Training your dog to hunt doesn’t have to be a difficult task. As long as you put in the time and effort, you can be successful.
You know that feeling of waking up early, walking out into that open field with a shotgun on your back, and the brisk air hitting your face? Yeah, us too. I mean, what could possibly make a morning like that any better? There’s only one thing: having your loyal canine companion right by your side.
I know we’ve said it before, but there’s no denying that dogs are man’s best friend. Now, don’t get us wrong, humans are great and all, but do they lick your face when you come home from work? No? See, nothing compares to the bond we share with our pups! Although dogs have loyalty in their nature, they do need guidance and training, especially if you want that dog to be your dependable hunting partner.
How Long Will it Take to Train My Dog to Hunt?
Dogs are smart, but they aren’t super-geniuses, and we can’t expect them to learn something in 10 minutes. Training your dog to hunt small game is a task and no small task at that. We’re not talking about a couple of weeks. It’s important that you give your pup time to learn and absorb all this new information. Typically, training your dog to hunt can range anywhere from a few months to over a year. It all depends on the dog, it’s age, and breed. Not all breeds will be natural hunters. Although all dogs can be trained, some dogs are bred for hunting and will be easier to train than others, like Labrador Retrievers or German Shorthaired Pointers.
If you’re starting from the beginning with a puppy, the first step, and one of the most important steps, in the training process is socializing your dog. This should take place around two to four months of age. Dogs are curious, especially puppies. Start by taking your dog to new places. Let him or her sniff, walk on different terrain, walk through puddles and explore the outdoors. Also, introduce your dog to different weather. Take them out in the rain, let them run in the snow, and bathe in the sun. Allow your pup to socialize with people they’ve never met and with children. Engage their auditory senses with new sounds like bird chirps, a car starting, and other noises (just no guns). This age is also a great time to start playing “fetch” and getting your dog in the groove of retrieving.
You have to learn to walk before you can run, right? Well, the same goes for your dog. If your companion doesn’t know simple obedience commands, this should be a main priority. Teaching commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “heel”, will not only help during your hunt, but also be of value to you at home. If you’re training a puppy, it’s good to start obedience training when he or she is about five months old. Learning obedience is a huge factor in preparing to hunt because your dog needs to know who’s boss and who has the final say. Be sure to use positive reinforcement by giving rewards!
Our furry friend, Dan, will not break to chase a deer. This has taken lots of practice and obedience training!
Exposure to Hunting
Now that your dog has the obedience commands down, it’s time to start introducing your friend to the outdoors and hunting situations they might find themselves in one day. If weather permits, gradually introduce your dog to water. Keep in mind, you want to find a shallow body of water so he or she doesn’t get scared and automatically take swimming off its bucket list. Let your pup enter the water on his or her own terms, but you can give your dog a little push (no, please don’t actually push your dog) by tossing their favorite toy or a rubber bumper into the water to encourage them to get in. Slowly let them get deeper in the water so that they are actually swimming. Along with water, your dog should get well acquainted with blinds, decoys, hunting gear, and live and dead birds. Your dog should gradually be introduced to guns in a safe and slow manner. Be sure to research the proper tactics and strategies before exposing your pup to gunfire.
Learning to Retrieve
Although your dog probably has had some retrieving experience by now, around five to six months of age is the prime time to start outdoor retrieving practice. Start to throw the bumper a little farther to get your dog acquainted with distance retrieving. Remember, your dog can and will get bored if you overdo it. You want your dog to enjoy retrieving, not think it’s a chore. If your buddy isn’t the best at staying by your side just yet, attach a long cord or rope to his or her harness and give it a gentle tug if they start to wander off. I would suggest not throwing it more than about five times per session to ensure your dog is still entertained and enjoying this “game.”
During this period of your dog training, you should still be exposing your dog to hunting situations, water, gunfire, how to act in a blind, etc. If your dog is showing great consistency in his or her retrieving skills, now it’s time to focus on the nitty gritty.
It’s now time to set up marking scenarios. Your dog can retrieve a bumper 100 times, but things change when a bird or bumper comes flying in from another angle and lands farther than normal. Find a pal or mechanical thrower to mix things up. By varying distances and directions of your marks, your dog will gain experience closely related to an actual hunting situation. Once your dog has a handle on this, add in a blind or any other elements you use during a hunt to create a scenario as close to an actual hunt as possible.
Your companion should learn proper etiquette for a hunt. This will depend on how you hunt, what you’re hunting, and your pup’s skills and areas they need some help with. If your dog has issues with staying close, work on this so he or she isn’t wandering off during the hunt. If whining, barking, or making unnecessary noises is an issue, work on teaching him or her to stay quiet. After all, the last thing you want is for your dog to scare off your prey by barking, whining or making unnecessary noises. Your dog should also be comfortable sitting and staying for long periods of time.
Is My Dog Ready to Hunt?
By 12-18 months your dog is ready for their first hunt! Think of the first hunting season for your dog as another form of training. Although he or she has had experience with hunting simulations, it’s not the same as a real hunt. It’s important to keep your first hunt an easy one with a great chance of success for your pup. Remember, if your dog is having fun and has an actual opportunity to retrieve a bird, he or she is more likely to want to do it again.
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