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Is the passion to hunt inborn or is it a learning process? Does a dog have to learn to use his nose?

Dusan and I have been leading a nice quiet discussion between the two of us in the group 'hunting Irish'. The above question cropped up and I thought it would be nice to have views and input from other members...

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Uh, Dusan , you are getting me into deep waters... PLEASE; ANYONE; HELP!!!

But as no help seems forthcoming, I will try to elaborate a bit...

I'll start with your question 'Is the passion to hunt something a dog learns or is it inborn' ... maybe we should transfer these questions to the main site and maybe get mor input there?

From my understanding it is both! All behaviour stems from part biological (genetic) background and environmental influence (learning). Or to put it in the words of experts, most behaviour is composed of nature (biology, genetics) and nurture (experience).
Certainly the interest in hunting is part of a genetic predisposition, just as is the temperament of the dog. Both however can not be expressed without the eviromental influence which enable the dog (or any species) to learn to use these faculties. for example a setter from pure hunting lines that lives secluded from all game contact up to the age of 2 years is unlikely to become a top field dog. Not because the genetic predisposition is not there but because the normal developement of hunting behaviour has been severely restricted during those important years in a dog's life.
On the other hand even a dog with great inborn passion to work who is trained early with good results, can be quickly ruined by too much pressure or by brutal punitive actions. This dog will have learnt NOT to hunt. Asking too much from a young dog without giving him the chance to succeed can cause frustration and an increasing unwillingness to work.

Most dogs (all breeds) will have a passion to hunt, after all they descend from wolves. In setters this characteristic has been influenced by selective breeding for good hunting dogs. Even the average show setter still has enough of the predisposition the hunt to enable it to be trained to a decent level, albeit much more time and effort will be needed. These dogs will need more positive reinforcement (ie success from the dog's point of view) than the average working bred irish setter.

So the aswer to your question would be that the dog can not have one without the other. Considerate training can increase passion or can dull it. Genetic predisposition and temperament will always influence the behaviour and learning processes will always influence behaviour...

Now back to your first question:
Some dogs seem incapable of using there nose, they seem unconscious of having any scenting abilities. They use sight only. I try to let my puppies use their noses very early by scattering dry pellet food for them in the grass, so they learn to sniff for food... later I may place the food bowl out of sight (maybe 10 metres) but with the wind coming from that direction. The puppy quickly learns to follow air scent.
I am not saying they would not learn to use their noses themselves... but I know gundog trainers in the UK use these methods and is has worked well for me so far.

I am sure you have heard of the experiments done concerning eyesight. If a baby or newborn animal with normally developed eyes and normal developement of the brain is blinded, the nerves responsible for transmitting the stimuli from the retina to the brain do not develope, causing blindness despite there being no anatomical defects.

I have experienced many dogs (I'm sure you have also) who were incapable of finding their owner hidden away at a short distance. These dogs all had a sense of smell (!) but had never learnt to use their nose in such a situation. They would listen, look, panic and run around wildly, hoping to find the owner. Others would stay calm, start sniffing and work out the problem methodically. They had learnt to use their nose.

OK, that is enough from me today... if you are interested in all this scientific stuff about dog behaviour I can recommend the books 'Handbook (ha!) of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training' Volumes 1 -3, pretty hard going and I can't admit to have got through it all (yet!). Not easy reading!
Well Susan...not much I can disagree with in your text!

I also feel that yes, hunting is genetic. And can be more or less dominant.
But AFTER that its training.
And it will take training to develop. Competing in obediance with my dogs, I DO NOT want my setters to hunt.
Some have been easier to anti-hunt-train than others.
I have not yet come across a setter of mine that does not use its nose. Some are better than others, but then I do a lot of hiding toys etc when they are small so I am once again not talking about "raw" dogs.

My dog called Sally who was both approved armydog and obediance champion was not allowed to hunt during her active time.
Well, thats not quite true, (now that I think about it) I used to reward her by letting her find hares in a field. But she had to stop there...and she did.
But once she was "retired" from armywork (aged 9) she was allowed to hunt anything.
And I think those were the best years of her life!
I would go out with the hunting team and she would chase out pheasants (no pointing...just a mad rush!!!!) and her alltime favorite...catching game that had been badly shot but was not dead.
I am sorry to say that it was the killing and retrieving of hares that she loved the most.
(Must have been all that time in the army...and bonding with all those snarling rottweilers).
Actually...what I was trying to say was that even when you stop a dog almost thoughout its whole life...the hunting is still there once it gets a chance.
But then that may also be at various levels.
As a young dog she was very easy to train NOT to hunt, so I dont consider her to have been the type of dog that was heavy on the hunting-side genetically.

I have not done any hunting with Scout and he does use his nose, eyes and hearing when we are walking and playing. Love seeing him point or track birds.

kathie jo
Hi Kathie Jo,

it sounds to me as if Scout would enjoy to do some hunting;-)))

I think he would also. I wish I had the knowledge and somewhere close to take him.

orry I have not responed sooner. My computer is down at home
See Ursula, that is what comes from letting your Setter work alongside those Rotties ;-))) Did the army have the same effect on you???

I'd like to take you up on the bit 'I feel that yes, hunting is genetic. And can be more or less dominant'.
please could you elaborate a bit on that? The predispoition to hunt is certainly genetic - and present in all dogs. But what do you mean by 'more or less dominant'. Isn't that a conflict in terms? dominant yes or no? more or less??? Please be more precise:-))) (See, I can be argumentative!!!)
Right then "argumentative"-Susan...:-)

I will try to explain. (I am probably using the wrong word = Dominant)
First of all I dont actually think that ALL dogs (individuals or breeds) have a predisposition to hunt. I am aware of pugs being extreme dogs in every way, so it is certainly not a "typical" dog. But both of my pugs have not had a clue to what the setters would get so excited about when they found a pheasant in the ditch for instance, or when they spotted a hare or even saw the cats bring in a live mole in to the house and release it.
As far as I have ever seen, my pugs had NO hunting-desire in them whatsoever.
They would stop and look at the setters, not knowing what was supposed to be the fun in this. Eventually they just ignored the setters when they got all worked up.
And yet these dogs grew up with setters were most would be absolutly mesmerized by small game. So if nothing else, the pugs should have learned...

Now for the "dominent" part, or what I call dominant.
Some setters are just more interested than others and are more difficult when it comes to train them NOT to hunt. To my way of looking at it I would say that the one that is not so interested and at the same time easy to persuade NOT to hunt would (from the word go) be the one that genetically less inclined to hunt.
Oh I am getting myself in a tangle with words here Susan.

But as I think that you can breed for BETTER hunting dogs, I must also think that I can breed for WORSE.

Yes, the army turned me in to what I am today!!!!!!!
No kidding!
I would run a mile if they tried to enroll me...:-)
If I were you I'd breed Irish Pugters.

I admit to having aboslutely no experience with pugs. But still I doubt that they will not chase a cat, squirrel, mouse... run after any moving object - all part of 'that hunting gene'. Maybe they will not use there nose, not being bred for their superior secenting abilities like our setters :-))
But if you say no, well I'll have to believe you!

Thanks for explaining you view on 'dominant'. I actually thought you were referring to mendelian inheritance... I thought you were saying a dog with strong hunting instinct would always pass this instinct on to his siblings as the gene was dominant over the non-hunter. I doubt that this is the case or it would be easy to breed good hunting dogs even when mated to a pure non-hunting show line.

But I will have to agree with your logic as to their motivation to use the instinct.

PS Maybe we will talk about your life with the army over a quiet glass of wine...
Irish pugters?
I bet there would be great market for them.

My pugs would go after balls (a sort of hunt...if you want to) and the first one (whom I competed in obediance with) was great at retrieving a dumbell. And the metal one on top of it! He would retrieve keys, glassbottles...you name it.
But neither of them have shown any inclination to chase cats, chickens and game of any sort. Neither would they go for mice and moles brought in by the cats. These two pugs are not related so its not a "non-hunting"-line
I remember getting the first one and being so amazed at the fact it just did not show any will to hunt and told the breeder...and was told that was normal behaviour and they did not hunt.
I am certain there are pugs out there that will attempt to chase things, but mine did/and do not.

Ahhh no, I was not being so academic as to use mendelian inheritance when I mentioned "dominant". Glad we got that one sorted!

The army was (to begin with) just a way to write about this rather odd macho world out there. With all the would-be-soldiers and their Rottweilers and German Shephards. To do that, I had to join and do all that basic training in the north of Sweden.

I think I must be the most un-army-like person you will ever meet. But I felt that my setter could do as well as their dogs, and she did, in fact she was far better in some aspects. And it was fun as long as I felt "Im only in it for a very specific purpose". But we shall have that glass of wine never the less...
I wonder what an irish pugter would look like.
Ill draw one when I get a spare minute...:-)

I am still waiting for a picture





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