Training a dog to become a hunting dog isn’t an undemanding process – with good reason. Getting dogs to a point where dogs understand when to heel, flush, point, bark, stay in range, or chase is a difficult course of material to work through but an impressive and attainable skill set to perfect.
A hunting dog’s discipline and training process requests a rigorous and continuous sequence of exercises and commands, implemented when they are puppies and followed through their lives.
Hunting dogs are inclined to have one goal: to please their owners. However, to develop discipline in their lives to its full potential will require you to grasp a couple of basic principles, expert tips, and foundational learning to know how to train them. Let’s take a look at how to train your canine.
How to Start Training a Hunting Dog Puppy?
The development process in young animals and humans is the same: growth is abundant in the first few months of existence, and this is the prime time to implement a good foundation for learning. It isn’t easy to instill good habits that lead to good behavior after that.
However, some owners opt out of discipline to only play with their puppy and not consider proper training because they feel it can wait – this is a discipline disaster waiting to happen. As a new owner of a puppy you want to hunt with one day, start implementing the following small training steps:
The first relationship your dog will form is with you. Take thoughtful care to show care and respect towards your new puppy, as it will reinforce the foundation of a good hunting dog: to please its owner.
Additionally, socializing your dog with other animals and people is imperative to their ability to be focused in hunting environments. It also contributes to your lifestyle as a whole, making it convenient to take dogs with you to any park.
2. Crate Training
A key principle that dogs are required to grasp to become susceptible to training is understanding the distinction between a few aspects in their lives, I.e., (1) when it is playtime or sleep time, (2) what they are allowed to chew or play with (only their toys) and (3) what can they consider as a safe space of their own.
Facilitate certain environments that influence a calm mindset. Crate training is proven to create multiple positive associations for dogs. It is not an easy matter of putting a dog in a box – make sure you have the right size, and read up on crate training for more information: FIRST NIGHT: Crate Training 5 Easy Steps 🐶
3. Explore with your Pup
It is important to enforce confidence and reward curiosity in your little dog. Big hunting parks will be intimidating to a young dog. Firstly, it is advised to take your dog to an area filled with forestry and let them explore and discover.
Do not teach them commands at this point, as letting them discover will not only give them body strength, but the confidence it gives to a dog enhances its natural prey drive. Start with a short explore session and lengthen your sessions gradually, making sure your pup is not too far from you.
4. Gradually teach Basic Commands
The process of teaching commands needs to happen incrementally. Numerous commands given at once will only confuse a dog and frustrate you. As with all other training steps, in initially short sessions, teach them heel, sit and no/woah and take the commands further once they grasp these examples.
An additional tool that has received positive reviews that you can consider using is a clicker. It adds a distinctive sound after every instruction, supporting your dog’s attention to the sound and the association of an instruction.
5. Introduce Your Dog to a Bird
Birds are the most common prey that dogs are trained to assist in hunting. Find a dead bird, such as a pigeon, and present it to your dog and allow it to hold the bird. Unless your dog exhibits bad behavior (such as running away with the dog), positively reinforce that they’re holding the bird.
This act established the connection to your dog: what is the prey and how to handle them. Additional to this training, you can invest in equipment that supports this connection. Training dummies, locator collars, or whistles can aid this process. Look at the following link for more gear to acquire for your dog’s training: You Asked We Answered – Must Have Gun Dog Training Items – Episode 26: Part 2.
Should I Physically Reprimand my dog?
A dog owner should never (I repeat: never) see physical reprimanding as an option during their dog’s training. Not only is it unnecessary and cruel – it simply does not have any reinforcing effect on a dog’s learning process. It has the opposite outcome.
Dogs associate their owner’s hands with love: it feeds them, pets them, handles them during all activities. You do not want to create a negative association between your dog and you. Your dog will form a despondency towards you and fear you. There are multiple other effective methods to utilize.
The correct way to “punish” a dog is simply by interrupting their thought process of what they are doing at that moment. The more often you enforce this habit, the more likely your dog will cease exhibiting the same behavior.
By removing them from the environment that they are currently misbehaving in, it brings across an association. It is guaranteed that if a dog owner removes their dog each time they chase after a bird, stray too far or eat their shoes – the dogs become disinterested in these behaviors after a while.
In addition, never use your dog’s name while reprimanding them vocally. Their name is used positively in all other instances; using your dog’s name in anger will confuse your dog extremely. Other discipline methods to keep in mind can be found on:
In summary of the attached clip, in a frustrating situation with your dog, do the following:
1) Move them. Your dog’s memory will establish a connection between when they are praised or when they are taken away from something.
2) Ground them by lifting their front legs. This act will only diffuse a situation momentarily but works in the same light as the previous point.
3) Ignore them – do not say no. The word has no effect, as the dog cannot deduce what association to connect to it. For instance, when a dog jumps up and down on you, saying “no” reinforces attention towards them. Rather turn your back and walk away from your dog.
4) Reinforce positive rewards as much as possible. In the case of the example mentioned above, if you repeatedly ignore the dog and it eventually comes towards you without jumping, reward them with treats and positive acts of care.
What challenges are there when training a hunting dog?
Prey Chase Drive
All hunting dogs have an innate response to become excited when they witness prey (especially for the first time). It instantaneously releases happy hormones in the pleasure centers of their brain and is a perfectly healthy sign that displays their bred excellence.
Luckily, a predatory urge can be tamed over time. It is pivotal to introduce your dog to other dogs, people, and prey – desensitize them towards the impulse to chase anything that moves. If you do not efficiently expose your dog to environments that curb this instinct, you will have a problem.
This impulse leads to the following behavior:
- They are injuring or killing small animals, wildlife, children, and other animals living with you.
- They stalk and pounce on animals and people constantly and unexpectedly.
- Trying to chase after bicycles, people on skateboards, cars – anything that exhibits movement.
- They are unable to concentrate. The dog is distracted by any movement to the point where your instructed tasks fall on deaf ears.
As with most disciplines, there needs to be foundational learning established before moving on to further learnings. The levels of dog training begin at obedience, progresses to fieldwork, and takes off at training, where the level of advancement can reach the point where your dog is at your every command.
What are elements to focus on during training:
We have discussed how your dog can be trained as a pup and what challenges may occur during their learning process. Following these ideas are basic theories and practical solutions for you to focus on while teaching your dog the (hunting) trade tricks.
Safety & Security
Where is your dog when you are not at home? Your dog should be comfortable in a yard at home to not hurt other people or animals. Good fencing and efficient locks that people do not enter your yard without permission.
Training will tame the prey drive in your dog over time: it teaches them self-control and establishes good authority, leaving commands better acknowledged by your dog and followed. Distance, Duration, and Distraction are going to be your three favorite tools when training your dog to get better systematically. Remember: Repetition makes learning easier, and only if your dog has heard commands a couple of times will they be able to recall and immediately react to the instruction.
You will increase the three D’s in increments, enlarging the scope of the exercise each time. In the beginning, you must train your dog in your yard, for a short amount of time and with minimal distractions. Increase each of these a little by little with each training day.
The main imperative during dog training is to break their thought process when they exhibit certain behavior that goes against their involvement during the hunting activity.
Before a dog goes to chase an animal, it will scan its surroundings, focus on something, lock eye contact with prey, and start chasing. You, as the owner, have four opportunities to break this process by demanding focus from your canine. Additionally, you can teach them “watch me” or a phrase that specifically asks them to look at you.
You can teach your dog “watch me” systematically by holding a treat between your eyes without saying anything. When your dog does make eye contact, mark the moment by either using a clicker or a praising comment and give them the treat. Continue this exercise by adding the verbal cue “watch me” as you place the treat between your eyes, and give them a treat if they listen. Repeat this exercise continuously, each time adding a distraction or having them stare at your eyes for a longer period.
Your dog should understand that looking at and working with you is a much more rewarding practice than chasing after another animal. The way to reinforce this association is by reminding your dog continuously. What you want to do is take your dog for a playdate in your yard or an open field. During the activity, cease eye contact with your dog and ignore him a little bit. The moment they come to you by themselves, heavily praise and pet them – this technique is your golden ticket to training your dog. The more you practice this rewarding interaction, the more your dog associates your response with positivity. This will count in your favor when you find yourself in a tricky situation, and your dog is off chasing birds – it will, by all means, rail him in.
How do Commands Matter in Field?
The basic commands are: “come”, “sit”, “stop/woah”, “kennel”, “fetch” and “down boy” (but just for good manners). In this particular listed order, you should teach your dogs these commands over some time to make your hunting experience efficient, enjoyable, and safe.
There are more commands you can teach your dog to make sure they understand complex situations. For example, pointers can hunt in groups and scout a field in various ranges from each other: this takes a lot of work but is trainable.
The sit command is the foundation of all commands. It grounds your dog’s self-control, regardless of what type of hunting you do. Before a hunter shoots, you do not want your dog to chase prematurely. It is hindering as well as dangerous if they move into the shooting line.
The stop/ woah command extends the “sit” command and applies to various situations during hunting. Both relay to a dog that they should stay where they are. A critical example is when they are running towards another dog retrieving or heading towards a road.
The fetch command applies to retrieving dogs and isn’t necessarily important to other dogs. However, there are still various situations where you would like your dog to retrieve something without being an inherent retriever.
The come here command will be one of the most important skills you condition your dog to respond to. It handles them, protects them in dangerous scenarios, and restrains them from hindering other hunters’ activities. Dogs are curious and should be, but a hunting dog should listen to your voice at all times.
The kennel command is a command that is left out of training by some owners, even though it is applicable in multiple scenarios and will make handling easier. Before or after a hunting expedition, it eases loading your dog into a crate or trailer. Additionally, it is a command to ask your dog to go to bed.
All these listed commands will take time to perfect your dog’s response to them, but take it slow: with treats and positive reinforcement at hand, your dog is bound to make the associations between the spoken words and what you want them to do.
The best way to train your canine is by consistently showing up with them to a couple of exercises and repeating them profusely. Albeit the effort, trial and error, there is no way that you will not see a remarkable difference in your dog’s ability to listen to your commands over time.
Hunting dogs are innately intelligent and have been trained over hundreds of years to respond to their owners’ instructions. Whether you have a flusher, pointer, or retriever, there is a vast threshold of capabilities in them – you have to be willing and patient.
Train and condition your dog consistently throughout the whole year to keep them in shape before the season. Follow various experts on YouTube to find tricks and positive suggestions on how to ease or sharpen up this process. I would start with this master’s advice: How To Discipline Your Puppy And Correct Your Adult Dog The RIGHT WAY!