Before dogs were considered pets, they were working animals first. They helped the early settlers hunt for food and protect livestock. Hog hunting with dogs, in particular, is quite common to this day across many parts of the country.
If you wish to learn more about this practice or want to train your canines how to hunt wild boars, then you’ve come to the right place.
History and how hog hunting works
Using dogs to hunt hogs in the wild in order to provide food for the family is said to have started in America as early as the 1800s even though the practice can be traced as far back as the ancient Romans. Hunters often used two types of canines back then – bay dogs and catch dogs.
The bay dogs are released first to chase a boar down. Once the wild pig is cornered or attempts to fight back its pursuers, the catch dogs are then released to incapacitate the hog until the hunter arrives on the scene. The catch dogs will pounce on the pig and will usually seize it behind the ear in order to control and hold it down. The human hunter finishes the job by dispatching the boar using his spear or knife.
Aside from hunting, catch dogs were also used by the early settlers to keep their livestock, such as chickens and cows, safe from other predators in the wild. Cougars and bears were a huge problem then and hunting dogs proved to be very useful in protecting the families that were carving out a new life in the untamed expanse of America. The term ‘man’s best friend’ took on a meaning totally on a different level during those times. Back then, dogs worked side by side with their humans to put food on the table and have a meaningful life out in the wilds.
Modern day hog hunting
The practice of hog hunting continues today in many places in America because wild boars continue to be a problem. There are still many areas in the country where livestock and agricultural fields need to be protected from the menace of wild boars and feral pigs. There is really no way of calculating the exact amount of damage they cost the timber and agriculture industries nationwide. But the US Department of Agriculture estimates that to be about several billion dollars every year.
Since wild hogs eat just about anything, the damage they cause to the environment cannot be underestimated as well. Their rooting and wallowing behaviors also create runoff, a big contributor to pollution of natural water sources. Then there is the fact that they breed unbearably quickly.
Sows already become sexually mature after 6 months. They can then produce two litters of piglets per year, with each litter consisting of 10 to 15 piglets. Because they have no natural predators to keep their population from burgeoning, a group of hogs left unchecked can easily overrun a property in no time at all. That is why hunters continue to hunt wild boars and feral pigs to this day using dogs.
Much has changed though. Today hunters use rifles along with their knives. They also use modern equipment such as binoculars. In fact, many hog hunters now hunt at night, something the early settlers would have never done considering the danger of cougars and bears. When it comes to the dogs that accompany the hunters however, they still need to undergo rigorous training in order to fulfill their part. And often, bay dogs and catch dogs are still used in tandem during the hunt.
What to look for in bay and catch dogs
Bay dogs function by harassing and harrying the boar, and chasing after it until it gets cornered. They bark loudly to scare the pig and at the same time alert the hunter of their location. Before they could do that however, they need to be able to find a boar first. That is why it is important for bay dogs to be excellent at tracking. They can be any breed as long as they have excellent scent detection skills.
As for the catch dogs, since they need to be able to subdue a wild boar that is possibly very angry or scared that it will do anything to fight, the canines used must be big and burly and can hold their own in a fight against another animal. It is also important for catch dogs to have massive and strong jaws that will allow them to hold a full-sized boar down.
All dogs need to be trained properly because it is dangerous work they are doing. They must also wear necessary protective equipment such as cut vests that will guard their neck and other vital parts. The human hunters must be capable as well to come to the rescue just in case some of their dogs get into trouble. Sometimes the fight between wild pig and canine can be so intense that dogs get injured. Hunters need to have the skills to use needle and thread to sew up any injury, or at least be able to apply first aid.
Training hunting dogs
Some hunters prefer to train bay dogs and catch dogs separately. There are others though who prefer to train their canines into becoming both a tracker and catcher. Whichever route you decide to take, be prepared. Training hunting dogs will not be a walk in the park; it will take time, dedication and patience. Not only will you have to train your dogs to be able to run down and subdue a wild boar, you need them to learn your specific cues as well so that the hunt will go smoothly.
Before you proceed, the first step is to identify the kind of hog in your hunting area. This will help you get the right type of dogs. For example, if the wild boars in your area tend to hold their ground and fight, then you need stronger and more aggressive dogs. If the pigs are the kind that scatters far and wide, then you need fast dogs with top-level endurance. By knowing what you are up against, you will have more successful hunts.
Training bay dogs
What you want to develop are their scent identification and tracking skills. Michelle Mears of High on the Hog Kennel shares tips and advice that will help:
- Begin early with 3 to 4 months old puppies.
- Do the training in an area they feel safe in like your yard or their pen.
- Get a small shoat, ideally smaller in size than your puppies. If that is not possible, then at least get one with the same size as them. This is important because you don’t want the puppies to lose confidence if they are suddenly forced to face a bigger pig.
- Place the puppies in their pens and show them the small pig from outside. Tease and work them up but do not let them go after the pig. The point here is to get them used to the smell of a hog.
- Do this for a few weeks and keep working your dogs up every time. You know you are doing a good job when the dogs will bark loudly and get excited at the sight of the pig.
- Once the pups become aggressive or even go crazy at the sight of the hog, the next step is to take them in your truck or whatever vehicle you use for hunting and drive them into the woods. Once there, show them the pig once again. The purpose of this is to let your dogs associate the ride with finding a pig.
- Once they are used to that, it is time to train their scent detection and tracking skills. Leash the shoat that you have then take it for a walk into the woods. Go around bushes and meander around. Then release your dogs and see which ones will try to find the pig right away. Reward those puppies with a treat once they do find their quarry. Work them up but again do not let them at the pig. Repeat this exercise until you are certain the pups know what you want from them. By the way, wear rubber boots when you take the piglet for a walk in the woods. You don’t want the dogs to follow your scent instead.
- Now it’s time to take the bay dogs you are training out for an actual hunt. If you have older bay dogs, having them accompany the trainees will make your job easier because the pups will learn from the older ones.
Training catch dogs
Get the canines that are large in build, are aggressive and strong enough to hold down a wild boar.
- You have to wait until the puppies are mature enough before you can train them as catch dogs. Experienced hunters out there wait ‘til dogs are at least one year old since that would be time enough for teeth to set and become strong.
- Expose the dogs to a hog their size, tease them with it and work them up. However, do not let your canines at the pig yet. Continue the teasing for 2 to 3 weeks until such time that you see your dogs really want to go after the pig.
- It is important to train your dogs to understand and follow your release command. This is so you don’t have to force the canines off the boar once you’re ready to dispatch the animal. Some hunters who don’t take this into account end up having a hard time breaking their canines off their catch. What you can do is to work up the puppies using a rope or something that they can bite on and then make them release the item once you say “release”, “get off”, “stop”, etc. Reward them with treats once they do what you command.
- The next step now is to do a mock hunt. Get your experienced bay dogs to track down a wild pig and then release the catch dogs you’ve been training and hopefully most of them will want to find and catch the trapped pig themselves.
- Once again, if you have experienced catch dogs, let them help train the new ones.
If all of these sound too complicated for you, no worries because there are courses and professionals out there that can provide assistance.
There are many breeders and trainers specializing in hunting dogs and they can facilitate the training for you. Just make sure that you find a reliable trainer in your area, someone who has a proven track record of success and, of course, can accommodate your budget.
Best dogs for hunting wild hogs
With the right training, any large dog can become good hog hunters. However, there are certain dog breeds that have proven to be excellent at this activity over the years.
Pit Bulls – they have a reputation for being aggressive and that is why many homeowners refuse to adopt them as pets; they are deemed as high-risk animals, especially around children. With that said, they make great catch dogs. Their body structure and overall stability are perfect for chasing and holding down a caught hog. They also possess a very strong bite, which many hunters consider to be a highly effective locking bite. Overall, their immense jaws and strong build make them a very dependable catch dog.
American Bulldogs – They are used primarily as a working dog and are considered ‘classic catch dogs’. They have a long history of being reliable catchers of wild hogs in the south. Unlike pit bulls, they are good around children. They are very protective of their humans as well.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks – noticeable for the strip of fur that grows ridge-like on their backs, this breed originated in South Africa where they were used to track down and distract lions while hunters take the position for a good shot. When it comes to hog hunting, they have superb scent detection skills, are highly intelligent, and are very good in tracking in general. They make great bay dogs, however they need to be trained properly because rough training often does not work on them.
Walker Hounds – over the centuries, they have been tasked to track down and catch foxes and other small game. When hunting wild boars, they tend to be very focused and dedicated at tracking down the right scent. All of that makes them prime choices for bay dogs. But they are also good around people and many families have them as pets. They seem to love living in comfortable or plush homes too.
Lacy dogs – also called as Blue Lacy, this breed is said to have come from Texas and were especially bred to hunt wild boars functioning as bayers. They are strong and learn quickly, making it easy to train them. They are very loyal as well but it is not advisable to make them pets because they tend to be very energetic. In fact, most breeders will not sell Lacy Dogs unless they are certain that the canines will be used for hunting or as working dogs. Aside from hog hunting, they also do well at ranching and herding livestock.
Other dog breeds that make excellent catch dogs include the Florida Cracker Cur and Dogo Argentino. The Catahoula Cur, Black Mouth Cur, Mountain Cur, Jagdterrier, Redbone and Plott Hound are also good choices for bay dogs.
Protecting your hunting dogs
Hog hunting is dangerous business and injuries are not uncommon. It is therefore the responsibility of the hunter to make sure that their dogs are protected. Aside from giving proper training, the use of protective equipment is highly advised.
Fortunately, there are many hunting gear sold out there that are especially made to keep dogs relatively safe. These include:
- Paw boots – often made of sturdy and water-resistant material, these will help your canine avoid feet injury while running around on various types of rough terrain. Jagged rocks and tree roots in the woods, for example, can wound their paws.
- Vests – they come in all types. There are visibility vests ideal for night hunting, winter vests that will minimize the ill effects of cold weather, Kevlar vests that will protect during close fights with wild hogs, flotation vests for when creeks or streams are part of the hunting ground, and more.
- Tail protectors – also made of sturdy materials.
- Neck protectors – crucial during skirmishes with wild boars.
By using the right equipment and exercising protective measures, injuries will be avoided and the success rates of hunts will surely go up.
Whether you are getting into hog hunting with dogs to protect your property or as a sport, knowledge of the ins and outs of this activity is essential. Take the time to understand what you need to learn and have patience for it will be worth it in the end.