Training Rescue Dogs As Hunting Companions

Rescue dogs can make outstanding hunting dogs. There are a great number of rescue dogs in shelters right now that may have the right stuff. It is a bit of a gamble and you might be swimming in uncharted waters, but the payoffs of turning rescue dogs into hunters and companions can be great.

My first dog, the first dog I trained, was a rescue dog. His name was Sonny. sonny1He was a sweet dog and I still get a tear in my eye when I think of him. He loved everybody he met, especially little girls, for whom he would run across empty parks to greet. He became a good hunter and exceptional retriever. But this came about from a lot of work and effort on both of our parts.

Any professional trainer would have washed him out of their program. He just didn’t seem to have the pointing instinct. But I was young and ignorant about training and I loved the dog, so I gave it a go. Ignorance and obstinence are probably the reasons he eventually succeeded.

If you are inclined to get a dog from rescue for your hunting companion, good for you. There are a lot of quality dogs that are available. But there are no guarantees: your dog may wind up to be all companion and no hunter. You may have a host of bad behaviors that you need to overcome: things like gunshyness (afraid of gunfire) and bird blinking (afraid of birds and purposefully ignoring them in the field). But, if you are willing to take on a challenge and are OK with the risks, here are some things to keep in mind.

Some Rescues Will Do Some Initial Evaluations For You

shelter dog croppedPlaces like Illinois Bird Dog Rescue will evaluate their dogs to help determine fitness for hunting. I’ve also spoken with other rescue people who do will do some initial evaluation. They will see if the dog has any interest in birds, or will see if the dog has any inclination to point.

Initial Evaluations May Not Mean Anything

Everyone I spoke with about my rescue dog told me he was a washout. I put out over 100 birds for this dog and every time, he just dove in and flushed. All this meant is that we needed to break from the textbook and think about things differently.

A word of warning:  if the dog has no interest in birds, you will have a tough row to hoe. I won’t say impossible, but I cannot imagine how to train a dog to hunt that does not want to hunt. If you can swing it, when you are evaluating a rescue, introduce the dog to birds to see if he has any interest.

Traditional Techniques May Not Work

Tradition told me that I needed to plant birds, flush them and not let the dog catch them. But this did not work. I had to really re-evaluate what motivated this dog. I needed a lot of input from a lot of different people. I knew he “had it”, I just didn’t know how to get him to do it. Thinking outside the box and getting a lot of feedback really helped

Traditional Trainers May Not Help

Your thoughts may be to send your new dog off to the trainer. But the thing to remember is that dogs wash out of trainer’s programs every year. This is often due as much to the inability of the trainer as it does to the inability of the dog. Pro trainers need to turn dogs around fast. If the dog does not respond, the trainer can invest more time to try to figure it out, and rob time from other dogs in the program, or he can wash the dog out of the program and cut his losses. Trainers have limited time, and it is better to graduate 9 out of 10 dogs rather than do a half baked job on all of them.

You May Not Succeed

shelter pup croppedYou may wind up with a dog with really bad habits. Or really weird behaviors. They may have already washed out of a traditional training program. Traditional techniques aren’t working and there are not a lot of trainers who can fix problem dogs. You may have a one of a kind (in a difficult way) dog, and there is not a lot of info available to fix one-of-a-kinds. As a result, you are now venturing out into some uncharted waters. As an amateur trainer, you may not figure it out. It would be really bad form to discard that dog just because you, the trainer, couldn’t figure it out.

The Rescue May Be Against You

If you go to a breed rescue and tell them that you want the dog for hunting, many rescues will not give you the dog. There is a bias on the part of some rescue individuals that hunters see their dogs only as tools. This attitude seems more prevalent in urban settings, but it can crop up anywhere. Of course this is a false stereotype, but there is little reason for them to change their unfounded opinion. This bias may also be seen in that the organization may not allow you to evaluate the dog’s level of interest in birds or game animals.

If you want a hunting dog from a rescue, your better bet may be to get away from major metropolitan areas. Or you may need to downplay or keep the rescue organization in the dark about your intentions to hunt.


Rescue dogs can make outstanding hunters as well as outstanding family companions. If you are willing to take on the challenge and the risk, this might be the a good fit for you.

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