How Hunting with Dogs Works

By: Vivien Bullen
Three pheasant hunters with dogs on dirt road, rear view, USA Pheasant hunting, Eastern, Washington
Three pheasant hunters with dogs on dirt road, in eastern Washington.
Jules Frazier/Riser/Getty Images

So, Rover finally mastered fetch? If you're a hunter, it's probably time to see what other tricks he's good at -- maybe you should see if he can help put dinner on the table for a change. Fetch is similar to retrieving in hunting, when a dog is responsible for tracking down the hit game and bringing it back to his master.

Hunting as a sport is controversial, so anytime you examine a facet of the sport you have to touch on the ethics. There are those who live to hunt and those who believe it to be cruel if it's not done out of necessity. To the latter, hunting for sport with dogs is inhumane.


If you want to discuss the ethics of hunting with dogs, you might want to look at it from this angle. Many hunters choose to hunt by the rules of fair chase hunting, which states that sportsmen should never have an unfair advantage over the animals they pursue. The question is, does using a dog provide an unfair advantage? This is just one of the topics this article will touch upon.

We'll also examine the long journey dogs have taken to become the hunters they are today, dating back tens of thousands of years. Then we'll move into what breeds are best for hunting and which hunting strategies call for the use of canine aid. We'll wrap up by discussing the platforms for those in favor of dog hunting and those opposed, but not before giving some quick tips on training your versatile pet.

Are you ready to jump into the action? We should start by taking a look at how dogs began hunting in the first place. Check out the next page for information on dog hunting history.


History of Hunting with Dogs

Hunting has been around as long as man has. It is believed that hunting dogs were in use about 20,000 years ago [source Agarwal]. But as man and hunting evolved,­ so did dogs. Nearly 9,000 years ago, man began harvesting livestock and domesticating it. At this time, hunting became less necessary and dogs took on the role of overseeing the animals instead of hunting them. Their strong sense of smell helped them recover stray flock members and discover predators.

As hunting became a sport rather than a life duty, the role of dogs continued to evolve. Hunting dogs were developed to track, point and set game for their masters [source: The Hunting Dog]. By 6,000 years ago, pointers, shepherds, mastiffs, greyhounds and wolf breeds were the prevalent hunting dogs, as they are documented in cave painting as workers hunting with their masters. From these five breeds, man began to look for special traits in dogs and use them for different needs. This is when breeding began and the number of dog species began to grow.


Today, dog hunting is almost entirely for sport, with the exception of subsistence hunts -- isolated Alaskan families, for example, use dogs to help them hunt for food. In the end, the history and evolution of hunting dogs goes hand in hand with the evolution of man.

Today, the number of dog breeds has expanded, but there are still a few select breeds that are regularly chosen for hunting. Check out the next page to see which breeds of dogs make the best hunters.


Types of Hunting Dogs

Wh­ile any dog could prove successful to a hunt, there are five types that seem most popular among sportsmen.

  • Retrievers are easy to train because they have long attention spans and are considered very obedient and intelligent. Most often, retrievers are used in waterfowl - usually duck -- hunting. Their soft mouths are a great tool here, allowing them to delicately handle the game. These athletic dogs love the water and have webbed toes that enhance their swimming abilities.
  • Pointers are best known for the stance they take when they approach prey. This dedicated dog will go ahead of the hunting party, using its strong sense of smell to track the game. Eventually, it will lead the hunter to the animal by using its body to point toward the prey. Pointers are known for athleticism, intelligence and dedication. They're especially beneficial because of their versatility, often able to master many different techniques of hunting.
  • Setters received their name from their patient method of hunting. They instinctually follow the scent of the game and, instead of attacking, simply get close and crouch (or set), keeping the prey trapped for the hunter. Setters were bred to carry the best characteristics of pointers and retrievers, so, like their canine ancestors, they're athletic and motivated. When hunting for long periods of time or covering vast ground, setters have the stamina to keep up.
  • Spaniels are the smallest hunting dogs. Their size, combined with their thick coats, makes them great companions when game may have fallen or taken cover in thick brush. They possess intelligence, versatility and obedience, making them ideal hunting candidates. Their soft mouths, like retrievers, allow them to retrieve prey without causing any damage.
  • Hounds, which are more commonly used by police and investigation agencies, have especially keen senses of sight and smell. They are extremely handy in tracking game.

You've read about the different kinds of dogs, so check out the next page to see what role each dog plays in a hunt.


Strategy for Hunting with Dogs

We'v­e gone over the different types of dogs used in hunting, but how exactly does hunting with a dog work?

The following four categories are the most common forms of hunting:


  • Sight hunting: Dogs are especially useful in sight hunting because the game has yet to be discovered. It's known to be in the area, but hasn't often come into open view. The aid of a dog's sense of smell could reduce the amount of time it takes to locate prey.
  • Stand hunting: Dogs aren't as useful in stand hunting (a common method of deer hunting), in which the hunter picks a location and waits there for animals to expose themselves.
  • Stalking: Hunters track down an animal that they can see but is too far away for a clean shot. They slowly move toward it, trying not to be seen or heard. A dog might not be the best companion here because it may not be quiet enough.
  • Driving: A group of hunters will intentionally make noise in hopes of scaring their game and forcing it out into the open. This method is very appropriate for hunting with dogs [source: the Hunting Dog].

Dogs don't just magically become great hunters -- you have to train them. Check out the next page for tips on training hunting dogs.


Training Hunting Dogs

Dogs are a rare breed of animal in the sense that they choose to ­serve humans -- they're known for loyal and unconditional affection for humans, which most other animals don't have. This instinct to do what we tell them to makes dogs some of the easiest animals to train.

Here are some on the most common training methods for hunting dogs:


  • Conventional: This is very basic training for obedience commands and usually isn't sufficient enough for a practicing hunting dog. It serves as a foundation, but more intensive training should follow.
  • E-Collars: Electric shock collars punish dogs for disobeying commands. Timing is important for this method to work correctly, though, so an experienced trainer should execute the shocks.
  • Positive reinforcement: Rewarding good behavior teaches dogs to associate it with positive results. This is a method that relies on the dog's ability to learn.
  • "Dog whispering": Dogs evolved from wolves, right? So it's natural to take a wolf-pack approach to training them. If you establish yourself -- the trainer -- as the leader of the pack, the dog will instinctively follow your lead and become submissive [source: The Hunting Dog].

Keep in mind that any of these methods can be combined to achieve specific results. And the manner in which you train your dog is important, too. You should always be flexible, consistent, fair and positive [source: The Hunting Dog]. These qualities will help the dog succeed.

You're well versed in the methods of training a dog, so now read on to discover why some believe dogs are a great addition to hunting while others do not.


Arguments in Favor of Hunting with Dogs

The debate over the morality of using dogs for hunting doesn't come up as often a­s other issues surrounding hunting, but that doesn't mean there aren't strong arguments for both sides. Supporters view the method as morally sound and believe it should be their right to use dogs.

The most common argument in favor of hunting is population control. Hunting with dogs can help a hunter successfully bag an overpopulated animal. If successful population control is the overall goal, what does it matter how the animals are hunted? Shouldn't hunters use the most successful method available?


Dogs track animals more easily than humans do. They bring the prey into close range, giving the hunter a clear shot. Most hunters believe the kill should be quick and clean, and getting a clear shot helps them hit the prey in the specific target area to achieve a more humane death.

Dogs are exposed to the elements when they participate in hunting, but a good owner can watch over a canine companion, keeping close watch over any changes in behavior or indications of harm.

So what does the other side have to say? Go to the next page to learn why some people disapprove of bringing dogs out on the hunt.


Arguments Against Hunting with Dogs

Huntin­g is controversial to begin with, but when you add in other factors, like hunting with dogs, the already complex debate gets harder to dissect.

Those who oppose hunting with dogs say their stance is twofold. Not only do the techniques often result in dogs maliciously and cruelly maiming the hunted game, but the dogs themselves are said to face hardship. Hundreds of dogs are abandoned each year after they've passed an acceptable hunting age [source: The Hunting Dog].


Even when with their owners, hunting dogs might not be safe. Some prey is willing to fight back. Bears are formidable foes, as they outweigh dogs by a considerable amount. When a bear is on his game, a dog probably won't stand a chance.

Hunting dogs are also susceptible to many illnesses when they spend as much time in the woods as these dogs do. Health hazards include heatstroke, overexertion, ticks, Lyme disease, foxtail infection, poison ivy, snakebites, tongue injuries, Limber Tail Syndrome, exercise-induced collapse, bloating and hypoglycemia [source: The Hunting Dog].

And there's always the ever-popular ethical hunting concept. Does hunting with dogs give the hunter an unfair advantage? The opposition believes so -- without dogs, hunters might have a harder time tracking down their game or leading the prey into a clear shot.

Other countries (like Britain, where hounds are often used in controversial fox hunts) have already taken steps to outlaw hunting with dogs. The debate is not as prevalent here in the United States, but perhaps time will bring this issue into mainstream focus.

Go to the next page for more information on hunting with dogs.


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