Dogs are the ideal hunting partner. But you don’t want to bring home a new puppy and immediately expect them to be the perfect hunting dog. They say that proper preparation prevents poor performance, and that goes double for dogs and hunting.
What do you need to know before you take your dog hunting for the first time to keep both you and your furry family member safe?
Don’t Skip Your Training
While some people will swear by a specific breed for hunting, the truth is that nearly any breed can be taught to hunt, retrieve or simply be a companion during those long days. What you don’t want to do when you’re choosing a hunting partner is to skip your training.
Start with basic obedience. Once they’ve mastered those skills, start adding in hunting-specific things that you want them to learn, from flushing to retrieving and everything in between.
Eventually, you’ll want to be able to trust your dog to sit by your side, retrieve your kills or flush birds from the underbrush without the need for a leash or cord, knowing that they’ll do their assigned task and then return to your side.
Bring Plenty of Dog Supplies
If you’re heading out for a weekend hunt, you’ve probably already stocked your truck with food and water for the duration for yourself. Make sure you’ve got plenty of supplies for your hunting partner as well, including food, water, treats and other dog supplies. If you’re going to be hunting during the warm summer months, make sure you bring extra water to prevent heatstroke. Bring more than you think you’ll need.
Get your dog a well-fitted harness and they can often carry their own supplies. Just ensure that their pack doesn’t weigh more than one-third their body weight.
Get Them Used to the Hunt
Even if they’ve passed their hunter training classes, it will still take some time to get them used to the hunt — including getting them used to the sound of gunfire. Don’t start by shooting a gun around your young hunting dog. That will likely just end up making them gun-shy, which makes it more challenging to turn them into successful hunting dogs.
Start by carrying an unloaded gun around with you on walks so they can get used to the idea of the gun as a part of their world. Then, as they start flushing birds or chasing game, you can add gunshots to get them used to the sound.
Safety should be your first priority with your dogs when you take them hunting, regardless of their responsibilities on the trip. Make sure your dog has a well-fitted and brightly colored vest to alert other hunters that they are not prey. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be bright and fit well enough that it won’t fall off in the brush.
You may also want to take a trip to the vet before you head out into the woods to ensure your pup is up-to-date on all of their vaccines so they don’t come back from your excursion with Lyme disease or rabies.
Training a dog to be your hunting partner is a lifelong exercise, and one that might be frustrating at times. Be patient with your furry friend as they learn these skills that will help both of you throughout your lives.