A hunting dog refers to any dog who assists human hunters in the hunting of wild game. There are several types of hunting dogs developed for the many tasks hunters require that they fulfill. The major categories of American hunting dogs include scent hounds and gun dogs. Among these categories further divisions can be made based upon the skills that the dogs possess.
Gun dogs, also called bird dogs, are used primarily by small game hunters using shotguns for upland bird hunting. Gun dogs, are a category of dog breeds developed to assist hunters to find and retrieve game, usually birds. Gundogs are divided into three primary classes: Retrievers, flushing spaniels, and pointing breeds.
Working method of Pointers and Setters
Upon reaching the field, the handler often will cast or direct the dog in a wide circle. Experienced dogs will search the edges of the field knowing that birds are usually found there. The dog then begins working back and forth, starting near the hunter and slowly ranging out. The dog repeats this process as the hunters move through the field.
When game is detected, a dog freezes, either pointing or crouching. If other dogs are present, they also freeze, "honoring" the first dog’s point. The pointing dog remains motionless until the hunters are in position. Some trainers train the dog to stay motionless while the hunter steps forward and flushes the game. Other trainers direct the dog to flush the game with a command such as get it!
If a bird is downed, the dogs are instructed to search for it with the command dead bird, or simply dead. The dogs then search for and retrieve the downed game.
Working method of Flushing Dogs
When hunting upland game flushing dogs (spaniels and retrievers) work much more closely with the hunter. Flushers will not cover the same amount of ground as a pointing dog as the flusher must be kept within shotgun distance.
Flushing dogs are often used on birds which run from the hunter. On such birds, an aggressive flush is necessary to spring the bird to wing. Flushing dogs excel on these types of bird because they do not point the birds, giving them little time for escape on the ground.
Once a bird has been flushed, the dog will sit or "hup" to watch the flight of the bird and mark the fallen birds for retrieval.
When a bird is shot, the dog should mark where it fell and wait until given the command to retrieve. Once so commanded, the dog will race to the point of fall, pick up the bird, and return it to the handler.
Popular American gun dogs
- Flushing Spaniels combine fine hunting, flushing, and retrieving skills.
- English Springer Spaniels are popular gundogs for a variety of cover but are closely followed in popularity by English Cocker Spaniels.
- Clumbers, Sussex, and Field Spaniels are also increasingly popular for their slower, methodical hunting pattern.
- American Water Spaniel and the Boykin Spaniel are especially noted for their water work.
- Retrievers used as water dogs, are unsurpassed. They can spend long hours in a duck blind and, after the hunter has fired at multiple ducks or geese, they can visually spot and remember the location of downed birds.
- Setters in particular have a long history as upland gun dogs. They have a native ability to discover and point at upland game birds.
Many fur bearing animals such as rabbit, raccoon, coyote, and large predators are hunted in the United States with scent hounds. Scent hounds are hounds that primarily hunt by scent. They are generally regarded as having some of the most sensitive noses among canines.
These dogs specialize in following a smell or scent. Most of these breeds have long, drooping ears. They also have large nasal cavities, the better to process scent.
Scent hounds do not need to be fast, because they do not need to keep prey in sight, but they need endurance so that they can stick with a scent and follow it for long distances over rough terrain. The best scent hounds can follow a scent trail even across running water and even when it is several days old.
Popular American scent hounds
- Basset Hound
- Black and Tan Coonhound
- Redbone Coonhound
- Bluetick Coonhound
- Treeing Walker Coonhound
- Plott Hound