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One of the aims of this blog is to uncover obscure tasks that humans have trained dogs to perform. Glatting is a fine example. My former colleague Peter Coates from the University of Bristol brought glatting to my attention after a workshop in the Quantock Hills, Somerset. As Peter explains ‘glatting refers to the hunting of conger eels with dogs at Kilve Beach. A glatt is the local name for a conger eel (a German word, glatt means smooth and/or slippery; aalglatt translates as slippery as an eel)… Organized by a local gamekeeper, glatting was pursued by groups of men in the autumn when the lowest tides of the year revealed the greatest expanse of estuarine mud at the foreshore. ‘Fish dogs’ such as spaniels, which did not require special training, identified the rocks under which the conger eels were concealed in the thick mud. Using staffs made of saplings of ash, men levered up the embedded rocks. Men and dogs would then pursue the sea-ward fleeing eels and manoeuvre them into wheat sacks with their four-foot long sticks. These ash sticks were known as glatting irons and a specimen, deployed for the last time in 1955.’

Glatting in action

Peter continues: ‘Conger eels are fierce and often large creatures… and sometimes took a bite out of a hunter’s hand. Glatting flourished in particular during the lean years of the two world wars, but had died out by the 1950s, when more palatable sources of nourishment became available in cash-strapped local communities.’

You can read more about glatting and the Quantocks workshop at Environmental Histories: Local Places, Global Processes.