hunting with dogs

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Hunting with Dogs: Training & Safety Tips

We’ve come a long way in the 20,000 years or so since man first teamed up with dogs to hunt. Hunting may not be essential to modern survival, but it remains a popular sport worldwide.

There’s nothing like experiencing the great outdoors and the thrill of the hunt with your best friend. Keeping both of you safe is paramount. This guide is designed to do just that.

dog training while hunting

Image Credit: jackmac34 / Pixabay

Get Your Dog Used to Gunshots

You can teach your canine companion to retrieve a toy, decoy or fallen prey every time you give the command. But if the animal is afraid and spooks each time you fire your rifle, you won't be successful. Regardless of how loud a pop or bang is, your pup needs to learn it's not scary or a threat to them.

There are a few methods professional trainers use.

The pros say be sure to maintain your dog's trust in you and their comfort by backing off the noise exercise if your dog is getting agitated or anxious. You can start again another day.

One is to bang a pot with a metal spoon. It's most effective if done while your dog is eating their favorite food or treat, so they start making positive associations with the noise. Plus, whenever you head out for further training or hunting, you can bring that specific food along to remind the dog, "This is just like the game we play at home!"

Start across the room and bang softly at first, gradually working your way closer to the dog while they're enjoying a meal. Also, the banging slowly gets louder until the dog isn't fazed by the noise at all.

Another option is to begin training with a starter pistol. When your dog is comfortable with that, move on to your rifle. This takes a partner to be near the dog and toss a decoy "bumper".

Experts say to start about 100 yards apart. Each time the dog is released to retrieve, fire your gun. Slowly move closer and make sure your partner is giving lots of praise and treats to the dog for each successful run.

Set Achievable Goals

You and your dog are both learning, so don't be impatient if you make mistakes.

The very first goal is to decide the type of hunting dog you want yours to become.

There are gundogs that retrieve and hounds that chase and flush out game.

Hounds are used to sniff out and chase running games such as rabbits or squirrels, generally howling all the way. Properly trained, they will sit patiently and keep an eye on whatever they've trapped up a tree or in a hole so the hunter can catch up.

Hounds can also be trained to flush out the "herd" game toward the hunter to make shooting the animal easier.

Gundogs are the retrievers of hunting. They remain by the hunter's side until the prey is brought down, then they run or swim to fetch the animal and bring it gently back to the master.

So beyond the usual sit, stay, come commands, any pet dog needs to know a gun dog needs to learn the art of retrieving.

Even if you plan to train your dog yourself, consider seeing a professional for some temperament testing to see if your pup is cut out to enjoy being a great hunter and line out some goals and timelines for your training.

Keep Control

Living, training and hunting together creates a strong bond between the owner and their faithful dog.

A pup strongly bonded to its owner has confidence and wants to obey and please you.

Successful working dogs need to be kept under control using positive training and hunting methods. You must be able to reliable command the dog to heel and retrieve back to you, or your trips into the woods will be more about you hiking while they run wild.

Control is not about force; it is all about teaching

If the dog becomes afraid of a location, person or activity during training, it will likely never completely get over the hesitation.

As long as you keep things positive and treat each task like it's a game, you'll always have a happy partner by your side. 

You need to be certain the dog will obey your commands and do its job regardless of loud noises, being in unfamiliar territory and sleeping in the rough.

If your dog sleeps in your bed and uses your pillows at home is a learned behavior. The same goes for learning to sleep outdoors or in a dog run or crate.

Training Your Dog to Help You Find Game

Your dog must first be a master of basic obedience before it can flourish as a hunting animal.

The experts say start obedience training around eight weeks old.

Be aware retrieval training probably won't happen until the dog is at least six months old. At that point, they're able to build on good behavior and show some patience while waiting for the action to start.

Good hunting dogs will be able to reliably:

Quartering is an important hunting skill

When quartering, the dog is working the ground in a zigzag pattern. The purpose of quartering is to help your dog thoroughly search an area while hunting. They are able to find more games by running in a zigzag pattern. It's also less likely they'll lose track of the game you shot.

The dog will likely find quartering a great game guided by you using hand or voice signals. You guide the dog in the zigzag pattern to find the decoy and heap on the praise when they get it right.

Training Your Dog to Retrieve Game

Dogs are considered natural hunters, but to work as hunting companions, they need to kick their skills up by several notches.

Professionals suggest simulating a hunting expedition using decoys, often called bumpers, first. Repeat the training game many times, both on land and also in the water, so the dog can get used to any kind of terrain.

It's also an excellent idea to train with other people and dogs around, so you know you command your dog's full attention when it's time to work. It's also a good opportunity to make sure your dog is well socialized.

You'll need some bumpers for this training. (You'll also see the terms "decoy" and "dummies") There are a lot of varieties. They're all about a foot long and may be made of canvas, rubber or vinyl.

You toss it up and out into the air. As you begin, get your dog's attention so they're watching and they see it fall. Release your dog to retrieve, and soon the dog will learn to keep an eye on the sky and track down the bumper and eventually the prey.

Testing Hunting Skill & Reinforcing Training

There are hunt tests available to be certain your dog is ready to put its skills to work. It will also reveal the skills that need more practice before they're ready to work. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers hunting tests.

You may also want to sign up for field trials to show off what your dog can do. You can check with the AKC or with a club-specific to your dog's breed.

Just as your shooting skills will improve if you visit the gun range regularly, your pup will grow into a great retriever if given plenty of opportunities to work and practice.


Keep these tips from the pros in mind, so you set you and your furry friend up for success:

Choosing the right gun makes for better hunting. If you go out with a gun that is not powerful enough to shoot and kill the designated game, it can be dangerous for you, your dog, and the wildlife. This is especially true for airsoft guns.


No matter their natural temperament, all dogs benefit from exploring the big world with you. This might mean helping your pup to learn to be brave or how to control themselves around other creatures and in different environments.

Start with the Basics

Get the basic obedience training down until it's second nature to both of you, then graduate to specific hunt training.

Healthy Habits

Be sure you keep all of your dog's vaccinations up to date. Consult your vet to be sure all bases are covered and that you're feeding quality food to support overall health.  


It’s vital to being in good shape to hunt. You can't be couch potatoes one day and successfully hunt down small game the next.

Whether training or hunting, never let your dog drink from streams or lakes. Carry bottled water for regular, refreshing drinks to avoid nasty stomach issues.


Hunting is a seasonal activity. The rules vary by state and locality. Know and follow all the laws and regulations. This includes seasons, dates, and licensing.

Things You Will Need

Get a brightly colored, water-resistant collar and vest with reflective strips.

Poop bags so you do not leave behind waste that will have a negative impact on the natural environment.

Always carry a well-stocked first aid kit. There are first aid supplies specifically for animals. You need to bring your kit along, too. Your pup may also need animal cleansing wipes, gauze, and sting relief pads in case of a run-in with an insect, wild animal, or sharp rock.

travel dog water bottle or collapsible water bowl. Remember to offer water to your dog any time there's a break in the action, and be sure to keep yourself well hydrated, too.

well-loved toy for downtime silly play and a bumper or two. This is especially important if it hasn't been a good day for hunting. The dog can become fatigued and even depressed if they work hard with no reward.

The quality dog food you feed at home will keep your dog's energy and stamina up in the field.

Keep some of your pup's favorite variety of treats in your pocket for extra-added insurance; they won't want to be away from you for long.

Of course, it all begins with the special bond you share with your faithful friend. All of the time and effort it takes to train and gather all the necessary equipment will pay off tenfold when you bring home your first batch of prey from your hunt.

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