Dogs have long been revered as man’s best friend. A pet dog can become whatever you want it to be, from a companion, to a therapist, a bomb sniffing expert, a rescuer, or even a hunting buddy. Given their outstanding intelligence and eagerness to please, dogs can be trained for almost any task. The purposes that our fur babies serve and the roles that they take on would definitely constitute a long list. Some owners are already contented that their dogs can pick up the daily newspaper, while others engage them in a more collaborative experience, one of which is hunting.
The engaging sport of hunting is an activity that can trace it roots back to several centuries ago. Dogs are considered to be as valuable as the hunter’s rifle, a steady companion in every hunting session that could track, retrieve, or chase game fowls. Training your dog for hunting may sound very intimidating because it requires a lot of work for both you and yet pet. But with the proper approach, determination, and a lot of patience, hunting dog training is bound to be a worthwhile activity not just for your dog, but for you as the owner as well.
Starting the journey
So, how are we going to train our dogs for hunting? Many pet owners may think that something as simple as potty training already takes a great deal of time and effort. Thus, owners are likely to find hunting dog training as an intimidating and time-consuming endeavor. However, embarking in this journey with your pet is sure to result in an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Owners should start by following a step-by-step process in order to establish a carefully planned training scheme for the dog to follow. Keep in mind that training your dog to become a hunting partner is not a walk in the park. This activity will require a considerable amount of commitment and patience. Dogs learn through constant practice and repetition, as well as a reward system that motivates it to gain your approval by acquiring and developing the skills necessary to become an efficient hunting dog.
Most suitable dog breeds
With so many dog breeds to choose from, you should be able to identify one that will suit your hunting needs. Aspiring hunting dog owners should do some research regarding compatibility. You cannot just expect any dog to have the makings of a hunting companion. For instance, you cannot expect a pug to chase game fowl for you. Most dog breeds have been molded through selective breeding for a particular purpose—some as toys, some as working breeds, and in this case, some as hunting dogs.
Below you will find several categories of dogs that are the products of several generations of perfecting the breed to do a particular task or serve a specific purpose.
Category #1 – Water Dogs
Water Dogs are a large group of dogs bred and trained to flush game out of the brush and to retrieve game from water. It is noted that some dogs in this group are considered as the oldest breeds. One of the most defining characteristic of water dogs is a strong desire to swim—a trait that is not found in other dogs. Also, there are breeds that have been physically prepared and developed for specific purposes. Some examples are the curly hair found in Poodles, as well as the webbed paws and water-resistant coat found in Labrador Retrievers.
General temperament: Alert, Active, Obedient, Intelligent, Trainable.
Water Dog breeds: American Water Spaniel; Flat-Coated Retriever; Barbet; Golden Retriever; Münsterländer; Labrador Retriever; Lagotto Romagnolo; Newfoundland; Irish Water Spaniel; Boykin Spaniel; Curly Coated Retriever; Epagneul Pont-Audemer; Nova Scotia Duck Toller; Cantabrian Water Dog; Chesapeake Bay Retriever; Otterhound; Standard Poodle; Portuguese Water Dog; Spanish Water Dog; Leonberger; Wetterhoun.
Category #2 – Hunt Terriers
Based on the Latin word Terra, Hunt Terriers are a sub-type of terrier dogs that are trained to chase foxes or rats. They are capable of going inside the smallest hiding places to flush foxes and other small game out in the open. Terriers are expected to flush underground dens. While most hunt terriers are primarily white, some still come in other colors.
There are several hunt terriers that have been refined to become house pets, working terriers, or show dogs, but some characteristics from the original purpose, such as a keen sense of sight and smell, have been carried over to the more recent generations of these breeds.
General temperament: Courageous, Alert, Tenacious, Active.
Hunt Terrier breeds: Jack Russell Terrier; Brazilian Terrier; Chilean Fox Terrier; Fox Terrier; American Hunt Terrier; Japanese Terrier; Miniature Fox Terrier; Russell Terrier; Parson Russell Terrier; Plummer Terrier; Rat Terrier; Ratonero Bodeguero Andaluz; Tenterfield Terrier; Toy Fox Terrier.
Category #3 – Hounds
Hounds consist of a large group of dog breeds that aid hunters by chasing or tracking the hunted animal. Hounds can further be categorized as scent hounds, sight hounds, or a combination of both. Hounds differ from gun dogs in that they help hunters determine the location of the prey. It is widely known that the first hunting dogs were hounds.
They have a powerful sense of smell and amazing speed. Along with the water dogs, this group showcases some of the most affectionate hunting dog breeds, such as the Basset Hound and the Bloodhound. However, this group also has some of the most stubborn dog breeds, such as the Dachshund, thus making training quite a challenge.
General temperament: Clever, Courageous, Devoted, Affectionate.
Hound breeds: Austrian Black and Tan Hound; Basenji; Afghan Hound; American Foxhound; Basset Hound; Basset Bleu de Gascogne; Basset Griffon Vendéen; Black and Tan Coonhound; Borzoi; Blackmouth Cur; Bloodhound; Chippiparai; Combai; Finnish Hound; Cretan Hound; Dachshund; English Foxhound; Foxhound; Grand Bleu de Gascogne; Irish Wolfhound; Greyhound; Hamiltonstovare; Ibizan Hound; Istrian Coarse-haired Hound; Jämthund; Otterhound; Kanni; Kelb tal-Fenek; Norwegian Elkhound; Piccolo Lepraiolo Italiano; Plott Hound; Rajapalayam;
In this group are also: Redbone Coonhound; Portuguese Podengo; Posavac Hound; Rhodesian Ridgeback; Segugio Maremmano; Serbian Tricolour Hound; Saluki; Segugio Italiano a Pelo Forte; Schweizer Laufhund; Scottish Deerhound; Sloughi; Treeing Walker Coonhound; Trigg Hound; Taigan; Thai Ridgeback; Whippet.
Starting them young
As the saying goes, you cannot teach old dogs new tricks. While you would not necessarily need to teach your hunting dog some tricks, training is critical during the first few months while your pet is still a puppy. Similar to toddler toddlers, puppies learn and develop the most at a young age. Curiosity, being active, and obedience can be molded while pets are still puppies. The skills that they learn will eventually become good habits as they grow older. Starting them young prepares puppies physically and mentally for playing the role of a hunting dog.
When you think of your dog as a confidant or partner, it becomes obvious how important selective breeding is. This process determines the potential for a dog to become a successful at hunting. Genetics serves a function in moulding such attributes as a keen sense of smell, the internal drive to work, perseverance, cooperation, innate attentiveness, and an eager-to-please approach.
The quality of coat and body structure, including musculature and body building, are physical aspects often overlooked by the untrained eye. In addition, similar to any soldier who is being prepared for battle, mental stability, temperament, and self-confidence when dealing with ever-changing situations in the hunting grounds should strongly be considered and developed. Lastly, retrieving and flushing instincts should be observed at an early age.
There are several institutions that offer obedience and hunting dog training, but it is best to have train your puppy yourself, given that you have sufficient time, patience, and resources. This will not only allow your puppy to catch up with your pacing, but it will also ensure that the puppy will grow as a loyal dog that is conditioned to complement its owner’s hunting style and habits. Do not forget to get your puppy from a reputable breeder to ensure good lineage and well-being.
Importance of temperament
Temperament is one of the most important factors that should be considered when selecting the right breed for you because this characteristic can determine how much time and patience you will need to devote to your puppy’s preparation and help it become a hunting dog.
There are breeds that are naturally playful and active, such as most breeds in the Water Dogs category, whereas there are some breeds that may need a little more patience than others, such as some in the Hounds group.
Experience is the best teacher
Experience is the best teacher, and that applies to dogs, too. By immersing your puppy in the closest possible experience to hunting, he learns from his surroundings and remembers to follow your lead, watch your body language closely, and immediately follow both verbal and non-verbal commands. Dog owners who train water dogs introduce puppies to the water, even if the water dog breed is known to excel in swimming.
This practice dissolves any fears or reservations that the puppy might have. By instilling a connection between the puppy and the water, the puppy becomes well-prepared and remembers this experience as a positive one.
For dogs that will be trained for hunting in land, the puppy should be exposed to an open yet safe environment. Allow the puppy to play with the fallen dried leaves or small tree branches, and let it get used to the sound of rustling leaves.
These activities connect the dog to its surroundings and eventually prepare it for actual hunts. A dog that is perfectly attuned to the environment will instinctively know when something is amiss or when game is nearby. Sharpening this instinct will ensure that your dog can immediately determine the presence of game and its location. Such precision is necessary to avoid false alarms and to ensure a successful hunt.
Remember that dogs trained in simulated surroundings might not perform as will during an actual hunt. Attempting to engage a puppy into actual hunting and expecting it to perform well is too far fetched. As puppies tend to be very active and extremely curious, they cannot focus on the actual purpose. Thus, they are bound to become distracted and may end up causing a problem instead of actually helping in your hunting sessions. Practice makes perfect, and the more your growing dog experiences the real thing, the better he will be in the field.
By gently expanding the puppy’s environment and introducing it to the field, your puppy will slowly but surely become acclimated to its surroundings. This gradual acclimation prepares enhances its physical and mental abilities. Allowing your puppy to ride boats, play with decoy game birds, or even chase actual ones just for fun should be done as an immersion exercise during the puppy’s first year.
Moreover, having your pet get used to the sight and sound of gunfire will ensure that it will be undeterred and will remain confident. Hunting dogs should not be nervous dogs. Instead, they should hold their ground unless specifically asked to act or move.
Remember: It is important to keep track of the progress of your dog in terms of acclimation. Determine where the dog currently is in the process to ensure that every aspect of training is properly covered. You can always keep notes to backtrack on training exercises and compare it against the current progress that you are observing. This practice ensures proper documentation and successful training completion.
Moreover, always condition your dog prior to training and prior to actual hunts. This gives a physical and mental refresher and activates your dog’s alertness prior to action.
This experience is mutually rewarding one; as the hunter improves his cooperative skills in handling his canine partner, the hunting dog simultaneously improves its performance in the field. The key word here is mutual. Remember that hunting with a dog is a partnership that requires collaboration. A strong bond and established partnership with your canine buddy are sure to result in a mutually enjoyable experience.
Train slowly but surely
You can find a large number of training manuals that start with the ever-basic “Sit-Stay-Heel” training mechanics. This is actually an important yet overlooked training step for puppies because the amount of time required for the puppy to learn basic commands will determine the amount of time needed for it to learn more advanced commands.
Reinforcement refers to the process wherein an owner rewards or punishes a dog when it shows a particular behavior. A perceived positive outcome will earn enable the dog to earn a reward, thus increasing the likelihood that the dog will exhibit the same desired behavior on subsequent occasions. In contrast, when punishment is imposed when a dog exhibits undesirable behavior, the dog becomes less likely to exhibit such behavior in the future.
There are two general approaches to training, namely, punishment-based and food-based training:
- Punishment-based training involves physical punishment when a dog fails to obey. It works on some dog breeds, but it has been discouraged by numerous obedience and dog training schools because of the potential harm that it could cause in the dog. This approach can increase anxiety, fear, and may even inflict injury or trigger aggression. Moreover, it could also backfire and become a counterproductive experience.
- Food-based training is, as the name suggests, a method of providing rewards or treats after the dog successfully follows a command. This is a gentle and effective method of teaching commands that utilizes the dog’s basic need for food as bait. It also promotes mutual trust, both for the dog that receives the treat, and the owner who gives it.
Training is a mutual commitment
It is highly recommended that training be conducted daily. Similar to a gym exercise routine, maintenance and commitment are the keys to successful hunting dog training. If your schedule cannot accommodate a specific training plan that is likely to consume a great deal of time, do not expect your dog to ace the training that you prepared for him. Dogs are fast learners, but you should guide them all the way, not just at the beginning or only during the times that you are available.
When you enjoy doing the training sessions with your dog, time will fly fast and after several months, you will have a small puppy that has transformed itself into a full-sized hunting dog. The experience of hands-on training that started with a goal and was sustained with perseverance and commitment is something that is truly rewarding. All of this all starts with the decision to engage in this kind of experience with your pet by your side.
You and your hunting dog in the long run
As you go on regular hunting sessions together, both you and your hunting companion will definitely keep on getting better, both individually and as a team. A successful hunt is the fruit of hard labor, endurance, and strategy. It also constitutes time well-spent between the hunter and the hunting dog, an experience that is not just about hunting, but also about bonding.
Every project starts from somewhere—an idea, a vision, or a plan. Start training your puppy today and who knows, you might be the next hunting dog expert with your dog right beside you.