How Stress Affects a Dog's Hunting Ability

We might not see anxiety or worry in our dogs, but it is there and can affect hunting ability.

How Stress Affects a Dog's Hunting Ability

It was something a dog trainer said to me while I was interviewing her for my podcast that stuck with me for days. She had mentioned that she believes stress layers itself in dogs, and when it builds up to certain levels, it can affect training for days. It wasn’t much of a leap to believe that stress, then, could also influence hunting performance.

Her statement led me down an internet rabbit hole to suss out a canine researcher who could really speak to an expert level on canine stress. After some research, it seemed like I could do far worse than reaching out to Jessica Hekman DVM, PhD, who has spent years of her life digging into the effects of stress on dogs.

Her early research focused on stress in hospitalization of dogs, and she has now expanded that to include canine genetics and the development (or underdevelopment) of certain parts of dogs’ brains that are related to stress. In the realm of of knowns and unknowns, this type of research has a lot of runway left and could influence how we breed hunting dogs a decade down the road.

It has also yielded some interesting findings about stress. It turns out that some dogs are predisposed to suffer more from the effects of stress than others. This is likely due to genetics, and for reasons probably due to canine evolution, means that some dogs get over stress quickly while others don’t. A fight with another dog, for example, might ruin a specific retriever for days, causing an erosion in performance in the field or in manners at home.


Other dogs might shrug off the same toothy skirmish within minutes and not show anything other than very short-term effects from it. That might seem pretty simple and intuitive, considering humans are wired similarly. The difference, however, is that we often don’t seem to fully understand what is stressing our dogs out and how long that stress can affect them.


We just see normal dog behavior, and then we see dog behavior that might seem a little off, but probably don’t think much of it. Our dogs can’t explain to us that they are having a bad day because another dog had them by the throat this morning, or that we yelled at them for not working through a retrieving drill properly. Or that they were put into a dark duck blind with three unfamiliar dogs, five strangers, and then all hell broke loose as the guns started going off and chaos ensued.

While we might not see the symptoms of stress and anxiety fully manifest themselves, they are there to some degree. If you’ve got a timid female Lab, this might mean for a few days things won’t go too smoothly and it’s your job to reset her with some confidence building work. If you’ve got a male Chessie that could shake off getting hit by a semi if it meant he could keep hunting, then you might not have much to worry about. The takeaway is that you shouldn’t assume your dog is shrugging off stressful events simply because it’s easy to believe that’s what they do.

While going back and forth with Hekman on this topic I ended up asking her what the most stressful things are that a dog might encounter in everyday life and she answered without hesitation by saying, “Being left alone. Separation from us is a huge stressor.” This speaks to their desire to be with us, of course, but also to their evolution as a pack animal.

When we bring that puppy into our lives we establish a new pack with them and when the pack is intact, they are likely to be content. When we leave them alone, that pack dynamic has dissolved and it’s not easy for our dogs to handle. It’s also not possible for us to always be with our dogs, either, but it means we should think about the stressful things our duck dogs might deal with and prepare them, just as we would train them for a new hunting experience through confidence-building baby steps that result in controlled exposure to new tasks, environments, and challenges.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Picking a Puppy

Picking a Puppy

Wildfowl contributor Mark Romanack shares advice about choosing your next retriever.

Arkansas Snow Geese

Arkansas Snow Geese

Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles took this short video showing all the Snow Geese flying. Let's just say, he had a very good hunt!

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer.

Of course, it Boats

8 Best Mud Motors for 2016

David Hart - May 26, 2016

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer. Of course,...

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways! Clothing & Waders

New SITKA Women's Waterfowl Lineup for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full...

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season. Shotguns

Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

See More Trending Articles

More Retriever

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance. Retriever

Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.

Times have changed, and so has the size of our retrievers.  Retriever

Size Versus Drive in Hunting Dogs

Tom Dokken

Times have changed, and so has the size of our retrievers. 

Gun dogs are going to find trouble, and you need to be prepared. Make sure you have these supplies at the ready! Retriever

Gun Dog First Aid in the Field

Tyler Shoberg

Gun dogs are going to find trouble, and you need to be prepared. Make sure you have these...

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems. Retriever

Keep Your Gun Dog Fit to Prevent Joint Pain

Tony J. Peterson

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems.

See More Retriever

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now