Dog’s have been man’s — and woman’s — best friend for millennia; the first records of human-dog partnerships date back 15,000 years! Over the centuries, we have domesticated dogs to perform duties such as herding livestock, guarding homes, pulling carriages, and hunting. Hunting dogs can learn various tasks based on what kind of game they are hunting, but most must learn an important task before they take the field with their human hunters: gun dog training.

Hunting, Hunter, Animals Hunting, Bird

What Is Gun Dog Training?

Gun dog training is a wide variety of training techniques employed to teach a dog to hunt alongside a human hunter. The training for each dog depends on what is expected of them. There are three main types of “gun” dogs: retrievers, flushers, and pointers. The training for each type of hunting dog varies, but there are some universal principles as well.

3 Types of Gun Dogs

The techniques you use to train your gun dog vary greatly depending on their expected primary function. Here are the three main types of gun dogs.

Retrieve, Dog, German Quail

Retriever Gun Dogs

Retrievers do exactly that: find and retrieve game after a hunter has shot and killed it. These dogs are essential for waterfowl hunting; a dog may need to swim out to the downed bird to get it. Train retrievers in the following behaviors:

  • Remain under control. Gun dogs need to be able to sit calmly and quietly until given instructions.
  • Staying still until “wing and shot,” meaning the dog can remain still and quiet when birds fly up, and guns go off. 
  • “Marking” downed game. Marking is the process where a dog watches a falling bird or multiple falling birds and remembers their location to retrieve.
  • A blind retrieve. Even if the dog doesn’t see where a bird falls, they learn to retrieve a bird by following hand signals and whistles from their human handler.
  • Retrievers should be able to “quarter,” meaning they can work as a secondary role as a flushing dog. They should work in a pattern in front of the hunter while staying in gun range.
  • Once a retriever has retrieved a bird, they should have a “soft” mouth, meaning they hold the bird gently but firmly. They then release the bird directly into their hunter’s hand.
  • Since they undoubtedly get wet, it’s convenient and even necessary to train your dog to shake on command. This prevents them from getting you wet but also serves the important purpose of protecting your game.

Natural Retriever Traits

Retrievers are trained, but they should have certain natural characteristics. As we already discussed, a retriever should have a soft mouth and pick up game without damaging the bird. They should have the desire and drive for the work, especially an interest in birds, and willingly enter potentially cold water to retrieve. Good retrievers are well-socialized, comfortable in various settings, and exhibit intelligence, willingness to learn, and strict obedience to their handlers.

Tips For Training a Retriever Gun Dog

It’s best to start training a bomb-proof gun dog when you have a gun puppy. Some of the key things to train your gun dog retriever for are:

  • To ignore gunfire.
  • Confidence and ability swimming.
  • To ignore distractions in favor of their work.
  • Enter and exit a boat gracefully and sit still while in the boat.
  • To navigate obstacles independently.
Hunting, Hunter, Hunting Dog, Gun

Flushing Gun Dogs

Flushing dogs’ primary function is to move in front of their human hunter and scare game out of bushes, thickets, etc., so they are more accessible to the hunter. Dogs we train to flush game should be able to perform the following functions:

  • Like gun dog retrievers, flushing dogs need to “quarter.” The difference for flushing dogs is that quartering is more of their primary function. The dogs work in a zig-zag pattern in front of their hunters, looking for birds. While quartering, dogs must stay within gun range so that hunters have the opportunity to bring down birds they flush out. 
  • Since flushing dogs need to find birds among the undergrowth, they need to scent their prey. These gun dogs should have a good nose in both dry and wet conditions.
  • Like gun dog retrievers, flushers should have a soft mouth, able to deliver game directly to the hunter’s hand without puncturing it.
  • Flushing dogs need to follow hand signals. While a gun dog needs to find game independently, hunters can also direct their dogs to certain areas with hand signals.
  • Flushing dogs need to be able to blind retrieve, remain steady through birds flying and guns shooting, and to “hup.” Hupping is the traditional command to “sit and stay” for a flushing dog, which they need to do even if they are actively pursuing a bird. 
dog on grasses

Pointing Gun Dogs

Pointing gun dogs not only identify where birds are, but they wait for the handler’s signal to flush the birds out. Pointers are trained to work large areas, even long distances from their hunters, and receive information via hand signals or whistles.

Which Breeds Make the Best Gun Dogs?

While you can train almost any dog to work as a gun dog, some breeds thrive best in this environment and have a natural drive for the work. Some breeds excel as retrievers or flushing dogs specifically, while other breeds are fantastic at all kinds of gun dog behaviors. Here are the best all-around gun dogs.

  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Short-Haired Pointer
  • Beagle
  • Irish Setter
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Bloodhound
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Foxhound

Training Your Next Gun Dog

Dogs and humans have been working together for eons. This beautiful partnership has lasted through the ages and continues with you and your canine companion. Whether you have a pedigreed pooch or a mixed mutt, you can train an excellent hunting dog. Start young, start slow, and before you know it, you’ll have a bomb-proof gun dog perfectly trained to accompany you on your hunt.

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