Choose the Right Dog for You

The Willow Creek Team January 5, 2011

breeding range

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Certain things just go together well, and that certainly applies to hunters and dogs.
They say dogs and their owners begin to resemble one another over time, that they take on characteristics of each other’s personalities. There is no doubt some truth to that, but there are also bad mismatches that take place, dogs and hunters who should not be together, because there is just too much difference in performance and expectation.

A Question of Range

One of the biggest problems I see is hunters who expect their dogs to hunt close, but they buy a puppy that’s bred to range and find birds. In most cases, it’s a matter of a hunter hearing that a certain breed of dog is what they need, and they buy that breed without finding out enough about it.

Those hunters tend to rein their dogs in too tightly, and that will be detrimental to the dog’s bird-finding ability. Over-controlling your dog is a bad thing.

You need to be honest with yourself about your expectations in this regard, and buy a breed of dog that matches well with your hunting style. Or, if you already have a hard-running dog (and the reason it runs is to find birds), you can come to terms with what your dog was born to do.

It’s always a good thing when you allow your dog’s natural abilities to develop.

Are You and Your Dog Meant for Each Other?

To determine whether you and your dog are a good match, you have to be honest about your personal hunting style. Let’s say you’re hunting over a pointing dog that likes to run. If you’re constantly on the whistle or pushing the buttons on your electronic collar, the two of you are probably not meant for each other.

In the case of pointing dogs, you should let them hunt. If they range out 50-100 yards, that’s OK. Pointing dogs are meant to cover ground so you don’t have to step on every blade of grass. A lot of people think they have to walk right behind their dog, in lock step the whole way. But if you trust your dog to hold birds, you can let them go a little farther.

Letting go of control can mean more birds, and happier days afield.

The tendency to over-control dogs in a hunting situation is a big problem. Sometimes you have to hustle over toward the dog when the chase gets hot, but I have some dogs that I don’t see for an hour, especially when I’m hunting ruffed grouse in thick cover. I keep tabs on them by hearing them hunt, and I can hear the beeper collar go off and know they’re on point.

Freedom to Hunt Under Control

It’s important to note that allowing your dog to hunt is not the same thing as being lax on discipline. You still need the dog to obey when it’s called back. After all, dogs can’t read ‘No Trespassing’ signs. They don’t know what ground you have permission to hunt, and they aren’t reliable when it comes to trailing a bird out toward a road, where there might be a truck barreling along.

Just like the best bosses learn to understand their employees and turn them loose to do what they do best, you have to allow your dog to hunt. Again, be honest about your own personality and what you need out of a dog. If you desire a close-in dog that rarely ranges, then don’t choose a dog that was bred to run big.

It makes me feel bad for both the hunter and the dog when I see examples where each would be better off in a different arrangement. But, happily, I’ve also seen situations where the hunter learned what the dog needed, in the way of rope, and learned to freely offer it, all the while knowing the dog could be controlled when necessary.

Why Over-Controlling is So Bad

One of the goals of obedience training is to teach your dog to pay attention to you, and take direction from you. But if you over-control your dog it can have negative affects you might not realize. An over-controlled dog can become preoccupied with where his master wants him to be, instead of concentrating on looking for birds. He can become more worried about making a mistake than in hunting, in following his instincts.

When you consider the impact of over-controlling in this light, you can see why it’s so important to trust your dog and let it hunt.

Good Hunter, Good Citizen

Some people just want a great hunting dog, and they aren’t concerned about that dog also being a good pet. But if you want your hunting dog to be a good family dog, too, make sure the breeder you buy a puppy from is breeding that ‘family-type’ dog.

Ask questions of the breeders. Research them. Make sure they’re breeding for the type of dog you want. Take a good, long look at the parents; see if they’re overly hyper, or even too mellow to be good hunters. Look for the kind of personality you want in your dog. Take all this into consideration before you bring your kids to see the puppies, because by then it can be too late. Kids and cute puppies have a way of going home together.

The years you spend together with your dog can be fun or frustrating. Try to consider this carefully as you choose a dog, or come to terms with the one you already own.