Training a hound for the hunt

July 12, 2008 at 10:27 AM

The dog days of summer will be here soon. If you have a young dog to get ready for hunting this fall, “dog days” will take on a new meaning when training begins.

Whether you want your dog to hunt birds, rabbits or raccoons or to retrieve waterfowl, the first decision you’ll make is who is going to do the training. If you count out the offer from your know-it-all brother-in-law (the same one who told you he knew how to finish concrete), you have two options. You can send your dog to a professional trainer, or you can study up on it and train the dog yourself.

There are advantages to both approaches, and it’s possible to end up with a well-trained hunting dog or a wash-out either way. If you have the time, space and patience, and if you can work your dog on live game, doing it yourself can be less expensive than hiring a professional trainer. That said, a professional trainer probably would accomplish the same amount of training in less time, because he’s doing it for a living and it’s important to be efficient.

Doing your own training also means your dog stays at home. This can be both good and bad. On one hand, you won’t lose contact with Sparky during the training period. On the other, with a trainer he would be in an environment focused on training, where there are few distractions.

Establishing realistic training goals may help you decide which route to take. Most of us will demand more from a professional trainer and will be a little more lenient when we’re doing the training ourselves.

Before you decide which way to go, think about what you expect a finished dog to be able to do. Do you care if your pointer won’t retrieve, or if your retriever drops the duck at your feet and not in the palm of your hand? How much is good enough? Are you willing to continue training, or continue to pay for training, until the dog gets it right 95 percent of the time?

Whichever road you choose, objectively assess whether or not your dog has the instincts and the drive to become the hunting partner you want.

If you’d like a non-biased opinion about your dog’s natural ability, take the dog to a professional trainer for an evaluation. Most trainers will do it without asking for a training commitment. Just remember, when you ask for his or her professional opinion, don’t be offended when you get it. Sight-pointing robins in the garden isn’t the same as finding, pointing and holding on a covey of wild quail.

Even with the best bloodlines, some dogs just don’t have a lot of hunt in them. Among those that do, only a scant handful turn out “dead broke” and perfect.
The majority become hunting dogs we can live with, and that’s usually good enough.