Puppies come to us as innocent, clean slates. It’s our job to mold them into the dog we wish them to become. This especially holds true for hunting dogs. While your hunting puppy is going to be born with hunting instincts, it will be up to you to teach him how to use those instincts successfully in the fields or the woods. Giving your puppy the best start in life is a long and involved process. It starts with choosing the right puppy for your wants and needs, starting him on the right diet, and building good habits young.
A well-trained hunting dog is a companion that can rise above the station of a standard pet. These dogs can just as easily watch over your children as they can retrieve pheasants. But it all starts when they’re young. Getting your hunting dog off to a good start while young may very well determine his future.
The Best Hunting Breeds
All hunting dogs have a few traits in common, they’re loyal, brave, and they have a strong prey drive. But after that, each dog is different. Some dogs do better in some hunting areas than others. For example, the Labrador Retriever makes for a great duck hunting companion, while the English Springer Spaniel is more suited to pheasant hunting. That’s not to say that Labs can’t hunt pheasant, or the Spaniels can’t retrieve ducks. But, each breed has been bred to excel in one particular field while still performing well in all others.
Here’s our list of some of the most popular hunting dogs. There are over 60 breeds between the AKC sporting and hound group, so we may have left a few out from our list below. The AKC classifies both sporting dogs and hounds as dogs who are naturally active and alert and who perform above and beyond in either the water, the woods, or both. These dogs are bred to perform in hunting or other field activities. They are also noted for their stamina and scent tracking prowess. Either a hound or a sporting dog would make for an ideal hunting companion.
Any of the breeds listed below can make great all-around hunters, but if you’re interested in a puppy for a very specific type of hunting, we recommend reading over their breed profiles (listed below) before bringing home your new furry family member.
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- German Shorthair Pointer
- German Wirehaired Pointer
- English Setter
- English Springer Spaniel
- English Pointer
- Irish Setter
Treeing Walker Coonhound
- American Foxhound
- Boykin spaniel
- Bluetick Coonhound
- Cocker Spaniel
- Redbone Coonhound
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Plott Hound
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Black and Tan Coonhound
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
What Your Hunting Puppy Needs in His Diet
To some extent, hunting breeds are just like all other puppies. They’ll need specialized puppy food while they’re young to help them develop their bones, muscles, joints, internal organs, and immune system. Typically, most vets agree that a good puppy food will be made up of at least 30% protein, vitamins and minerals, and have a high-fat content to promote energy. Currently, PetBreeds rates the following puppy foods as the best in their respective fields.
Puppy Foods for Highly Active Puppies:
- Royal Canin Medium and Mini Puppy Formulas
- Blue Buffalo Large Breed Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Formula
- Orijen Puppy Food 80/20 Large Breed Formula
Best All-around Puppy Food:
- Evo Herring & Salmon Formula
- Nature’s Variety Instinct Chicken Meal Formula
- Earthborn Holistic Primitive Natural Formula
Best Puppy Food for Joint Health:
- Dr. Tim’s Kinesis
- Royal Canin Medium Puppy Formula
It should be noted that each breed may require individual and unique qualities in their food. For example, large breed puppies might need more protein than that of their small breed companions. The best way to find your ideal puppy food is to talk to your vet.
Training Your Hunting Puppy
For hunting dogs, training starts the moment you pick them up, and it never stops. When your puppy is really young, as in younger than four months old, he won’t be ready for any serious hunting training yet. During this time, you can focus on teaching your puppy his name, socialization, potty training, crate training, and “no.” Your puppy will still be growing, so pushing him too far in physical pursuits might negatively affect him for the rest of his life.
Between five to seven months of age, you can begin some of your more physical training. The most basic and important skills you’ll need to focus on first are coming when called and obeying while on a leash. You need to know that when you let your pup off leash, he’s going to come back. Likewise, you’ll need to know that your pup won’t chase off game while on his leash just walking through your neighborhood. Most trainers use check-cords to help teach their pup the searching windshield-wiper pattern they desire during this time. This time is also when you can start teaching your pup your preferred start and stop commands, such as “hup” and “whoa.” Some trainers introduce dead game at this point to engage their puppy’s prey drive while training. Pups may also start flushing or pointing, but it is more intrinsic than skill at this point. During this time, guns may be properly introduced to your pup. Read more about that process here.
Between the ages of eight to 11 months, you can begin to take your pup with you on short hunting expeditions. Still using your check-cord, retrievers should be able to bring back game or bumpers at least most of the way back, pointers should point pretty reliably, and field dogs should be able to pattern back and forth. This time is spent refining all of your puppy’s skills until you feel confident in his abilities and your bond.
From age one year and on, your puppy’s obedience lessons should be second nature. Training a hunting dog is a lifelong commitment and can always be improved. For the best results, we recommend asking friends and family members for trainer recommendations in your area. While most hunters train their own dogs, having a professional assist with some of the more challenging aspects of training a hunting dog, like teaching the forced retrieve, can make a big difference.
We hope that we’ve helped you better understand what your hunting dog will need from you in his first year. We wish you all the best with your new hunting companion. Happy hunting!