A Quick Guide to Hunting Dog Sports

A Quick Guide to Hunting Dog Sports

If you love the great outdoors and spending time with your canine companion, then these exciting outdoor sports might be just for you. Hunting dogs will require some training to perfect the art of hunting with their humans, but once achieved it can be a wonderful way to spend time with your dog as well as experience nature and get plenty of fresh air and exercise.


Hunting dogs are never off duty, so they need to be well trained in order for everyone's safety out there in the field. Basic obedience training is a must before venturing into more advanced dog sports such as hunting. Hunting can either be done on a group basis or by going solo with your pet. If you are new to hunting then there are plenty of opportunities to join buddies or experienced hunters out in the field. If you prefer just to venture off on your own with your pet, then this can also be done, but remember that safety must come first before anything else.


Hunting birds is an immensely popular sport and if you have a dog that is good at retrieving balls or other objects, then you will find the perfect hunting companion. Retrieving games are also a great way to bond with your pet while having fun and getting fit too!


Getting Started with Hunting Dog Training

Your canine companion is going to be a valuable member of the hunting team and it's up to you to train him or her accordingly. As with any sport, you will need to train your dog enough to perfect the required skills. This is not something that should be done half-heartedly or without training courses specifically geared toward acquainting a dog to the ins and outs of hunting.


Hunting dog training courses are available all year round. They usually consist of a number of lessons or sessions that gradually increase in difficulty as your dog becomes more accustomed to the environment and the actions required. Make sure you choose a reputable school, otherwise you will find yourself wasting precious time and money with no results to show for it.


Tips for Training a Hunting Dog

In order to train your dog successfully, you need to make it as fun an experience as possible. Some breeds tend to be more enthusiastic than others and will pick up a new skill a lot quicker, but that doesn't mean that any breed can't learn something new! All dogs have the ability to become good hunting companions, you just need to find what is right for your pet. Here are some tips to stay safe throughout your training regimen.


Your Dog Needs to Get Used to Hearing Gunshots

Typically, without the proper training, loud noises can cause extreme fear and a negative association with a particular person or object. You need to show your dog that loud noises are nothing to worry about, otherwise, you will have problems when the hunting season starts and gunfire is commonplace.


One way to help associate your dog with the loud noise of gunfire is to start off by taking them to an open field and start playing fetch. You should have an experienced gun-handler with you. The gunner should start off about 100 yards away from you and your dog. 


Throw the toy, and when your dog runs off to retrieve it, the gunner fires a shot. As the dog comes back to you, be sure to reward them with a lot of treats and praise. With each throw, the gunner should move a few yards closer and closer. This technique offers two benefits for training: 1. Adapting your dog to the loud noise and smell of gunpowder, and 2. Trains your dog to retrieve things. 


A Dog That Can Avoid Obstacles Is Useful in the Woods

Whether you're training on your own or through attending an organized group class, your dog should be able to avoid small obstacles such as holes. It's not only about safety; it's about avoiding injuries to the dog. If the traditional retrieving games you play with your canine companion are done on an obstacle course, then these kinds of skills will quickly become second nature.


Training Your Dog to Track Game

Much like humans, dogs have an amazing ability to be able to track scents. Hunting dog training courses can help your pet hone these natural abilities and turn them into precise hunting skills. The first thing you need to train your dog to do is to recognize the scent of game, which can easily be done by rubbing some animal fur or feathers on a toy before heading out for training exercises. 


Once your dog can recognize game scents, you will want to start teaching them how to track prey. You should try this out by laying out doggie treats near the training area. If your dog is able to find the hidden treats after catching their scent, they are ready for actual tracking tasks.


Additionally, playing quartering games, in which your dogs run in a zigzag pattern, helps them to pick up on the subtle winds and odors that will help your hunting dog understand where prey is.


Always Remember: Safety Comes First While Hunting

You should never bring a dog along unless you have complete faith in its abilities to judge dangerous situations and avoid them. If your dog is not properly trained, then you are putting both your pet and yourself in danger of dangerous situations that are hard to avoid when hunting.


Be sure to pack additional emergency supplies for your pups such as a collar and identification tags, an extra leash, food and water, first aid supplies, and doggy bags for cleaning up after your pooch.


How Long Does it Take to Train a Dog to Hunt?

The time it takes for you to train your hunting dog depends on the breed and age. The best hunting breeds will pick up the training much faster as they have been bred for generations to do just that. Keep in mind that puppies learn much faster than older dogs do, so if you adopt an older dog, you will have to allow more time for training before the season starts. Ideally, you would want to begin training your dog to hunt at around 8 weeks of age.


Training a hunting dog can take around six months but can be longer if you are teaching your canine companion "work" commands, which use hand or whistle signals instead of voice commands. Each type of hunting requires different skills from dogs, so make sure you keep this in mind when you begin training.


Dogs that are not properly trained can cause a lot of damage for hunters and other animals alike, so it's best to begin the training process early on. And remember to practice safety first during your hunting trips! 


Types of Tracking and Hunting Dog Sports

While this list is comprehensive, it is certainly not exhaustive. There are many other elements that can be added, depending on the organization. 


Barn Hunt 

Barn Hunting is a sport that helps to train dogs to sniff out rats. Handlers will enclose live rats in secure, aerated cages and hide them in a pile of hay inside of a barn. Barn Hunt clubs offer a variety of rules and regulations to increase the difficulty level of the competition. Points are awarded to dogs who successfully hunt and locate the hidden rats in the least amount of time.


Barn hunting takes place in enclosed arenas where several barns (each containing different types of distractions) are set up side by side. Barn Hunt is not to be confused with wild boar hunting or hunting for other wild animals that live in a barn such as a fox, coon, etc.


There are many different titles you and your barn hunter can pursue:


  • Novice Barn Hunt (RATN),
  • Open Barn Hunt (RATO),
  • Senior Barn Hunt (RATS),
  • Master Barn Hunt (RATM),
  • Barn Hunt Champion (RATCh),
  • Master Champion (RATChX),
  • Crazy 8s Bronze (CZ8B),
  • Crazy 8s Silver (CZ8S),
  • Crazy 8s Gold (CZ8G),
  • Crazy 8s Platinum (CZ8P)

Coon Hunting Field Trial

The Coon Hunting Field Trial is not the same as a traditional raccoon or coon hunt. The field trial is done for sport as opposed to hunting for the kill. In the trial, the handlers will drag an item with the scent of a coon along a track and up a tree. The dogs are then released to run the track in search of the coon. Dogs compete with each other in different-sized fields, with larger fields being more challenging for the dog. The first dog to pass the finish line is awarded points. The winner is determined by the number of total points gathered throughout the trial.


Drag Hunting

Similar to hound trailing (discussed below), dogs follow an artificial scent trail on a track that is laid over various types of terrain and manmade obstacles. Handlers follow the dogs on horseback and very closely resembles the sport of fox hunting. However, drag hunting is done primarily for sport and not as a hunting method.


Earthdog Trial

This trial is typically reserved for smaller breeds, such as terriers. In this hunt, a number of rats are enclosed within a winding trail of manmade tunnels and pits that have been dug into the ground. Each dog will attempt to navigate through an underground tunnel and locate each rat. While this may sound dangerous, the rats are housed within their own separate cages and the dog is unable to reach it, only smell and hear it. 


There are two governing bodies for the competition and each one has a list of specific breeds that are allowed to participate. Depending on the organization, the only breeds allowed to participate in the earthdog trial are:


  • American Hairless Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Border TerrierCairn TerrierCesky TerrierDachshundDandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Fell TerrierGlen of Imaal Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • JagdterrierLakeland TerrierManchester Terrier
  • Miniature Bull Terrier
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Norfolk TerrierNorwich TerrierParson Russell Terrier
  • Patterdale Terrier
  • Rat TerrierRussell TerrierScottish TerrierSealyham Terrier
  • Silky TerrierSkye TerrierSmooth Fox Terrier
  • Welsh TerrierWest Highland White Terrier
  • Wire Fox TerrierYorkshire Terrier


Field Trial

There are several different types of field trials that are open to specific breeds of gundogs, which include:


  • Pointer and setter trials
  • Spaniel trials
  • Retriever trials
  • Basset trials
  • Beagle trials
  • Dachshund trials


Depending on the specific trial, dogs are usually required to track a scent for a specific time and find either game birds or fallen game. Each of the trials has the dogs track live prey and some end with taking the prey, while others simply allow the dog to find the prey and hold it until called off by the handler.


Hare Coursing

In hare coursing, dogs are required to track a hare by sight only, not by smell. Therefore, sighthounds are usually the best breeds to enter into this trial. There are many different variations of hare coursing trials throughout the world. These include the US, Ireland, Pakistan, Portugal, and Spain. It is a rather controversial sport in many areas of the world. So much so, that the UK banned it in 2004, however, some trials continue to this day in the country, despite being illegal.


There are 3 types of hare coursing that are still legal, which include:


  • Formal coursing - This is the most competitive type of hare coursing trial. The dogs will run in an open field and attempt to capture the hare. 
  • Informal coursing - This is the oldest variation of the sport. Typically, it involves two dogs running after a hare, with the winner being the one who catches it. 
  • Lure coursing (discussed more below)- In this variation, instead of using a live hare, dogs chase a mechanical one. It is mainly used in training exercises, rather than competitively.


Hound Trailing

Hound trailing, also known as hound racing, uses an artificial scent trail that has been spread out over a long course, typically in a cross-country style. It is very similar to drag hunting, except instead of spectators and handlers riding along with the dogs on horseback, they are usually positioned in an area where they can observe the hounds from afar with binoculars. 


Lure Coursing

Another popular purebred sighthound trial is lure coursing. The dogs chase after a fake rabbit or other small, fast-moving object. The main difference between this and hare coursing is that the lure is not real.


Depending on the trial competition, the track can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 meters and simulates a real-life coursing situation, with the addition of jumps. There are three governing authorities, of which two are in the United States and the other in Europe:


  • American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA)
  • American Kennel Club (AKC)
  • Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)


Depending on the organization, either two (Europe) or three dogs (US) are allowed to compete at a time and each dog must wear a specific color of jacket while competing. The winner is the first one to catch the lure when it comes to an end. Also, depending on the organization, the only breeds allowed to compete include:


  • Afghan Hound
  • Azawakh
  • Basenji
  • Borzoi Polski
  • Cirneco dell'Etna
  • Deerhound
  • Galgo Espanol
  • Greyhound
  • Hortaya Borzaya
  • Ibizan Hound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Magyar AgarNorrbottenspets (AKC only)
  • Peruvian Inca Orchid
  • Pharaoh HoundPodenco Canario
  • Podenco Ibicenco (Ibizan Hound)
  • Portuguese Podengo (3 varieties that are to be run separately)
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • SalukiSilken Windhound(ASFA Only)
  • SloughiThai Ridgeback (AKC only)
  • Whippet



Nosework, also known as scent work or scent detection, emulates professional dog tracking duties. The dog must avoid distractions and find the source of the target scent in order to get its reward. It is a relatively new sport that some advocates believe can be a useful tool in solving behavioral problems in dogs. However, more research needs to be done to prove this idea.


There are numerous governing bodies around the world that regulate the sport, including:


  • American Kennel Club (AKC) Scent Work
  • Australian Canine Scent Work (ACSW)
  • Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) Scent Detection
  • National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW)
  • Sporting Detection Dogs Association (SDDA)
  • United Kennel Club (UKC) Nosework
  • United States Canine Scent Sports (USCSS)
  • Canine - Work And Games (C-WAGS)


The elements of the sport have several different variations, each with its own set of rules and trials. The most common include:


  • Buried searches
  • Container searches
  • Exterior area searches
  • Handler discrimination
  • Interior building searches
  • Vehicle searches

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

Become close with your Dog

Daniel Barrett’s emotionally intelligent approach to dog training has created a large following of dog owners who feel that their relationship with their dog has transformed substantially.

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