Can Labs Coon Hunt? (7 Facts You Must Know)

By Benjamin Tash

Wondering if your Labrador has what it takes to hunt raccoons? Interested in understanding their hunting instincts and how to train them for such activities?

We got you covered!

Here’s Whether Or Not Labradors Can Hunt Racoons:

Yes, Labradors can be utilized in coon hunting due to their inherent abilities and characteristics. Their powerful sense of smell allows them to track and locate raccoons even in complex environments. Labradors’ innate flushing out skills also enable them to drive raccoons out of their hiding spots. They’re naturally adept at treeing and baying by cornering and containing the raccoons effectively.

Not only that, their ‘soft mouth’ quality ensures gentle handling of the catch and their exceptional night vision contributes to effective night hunting. Notably, American Labradors with their high energy levels and endurance are especially suited for this activity.

In this extensive guide, we explore eight reasons why and how Labradors are remarkable raccoon hunters by scrutinizing their intrinsic capabilities and aptitudes. We’ll also decipher which type of Labradors are ideally suited for this hunting task for effective training.

To top it off, we’ll also walk you through a detailed 10-step training plan that is meticulously designed to hone your Labrador’s hunting skills.

Labrador Coon Hunting
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7 Ways How and Why Labradors Are Exceptional At Hunting Raccoons

1) Tracking by Scent

Labradors have approximately 220 million scent receptors in their noses —  a feature which naturally places them in a league of excellent scent-tracking animals.

This exceptional olfactory prowess is pivotal in hunting scenarios and certainly so when it comes to tracking raccoons.

Raccoons typically leave behind a specific scent trail that a Labrador can pick up on. Each raccoon has a unique smell associated with its bodily secretions, and Labradors have the capacity to distinguish these individual odors amid a plethora of other smells in the environment.

This scent profile acts as an invisible map that Labradors can follow which is a cornerstone of how they can hunt raccoons effectively using their sense of smell.

It’s interesting to note that Labradors, unlike humans, have the ability to scent in ‘stereo’. This means they can smell out of each nostril independently which allows them to determine the direction of the scent.

When a Labrador sniffs, air is split into two separate flow paths – one for breathing and one dedicated solely to smelling. This division of air, along with their ability to hold onto the scent without needing to exhale quickly, makes Labradors exceptional at tracking scents over long distances even in the face of competing odors.

The outdoor environment, where raccoon hunting typically occurs, is rife with distractions. The multitude of smells from other animals, plants and the earth itself can potentially confuse less proficient scent-tracking dogs.

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However, Labradors, due to their ability to sort through and prioritize the various scents they encounter are capable of locking onto the raccoon’s scent and maintaining their focus on it.

In the course of a hunt, Labradors follow the scent trail left behind by the raccoon and track its path through various terrains and obstacles.

They can detect subtle changes in the intensity and direction of the scent which helps them identify if a raccoon has changed its course or attempted to evade the hunt by backtracking or climbing.

Check also on how Labradors can utilize their exceptional scent tracking ability in hunting rabbits here: Can Labradors Hunt Rabbits? (9 Things You Should Know)

2) Locating Den Sites

Labradors have a highly developed sense of smell, excellent endurance and a keen sense of intuition which contribute to their efficiency in identifying and locating den sites.

Labradors can utilize their profound sense of smell to pick up on the distinct and musky odor that raccoons emit. This odor is particularly strong around den sites which allows Labradors to sniff them out from considerable distances.

Also, raccoons have a tendency to choose their den sites in distinctive locations, such as:

  • Hollowed-out trees,
  • Abandoned buildings,
  • Complex underground burrows.

A Labrador’s instinctive curiosity and investigative nature come in handy here as they’re prone to inspect such potential hiding places thoroughly that can lead them right to the raccoon dens.

Apart from this, Labradors have a strong and sturdy physical build which allows them to navigate the difficult terrains where these den sites are typically located. Labradors are known for their ability to handle challenging terrains which could range from rocky outcrops to dense underbrush.

Their large, webbed paws provide the necessary grip and stability on uneven surfaces and their dense coat offers protection against harsh weather conditions and brambles.

Furthermore, Labradors are naturally persistent and determined creatures. When they are on the trail of a scent, they can focus intensely on the task at hand.

This persistence, when applied to locating den sites, means that once they have picked up on a scent, they are highly likely to follow it to its source.

3) Flushing Out

The “flushing out” method of coon hunting is an interesting aspect where Labradors shine due to their unique blend of traits. This strategy involves locating and then driving the game – in this case, raccoons – out from their hiding places or dens into the open for a better shot.

Labradors are inherently geared for flushing out tasks owing to their strong natural instincts, powerful physique and persistent temperament. Raccoons typically hide in dense and hard-to-reach areas.

A Labrador’s robust build, equipped with strong muscles and webbed feet, aids them to traverse challenging terrains and dense underbrushes which are often essential for flushing out raccoons.

Further, Labradors are originally bred as hunting dogs, specifically for waterfowl retrieval. Their primary role involved flushing out birds from their hideouts.

This inherent flushing instinct translates well into coon hunting as well which enables them to effectively drive raccoons out from their hiding spots.

Another crucial trait for flushing out is the dog’s noise level. Labradors, when excited or on the trail of a scent, tend to vocalize their findings. This behavior can actually assist in coon hunting by startling the raccoon and inducing it to leave its den or hiding place.

The barking of the Labrador can also help the hunter locate the dog and, in turn, the game.

Not only that, Labradors are a breed known for their intelligence and adaptability. They are quick learners and can easily grasp what their handlers expect of them in different hunting situations.

While flushing out raccoons, they can assess the situation and adapt their strategy as required which makes them efficient at this form of hunting.

You might also be interested in how Labradors flush out birds during hunting here: Do Labs Hunt & Kill Birds?

4) Treeing

“Treeing” is a common hunting technique especially associated with coon hunting. This method involves the dog tracking the game – in this case, raccoons – forcing it to ascend a tree for safety, and then alerting the hunter by baying at the base of the tree.

Labradors, though not typically known for treeing in the way hound breeds are, have traits that allow them to perform this task effectively when coon hunting.

To begin with, Labradors have a natural instinct for tracking and following scents. This instinct is highly beneficial in treeing as the primary objective is to track the raccoon until it seeks refuge up a tree.

Given the raccoon’s innate behavior to escape predators by climbing, a well-followed trail by a Labrador often ends with the raccoon in a tree.

The keen sense of smell of Labradors further facilitates the tracking aspect of treeing.

Labradors, like most retrievers, are equipped with an exceptional olfactory system that enables them to:

  • Distinguish scents
  • Follow scents over long distances
  • Navigate complex terrains

When it comes to tracking a raccoon to a tree, this acute sense of smell gives Labradors a distinct advantage.

Once the raccoon is in a tree, the next critical step in treeing is the dog’s ability to alert the hunter and this is typically done through barking. Labradors with their innate desire to please their owners and their communicative nature, are often quite vocal when they’ve found something.

When a raccoon is treed, a Labrador will be able to typically stay at the base of the tree, looking up and barking, thereby alerting the hunter to the located game.

Labradors would also sometimes roll in dirt to mask its smell during the hunting process. If you find troublesome, explore more here: How To Stop Labrador Rolling In Fox Poo? (12 Step-By-Step Tips)

5) Baying

“Baying” is a term used to describe the specific kind of vocalization hunting dogs use when they have successfully located or cornered game. It’s a distinctive deep and prolonged howl that serves as a communication tool between the dog and the hunter.

Even though Labradors are not typically known for their baying like some hound breeds, they have the capability to utilize this method when coon hunting given their intelligence, adaptability and strong desire to communicate with their owners.

Labradors are one of the most intelligent breeds with a strong inclination to please their owners. This combined intelligence and eagerness mean that when a Labrador locates a raccoon, they instinctively want to inform their owner about their success.

Labrador successful coon hunting
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This communication can manifest as baying — a long, deep, and repetitive bark that is significantly different from their regular vocalizations.

Their distinct sound of baying can carry well over distances which makes it an effective signal even in dense forest conditions where visual contact might be lost.

Labradors are also highly adaptable dogs. They are versatile in their roles — working as:

  • Service dogs,
  • Search and rescue dogs,
  • Hunting dogs,

to name a few. Their adaptability allows them to pick up the behavioral characteristics needed for specific tasks. In the case of coon hunting, this could mean adopting the habit of baying to communicate the presence of a treed raccoon.

It’s important to note that while Labradors might not bay in the same frequency or intensity as some hound breeds, they can still convey the necessary information to the hunter.

They are known for their expressive nature and their vocalizations, combined with body language can provide the hunter with the information they need.

For instance, a Labrador might stand rigid with its tail straight, ears perked up and continuously emit deep barks to indicate the location of a treed raccoon.

6) Retrieving

Labradors are famous for their retrieving abilities, primarily due to their historical role as waterfowl retrievers which has ingrained in them the natural instinct to retrieve game.

The application of this instinct extends beyond waterfowl hunting to other forms of hunting, including coon hunting.

When we think of a coon hunt, the first image that comes to mind might be the climactic scene of a dog baying at the base of a tree with a raccoon trapped up above.

However, there’s more to coon hunting than this single image and the Labrador retriever’s role is not limited to merely locating and treeing the raccoon.

Their role expands into the retrieval of the raccoon post the hunt. This is where the Labrador’s natural retrieving instinct shines.

Imagine a night hunt with a Labrador. Once it has tracked, trailed and treed a raccoon, its hunting partner will come over and dispatch the raccoon from the tree. As the raccoon falls to the ground, the Labrador’s retrieving instincts kick into gear.

It will then rush over to the fallen game and, with a soft mouth bred through generations of selective breeding, picks up the raccoon. Despite the size or the weight of the raccoon, it would be gentle not to cause any further damage to it.

This is particularly important as often the game may be sold or used for meat and any additional damage could decrease its value or usability.

This retrieval process is not a mere collection task for Labradors. It requires:

  • Mental acuity
  • Physical dexterity
  • The ability to navigate through potentially difficult terrain, underbrush, or even across bodies of water

Labs are able to easily bring back the raccoon to their human partner. Also, this process also taps into a Labrador’s natural desire to please their human partner.

The act of retrieval is rewarding for them; it signifies a successful end to a joint hunting endeavor.

7) Night Hunting

With raccoons typically being most active during the night, the Labrador’s adaptability to various lighting conditions becomes essential in these scenarios.

Labradors have extraordinary vision adapted for low light conditions which is a direct consequence of the structure of their eyes. They have more rod cells in their retinas than humans and other dog breeds which allow them to see more clearly in dim light.

Furthermore, their eyes also have a special layer called the tapetum lucidum that reflects light back through the retina which enhances the light available to the dog’s photoreceptors and improving their ability to see in the dark.

In the thick of night, when hunting raccoons, a Labrador’s advanced night vision can significantly enhance its tracking and chasing capabilities.

Its keen eyes can catch the slightest movement amidst darkness — helping it trace the path of a raccoon and allowing it to effectively locate its prey.

When a raccoon tries to escape by utilizing the darkness as a cloak, a Labrador’s excellent night vision provides it an edge in this cat-and-mouse game.

In addition to their impressive night vision, Labradors also rely on their excellent sense of smell during night hunts. When the darkness impedes even their superior vision, their noses prove indispensable.

Able to detect a wide range of odors, Labradors can follow the scent trail left by raccoons even if the trail is hours old. This smell-to-vision combination enhances their tracking ability during night hunts and increases their effectiveness in locating and retrieving raccoons.

However, it’s not just about physical capabilities. The Labrador’s natural curiosity and high energy levels contribute to its prowess in night hunting as well.

They are dogs that love to explore and aren’t easily deterred by the challenges that darkness may present. Their fearless nature and determination only amplify their efficiency in the pursuit of raccoons in the dark.

With that said, the Labrador’s attributes that make it a formidable force during night hunts are:

  • Remarkable night vision,
  • Exceptional sense of smell,
  • Indomitable spirit.

These attributes when combined enable it to excel at tracking, chasing, and ultimately retrieving raccoons regardless of how dark the environment might be.

For more information on Labrador’s exceptional eyesight ability, check out this article here: A Detailed Explanation on Why Labradors Have Amazing Eyesight

Which Type Of Labrador Is Better Suited For Coon Hunting

When it comes to coon hunting, the American Labrador is generally better suited due to several factors.

American Labradors have been bred for generations with a focus on maintaining their hunting capabilities and physical stamina. Their leaner bodies which often stand taller than their English counterparts enable them to navigate various terrains with greater ease.

These physical attributes contribute to their agility and endurance which is vital for the rigorous demands of coon hunting.

American Labradors also have a higher energy level — a trait intrinsically tied to their lineage. This increased energy equates to a higher drive to work, run, track and retrieve, all essential aspects of successful coon hunting.

They are also known for their indefatigable nature in maintaining their zest even after hours of active pursuit.

In contrast, English Labradors, with their stockier build and calmer temperament, have been primarily bred for the show ring rather than the field. They typically have a more laid-back personality, often described as more ‘couch-potato’ like.

While they are capable hunters, their energy levels and physical capabilities may not match the demanding nature of coon hunting in the same way an American Labrador’s would.

They may tire more rapidly and not exhibit the same level of intensity or persistence in tracking raccoons compared to their American counterparts.

It’s essential, however, to note that while American Labradors might be better suited for the task, it doesn’t exclude English Labradors from being successful coon hunters. Much depends on the individual dog’s training, socialization and inherent traits.

Ultimately, when it comes to coon hunting, the American Labrador’s physical attributes, high energy levels and inherent drive for work provide them with an edge which making them better suited for the task.

Explore more on why English Labs are bigger here.

10 Step-By-Step Training Action Plan On How To Train Your Labrador To Hunt Raccoons Effectively

Step 1: Scent Introduction

Training a Labrador to hunt raccoons starts at the most fundamental level – the introduction of the raccoon’s scent.

The reason for this is twofold:

  • Labradors are renowned for their exceptional sense of smell which they rely heavily upon during hunting scenarios.
  • Raccoons possess a distinct scent and familiarizing your Labrador with this scent is the first step in developing their tracking skills.

You can introduce the scent to your Labrador by purchasing a raccoon scent from a hunting supply store. Apply this scent to a training dummy and allow your Labrador to sniff and explore it.

This process helps your Labrador associate the scent with the game, i.e., raccoons. Spend a few days on this step, frequently reinforcing the scent identification process.

Step 2: Basic Obedience

Before diving into more complex hunting skills, it’s vital that your Labrador has a strong foundation of basic obedience commands.

These commands, which include:

  • “Sit,”
  • “Stay,”
  • “Come,”
  • “Heel,”

are not only necessary for hunting but are also critical for ensuring your Labrador’s safety and good behavior during hunting scenarios.

Teaching these commands involves a combination of:

  • Verbal cues,
  • Hand signals,
  • Rewards,
  • Consistent practice.

For instance, you can teach the “sit” command by holding a treat above your Labrador’s head, moving it back over their body until they sit and then rewarding them.

Repeat these exercises regularly and gradually phase out the treats as your Labrador becomes more confident and responsive.

These lists detail the basic obedience commands and the components involved in teaching them, which are crucial for a Labrador’s training in hunting scenarios.

Step 3: Leash Training

Successful coon hunting requires your Labrador to be under control at all times, which is why leash training is a crucial part of their hunting education.

The objective here is to ensure your Labrador is comfortable wearing a leash and responds to gentle leash cues.

Begin this training in a calm and familiar environment. Attach the leash and let your Labrador get used to the feel of it. Start with short walks, praising and rewarding your Labrador for staying close and not pulling.

Gradually extend the length of these walks, incorporating distractions and different environments to simulate the conditions they might encounter during a hunt.

As your Labrador becomes more proficient, introduce more advanced skills like:

  • Stopping,
  • Changing direction,
  • Recalling on the leash.

Remember, the goal is to develop a Labrador that is controlled, calm, and attentive on the leash, even in stimulating and unpredictable hunting scenarios.

This list outlines the advanced skills to be introduced in leash training, which are essential for maintaining control of a Labrador in various hunting scenarios.

Step 4: Scent Tracking

Now that your Labrador is familiar with the raccoon’s scent, the next step is to teach them how to track it. Begin by leaving a scent trail with the raccoon scent-doused dummy.

Start with short, straight trails in a familiar environment which encourages your Labrador to follow the scent. Reward your Labrador for successfully tracking the scent to the dummy.

Over time, make the trails longer, add turns, and introduce different elements to simulate real hunting conditions, such as:

  • Various terrains,
  • Distractions,
  • Unpredictability of a real-life hunting scenario.

The ultimate goal here is for your Labrador to confidently and successfully track the scent under various conditions and distractions that emulate the unpredictability of a real-life hunting scenario.

Step 5: Dummy Retrieval

An essential aspect of coon hunting is the retrieval process. For this step, you’ll use the raccoon-scented dummy again.

Begin this training in a controlled environment, such as your backyard. Throw the dummy and command your Labrador to “fetch.” Once your Labrador picks up the dummy, command them to “come” and “drop” to release the dummy.

Repeat these steps, gradually increasing the distance and complexity of the fetch.

The objective of this step is to ensure your Labrador can retrieve the game (in this case, the dummy) and return it to you efficiently, which is a crucial part of a successful hunting endeavor.

The key commands in this training are:

  • “Fetch” – to retrieve the dummy,
  • “Come” and “Drop” – to return and release the dummy.

Step 6: Noise Conditioning

Hunting environments are usually filled with unexpected and loud noises, from the firing of a hunter’s gun to the startling sounds of wildlife.

Hence, it is crucial that your Labrador is conditioned to these sounds to prevent anxiety or fear during an actual hunt.

Begin with soft noises and gradually increase the volume and intensity over time.

For example, you might start with:

  • Recorded hunting sounds played at a low volume,
  • Gradually increasing the volume as your Labrador grows more comfortable.

Remember, the aim of this step is to familiarize your Labrador with the sounds associated with hunting, thereby minimizing their potential stress or shock during an actual hunt.

This conditioning should be done gradually and carefully to avoid causing fear or anxiety in your Labrador.

Step 7: Night Training

Night training should commence with allowing your Labrador to get comfortable with the unique sensory aspects of the dark.

The darkness brings a myriad of different sounds and smells and your Labrador needs to navigate this efficiently. In the initial stages, simple exploration of a familiar outdoor area at night will suffice.

As your Labrador grows comfortable with this, integrate essential commands such as:

  • “Sit,”
  • “Stay,”
  • “Come,”

during these nighttime escapades. This integration is key to maintaining obedience in a sensory-challenged environment.

Following this, the introduction of dummy retrieval exercises will acclimatize your Labrador to find and retrieve objects without daylight’s aid.

Over time, these night training sessions should evolve to simulate real night hunting conditions in more expansive and unfamiliar environments.

The ultimate goal is to improve the Labrador’s adaptability in varied contexts.

Step 8: Tree Indication

Training your Labrador to effectively indicate a tree starts with hanging a raccoon-scented dummy from a tree’s low branch in a familiar outdoor area.

Encourage your Labrador to track the dummy’s scent and positively reinforce successful detection.

As your Labrador finds the dummy, train them to indicate this through a specific action, such as barking or sitting and looking back at you.

By progressively increasing the dummy’s height over time, your Labrador will develop the habit of looking upward into the trees when tracking raccoons, rather than just at the ground level.

Step 9: Non-Engagement Training

Non-engagement training initiates with the introduction of a new, raccoon-sized dummy to your Labrador.

The training aims to condition the Labrador to approach the dummy and halt at a safe distance.

A specific command such as “stay” or “back” can facilitate this. A reward system, upon successful following of the command, helps reinforce the desired behavior, which involves:

  • Approaching the dummy,
  • Halting at a safe distance.

With continuous practice, your Labrador will reliably maintain a safe distance from the dummy. Over time, the Labrador should internalize that its role is to locate and indicate not to engage directly.

Step 10: Field Practice

With a sound foundation of the previous steps, we are now at the apex of this action plan: field practice. At this juncture, your Labrador has developed vital skills such as:

  • Scent tracking,
  • Dummy retrieval,
  • Tree indication,
  • Non-engagement behavior,

all finely honed through intensive training.

The final test of these abilities lies in a real-world scenario, wherein your Labrador must display these skills in a harmonized fashion to hunt raccoons successfully.

To initiate field practice, start with a controlled environment to minimize the risks. A fenced area where the raccoon scent trails have been prepared can serve as a perfect ground to kickstart field practice.

Here, your Labrador will get a feel of what a genuine raccoon hunt looks like. It’s crucial to keep this training humane and safe.

That means, in these sessions, a scent trail can lead to a treed raccoon dummy instead of an actual raccoon.

As the Labrador gradually gains confidence and shows consistency in its performance, you can progressively expose it to more varied and challenging environments.

This graduated exposure allows the dog to adapt its skills to the ever-changing scenarios of actual raccoon hunting. You might also want to consider getting involved in:

  • Organized hunt tests,
  • Field trials for dogs,

as these events provide a safe yet realistic hunting environment that can be beneficial for your Labrador.

References — Using Labs For Coon Hunting — How To Hunt