As I’ve mentioned before, hunting dogs can be great teachers for new hunters. Many people I’ve talked to have taken an interest in learning to hunt because of their hunting dogs. But it’s no small task to train a hunting dog. It takes dedication, the right methods, and patience. In this guest post, James Woller walks you through the first steps of owning a hunting dog. He also gives some helpful tips for how to train a new dog. If you’ve been thinking about getting a dog or just got one, check out his advice below.
Guest Post | Training a Hunting Dog
Life can be stressful if you’re a new hunter. Not only are you taking on the challenge of learning a sport that can be as challenging and complicated as it can be rewarding and fun, but you’re also learning skills in later life that many people have already mastered by the time they start middle school.
While training a hunting dog can seem like yet another task to perform before you can confidently call yourself a hunter, there is so much to be gained by having a well-trained hunting dog by your side. Any experienced hunter with a well-trained hunting dog will tell you that a good dog, properly trained, can be worth their weight in gold. Far from a liability, a well-trained hunting dog will make your early hunting days so much easier than they otherwise might be.
Read on to find out how to train your hunting dog if you’re a new hunter.
Essential First Steps
Before you can start training your hunting dog, you first need to acquire a dog to train! Start with these 5 recommended gun dog breeds for new hunters to gain a good understanding of the dog breeds that usually turn out to be the best hunters.
The next step is to decide whether to train a new puppy or to work with an older trained hunting dog. It may sound counter intuitive, but it’s usually the best idea to train your own dog from early puppy-hood, rather than starting with an already trained hunting dog. This is because hunting skills are only a small portion of the overall skill set a dog needs to be an effective hunting dog. Even more important than the ability to retrieve and follow commands is the connection a hunting dog has with their owner.
So while you may be able to source an adult dog who is an experienced hunting companion, without the connection and bond that is essential to make the hunter/hunting dog relationship work, you will be starting from the back foot without even realizing it.
Start Your Training the Right Way
While it may seem that the most essential skill for a hunting dog is to act quickly and retrieve falling objects, it has become clear that dogs who are encouraged to take off and retrieve a falling dummy, will then take additional training in the future to rein in their exuberance and develop the level of steadiness and restraint that is necessary in an effective hunting dog.
Instead, start off on the right foot by concentrating on obedience training first. I recommend reading this overview on clicker training so you can set yourself (and your puppy) up for training success before you even begin. Clicker training relies on principles of positive reinforcement to teach a dog desirable habits, rather than punishment or avoidance type tactics. It has been shown time and again that positive reinforcement training consistently delivers better results and a happier dog with a better disposition.
Armed with the knowledge of effective clicker training, it’s time to recognize the importance of obedience training for an intended hunting dog. While all dogs can benefit from high-level obedience training, the aim of obedience training when preparing a dog to be a hunting companion is to perfect the non-retrieve. The non-retrieve may seem the exact opposite of what you want your hunting dog to do, as it involves the dog watching an object fall but not running to retrieve it. Instead, the dog is taught to wait calmly while someone else – even another dog – retrieves the object.
The way this is taught is to perfect the “stay” command to the point where the dog can reliably and calmly remain in position while watching a falling object – usually a training dummy – without reacting. If the dog witnesses first-hand that three out of four falling/thrown objects will not be retrieved or will be retrieved by a human or another dog, they will come to expect that not everything that drops from the sky must be automatically retrieved without question.
Such training teaches the dog calmness and a pleasant disposition. While a highly reactive dog may seem like a good asset on a hunting trip, a calm and steady dog will ultimately be a much more pleasant companion, particularly for a new hunter.
Long Term Success
The early non-retrieve training must also be continued as your dog grows into an experienced hunting dog. The last thing you want is to undo all your hard work by teaching your dog reactiveness when out in the field. Except in the case where a bird is injured and poised to escape, or there is some other reason why an immediate retrieval is necessary, make the dog wait before sending them out to retrieve.
You could choose to pick up the easy retrieves yourself and leave the harder ones for your dog, or simply wait until a few have accumulated (if you’re duck hunting, for example) before sending your dog out to retrieve all of them.
There is a common theory amongst experienced and seasoned hunters that any problems with hunting dogs ultimately stem from a lack of obedience training. It is understandable that new or otherwise overeager hunters will be quick to teach their hunting dog to retrieve anything and everything that falls from the sky.
By taking the time to ensure your dog is highly obedient – even in the face of distractions (multiple gunshots, falling game, or the presence of other hunters and dogs) – you will create a hunter/hunting dog relationship to last a lifetime.
As you continue to train your dog and learn the sport of hunting together, it may even come to feel like your dog is reading your mind. This is the gold standard of a hunting dog: a dog that becomes an extension of their owner, knowing when to wait, when to retrieve, and sharing in the thrill of hunting and the joy of spending time together.
About The Author:
James Woller is a long-time dog enthusiast, and co-owner of Jet Pet Resort and Release the Hounds, professional dog service companies based in Vancouver, Canada.