The best hunting dog breeds are bred to fit specific roles, but your choice of dog may also depend on the game you are hunting. Some people prefer Retriever breeds or Setters, but for others, Pointers or Spaniels will be right.
Hunting in the modern day is more of a sport than a necessity, and many hunting dogs are also kept as wonderful family pets. But, their incredible sense of smell, boundless energy, keen intelligence and all round strength makes them ideal hunting companions. Let’s take a look at our 15 favorite hunting dogs so you can find the best one for your needs.
1. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are a type of gundog bred to retrieve downed prey. They are able to remember the locations of multiple fallen birds and wait until the end of a hunt to retrieve them. Labs are also extremely popular family pets. These hunting dogs are medium sized, and can come in one of three coat colors: black, yellow, or chocolate.
Labradors are known to be great retrievers in every setting, from their early days working alongside fishermen, to later hunting roles retrieving birds and other game. Labs are intelligent, active, and eager to please, which makes training a dream for most owners. Their personality makes them popular as family pets as well as hunting dogs. They need plenty of regular exercise to stay happy and healthy – particularly as this breed is prone to becoming overweight.
Positive reward training works best for Labradors, who are often very food motivated and eager to work with you. As a very social breed, they will love the close bond that training gives!
The Greyhound is a popular sighthound breed. Although their original purpose involved chasing animals in the sport coursing, they are now often just used in racing or as family pets. These hunting dogs are medium sized, with long, sleek, and slender bodies. They come in a huge variety of colors, including different patterns.
As the name suggests, sighthounds like the Greyhound rely heavily on their eyesight to locate and track prey. They are typically slender, elegant breeds that are extremely quick and can chase down even the fastest prey. Greyhounds are alert, gentle, and energetic, although they enjoy relaxing with their owners as much as they love to run.
These dogs are happiest when they get the opportunity to run at full speed, so owners must make this opportunity possible on regular occasions for exercise. Greyhounds have strong chase instincts, so training is very important. Training can also offer some much needed mental and physical stimulation.
Beagles are often considered one of the best hunting dog breeds. They fall into the category scenthound, where they would originally work in packs, often to chase foxes alongside hunters on horseback. Beagles are one of the small hunting dog breeds. They are sturdy little dogs that most often come in a tri-color pattern – black, white, and tan.
Of course, scent hounds rely on their sense of smell to track and locate prey. They do not have the speed or endurance of sight hounds, but their superior sense of smell allows them to track animals and signal the prey’s whereabouts to the hunter. These little dogs are intelligent, energetic, and very friendly, especially when socialized well. They get along well with other dogs, but may have a strong chase instinct for small animals!
Beagles have a high energy level, so will suit families that can give them plenty of exercise every day. Because of their chase and hunting instincts, training and a strong recall is important. Beagles are very food-motivated, so positive reward training methods work best.
4. Irish Setter
Setter breeds, such as Irish Setters, are bred to locate and flush out hiding prey, particularly upland game birds. The Irish Setter is a medium sized hunting dog breed with a distinctive, feathered, red coat. Show and working varieties are starting to be distinguished, but are not their own separate breeds.
Unlike other hunting dog breeds, Setters like this do not chase or kill any other animals. Instead, they work alongside hunters, using their sense of smell to direct hunters towards their catch. In general, these dogs are known to be excitable, energetic, and loving. Owners often also say these dogs are mischievous, eager to please, and that they can be stubborn.
They’re an energetic hunting dog breed that needs plenty of exercise every day. They are happiest when they have a job to do. Irish Setters do best when trained with positive reward methods, as they can have a stubborn streak.
5. German Shorthaired Pointer
Another of the best hunting dog breeds is the German Shorthaired Pointer! The German Shorthair Pointer is excellent at hunting, tracking, pointing, and retrieving. GSPs are medium to large sized hunting dogs with big floppy ears and lean bodies. They have short coats that come in a variety of colors – most commonly liver and white. HPR dogs, such as German Pointers, are bred to locate and point at prey and are sometimes also used to retrieve and hunt, too. They’re multipurpose!
German Shorthaired Pointers are loyal, enthusiastic, and energetic around their owners, but may be aloof with strangers, especially if not socialized well. They can be quite vocal. These dogs need plenty of exercise so they can burn off energy. If they don’t get enough exercise, they may display undesirable behaviors.
It’s best to use positive training methods, as they can become quite stubborn if something upsets them during training.
6. Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels, like other types of Spaniel, are bred to locate prey and signal the hunter of its whereabouts. This is one of our medium to small hunting dog breeds. They have a wonderful soft, feathered coat that comes in a huge variety of colors. There is a significant difference between working and show types. Their name comes from the bird ‘Woodcock’, which is exactly what they originally hunted!
Working cockers are alert, energetic, and loyal. Show types are more common as family pets, because of lower enthusiasm and energy levels. Working varieties need plenty of exercise every day to burn off all that energy. Without it, they can become restless, destructive, and unhappy. They need an active home, but be aware of natural instincts! The working Cocker Spaniel tends to have stronger instincts, so will require more training. Positive reward methods work best, as they are eager to please and very intelligent.
Vizslas are another HPR breed. So, they are bred to be great at all aspects of hunting alongside people. These medium sized dogs have sleek, elegant bodies covered in a wonderful rust-colored fur. They were originally bred by Hungarian hunters to work alongside hunters and falconers in harsher terrains and cold weather.
Vizslas are known to be gentle and calm, but also energetic, affectionate, and loyal. They form strong bonds with their owners. They are very energetic, and need plenty of exercise every day to stay healthy and happy. As they’re eager to please and intelligent, training is often very easy. These dogs respond very well to positive reinforcement methods.
Water dogs, such as Poodles, are bred to retrieve waterfowl that fall into the water. These pups easily make our list of the best hunting dog breeds, even though many people associate them with dog shows and lives of luxury. Poodles come in three types – Standard, Miniature, and Toy. They have tightly curled fur that comes in a huge variety of colors. When used as a hunting dog, their fur is clipped short to make retrieving easier.
The Standard Poodle was used to originally retrieve waterfowl in Germany. But, the smaller varieties of the breed were used more often as a lapdog and companion. Poodles of all sizes are known to be very intelligent, energetic, and eager to please, which makes them great family pets as well as hunting dogs. All types are energetic, but the Standard Poodle will need the most exercise. If you’re looking for a breed that needs less exercise, you should choose a smaller variety.
Poodles are intelligent and eager to please, so they respond very well to positive training methods.
9. English Pointer
English Pointers were used alongside other dogs to help hunters. They will find and indicate where the game is, ready for hounds to chase it. Some Pointers also retrieve game. This hunting dog breed is medium sized, with a coat that varies in colors and patterns, but is more often found in white with darker markings.
Pointers, such as the English Pointer, are often grouped with Setters. They will stand and raise a leg when they find game. These dogs are intelligent, high-energy, and alert. For this reason, they’re also popular as family pets, for very active homes.
English Pointers are high energy dogs. They need plenty of exercise every day to ensure they stay happy and healthy. They usually take well to training, especially when positive reward methods are used. These dogs are eager to please and very intelligent, so enjoy new tasks.
10. Yorkshire Terrier
The Yorkshire Terrier is one of the smallest hunting dog breeds on our list. They are rarely used as a hunting breed now, but have a rich history filled with hunting. Yorkies are very small dogs, they actually fall into the toy category. Their coat is most often tan and black, although comes in other variations. These little hunting dogs were originally used for pest control! They would chase and catch vermin, working alongside people in factories.
Yorkshire Terriers are bold, confident, and often stubborn dogs that usually have a strong prey drive and chase instinct. Don’t let their little size fool you into thinking they’re a calm breed! They don’t need as much exercise as the larger dogs on this list, but benefit from some active time each day.
Training is a must with these little dogs. Because of their small bladders, potty training can be a challenge. Use positive reward methods for best results with these stubborn little dogs.
11. Golden Retriever
Some of the best bird hunting dog breeds include the Labrador Retriever, Shorthaired Pointer, Boykin Spaniel, and of course, the Golden Retriever. Golden Retrievers are medium sized hunting dogs with beautiful golden fur that ranges from almost white to a deep rich red-gold.
Like Labs, Golden Retrievers were bred to watch where game fell and retrieve it once the hunt had finished. They are known to be very friendly, intelligent, and active dogs. Nowadays, they also make very common family pets, because of their lovable temperaments.
This hunting dog breed needs plenty of exercise, whether they are still hunting or whether they are now living as a family dog. Goldens are eager to please and clever, so they are usually very easy to train. Positive reward methods are known to yield best results with this breed.
12. Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is considered one of the best hunting dogs for upland game birds, such as pheasant. This medium sized dog breed is most often found with either liver and white or black and white coloring.
These Spaniels were bred to crash through undergrowth to flush out game for hunters, and often also to retrieve it at the end of the hunt. The Springer Spaniel’s role requires a brave, intelligent, strong temperament. Springers have high prey drives and are good at following commands when trained properly.
Although Springers also make popular family pets, they only suit very active families. These dogs are full of energy that must be burned off every day to avoid destructive behaviors. Positive training methods work best with Springer Spaniels, who are eager to please and intelligent.
The best hunting dog breeds aren’t just purebred. Perhaps a mixed breed like the Labradoodle is right for you. You can never predict exactly what a mixed breed will look like, but generally you can expect a Labradoodle to be a medium sized dog, with a coat color that is often similar to that of its parents.
Both parents of the Labradoodle are known to be great retrieving dogs, especially in water. So, you can expect the same trait in this mixed breed. Generally, Labradoodles are intelligent, friendly, and energetic dogs. They are most popular as family pets, but would easily suit a role as a hunting dog.
These dogs are energetic and will need regular, daily exercise to keep fit, healthy, and happy. They are eager to please, and highly social dogs that will enjoy spending time with you during training sessions.
14. Cocker Spaniel Lab Mix
The Cocker Spaniel Lab mix is a less popular crossbreed than the Labradoodle, and is one of our more rare hunting dog breeds. Once again, it’s hard to predict exactly how this mix will look until you see it, as it can inherit any traits from the parents. It will be medium sized, but could have any markings or colors from the Lab or Cocker parents.
Inheriting traits from their parents, it’s likely this mix will be great at retrieving and flushing out game. These crossbreeds will be brave, intelligent, and loyal to owners, but they will likely have a strong prey drive.
Cocker Spaniel Lab mixes will need plenty of exercise to keep from displaying destructive behaviors, and will enjoy to exercise alongside you. Positive reward methods will work best with this breed, as both parents are eager to please and are usually highly food motivated.
15. Lab Hound Mix
Another one of our rare hunting dog breeds is a Lab Hound mix. Once again, these dogs will differ depending on their parents, including the type of hound used. Lab Hound mixes can have pretty much any coloring thanks to the hound parent. Their size will entirely depend on the parents. But, you can expect it to inherit instincts from both parents. It will likely be great at retrieving game, but also sniffing it out, or spotting it from very far away!
Hounds and Labs are known for being intelligent, alert, and energetic, so you can expect these traits no matter what Lab Hound mix you get.
One thing that’s also certain is that this mix will need plenty of exercise. It’s not a great choice for families that want a dog they can cuddle on the sofa all day. Training is vital because of a strong chase instinct in this mix. Use positive reward methods from a young age.
The Best Hunting Dog Breeds
Many of the best hunting dogs are obedient, easy to train, healthy, energetic, and loyal, which are great characteristics both on the hunt and at home. Choosing a breed for you and your family is a big decision and not one that should be taken lightly. You should do plenty of research beforehand and be aware of any potential behavioral and health problems for whichever breed you consider. Make sure to choose a breed that fits with your lifestyle. Which hunting dog breed is your favorite?
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References and Resources
- American Kennel Club
- Banfield Veterinary Hospital
- Coile, C. ‘Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds’, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. (1998)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website