How to Train Your Dog to Hunt

Hard
1-12 Months
Work

Introduction

If you’re a dog owner with an active, outdoorsy-type personality then you know there are plenty of fun adventures to be had. Running, hiking, swimming, retrieving and more are all great forms of exercise and engagement for humans and canines alike. Hunting is another recreational activity that can be enjoyed by both dogs and their human owners. In fact, dogs can be trained to be valuable assets during hunting excursions. From duck hunting to retrieving and more, here we delve into the basics when it comes to teaching your dog to hunt.

Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog to hunt won’t happen overnight. Instead of simple commands such as sit, stay or come, hunting requires building multiple skills and advanced behaviors. The best hunting dogs are so well trained, in fact, that they can anticipate where they need to be at all stages and become an extension of their owner as they romp around the great outdoors. Training your dog to hunt should begin with solid obedience training and socialization as a puppy and progress as your dog learns and grows in both mental and physical stamina.

Getting Started

Before you start training your dog in traits that are specific to hunting, you’ll want to ensure they have the basic obedience commands down pat. The ability to come, sit, down, stay, and fetch on command will all be fundamental skills. You’ll also want to train your pooch to “settle” or relax their energy level to avoid creating excess noise or distractions. Finally, a solid heel will be useful for keeping your dog behind you and out of danger during critical hunting moments.

Depending on the type of hunting you are planning on doing with your dog, there are various essential tools you’ll need. First, safety is always the highest priority and your dog should have a bright vest designed specifically for canines to distinguish them from other animals while hunting. Also, supply a solid buckle collar, long leash, and various retrieving dummies to help teach proper bird retrieval.

Finally, your dog should receive proper socialization and exposure to various elements they may encounter while hunting. Below are several methods for getting your dog trained to encounter noises, obstacles, and distractions which will build a solid foundation for your doggy hunting buddy.

Socialization will be a critical step in training your hunting dog. Below are three methods for teaching critical acclimation skills your dog will need in order to be an effective hunting companion.

The Desensitizing to Loud Noises Method

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Desensitizing to Loud Noises Method
Step
1
Introduce noise
Expose your pooch to loud noises as soon as possible. While a puppy, banging on a drum or pot is a good way to introduce them to normal household noises.
Step
2
Treat for ignoring sounds
While your dog may initially startle at these loud household sounds, they will slowly become acclimated and even ignore them. If your dog remains calm, treat and praise immediately, creating a positive association.
Step
3
Increase sound level and variety
As your dog becomes comfortable with sound around the house, increase the variety and volume of sound by taking them to noisy places outdoors. A Park near a busy highway is an ideal place to get your dog used to car noises and backfires.
Step
4
Introduce relevant sounds
Expose your dog to gun sounds on tape. If you plan on hunting with a gun, you’ll need to acclimate your dog to the sound and vibration associated with gunfire. There are many recordings available online that can help you simulate the noise while getting your dog ready for in-person training.
Step
5
Training your dog with gun noises
This can be done gradually by taking your dog hunting but leaving them well behind the main line of hunters. As your dog becomes used to the noise over time, they can slowly be brought closer to the action. It’s important to remember that noise exposure should be gradual and at your dog’s own individual pace.
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The Acclimation to Obstacles Method

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Acclimation to Obstacles Method
Step
1
Footing flexibility
As a puppy, your dog should be exposed to a variety of floorings. Line their crate with fake grass, take them to visit turf, and try laying down a piece of BBQ or other grating and encourage walking, running and jumping on these items with the use of treats.
Step
2
Teach your dog to love obstacles
Your puppy should be exposed to doggy agility training as soon as possible in order to help develop solid hunting skills. Going up and down various apparatus at your local dog agility course or park is the perfect way to prepare for climbing boulders or rough terrain.
Step
3
Overhead hanging items
Many dogs often have an issue with branches or other overhanging items that cast shadows or brush against them from above. Help your dog adjust to these obstacles by hanging towels or other items from their crate.
Step
4
Tunnel training
Another important step in obstacle training will be teaching your dog to climb through tunnels and holes. Many agility courses stock tunnels of various lengths and materials. You should teach your dog to enter and exit these on command.
Step
5
Combine spaces with noises
Once your dog is acclimated to noises and spaces, combine these two elements. Loud banging while running through a tunnel or rustling bags while moving under hanging obstacles will simulate real life scenarios.
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The Teaching an Advanced, Distraction-Free “Return” Method

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Teaching an Advanced, Distraction-Free “Return” Method
Step
1
Touching your hand
Teach your dog to touch your hand by holding a small treat. When your dog noses that hand, instantly release the treat.
Step
2
Increase distance
Once your dog has mastered touching your hand, gradually increase the distance your dog has to travel to touch. It is helpful to teach sit and stay first before teaching come or return.
Step
3
Remove the treat from the hand
Once your dog is reliably touching your hand at many distances, remove the treat from your hand and encourage them still to touch. You should still reward your dog, but do so with the alternate hand, associating the touch with a reward even when there is no food present in the hand being touched.
Step
4
Add the command
Verbal and hand signals should be added once your dog is reliably touching your hand. You should pick a word that will only be used for an immediate recall of your dog. Come and return are acceptable, but feel free to think outside the box. A hand signal, such as a raised arm, is also a great association since it can be seen even when your dog can’t hear you.
Step
5
Add distractions
Once your dog has mastered their recall you should practice in areas of increasing distraction. Parks, dog parks, sidewalks and dog-friendly stores and fairs are great places to strengthen the command and your dog’s ability to reply readily despite the surroundings.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Miso
Mini Goldendoodle
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Miso
Mini Goldendoodle
7 Months

My dog hates loud noises, so she shivers when she hears them. I think I exposed her too soon with the shots sounding too loud so she's now traumatized. I've tried playing fireworks cassettes and gunshots to get her to be used to it, which she is fine when it's low volume but when they are louder she starts barking loudly and presses her body against mine. Her legs were shaking while she does this, it's obvious she's afraid. What else can I do to get her desensitized to gunshot noises?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
6 Dog owners recommended

Hello Janice, When you were exposing her to loud noises growing up did you pair those noises with rewarding things also? It is important for loud noise to be paired with very positive experiences and rewards. Most hunting dogs continue to like loud noises rather than develop a fear of them over time because the sound of the gun while hunting is usually paired with the activity of bird retrieval, which is extremely rewarding for a bird dog. I would work on pairing the recordings that you have with extremely rewarding activities and rewards. Start by playing the recordings on the low level that Miso can currently remain calm while listening to. Find extremely exciting and fun things to do with Miso while the recording is playing in the background. It needs to be one of her favorite activities. Get creative, it can be anything very fun and exciting. When she is acting very confident, excited, and happy, with zero signs of fear, then slightly turn the volume up on the recording. Go slow, it is important that she is extremely happy at the current volume level before you turn the volume up even slightly. Noise phobias can take a long time to address so this will require patience and practice. Once she can handle the recordings at full volume with absolutely no signs of fear and total confidence, then you can introduce the real thing at a distance, such as at a hundred yards away in a safe field area. When you do this, the noise also needs to be paired with something extremely rewarding. Many people will use frozen ducks from a previous hunt. A duck call is blown, then the gun is shot at a distance, and then the duck is thrown out for the dog to see and practice retrieving. Watch for any regression towards fearfulness again, and go slow decreasing the distance of the gunshot. Also continue to pair all loud noises with rewarding activities or favorite toys or treats even once the fear has gone so that the noise does not become a source of fear again in the future. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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