While most dogs today spend their days laying around the house on various pieces of furniture, dogs have spent decades being trained and bred into specific roles in order to earn their place by our side. Man’s best friend has many roles to fill, and so different breeds were selected for different roles. Herding dog breeds are adept at protecting livestock from predators. Small terrier breeds are used to catch rats, completely blowing away the idea of barn cats or mousers. And then there are hunting dog breeds.
Humans spend a lot of time hunting and gathering, and with a four-legged buddy by your side, the task of tracking, killing, and retrieving prey has gotten a lot easier. However, there are so many different hunting dog breeds to choose from, which can make deciding on a breed pretty difficult. There are big and small game dogs, bred to chase down prey and latch on, drive prey up trees and keep it there, or dig down into dens to flush prey out. Bird hunting dogs are a bit different, although the end goal remains the same. Bird hunting dogs are divided into three distinct categories that all have specialized breeds within them.
Retrievers were bred to, you guessed it, retrieve. These dogs are bred specifically to retrieve birds and bring them back to their owner undamaged. Dogs under this classification have soft mouths, able to pick up birds without crushing them. Many dogs of similar breeding standards make great family pets today, although they do require mental stimulation otherwise they can become destructive. Retrievers have the unfortunate luck of becoming obese rather easily, often because they counter or table surf as well as rip into the garbage when they’re bored, but just like taking care of any breed, understanding dog nutrition is the first step in keeping them in shape and alert.
1. Labrador retriever:
The labrador retriever is the most common retriever breed in the United States and many other places around the globe. With thick, double coats to repel water, webbed toes to propel themselves quickly, and a tail described by breeders as ‘rudder-like’, these black or yellow-colored dogs are made for work in the water. Labs are used for retrieving waterfowl, most commonly ducks but also geese sometimes.
2. Curly-coated retriever:
A close cousin of the Labrador bred to sport a curly coat. These dogs can do anything a Lab can, but better according to many hunters. Curly-coated retrievers do have a propensity for anxiety around strangers, so like any dog, they should be properly socialized before hunting training begins otherwise you can end up with a dog that can’t function around people other than their owner. Curly-coated retrievers are typically a deep, chocolate brown with floppy ears just like their cousins.
3. Golden retriever:
These golden-haired pups are incredibly friendly, with a desire to be of service rivaled only by their skill to retrieve prey. Golden retrievers are common household pets and hard workers, with many of their breeds being used in television, hunting, and working as service dogs. Don’t let their cuddly nature fool you though, because Goldens can be destructive if not mentally stimulated enough.
Other retrievers include the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and other dogs that aren’t official members of the Retriever breed but have great potential for retrieving such as:
- Blackmouth Curs
- Irish Setters
- Standard Poodles
- Tibetan Terrier
- Dutch Partridge dog
When choosing a retriever, think about the type of bird you wish to hunt. Many retriever breeds were designed for life partially in the water resulting in webbed toes and water-resistant coats that help with buoyancy.
Pointing dogs are iconic, often gracing the cover of hunting magazines or picturesque country scenes. These dogs are bred to track the scent of a bird, locate where it is hiding inside of brush or tall grass, and point at them . Imagine a dog-shaped neon sign showing you, the hunter, where your dinner was. Pointing breeds often require a lot of mental stimulation and rigorous exercise to keep them from becoming a terror, but if kept properly stimulated their ability to function as a four-legged street sign knows no bounds. Some pointing breeds also double as Flushing dogs, making a priceless two-for-one combo. Untrained Pointers can easily take off on their owner after ascent, ignoring recall commands as they’re entranced by their desire to work. To ease fears of your dog getting lost you could consider investing in one of the best dog GPS tracker collars.
1. German Shorthaired Pointer:
This is one of the most commonly seen and versatile hunting dog breeds. Their unique brown and white dappled coat is often what people imagine when they think of a pointer. German Shorthaired Pointers have webbed feet and love the water just like a Labrador. These dogs are whip-smart and ready to prove themselves.
Hailing from Hungary, the Vizsla is a dog with incredible intelligence and endurance. These guys form a very strong bond with their owner, so much so that they are prone to developing separation anxiety in dogs. A good way to teach a smidgeon of independence is to crate train your dog. While crate training can be used for potty training, the benefits of crate training go beyond simply learning to hold it. Teaching your pup that a dog crate is their safe space, or their den, can lower stress levels and offer them a way to self-soothe when they feel stressed.
Often called a Brittany Spaniel, this dog isn’t actually classified as a spaniel at all. Brittanys are sought after for their size because being smaller than most pointers, they eat less and are easier to travel with. Brittanys are also prone to separation anxiety and respond very well to positive training techniques instead of authoritarian methods.
Other pointer dog options:
- English setter
- Gordon setter
- Irish Setter
- Irish Red and White Setter
- Bracco Italiano
- Braque Saint-Germain
- Small Munsterlander
Although today’s pointers are for hunters with guns, originally the pointers helped hunters who netted their prey before it could fly away. A pointer must maintain its form and be able to shift direction if the bird moves without pouncing or flushing the bird unless commanded to do so. Their job is to watch the bird while the hunter moves within range to shoot it.
Flushing refers to the act of startling birds out of their hiding spot and out into the open so that the hunter can shoot them. Flushing dogs are trained specifically to do just that. Many flushing dogs can be cross-trained to retrieve and a select few have a natural talent for pointing as well as flushing. All pointers can flush but not all flushers can point. Many members of the Spaniel family were designed for flushing, and as such their coats were bred to be longer or thicker to help them maneuver through brush and undergrowth that might contain thorns.
1. Boykin Spaniel
Bob-tailed, brown Boykin Spaniels are beautiful dogs. With a coat that can be more on the shaggy side of the curly side, these rather light, medium-sized dogs are eager to please and incredibly easy to train. Boykins also have webbed toes like many of their retriever cousins, designed to maneuver through the swamps of South Carolina after various waterfowl and wild turkeys.
2. Springer Spaniel
Springer Spaniels were bred to flush pheasants, grouse, and bobwhite quail from the grasses they’re hunkered down in. They got their name because of the way they ‘spring’ into the bushes in order to startle the birds. Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels used to be the same breed, with the puppies being designated Springer or Cocker based on their size. Eventually, they have deemed two entirely different breeds.
Other great flushing dogs are actually pulling double duty as retrievers. Labradors, Goldens, and Brittanys make great double-threats as both flushers and retrievers. Consider your preferred style of hunting when choosing a Birding breed. If your goal is primarily waterfowl then a Lab or Golden can often do anything you ask of them. For grouse or pheasants, consider a spaniel. With proper motivation and training pretty much any birding dog can be trained to perform all three styles of bird hunting, although if you’re expecting one dog to carry the weight between three different jobs there will always be considerable room for error.
Spaniels are a diverse group of hunting dogs, all designed to assist with different types of prey. American Water Spaniels were used in the development of Boykin Spaniels and have a great natural talent for retrieving. Picardy Spaniels and Blue Picardy Spaniels are quiet breeds that require a lot of exercises because they have so much endurance. They also excel at flushing waterfowl. The German Spaniel was designed for quail but has a sturdy frame, enabling it to retrieve heavier game like hares and foxes. Similarly, the Stabyhoun is also adept at hunting foxes, but is smaller than the German Spaniel and is a great option for small game and birds including waterfowl.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sporting Breeds:
What kind of dog is a bird dog?
Bird dogs also called pointing dogs or gun dogs, are a group of breeds designed to aid their owner while hunting for birds. These dogs are usually divided into three, specialized classes: Retrievers, who bring the bird back after it’s been shot, flushing dogs who trounce through the underbrush or grass to stir birds up and get them into the air, and pointing breeds, who perform a distinct pointing action with their muzzles and bodies in order to indicate where birds are situated.
What is the best pointing bird dog?
The answer to this query highly depends on the owners’ preference. Some people prefer setters, which include English, Irish, and Gordon setters. Most setters are medium to large in size, but smaller options include Small Munsterlanders and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. All pointers have a deeply set intelligence and require a devoted trainer in order to make full use of their skills.
Which dog is best for hunting?
This also depends on what kind of hunting is being done. Some dogs are better for waterfowl such as Labrador retrievers, who were bred to retrieve ducks. Beagles are smaller scenthounds designed to track rabbits. Coonhounds focus all their energy on bigger games like boars and Weimaraners are perfect for chasing down small prey. Many breeds of bird hunting dogs can be used in multiple hunting styles as well. Retrievers are the true MVPs of the hunting world, readily adapting to whatever we throw at them.