If you enjoy the sport of hunting, then you might benefit from having a dog by your side. It's believed that humans and dogs have been hunting together since the beginning of canine domestication, long before the age of agriculture. Hunting was likely an integral part of the development of each species, especially because it was necessary for each to survive. There are a few important skills a dog should possess to be good at hunting: a strong prey drive, receptiveness to training, endurance, and athleticism.
Here are 10 dog breeds that make excellent hunting dogs.
In general, the most common hunting dogs are scent hounds or gun dogs. What you plan to hunt should determine the type of dog you get.
- Gun dogs: Often called bird dogs as that is their primary prey, these dogs also sometimes hunt smaller animals, such as rabbits. A gun dog is used to locate prey and flush it out for the hunter to shoot. The dog usually retrieves the quarry for the hunter.
- Scent hounds: This dog follows prey trails with its nose, making a lot of noise while running after it. The dog's calls enable the hunter to follow the trail even when the dog is out of sight. Some scent hounds focus on pursuing prey. Others are "treeing" dogs that chase the prey up a tree and wait at the base until hunters arrive.
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The Labrador retriever is one of the most popular gun dogs. This enthusiastic, energetic, and loyal dog breed can withstand cold temperatures and easily swim through cold water. Labradors are often considered best for duck hunting. When not on the hunt, Labs make an excellent companion and family dog thanks to their friendliness and willingness to please.
Height: 21 to 24 inches
Weight: 55 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, athletic build; smooth, water-resistant coat; otter-like tail; broad skull and powerful jaw; friendly eyes
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Similar to Labradors, golden retrievers also are gun dogs. They are excellent for hunting birds and other small prey. Goldens are enthusiastic, loyal, and very trainable. They also make wonderful family companions and have a reputation for getting along very well with children. But they do need lots of activity to exercise their minds and bodies.
Height: 21 to 24 inches
Weight: 55 to 75 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, muscular build; lustrous gold coat; broad head; friendly and intelligent eyes; short ears
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The beagle is a scent hound with an amazing nose and a loud voice. This breed is primarily used to hunt small game, especially rabbits. Beagles also make excellent companions for all kinds of households and are typically good with kids. They are known for being quite loving and eager to please.
Height: 13 to 15 inches
Weight: 20 to 25 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Muscular body with a domed skull; squarish muzzle; long, floppy ears; perky, long tail held upward
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The American foxhound is a scent hound full of determination. This running hound thrives on the chase. Bred from English foxhounds, the breed was first used mainly to hunt foxes. In time, the breed also was involved in deer hunting. Foxhounds make loving and loyal companions, but they do need lots of exercise each day to satisfy their high energy and endurance levels.
Height: 21 to 28 inches
Weight: 60 to 70 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Long, lean legs; long, curved tail; large head; droopy earsContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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The English springer spaniel is an excellent bird dog that is especially good at flushing out and chasing pheasants. This dog has retrieving skills that can match those of the Labrador and golden retriever. And the English springer spaniel's slightly smaller size makes it better suited to navigate smaller spaces on the hunt. When not at work, the springer makes an excellent family dog.
Height: 19 to 20 inches
Weight: 40 to 53 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Dense, medium-length coat with feathering; gentle facial expression; drop ears
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The pointer, sometimes called the English pointer, is a bird dog with a high prey drive and a determined spirit. The pointer will pursue prey, such as quail and pheasants, with vigor. Plus, the breed is fairly heat-tolerant and therefore suited for hunting in warmer climates. Whether on the hunt or on the couch, a pointer makes a loyal, loving companion.
Height: 17 to 21 inches
Weight: 45 to 75 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Lean, muscular frame; short, dense coat; stands upright to point to a target with its wide nose and long tail outstretched
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The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a determined and athletic gun dog. This breed is intelligent and typically quite devoted to its owner. Like the Lab, the Chessie is suited to cold water as its oily coat gives it a natural resistance to the water. But unlike the Lab, this breed is not necessarily everyone's best friend. A Chessie is fiercely loyal to its family but can be wary of strangers.
Height: 21 to 26 inches
Weight: 55 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Muscular build; wavy, oily coat; usually brown or tan
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The bluetick coonhound is a scent hound that can pursue and tree just about any creature it finds. This breed has even been known to chase cougars and mountain lions. These are high-energy dogs with excellent noses. They can be quite vocal, even when not pursuing game. While not typically ideal for apartment living, the bluetick makes an excellent companion for very active households.
Height: 21 to 27 inches
Weight: 45 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Short, sleek, and shiny coat in dark blue with a thickly mottled body; black spots on back, ears, and sides; may have tan markingsContinue to 9 of 10 below.
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The English setter is a gun dog known for its pointing, running, and hunting skills. These dogs also can be trained to retrieve, making them excellent at bird hunting. As the popularity of setters rose, they were split into two categories: conformation and field. Field dogs are smaller and more lightly feathered, making them best for hunting. Conformation dogs are suited to be show dogs and pets due to their larger frames and long feathers. However, the field setter can be an excellent companion as well.
Height: 25 to 27 inches
Weight: 65 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Large head; medium-length fur that's flat, silky, and a little wavy; feathering on the ears, tail, legs, and underside; long ears; long, thin neck and tail
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The Irish setter is a gun dog known for its beautiful red coat and its graceful agility. Like English setters, the breed is divided into show-quality and field dogs. The Irish setter is tougher than it looks; this breed is rugged, hard-working, and determined to pursue birds. Irish setters also make friendly, affectionate, and gentle companions for all kinds of families, but they need lots of exercise to keep them happy.
Height: 24 to 27 inches
Weight: 35 to 70 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Coat is most commonly flat, silky, long, and soft; deep chestnut red or mahogany coloring; feathering on the chest, belly, legs, tail, and ears; neck and tail outstretch to point in the direction of game
Breeds to Avoid
All dogs by nature have a prey drive. Before domestication, this instinct helped the canines find food. Over time, people decided to breed out the prey drive from some types of dogs. For the most part, these breeds were considered lap dogs and regal companions. They were labeled too sophisticated for domestic work, and breeding out the prey drive made them calmer companions. Dog breeds that don't make ideal hunting companions include the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Maltese, and Japanese Chin.
How do you train hunting dogs?
Turning a puppy into a hunting dog takes a good deal of training, including getting them used to the sound of the gun, teaching them to wait and retrieve, sharpening their nose to the smell of game, and more. Seasoned hunters may train their dogs on their own, but many people (including pros) turn to specialized facilities to train puppies ahead of being put to work as hunting dogs.
Why do hunting dogs have floppy ears?
Long ears are characteristic of many hunting breeds and help pick up scents from the trail and sweep their aroma toward the dog's nose, increasing their ability to track the scent of game.
What do hunting dogs eat?
Hunting dogs need a high-fat, high-protein diet with some carbs thrown in for good measure. This will keep them active and alert, and provide them with the energy they need to perform on long excursions.