Hunting tips

When is my dog ready to go hunting?


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When you get a gundog, the natural goal should be to gain an efficient hunting buddy who also fits in at home when you’re not hunting. Having a gundog should give you endless great experiences, but when is your dog actually ready for its first hunt?

Step by step – gundog training

The step-by-step training principle also applies here, which is why I always acclimatise a dog when it’s going to play an active role in a hunt. Don’t just bring it along on the first social hunt of the season and let it do as it pleases. It should be a gradual process that involves you building on the training given prior to the hunt. Correct training is the cornerstone of a good gundog!

We make all sorts of demands of our dogs and have different things we want from our dog on a hunt. Different gundog breeds have been bred through the generations to fulfil different jobs, and these breed traits should be stimulated first through training and then on the hunt.

engelsk springer spaniel
engelsk springer spaniel with fox

I have come across many gundog owners eager to get their young dog out on a hunt. They’re so keen to prove how great their dog is that they bring it on a hunt far too soon. This can be hard to correct, which is why there are a number of conditions that the dog should meet before going on its first hunt.

Get the basics in place at home ‘on the lawn’, then continue the training in different types of terrain. I have found that hunting training that involves exercises resembling a real hunt as much as possible to be very successful. The basics are mainly the same whatever the breed, but the more specific training depends on your dog breed and the type of hunting you will be doing. A good rule of thumb is: ”Train your dog to do what it’s supposed to on a hunt before the hunt.”

An obedient gun dog is a joy

Almost all hunters have come across a fellow hunter whose dog just works. It works for its master, has excellent recall, retrieves after a shot, and displays exemplary behaviour – it’s a pure joy to be around, and we all want dogs like this!

Some may have experienced the complete opposite – a disobedient gundog, which more or less goes wherever it pleases, and a perplexed master who spends all their time whistling. No one wants one of these! If you have one of these dogs, you can expect hunt invitations that include your dog soon to tail off. And that would be a shame. That’s why it’s important not to take your dog hunting until it’s ready.

gun dog training
gun dog training

Even if the dog works brilliantly in familiar surroundings, something happens when a dog goes on a hunt, especially if the hunt is in terrain rich in wildlife and with shots are going off. It’s therefore a good idea for new (er) dog owners to work with experienced trainers, who can provide training input and advise on whether the dog is ready for hunting yet.

Ready, steady, hunt

Spend the time leading up to the hunting season on training your dog. The specific hunting training is important, but so is plenty of obedience training, with particular focus on contact training. The dog should be able to retrieve, so that it can fetch and bring cold game to its master. And it’s really important that the dog is gun-trained, so that it doesn’t get spooked the first time it hears a shot.

There’s no right answer as to when a dog is ready – they're all different and so is the time they’re ready to hunt. For best results, start the dog off on small hunts. The best scenario is a hunt with just one or two fellow hunters with a gun. But leave your gun at home so that you can give 100% of your attention to your dog. When you practice a hunt with just a few people, it’s easier to keep both your dog and the hunt under control. You should demand the same of your dog as you do during training – the only difference is that you are now on a proper hunt.

This scenario leaves you free to decide when and for how long to let the young dog hunt for, and where and when it’s ready to hunt with another gundog. The smaller hunts allow you to let the dog off on its own, and eventually together with another – preferably well-trained – gundog.

gun dog with snipe
gun dog stand

The dog should by now be accustomed to working with other dogs from their training sessions. It can be frustrating if a dog is too focused on your fellow hunter’s dog(s). Then the dog stops focusing on hunting for its master. Make sure you introduce distractions and provocations during your training sessions, to check if the training has worked. The dog will then know that it’s not always the one who has to do all the jobs.

Experience is worth its weight in gold

Don’t let your dog hunt for the whole day to start with, partly for physical reasons, but also because the dog will struggle to mentally process so many new experiences at once. When the dog gets tired, it loses focus, and it could result in the dog chasing the wrong game or in incorrect retrieval.

On the following hunt, try going out for a little longer, so that the dog gains experience step by step. We all have different hunting conditions and opportunities, but it’s obvious that the more the dog goes out, the more experiences it will gain. That’s why it’s impossible to put a time on how long it takes to finish training a dog to hunt. Dogs are different, as are our requirements for them.

Keep up the training

Going on a hunt with an efficient gundog is an incredible experience. You look forward to it, and the more experience the dog gains, the better it gets. A dog that flushes a pheasant or a running snipe, allowing you to get a shot, is what makes a great hunt. The same applies when a difficult retrieval is successful or, after a particularly challenging search, the dog leads you to hoofed game. That’s when you feel it all coming together.

But if the dog is to retain its cultivated behaviour, gained from good training and hunting experience, you need to keep up the training. It’s a nice thing to do with your dog, and it’s also easier to increase demands on the dog during training situations. It will prepare the dog to tackle even more challenging tasks next season, giving you even more experiences. A well-trained gundog is a true joy!

Good luck!


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