handle wild hogs, you needed help from another animal- and that helper was a good hog dog.

Most of the dogs my Grandpa had were just curs- a motley mix of Catahoulas, hounds, and maybe a touch of pit bull.  There was one thing they had in common- an inborn instinct to go in the woods to corral and catch hogs.

There were over one hundred hogs in the woods with the Iles mark.  The grown hogs were marked on their ear with the family mark, which differed from the other woods hog owners.  This marking was done when the hogs, preferably in the piglet stage, were caught and brought to the barn.  There they were marked and the males were castrated.  You have never heard more squealing than on the day when these small pigs were marked. (I’d squeal too if someone was doing that to me.)

On my woods wandering, I would see these wild hogs and sense something truly free and remarkable about these animals.  Their fierce freedom and isolation deep in the woods really made them seem even more admirable as they lived on their own, far away from humans.  During the time of my childhood, our community was in a time of great change as fences were being built, land was being posted, and forest land was being converted to soybean fields.  It was obvious the “free range” era of hogs, cattle, and sheep running loose in the woods was coming to an end.

I think that freedom is also why Papa enjoyed these wild hogs so much.  The truly wild hogs, found only deep in the swamp, represented the spirit of wandering freedom that he admired.  The wildest hogs were the ones he hunted with his dogs. . .

On the day of a hog hunt, even before he opened the dog pen door, I believe the dogs would sense what was about to happen.  There they’d be—barking loudly, tails wagging, and jumping at the fence.

When the actual hunt began, it was something special.  We’d go down into the swamp where the acorns were thick like carpet on the ground, where hogs could usually be found. The dogs would chase the hogs until they finally surrounded them.  This seemed to always end up in the thickest briar patch around.  The barking, squealing, and sounds of battle still ring in my ears a generation later.

The sight of a large hog held down by three dogs- one on each ear and another on a leg was something to see.  I know in our politically correct age this sounds kind of cruel, (I hope you remember that Jimmy Dean didn’t invent the sausage you enjoyed for breakfast this morning!)  Our meat has always come from animals- whether wild or tame

Anyway, the hogs weren’t killed right then.  They were driven back to the barn by the dogs.  The sight of trained dogs herding a dozen squealing hogs through the woods was a sight to behold.  The shepherding instinct of these dogs was fascinating to watch.  Finally, this barking and squealing sideshow would end up at the barn, where the hogs were driven in through the gate, penned up, and fattened over the next few months, until ready for butchering.

Often during these hunts, hogs would scatter everywhere, and the dogs would individually go after them in every direction.  Many times when the hunt would end, successful or not, several dogs would be missing.  This never seemed to worry Papa.  He simply commented, “Oh, they’ll be home sooner or later.”

Many times it would be several days before old “Jezebel” or “Ringo” showed up at the Old House.  There were times when I’d given up on ever seeing one of the missing dogs again.  Then, up the road he’d come.  Limping and tottering badly, much skinnier with ribs showing, and tongue hanging out.  For all practical purposes, this dog looked to be on its last legs.  A closer examination revealed cuts and scratches from the hogs, briars, and underbrush.  The pads of the dog’s feet would often be scraped and bleeding from running in the woods for no telling how many miles.

Papa wouldn’t even bother putting this worn out haggard dog in the pen.  He’d just allow it to crawl up under the high front porch of the house.  A bowl of water was placed there with some food.  Sometimes the dog was so whipped; he wouldn’t even eat for a day or so.  He’d just lay there, head on his paws, sleeping the day away, licking his wounds when awake.

Then one day, sometimes two or three days later, I’d look out and there the same dog was- padding across the yard,  tail wagging, good color back on his gums and a healthy look in his eyes.  It was amazing how this dog that seemed down for the count was on his feet again and ready to go.


Looking at the busy schedule we live in the 21st century, I think about that hog dog under the porch.  We live hectic, fast-paced lives that leave us exhausted, cut, and whipped.  From being out in the swamps of life, lost and without direction, we often find our way back bleeding- not from our feet or wounds,  but something far worse- wounds in our souls and spirits.

But sadly, we do not follow the instinctive wisdom of these dogs.  Instead of taking time to recuperate, rest, and lick our emotional wounds- we rush back out and enter the barking, squealing fray again- only to later return more exhausted.

Then we act surprised when our body breaks down, or our soul feels dry and malnourished.  This fast pace of our life, full of so much excitement and adrenaline-producing activities, fails to really satisfy.

For too long we Christians have ignored our leader Jesus’ model of ministry and renewal.  No one was ever busier than our Savior during His earthly ministry.  However, a careful reading of the gospels, reveals what my friend Stan Allcorn calls,   “Jesus’ model of intense ministry interspersed with regular periods of retreat, rest, and renewal.”

Mark 1:31 illustrates one example of this in Jesus’ life:  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

When one of these hog dogs, which had been busy doing what it was created to do, returned home it took time to rest, before returning to its normal routine.  This rest was needed for renewal and recharging for future hunts.

When we ignore this God-inspired need to rest, it is a sin.  God had a perfect reason for His commandment,    “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy.”  He gave this commandment for our protection and benefit.  Our human body is created to need this rest.

When we ignore God’s law, we sin, and sin always results in pain.  When we think we are “Superman” (or Superwoman), and ignore God’s guidelines, we are only heading for a crash.  The only question is will it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, and how long before it happens.

Because Jesus went hard in every way- socially, spiritually, emotionally, and physically (remember he didn’t rent a chariot for those long walks in Galilee.)  Because of this, he wisely took planned breaks from intense ministry.  Examples throughout the scripture bear this out.

Once again, we best heed Jesus’ example.  I’m amazed at how many people, nearly always men, proudly exclaim, “Why, I haven’t taken a vacation in eleven years.”  First of all, that’s pretty dumb and doesn’t sound like very much fun, either.  We need extended breaks from the jobs we love, and the pressures of everyday life.

One of my main hobbies is hiking.  When I go on a backpacking trip in the mountains, a strange feeling of peace gradually settles over me.  Each day I am outdoors, it seems to grip me more securely.  This feeling of peace, a serenity of the soul, helps me to see things as they really are.  Perceived problems, with seemingly impossible and insurmountable obstacles, all shrink back down to their normal small size.  While out walking, tough and knotty decisions just seem to loosen and untangle themselves.

A Latin proverb sums it up best,

Solvitur  Ambulando:    “The difficulty is solved by walking.”

During these times of retreat out into nature, a quietness comes over me where once again I can hear God’s still, small, and powerful voice in my soul.

Returning to the real world of ringing telephones, deadlines, and multiple responsibilities, it doesn’t overwhelm me because I’ve had this time of retreat, rest, and renewal.

It is important to remember that we must control our time or it will control us.  It’s much easier to respond to the urgent call of the hundreds of voices calling us for our attention, than to have the self-discipline to build times of rest and quietness into our lives.

Real life, and real peace, come from coming apart where those interfering voices recede and God’s voice resounds in the silence of our soul.

“Come apart or you will come apart.”  – Vance Havener

Lloyd Iles the Fiddler
Lloyd Iles the Fiddler

The original story from which this blog is edited was in my second book,  The Old House.


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