Hunting dog training is no easy task, but start early with these tips and you'll see success before long.
Taking a dog along for the hunt is one of the most fulfilling options out there for a hunter. Not only can a dog provide pleasant company during a long hunting day that can otherwise become lonely or stagnant, but a hunting hound can also help you track different types of animals, scare them out into the open, and retrieve them after you've landed an accurate shot.
Most deer hunters don't take along dogs, just because having a pooch in a treestand is a wholly impractical concept. However, dogs can be helpful partners in a wide range of other hunting pursuits, whether you are going after waterfowl or varmints like rabbits or raccoons.
If you want your dog to be your hunting buddy, here are six training exercises and benchmarks you can employ from an early age to make sure that happens.
1. Basic Training
Before you can turn your dog into a lean, mean hunting machine, you are going to need to take the introductory steps that every other dog owner must taken when training their pet. This means teaching your dog to follow simple "sit," "stay," and "heel" commands, as well as helping them to understand right and wrong.
Make a general practice of rewarding good behavior with praise, visual excitement, and treats. Lots and lots of treats. On the other hand, admonish bad behavior and try to teach your dog what you do not want him or her to be doing. With persistence, you will end up with a dog who follows your commands and does so with happiness and loyalty.
2. Introduce Your Dog to Nature
If you want your dog to be as excited about going on hunts as you are, you are going to need to engender a tradition of long walks in nature from an early age. In other words, you will never be a dog owner who simply lets his dog out to play in the backyard.
Instead, you will need to take your dog to your hunting properties and other nature trails and preserve areas, establishing a routine of daily exercise outings. Do this for long enough and your dog will learn the properties better than you. Your dog will also get the exercise he or she needs to sleep well at night and to be generally calmer and more agreeable around the house and around other people. It's a win-win.
3. Introduce Your Dog to Water
If waterfowl is your chosen fix, then you are going to need your dog to understand that water is something to be associated with fun, praise, and reward. Sometimes, dogs can actually develop a fear of going in the water - a fear that will essentially render your dog useless as a waterfowl hunting dog.
To train your dog as a collector of ducks and other water birds, start laying the groundwork early on. Teach him to enjoy the water with a wading pool in your backyard and work up to wading in rivers and streams on your walks. Eventually, the dog will be dashing into the water to retrieve sticks or balls. When that happens, you know your pooch is ready for the waterfowl hunting big leagues.
4. Teach Your Dog the Difference Between Decoys and the Real Thing
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges bird hunters face when trying to teach their dogs how to hunt is dealing with decoys. Most dogs will naturally view decoys as toys to be picked up and chewed on, especially if your decoys bear some of your scent. You need to train your hunting dog to recognize the difference between decoys and real birds.
This is quite challenging, since you don't really want to be tossing around a dead duck and encouraging your dog to play with it. Instead, you might consider setting out a spread of regular decoys and then scenting a decoy, a stuffed animal, or a training duck dummy with bird scent. With repetitious "fetch" exercises and positive reinforcement, your dog will begin to understand that the scented bird is the one he or she is supposed to be retrieving. The dog will in turn connect the scent with something that will make you happy, and will become adept at retrieving real-life birds that share that scent.
6. Train Your Dog to Relax in Your Hunting Stronghold
Whether you hunt waterfowl from a blind or a boat, you are going to need your dog to be able to relax and lay down while you scan the sky for ducks. If you want good behavior in the blind, exercise and proper training should take care of most of it. Just make sure to have food and water handy for the dog if you are planning on spending a long day in the field.
If you hunt from a boat, that environment is a bit more alien, and it will take your dog a bit longer to get comfortable. Practice climbing in and out of the boat with your dog, and eventually, start training him to leap overboard to retrieve dummies.