Laying the foundations of our future hunting dog is not an easy task. How to socialize him with the environment, humans, and other dogs? What are the essential commands that you must learn to obey? How and when to take him hunting? This guide answers the big questions we ask ourselves when a new puppy comes into our pack.
How do you train a hunting dog?
Studies in canine psychology and analysis of the growth, behavior, and development of our puppies have determined novel education and training techniques, showing that some approaches from the past could be negative in their development as hunting dogs. In this article, we summarize the new guidelines for training the hunting dog. If you want to train him well, you will have to socialize him properly, establish a good hierarchy, make good use of the whistle, leash, and other tools, and discard false beliefs. We will tell you in-depth below.
Socialize it with the medium
Walking them through the countryside and the city will help them balance their emotions and create positive relationships. A puppy that lives in a kennel, an orchard, a residence, or our own home and that only grows in that environment is like a child who spends his childhood in a town of about 100 inhabitants and from which his parents have never taken him to meet another environment, other people, other ways of living.
The most normal thing is that when that child, as an adult, goes out to see the world, everything will cause fear, something that can mark his personality, making him shy and withdrawn, and his life when it comes to relating.
We must offer our puppies the greatest number of sensory experiences taking into account, as I always say, that their learning and intelligence are only associative. That is, they always learn through experiences. There is no use trying to explain what he should or should not do since he does not understand our language.
We must, instead, offer them the greatest number of experiences to facilitate their ability to adapt to any terrain and situation. A clear example can be found in woodcock hunting dogs, where the terrain is usually wooded and full of firewood, which makes any action difficult and visibility over long distances.
Offer him the greatest number of experiences
A dog, even an adult and with experience in other modalities and other areas that we suddenly want to hunt for woodcocks, it is very possible that it will take us a long time to adapt to this new terrain and that it hunts at its highest level, since the new situation, generate new insecurities that prevent you from taking the necessary search distances and the necessary concentration in the search for it to be effective.
It is not uncommon for many of these dogs to have to be discarded for this modality because they have not been socialized with this environment as puppies. The conclusion: offer them the greatest number of experiences and in different settings. In this way, you will have companions with great adaptability and resolution capacity.
Let him interact with the children
Petting and playing with our puppies, as well as letting the children interact with them, will help them grow and build a good relationship with us. It has been shown that one of the guidelines that govern and direct the life of our dogs, whether hunting or not, is, first of all, their gregarious nature, that is, their way of life in a pack, being able to adapt almost any species as part of your family.
An example is that of the mastiffs , which is enough to introduce puppies into the cattle so that they directly become their herd and, therefore, defend it to the death against any external aggression. Both we and other dogs that we have and with whom we live will directly become the herd of our hunting dogs, and a herd of two can be given without any problem, that is, my dog and me.
Establish a good hierarchy
Create a close relationship with them from puppies, feed them, walk them, play, reward and capitalize those actions that we like, as well as punish or ignore those that do not, will serve to establish a perfect bond and will help us in the face of the other guideline that governs his life: the hierarchy. Its social structure is based on this concept: a dog is born to occupy a status within the pack in which we must occupy, without a doubt, the rank of a leader.
Physical punishment is not necessary, although confrontations are frequent between them to claim their social position. Feeding them, setting guidelines, educating them, and, finally, training them are actions that will grant us the mandatory status that we must occupy if we want them to obey us and, as they say, hunt for us.
Prepare the tools
Teaching them from puppies to walk on the leash and Flexi, using taste rewards as positive reinforcements, and handling the whistle as a method of understanding and communication will allow us to establish the first necessary hierarchy guidelines in their lives.
As for the leash, teaching our puppies to walk on it is one of the best exercises that we necessarily have to do with our companions.
When we talk about Flexi, we mean an extendable leash that is ideal for training hunting dogs. Its use is similar to that of a conventional strap. Still, it allows us the advantage of being able to work with it at different distances, even up to ten meters, and, in addition, it offers our colleague a very positive feeling of semi-freedom for his habituation to this tool and handling. The best ones for the field are the rope ones since, unlike the ribbon ones, they hardly get tangled up with the vegetation.
Make good use of the leash
This umbilical cord, which unites us to our dog and by which we tell him how, at what speed and where he has to go, will begin to mark in his life the necessary hierarchy so that he ends up being an obedient animal and, as it is colloquially said, hunt for us.
This basic exercise of control in any situation would also serve as the cornerstone for future issues, such as a faulty sample or a bad set, as well as the foundations in the early stages of training.
However, we must not be careless: misuse of this tool can destroy all of the above. Who has not had, has, or knows the typical dog that, when putting on the leash, pulls it, dragging us to where he wants? So we ask ourselves: who walks whom? Who rules over whom?
So that this does not happen, we must teach him to walk without pulling the leash, in the direction that we choose, and at the speed that we decide. To achieve this, it is essential to name the exercise – I use the ‘together’ command – and keep negative corrections and reinforcements perfectly balanced with rewards, both verbal and gustatory. We will reward you when you are walking by our side without pulling the belt.
Use the whistle correctly
Teaching him the exercises using whistle-blow commands allows us several advantages over verbal ones, such as the distance at which he can hear our order while at the same time we do not alert the pieces or cause them to flee.
This tool allows us to always give orders in the same tones and structures, which will favor a better understanding and execution of the exercise by our students. Depending on the number of touches and their intensity, we will be giving you a specific order. I use it in the following way: a long touch means, ‘come here’; a short one (pi), ‘you have no orders, go hunting’; two short (pi), ‘turns’; a strong and vibrant one, ‘still’.
Avoid false beliefs – only real experiences
A very common mistake is trying to teach a puppy to do the sample or ‘get his instincts’ by attracting his attention with the typical cane or butterfly, moving the feathers, and withdrawing it when he pounces on them without being able to catch him.
The sample is not an instinct but a neurological mechanism that has only been developed in the so-called sample breeds. Many popular beliefs can negatively affect the growth of our puppies and their future behavior during our hunting days.
In addition to the rod or butterfly, the early collection of pieces without a confirmed sample, the cut pieces … can be the cause of serious problems in the future hunting actions of our four-legged companions. These are baseless popular beliefs that require very little effort and do not take into account the consequences: if they do not bear the expected results, the answer is simple, the fault is always our dog.
Encourage a good show
We must expose him to hunting with real experiences, with escapes from the pieces. That is to say, the most important thing to capitalize on a good sample is that the dog understands that by itself, and even counting on its attack speed, that it cannot catch the piece: thus it will conclude that through a perfect sample, counting on our help and shooting, is how you can achieve your goal.
If we offer him the best of the prizes, that is, catching the piece, without having done all the previous work well, we run the risk that he will learn to do it badly, since despite this he has won the great reward.
Name each order
As I describe this pattern in my book From Mount to Hunting, dogs have their language, often gestural, guttural, and visual. One evident thing is that it is nothing like ours. If we stop to reflect, we act with our dogs, believing that they are born knowing all languages, that it does not matter in which language we speak they will understand us. When they don’t obey us, we end up shouting the command or repeating it ad nauseam, as if it were deaf or stupid. Put yourself in their place.
Imagine that someone gives you an order in a language you don’t know and, if you don’t obey him, he yells at you, keeps repeating it, or, in the worst case, even slaps you twice. The first thing to obey is to understand what we are being commanded to do, and the same happens with our four-legged companions.
Teaching them our language is essential for understanding and performing any exercise, as well as naming each action or command. A very simple example: when we give the command ‘turn,’ we turn around; seeing that we are moving away in another direction, it will turn around so as not to get lost. Thus, based on repetitions, it will associate the sound ‘turn’ with turning around. As I explained before, this is what your associative intelligence consists of.
Take him out hunting when he’s ready
It is an answer that will always depend on each dog, but seven months is the average age to start puppy hunting. He has already ‘built up and, most importantly, his brain is ready to assimilate and analyze hunting actions.
In this phase of their life, they are like sponges, so be careful: they will learn both the good and the bad things. I tell you a couple of practical examples. If we hunt a partridge that has been pounced after locating it and after a short sample – which is the most common in the first experiences – the most normal thing is that our partner learns to jump for the pieces without holding a good sample since this method has given him good results.
If before working and verifying a perfect sample, we dedicate ourselves to work the collection with real pieces, either dead or cut, the information we are giving you is that the game can be caught without having to show it previously; therefore, when in hunting action, locate a piece, the most normal thing will be that instead of showing it try to catch it because that is what we have taught you.
In the world of dogs and their training, there are no magic formulas or miraculous tricks. Knowledge, first, works, patience, and perseverance are the only tools that can ensure our success. Of all this, thousands of books could be written, almost as many as dogs, and it is one of the guidelines that we have to take into account, never stop learning. I hope these lines help you to ‘manufacture’ great hunters.