Question for "red herring"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Apr 26 16:41:20 UTC 2005

I'm currently preparing an article on the term "red herring" (tactic to divert attention from the real question at hand) and have just one question: If hunting dogs or bloodhounds are pursuing an escapee and someone draws a dead fox/cat/red herring across the track, is there any chance of the dogs being diverted from their pursuit of the escapee?  Or are the dogs fixed single-mindedly on the scent of the person they've been given to pursue?

Gerald Cohen
P.S. I've already treated "red herring" in a working paper (Comments on Etymology, vol. 30, no. 1, Oct. 2000, pp. 20-24), and the 1686 book which supposedly confirms the use of a red herring for diverting the dogs does not actually do so. The dragging of a red herring (or dead fox or cat) is used only to
give hunting dogs something to chase after, with the purpose of giving a horse an additional workout if the horse hasn't sweated sufficiently from the day's ride.

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