The use of dogs in hunting can pose welfare risks to both the animal being hunted and the dog.
The regulations and licences regarding the use of dogs in hunting vary between states and territories. In summary, dogs are used during hunting in the following ways:
- to locate and flush out deer
- to locate, bail and hold (or ‘lug’) feral pigs (holding is not permitted in some states)
- to locate, flush out, point or retrieve game birds
- to locate and flush out rabbits, hares and foxes.
In some situations well-trained dogs can assist in detecting or flushing out animals prior to shooting. This can lead to stress to the hunted animal, especially if it is chased. It is also cruel and therefore unacceptable to set a dog onto an animal with the intention that the dog will attack it. Dogs must always be under adequate control and be called off before they come into physical contact with the hunted animal. Trained dogs can help track wounded animals to ensure they are killed quickly and humanely, however they must be called off as soon as the animal is located.
In Victoria, it is an offence for dogs used in hunting to maim or attack wildlife, including game species.
In addition to minimising the impact on hunted animals, the welfare of dogs used in hunting must also be considered. Hunters should only use dogs that are healthy and in good condition. During hunting, dogs can suffer from heat stress, dehydration, tick paralysis as well as cuts and lacerations. Dogs used in pig hunting can suffer from serious, life-threatening injuries. If dogs are injured, they should receive prompt first aid and veterinary care as soon as possible, if required. It is also essential that hunting dogs can be quickly located if lost. Lost dogs can suffer from dehydration, starvation and exposure. They can also become feral, join other wild dogs and have a serious negative impact on livestock and native fauna if they are not found.
The RSPCA opposes recreational hunting, or the act of stalking or pursuing and animal and then killing it for sport, due to the inherent and inevitable pain and suffering caused.