Hunting Dogs

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I have to admit: I have met dogs I don’t enjoy, and one type that I have a lot of admiration and respect for, but would never want to share my home with, are hunting dogs.

Now, there are hunting dogs and dogs who do nothing but hunt, hunt, hunt. I have been informed that there are lots of breeds that have on/off switches, so to speak – breeds that will hunt when you want them to, and live peaceably with a family (even a family with cats and chickens, say) when you don’t. A friend informed me this morning that most hunting-line retrievers and spaniels are typically mellow in the house and “companion” circumstances. And that upland game breeds – Weimaraners, Vislas, German Wire-Haired and German Short-Haired Pointers – tend to be among the breeds that don’t have an “off” switch. But I’ve known some cat-safe Weims and very family friendly Pointers. I guess it depends a lot of the lines they were bred from: family/companion/show dogs, or field dogs.

Hunting Dogs

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But I like to walk my dogs off-leash, and I am lucky enough to have thousands of acres of open space where one can do this safely within just a few miles of my home. And when I’m walking with my dogs, I don’t want them to hunt. I want them to have fun walking with me, but in no danger of running away in order to chase some animal over the horizon. My dog Otto is NEARLY perfect in this regard. He does what I call “fantasy hunts” – he’s constantly smelling and scanning the trail, but he’s no hunter. He often misses the sight of game that I see easily. He often runs past the scent of whatever he is trying to follow; his nose is not much better than his eyes. And he’s not terribly fast! Even rabbits that leap up under his nose, practically, can easily get away from him. Best of all, he calls off 95 percent of the time. (And we work on this skill constantly!)

This week, I’ve been dog-sitting a very sweet young female German Wire-Haired Pointer for a friend. While she is a total sweetheart in the house, very affectionate and mellow, the second you take her out of the house she’s hunting. Hunting my cats and chickens, hunting the bird she just heard rustling in the ivy, hunting the squirrel she spotted on the electrical wire a block away. She’ll be walking along and suddenly FREEZE. “Tink, tink!” That’s the noise I imagine when I tap her suddenly metallic body, every muscle tense, ready to spring into action.

And that’s on-leash. This dog would require many, many moons of training, and all sorts of proofing, to become reliable off-leash in the country. Even after NINE miles of hiking with me and some of my friends and their dogs (two separate hikes, one about five miles and one about four) the other day, she remained fully engrossed in her own world when she spotted or smelled game. No amount of calling, hyper-playfully or super sternly, made her turn her head toward me. Even when my friend (and the whole pack of other dogs) took off in the opposite direction, yelling “Yahoo! Yippee! Come with me!!”, she stood stone-like, transfixed by the sight or smell of some critter. Or bird. I don’t know what made her play the statue game; must have been rabbits or birds she could smell that remained hunkered down in the grass. Anyway, I would find it exhausting to have to manage that instinct all the time, on the trail, and in my home and yard. Poor kitties. She’s leaving tomorrow!

Is there some kind of dog, or dog trait, that you couldn’t live with?

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