- Attention exercises and strengthening your bond
Many dogs seem to suddenly forget their good training when struck by hunting fever. They split up from their owner, run away and don’t take notice even of loud shouting. In order for this not to happen, your dog has to learn to obey your commands even in exceptional situations. This isn’t easy whatsoever – after all, the temptations your curious dog is exposed to during a walk in the woods are not to be underestimated. Smells, an interesting trail or even visual contact with prey always prove distracting. It’s important that your dog doesn’t forget that you’re the pack leader despite all the distractions and sensations. You must always be the centre of its attention. If your dog focuses completely on you, this close bond will function like an invisible lead.
An effective means of strengthening the owner-dog bond is rewarding your dog for its attention. Does it seek out eye contact with you on a walk, follow behind you when you change direction or turn towards you when you walk slower? Reward your dog whenever it pays you attention. If you notice that your dog’s thoughts are no longer with you and it doesn’t react if you suddenly stand still, try hiding behind a tree. Your dog will at first be confused and then will look for you. Reward it enthusiastically when it finds you – this too will strengthen the bond between you both.
- Refocus its hunting instinct on shared activities
A dog with a strong hunting instinct won’t be convinced by treats alone that it’s wiser to stay with its owner than to chase after prey, since the sense of self-reward generated from hunting due to the aforementioned production of endorphins is simply too great. It’s crucial that your dog learns that working as a team with you is more fun than any chase. Take your dog’s needs seriously and try to satisfy its urge to quarry, dig and run in a different way. Retrieval and search games, dummy work and of course dog sports like agility, canicross or man-trailing enthuse almost all dogs and ensure that they are adequately stimulated physically and mentally.
Dogs that hunt due to boredom – and there are a good few of them – will soon abandon hunting if they notice that you offer them sufficient replacement activity. Avoid boring walks that always follow the same route and be creative: bury a treat or toy for your dog that it has to dig up, play hide and seek, throw sticks, let it retrieve a dummy or balance on tree trunks. Be a team and prove to your dog that you understand what it wants and that you can grant it these needs too – of course, based on the rules from previous training. Particularly dogs belonging to hunting dog breeds should be allowed to live out their passion for hunting. Many dog sport schools offer suitable replacement hunt training in the framework of man-trailing or dummy work, which allows dogs to pursue their hunting instinct on artificial trails and in a secure environment.
Anti-hunt training is always about impulse control too – after all, dogs have to learn to control their hunting instinct. However, this controlled behaviour contradicts their animal nature and initially leads to frustration. Hence, impulse control also means that the dog is capable of withstanding frustration. Like everything else, it only learns the ability of self-control when this is proven to be worthwhile. For instance, a dog that impulsively jumps at every visitor has to learn that this is the wrong way to get attention. Only when it sits obediently will it be praised by its family. Anti-hunt training works in a similar way: only when the dog shows that it can master its instincts can it expect a reward. If it doesn’t simply chase after prey but first signals it and waits patiently for a command from its owner, they will praise and reward the dog accordingly.
A good exercise for controlling impulses is letting your dog lie down with the “down” command and then throwing a dummy. Ignore it if it jumps up without waiting for your next command, though you should reward it profusely if it manages to wait patiently and only jumps up to fetch the dummy when you give the specific command. Of course, this exercise will only be successful if your dog is calm and relaxed. A dog running around in an agitated manner with a visibly increased stress level won’t be able to engage with a training exercise like this. In this case, you should allow your dog to let off steam first of all. Take it jogging, play together in the garden or let it run alongside you when you go cycling – your dog will only engage with your impulse control exercise if it is physically stimulated and its urge for exercise has returned to normal levels.
- Practise an emergency signal
In order to let your dog off the lead during walks in the woods, you have to be 100% certain that it will come back when you call it. But even if your dog comes back to you without any problems when you do so in the park or during encounters with other dogs or humans, this unfortunately doesn’t mean that it will do so when faced with a wild animal. If it first considers whether it’s more worthwhile to listen to you or to follow its hunting instinct, you and your command will usually lose out. In this situation, you need something stronger than “heel”, which is often heard and becomes rather tired. Arrange with your dog a kind of emergency signal that you only use in urgent situations and that promises your dog something amazing that it only gets on very rare occasions.
Helpful means to practise an emergency signal are a dog whistle and a special treat, such as a bit of sausage, that your dog would do anything to get its paws on. Practise with the whistle at home and slowly increase the amount of external distractions by practising outside in the garden, on a remote car park and later in a field or forest. As soon as your dog comes back to your whistle, hand over its super special treat as a reward. Obviously you shouldn’t practise the exercise too frequently, because it could result in the special treat soon no longer being as special and thereby losing its appeal. Once you have successfully trained your dog on the emergency signal, you should really only use it in emergencies and not on every single walk. If the emergency signal keeps its enticing effect, there’s a good chance of you being able to call your dog back when it scents prey or even during the chase.