Australian Shepherds, also known affectionately as Aussies, are a popular herding breed known for their intelligence and adaptability. They are athletic and high-energy dogs with excellent agility skills, and they can be trained for various activities, even those that aren’t inherent to their breeding.
Australian Shepherds can make good hunting dogs through training. Aussies are one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and their huge stores of boundless energy make them great for the outdoors. They also have a strong prey drive and can be taught to track and retrieve prey as well as traditional hunting breeds.
If you have an Australian Shepherd that you’d like to take with you on hunts, read on and find out more about how this sport will suit this breed.
Are Aussies Good Hunting Dogs?
Despite what their name may suggest, Australian Shepherds were developed as a breed in the American West, from dogs that were brought there by shepherds who’d immigrated first to Australia, then to America. This breed’s history is cloudy, but they may have been descended from several other breeds explicitly used for herding sheep.
Australian Shepherds are hard-working herding dogs used to carry out numerous tasks on farms and ranches. They also have an energy that seems limitless, and they are extremely smart and adaptable. This makes them ideal candidates for learning to be hunting dogs despite being bred for different purposes.
With training, Aussies can make good hunting dogs. Their herding instincts can be repurposed to take advantage of their hunting instincts and use them in a way that can assist with the sport. Australian Shepherds are easy to train, and they can adapt to most environments. They are also very agile and can navigate most terrain easily.
Historically, Aussies have been used for many activities other than herding, from being messenger dogs in WWII to becoming instrumental members of search and rescue teams. They can make great flushing dogs and can be trained to retrieve prey.
Australian Shepherds have a characteristic bark that can help you pinpoint their location when hunting, and they will benefit from the physical activity. Aussie’s nearly limitless energy requires at least an hour of exercise every day and even more mental stimulation. Hunting combines both mental and physical exercise.
How to Train Your Aussie Dog for Hunting
Australian Shepherds need to receive proper hunting training to become good hunting dogs. This training will refine their hunting instinct and give it specific goals. The herding nature will continue to be there, but that will only help with the new role. Here are some training tips for when you decide to go forward with turning your Aussie into a hunter:
- Start with the basics: When your Australian Shepherd is old enough, obedience training should be first on the list. Listening to commands will be essential during the hunting training that will follow.
- Pick the type of prey: Each type requires specific training, so you should choose one from the start. For example, Aussies are great with small game like rabbits.
- Be aware of what motivates them: Australian Shepherds love treats and praise, and they will respond well to training that features the two rewards.
Aussies can learn hunting techniques as well as other hunting dogs, as long as they are taken through the correct procedures from the start. For any breed, hunting training can take some time until it is completed, but patience and perseverance will achieve great results.
Hunting Training Methods
You can use plenty of training methods to make your Australian Shepherd into a hunting dog, but the following are some that dog trainer experts advise keeping in mind when embarking on such a project with this breed.
Training in this method should occur in a location that you know has the prey you are looking to hunt. Fields or wooded areas are best to find small game. Use the scent of a previously hunted animal to catch your Aussie dog’s interest and allow them to start tracking. When they find the prey, they should be encouraged through commands to bark.
Train their tracking skills by hiding the prey further away and out of sight in different locations. Allow your dog off the leash and reward them with praise and treats every time they successfully recall and track the prey.
For more tracking training, you can use their favorite treats to start the activity. Place the treats on the floor in different locations until your dog finds them by sight and smell. Then you can begin hiding them out of sight, making use of the surroundings. At that point, you can start familiarizing your dog with the scent of rabbits or other small game.
Once they are familiarized with the scent, hide the items you used in the same locations as the treats. This will help your dog associate that scent with the reward. From there on, you can start training outdoors, first in enclosed spaces like yards, and later in fields. By that point, your Aussie should be able to quickly track rabbit scents without the treats.
The brace method requires the assistance of an experienced hunting dog, known as a “brace,” who can help train a young Australian Shepherd. You should take your dog to the usual hunting grounds of the brace and then let them go on either a practice run or a proper hunt together.
This allows the younger dog to pick up on the brace’s hunting experience and start instinctively incorporating it into their own behavior. This exercise should be done a few times a week for at least a couple of months, at which point you can reinforce your dog’s independence by letting them do their own tracking.
Do Aussies Have a Strong Prey Drive?
Australian Shepherds are a breed with a strong prey drive. The prey drive is what triggers their instinct to chase, but one of the great things about Aussies is that their herding nature tempers their drive. This doesn’t mean that they’re less likely to chase, only that they are more likely to do your bidding even when their instinct tries to override that.
A strong prey drive is useful for hunting, as it motivates dogs to want to perform the activities involved with the sport. It will also keep them alert and ready to chase their prey.
Can Aussies Track Prey?
Australian Shepherds have a strong sense of smell and can be trained to excel at tracking. Their high prey drive will influence their need to track. When that instinct is properly trained for hunting, it can assist them with quickly finding their quarry.
Hunting training involves plenty of tracking exercises, and Australian Shepherds are well suited to it.
Can Aussies Retrieve Prey?
Aussies love to play fetch, and this impulse can be transformed into hunting training that can turn them into excellent retrievers. Australian Shepherds can be proficient at retrieving small game and birds especially but can encounter some issues when retrieving ducks or other water-based prey because they are not built for strenuous water activities.
This is in no way a deterrent, as long as you make sure they aren’t spending too much time in freezing or risky waters. If you’re hunting for more delicate prey like waterfowl, you may want to spend more time training your Aussie on how to have a “soft mouth” when retrieving. Otherwise, you may find yourself with no prey to show for your efforts.
Australian Shepherds can make good hunting dogs when they receive the necessary training. Even though they are part of a herding breed, many of their instincts can be successfully geared toward hunting instead. Happy hunting!