Can a hunting dog be a family pet?


If you want a hunting dog but your family wants a pet, you will be relieved to know that you don’t have to choose! Your hunting dog can be a family pet and your family pet can be a hunting dog. My husband and I are professional retriever trainers and most of our client dogs are just that – hunting dogs and family pets.

It makes sense to have a cross-over dog. Even the most avid hunters only hunt a few weeks or months each year. The rest of the time the dog is a family pet. But there are some caveats. If you want your dog to be a great hunter and a great family dog, you and your family will need to agree on some basic rules and expectations regarding the dog. It will be vital that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Family dog as a hunting dog

Can my hunting dog live inside the house?

Over the years I have heard many hunters attest that a hunting dog cannot be a family pet. The logic behind the thinking is that your hunting dog will get “soft” living in the house and being pampered by the family. And while I think generally that is bunk, I do understand how the thinking began. Problems can occur with dogs that are both hunting dogs and family dogs. Especially if the hunter and the family disagree on how to raise the dog and on expectations of obedience and training.

If you want your dog to bridge these two different worlds, you must have everyone on the same page. Your family must understand that there is a level of obedience that must be maintained. And you must understand that you may need to work a little harder to keep your dog in condition and ready to hunt.

If you only work with your dog during the hunting season and allow him to live a life of leisure the rest of the year, your dog is going to lose much of its training and hunting skill. Expecting anything different is unfair to the dog.

What is a good hunting and family dog?

There are many different breeds of dogs that fall into the category of hunting dogs. Everything from retriever to pointer, and many other breeds can be called hunting dogs. I don’t train all breeds and I don’t claim to be an expert in all breeds. In this post, most of what I will be addressing is the retriever breeds – specifically Golden, Labrador and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. The points I make may apply to other breeds, but I will leave that to the people who own train them.

hunting dog becomes family dog

The breed matters

When you are talking about having a dog be both a hunting dog and a family dog, the breed of the dog does matter. Some dogs are just much better at being great family dogs than others. This can be a result of the breed itself, for instance Labs are usually easy going and very gentle with kids, or it can be a result of the breeding. Some dogs are breed specifically to achieve a certain color or characteristic without regard to the genetics. When that happens some of the genetics from the original breed can be diluted or lost completely.

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When selecting a dog that is going to be both a hunting dog and a family dog, you should give some thought to the breed of dog and what would work best for your hunting and your family. You can get come guidance by looking up specific breeds on AKC website and reading through the characteristics. Or, talk to other people who already have the breed you are considering.

Are gun dogs good with children?

Even within the retriever breeds there are distinct differences. For instance, Labs are generally a good hunting and family breed and can do well as a cross-over dog. But Chesapeake Bay Retrievers would be a little more difficult since they are more of a one-person dog, very devoted to one person and may struggle with the chaos of a large family.

These are generalizations of course. I’m sure there are many people who would disagree with my assessment based on their specific Lab or Chessy, but the point is that the breed of the dog does matter.

Can you keep hunting dogs in the house?

Some people think that keeping a hunting dog in the house will ruin them. That they will become soft, spoiled dogs that no longer care to hunt. This is not true. A dog may become spoiled and soft, even if they do not live in the house. But this also assumes that a spoiled and soft dog won’t hunt.

If your dog has good, solid breeding, from dogs that were both genetically sound and proven, your retriever has a natural desire to retrieve. The amount of drive and desire may vary depending on the genetics, but retrievers with good breeding will not lose their desire to retrieve or lose their birdiness just because they live in the house.

can my family dog be a hunting dog

Can you treat a hunting dog like a pet?

Your hunting dog is a pet, so yes you can treat him as a pet. But there are many people that treat pets as something other than a pet. I’ve seen many a hunting dog come to us for training that has been treated like a child or a fur-baby. While you can treat your dog any way you want, the question becomes, will the way you treat your dog help or hurt them when it comes to hunting?

Babied dogs are often kept from experiencing pressure and correction. Dogs whose owners don’t use firm and consistent discipline to teach and grow the dog will experience problems when hunting. Why? Because hunting dogs are working dogs, and the work is not always easy and pleasant.

Most genetically sound hunting dogs love to work. In fact, they live for it! But if a dog has been babied and never learned to handle correction or pressure, hunting may prove to be too much for them. If your retriever gets scared by everything and anything due to lack of socialization, the dog will likely not be a great hunter. And, if your dog cries or whines when given even slight pressure, such as the pressure of a chain collar being tugged on, then you are off to a bad start. What will happen when your dog accidentally runs into a barbed wire fence while hunting, or faces down a goose that is not quite dead?

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Hunting dogs, whether or not they double as a family pet, need to learn to handle pressure, need to be socialized well and need to be obedient in all kinds of conditions. They need to learn to work through all kinds of adversity, heat and cold, deep cover with thorns, fences, frozen water, and anything else that they may run into.

Can a family dog be a hunting dog?

You must be fair to your dog. You cannot expect him/her to act one way at home and another way in the field or the hunting blind. Yes, your family dog can be a hunting dog. But you must maintain a similar standard of behavior in both situations. You cannot let your dog be disobedient and destructive in the home and then expect that those behaviors will not carry over into the hunting blind. Dogs are not robots. You cannot program them to be one way in the home and another way in the field. You need to keep your expectations of obedience and behavior standards the same for both the field and the home.

This is not as hard as you might think. It simply means that when you say SIT, no matter where you are, in the home or in the boat, that the dog must SIT or you take measures to make him/her SIT. Or, if your dog is outside running around, you must enforce the HERE command each time you say it. Set boundaries and standards and keep them the same no matter where the dog is located.

can my hunting dog live in the house

Can my kids and family play fetch with my hunting dog?

The retrieve is a vital part of hunting and standards must be maintained both in the home and in the field.

What does this mean? It means that if you expect your dog to deliver your birds to hand, that you must also have that same expectation in your home and/or backyard. It also means that when your dog brings someone a dog toy, they must NEVER play tug-a-war with him/her. And any retrieving tools such as bumpers, plugs, or Dokkens must be only retrieving tools, never allow your dog to chew on them or play with them except when being used for training.

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If your dog is force fetched and trained to deliver the bird to hand, you must maintain this expectation each time you play fetch with your dog. You must also make sure that your family understands this expectation. But use common sense. Your dog is going to understand that when your two-year-old throws a toy for him that the expectation is not the same. But everyone who can enforce the standards should be doing so.

Conditioning and training for your family dog/hunting dog

Lastly, you must keep your dog in good physical condition if you expect him/her to hunt well for you each fall. If your dog lies around all day every day, and then when hunting season rolls around you decide to take him/her on a 5-day pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota, you are going to have problems. Your dog will in no way be strong enough or have the endurance needed to do a hunt like that.

Rather, take time each week to work with your dog on obedience, but also on long walks or runs. Join a training group and get your dog some hunting experience during the off-season.

What are your expectations for your hunting dog?

It all comes down to your expectations for your hunting dog. Do you want an exceptional hunting dog that you can brag about? Do you want the best hunting dog you can get? Or are your expectations a bit lower. If your dog can find the bird and bring it back, you are happy.

There are no right or wrong answers here, but you do need to know what you expect of your dog, and you do need to train your dog to meet those expectations. You also need to set boundaries and rules and keep your dog working within those boundaries – both at home and in the field.

hunting dog vs family dog

Final thoughts on can a hunting dog be a family pet

So, yes, you can have a hunting dog that is also a family pet. But you need to understand that your dog will gravitate to the lowest expectation of him/her. And if the rules are different in the home than in the field or in the hunting blind, your dog is not going to excel. He/she will be confused and not able to perform to his/her full potential.

If you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me ( or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.

Until next time happy retrieving.

Can a hunting dog be a family pet?

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>