Labradors may be the most popular pet dog in America, but they’ve earned their keep for most of their history by hunting. I am constantly amazed by just how versatile Labradors are, and how many different sorts of game they can hunt. So, what do Labradors hunt?
Labradors are traditionally known to be bird dogs, as they are often used to assist hunters when hunting ducks, quail, and pheasants through both flushing and retrieving. However, Labradors can also be trained to assist in hunting larger game like deer and hog by tracking their scent.
Read on to learn all about the different kinds of game that Labs can hunt and what a Lab’s hunting style is like. You’ll also find out how to train your Labrador to hunt any kind of game you like.
Why are Labs so Good at Duck Hunting?
The Labrador Retriever was bred in Newfoundland as a retriever of ducks and a partner of fisherman. They’ve been hunting ducks since the very beginning of their history, and they’ve kept doing it through the years.
Labradors are well-suited for retrieving ducks due to a handful of traits that breeders refined for generations. Here are some examples:
- Otter tail. Labradors have a thick, muscular tell which acts like a rudder in the water to help them steer.
- Webbed feet. Labradors can propel themselves through the water with tremendous speed thanks to the webbing between their toes.
- Waterproof coat. The Labrador’s thick, oily double coat creates a waterproof layer that keeps them warm even in frigid water.
- Energetic. Swimming through water after ducks is a lot of work, but Labs seem to never get tired and can keep going after ducks all day.
- Trainable. Duck retrieval requires a lot of self-control, so the Lab’s trainability is extremely helpful in making them superb duck hunters.
Are Labs Good Bird Dogs?
Ducks aren’t the only sort of bird that Labradors can hunt. Just because Labs excel in the water doesn’t mean they have to hunt in the water.
Labs can be extremely effective at retrieving all kinds of birds, from dove to turkey and everything in between. A well-trained Lab with a soft mouth can even collect a number of small game birds like doves at a time without damaging them at all.
What Else Can Labradors Hunt?
While Labradors are best known as bird hunters, particularly of waterfowl, but the versatile Labrador can hunt just about anything. You can train your Labrador to track deer, hogs, squirrels, and much more.
How do Labradors Hunt?
Labradors are retrievers, so their hunting style is based on tracking game and bringing it back. There are three primary components to a Lab’s hunting:
- Tracking. Labradors can be trained to follow just about any scent. By keeping your Labrador on a lead and putting them on the scent, you can follow them within shooting distance of your target without alerting the game. Unlike hound dogs, which bay to lead the hunter to game or drive game out to the hunter, Labradors tend to be very quiet on the trail.
- Flushing. Most of the birds sought when hunting tend to hide in tall, grassy areas that are often marshy. Labs are used to track them down, and when given the signal “flush” or scare them into flight. This gives hunters a clear shot in the air.
- Retrieving. If a Labrador can pick it up and bring it back, they will. Labradors can be trained to follow a blood trail to track down and bring back wounded game and they can also mark where birds have fallen out of the sky and retrieve them. If a Lab can’t pick up the prey animal, they typically wait with it for the hunter.
Do Labradors Have a High Prey Drive?
Prey drive is usually interpreted as a dog’s desire to chase down and capture prey. Labradors certainly have the desire to find prey, but most don’t feel very strong instincts to capture or kill. Throughout their history, Labs have been depended upon to bring dead and wounded game back to the hunter unharmed.
This is where the term “soft mouth” comes from. It doesn’t actually mean anything about a Labrador’s physical mouth. Rather, it refers to the tendency of a Labrador to not injure animals it picks up.
While Labradors may be very likely to chase after an animal like a squirrel or a bunny, when they catch up to it, they may not know what to do or they may try to pick it up without hurting it to bring it back to you.
The typical Labrador has half of a prey drive. They have the urge to chase and bring something to you, but most don’t have the urge to kill.
How to Train a Labrador to Hunt
Labradors are natural hunters, and most take to training very easily. Here is how you can train your Labrador to hunt:
Basic obedience is at the foundation of hunting training, no matter what you want your Labrador to hunt. Begin training the moment you bring your Labrador puppy home. Your dog should have a rock-solid “stay,” “heel,” and “come,” by the time you begin formal hunting training.
Before venturing into any type of specialized training, I always recommend going through a basic training course. A lot of owners hesitate when it comes to training because of the perceived inconvenience of travel and high cost. Fortunately, there are some great online solutions that solve both of those issues!
Brain Training For Dogs is an online training program created by Adrienne Farricelli, a certified and decorated dog trainer. For only $47 (at the time of this writing) Adrienne can help you to establish training fundamentals in the comfort of your own home.
If you’ll be using your Labrador to hunt small game like duck, quail, or squirrel, retrieval training will be very helpful. To train your Labrador to retrieve, use a fetch toy that looks and even smells like the game you eventually want them to find.
Labs have a natural retrieval instinct, so tossing the toy should be enough to get your dog to run after and bring it back to you. Reward your Labrador with play, praise, and treats when they bring the target back to you.
Always stop the game when your Lab is still very excited. That way, they will internalize the excitement about retrieving and be amped up to retrieve every time.
Whether you just want your Labrador to retrieve game that you have shot or you want them to find game for you, it is extremely important that you train them to track.
To start, simply hide a treat and encourage your Labrador to find it. Keep increasing the difficulty until your Lab is able to find a treat that you have dragged along the ground into another room.
Once your Lab is consistently finding the treat, it’s time to substitute the scent that you really want them to find. Associate the scent with a treat, and then go through the same process of hiding the scent that you went through with the treat.
The Labrador is a Versatile Hunting Dog
Labradors were bred to hunt ducks, but they can hunt just about anything you want them to. If you only want one dog to assist you in hunting waterfowl, land birds, and large game like deer and hogs, the Lab might be the dog for you.