14 hunting dog breeds
Keen noses, trainability, and exuberant energy have made dogs invaluable hunting companions for many generations. Good hunting dogs not only work alongside their hunters, using their scent tracking, bird flushing, and retrieving abilities, but many also make wonderful family pets. Modern hunting dogs are divided into two classes—gun dogs and scent dogs. Looking for the perfect hunting dog? Check out our list of 14 hunting dog breeds to determine which one is right for you.
Gun dogs specialize in flushing a bird from its hiding spot and retrieving the dead bird. Because they are bred to run long distances through rough or wet terrain, these dogs all have high exercise requirements, and some have coats that require upkeep.
#1: Labrador retriever
They’re the most popular dog breed in America, for good reason. Labs are wonderful family dogs who are easily trainable, with accurate hunting instincts. Inside the home, Labs are friendly and quick to bond with the entire family, including other family pets. A high-energy breed, Labs require plenty of activity to keep them in tip-top physical shape, but also to prevent them from becoming bored and destructive. Labradors are prone to certain genetic conditions, including hip and elbow dysplasia.
#2: Chesapeake Bay retriever
Also known as Chessies, these retrievers have many of the same hunting instincts and personality attributes as Labrador retrievers, but their circle of trust is usually limited to close family. Socialization must happen early and often so the dog does not become aggressive toward house guests and strangers. Chessies have a thick, oily coat that is ideal for retrieving fowl from water in northern climates, but does require weekly brushing. Like their Labrador counterparts, they can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia.
#3: Golden retriever
Golden retrievers are the perfect companion for a hunter with a family. They are smart, easy to train, eager to please, ideally suited to fowl sports, and willing to swim and retrieve all day long. Unfortunately, this majestic breed is prone to health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
#4: German shorthaired and wirehaired Pointers
These dogs have slightly different physical attributes, but similar personalities. They require a large amount of daily physical activity, so their owners must be prepared to exercise them on non-hunting days. German pointers are genetically prone to bloat, as well as hip and elbow dysplasia.
#5: Brittany spaniel
Brittanys may be smaller than Labradors, but they make up for their small stature with their fun-loving, spirited personalities. They are extremely trainable, so are perfectly suited for any variation of hunting or training sports. They need a full dose of daily exercise, but make fabulous family pets when given appropriate mental and physical stimulation.
#6: Irish setter
The Irish setter is a stunning red-coated dog that is an ideal family pet, as well as a perfect bird-hunting companion. Irish setters’ lean, leggy body gives them swiftness, but also makes them more likely to develop bloat. When choosing an Irish setter puppy, vetting the mother and father for signs of hip and elbow dysplasia is important.
#7: Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
These lesser-known dogs often have fiercely passionate owners. They may be physically smaller than other hunting dogs, but they have large personalities. They are incredibly intelligent dogs who are especially suited for retrieving waterfowl, but they can be stubborn and willful, which can make training difficult. These retrievers do require attention at home, because the long, luxurious coat that helps keep them warm when retrieving ducks requires some upkeep, and they must burn their boundless energy when they’re not hunting.
This magnificent red-coated dog is best suited for families who are experienced hunters, or an owner who has a lot of time to spend on training and exercise. The vizsla is one of the most versatile hunting breeds who will always be up for whatever you give him, and any time and energy committed toward training will be rewarded with a loyal, dedicated hunting companion and pet.
These silver-haired, instantly recognizable dogs are bred to be the perfect hunting companion, with long legs and a lean body that give them great speed and endurance. Weimaraners make wonderful family dogs, as long as they are provided daily physical activity. This breed’s body shape predisposes them to GDV.
#10: Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
The wirehaired pointing griffon is the ideal companion for the hunter who likes to hunt both land and game birds. Their long, lean bodies give them speed and endurance, and their webbed toes make them efficient swimmers. Their friendly, eager-to-please personalities make wirehaired pointing griffons perfect family dogs. Their versatility and personable temperament have earned them the “Supreme Gun Dog” nickname.
A scent dog helps his hunter by using his nose to track down large game, or by treeing small prey. Compared with gun dogs, scent dogs don’t usually require as much physical activity, but their vocal nature can present some challenges in the family home.
#11: American leopard hound
While not well-known, these dogs are one of the oldest American tree hounds. They can track large and small game with their powerful, reliable noses, as well as tolerate hot and cold temperature extremes. Leopard hounds are also tolerant, well-behaved family pets.
The beagle is one of the top 10 favorite American dog breeds. The breed’s small stature, combined with a happy-go-lucky personality, make them ideal family pets, and their nose and boundless work ethic make them perfect hunting companions. Because beagles were bred to hunt in a pack, they do best with company, and may become anxious and destructive when left alone. Many beagles are genetically prone to epilepsy.
These leggy cousins to the beagle were bred to lead hunters on horseback. They are well-known for their speed and instincts, but they should not be allowed to go off-leash because of their tendency to follow their nose. At home, foxhounds are gentle and easy-going family members, but only after dedicated, persistent socialization and training.
Dogs bred to hunt raccoons were important in settling the United States after the Revolutionary War. Their powerful noses and dedicated tracking helped trap raccoons in a tree for the hunter to kill and then harvest the meat and fur. Hunting dog breeds aren’t ideal for every family because of their intense exercise requirements and personality traits. However, many breeds make wonderful family pets, as well as excellent hunting companions, if they are provided appropriate training and exercise.