Hunting dogs make hunting better. They find more game and they recover downed birds that would otherwise be lost. If you’re hunting with dogs, there are adjustments you’ll have to make to keep everyone safe. The dog’s safety is everyone’s concern. A dog isn’t of any use if it stays behind the firing line, so you’ll have to learn some new gun handling habits. There’s etiquette to learn, too, and expectations to adjust. Basically, there are four types of hunting dogs you may encounter.
Pointing dogs (English setters, German shorthaired pointers, Brittanys and many others) freeze when they get close to upland birds. Commercial lodges like pointing dogs because they create a controlled situation, allowing hunters to get into position before the bird flushes. Most pointing dogs retrieve, too.
Retrievers (Labs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, etc) are used primarily for waterfowl hunting. They wait in the blind with the hunters until birds fall, then fetch them.
Flushers (spaniels, mostly, as well as retriever breeds like Labs and golden retrievers) roust upland birds out of cover instead of stopping to point them.
Hounds (beagles are the most popular) chase four-footed game big and small, usually baying as they go. You may hunt deer, hogs, mountain lions or raccoons with hounds, although it’s most likely you’ll hunt rabbits with beagles.
The only way to carry a gun safely when you’re walking after dogs is with the muzzle up, usually in the port arms position.
Fully trained dogs are supposed to be “steady to flush,” that is, to not move when the bird goes up, but many are not. Some young dogs will chase the bird quite a ways, and a few will even jump to try to catch it. Wait until you can see sky underneath the bird before you shoot. If the bird stays low (as especially often happens with game farm quail) let it go. The dog will find it again and next time you might get a safer shot.
You may see rabbits when you’re bird hunting, or, often at game farms, you’ll see birds running on the ground. Don’t shoot them even if you’re sure you know where the dog is. It’s not worth the risk. Rabbit hunting with beagles is the huge exception. If you don’t shoot rabbits on the ground, you’ll never shoot them. Typically beagles will jump a rabbit and give chase. Rabbits usually circle back to where they started, and hunters wait for a shot. Pick a spot that gives you a clear view of the rabbit and what’s behind it, and be sure to positively identify your target.
The dog’s owner is in charge of their dog. There are more hazards to dogs than getting shot. Heat, busy roads, snakes, etc. If you see a dog in harms way or if the dog looks injured make sure to try and find the owner before proceeding with any type of care. Also do not give commands to another person’s dog during a hunt.