Although GSDs are known primarily for their roles as herding dogs, remember that German Shepherd hunting instincts have been put to good use throughout history. If you’re curious about a GSD’s capabilities outside of protection or have asked yourself the question “can German Shepherds be hunting dogs?”, then read on to find out the answers.
Can I train my GSD how to hunt?
The simple answer is, “yes”. Ideally, it is best to start German Shepherd Hunting training early on to maximize results. You can begin training your GSD to hunt as young as 6 months old, as most of its physical and mental faculties (teeth, legs, attention span) will have developed enough for practical use.
Take note of the following methods you can use when training your GSD how to hunt.
This hunting training method is easiest to follow and the most cost-effective choice for prospective GSD hunting dog owners. You can start practicing German Shepherd bird hunting with this method. To begin, put a leash on your GSD and bring it to your selected training area, then practice the following steps with your dog.
- Target acquisition
When you find suitable prey, slow down your pace and approach your target slowly and quietly, while encouraging your GSD to follow you and do the same. Point at your target and speak in whispers or a hushed tone if you need to.
The whole point of this phase in shadowing training is to draw your GSD’s attention and focus towards your objective. Over time, wean your GSD off from verbal commands and use your body language to
- Target engagement
When you are certain that your GSD has locked onto its target, proceed to rush towards it while issuing a verbal command such as “charge”, “go” or “rush”. Be firm and use a dominant tone when commanding your GSD at this point to make sure you have their full attention and commitment.
After mirroring your movements, your GSD should be able to actively and instinctively flush out your targets when commanded over time without any guidance.
- Reward and repeat
After your GSD has successfully chased off its prey, command it to return and reward it generously for its work. This will help reinforce the training and hunting routine you have established so far.
Repeat this exercise at least once a week to sharpen and refine its hunting prowess.
Tracking is a hunting skill that GSDs need to learn to become effective hunting dogs. This skill is applicable for German Shepherd hunting deer or German Shepherd hunting rabbits. GSDs that track well can help you hunt down prey you wouldn’t normally detect under normal circumstances.
- Target familiarization
Invest in some dog toys or decoy items for this phase. When you have a selection of items ready, play fetch and tug-of-war to have your GSD remember and imprint the scent of the items into its memory.
Proceed to the next step when your GSD has fully familiarized itself with the set of decoy items.
- Scent training
Set up a trail or course for your GSD to complete by taking the decoy item (or items), rubbing it against the ground to release its scent, and dragging the item in a trail for your GSD to follow. When you are ready, put your GSD on a leash and have them smell the spot on the ground where you rubbed your decoy item. By instinct, your GSD should be able to follow the scent of the item on its own. Make sure to use the leash to pull them back onto the trail if they start getting lost.
This step helps your GSD use its sense of smell in a more practical application. This may take some patience and you can expect your GSD to learn this skill after 2 or 3 months of repetition.
- Reward and repeat
Only reward your GSD with treats when it has finished the scent trail successfully. Repeat this until tracking becomes a second-nature skill for your GSD during hunting trips. Over time, your GSD will become a decent tracking asset in your hunting arsenal.
What kind of game can my GSD hunt?
GSDs are not natural-born hunting dogs. But GSDs can exhibit behaviors that are a cross between “gun dogs” and “hounds”, if extensively trained. The following animals are suitable game for hunting GSDs.
GSDs can be used to track deer. However, German Shepherd hunting deer is ill-advised as they may scare off their target. GSDs may attack deer, but are not as fast or agile as their targets and may end up fouling your hunt.
GSDs can be trained to hunt birds. German Shepherd duck hunting is also a possible application for GSD hunting dogs. However, you should only train your GSD to retrieve the carcasses of ducks or other birds, as the sheer size and power of your GSD can result in mangled or mutilated game.
- Vermin and small mammals
Rodents, rabbits and squirrels can be tracked and retrieved by hunting GSDs. Tracking and retrieval duties are better suited for German Shepherd hunting rabbits as GSDs may be too large to fit into rabbit or rodent holes.
How can I practice hunting with my GSD?
Consider the following list of good practices if you want to sharpen or practice hunting techniques with your GSD before going out on an actual hunting trip.
It is best to regularly be outdoors with your GSD to keep their senses sharp and keen. Consider nearby parks, forest trails, nature preserves and sanctuaries as these places are ideal locations for most hunting dogs. Nearby domestic outdoor areas like community parks or backyards are not a good place for hunting dogs to train. Extended periods of time in the wilderness is also beneficial, as it will help your GSD acclimate and relax in a typical hunting situation.
This exercise for hunting GSDs is especially useful for people who want to hunt waterfowl as swim practice can help your GSD get used to maneuvering in swamped or water-logged areas. Regular swimming can also increase your German Shepherd hunting instincts as it increases power, strength and endurance in all your GSD’s physical aspects.
Play fetch with different decoys
It is important for GSDs to differentiate between decoy items and real prey. A good technique is to play fetch with your GSD but use different fetch items each time. Some good items to have on hand are rubber ducks, stuffed animals or chew toys. Take some game meat and scent your items with it. Practice playing fetch with different items for about 30 minutes each day for 3 – 4 days a week. In time, your GSD will be able to instinctively hunt down game from its scent alone.