Cooperative Hunting

Hunting is your dog’s favorite hobby? Instead of spoiling the fun, go hunting together!

Pimp your Dog Training: Part 2 (Germany)

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could find a way to use the huge amount of motivation and pleasure that our dogs find in hunting for our training and to intensify our relationship with our dogs?

Most conventional training programs aim to interrupt and stop the dog’s hunting behavior, either by a positive interrupter, such as the recall or by conditioned pain or fear.

Afflicting fear or pain is unethical and forbidden according to animal wellfare law in Germany.
What is more, even the interruption of hunting behavior by a positively established recall is often not really successful.
A problem common to both methods is that they work against the nature of the dog and what he actually wants at this moment: go for a hunt!

Hunting makes our dogs happy. It‘s an inner need that they have and completely surpressing it is like putting a lid on a pot with boiling water. It only increases the pressure.

Of course, you can not allow your dog to set off on uncontrolled hunting trips, but you can creatively find ways to practice predatory sequences together with your dog in a controlled and safe environment.

What is Predation?

Predation is a behavior chain consisting of several sequences that are intrinsically reinforcing for your dog and merge into each other: orientate,search, eye-stalk, chase, grab, kill and eat.

Your dog does not have to go through the complete chain to release endorphines. Individual sequences are enough to make him feel joy and satisfaction. Many dogs no longer perform the whole chain of behavior due to breeding selection. Some sequences have been bred out, others more highlighted.

It does not need to be mentioned that allowing your dog to kill is an absolute no-go. Besides that, which of the above sequences are your dog’s thing? You know your dog best. Make a list and write down his top 3.

Learning the vocabs

Now name the individual behaviors that your dog likes to perform and teach them to your dog. For example, whenever your dog is looking for a deer on the horizon, you name the behavior that your dog shows by saying the cue “Stalk”. This has two advantages:

  • As soon as your dog knows the cue, you can start to use the cue to reward your dog. Instead of holding him back from hunting for deer and completely interrupting what he wants to do, you can allow him to continue hunting the deer with a “Stalk”, which means, following the deer with his eyes, four feet on the ground. 
  • Since you positively reinforce the behavior, it gets a history and becomes functional. The dog will thus show it more often and longer in the future. If you unexpectedly encounter a deer, your dog will not chase it straight away, but he will stalk a little longer and you have gained a precious moment in which you will be able to react.
Another possibility is to name the actual triggers of hunting behavior. For example, condition the sight of a deer with the word “Bambi”. Once he has learned the vocabulary, you have the opportunity to let your dog search with his eyes for the trigger. If you discover the deer first, ask him to sit and ask him: “Where’s Bambi?” He may search for the deer with his eyes and watch it.
How does Cooperative Hunting work?

Whenever your dog shows a hunting behavior sequence anyway, capture it by calmly naming the behavior and saying the cue. If your dog is standing and watching deer at a distance where he is still calm and approachable, then quietly name the behavior “stalk”. It does not matter if he sits, lies or stands.

He should, however, be under threshold and able to stay calm and composed, so that the leash is easy, because you always condition the emotion in which your dog is with the cue.
If he has linked stalking with a high state of excitement because you named the behavior when he was already lunging and barking, he will not be able to calmly observe game lateron.

If your dog voluntarily disengages from the stimulus, then you mark and reward, because this is a great achievement and worth an extra treat. Then he is allowed to continue watching.

What does Cooperative Hunting look like?
Which behaviors you want to name depends on your dog’s preferences. Here are some of Nanook’s favorite hunting cues. Stalking: Calmly watching the sheep as an environmental reinforcer.

Searching, chasing, grabbing and eating: Backtrack search for a toy that I “lost” on my way .I use a small fillable prey dummy, which I open for Nanook, so that he can eat the treats.

Orienting towards the noise of the fallen treat, searching, eating: “Blind” search for a treat. Closing your dog’s eyes must be trained first in a low distraction environment, by using an info cue.

Digging on cue as an environmental reinforcer

Searching, grabbing and eating: Free search for a prey dummy with several feints.

Searching and eating: Sausage tree scavanging.

Your dog has learned his vocab, what now?

First of all, you now have the opportunity to work your dog physically and mentally on his daily walks in a way that meets his canine needs. If your dog is allowed to cooperatively hunt regularly, then he no longer has the strong need for solo hunting adventures and he can be better controlled in critical situations.
Through the joint activity that is highly rewarding and satisfying for your dog, he also links all the positive feelings with you. Instead of being the annoying factor that spoils the fun, you’re now the one who enables him to succeed in hunting. This has a positive effect on your relationship.

The game changer of cooperative hunting however, is that naming the individual sequences gives you unbelievably high-quality and diverse reward options for your dog that you can use to keep your dog from chasing after wildlife or after a recall. Instead of offering a dry biscuit, allow him to do what he most likes to do at that very moment, namely, hunt: let him execute sequences of hunting behavior. Instead of chasing the rabbit, allow him to stalk the rabbit with his eyes. Instead of heading off into in the bushes to track down the deer, allow him to scent the deer with his nose up in the air. Instead of running after the squirrel, let him search for the spot where the squirrel crossed the path and let him show you where it went up the tree.
If you need to recall your dog from a chase, the Double Recall will help him to return to you.

A great game to hunt together with your dog while at the same time teach him impulse control, is the 10 Treats Game.

Claire uses the principle of environmental reinforcement to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash.

Wildlife safety must be a top priority in this training! It is forbidden to chase wild animals and disturb them. Stay on the forest trails and secure your dog with a long leash on a well-fitted harness.