Context . Dogs aid hunters in many parts of Australia. Because of close proximity, transfer of zoonotic disease between hunters, hunting dogs and wildlife can, and does, occur. Knowledge about cooperative hunting between humans and domestic dogs and interactions with wildlife in Australia is limited, but is necessary to improve zoonotic-risk mitigation strategies.
Aims . We aimed to describe the frequency and geographic distribution of hunting with dogs, and to document interactions between them and wildlife that could contribute to zoonosis transmission.
Methods . Australian hunters were invited via web-based hunting forums, hunting supply stores and government agency communications to complete an online questionnaire about their hunting activities.
Key results . Most of the 440 responding hunters resided on Australia’s eastern coast. Pest animal management and recreation were their primary drivers for hunting with dogs. Most hunters used one or two dogs, and travelled ≥500 km to target feral pigs, rabbits, birds and deer. Almost a quarter of respondents (N = 313) had lost a dog while hunting, but most (93%, N = 61) were reportedly recovered within a few hours. Half the respondents indicated that they had encountered wild dogs while hunting, and reported a range of consequences from non-contact interactions through to attacks on the hunting dog or hunter.
Conclusions . Australian hunters frequently used dogs to assist in hunts of birds and introduced mammals, particularly where access was difficult because of rough terrain or thick vegetation. Interactions between hunters and non-target animals such as wild dogs were common, providing potential pathways for the spread of diseases. Furthermore, hunting expeditions >500 km from the point of residence occurred regularly, which could facilitate translocation of important zoonotic diseases between states and the creation of disparate foci of disease spread, even into highly populated areas.
Implications . Our improved understanding of hunting-dog use in Australia is essential to quantify the risk of disease transmission between wildlife and humans, identify transmission pathways and devise management plans to quash disease outbreaks. To promote rapid detection of exotic diseases, hunters should be encouraged to report unusual wildlife behaviour and interactions with their dogs.