Socializing Your Hunting Dog
Everyone knows that socializing a puppy is vital to their well rounded development. Taking them places, exposing them to various situations, people and other dogs is just part of the process of training a new pup. However, when they grow up a lot of people stop socializing and that’s a mistake! An adult dog that only gets out of the kennel or the house to go hunting or training is not a well rounded dog and is difficult to handle at best and a liability at worst.
All of the best dogs I’ve known were well-rounded, deeply socialized and therefore confident animals thanks to the efforts of their owners to safely expose them to as many different experiences as possible. It is with that in mind that I take my dogs camping, fishing, into stores and shopping. I take them riding in boats and vehicles outside their dog boxes. I expose them to livestock, especially cattle and horses. I take them big game hunting with me in bear country, on a leash of course. I blow duck and goose calls around them. I play with gear like decoys around them. In short, my dogs are not a singular part of my life, they are woven into the fabric of it and we all benefit greatly from having them be a part of the family and not just a hunting dog.
Growing up my dad kept a string of hybrid “beagles”, these were standard beagles bred with Walker hounds and the result were dogs with longer legs for hunting snowshoe hares in the deep snow of the north country where we lived. These dogs all lived in kennels and were rarely, if ever, let out other than to hunt or train. The result was dogs that were out of control and not fun to be around. Those experiences soured me on beagles until I met one that was well socialized. He was a bunny busting, ruffed grouse finding machine and was fun to be around too, one of the best hunting dogs I’ve ever hunted behind. The point? If you don’t socialize/expose your dog to a lot of different people, places and scenarios they will not know how to handle themselves well when you need them to the most.
Summer is the perfect time to work on socialization skills. One of the things I love to do in the summer is fly fish in the mountains around my home. This involves hiking into some quite remote locations and is superb exercise. I almost always take my dogs with me. They benefit from the exercise and get much needed exposure. We work on steadiness and manners while fishing; nothing ruins a fishing spot faster than a rambunctious Labrador plunging into the water. They also serve as my grizzly bear early-warning system and deterrent. Mackinaw in particular has tipped me off to bears several times and helped level the playing field on one occasion with a grizzly who was a tad brazen.
You may not have mountains and grizzlies but I’m betting you’ve got opportunities to get your dog into situations where you can work on steadiness, recall and basic obedience outside of the normal places this training takes place. Do it! Be patient, be controlled and be safe but get out and expose that dog to as much as possible this summer and you’ll have a more well-rounded hunting companion this fall.
There’s few things as enjoyable as a calm, well-mannered, steady hunting dog and very few things more annoying and troublesome than an ill-mannered and out of control one.