It’s always more fun to go hunting with friends than to go hunting solo. Man’s best friend readily agrees with this thought. One of the best companions to take with you hunting is a dog that has been specifically trained to help you. With their natural instincts and your hunting smarts, you and your hunting dog can become an unstoppable pair every season.
Which dogs make for the best hunting companions? And how can you train a dog to be helpful when hunting instead of scaring the game away? We’ll take you through the basics of hunting with a dog from start to finish.
What Dog Breeds Are the Best Hunters?
Just about any dog will enjoy going hunting with you. Let’s get that straight right from the start. With a little training, any breed, including mixed or unknown breeds, can be extremely helpful when you’re hunting. Yet some breeds are designed to fetch ducks, hunt down game, or track a wounded target better than the rest. These are the dog breeds that we’re going to be talking about in this section.
- English Setters
Setters come in so many different shapes and personalities that you can’t really point to one dog and call it a definitive example of the breed. It’s their personalities that help to bring them all together as this is one of the smartest hunting dogs you’ll ever find. Now sure – there will be some that fight your training every step of the way and will frustrate you to no end, but you’ll also receive numerous memorable performances from your trained companion.
- Treeing Walkers
If you can get one of these hounds as a puppy and train it early and often on your preferred game, then you’ll eliminate the hard work of a hunt right away. Just let your dog loose in the wilderness and you’ll know if something is out there for you to get. What is distinctive about this breed is that they have a locating bark so you know that they’ve found something. They can be gritty and aggressive, but if you can put that energy into hunting, you’ll have a best friend for life.
They might have a reputation today of being a couch potato, but this breed is one of the most effective hunting dogs of all time. It was what they were bred to do nearly 600 years ago, so it is in their DNA. The ability of a Beagle to track a trail is arguably better than a Bloodhound and you don’t have the same home aggression with kids or pets as you do with other hunting breeds. Your Beagle might only want to hunt one day per year, but whatever your game might be they’ll want to start running when you open that door because this breed won’t stop.
- Wirehaired Pointers
These are the dogs that you’ll want with you when you’re hunting any type of fowl. They aren’t as aggressive as other bird hunters and they don’t mind running around in the slop either. These are tough cookies that are relentless with their tracking and can find virtually any waterfowl to retrieve it. Even their fur gives you an advantage when hunting. It naturally resists the burrs that you’ll find in many wetlands, saving you a ton of time after you get home.
- Golden Retrievers
These dogs are often sought after as a family dog because they are incredibly protective of their families, but these affectionate buddies do more than play fetch with the kids in the backyard. They’re also natural hunters, with US Midwestern hunters often employing them for grouse and pheasants. This breed has a keen sense of when upland fowl are staying down in the brush and can point you in the right direction. They aren’t the most hardcore duck hunters, but if you’re having fun, then they’re having fun, and it doesn’t really matter what you plan to hunt.
There are also some dog breeds that are more of a brawler when you’re out hunting and that can bring you some unique benefits as well. Pit bulls, Mountain curs, and even Jack Russell terriers will take on just about anything that might come your way. The Jack Russell in particular is perfect for big game because they’re not afraid of anything, but they’re also superfast so they can get away from just about anything. In South Africa, the Jack Russell is even used for lion hunting.
How to Train a Hunting Dog
Training a hunting dog starts almost from birth. The first 6 months in the life of a puppy will help it have the social development it needs to become a hunting companion or will cause it to have social anxieties which will make it nearly impossible to train. Puppies need to trust you and your instincts, which means they need to develop a relationship with you. Kenneled puppies who have very little interaction with people will struggle with socialization, which means they’ll struggle with trust, and that means it will be difficult-to-impossible to train them.
Early training for a hunting dog means community involvement. Take your puppy on walks. Expose him/her to other animals, other scents, and outdoor experiences. Puppies that see the world from a young age instead of being cooped into a backyard make for the best hunting dogs.
There are many tools available to help you begin the training process, from duck decoys to scent markers. The fact is that dogs tend to develop better hunting instincts when they’re exposed to the real thing. Dog training dummies are useful for the times when you don’t feel like going out to your local nature reserve, farmland, or forest, but nothing beats the real experience.
Just remember: dogs are very ADHD. More training sessions, which are shorter in length, will be better than long training sessions that just frustrate you and your dog.
Why Isn’t My Dog Training Well?
Hunting dogs might be bred for going out on a hunt with you, but every dog has its own personality. Not every hunting dog will want to go hunting. The most hunting they’ll ever do is find out where you’re stashing your bagels and figure out how to open your refrigerator door so they can grab the ground beef you’re thawing for dinner tonight.
Of course your expectation should be that your hunting dog wants to hunt. You’ve also got to listen to what your dog is telling you. If they’re not interested in hunting, forcing the situation will only cause your dog to become aggressive around you because they’ll begin losing the trust they have for you.
There are also some training mistakes that happen which can set back hunting dogs to make them not want to hunt even though that’s what their instinct happens to be. Dogs love rewards and will train themselves to perform certain behaviors when they have found something they enjoy. This means you absolutely cannot reward any undesired dog behaviors. If you do, you will reinforce to them that you want that behavior around.
Dogs don’t naturally understand what the word “No” is, even though you might think that they do when they give you “that look.” The fact is a dog will develop its personality and behavioral traits based on who you are and what you communicate. If you nag at your dog to follow a specific command, you’re not training them to follow that command. You’re training them to ignore your commands.
There’s also the wind factor to consider. Training your dog with scents coming toward them into the wind will always be better than having the scent blow away from the dog’s nose. If you’re struggling to have your dog pick up a scent, then encourage the hunting dog radar. Get them excited about the scent and make sure you’re excited when they pick it up. If you’re apathetic about your dog’s successes, they’re not going to care either.
If your hunting dog isn’t training well, then it is time to get back to basics. Re-establish your relationship. Go on walks. Go out for an adventure. Have fun and ignore the work for a few days. Use treats to reinforce the positive behaviors you want and in time, you may be able to get back to the training needed to have a successful hunting season.
Take Advantage of Your Dog’s Unique Style
Let’s say you have a son that you want to follow in your footsteps. You love writing, so you want your son to love writing too. So, on your son’s first birthday, you decide to buy him a computer. When he opens the gift, you encourage him to write you a fantastic guide about how to find a good hunting dog breed.
Would that turn your son into a writer? Of course not. Yet that kind of upper-level formal training is often what is expected of a hunting dog. Many dogs will eventually adapt to this kind of training, but when that happens, you lose what you really need: the personal style your dog has.
Every hunting dog is a little different. Some like to take their time and use high-level energy bursts to accomplish a goal. Others seem to have unlimited energy levels and are always going at 100%. Some duck hunting dogs love to run out into a cold lake and retrieve something for you while others will put one paw into the cold water, give you a look that says “no way,” and then grab 6 ducks from the brush that you didn’t even see.
Be realistic with what you expect from your dog. Watch as your dog develops and then adapt your training to encourage their strengths. Maybe you’ll need to adapt your own hunting style a little bit to the strengths of your dog, but that’s to your advantage. If you can send your hunting dog out and know exactly what it will do, then you can focus on what you can do and make it a successful experience for your both.
Getting Your Dog into Shape For Hunting Season
You might be able to go hunting and not be in the greatest shape of your life, but that’s not true for the hunting dogs. No matter what your preferred breed might be, you’ll need to work on toughening up the paw pads and getting your dog slimmed down so he’s got enough energy to make it through the day. A dog hunting with soft pads is a recipe for a severe injury to occur. Torn pads can keep a dog on the bench for good.
The issue here is that many dog owners do their conditioning work on sidewalks, streets, or even walking tracks. That’s great for you, but not so great for the dog. The best conditioning environments for a dog are sandy beaches, hard-packed ground, and other natural environments where sharps won’t affect their pads.
You’ll also want to make sure your dog has a clean bill of health before going out for a day of hunting. Just having your vaccinations up to date isn’t going to be good enough. You never know what parasites might be lurking out there or what other dog-like critters [foxes, coyotes, etc.] might be out there with an infection. Heartworm, tick, and flea preventatives must also be taken and you’ll want to have antibiotic creams on-hand if something should get into your dog’s eyes.
And then remember that even with plenty of perfect training, a real hunt is very different from you and your dog training to hunt. There’s a good chance that the first season or two that you hunt together won’t be overly productive. Your dog needs real experience to excel. Keep your expectations at a reasonable level, reward the growth that you see, and it will be a happy time for the both of you.