Hunting dogs hunt and nothing can be done about it? Although dogs specifically bred to hunt are often difficult to recall from this behavior, it is possible. How, you ask? Through need-based rewards. Because if a rabbit dashes across the field and you just stand there yelling or possibly even scolding, your dog probably won’t manage to stay with you. The key word is need-based reward.
Rewarding hunting dogs according to their needs
To find the right motivation for your dog not to hunt, you need to know his needs. Depending on which link of the hunting behavior chain (orienting-fixing-approaching-scurrying-packing-killing-destroying-eating) is expressed strongly in your darling, it needs a different kind of reward.
Since these behaviors are strongly self-rewarding, it is important that your dog does not hunt during training time, i.e. leash requirement and practice alternatives. With a lot of training, patience and fun, you may manage to get your dog interested in you despite distractions and possibly even retrievable.
Note: Every hunting sequence is self-rewarding, not just the end. So it doesn’t matter if your dog catches the prey or not, the hormone cocktail is relevant everywhere.
Rewardingideas for hunting dogs
This is when your dog perceives a stimulus through his senses (seeing, hearing, smelling). Usually he freezes for a moment, is tense, tail is erect and he tries to determine where the stimulus is coming from.
At this stage, many dogs still respond quite well when the right reward is waiting for them:
- Let them look for something (food, dummy, etc.)
- Overcoming obstacles (jumping on tree trunks etc.)
- Keep an eye out (look for an elevated point and watch together)
- Let them sniff (at undergrowth, game changing places, game lying places or other interesting points)
- Tracking work
- Lost search
Once the dog has found the prey, the body tension is usually raised, tail at the level of the back, head lowered and directed towards the trigger. Often a front paw is raised and the dogs remain in the so-called pointing position.
Pointing dogs in particular must be allowed to act out this need. Possible ways:
- Pointing at the stimulus rod (attention slowly build up, dog should not run behind, but indicate movement).
- Surveillance (food or toys on a established signal)
- Watching (signal to let the dog look)
- Sniffing (sniffing places for sniffing)
- eventually let digging
- Now the dog slowly approaches the prey. To act out this need you could:
- Stimulus rod (let the dog approach)
- Sneaking up on objects together
If the prey moves away and wants to flee, the dog usually pursues it with long, shallow jumps. Depending on the dog breeds, the so-called bay (barking sounds) can be included here. As an alternative to the real prey for example is suitable:
- Run after (ball, toy, etc.)
- Throw food and let him run after
- Running (run together with you)
- chasing on the bait (on signal)
After the chase it is important to cool down together. To come down, calm search games, chewing articles, licking mats and much more are suitable.
Grab + eventually kill
If the dog is close enough to the prey, he grabs it and holds it with his mouth. Often you can observe a bagging, i.e. shaking to death, of the prey afterwards. You can re-enact this hunting success together, for example by:
- tugging games
- chewing (giving soft things to bite on)
- retrieving (for many dogs it is enough to grab and carry the prey)
- letting the dog shake the toy
- bury food, dig it up and let it be eaten
- catching bigger treats out of the air
- dummy training
Slicing + Eating
At the end of the hunting chain is the dissection and eating of the prey. The prey is held with the paws and torn apart with the catch. Eating allows the stress hormones to “calm down” again, so this sequence is important. Since we do not want our dog to make real prey we have to offer him good alternatives:
- Shredding (kitchen roll filled with treats, shoe box with cookies wrapped in paper, etc.).
- Chewing (chew sticks, big treats, etc.)
It is best not to give food out of the hand, but to throw it in advance or let it search.
Which reward is used?
This is completely individual and depends on which hunting sequences your dog particularly likes to perform. If your dog would show the complete chain, try to pick him up at the beginning and perform the other segments together with him.
Think about what your dog enjoys. Is he better motivated by food, toys or the environment? A different type of reward may also be appropriate depending on the situation. You can find out how to make a reward list here.
Practice all these things in a relaxed environment. If your dog doesn’t know any alternatives yet, he will probably choose chasing. So secure him with a harness and long leash until hunting together works well.
Important: After exciting situations, calm down again. After throwing a ball, simply putting the ball away and going home will cause the dog to get into an even higher state of excitement the next time.
Reward is an important part of dog training. Especially with hunting dogs, we need the right motivation to keep them from behaving in a way that is a need for them and strongly self-rewarding. With the right reward and suitable alternatives, your walks can become more relaxed.