The use of dogs in hunting can pose welfare risks to both the animal being hunted and the dog.
Deer are ‘flighty’ animals and are easily frightened by dogs, so being chased by them, even for short periods, has the potential to result in distress to the deer and injuries if they run into fences and other obstacles. When deer are pursued for extended periods by scent-trailing hounds the negative welfare impacts are further increased.
In some states in Australia it is still legal to use dogs to locate, point to, or flush out deer when hunting and also in Victoria, to use scent-trailing hounds to chase deer. Dogs are not permitted to be used for hunting deer in Tasmania.
The regulations relating to the use of dogs to hunt deer differ between states and there is sometimes confusion around the difference between ‘hunting with hounds’ and ‘hunting with dogs’. ‘Hunting with hounds’ (that is scent-trailing hounds) is used to hunt sambar deer in Victoria, but this practice is not permitted in NSW. Sambar deer are the largest of Australia’s wild deer and are considered a premier game animal by hunters.
The Victorian game regulations prescribe where and when hunting sambar with hounds can occur as well as height and breed standards for the hounds used (beagles, bloodhounds and harriers), the number of hounds that can be used during a hunt (five hounds with up to three additional pups under the age of 12 months) and numbers of hunters that can hunt at any one time (10 persons with up to two junior or non-Australian resident hunters). In Victoria scent-trailing hounds must not be used to hunt hog deer, red deer, rusa deer, chital deer or fallow deer. However, prescribed breeds of ‘gundogs’ (e.g. Labrador retriever, Irish setter, cocker spaniel, pointer, Weimaraner) and ‘deer hunting dogs’ (e.g. Border terrier, fox terriers, German hunting terrier, Jack Russell terrier, Finnish spitz, Norwegian elkhound, dachshund) can be used on all deer species (except for hog deer -the smallest species of wild deer in Australia). The regulations set the maximum number of gundogs and deer hunting dogs to two at any one time.
In NSW, a dog may only be used for locating, pointing, or flushing deer, but hunting with scent-trailing hounds is not permitted. A person hunting alone must not use more than one dog and a group that is hunting together must not use more than two dogs for hunting wild deer.
In Britain, studies to examine how hunting affects the biology of red deer showed that the effects of extended pursuit are severe. Muscle tissue is disrupted, glycogen (energy) reserves are exhausted, cortisol levels (an indicator of stress) are at a maximum and red blood cells start to break down. Researchers concluded that red deer are poorly adapted to predation by sustained pursuit and the suffering caused by this activity is likely to be very great. Based on the results of these studies, the National Trust banned the hunting of deer with hounds on its land in 1997. Following on from this, in 2004 new hunting laws banned the hunting with dogs of all wild mammals in England and Wales, including fox, deer, hare and mink – except where it is carried out in accordance with the conditions of one of the exemptions set out in the Hunting Act (2004).
The RSPCA opposes recreational hunting, or the act of stalking or pursuing an animal and then killing it for sport, due to the inherent and inevitable pain and suffering caused.