Heelers, Australian Cattle Dogs can be trained to hunt. However, their natural instinct is to herd. They can be trained to hunt due to their very high level of intelligence. So, can heelers hunt? Yes, if they are consistently trained to hunt.
The downside of using heelers as hunting dogs can occur during the times when hunters are trying to remain quiet and hidden for periods of time to get clear access to their prey. Due to their high intelligence level and their love of constant work and activity, your heeler could be disruptive during these times and frighten away the prey.
However, also due to their high intelligence, they can be trained and are able to learn to behave as needed for the purpose of hunting. Australian Cattle dogs are in the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds.
What Types of Prey Can Heelers Hunt?
Heelers have a very strong prey drive which is a definite asset in a hunting dog. They can learn to track and retrieve all small prey such as squirrels, moles, etc. But they can also be great bird dogs.
They will retrieve all types of birds even ducks in the water! The birds they retrieve are not destroyed as long as your heeler is properly and consistently trained.
Heelers have been used to hunt larger game like wild boars, however, I would not put my dog into a situation that could cause her harm. They can track deer, so if you have wounded but not killed a deer, your heeler can lead you to the wounded deer so you can finish the job.
Heelers are tenacious and never give up. They have an endless supply of endurance and energy so they can outlast almost any other dog.
How do I Train a Heeler to Hunt?
Heelers can be trained to excel in many dog sports such as agility, and Qutreibball, as well as in obedience. They can also learn to excel as hunters with proper and consistent training.
If you get your heeler as a puppy, then start her education as soon as possible. Start with socialization. She should get used to being around many different people and other animals. This is very important and should be ongoing until you can trust her not to react badly in the presence of other animals or people.
When socializing your pup, be sure to get her accustomed to many different environments, sounds, and distractions. She will also need to not be afraid of the sound of gunshots. Take her everywhere you go if possible and she will be welcomed.
Once Socialized, Get Your Heeler Obedience Trained
Your heeler should first be fully obedience trained. Be sure she responds quickly, to all commands and has obedience skills down pat. Practice with her daily to reinforce all her training. Take her to all the places you will most likely be hunting to get her familiar with them.
Once your dog is proficient in obedience, then start her on off-leash training. She must learn to obey commands whether or not she is leashed.
One behavior your dog must have for any occasion is to be able to respond immediately and come to you when you call her. This is of critical importance for any dog that will spend time off-leash. This could save her life!
Train Her in Environments You Will Be Hunting In
If you plan to hunt near water and expect her to retrieve quarry from water, get her familiar with retrieving floating objects that you throw into the water. You can start with some floating toys and hurl them out as far as you can to get her to be unafraid of running into the water and swimming a good distance.
Introduce your heeler to the scents of the prey that you are planning to hunt. Be sure that she is very familiar with these scents. Teach her to follow these scents while on a leash until she has full knowledge of following the scents.
Train Her With Positive Reinforcement
One way to get her prey drive activated and get her used to the hunt is to drag various game or birds tethered and run with them to encourage her to chase the prey.
Always use positive reinforcement training. Reward her with praise and a treat when she has done well but just repeat the behavior until she performs it to your liking.
Desensitize Your Dog to Gunshots
As I said above, your dog must be familiarized with gunshots. This could take some time as many dogs are afraid of loud noises. You may have to desensitize her gradually to loud noises. This can be accomplished by finding out the level of noise where she first displays signs of fear.
Starting with whatever that noise is, get her used to it so she no longer fears it. You should gradually work your way up to gunshots as these are extremely loud unless you plan to hunt using a silencer!
Be Consistent With Training But Vary Routines
Continue to practice with her daily and consistently. Due to their intelligence, you should try and vary your training process regularly as your heeler may get bored doing the same thing in the same order day after day. It is essential for her to remain interested and alert.
Prepare for the first hunts to be just practice outings with your Heeler on a leash. It’s critical for hunting dogs to learn how to wait patiently beside you and wait for your command.
Your first few hunts with your Blue Heeler should be considered “practice runs.” Hunting dogs must learn to walk quietly and patiently with their owners until they’ve given the command to go. Fortunately, as herding dogs, Heelers are very adept at this skill.
Take your heeler out several times just to practice so she can learn what behavior is expected of her for hunting. She must learn to walk with you and stay with you until she is given a command to do otherwise. Retrieving is not a skill that is foreign for heelers.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Yes, heelers are herding dogs, however, their high intelligence and strong work ethic can also make them excellent hunting dogs.
Some of the instincts that make heelers great herding dogs also come into play for hunting. For example, when herding, the dog runs out to the wandering cattle and drives or retrieves them back to the herd. Driving wandering cattle back to their herd is a form of retrieving. Heelers love for you to throw a ball and they also retrieve it back to you.
Any type of training is excellent for heelers as learning gives them the mental stimulation which they require. Also, be sure to keep providing plenty of physical exercise for your heeler as they also require a very large quantity of physical activity.
With positive reinforcement training along with consistency you can train your heeler to be a great hunting dog, but for her safety please stick to smaller game and fowl.
Please feel free to comment on this article I would love to hear from you! Any experience you have with training Australian Cattle Dogs (heelers) to hunt would be great to hear!