Hunting is a sport that’s been around for millions of years. From the early homo sapiens to the modern duck hunter, hunting has always been a big part of human history. And not surprisingly, dogs have also been a huge help for hunters of all generations.
However, the phrase “hunting dog” can be a little confusing. Not all hunting dogs work the same job. In addition, not all dogs with the same job hunt the same game. In fact, there are 5 types of hunting dogs and dozens of hunting dog breeds that fit each category.
Whether you’re a hunter in need of some assistance or you’re just curious, here are all types of hunting dogs, and recommendations for hunting dog breeds. Let us know in the comments section below if we missed one that needs to be included.
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The Types of Hunting Dogs
Hunting dogs aren’t actually “hunting,” such as how a grizzly bear hunts down a prey. They don’t track and actually kill the prey. Rather, hunting dogs have specific jobs or roles that assist a human hunter in the finding, capture, killing, or retrieving of game.
5 Types of hunting dog breeds:
- Sight Hounds
- Scent Hounds
The group of retrievers, flushers and pointers are part of a bigger group, called gun dogs. On the other hand, scent and sighthounds are part of the hounds group. Let’s further dive into each type of hunting dogs and what they actually dog.
NOTE: Just because a dog specializes in one job, does not mean they won’t do multiple other hunting jobs as well. For example, a Golden Retriever specializes in retrieving, but they’re frequently used as a flushing dog too.
1. Sight Hounds
The Job: Sighthounds, also known as “gaze hounds,” are a type of hunting dog that uses superior vision (eye sight) and quick speed for hunting. Unlike gun dogs or sound hounds, a sighthound can spot a prey half a mile ahead and pursue the prey while keeping it in sight.
These hounds are incredibly fast and agile. In fact, they’re able to keep up with deers, hares, and other small yet fast game. For reference, the fastest sighthound in the world is the Greyhound. They’re able to reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour.
These are the traits that make sighthounds incredible hunting dogs:
- 270 degree field of vision – A big part of why sighthounds are used for hunting is their wide field of vision. This unique feature gives them the ability to better spot and track for any movements on the hunting grounds.
- Ability to see over half a mile ahead – Because sighthounds rely on their eyes to spot prey, it’s not a surprise they have the best eye sight in the canine kingdom. However on a clear day, humans can see up to 3 miles ahead.
- Long legs and quick speed – Because hunters rely on these hounds to chase down agile game, it’s vital for these dogs to have a quick step. But what’s even more important may be reaching a high top speed during a long chase. Having long legs helps the dog take long strides.
- Dolichocephalic in proportion – Dolichocephalic dogs refer to breeds with an elongated skull and a long yet slender nose. Having a longer nose means there’s more room for special scent receptors in the nose cavity. While sighthounds rely primary on their vision for hunting, their sense of smell is an added bonus to their tracking abilities.
- Gentle arch and flexible back – When sighthounds are running hard, they’re in a double suspension gallop. Their flexible back allows them to form concave or convex positions, which maximizes the reach of their gallop while running in full stride.
- Wiry body – Having a lean yet muscular frame is essential for sighthounds, as they need to keep their weight at a minimum. Can you imagine a Bulldog trying to chase down a hare?
Here are some of the world’s best sighthound dog breeds:
Highlights: Quiet, Gentle, Smart
The Greyhound may be the most famous sighthound in the world. Capable of reaching a top speed of 45 miles per hour, Greyhounds are the fastest dogs alive. This makes them highly effective in the chase down of game during their hunts.
Greyhounds hunt deer, foxes, and other small game. However, these dogs are primarily trained to hunt hare. How can we be so sure about this? When Greyhounds are raced for sport, a mechanical rabbit is used to get them started.
Highlights: Docile, Playful, Energetic
Whippets, also known as the “poor man’s racehorse,” is a phenomenal athlete and sprinter. In fact, the Whippet may actually be the second fastest dog breed, second only to the Greyhound. In fact, the AKC named Reas the Whippet as the America’s fastest dog in 2022.
Slightly smaller than a Greyhound, Whippets specialize in tracking and hunting down rabbits. They use their sharp smell to learn how to track rabbits. However, they rely on their sight to find them in the wild. Their wide range of vision gives them the ability to zone in on a prey.
Highlights: Loyal, Dignified, Loving
Some historians believe that the Afghan Hound originated from Egypt thousands of years ago. However, we still don’t have conclusive evidence to back this up. These hounds first arrived in Europe from British soldiers returning from the Indian-Afghan wars during the 19th century.
Native to harsh climate of Afghanistan, the Afghan Hound relies of their keen sight to pursue leopards or gazelles. These sighthounds are huge, weighing up to 60 lbs and standing 27 inches high. With a wide hip bone and long legs, there are few animals the Afghan Hound can’t catch.
Highlights: Gentle, Loyal, Dignified
Also known as the “Persian Greyhound,” the Saluki is an ancient Middle Eastern sighthound once used by nomadic tribes to hunt wild game. They’re closely related to the Afghan Hound, though they differ in both looks and temperament.
Salukis are typically hunting dogs that work alone. They’re simply too fast for humans. According to the local tribesmen, it’s possible for Salukis to reach a top speed of 50 miles per hour. However, no one has an official confirmation of this. But there’s a reason why they hunt gazelles.
Highlights: Sweet, Gentle, Friendly
The Italian Greyhound was a favorite among the noblewomen of the Middle Ages. And, it’s really easy to see why. These small Greyhounds are highly sensitive towards their owners, making them outstanding dog companions and friends.
However, the Italian Greyhound is a hunting dog at heart. These quick little dogs were bred to chase and hunt hares. That said, Italian Greyhounds have an extremely high prey drive. So while they make good companions, they’ll need a lot of socializing
2. Scent Hounds
The Job: Scent hounds hunt by using their superior sense of smell to track down game. After finding the animal, scent hounds will vocalize a specific sound to communicate to hunters and other dogs that they have found the prey. This is called “baying,” which can also scare the animal into remaining in place while the hunter humans catch up.
Hunting dog breeds from the scent hounds group are regarded as having the sharpest sense of smell to go along with their efficient olfactory bulb, which processes the odor. Physically, they differ quite a bit from their cousin sighthounds.
These are just some traits that make scent hounds great at tracking and hunting:
- Long and wide nose – The best scent hounds have a wide and long nose compared an average dog breed. This allows them to hold more scent-detecting cells, which greatly improves their ability to find odors. Their large noses is also very moist, which attracts odor molecules in the air.
- Long ears – The long ears seen in most scent hounds serve an important purpose. When the dogs are sniffing the floor, the ears droop low and sweep odor molecules towards the nose. This helps a hound collect as many odors as possible.
- Unique body proportions – Scent hounds typically have short legs, a long neck and an elongated body. These unique body proportions allow the hound to keep their nose close to the floor and track while continuously walking.
- Vocal dogs – Baying is a vocalization exclusive to scent hounds. That said, these hounds need to be very vocal and loud to communicate to their humans and fellow pack members, after finding game.
Here are some of the most famous scent hounds:
Highlights: Curious, Gentle, Happy
The Beagle is perhaps the most famous and popular scenthound. It’s not a coincidence that Beagles have one of the best noses in the canine kingdom. In fact, they’re noses are so sharp that some are used to detect narcotics, illegal firearms, and even cancer.
Beagles mainly hunt hares and rabbits. And they do so in large packs. The hunter will release many dogs at once onto the field. As soon as a Beagle spots a hare, he’ll start “baying” to communicate to the other dogs and the human hunter. They’re really the best.
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Highlights: Sweet, Care-free, Stubborn
Basset Hounds have the second best nose in the game. Yes, even better than the Beagle’s nose! In fact, a Basset Hound has around 220 million scent receptors in their long, thick nose. They have all the best physical traits of a scent hound: the nose, ears and legs.
Initially bred by the French monks, Basset Hounds were used as scent hounds to track fox, hare, rabbit, and badgers. They were especially good with badger hunting. Thanks to their short legs, hunters could easily follow them on foot, which made them wildly popular.
Highlights: Sensitive, Patient, Noble
The Bloodhound undeniably takes the cake when it comes to the best nose ever. In fact, these hounds were the first tracking dogs ever used. In 1888, two Bloodhounds were employed to find Jack the Ripper. Though unsuccessful, it caused a lot of police forces look into them.
Bloodhounds were initially bred for hunting and tracking large game, such as wild boar and deer. What these dogs are famous for is their unique ability to recognize human scent, even over a great distance or several days later. It’s incredible what they can find!
Highlights: Clever, Lively, Brave
The Dachshund may not be what first comes to mind when you think “hunting dog.” But believe it or not, they are scent hounds. And really good ones, too! In fact, their name is of German origin and directly translates to “badger dog” (not sausage dog).
Dachshunds were incredible and tenacious badger hunters. They had their long bodies and short legs so that they could crawl into the burrows of badgers and navigate. Once they find a badger, they’ll clamp down on them and pull them out for hunters to catch.
3. Retriever Dogs
The Job: A retriever is a type of gun dog, primarily used to bring back game after having been shot and killed by the hunter. These dogs usually retrieve from marshlands, lakes or far distances. This can save the hunter a lot of time in tracking and retrieving the prey.
There are unique physical and temperamental traits of retriever dogs that help with their job:
- Soft Mouth – Most retrievers are bred with a “soft mouth.” This is important because hunters don’t want their game damaged when retrieved by a dog. In fact, a retriever’s mouth is so soft that they can carry a raw egg without cracking it open.
- Water Resistant Coat – Most retrievers do their jobs by retrieving game from bodies of water. So, it would make sense that most have a water-resistant coat.
- Eagerness to Learn – The best retrievers are extremely eager to learn and please. The practice of retrieving actually requires an obedient dog that’s capable of quickly learning.
- Active with High Endurance – It’s not easy swimming through a lake to retrieve a duck multiple times within a day. The shot game could be hundreds of feet away. Having an energetic active dog with sufficient stamina is crucial for this job.
So, what are some retriever dog breeds? Retrievers are some of the most popular family dog breeds today. Below are the most popular ones.
Highlights: Friendly, Sweet, Active
Golden Retrievers are famous for their friendly personalities and outstanding companionship. But did you know that they’re actually hunting dogs? Despite being a great family dog, Goldens are known to be a mouthy breed. But don’t worry, they have a retriever’s soft mouths.
They have the instincts to retrieve, and they love to swim. However, they’ll require some training to hone in of their ability to retrieve bird to hand. If you don’t know how to exercise your Golden, frisbee, catch or swimming are the obvious choices.
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Highlights: Outgoing, Smart, Active
There’s a reason why Labradors are America’s most popular dog breed. In fact, they’ve been number 1 for 31 years straight (and counting). Labs are sweet, loyal, and energetic. And the best part is they’re easy to train, making them superb choices for hunting dogs.
When the British first brought Labradors back in the 1800s, they specialized in retrieving ducks. Today, the Lab has evolved into a truly versatile hunter. Not only are they waterfowl retrievers, but they’re also excellent flushing dogs too.
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Highlights: Proud, Elegant, Active
Poodles may be a powerhouse breed at dog shows, but they actually started off as hunting dogs. To be specific, they were bred to be waterfowl retrievers. If you actually own or know a standard Poodle, this will actually make a lot of sense.
Fortunately, the Poodle has evolved into the ultimate multi-purpose hunting dog. Not only can they be a waterfowl retriever, but they’re also an upland bird flusher. In addition, Poodles are able to retrieve from a shore blind, a boat, or a field blind.
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Flat Coated Retriever
Highlights: Sociable, Friendly, Loyal
Famous for their flat-lying coats with light feathering at the tail and legs, the Flat Coated Retrievers are multi-purpose gun dogs that specialize in retrieving. Not only can they retrieve in water, but they can also retriever and flush on land.
Don’t be fooled by the “retriever” in their name. Flat Coated Retrievers are just as skilled at bird hunting as they are as waterfowl retrieving. In fact, they’re extremely good at flushing out quail and pheasants during upland shooting. They can really do it all.
4. Flushing Dogs
The Job: A flushing dog’s primary job is to use loud barking, movements and other noises, to scare birds and get them to fly out of their bush, tree, corner, or other hiding spot. Flushing dogs are also excellent at locating and tracking birds or other game.
Once the bird is in the open air, hunters are ready with the shot.
These are the traits that make a flushing dog breed perfect for the job:
- Sharp Nose – Flushing a prey out of their hiding spot is just one part of a flusher’s job. These dogs also track down game prior to flushing them out. It’s why flushing dogs need a sharp sense of smell and nose to perform.
- Vocal – The flusher’s job is to get birds into the air by scaring them. What better way to create a lot of stress than dogs loudly barking at the birds? Barking is essential, so expect a flushing dog breed to be very vocal.
Here are some of the most popular flushing dog breeds.
Highlights: Outgoing, Friendly, Smart
The English Springer Spaniel is an hardy yet energetic and intelligent hunting dog. They’re also some of the most loyal dogs. Thanks to their people-oriented temperament, these spaniels have a strong desire to work closely with their human hunters.
Springer Spaniels are often regarded as the top flushing dog for pheasant hunting. Along with their super sensitive noses, the springer will work tirelessly to find, chase and flush birds. They’ll never hesitate to dive into thick cover to flush a pheasant.
Highlights: Lively, Gentle, Easy-going
There are actually two variations of the Cocker Spaniels. The original is the English Cocker Spaniel, who was bred to hunt and flush Eurasian woodcocks. However, when the spaniel came to America, the breed was slightly altered to specialize in hunting American woodcocks.
The method in which both Cocker Spaniels use to hunt is very similar though. They move at a moderate yet swift pace, utilizing their sharp noses to cover both air and ground scents. If they catch a scent, the dog will start to become animated with body and tail movements.
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Highlights: Tough, Energetic, Eager
Like the other spaniel dog breeds, the Boykin Spaniel was bred for hunting and flushing birds, such as ducks. But unlike the others, this spaniel specialized in hunting wild turkeys. In fact, they often hunt in the swamps of South Carolina, where they were first developed.
Boykin Spaniels have a different style of hunting. Instead of quartering (having your dog work in front of you), these dogs will range ahead and hesitate before flushing. This “hesitant flush” is often confused with pointing, though the two are not the same.
Highlights: Sweet, Friendly, Care-free
Clumber Spaniels certainly don’t look like your typical flushing dog, but they are. These dogs are big and move at a slow pace, at least compared to other flushing dogs. They’ll trot on the field, but they’ll have the endurance to maintain the pace all day.
There’s a few traits that hunters love about the Clumber. Like the Boykin, a Clumber Spaniel hunts with a “hesitation flush.” If the bird doesn’t completely break from cover or leave their hiding spot, the Clumber Spaniel will slow down and stalk the bird (like a cat).
5. Pointer Dogs
The Job: Pointer dogs are a type of gun dog that specializes in retrieving birds and other small game. A pointer dog will use its sharp nose to locate and follow a scent trail. Once the bird is found, a pointer will strike a pose, while pointing his head and nose towards the bird.
So what’s the point of a pointer? Often times, a flushing dog also tracks and follows a scent trail to the prey. The main difference between a pointer and flusher is that the former strikes a pose after locating a bird. Flushers will continue on by flushing out the game.
Here are traits that make a pointer excellent at their jobs:
- Sharp Sense of Smell – The primary job of a pointer dog is to track wild birds or other small game. They’re so good at this job because of their sharp sense of smell.
- High Endurance and Active – Pointers can spend a full day running around and tracking birds. That said, a lot of energy and excellent stamina is required for this job.
Here are some of the most capable and effective pointer dog breeds.
German Shorthaired Pointer
Highlights: Intelligent, Playful, Willing
Though they’re “pointers” by name, the German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) is perhaps the most versatile hunting dog we have. In fact, many call them the jack-of-all-trades gun dog. Yes, they can point. But the GSP is also great at flushing or retrieving on both land and water.
The GSP is also highly adaptable, giving them the opportunity to excel with hunting all types of game. A shorthaired pointer can retrieve waterfowl, and possibly switch to flushing and pointing squirrels, hares, raccoons, game birds and even deer. They’re the king of hunting dogs.
Highlights: Smart, Curious, Friendly
Also called the “Hungarian Pointing dog,” the Vizsla is a versatile hunting dog that can quickly and easily adapt to all types of game, terrain, and hunting strategies. That said, they’re some of the most intelligent hunting dog breeds you can find.
Hunters describe a Vizsla as having a hunting style that features a moderate pace and range. They will be energetic and enthusiastic on the field, whether if it means swimming or continuous tracking in the toughest of terrains. They’re determined hunting dogs.
Highlights: Friendly, Bright, Energetic
Once called the Brittany Spaniel, this breed’s name has been shortened to just Brittany by the AKC in 1984. The kennel club realized that Brittanys were pointers, while having very little genetic similarities with the spaniel-type breeds. So, calling them spaniels made no sense.
Weighing under 40 lbs, the Brittany is the ultra portable and convenient pointing dog. They have all the search, point and nose skills of a GSP, though wrapped in a much smaller package. They’re often called the “pocket pointers” for a reason.
Highlights: Docile, Friendly, Placid
The English Setter isn’t a typical pointing dog. In fact, they don’t even “point.” However, we put them in the same class as pointers because they pretty much do the same thing in a different style. The good news is the English Setter is just as effective as any dog at finding bird.
Pointers will strike a pose and point their head and nose towards the bird. On the other hand, the English Setter will do a crouching stance, where they “set” their bodies on the grass to alert their owners. Both of these styles are effective because they’re quiet and won’t alert the prey.
Highlights: Alert, Confident, Willing
The Gordon Setter is another setter-type dog that’s both fearless and confident. Like other setters, the Gordon Setter relies on their crouching stance to alert hunters of any nearby birds. They were first bred to hunt quail and pheasant, but will thrive with any upland birds.
These dogs aren’t a one-trick pony. They’re also extremely versatile and can often be trained to be good pointers, trackers and retrievers. Gordon Setters are not fast and agile dogs. Instead, they’re built for stamina and can easily hunt for a full day.
Which Type of Hunting Dog is Best For You?
Well, this depends entirely on what, how, and where you hunt. And even so, there’s no special formula for picking the perfect hunting dog. In addition, most of all gun dogs can be trained to do all 3 types of work: flushing, retrieving and pointing.
For example, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was bred to retrieve waterfowl. However, they are famously good for their ability to flush. Similarly, the Labradors and Golden Retrievers can make superior bird dogs if given the proper training.
The only time to consider which hunting dog you’ll need is if you move from birds to larger game. Some bigger hounds are needed for larger game, such as wild boar or deer. Other dogs, such as Dachshunds, will specialize in a specific game (badgers).
Make sure the dog breed you bring home matches with the style of hunting and game you plan to hunt. Otherwise, finding a hunting dog based on temperament is just as important. Make sure the breed will match your personality and lifestyle.
Do you own any of these hunting dogs? What are they like? And, did we miss any hunting dog breeds that deserve to be on the list? Let us know in the comments section below!
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