Humans have a special relationship with dogs. Ever since the first dogs were domesticated, humans have been working, playing and living with these invaluable companion animals. Hunting is no different – in fact many recognised dog breeds today owe their existence to a desire by humans to improve ability, suitability and instinct for hunting particular types of quarry. Any “retriever” dog breed will have its origins in retrieving fallen game when hunting; even the Dachshund owes its sausage-dog shape to hunting burrowing animals.
When out hunting game such as ducks, a well-trained canine companion can be your most valuable asset. In Victoria, there are some restrictions on what recognised breeds can be used when hunting on public land such as State Game Reserves.
The breeds approved for game bird hunting in Victoria are:
- Bracco Italiano
- Brittany Spaniel (Epagneul Breton)
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Clumber Spaniel
- Cocker Spaniel
- Cocker Spaniel (American)
- Curly Coated Retriever
- English Setter
- English Springer Spaniel
- Field Spaniel
- Flat Coated Retriever
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- German Wirehaired Pointer (Deutsch Drahthaar)
- Golden Retriever
- Gordon Setter
- Hungarian Vizsla
- Hungarian Wirehair Vizsla
- Irish Red and White Setter
- Irish Setter
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Italian Spinone
- Labrador Retriever
- Lagotto Romagnolo
- Large Munsterlander
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
- Sussex Spaniel
- Weimeraner (longhair)
- Welsh Springer Spaniel
If your dog isn’t recognised as one of the breeds on this list, you will only be able to hunt with them if you are on private property.
Whether you have a recognised gundog breed or not, making sure your dog has the necessary training and skills to be an efficient and ethical hunting partner is of the utmost importance.
Beyond basic obedience commands (sit, stay, heel, and so on), skills such as finding game, ranging and quartering, working the ground and wind, having a soft mouth (that is, not biting/damaging the retrieved game), and willingness to give up the retrieved game are just some of what is needed from a good hunting dog.
Some of these skills will need specialised training and practise, but others can be instilled from a young age. Pups can be very playful, and you can lay the groundwork for some of these skills during play. For example, playing tug-of-war can teach the dog that it’s fun to not let go of something – which is the wrong result you want at the end of a retrieve.
Across Australia there are clubs devoted to the training and trialling of hunting dogs, testing the skills of both canine and human. Retrieving trials provide an opportunity for hunters to work closely with their dogs in a range of competitive field sports, with both Championship and minor titles available, based on performance.
Even if you are not in it for the titles, trials are a great way to see how your dog’s retrieving skills, and your own skills as a handler, measure up in the field.
Retrieving trials involve a series of retrieves – some single, some multiple – and dogs will be tested in their abilities to determine the fall of the game, to hunt out the game, follow instruction from their handler to retrieve it, and then gently deliver it on command.
There are different types of trials and competitions, with the main competition types being for registered gundogs (purebred with papers) and associate gundogs (purebred without papers). The trials are conducted at beginner, novice, restricted, all age and championship levels, with the difficulty and number of retrieves increasing as the levels progress.
Retrieving trials are only open to all types of registered purebred gundogs and must be over six months of age. Dogs and handlers are tested for obedience, natural retrieving ability, and hunting ability in areas that imitate natural hunting situations.
Field & Game Trials
These are similar to retrieving trials, but are open to any approved hunting dogs, not just registered or associate gundogs. Trial conditions and competitions are run in a similar manner as well, with different retrieves and challenges for both dog and handler.
Field & Game Australia regularly partner with the Central Highlands Working Gundog Club to offer training and trial events, to help our members and other hunters get the most out of their canine hunting companion. Training can include shot steadiness, developing memory (for multiple retrieves), the delivery of game, and retrieving unseen game (or ‘blind’ retrieves).
For more information about retrieving training and trials, dog breeders, and associated clubs, visit the Retrieving Australia website http://www.retrieving.org.au.