Rabbit hunting has been an integral part of human culture for millennia, ensuring that our species survives as well as provide the means to evolve and become more resourceful. Rabbit hunting dogs have been there alongside the hunters for as long as cave paintings have been able to tell us.
Due to the way in which society and humanity itself evolved during the last few centuries, hunting has been more or less declared more of a sport than anything else and the need for hunting as a means of obtaining food has been rendered obsolete for quite a while now. There are still people out there that still practice the noble and character building tradition of hunting, getting closer to nature and reconnecting with ancestral roots, within the limits of the law of course.
The hunt for rabbits stands out amongst the other hunts because of the fact that even though the principle is the same, the rest of it is wildly different to everything else. You have to hunt down a target that is substantially smaller, incredibly fast, and agile enough to turn at breakneck speeds, able to squeeze through the densest of foliage and always hangs out in grass that is taller than him as well as well camouflaged areas.
It’s no wonder that rabbit hunting was among the first hunts to use dogs, and ever since then, these proud canines have been showing nature that they are able to hunt down and face off against anything that it is able to throw at them.
Rabbit hunting dog breeds
But what is the best breed out there that you can use for this purpose? This is not an easy question to answer, as there is one breed out there that is indeed the ace of rabbit hunting, however people tend to steer clear of it for more practical reasons.
Let’s have a look at the most popular dog breeds used in hunting and how they can help you with your own.
The Labrador Retriever
Not to be confused with the golden retriever, the Labrador retriever has proven himself to be a great hunting dog time and time again; however its area of expertise is more limited to birds rather than small game.
There have been cases where this noble and beautiful animal has been used for rabbit hunting, with varying degrees of success, however the only way in which a Labrador retriever can handle himself properly in a rabbit hunt is through intensive training and agility development, not to mention the fact that you will have to teach him or her the skills needed to hunt rabbits and go through them extensively multiple times because they don’t come naturally to the Labrador.
Rabbit hunting requires a lot of stamina and a lot of determination, 2 of the qualities that best describe the Dogo Argentino, the strong white dog of Argentina, and it comes as no surprise that this dog has seen his fair share of hunts.
His stamina and resilience is what powers the Dogo Argentino, constantly harassing and wearing down the prey in order for you to deliver the final blow, or in some cases the dog delivering the final kill himself and returning with the prey.
Because of its developed muscular body, great tolerance for speed and high excessive work levels, it’s easy to see why this might seem perfect for rabbit hunting, but the Dogo Argentino falls short at what the rabbit has the most, agility.
A Dogo Argentino cannot maneuver and turn as fast as a rabbit, meaning that even though it can run as fast as one, he can easily lose the rabbit in a forest.
This is a dog that is almost synonymous with hunting, a dog that has made tracking and hunting with dogs famous throughout history, a dog that is also currently serving with law enforcement agencies as well as rescuers and investigators all over the world. And that is all thanks to the best weapon that the bloodhound can bring to the table, its nose.
Bloodhounds, in particular, have been used for rabbit hunting a fair bit, however not in the way we would expect them to be used. They were used in very small numbers, usually 1 or 2 in order to sniff them out so you could locate them and shoot them down.
Bloodhounds are not exactly the dogs that will run neck to neck with a rabbit, nor are they able to turn on a dime while running as fast as they can, that honor goes to the next entry on our list.
The beagle is also known as the puppy dog eyed terror of peaceful apartment life. This little punk of the dog world is not only one of the hardest dogs to keep and take care of, despite its small size, but also the undisputed champion of rabbit hunting.
Ironically, the exact qualities and/or defects of the beagle that make him a large pain in the neck of apartment life make him stand tall and proud as the champion of rabbit hunting.
First and foremost, the insurmountable amount of energy that a beagle has, something that every beagle owner out there knows all too well, is perfectly suited for rabbit hunting, giving the dog the stamina and the power to push forward and match the animal in speed.
Second, the small yet powerful body of the beagle comes with something that the rest of the dogs don’t; lighter bones. This means that the beagle is far more flexible and agile than all the other hunting dogs out there, being able to turn in an instant, even at breakneck speeds.
Third, the trademark sign of a true beagle, its stubbornness. Trust me that there is no way in hell that you are getting your way with a beagle, unless it is something that he particularly enjoys, otherwise might as well give up before you even start. That being said, the beagle is incredibly stubborn when it comes to fighting, or better said giving up a hunt, and combined with the idiot level of energy and stamina that this little dog has, there are next to no chances that a beagle will give up a rabbit.
Fourth on our list, the thing that helps you learn of the existence of a beagle anywhere within an apartment building or even your proximity, baying. Beagles are known to be some of the “chattiest” dogs in the world because they are constantly making sounds and noises at anything and everything that they see around them, especially during their early years.
This is called baying, and besides barking this also helps a lot when hunting rabbits. Generally speaking, when chased around, rabbits tend to do the smart thing and try to lose their pursuers in forests or thick foliage. The beagle, being small enough to fit into mostly every space available and the stamina to literally run circles around the rabbit, is roe or less like a constant audio beacon, giving away the rabbit’s position to the hunters.
Last, but by no means the smallest contribution that a beagle can bring to a rabbit hunt, is its nose.
Let me draw your attention to those big floppy years that are comically too big for the rest of the dog’s body. They might not seem too relevant here, but these ears stem from one of the ancestors of this particular breed, the bloodhound. Indeed bloodhounds were used in the making of this dog breed, and what the beagle got out of this deals is a nose that is almost as strong and as versatile the bloodhounds.
A closer look at the Beagle
It has already been established that the Beagle is the best of the best when it comes to hunting rabbits, or other small varmints for that manner. However, there are a few things to say about this specific breed in order to better understand and adapt to the life with a Beagle.
Beagles are known as the headache inducers of the dog world because of the fact that they come packing the exact things that all dog owners hate about dogs.
- They are stubborn
- They are noisy, constantly
- They have too much energy
- They can be disobedient at times
- They tend to destroy a lot of things if left unsupervised
But they make up for it by being incredibly lovable, protective, and some of the best hunting dogs out there. They don’t require much in the way of maintenance. Regular brushing and cleaning will suffice, as for food, they don’t really eat much.
In the exercise department however… they tend to be very needy. They come packing a lot of energy, energy that makes them act up and act out almost constantly. They need to burn all that energy with a lot of exercising and physical activity, not to mention the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is not exactly a good thing for a beagle, sometimes even leading to a lot of health problems.
They are very active, which is why regular hunting is great for them. They enjoy the hunt, the thrill of the chase, constantly tailing and harassing rabbits around all day, culminating with the stride of pride when delivering the game back to the master.
One last thing that we need to touch up on is baying, that constant squirming that a beagle does throughout the day for no apparent reason.
This is not exactly a means of communication, nor is it a way for the dog to grab your attention, it’s just something that beagles do when they are active. It might seem a bit cute at first, but it can get pretty annoying after a while, so make sure to exercise your dog properly and constantly so that the energy levels stay balanced out properly and the baying is kept at bay.
Training a dog to hunt
Training hunting dogs is hard work for both the dog and the trainer and, in most of the cases the hunter who works with the dog is the trainer.
You will, first off, have to make sure that the dog grows accustomed to loud sudden noises, like gunshots, so it might come as no surprise at this point but you will have to take your dog down to the shooting range a few times in order for him or her to get properly acquainted and accustomed to this sound.
Next up, you will have to train the dog to use that sniffer of his properly. This is fairly easy and there are a ton of ways in which you can do this, from hiding different things around and looking for them with your dog to even playing hide and seek and allowing the dog to start using his nose by himself.
One very difficult thing that you will have to do, however, is to train the dog to properly hunt, locking onto the prey, chasing it down and circling around it to bring it back in your direction.
The last part more or less comes naturally to dogs, but the rest of them will be quite challenging to do. You will have to start running with your dog and slowly teach him or her how to lock onto a target and chase it down.
Then comes the amusing part… returning the prey to the owner.
Granted, this is not always the case, but it is a pretty neat trick to each the dogs, not to mention the fact that it more or less makes them focus on something else rather than munching on the prey.
Expect a lot of hilarious and at the same time stressful moments when teaching the dog how to retrieve the game, beagles being the most famous for this, however if you can properly train your dog in order to hunt with you and successfully retrieve the prey for you, then you deserve to hunt alongside your dog.
Hazards surrounding rabbit hunting with dogs
Rabbit hunting is not an easy thing to do, and hunting alongside dogs can be tricky. First and foremost you have to remember that you are hunting for a very fast and evasive animal, not to mention the fact that you usually find it sitting in grass that is taller than it.
So, one of the most common and, at the same time, dangerous risks that are present in the field, is shooting your dog by accident when going for the prey. This is not a constant risk though, and the more time you and your dog spend hunting together the less chances you might make this mistake.
The second one has to do with the dog’s health on general because hunting is not an easy thing to do and nature is more or less an unforgiving place for dogs. So, it should come as no surprise if your dog picks up a parasite or two or a bacterium or two while hunting.
It doesn’t happen all the time, but they can be very dangerous if left unchecked, not to mention the fact that they can catch something off of the rabbit that they are chasing around. This is why you should make sure that you take your best buddy to the vet as regular and as often as possible to make sure that there are no nasty critters lurking around, on or in your dog.
Last but not least, the dog might be injured during the chase. This happens more regularly than we would like it to, especially with hunting rabbits because everything happens simply too fast.
The dogs have to run and turn at breakneck speeds, they have to make sure they don’t lose a target that is hopping around frantically looking for places to hide and stop the dog, while at the same time trying to pay attention to the terrain and the world around it. Sometimes a simple twig can be enough, a single moment of neglect or lack of attention, a split second and broken legs, torn muscles, twisted joints and a host of other problems can occur.
You can’t really control it properly, you are not running with your dog, so the best thing that you can do is have a first aid kit on you for your dog in order to mend its injuries as much as possible and speed up the healing process before reaching the vet.
In conclusion, hunting rabbits with dogs can be quite a rewarding experience, connecting both you and your dog to a shared heritage, bringing you closer together in nature. At the same time it can be dangerous and there are a number a dangers lurking around. Make sure you take as much care of your four legged companion as possible, one moment of slack can cost both of you a lot in the long run.