Prehistoric man appears to have partnered with canines over 20,000 years ago for hunting. How exactly this occurred, we will perhaps never know. However, what we do know is that cave paintings, murals, and other pieces of archeological evidence suggest that this partnership began at around the same time that human beings were organizing themselves.
Early hunter-gatherer groups used dogs in the hunt for fowl and small game. Dogs that were probably nothing more than domesticated wolves were adept at spotting and flushing out game. Often, this meant that the animal would then be chased and harassed to the point of exhaustion and collapse, whereupon the humans would close in and finish the job with spears, stone knives, and arrows.
The Egyptians utilized large Molossian-type dogs to hunt a variety of animals, including large game, and were probably the first group of people to begin seriously breeding dogs for their specialties. The Mastiff dog was developed and refined, as were the sight-hounds that have now become so prolific. Over desert expanses, the Egyptians highly valued these dogs for their skill in sighting and coursing game.
Greeks and Romans, who had a great deal of free time because of their lifestyles, devoted much of their time and attention to breeding dogs for use in hunting. The style of hunting thusly changed with human lifestyle, as dogs were trained to hunt sport and nuisance animals, such as wolves, bears, and even lions and other large cats. In fact, hunting became something of an elitist function, and in this and other societies was reserved purely for the aristocracy. Many nobles had a dying request that the image of their best hunting hound be engraved on their tomb, or even buried with or next to them.
The use of dogs in hunting became quite widespread throughout the middles ages. Dogs became highly specialized, and the following groups developed strong bloodlines:
- Sight Hounds: Dogs that spotted their prey across great distances, and quickly closed in for the kill. They have superb vision.
- Retrievers: These hunting dogs were specially designed to retrieve birds from the water after they had been shot down. They have webbed toes for powerful swimming, and water repellant coats.
- Pointers: Pointers were developed to do just what their name implies: locate and point at game. They possess exceptionally keen senses, and can easily pinpoint even the most secretive game.
- Scent Hounds: Scent hounds were and are today some of the most hardy dogs known. They were especially good at locating and tracking prey by scent. They were very efficient and methodical in their tracking, and have been known to follow the same scent for several days on end without rest.
In addition to the above groups, the spread of the use of firearms also required that gun dogs be developed for hunting. Feudal paupers who had severe rodent infestations developed terrier breeds to hunt and eliminate vermin and small prey. Particular breeds became very compartmentalized: there were specific breeds for hunting each of the following: fowl, wolves, bears, squirrels, hogs, foxes, rodents, deer, and many others. Many of these breeds still survive today, although still many more have become extinct and even forgotten.
Today, we use dogs in hunting much the same as we always have: Labradors wait patiently in duck blinds… Jack Russell Terriers ferret out rats, badgers, and groundhogs… Beagles track and harass foxes to their death… The specific purpose for each of these hunting types is so ingrained in the particular breed that it has actually become part of their nature. In the above examples, this is why Labs love water, why Jack Russell’s cannot resist a good hole, and beagles will run off after certain types prey. They cannot help it, as it has actually become instinctual to them. Our hunting dogs always have and continue to serve us well. We should take their intended purposes into account in their daily lives, and ensure that they are allowed to do what they were built for: to hunt.