How to Train an Australian Shepherd to Hunt

Hard
6-8 Months
Work

Introduction

Australian shepherds are often referred to by Australians as the ‘Aussie dog’. But surprisingly the breed developed on the ranches of Western America in the 19th century. A medium-sized dog, it is the perfect addition to the family. Aussie dogs are extremely easy to train with wanderlust potential and a drive for chasing prey. Keep in mind, however, that because of their shepherd name, this makes them much more prone to the act of herding than much else. Still, other tasks are certainly trainable with this hyper-intelligent breed.

The Australian shepherd has a high success rate in dog careers such as guide dogs, hearing dogs, and hunting dogs. With heritage in the working dog arena, this pup makes the ideal dog for hunting or herding. Their characteristic bark is perfect for when they have found the prey they are looking for, or simply want to warn you of something and their easily-spotted coats make it easy to spy them in the field to a trained eye. No wonder why we call them man's best friend! 

Defining Tasks

Australian shepherds have high energy levels and so training them in the art of hunting is perfect for giving them a release. They need around sixty minutes of exercise a day and a large amount of mental stimulation in order to stop them getting bored. This is why training them to hunt is an easy way to achieve all their needs.

While learning to hunt is fairly difficult because of the large amount of tasks that must be learned, the Aussie is ready and willing to pick up on your commands fairly readily. Your dog should be able to exhibit strong recall, as well as track and hunt with the trust from you that they will not ruin their kill. Your pup should be able to start simple obedience training by eight weeks old. Once she's got that under her belt, she should be able to start hunting training. To train your Aussie to hunt, it may take anywhere from six to eight months with continuous practice to keep her skills in check. 

Getting Started

To get started, you will need to define what you would like your Aussie to hunt. Typically, they are sheep herding dogs and are used to keeping low to the ground. Hunting small game such as rabbits is probably the ideal target.

A good idea for hunting rabbits would be to find some rabbit skin or feet. This will familiarize your pooch with the scent that he will be intending to hunt. The second is that these pups, like any, respond really well to treats and praise, so stocking up on her favorite snacks will provide her with lots of encouragement. 

The Tracking Method

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Step
1
Grab some treats
Place some of your pooch’s favorite treats on the floor and let her use her eyes and nose to find them. You can try to make it more or less difficult by picking easy to find or harder to find spots throughout the room, just make sure to keep them in sight, at first.
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2
Hide the treats
Hide her favorite snacks around in areas out of sight, but still close by, in order to get her to properly track them with her nose. You can up the difficulty as you go, even choosing to hide the treats in different rooms.
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3
Familiarization
Familiarize your Aussie with the scent of rabbit by giving her rabbit skin or feet to play with. You can also purchase bottled rabbit scent to use on these items to really make the smell stand out, though you might not want to apply it indoors.
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4
Association
Hide rabbit skin and her favorite treats together. This will allow her to associate finding the rabbit scent with food. Continue playing the same hiding and tracking games that you've been playing.
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5
Head outdoors
Move your games outside and into a small area such as a yard or another fenced in area in order to acclimate her to outdoor terrain and environments.
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6
Increase the size
Increase this on a larger scale until your pooch is able to do this in a much larger field. The result should be that she can locate the rabbit skin or feet without needing the treats in up to a hundred acres of land or more.
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The Brace Method

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Use an experienced dog
Introduce your pup to an experienced hunting dog called a ‘Brace’. This dog should be well trained in the art of hunting small game or rabbits and should have excellent recall. You may also want to have the dog's owner accompany you throughout this training.
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2
Find a location
Take your dog to the experienced dog's usual hunting ground. This will expose your dog to the appropriate terrain and surroundings without having to get her too used to the indoors.
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3
Follow the leader
Let both pooches off the leash and allow your pup to follow the experienced dog on a normal hunt or a practice hunt. Only do this if your Aussie has good recall, otherwise, you may want your dog to simply stay on a long leash instead in order to maintain control.
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4
Practice
Practice makes perfect. Allow your pup to do these hunts at least twice a week for two months or more, depending on how long it takes her to pick up on the appropriate skills that are being shared by the experienced dog.
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5
Focus on independence
Let your pup off the leash by herself in a familiar hunting ground. The tricks your Aussie has learned off of her fellow hunting companion should allow her to track her prey on her own. Give her some time to adjust to her newfound freedom and independence.
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The Freedom Method

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Step
1
Find the right location
Take your Aussie to a large field in which you know the prey you want to hunt is there. This can include open fields or wooded areas where rabbits or other small game can be found on the ground.
Step
2
Prey tracking
Tie a previously hunted rabbit or other small animal to a small rope or line. Drag it in front of your Aussie in order to get her interested in the object. This object can be a skin, feet, or even a recently downed animal.
Step
3
Scent tracking
Allow your dog to follow the scent and reward her when she catches up to it. If you'd like, encourage your Aussie to bark whenever she's reached her prey, as this will associate the act of the bark with the act of catching up to and locating prey for you.
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4
Increase the distance
Increase the distance and hide the prize from line of sight. Your pup should start to use her nose tracking skills in order to find the prey that you've hidden away.
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5
Use off-leash skills
Let your Aussie off-leash once she's exhibited reliable recall and allow her to use her newfound nose tracking skills to follow a trail. As she practices this, she should get better and better. Encourage locating prey with plenty of praise.
Step
6
Barking when found
Combine the new tracking skills with teaching her to bark once she's found her prey. You can use a command such as 'Speak' until she will bark on her own. This will give you a signal of when to find your pup and the caught prey.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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Sketch of smiling australian shepherd