HUNTING WITH DOGS
It may take you years to learn how to hunt properly. Man’s best friend, however, is actually bred for the job. That’s not to say that your Chihuahua could take down an elk this weekend. But your golden retriever could likely be trained to help you hunt waterfowl.
When your cute little puppy is tearing up a squeaky toy to get to the middle, he is actually displaying a natural desire to remove and even consume the heart of small game. When he swims in the local watering hole and brings back a floating toy in his mouth, he’s showing you than a mallard would fit perfectly in his mouth. Depending on the breed and the training, your dog could become the perfect companion on the hunt. In fact, he will probably appreciate being given a job. He might even like it more than you do.
According to the American Kennel Club, all dogs belong to one of nine groups. Two of those groups, namely the hound group and the sporting group, are genetically bred for hunting.
Hunters using a pack of hound dogs with a strong sense of smell have a real advantage over their game. These dogs love their work. Their natural instincts are to follow scent anyway and training funnels their behavior in a way that is productive for the hunt. The hounds likely have just as much fun on the hunt as their masters. However, dogs must be trained specifically for this work.
A regular domesticated basset or bloodhound will be overwhelmed by the smells of the wild and have no practical focus at all. When afield with a trained pack of hounds, hunters carry have a piece of cloth covered with the scent of the game in a Ziploc bag. When they reach the habitat of their intended game, they will remove the cloth and present it to their dogs to sniff enthusiastically. Well, trained hounds will immediately be ready to work, and their owner had better be ready to follow. The best technique is usually to keep the pack on a leash until they pick up the fresh scent and the turn them loose.
The dogs may take a moment to zero in on the direction to travel, and will begin to bay enthusiastically when they do. Depending on the time of day, hunters may need headlamps or flashlights to follow the dogs more easily. Some nocturnal game, such as raccoons, will notice the white lights. In these cases, hunters may use orange or red bulbs or filters. Once the hounds are baying for their masters to follow, the hunters will follow until the game is either tired or escapes. The hounds will bay with greater intensity when game is tired, as they become more excited by their proximity to their target. This intense chase can go on for miles before concluding with either victory for the hunters and their dogs or escape for the game.
These are generally pointers, setters, spaniels, and retrievers. Pointers have the important job of locating game and “standing on point.” The dogs use their entire bodies as a directional arrow facing the location of the hunted animal. The point is easily recognizable, as the dog’s entire body is stiff. The pointer tenses all his muscles and cannot be distracted from the task at hand. While the breed is already genetically bred for this type of focus, additional training will help him ignore distractions better than another dog. Setters are too similar work to pointers.
However, these dogs can also be trained to flush out the game, allowing the hunter to make the kill. The beautiful long haired Irish setter is commonly used in hunting pheasants. Spaniels do not point, but will find the animals and easily flush it. Examples of spaniels include the Cocker, the King Charles, and the English springer spaniel. These dogs are smaller, in general than the other sporting dogs. This makes them better for hunting smaller game. The retriever’s job can be found in her name. She retrieves downed game. These dogs are also adept swimmers, making them ideal for hunting waterfowl. They are happy to chase tennis balls, of course but are bred to bring back wounded or dead ducks that have fallen into thick reeds and rushes in ponds.