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When you think of a good hunting dog, pit bulls probably aren’t the first breed to come to mind. Instead, you probably pictured a lovable beagle, good ‘ol hound dog, or a loyal retriever.
But can pit bulls make good hunting dogs too?
Even though pit bulls aren’t commonly used as tracking or retrieving dogs, they do have some specialty skills, such as “catching,” that are well-suited for hog hunting and other large game. However, with a little training, pit bulls can learn to be good all-around hunting dogs, too.
Let’s take a closer look at what traits will help or hurt the pit bull as a hunting dog.
What Does A Hunting Dog Do In The Field?
There are many different types of hunting, and just as many jobs for a hunting dog to fill.
You’ve got dogs that retrieve, track, bay, catch, and everything in between. Most commonly, hunting dogs are used to track potential prey, such as rabbits or foxes, or to retrieve animals that the hunter has already killed, like birds. This is especially true for waterfowl when the hunter isn’t going to be excited about wading through a lake to grab a duck.
The minimum requirement for a dog to hunt is some kind of prey drive. As the folks at Dogster explain, the prey drive actually has five parts: the search, the eye stalk, the chase, the grab bite, and the kill bite. Dogs like beagles have a stronger prey drive when it comes to searching and pit bulls have a stronger drive for the grabbing and killing bite.
Small lap dogs like a Maltese don’t have much of a prey drive at all and you’re going to have a very hard time pulling off a hunting trip with a Maltese leading the way.
Do Pit Bulls Have A History Of Hunting?
The pit bull actually does have a history of hunting, but not in the way you might think.
Pit bulls were initially bred in England for the purpose of a cruel sport called “bull-baiting,” where the pit bulls were forced to fight and antagonize bulls. This inhumane form of entertainment was banned in 1835, although it continued to occur illegally in some places well after that.
Hunting came into play in the early 1900s, when Americans began to use pit bulls in hog hunting. Although pit bulls were rarely trained as your typical tracker or retriever hunting dog, they were commonly used to hunt feral pigs. Pit bulls are still often used for this purpose in the south.
Even though it wasn’t the original purpose for the breed, the instincts that made pit bulls successful in the cruel sport of bull baiting also make them successful with large game hunting today.
What Makes Pit Bulls A Good Choice For Hunting?
Let’s dive into a few of the characteristics that make Pitties a good choice for hunting.
They Have A Strong Prey Drive
The bottom line of any potential hunting dog is that they need to have a strong prey drive.
Pit bulls definitely check this box and they have a powerful instinct biting, restraining, and killing prey.
There’s a big difference between hunting hogs and rabbits. Hogs have powerful, sharp, and extremely dangerous tusks that have ended many other animals and even hunters. A dog needs to have a certain level of bravely to not only approach these big dangerous animals but also hold them down and wait for you to show up.
Pit bull have the bravery needed to tackle these situations.
They’re Strong, Durable, and Athletic
For dogs, hunting can be a rigorous sport! You’ll most likely spend hours out in the field in any kind of weather, and the dogs will have to exert a lot of energy as they run, either chasing down potential prey or retrieving birds.
Pit bulls are sturdy and muscular, and they have the stamina for a high-level energy sport such as hunting. Your powerful pit bull would have no trouble keeping up with prey in the field. They’re also strong enough that they won’t get easily injured by an accident in the field.
If you’re going to train a non-standard breed to hunt, they’re going to need some level of intelligence. Even if they are a standard breed, you need a dog that can follow commands and this is another area where pit bulls will excel.
Canine expert Stanley Coren ranks pit bulls in the “Above Average Intelligence” section of his ranking of smartest dog breeds. That means pit bulls have the intelligence capability to be trained for hunting. More importantly, after they learn a command, pit bulls have a high rate of following that command the first time you ask. You won’t have to worry about a pit bull being disobedient while hunting.
You can check out this handsome pit bull named Red showing off his eagerness to not only please his owner but also learn how to be a bird dog:
Where Do Hunting Pit Bulls Excel?
Pit bulls are rarely used for tracking small prey, like rabbits or raccoons, or for retrieving animals (like birds) that were shot down.
However, pit bulls do have a history of being used for hog hunting. In many states, feral hogs have become an invasive species that destroys land, ruins crops, or spreads diseases. As a result, hog hunting has increased in popularity in recent years.
Pit bulls are used for hog hunting as both “bay” dogs and “catch” dogs.
When they’re trained as bay dogs, a pit bull’s job is to track down, chase, and corner a hog. As they are doing that, they bark loudly and consistently in order to let the hunter know where they are. The dog never touches the hog–they simply continue barking and circling the hog until the hunter arrives on the scene.
Pit bulls trained as catch dogs take it a step further. Whereas a bay dog stays well away from the potentially dangerous hog, a catch dog will use its teeth and paws to physically hold the hog in place until the hunter is able to trap, capture, or kill the hog. Because this can be dangerous for the dog, catch dogs are often outfitted with tough protective wear to give them an extra layer of protection against the hog.
While dogs can be and sometimes are trained as both bay and catch dogs, it’s more common to see dogs trained as one or the other. However, thanks to their strength, athleticism, and obedience, pit bulls can do either one of these jobs.
What Troubles Could A Pit Bull Have When It Comes To Hunting?
If you’re wanting to use a pit bull for a type of hunting other than hog hunting, you’ll be getting a little out of their realm of expertise. While they can definitely be trained as tracking or retrieving dogs, there are a few problems you and your pittie might run into.
Pit bulls Don’t Have A History Of Retrieving
While you can train just about any dog to be a retriever, some dogs (such as Labrador Retrievers) are literally built for retrieving. It’s what they do best.
If you’re looking for a hunting dog with the primary purpose of retrieving, you’re better off going with one of those breeds instead of a pit bull. Your pit bull may not understand how to retrieve game or they may not want to bring it back to you if they do retrieve it.
They’ll Be Rough On Prey
Although it’s a good thing for a hunting dog to have a good prey instinct, it can also work against them. With your pit bull’s strong prey instinct, but lack of an instinct to retrieve, they might think a small animal like a rabbit or bird is theirs to play with. No hunter is going to be very happy if their animal gets chewed up, shaken, or tossed about before it gets to them.
They’re Not Great In The Water
Even though pit bulls often love the water, they’re not great swimmers. Their sturdy, muscular bodies don’t float very well, and their toes definitely aren’t webbed, which will make swimming efficiently difficult for them. Even if they’re able to swim, they’ll get worn out very quickly with the extra effort it takes to keep them afloat.
A good hunting dog has to be prepared for anything in the field, and they might frequently be asked to retrieve waterfowl from lakes, ponds, or creeks. When your pit bull is asked to carry something in their mouth in addition to trying to keep their head above water, it probably isn’t going to go well for them.
Pit Bulls Aren’t Great In The Heat (Or The Cold)
With their short coats and short muzzles, pit bulls are a little wimpy about extreme temperatures. Their coat will do little to protect them against cold temperatures, and they could get overheated easily in hot temperatures with too much exertion.
While we all love perfect 70 degree days, that’s rarely the case for hunting. Your pit bull would have to get used to freezing cold or sweltering temperatures, and that’s just not healthy for them because of the way they’re built.
How Can I Start Preparing My Pittie To Hunt?
So let’s say you’re interested in teaching your pit bull to be a hunting dog. Where do you start? How do you go about this? Do you have to do anything special for your pittie?
Socialize Your Pup!
Socialization is a vital first step for any puppy. Expose your pit bull to new people, other animals, and different environments. The more experience your dog has, the less stressed they’ll be when they experience new situations down the road. Hunting will be a big adjustment for them, with lots of stimulation, so you want them to be able to take it all in stride.
Get Them Used To Basic Commands First
While many people tend to jump the gun and begin hunter training with their puppy right away, it’s best to let your dog get the basic commands down first. Teach them simple but important commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “come,” or “down” and repeat until they’re able to get it right. This is where your pit bull will learn the expected obedience that will be so important in the field.
Work In More Advanced Training When The Time Is Right
After your pit bull has the basic commands down, it will be time to move on to more advanced training. The specific training you put them through will depend on what skills you want your dog to have in the field. Will you primarily use your hunting dog for tracking? For retrieving? For catching or baying?
Remember, if you want your pit bull to learn how to track or retrieve, you’ll have to give them a little extra patience, care, and attention. These aren’t skills that come naturally for them, so it may take them a little while to catch on.
Pit bulls are primarily used as bay and catch dogs in the world of hunting, but they can definitely handle additional skills, such as tracking or retrieving, with some good training. Even though pit bulls aren’t the most common hunting dogs, their intelligence, strength, and determination make them capable of just about anything.