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Can Rescue Dogs Become Good Hunters?

Can Rescue Dogs Become Good Hunters?

You can’t beat the warm, tantalizing aroma of puppy breath.

All of that was forgotten, however, when an energetic 4-year-old Brittany came into our lives with the words, “Her name is Honey. Here’s her registration papers and heartworm pills. And, oh, she’s a runner.”

Honey came into our family, complete with two other Brittanys, as a rescue/surrender dog. She wasn’t in our plans.

We were considering the addition of a puppy knowing the dreaded day was soon coming when our oldest Brittany would cross the Rainbow Bridge. As a two-Brittany, hard-hunting upland and waterfowl household we wanted to be prepared, knowing full-well that treasured four-legged hunting companions aren’t replaced.

They simply live on with their memories intertwined with other hunts, other dogs, and their own distinct personalities.

We did our due diligence in researching what we thought would be our pending puppy. Admittedly, knowing we wanted another Brittany narrowed our research regarding dog breeds and their traits. We were about to narrow down kennels and contacts when a call came asking us to take Honey.

We didn’t know then that she was four and had never hunted a day in her life. But the words on the other end of the phone lingered in my mind days after that initial call while we discussed the pros and cons of puppy versus adult rescue dog.

We trained our dogs. We understood Brittany traits. Honey would join a household with two other hunting maniac Brittanys, born to search, point and retrieve the wariest of upland birds and the most majestic of waterfowl.

She would do equally as well, right?

OK, maybe not.

True, Honey had the instinct and desire. But she initially lived up to the ominous warning uttered the day she bounded into our lives.

She was also a neglected bundle of hunting maniac who hadn’t hunted a day in her life. She had places to go and things to hunt, including anything breathing oxygen. She had to make up for lost time.

However, she became everything our instincts told us she would be.

While one challenge from a hunting perspective was merging hunting instinct and desires with actual fieldwork, the other harsh reality was that as a rescue/surrender dog, Honey had her share of problems.

Rescue Brittany Spaniel Hun
Hun, AKA Honey (right) in her previous life before she found her way to her “forever home” as a rescue/surrender dog. Rescued as a 4-year-old dog who never hunted a day in her life, her first owner considered her a “runner.” However, he provided the new owners with her papers when she was surrendered. Over the years, two other dogs from the same kennel where Hun was born joined Hun’s “forever home.” Despite issues as a rescue/surrender dog, Hun was an excellent upland and waterfowl hunting companion—and family member.

Our dogs are part of our household. While recognizing that isn’t for everyone, it never occurred to me that a dog would be terrified to enter a home.

Honey was.

She was also terrified of strange homes once she adapted—and adopted—our house. Meeting other people and dogs was difficult for her. She cowered when our then 3-year-old niece tried to pet her, slinking beneath the kitchen table in fear.

She cowered when another relative, a tall, husky man, entered the room. Shaking in fear, her past history told her to hide.

With gentle coaxing and treats, Honey gradually grew accustomed to the fact that the house was OK. She realized she could explore its confines and wouldn’t get a beating.

She could even lie on the couch, which she eventually owned, and graciously shared it with us.

What we didn’t know at the time was the issues Honey experienced aren’t unusual for rescue/surrender dogs, regardless of their breed. ”Every rescue [dog] handles things differently,” said American Brittany Rescue (ABR) President Terry Mixdorf, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

While different dog breeds have trait tendencies, a dog’s situation can shape their personality and how they handle situations.

Mixdorf said hunters could acquire dogs in many ways—shelters, surrenders, or rescue organizations, including breed-specific organizations like ABR, for example.

The difference between shelters and rescue organizations is that many rescue organizations try to place dogs in foster homes, allowing the foster person or family to learn and understand what the dog might already be able to do or not do. They then work with the dog to help place it with a forever owner suitable for both people and dog alike.

For example, ABR dogs are in foster homes. When Mixdorf gets a dog, she gives it a week or so for it to “show you what they want,” she described. Does it want to lie on the couch, for example? Or does it like a crate?

From there, Mixdorf establishes rules and what the dog needs to know such as teaching—or reinforcing—basic obedience and what is expected of it in its foster and forever home. Once the dog’s personality is identified, ABR can then work to find a forever family. Foster families get to know the dog, which helps obtain a successful match, Mixdorf added.

And, yes, that can include a hunting family.

The goal when acquiring a puppy should also include ensuring it doesn’t become a Honey—a dog in need of a second chance in life whether through abandonment, rescue, or surrender.

Research dog breeds and their traits, consider one’s household and family members, weigh its potential living quarters, and make certain you’re ready to take on the responsibility of a puppy.

Those same considerations need to be taken into account if rescue/surrender is an avenue you decide to explore. Recognize those dogs often come with their own problems and may require special care and needs. Ask yourself if you’re willing, able, and capable of doing the dog justice.

Honey arrived into our lives in the July heat. With patience, time and training, by fall she became the hunter her instincts led us to believe she would be. She held and honored points, retrieving waterfowl and upland birds alike. She obeyed commands. She realized we loved her dearly. She didn’t have to run away, even if it was to chase an oxygen-breathing critter.

I took her hunting often and she would find, point and retrieve grouse, partridge, pheasants, ducks and geese. And, my, how she loved the water. No longer was she living in fear, instincts and desire left to waste.

She was indeed a hunting maniac—an excellent hunting maniac.

We gave her eight years of bliss she never would have had without us before losing her to cancer.

What she gave us was immeasurable—her heart, her soul, her devotion, her superb hunting abilities, treasured days in the field and countless, precious memories.

We never changed her name, although the spelling became “Hun” or “Huni” for Hungarian partridge or hunter.

Would I adopt another rescue/surrender dog?

Probably—keeping in mind that it deserves the same work and dedication it takes when considering the acquisition of a puppy.

Our rescue/surrender situation with Honey was unusual, in part because we obtained her registration papers.

We learned along the way because we didn’t know at the time that resources were available to assist us in understanding Honey’s situation.

Rescue dogs can be great hunters and hunting companions, Mixdorf suggested. Be willing to work with the dog, just as one would when training a puppy.

Step-By-Step Adoption

Keep these tips in mind when considering adopting a rescue/surrender dog for your next four-legged hunting companion, courtesy of American Brittany Rescue President Terry Mixdorf:

  • Research dog breed traits and characteristics before choosing a hunting dog breed.
  • Analyze your personal situation: Will the dog be in the house or kennel? Will it be in a quiet environment or with a busy family? Different breeds tend to be more “people” dogs while others tend to be a one-person dog, for example. Some do well in busy household while others need to have quiet, more one-on-one situations.
  • Heavily consider one’s personal hunting situation and style. Do you hunt long, hard, and often? Then a younger dog will likely have the stamina to meet your needs. But if you’re a hunter who goes out occasionally for short distances and time, perhaps an older dog fits your needs. “They’re [hunting dogs] going to give 1,000 percent until they can’t go anymore,” Mixdorf said. An overly energetic, young hunting dog may be more than a person wants to handle while an older dog might not have the strength and stamina to meet one’s hard-hunting style. “Match your dog to how you hunt,” she added.
  • While shelter and surrender dogs can make excellent family and hunting dogs in their new forever home, the advantage of a rescue dog is they’re typically coming from a foster situation where the foster family can identify the dog’s personality and work closely to match the dog with the right owner.
  • Most problems rescue dogs face are behavioral. In many ways their behavior stems from the dog trying to tell the human they have a problem. For example, separation anxiety can be a major issue, especially with breeds such as a Brittany. That’s why they may chew furniture, for example. A solution could be considering adding another dog so it’s not alone, playing music or some other noise such as television, or placing it in a smaller area such as a crate.
  • Patience is critical–whether that next hunting dog is a puppy or rescue/surrender dog. “Don’t let yourself get so frustrated you’re ready to turn it into a shelter or rescue,” Mixdorf stressed.
  • Be honest with yourself–can you dedicate the amount of time needed to work with a rescue dog for hunting as well as adapting and adopting to the dog’s new situation?
  • Most importantly, Mixdorf said, is remember there are valuable resources to help train and deal with the nuances of a rescue dog. Talk to other dog owners, she advised, especially those who have the same breed. Network with organizations such dog trial and test clubs, breed-specific groups, and rescue organizations, including breed-specific organizations.
  • Research websites. For example, American Brittany Rescue, (, and other breed-specific rescue organization websites have tips and information, ways to interact with owners of that dog breed, and foster dogs in need of adoption to help match the dog with its forever family.

The goal when acquiring a new four-legged hunting companion, whether puppy or rescue/surrender, should be to work with that new family member to bring out the best in everyone–hunter and dog alike. It really comes down to the person and their ability to train and understand their dog.

And when it comes to rescue/surrender dogs, Mixdorf has a reminder: “They’re not throwaways, they’re rehabs.” Successful rehabilitation—whether a human injury or a rejected dog—largely depends on how much effort a person puts into it. After more than 15 years of working with rescue dogs–including hunting dogs–Mixdorf has three key suggestions:

  • Do your research.
  • Do your work.
  • Reach out for help and “think it through.”
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