For certain types of hunting, well-trained hunting dogs are indispensable. Dogs have hunted alongside humans for thousands of years. Although today hunting with dogs is often just for sport, many hunters still provide food for their families, and their dogs are an important partner for a successful hunt.
The duties of a hunting dog include:
- Locating prey by sight or scent.
- Stalking when the prey is detected.
- Driving or flushing the prey out of hiding.
- Chasing the prey.
- Retrieving downed game.
Breeds Used As Hunting Dogs
Many dog breeds were bred for and are trained for hunting, and each meets specific hunting needs. The AKC divides hunting dogs into two separate groups, the sporting group, and the hound group.
The sporting group includes dogs such as retrievers, spaniels, setters, and pointers. Some of the dogs in this group are trained to retrieve prey from the water.
Hounds are classified as either scenthounds or sighthounds. This is based on how the dog hunts. Scenthounds hunt by searching out scents and either pursuing the prey or alerting when the prey is nearby by “pointing” or “sitting.” Sighthounds have excellent vision and can spot game from a long distance. A few dogs, like the Basenji, hunt using both sight and scent.
Retrievers do not necessarily locate or chase the prey. Their job is to find the fallen birds and bring them undamaged back to the hunter.
Retrievers, and other hunting dogs, are also known as “gun-dogs” and must remain under control when guns are fired. Many dog breeds are terrified of loud noises that tolerating gunshots is a unique hunting dog trait.
Retrievers must also remain calm and under control. Much of their work is on or near the water and sometimes in boats. You don’t want your dog jumping around in the boat.
Like most hunting dogs, retrievers live to please humans and are excellent family pets. According to the AKC, the Golden and Labrador retrievers are consistently in the top 3 most popular dog breeds.
Some retrievers are bred for work in the water and have webbing between their toes to help them swim. Retrievers recover fallen game like pheasants, quail, or waterfowl and carry it back to the hunter without damaging it. To do this, they need a “soft” or gentle mouth with which they can carefully carry the prey.
Golden Retriever. Originated in Scotland in the 1800s. Trained to retrieve waterfowl and other game birds.
Labrador Retriever. Originally from the United Kingdom, Labradors are the most popular breed of dogs in many countries worldwide.
Flat-Coated Retrievers. Originated in England, this retriever was bred for use on both land and water.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Developed in the United States Chesapeake Bay area, this dog loves the water and was used to retrieve game, pull fishing nets, and rescue fishermen.
Curly-Coated Retriever. Originated in England, it is the tallest of the retrievers. It has a tight curly coat.
Flat-Coated Retriever. Also from England, this dog was bred for use on land and water.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Originated in Nova Scotia, Canada. This breed looks very much like a smaller Golden Retriever.
Cocker Spaniel (American and English), Irish Water Spaniels, and English Springer Spaniels hunt dogs. Their role is to flush out the game like birds and rabbits. Thanks to their thick coats, spaniels can get into the underbrush to find a game that is hiding there.
They do not kill. their job is to get the prey out in the open for the hunter to shoot. They also have a “soft mouth,” so they can retrieve fallen game without doing damage. Spaniels make good family pets, too.
American Cocker Spaniel. Ancestors of the American Cocker Spaniel came from England. It has different breed standards from its English cousins. It is the smallest hunting dog breed and can also be a retriever.
English Cocker Spaniel. This dog got its name from its use to hunt woodcocks.
English Springer Spaniels. This dog is used for flushing and retrieving game. It is also used as a “sniffer dog” for finding bombs and other explosives.
Welsh Springer Spaniel. Most dogs come in a variety of coat colors, but the Welsh Springer Spaniel is unique in that its coat only comes in a single color combination of white with red markings.
Irish Water Spaniels. Native to Ireland, this dog has a coat of dense curls and sheds very little. It is the largest of the spaniels.
Pointers are even-tempered, friendly hunting dogs, and despite their large size, make good house pets. They are not aggressive, and they are happy to live with other dogs and cats. They will bark at suspicious noises but are not great watchdogs.
Pointers were bred to be hunting dogs. When a Pointer detects prey, it typically stops and “points” with its muzzle in the prey’s direction. They are not natural retrievers but can be trained to locate and bring back dead or wounded game.
Pointers are sometimes called “bird dogs” because they are primarily used for hunting birds.
English Pointer. In England, this breed is called the Pointer. Pointers are intelligent, affectionate, and very loyal family pets.
German Longhaired Pointer. This is a multi-purpose gundog originally from Germany. Other Pointers from German include German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, and the Large Münsterländer.
Portuguese Pointer. A medium-sized dog, the Portuguese Pointer, was mainly used for hunting red-legged partridge.
Setters combine the best of the hunting skills of spaniel and the pointer, and they have been around since the 14th century. They primarily hunt game birds such as pheasant, quail, and grouse.
Setter breeds include the English Setter, Irish Setter, and Gordon Setter. A setter silently searches for game by scent. They hunt systematically and methodically. When they find prey, the dog becomes motionless and “sets” or crouch down rather than chasing after the game.
English Setter. Full of energy and people-friendly, the English Setter is a gentle dog who sometimes can be mischievous.
Gordon Setter. Also known as a “black and tan,” is a large dog originally from Scotland. This breed is known for its devotion and loyalty.
Irish Setter. These dogs have an excellent sense of smell, which makes them good at finding game birds. They are excellent family pets but may not get along well with cats.
Irish Red and White Setter. A medium-sized dog, the Irish Red and White Setter is a good family pet.
Hounds are divided into sighthounds and scenthounds, depending upon the primary skill used to locate the quarry. Many mammals such as jackrabbits, raccoons, coyotes, and large predators are hunted with hounds. Unlike Setters and Pointers, Hounds actively pursue prey and often end up killing the quarry.
Scenthounds primarily hunt by scent. Scent hounds are used to trail and sometimes kill the game. They hunt in packs leading the hunters on a chase, which may end in the quarry being treed or killed.
Some hounds have deep, booming howls and use them when following a scent trail. Their howl may be a nuisance in the city, but it is beneficial for the hunter to know where his dogs are heading. When the dogs have successfully treed the quarry, the tone of their howls will change.
Bloodhound. This large dog was bred to hunt large game such as deer and wild boar. It is better known for its ability to follow human scent over long distances and over long periods of time.
Beagle. The Beagle was mainly used for hunting rabbits or hares. It is a smaller dog, which makes it a very popular family pet.
Foxhounds. These dogs usually hunt in packs and chase, of course, fox. There are several Foxhound breeds, including American, English, Welsh, and Black and Tan.
Coonhounds. Bred for hunting raccoons, they also hunt wild pigs, bears, bobcats, and cougars. Several breeds or coonhounds include Black-and-Tan, Redbone, Bluetick, English, and the Treeing Walker Coonhound.
Dachshund. The standard size “wiener” dog was bred to find and flush out badgers and other burrowing animals. The smaller Dachshund was used for hunting rabbits and mice.
Basset Hound. This dog breed has a keen sense of smell, second only to the Bloodhound. It was used to hunt rabbits or hare.
Sighthounds have excellent vision and speed. Their method of hunting is known as “coursing.” They see their prey from a distance, stalk, and pursue until the prey is caught or exhausted.
Built for speed, these dogs have long legs, wide chests, and very little body fat. Even the best-fed sighthounds may look like they are skin and bones.
Because of their great speed, sighthounds, especially the Greyhound and Whippet, are used in organized racing competitions.
Greyhound. The fastest dog in the world, Greyhounds who retire from racing, are adopted as family pets, which have helped raise this breed’s popularity.
Saluki. This breed comes from the Middle East and is a very ancient breed. Its primary game was gazelle, hare, fox, and jackal. They have great speed and stamina.
Afghan Hound. The Afghan Hound is a tall, sophisticated looking dog that comes from the cold mountains of Afghanistan. Although considered intelligent, it isn’t easy to train.
Scottish Deerhound. Only the Scottish Foxhound is a taller dog breed than the Scottish Deerhound. The Deerhound was bred to hunt and chase red deer.
Hunting dogs were bred to work closely with humans who need help locating and catching food. This close relationship has made hunting dogs loyal companions who become excellent family pets. Their hunting instincts make them like to chase anything that moves, and it can be a nuisance to other family pets such as cats.
Hunting dogs come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. It should be easy to find one that fits your taste in dogs.