top of page

Unleashing the Secrets: Understanding Your Dog's Hunting Instinct

Dogs, descendants of wild predators, come equipped with a set of instincts that sometimes bewilder their human companions. At the forefront of these is the Dog's Hunting Instinct. "Unleashing the Secrets" delves deep into this innate behaviour, shedding light on its origins and how it manifests in our modern pets.

But understanding is just the first step. With insights from dog training experts, we'll also provide guidance on harnessing and managing this instinct, ensuring a harmonious bond between you and your canine companion.

Join us as we navigate the captivating world of man's best friend and the instincts that drive them.

Dog hunting a bird

*Cambridge Dictionary Definition: Hunting - the activity or sport of chasing or searching for wild animals or birds, including collecting and taking of eggs, with the intention of killing or catching them.

*Cambridge Dictionary Definition: Instinct - the way people or animals naturally react or behave, without having to think or learn about it

Instinct - (in Latin: instinctus, past participle of instinguere - "to incite, to initiate"[1]) represents a set of innate predispositions (needs) of a living organism to follow a certain behaviour. They are not learned but are inherited fixed patterns of action activated by a more or less specific set of internal or external stimuli.

*Hunting instinct – innate predispositions (needs) of a living organism, such as a dog, to chase, injure, capture and/or kill animals for different purposes, as well as to find, take, carry (bring) recognisable parts of it, including finding and taking eggs from wild birds.

Does every dog have a hunting instinct?

...and what's the problem?

While some dogs launch into a hot pursuit as soon as they smell a wild animal, others need direct (e.g. visual) contact with that same animal before they start chasing it (ie. – to hunt), and some dogs do not show even the slightest interest, show no reaction, to the smell of wild or any animals.

No matter which category of "dogs" your four-legged friend belongs to, the fact is that the predisposition to chase and capture (hunting) is genetically determined. Dogs owe their hunting instinct to their ancestors, wolves. Although today's domesticated dogs no longer need to hunt for food, the hunting impulse is still anchored in them.

How strong the hunting instinct depends on the breed of the dog. For example, breeds like Beagle, German Shorthaired Pointer, Dachshund, Weimaraner, German Hunting Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Basset Hound, etc. are among the many that were bred specifically for hunting purposes.

Hunting dogs specialised in chasing and/or capturing games were created through selective breeding.

In other breeds of dogs, however, the hunting instinct is gradually suppressed and these breeds are considered family dogs, which are mainly characterised by their good social behaviour (however, even in them, the hunting instinct is still preserved, subtle and rather stunted).

.... and more about the problems...

The daily walk often becomes a challenge for dog owners with a strong hunting ambition. The owner feels helpless as soon as the enticing smell of the game hits the quadruped's nose.

Peaceful excursions are impossible because potential prey is everywhere: in the forest, fields, and even the city. A hunting dog can cause enormous stress to wildlife and livestock - and, in the worst-case scenario, can even chase them to death. And how quickly the dog goes out on a busy road in his hunting zeal! There, he endangers not only his life but also that of the people.

Ambitious hunting dogs and their humans quickly fall into a vicious circle from which they cannot escape.

Many dog owners do not recognise the first signs of their dog's hunting behaviour because hunting does not start when the dog sprints but much earlier. These are very subtle signals by which you can tell with a trained eye whether the dog is just mentally set on a hunt or perhaps has already picked up a scent. In this early phase, the dog's attention can often still be captured, and the hunting behaviour is interrupted.

Hunting dogs love to work with their people. This is what they were bred for - they are not independent. In fact, most hunting dogs offer themselves to their humans, but humans don't always notice.

The owner has not learned to read his hunting dog correctly. And if the person doesn't respond to his dog's attempts at communication, the dog will eventually decide - and say goodbye. Owners quickly realise that something needs to change after the dog has escaped a few times.

...and more...but how to...?!

Hunting instincts can neither be permanently trained out of the dog nor completely suppressed. The urge to chase can be difficult to control in our pets, mostly because it is ingrained in them naturally. You can't always avoid every potential trigger, especially with highly motivated dogs.

A dog embarking on an uncontrollable hunt can quickly become a danger to the environment and itself. If your dog's predatory instinct is strong and you feel that you cannot cope with the animal's drive to prey on your own, following certain steps and being aware of the factors that give rise to it can help you better manage your pet's instincts.

Consider seeking help from a professional trainer, training instructor, or behaviourist. Training and taking steps to avoid the stimuli can help reduce problem situations related to your dog's predatory instinct. It takes time, commitment and competent support to turn a hunting dog into a reliable (including safe) companion. The effort is worth it, because this is the prerequisite for us humans to be able today, at the end of countless millennia, to connect with our hunting dog and enjoy hunting together for happiness!

Why is it so difficult to control the hunting instinct?

The reason: happy hormones. Endorphins are released in the dog's body when hunting, putting them in a state of happiness. To have this feeling, it is often enough to run after the game.

Dogs don't necessarily need actual hunting success to experience this "rush." The chase itself can be so rewarding to a dog that he is no longer interested in anything else. No matter how much his owner scolds him. He will run after the next rabbit again to experience that good feeling one more time.

About the training

Dog in training - surrey

The golden rule:

Unless you are an expert, don't train your dog using random methods and tricks! This may cause permanent damage to your dog's mental and/or physical health!

Always start training your dog by turning to a canine expert (a specialist who works with dogs on a scientific and scientific-practical basis, including training instructors and behaviourists) or a trainer of dogs (a specialist who works with dogs on a practical basis, especially in the field of their training)!

Components of training

An important component in training is the sensitivity of the owner so that an understanding can develop between dog and human. Only in this way can a reliable relationship be formed, which will allow the dog's hunting instinct to be controlled.

The goal is constructive teamwork between man and dog instead of solitary hunting trips for the four-legged. It is not possible to suppress a dog's hunting instinct - but it is possible to train it to satisfy its needs in a different way by offering the dog alternatives that suit its personal preferences and talents.

For one dog, it may be tracking; for another, it may be dummy work; for a third, something completely different. A simple mental exercise is often enough to keep a dog's attention. In this way, the hunting instinct is not suppressed but transformed into something positive because the dog wants to work with its human. And, of course, the dog still gets an endorphin rush.

Training sessions to control the manifestation of the dog's hunting instinct

A dog's hunting instinct cannot be "turned off" completely, but it can be redirected to a behaviour acceptable to us humans. To get the dog to give up his favourite "hobby", you need to convince him that controlling the hunting instinct can also have positive consequences for him. He must learn that it is worth staying with his team leader and will be able to experience more exciting adventures together with his owner.

Here are some basic recommendations for a positive workout:

  • Do not work with a dog that has just left the house or car. First, give him a chance to stretch his legs, go to the toilet and explore his surroundings.

  • It is better to have many small lessons spread throughout the day than a single "study block"! Dogs also need opportunities to relax, unwind and process training.

  • Work with your dog alone in the early stages, perhaps in your own garden. As you progress in training in new, unfamiliar places, avoid busy areas - the smells of other dogs and new things are distracting!

  • Praise and reward immediately when your dog works well and completes the exercise correctly. Don't rush your workout – build distance or duration gradually.

a) Practicing Basic Obedience:

Basic obedience, where the dog reliably masters the most important tasks such as "sit", "down", "out", "bend" and "stay", is indispensable for successful training. At best, the dog already receives this basic training as a puppy.

But don't worry: although it's more difficult, adult dogs can also learn these basic skills.

Show your dog that obedience is rewarding. Whenever he shows the desired behaviour, praise your dog, pet him/hug him, say kind words, give him a treat or play with a dog toy.

Practice the behaviour wherever you are: First in your home, then in your own garden, and later on your walks together. It is important that your dog learns the basic skills in different environments and with distractions. With patience, consistency and positive reinforcement, you will achieve this goal! – and make your dog feel happy and motivated to work with you.

Working with experienced professionals who teach you step by step is a good way to achieve your goal.

b) Exercises for attention and strengthening connections

In the rush of the hunt, many dogs suddenly seem to forget their good training. They run away and don't even hear loud calls anymore. Your dog must learn to listen to your cues to prevent this, even in extreme situations.

This is not so easy. After all, the temptation to go hunting in the woods is not to be underestimated. Scents, an interesting trail, or even visual contact with the game will always distract him. It is important that your dog does not forget you as his "team leader" despite all the distractions and sensory impressions. You should always be the centre of his attention. If your dog is completely focused on you, this tight bond works like an invisible lead.

One effective way to strengthen the human-dog bond is to reward your dog for his attention. Does he seek eye contact during the walk, follow you when you change direction, or turn to look at you when you slow down? Reward your dog generously! – create happiness in your dog.

If you notice that your dog's thoughts are no longer with you and he doesn't react when you suddenly stop, try engaging his attention in a different way, even if you have to hide behind a tree. Your dog will be confused at first and then seek you out. Give him lots of rewards when he finds you. This will also strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

c) Channel the hunting instinct into cooperative activities

A dog with a strong hunting instinct will often not be persuaded by rewards alone. The self-reward of the hunt is simply too great for that. It is essential that your dog learns that working with you is more exciting than any chase.

Take your dog's needs seriously and try to satisfy his desire to dig or run in other ways. Games of fetch and search, working with dummy, and dog sports such as agility, canicross or mantrailing make almost every dog's heart beat faster. They ensure that your dog is occupied both physically and mentally.

Dogs chasing out of boredom will soon give up once they learn that you offer them enough alternative activity. Avoid the boredom of walking the same paths over and over, and be creative. Bury a treat or dog toy for your dog to dig up. Play hide and seek; let him retrieve a dummy or balance on tree trunks.

Be a team and show your dog that you understand what he wants and that you allow him to have those needs!

d) Impulse control

Training your hunting dog is about impulse control. The dog must learn to resist its hunting impulse. But this controlling behaviour goes against his animal nature and naturally leads to frustration at first. So, impulse control also means that the dog is able to withstand frustration.

For example, a dog that impulsively jumps on visitors should learn that when he sits, he will be praised and rewarded by his human.

It works in a similar way when you practice hunting in a partnership. Only when the dog shows that he can control his impulses will he be rewarded. If he does not chase the prey but first points out his find and patiently waits for a cue from his hunting partner, his human will praise and reward him accordingly.

The best time to train impulse control is when the dog is calm and exercised.

e) Practice emergency alert or super recall

To let your dog off the lead during a walk in the woods, you need to be able to rely on his recall. If the dog considers first whether it's worth listening to you or following his hunting impulse, you will usually lose.

Training a recall with a super speedy return can be achieved by using a super motivator to motivate your dog to return to you without delay. This could be a rabbit ball, a favourite toy or very high-value food.

Start practising your super recall at home, then build in distractions. Of course, you should not repeat the exercise too often. Otherwise, the special prize may soon not be so special anymore.

Once you've successfully trained super recall, you should really only use it in emergencies. If the emergency signal holds its promising effect, you have a good chance that your dog will return to you when you call him.

For more dog training resources, check out our other blogs:

Training Leads To Success

Time, patience, and consistency are needed, largely dependent on the dog's and owner's learning history. Almost any hunting dog can become manageable with proper training - and the effort is well worth it.

Ultimately, it is neither a solution for responsible dog owners to keep their dog on a lead at all times nor to let it hunt unsupervised. The calm walk, the freedom of movement without a lead, the new understanding of the dog and the joyful willingness to cooperate are simply wonderful experiences with which the owner and the dog are rewarded.

Hunting dogs are wonderful companions and give you a lot in return. But there are many things to consider, and people should seek competent support. Hunting dog breeds should be allowed to live out their hunting passion.

266 views0 comments


bottom of page