Anti-hunting-training based on positive reinforcement

(author: Pia C. Gröning Ó 2002)




-         Basic knowledge in working with positive reinforcement

-         Consequence

-         Patience

-         Chest harness and a long lead


What does hunting mean?


Hunting is a strong and important instinct in your dog. This instinct serves for food procurement and consequently for survival.

As soon as something is moving, the attention you had from your dog is lost and its hunting instinct are released, like setting off an alarm.


You can divide hunting into three parts:


-         searching for a track

-         following a track (the most important part)

-         catching and killing the prey


Why does my dog need to hunt?


It’s been fundamentally established that hunting is self reinforced. The reasons for hunting are different from dog to dog:

a)     not enough activity/boredom on walk

b)    learned, for example due to living on it’s own (ex stray dogs)

c)     genetically determined

d)     a form of overreacting (an action which arises from conflict)


How can I react accordingly to what triggers my dog?


a)     By taking countermeasures: more activity like Agility, Dog dancing, Obedience, Trailing, Tracking, Biking etc. Making the walk more exciting by adding small tricks, games and more advanced exercises, which are more demanding and make the dog think, for example Clicker training or hunting games etc.

c)     Channelling the instincts through hunting games and exercises which are similar to hunting; controlling in form of continuous practise; diverting attention onto birds, mice or nose work exclusively since that is a part of hunting.


d)     Removing the trigger which causes overreaction. Example: to avoid confrontation with an approaching pack of dogs, your dog simulates a hunt. à Solution: fetch the dog and make your way around the pack, keeping at a good distance.


Fundamental construction of training:


Point of departure:


Your dog has to keep within a special circle around you. Advantage: The dog is located within the area where you can have influence on preventing the hunting.



The circle is determined by the length of the lead (nylon rope, waterproof, easy, robust spring hook, can preferably be found in a store for outdoors and hiking, and should be at least 10m long).  The lead is fastened in a harness and left dragging along the ground. It’s important that you can stop your dog by stepping on the lead. Stopping is the ONLY function of the lead, i.e. not to jerk your dog!!! You will need to use the lead on every walk. If you only use the lead in areas full of game, the lead then becomes a signal for game. The lead will later on be reduced bit by bit until only a small piece of the lead is left hanging, or removed if it becomes un-needed. The end of the lead simulates the limit of the radius/circle. You will teach your dog to stay within the circle by calling or stopping him using passive signals like “sit”, “down” and “stand”, or hold him inside the circle with signals like “slower” or “wait”. Dogs like rewards to be thrown or rolled towards them (use a titbit, toy or similar). Has your dog the tendency to run ahead of you? Then you can roll or throw the reward against the direction, in other words behind you and by doing so you reinforce him to stay back. It’s all a question about creativity! Small exercises, tricks, stay exercises, hunting exercises, searching, games, etc, easing up the hard work of walking in the beginning. There will be days when nothing is accomplished, but please be patient with your dog! It will work! For people who don’t have their voices under control, using a whistle can be a big help. In the beginning it’s important to walk only in areas with little or no distraction, so that you and your dog will not be overly frustrated. Your dog is soon going to stay within the circle on his own, by standing, slowing down, waiting, sniffing the ground, nibbling at grass and so on. You have to reinforce (positive) these first signs (i.e. Click & treat)! When the dog has accepted the circle, you can make it a step more difficult and go for a walk in an area with more distraction (i.e. a forest). This is part of the desensitisation; you have to decrease your dog’s demand to hunt. He is quickly going to adapt to this new training. Parallel to this it is useful to implement some (or all) of the following ideas and exercises:


Classic conditioning or “Super-word”


A chosen word or sound is going to be a case of classic conditioning. If this word or sound (for Eika: “uiuiui”) is heard, something really good has to follow. (For Eika: digging for mice or searching for a titbit). What grabs your dog’s interest? You will have to find out by observing. The target of this word is to be built up in areas with low stimulus and later to become a reflex. A reflex has the advantage of not competing with a higher motivation. You have to build up this new sound very conscientiously. More about desensitisation is mentioned a bit below.




Eye contact 

Most dogs glance at their owner a second before they take off to follow a track (= not responsive anymore). You have to pay very close attention to be able to catch this second; during which you give your dog a signal, use the “Super-word” or click.

Most effective (at least for Eika) is the signal “go back”, in combination with turning around and start moving in another direction (orientation reflex).

It is desirable that the dog regularly glance at his owner. I have noticed that a German Shepard, for example, does this intuitively, but most hunting dogs have to learn it.

Here are three possible ways to improve upon the eye contact:


a)     introducing a signal for eye contact and demanding it in every situation

b)    catching every moment of eye contact (with clicker)

c)     sudden changes of direction, hiding, turning back, etc


Pos a) Is especially suitable for dogs who do not voluntarily give you eye contact. After some training the dog is going to give you brief eye contacts and you have to catch these (with clicker)! You can use these opportunities to give commands, i.e. sit.


Pos b) Requires a lot of attention from the owner (continuously observing the dog and having the clicker ready)! My dog Eika walked for as long as 500m in the beginning, before she stopped and made eye contact with me. So there were not many opportunities to click!


Pos c) Very effective! Your dog may not look back very often in the beginning, and therefore leaves the circle and your area of influence. à Only use this method in areas with little or no distraction! But if you repeat this exercise often enough your will gain eye contact more and more frequently and you can reinforce every instance.


Encourage certain instincts

 Is your dog showing interest in digging? Then, do let him. You have to take into account that if your dog cannot utilise his hunting instinct, he is going to be frustrated. Frustration means stress! Why you have to avoid him becoming a stressed dog is not a theme of this article…

If your dog doesn’t get enthusiastic about “harmless” hunting (i.e. digging) you should try to find other outlets such as games, retrieving, tracking, etc.


Learned disobedience


If you haven’t been consequent in requiring an action (from the dog) after giving a command, your dog might have learnt to disobey (i.e. you have called your dog in situations where he’s been unlikely to come back). It is your turn to teach the dog that he has to follow your command after a given signal.

He is going to learn it automatically thanks to the long lead.

This is only one hint for you to understand your dog’s reactions.




Are you and/or your dog so called Crossovers (changing from aversive methods to positive reinforcement training)? Then you have to pay close attention to the signals. Have the signals been positively reinforced? If not, there are two possible ways to do this: 

Reconditioning and a new build up.




When giving a signal for a command, such as a stay exercise, you have to start to reinforce it.


A new build up 

You are better off building up/shaping a new signal for a command that no longer works very well. You shape a completely new exercise and give it a new signal. My experience tells me that the new build up of an exercise will work better in the future. Eika knows the signals “come” and “go back”. I have used reconditioning on the old “come” command and shaped the new “go back” signal with a clicker.

Once, as many times, Eika became stiff and took aim for a rabbit. I was standing about 30 m away from her and gave her the signal “come” à no reaction. I then tried the new signal “go back” à she turned around and ran towards me. (Click & Jackpot!). The desensitisation of “go back” has also worked better than that of “come”. It is important to be aware of the level of desensitisation in every signal. You can not use “sit” to keep the dog within the radius if you’ve only trained it in your house (area with little distraction). 

The desensitisation happens step by step. One way that is really effective is to make a chart of the progress. You start in an area with very little distraction, for most dogs this would be their home (flat or house). If the exercise works well at home you can go to step two and perhaps use your garden. In the beginning the exercise is not going to work out as well as it did at home, but you will shortly see progress. You are now going to raise the level of distraction, so the next step can be a park and after that a meadow, then a field and so on. If your dog is easily distracted by other dogs, a place where you meet many dogs, such as a park, will be one of the last steps. The final step for a hunting dog is most often a forest or other areas with plenty of game. If the dog starts to follow a track it will be very difficult to call him back.

You have to enforce the “go back” or “come” commands.

Can you call your dog back in various situations? Great, you can click on the following link to read more about exercises for desensitisation of the “come” and “go back” commands.




-         What distracts your dog most is at the same time the highest reward! 

Could you successfully call your dog back while he’s hunting for a duck? The highest reward for your dog is the actual hunting (if there is no danger).

You can use the hunting as a reward!


-         Releasing your dog only makes him partly satisfied!

If you let your dog run loose in an open field, you will get a frustrated and only partly satisfied dog. If it seems like your dog has found a track you can practise calling him back because here that would be easy, since it’s a small risk that your dog finds a good track at this location. You have to use your judgement.




If the dog leaves the circle (due to any reason) and goes off hunting, you should stay quiet, do not call the dog and do not get angry when he comes back! For a successful training, such a situation is neither beneficial nor harmful.




The hunting issue have preoccupied me for a long time, because of Eika. The text is not complete and I am going to revise it often.


Even a well-known behavioural scientist like Günther Bloch (a German author) maintains that hunting instincts cannot be kept under full control using positive reinforcement. Who knows? Most hunters don’t have their hunting dogs under a 100% control, even by using force.

So if you want to use punishment, you should be aware that you probably have to use a shock collar. Jerking, or similar treatment, is not going to work.

Why you should NOT use a shock collar, you can read more about here. 


Thanks to my own experiences I know that you can have a great companion in your hunting dog, which can be called back in various situations – but maybe not in all.

But is that really a great goal?



Source: This text is the result of many discussions.

Text last updated: 19.06.2002