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January 21, 2010
Indoor or Outdoor Hunting Dog? - 7
by Brian Lynn
There's an old myth that says a hunting dog has to be an outdoor dog. The idea is that by living indoors a dog will some how become mentally and physically weak, its sense of smell will be ruined and that an indoor dog "just won't hunt" if exposed to the easy life and the family.
For the most part, that's bunk. But, with every good myth, urban legend and rumor, there are some truths to it. What's real and what's not? Can you keep a hunting dog indoors? Read on and you'll know, but:
My question to you: Is your hunting hound an indoor or outdoor dog? Does it double as a family pet or is it strictly "your hunting dog"?
The second question I ask for my own personal interest. My Lab is most definitely a family pet (and one that lounges on the leather couch and sleeps in the bed) that plays with our toddler and alerts us to someone at the door.
I've talked to many pros that have been around for a long time and they have said that's typical for today's hunting dog. Thirty years ago, however, "Dad's hunting dog" was his hunting dog; nobody played with it and it lived outside. Over the last couple of decades that has seemingly changed and most of the hunting dogs out there double as family pets, live indoors and are cared for by the entire family.
So, does living indoors hamper the hunting instincts and abilities of a canine?
In short: no. However, they do need some time out of doors (both during training and during down time) to acclimate to temperatures (in both extremes: heat and cold). Having a fenced yard or outside kennel is also handy if you want to remove the dog from the house for any number of reasons.
Having a hunting dog inside isn't going to ruin its sense of smell, as many old-timers will tell you. If a dog can take a direct spray from a skunk up the nose and still sniff out pheasants, a little dry air isn't going to destroy its nasal membranes. And in some parts of the country, indoor air is humidified and contains more water vapor than the outdoor air. Health-related issues that impact the sense of smell would be completely different topic (and of greater concern), as would "scenting conditions" (and that can be a big mystery for anyone to figure out!).
Keeping your hunting hound indoors allows you to bond with him and it gives him the opportunity to learn what makes you happy, as well as unhappy. It can learn its place in the pack and how it fits in with the family. By keeping your dog indoors, you exponentially increase your time to train little things: obedience, patience, enforcing commands, etc.
There is a drawback to this though: Dogs are always learning. It doesn't matter if you're training at the time or not. Remember this: You are always training when you're with your dog. It becomes a matter of what you're training; good habits or bad?
This can be a real issue if you have kids. Children love their pets and want to play with them. That's great, but if they're throwing 1,000 tennis balls for Fido to retrieve, his desire to do so under demanding circumstances during training, as well as his steadiness, are going to be negatively impacted. It's hard to motivate a dog (or a person for that matter) to work for an end goal if what they want is freely given to them.
This is where having a fenced yard or outdoors kennel comes in handy. If you're not in position to consistently and effectively train the entire time the dog is inside with you (that's a ton of pressure on you, especially if you have a family), you can put him outside where he can just chill (the constant pressure of training isn't good for him either). His own spot outside can be a haven free of pressure (you can create the same thing indoors with a crate).
The time outdoors also allows him to acclimate to temperature changes. If you're in the South and expect him to hunt the heat of the early season, he has to get used to not only being in it at rest but also under working conditions. If you're in the North, your dog has to get used to the dropping temps, build his coat (if you have a Lab or other similar double-coated dog) and fat reserves (this goes to feeding changes). A dog that is used to the temperature it is expected to work at and has trained under those circumstances for at least 6 weeks prior will hunt better, recover quicker and is less likely to be injured or impacted (succumb to overheating or hypothermia).
How much time he spends outdoors will depend on the dog, the climate you live in and personal schedules. I tend to leave my pooch outdoors during the day when I'm at the office and then train in the evenings and let him in for the night. That might work for you or it might not; there are a lot of variables.
So lets hear it Gun Doggers: Is your hunting dog an indoor resident or does he reside strictly outdoors? Family pet or one-man dog?