Many owners are not aware of the origins of their pets, but hunting dogs now make up the majority of pets owned in the United Kingdom. Hunting dogs are all shapes and sizes, developed to use their natural instincts to find prey. They are also prized for their devotion.
The idea of a hunting dog makes them sound like wolves hunting in packs. Of the many types developed over the centuries, the majority were used to flush or retrieve prey. As a result they have been bred to be very loyal to their handler’s. Working in large groups also meant they became very sociable with humans and other dogs. With repetition they will learn commands and tricks, essential for their previous work over the fields of England.
Many are great with children, and love to play. They are very affectionate and want to please. They make good dogs to keep indoors, although owners will need to make sure they have enough room for them to wag their tails in safety. Like child-proofing a house, low shelves and coffee tables will be whipped clean by a happy dog.
Although a lot of hunting dogs will naturally just follow and flush out prey, there are some breeds who will chase and kill small animals. Those who just like the thrill of the chase will rush off at the slightest movement, and will not return if called. If you cannot let them off the leash in a secure area, you will need to train them on a long leash to return when called. They can be trained to follow set commands, but this can take time and a lot of reinforcement when they are puppies. Hunting dogs are intelligent, but they have been bred to rely on their natural instincts.
If you have small pets, you may want to consider a breed that finds prey rather than chases and kills it. Coursing or fox hounds will not see the difference between a cat and prey. Owners will have to be careful when introducing them to a household. Most dogs will adapt to include them in their packs, but it can be a risk when asking a dog to ignore its natural instinct.
Some of the smaller dogs can be nippy. They are used to catching small and dangerous prey (such as badgers and rats) so will use their teeth when scared. This may not suit a family with young children. The larger breeds have more patience, and will allow children to groom and hug them.
As hunting dogs, they will require a lot of exercise. Walks will need to be long and energetic. Owners should also mix in games to their exercise, based on their expertise. Fetch and return, hiding specific toys or scent trails all keep your dog mentally active.
Sight hounds – these dogs work on sight to spot and chase down prey. Most will also neatly kill prey once caught, so with some breeds you may want to walk them in a muzzle if there are lots of cats in the neighbourhood. They are a fairly quiet dog, and tend to be independent. Popular breeds include the Greyhound, Whippet and Border Collie.
Scent Hounds – scent hounds have powerful noses that help them track prey. These breeds are mainly used for fox hunting, as well as tracking. Most will have large ears that droop downwards and deep jowls. This is believed to help trap the scent and direct it into the large nasal cavity. When out on a walk most will spend hours crossing a field looking for interesting smells. Keep them on a leash, as if something takes their fancy they will disappear over the fields on a hunt. Breeds of scent hounds include: beagle; bloodhound; basset hound; fox hound; and, dachshund.
Retrievers – this species were originally used to retrieve birds shot on duck hunts. They have been built to be patient, sitting in hides for hours waiting for birds to appear. They also learn hand and whistle commands easily. Golden Retrievers are the most well-known of the breed, and are one of the most popular breeds in the UK.
Setters – setters flush and hunt game birds, with the unique ability to be able to pick up the scent of a bird while it is flying. Setters are larger with long hair to help protect them in the areas they used to work. The English and Irish Setter are well known for their coat colours as well as their vivacious personalities.
Spaniels – they come in all shapes and sizes, all suited to a different purpose. Spaniels need a lot of walks to wear them out, and can run for hours. They are also incredibly exuberant and can be ditzy. They are very loving and will bond well with their family.
Pointers – a similar size to the setter, these dogs are short coated with a refined physique. When finding game, they will raise one of their front legs and point in the direction of the animal to help the hunter find it. They coats can be quite oily, and are very waterproof. Common breeds are the German Pointer and Weimaraner.
Terriers – a small breed of dog used to catch vermin and small mammals. As a result they will crawl down burrows and seek out holes. For their size they can run very fast over short distances. Terriers will not suffer fools gladly and sometimes lack the patience for small children. Many owners find them easy to travel with, and those who work outdoors will keep terriers to keep vermin down as well as keep themselves occupied as the owner works. Common breeds include: Jack Russell; Border Terrier; and West Highland Terrier. The Bull and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are also larger terriers dogs, many of which are left in rescue centres labelled as dangerous. These dogs are actually very loving and great with families if managed correctly.