Hunting Dog Breeds – The Best Dogs For Sporting Owners

Hunting Dog Breeds - The Best Dogs For Sporting Owners

Dogs have been hunting alongside humans for hundreds of years. Hunting in the modern day is more of a sport than a necessity. But, a dog’s incredible sense of smell, hearing, and their all round strength makes them an ideal hunting companion.

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 may prefer Retriever breeds, but for others, Pointers or Spaniels will be right.

Some popular hunting breeds include: Greyhounds, Bloodhounds, Beagles, and English Setters.

But whether you’re looking for a gundog or a hound, read on for our list of the best hunting dog breeds.

What This Article Covers

In modern life, dogs are mostly kept as domesticated pets, but it wasn’t always that way. In addition to being companion animals, dogs have assisted humans in a variety of roles over the years.

Even today, dogs assist people regularly, from military and law enforcement to personal assistance and guide dogs to herding and hunting.

Thanks to their loyal nature, keen sense of smell, and boundless energy, many breeds are popular with hunters and used to hunt game.

There are many hunting dog breeds out there, and each has unique characteristics and benefits as well as some downsides.

We’ll take a look at the category as a whole, as well as some of the most popular hunting dogs today. We’ll explore hunting dog breed characteristics and examine which make good family pets as well as diligent hunters.


To find the best hunting dogs for a specific type of hunting, skip to:

Types of Hunting Dogs

There is a huge number of breeds that can be considered hunting dogs. Many of which have been hunting alongside humans for hundreds of years. Others were more recently bred to fit specific hunting roles.

Most of the best hunting dog breeds fall into one of two categories: hounds and gundogs. These primary categories have many subcategories.

While there is some debate over the proper categorization of some breeds, it’s still beneficial to know the basic categories of hunting dogs.

Here are some of the most common categories.


Some hounds are solo hunters, meaning they can track, chase, and kill prey on their own. Other hounds simply help hunters locate prey but do not kill the animal themselves.

The hound group can be divided into two main categories: sight hounds and scent hounds. A third category, lurchers, is sometimes used, although they are often grouped with sight hounds.

As the name suggests, sight hounds 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.

Sight Hound Breeds

Popular sight hound breeds include:

  • Greyhound
  • Wolfhound
  • Afghan Hound
  • Windhound
  • Scottish Deerhound

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.

Scent Hound Breeds

Popular scent hound breeds include:

  • Bloodhound
  • Basset Hound
  • Dachshund
  • Beagle
  • Foxhound

Hunting Dog Breeds - The Best Dogs For Sporting Owners


Different than hounds, gundogs mostly assist the hunter. Gundogs were bred specifically for use in hunting with firearms, and many of these breeds were relatively recently developed.

Although their specific role can vary, gundogs are there to assist the hunter. That could mean retrieving downed prey, flushing birds out of hiding, or tracking and chasing prey towards the hunter.

Gundogs do not typically hunt alone but love participating in hunts with their owners.

Gundog Subcategories

There are many subcategories of gundogs. Here are some of the most popular.

  • Retrievers, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, are 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. Retrievers are also extremely popular family pets.
  • Setters, such as English Setters and French Setters, are bred to locate and flush out hiding prey, particularly upland game birds.
  • Pointers, such as the English Pointer, are often grouped with Setters. They will stand and raise a leg when they find game.
  • Spaniels, such as Cocker Spaniels and Papillons, are bred to locate prey and signal the hunter of its whereabouts.
  • HPR (hunt, point, retrieve) dogs, such as German Pointers and Vizslas, are bred to locate and point at prey and are sometimes also used to retrieve and hunt, too.
  • Water dogs, such as Poodles and Spanish Water Dogs, are bred to retrieve waterfowl that fall into the water.

Less Common Categories

There are other categories such as feists, curs, Dachshunds, and terriers, but they are less commonly used. Often breeds in these categories are lumped in with other main hunting dog categories.

Again, these categories are far from set in stone, and there is certainly some debate as to which categories to use and which breeds to place in which category.

The above is not a definitive list but rather a simple overview.

hunting dog breeds

Most Popular Hunting Dog Breeds

While there are hundreds of breeds that could be considered hunting dogs, there are some that immediately come to mind when you think of hunting breeds.

Some of the best hunting dog breeds are also quite popular for their friendly personalities.

Here in the US, the most popular hunting dogs include:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Beagles
  • Poodles
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Dachshunds
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Basset Hounds

Most Popular Doesn’t Mean Best

While these are not necessarily the best hunting dog breeds, they are among the most popular based on the American Kennel Club’s popular dog breed ranking.

Of course, many people own hunting dogs but never use them for hunting. Clear statistics for active hunting dogs are not readily available.

Best Hunting Dog Breeds by Game/Prey

Since there are a variety of breeds that are skilled at specific types of hunting, it’s helpful to look at some of the most common breeds used for each type of prey.

Bird Hunting Dogs

Dogs make excellent companions for bird hunters. They not only flush out hard-to-spot prey but also retrieve successful kills.

Some of the best bird hunting dog breeds include the Labrador Retriever, Shorthaired Pointer, Boykin Spaniel, Golden Retriever, and English Springer Spaniel.

Retrievers are a favorite of many bird hunters, thanks to their keen retrieving abilities and an excellent memory.

A well-trained Retriever can sit and watch its owner hunt for hours and remember the location of each fallen bird, waiting patiently for the command to retrieve.

While most bird hunting breeds are useful for hunting all types of birds, there are certainly some specialties to consider.

Best Bird Hunting Dogs

For instance, one of the best duck hunting dog breeds is the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which is known for its ability to lure ducks within range of hunters.

The English Springer Spaniel and Brittany are considered some of the best hunting dogs for upland game birds, such as pheasant.

hunting dog breedsFrom fowl, we’ll move on to small game animals.

Rabbit Hunting Dogs

Hunting rabbits and other small game requires a different approach. Small game can be very challenging for hunters to spot, so scent hounds are often used to locate and flush prey out of hiding.

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Beagles are among the most used rabbit hunting dogs, thanks to their keen sense of smell and boundless energy.

Their small size gives them the agility needed to keep pace with the rapid and sporadic movements of small game. At the same time, their loud bark keeps hunters aware of the prey’s location at all times.

Other scent hounds can also be used to hunt rabbits. Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, terriers, and Weimaraners all make great rabbit hunting dogs.

We’ll now look at the best hunting dogs for larger types of prey.

Deer Hunting Dog Breeds

When it comes to deer hunting, it’s a different ball game altogether. It requires a good nose and plenty of stamina. Deer can move quickly when startled and can run for miles before tiring.

Among deer hunting dog breeds, one of the best is the American Foxhound and similar foxhound varieties. These dogs love the thrill of the chase and will bark continuously while in chase to signal the hunter.

Their nearly endless energy for a chase makes them a perfect partner for deer hunters.

Other deer hunting breeds include the Scottish Deerhound and the Portuguese Podengo Grande. The Scottish Deerhound is a very large dog that has been hunting red deer in the Scottish Highlands for centuries.

The Portuguese Podengo Grande is also suitable for boar hunting, which brings us to the next category.

Large Game Hunting Dogs

For hunting large, potentially dangerous game such as wild boar, bears, mountain lions, etc., sturdier, large hunting dogs are typically needed. A keen nose is also essential.

Breeds like coonhounds, the Plott Hound, the American Pitbull Terrier, and other pig hunting dogs make good choices. The Plott Hound is a truly American breed and the state dog of North Carolina.

It’s important to understand the dangers associated with hunting large game – for yourself and your canine companion.

hunting dog breeds

Whichever dog you choose, they won’t be hunting all the time, so you’ll want to consider other factors as well.

Hunting Dogs as Family Pets

When seeking the best family hunting dog, you have to consider the breed’s hunting skills in addition to its temperament and behavior at home.

You’ll also want to consider the size and energy levels of any breeds you are considering. If you live in an apartment, you’ll want to consider small hunting dog breeds.

Small Hunting Dog Breeds

These small hunting breeds are appropriate for smaller living spaces:

  • Beagles
  • Basset Hounds
  • Dachshunds
  • Finnish Spitz
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Portuguese Podengo Pequeno
  • Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen.

If you live on a large property or want a good guard dog, larger hunting dogs may be a better choice.

German Hunting Dog Breeds

There are a few German hunting dog breeds that are popular for their versatility. While other sporting dogs were bred for a specific purpose, these were bred to be multi-purpose hunting partners and companion animals.

The German Longhair Pointer loves to track and retrieve game. As its name suggests, it’s also a pointer. They are most often used for bird and small game hunting.

Not to be outdone, the German Shorthair Pointer is also excellent at hunting, tracking, pointing, and retrieving. The German Wirehaired Pointer is another versatile breed that enjoys tracking and pointing as well as retrieving.

The good news is that many of the characteristics that make these German breeds excellent hunting dogs also make them great pets.

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.

Hunting Dogs as Family Pets

Some of the most popular dogs used for hunting that also make fantastic family pets include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Irish Setters
  • Weimaraners
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Bloodhounds

hunting dog breeds

Hunting Dog Health Problems

Although most hunting dogs are relatively healthy breeds, like all dog breeds, they are prone to some health problems. It’s important that potential owners be aware of these issues.

Since there are so many hunting dog breeds, it’s impractical to list all the health concerns associated with each breed. We recommend searching this site and others for potential health problems associated with each breed you are considering.

You can also look at the State of Pet Health report put out by Banfield Veterinary Hospital. This report looked at data from 2.5 million dogs to determine the most common health concerns.

Choosing the Right Hunting Dog for You

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.

There are many factors to consider, but these are among the most important:

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  • Hunting skills – the breed’s hunting specialties and skills
  • Trainability – the breed’s obedience and trainability
  • Energy level – the breed’s endurance and energy level, relevant for both hunting and home
  • Size – the breed’s physical size, important to consider in relation to your living space
  • Health concerns – the breed’s known health concerns and potential issues
  • Behavior – the breed’s behavior and obedience characteristics
  • Interaction with others – the breed’s behavior with other dogs, other pets such as cats, and children.

Once you’ve considered these factors, you can make a more informed decision. Many great hunting dogs also make great pets, but it’s important to choose carefully.

Hunting Dogs Need Training Too

Also, it’s good to remember that just because a dog’s genetics say that he should be good at hunting, doesn’t necessarily mean that he will enjoy it.

A lot comes down to breeding and training practices.

If you’ve ever met a Retriever who won’t play fetch, you know that there’s more to a good hunting dog than just genetics.

If you are getting a dog specifically to hunt with, it’s good to get a puppy so you can implement training from a young age. We do not recommend rescue dogs for hunters in most cases.

Do you have a hunting dog or are you looking for one? Tell us about it in the comments.

This article has been updated for 2019.

Hunting Dog Breeds – The Best Dogs For Sporting Owners

References and Further Reading

  • “Most Popular Dog Breeds” Mar 2018. AKC
  • Banfield Veterinary Hospital
  • Coile, D. Caroline. “Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds.” Second Edition. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 1998.
  • World Book’s Animals of the World. “Golden Retrievers and Other Sporting Dogs.” World Book, Inc. 2007.

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