Your dog can be very valuable in your hunting trips. He can keep you company, help you fetch, search for prey and protect you. However, whether or not a dog is ever too old to train as a hunting dog is a question as old as time.
Some believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, while others think a dog is only too old to train if he’s dead. Pretty grim if you ask me.
In this article, I’m going to attempt to settle this question once and for all.
Is a Dog Ever Too Old to Train as a Hunting Dog? The short answer is simply no. A dog is never too old to train as a hunting dog. As it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you try hard enough.
If you want a little more information or have specific questions on the topic, this part is for you. It gets you started with the basics and builds up to methods of training and final touches.
Pros and Cons of Training an Older Dog
An older dog in training is both a blessing and a curse. They certainly have some advantages when it comes to training.
They quickly understand basic training concepts that take longer to be grasped by younger dogs. Moreover, they already know some commands, and they have longer attention spans than puppies.
On the other hand, there are a few things you should consider. First, you might need to unteach your dog a particular habit or skill, especially if he had previous training.
Second, you have to pay attention to their health status. They may be a little slow to get up or move if they have arthritis. Give them the time they need.
How Old Are We Talking?
The ideal age to start formal training for hunting dogs is at around one year of age. If your dog is under one, focus on exposure and bonding with the pup.
If you want to invest the time into training a 10-year-old do you can just make sure your expectations are in order. You likely won’t have the next all American at 10, but you could definitely have a great companion to spend time with in the woods or field.
Two important criteria should be present in your dog regardless of age; excellent social skills and a high prey drive.
Good social skills ensure the dog is receptive to the trainer and the training. They also help the dog be bold and confident.
A high prey drive is essential in the hunting instinct of the dog. Although it’s highly genetic, it can also be cultivated or greatly diminished by factors in the dog’s life. Mess up the introduction to gunfire and even with a high drive dog, you will have a lot of work ahead of you.
Does the Breed Matter in Hunting Dog Training?
Not all hunting dogs are created equal. Maybe you want to weigh the benefits of training your old dog based on his breed.
Dogs bred for hunting have had traits useful for hunting selectively bred over generations. Hunting dog breeds will be a better foundation to build from even later in life than non-hunting breeds. But if your pup shows promise and you enjoy the process, don’t let breed dictate if you hunt the dog.
Should You Pay For Hunting Dog Training or DIY?
This is a generally disputed question in dog training. Dog trainers can be very expensive, and it’s certainly tempting to do it yourself. However, a lot can go wrong.
First, you can unintentionally teach your dog the wrong skills or bad habits. These can be very hard to undo.
Second, you can lose a lot of valuable time. In older dogs, not only the time factor is crucial, but they’re also harder to teach.
On the other hand, it’s cost-effective to train your dog. Paying a trainer might make more sense with a younger dog because that cost can be averaged over a lot more years of hunting. Take a long look at how much you want to invest with a professional on an old dog before you commit. Maybe if you have some previous experience, you can give it a shot yourself.
If you are new to training or don’t have the patience for it. A good professional dog training brings a lot to the table, especially for older dogs. Dog trainers have a different set of skills that can make your old dog very motivated to learn.
Questions to Ask Your Potential Trainer
There are a few things you should ask your trainer to know if they’re the one. The trainer-dog chemistry is real. I’ve seen it.
- Do they have experience with your dog’s age and breed?
- How long have they worked in hunting training?
- Do you need any equipment for your dog’s training?
- What method would they use for rewarding and punishing your dog?
How to Train Your Older Dog to Hunt?
If you think you’ve got what it takes to train your dog yourself, then this section is for you. Training your dog to hunt can be a lot of fun for both of you. The dog’s ability to hunt will largely be a result of its drive. Your job will be to cultivate and direct that drive.
Important note: In the yard (a controlled setting). Make sure you have the basics down so that you can keep your dog safe. You should have a solid stop and recall command to get your dog back to you. Hunting with a dog is an off-leash activity, often by highways or occasionally close to barbwire fences and porcupines. Making sure your dog will obey a basic stop and basic recall command is in the best interest of you and your dog.
Once you have a solid stop and recall command the training will often be dictated by what you hunt. The process is relatively simple. Each situation you are looking to ask of the dog can be broken down into small parts. Teach the dog each part in a controlled environment, then string them together so the dog understands what is being asked of it. Once the dog has learned the skill move to an environment with more distractions to test. If the dog fails, take a step back and work the skill with fewer distractions and slowly ramp back up.
Lastly, introduce your dog to everything it will be asked to do in a controlled fashion. This includes gunfire, water, boats, horses, and anything else the dog might interact with while hunting. Try to make sure the dog isn’t exposed to something for the first time in a true hunting scenario. Do this and your dog training life will be much easier.
Final Tips and Tricks
Remember, your dog isn’t a puppy anymore. It’s crucial to be patient and go slow. Don’t get angry. Positive reinforcement works best.
Pay attention to any behavioral problem that might be at work here. A pre-season checkup is always a good idea.
Some people recommend using electric collars. They give a little nudge to your dog to help him follow commands and focus on training. If you decide to use a collar, never use the collar to teach the dog something new, only to re-enforce something the dog already knows. If you can avoid the e-collar entirely you will be a better trainer, in my dog training experience, e-collars are a crutch to make up for my lake of patience and training ability. If I’m honest I would be a better dogman if I didn’t use one.
It’s settled. Dogs are never too old to train to hunt or anything else. They’re constantly learning and improving, just like us. An older dog is mature in its own way.
However, it might be a long process. It’s important to decide whether or not it’s worth the hassle, based on your dog’s age, breed, and health condition.
If you think you and your dog are ready, consider hiring a professional trainer. They can do it better.
If you decide to go for DIY dog training, be patient and mindful of your dog’s needs and abilities. Don’t make him bite off more than he can chew.