There are plenty of pointer dog breeds available, and even more breeds of hunting dogs that are versatile enough to serve as pointers. Their high intelligence and ability to quickly learn has made these breeds a favorite among all types of owners.
Though hunting with these dogs still exists, most of these dog breeds are just as likely to find their place in a quiet family home as they are out in the woods on a hunt. In fact, some can even make decent canine companions for apartment.
But what exactly do these pointer dog breeds do? And how are they different than other dogs? We dive into these special “gun dogs” and found the best hunting dogs that “point for a living.” Read on to learn more about pointer dogs.
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Table of Contents
- What’s the “Point” of Pointer Dogs?
- Pointer Dog Breeds
- 1. English Setter
- 2. Irish Setter
- 3. Gordon Setter
- 4. English Pointer
- 5. Vizsla (Hungarian Pointer)
- 6. German Short-haired Pointer
- 7. Brittany
- 8. Italian Spinone
- 9. Small Munsterlander
- 10. Irish Red and White Setter
- 11. Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
- 12. Weimaraner
- 13. Pudelpointer
- 14. German Longhaired Pointer
- 15. German Wirehaired Pointer
What’s the “Point” of Pointer Dogs?
Pointing dogs, sometimes called bird dogs, have been around for nearly four centuries. And for most of that time, they’ve been a go-to breed for hunters all around the world. But even in a typical family setting, the pointer dogs still retain their hunting instincts.
So what are pointer dogs used for? Unlike typical gun dogs, such as retrievers and flushing dogs, pointers would “point” to their prey with their noses. Instead of actually fetching or flushing out prey, pointers assisted in leading the hunters toward game by directing them with their muzzle.
So, I guess you can call them guides or assistants for bird hunters. And while they are not actually true hunting dogs, they do help a great deal on the field.
These dogs were so popular and useful at one point that the AKC still holds pointing breeds hunting tests. If you have or plan to get a pointer dog breed, this is a pretty awesome test.
Keep in mind: not all bird dogs are pointers. However, all pointers are bird dogs. The broader category of bird dogs can include retrievers, such as Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Poodles and many more.
Pointer Dog Breeds
To help shed some light on this group of breeds and to point you in the right direction, we’ve compiled a list of some of the more common breeds.
While some of them are purely pointer dogs, a few on the list are more versatile and can serve in a variety of roles. Some of these dog breeds also work as retrievers and gun dogs, but are known for their pointing roles.
1. English Setter
Highlights: Sociable, Willfull, Even-tempered
Though the English setter is generally gentle and methodical, it does display a bit of a mischievous side from time to time. But, this can vary depending on whether or not they come from a working/field breeding line.
English Setters are highly energetic dogs, but they also know when to turn down the action to a more agreeable level. If they are outdoors, they’ll run and play for hours on end.
However, when it comes time to return inside, they tend to become calmer and adapt to their surroundings. One minute they might be flying around the yard with their tongue lolling, the next they’ll be snoozing on the couch or on your lap.
Like plenty of other pointer dogs, they tend to have spots or markings in their coat as they develop. But, when they are younger they are less likely to display such colorations. So, it’s a hard call trying to guess what coat and patterns a puppy will display once it has matured.
For all English Setters, the texture of the coat should be silky and will be short to medium in length with occasional feathering where the hair grows longer. The base color is generally white, but as they mature, flecks and specking of browns, blacks, and tans will likely make an appearance.
2. Irish Setter
Highlights: Loving, Playful, Easy-going
The second up in the group of setters from the British Isles is the Irish Setter. Perhaps the most mild of the setter breeds, the Irish Setter would never make for a good watch dog.
Despite being alert, they are simply too affectionate to turn away strangers. Instead of barking and defending their territory, they are more likely to go in for a good head rub.
But when it comes to serving as pointer dogs, this breed will snap to attention. Years of breeding have left them with a temperament that is at once docile, but also always up for a job.
In fact, to ensure they stay happy they are going to need plenty of mental stimulation to keep them occupied. While they might once have served exclusively as hunting companions, nowadays they are also favorites for work as therapy dogs.
Their calm and loving demeanor makes them perfect for creating a warm, peaceful environment for adults and children alike. And the enjoyment goes both ways, as they thrive off of human companionship.
3. Gordon Setter
Highlights: Fearless, Capable, Boisterous
The heaviest of the setter breeds, the Gordon Setter is less known than its Irish and English cousins. But when it comes to energy and intelligence, this dog more than matches up to other pointing dogs.
These dogs have some serious legs on them, and if you have one as a pet, be prepared to commit to an intense exercise regime. They are going to need 60-80 minutes of exercise each day. And not just a lazy game of fetch.
We are talking vigorous running and dashing. But potential owners should keep in mind that puppies aren’t quite ready for such physical exertion.
However, until a Gordon Setter is at least 18 months old, their exercise should be more mild. Furthermore, agility training should be avoided until they are better developed.
One aspect of these dogs that makes them endearing is that they tend to mature rather slowly. And, even once they do, they tend to keep a playful, puppy-like demeanor well into their later years.
It is because of this lasting innocence that they do best in loving and caring environments where they are able to receive plenty of attention. If they do, they will return the favor with intense loyalty and affection.
4. English Pointer
Highlights: Clean, Loyal, Even-Tempered
Sometimes shortened simply to “Pointer,” the English Pointer stands out from the setter trio with its short, dense coat. Even though this breed can be rather large, they can still make for well-behaved dogs indoors due to their congenial nature.
That is, so long as they are getting enough exercise daily. Otherwise, they might grow bored, which can lead to behavioral problems (destructive behavior).
An open yard and weekly to biweekly trips to the dog park are going to do them wonders. Basically, as long as they get a chance to stretch their long legs and gallop around, they’re going to be content.
But overall they are very calm dogs that rarely display any aggression. Because of this they can get along well in households with other dogs, or even cats. They like to be around others, as part of their lingering pack mentality.
So don’t be surprised if they follow you to any room of the house and cuddle up next to you. They feel safest when around others in their “pack” and especially when around the pack leader, which (ideally) is their owner.
5. Vizsla (Hungarian Pointer)
Highlights: Versatile, Elegant, Affectionate
Every part of a Vizsla’s body is lean and taught…except for their droopy ears. These hunting dogs stand out from other pointer breeds with their amber, almost rusty golden, coats.
While other pointer breeds are likely to have spots or speckling, it is more common that Vizslas are a solid color through and through. And with their speed, they are likely to look like a golden streak zipping across a field.
Speaking of running, Vizslas have outstanding stamina and can keep up a trotting pace for extended periods of time. So, for families that enjoy going for bike rides and runs, Vizslas are well-suited companions, ready to keep up with you at a graceful trot.
Lastly, these dogs have brains. Their expressions might seem docile, but they’ve got a great intelligence working behind those eyes. So be sure that they get plenty of mental exercise, and don’t let their smarts go to waste.
6. German Short-haired Pointer
Highlights: Enthusiastic, Vigorous, Noble
While the German Short-haired Pointer is thought of as a fantastic pointer dog, they are also incredibly versatile and can perform plenty of other tasks. Powerful, speedy, and agile, the GSP is built for long days of working close with their owners.
But even if you aren’t into hunting, they will be up for almost any other physical activity. If you live near lakes, parks, or woods, they are going to enjoy the outdoors.
As they are very sensitive to their owners, they thrive best with positive training and a caring environment. But if they are given enough love and time, the results can be an amazing companion who is equally friendly and intelligent.
Combine this winning temperament with a coat and appearance that is often called “aristocratic” and you’ve got a truly special breed. Their liver-colored coats (patterned and un-patterned) and their dark eyes can give them a dignified look.
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Highlights: Compact, Sweet-natured, Athletic
The Brittany dog was developed in northwest France sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries, so it has a bit of history. Sometimes this breed has been referred to as a spaniel.
However, based off its working characteristics it’s actually more akin to a pointer or setter, so it makes this list. Though they are on this list of pointing breeds, Brittany dogs are equally capable of other tasks such as retrieving.
With their floppy ears and bright eyes they have a range of facial expressions, but generally have an appearance of being alert. But behind it all they are very sensitive dogs, and for training they do best with positive reinforcement and no negativity.
Unlike some other pointing dogs, Brittanies can turn out to be shy, especially if they aren’t socialized early on. But, with proper socialization, they display all the usual traits of being loyal and affectionate.
And like all hunting dogs, don’t forget that they need plenty, plenty of exercise.
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8. Italian Spinone
Highlights: Mild-mannered, Sturdy, Independent
Sporting a thick, wiry coat, the Italian Spinone is well-suited to hunts that see it running through dense grass or even cold water.
They might not have the speed and agility of other pointer dogs, but the Italian Spinone is still popular due to its consistent pointing and retrieving abilities. Plus, their looks differ a bit from other gun dogs.
They are very dedicated workers that do well working close with their human counterparts in all manner of conditions that might be too rough for other breeds.
Even though they sport rugged looks, the Italian Spinone is quite mild-mannered. They bond well with their owners and enjoy working closely with them on any manner of tasks.
In addition to physical prowess, they’re highly intelligent and readily learn tasks. But, they can have a strong-willed and stubborn streak. So long as you train them with care and patience, they’ll be likely to turn out well and be companions that you can rely on for anything.
9. Small Munsterlander
Highlights: Self-confident, Trainable, Capable
A couple things stand out about the Small Munsterlander. The first, obviously, is its size. Even though it is called “small,” the Small Munsterlander can still reach a height of about 21 inches.
So, they are actually medium-sized dogs. The second unique trait is that they have a strong desire for the water. That is, hunts that involve water are their favorites!
Also, while their pointing instincts are great, they also have a strong ability to track all manner of prey after the shot.
Even with their high energy, the Small Munsterlander comes off as stable and calm. This is partially due to their intelligence and trainability. Their natural inclinations can be honed to be even better through simple, but consistent training regimens.
Their strong nerves make them highly adaptable and steady through all sorts of situations or tasks. They have a good social demeanor and do equally well with children and adults.
However, their strong predatory instincts can lead them to chase smaller animals unless they have been properly socialized. It’s a must if you’re bringing them to a home with cats.
10. Irish Red and White Setter
Highlights: Devoted, Active, Loving
In use and temperament, the Irish Red and White is almost identical to the other setter breeds from the British Isles, especially the Irish Setter. However, it can be found as a working gun dog somewhat more often than its other setter cousins.
It has only been in the past 100 years that this breed has seen a resurgence in popularity, having nearly gone extinct toward the end of the 1800s. Despite this return in popularity, its status as a vulnerable breed is still current.
All that aside, the Irish Red and White Setter, is a breed that is both dignified and intelligent. They get their name from the pearly base coat of fur that is patterned with red (ideally deep red) splotches.
Also, unlike some other pointer breeds, the Irish Red and White requires more attentive care in order to keep its coat in good health, with brushing being a necessity at least once a week.
But, like their fellow gun dogs, this breed is powerfully devoted to their owners and are fully of affection for any and all members of the family.
11. Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Highlights: Hard-working, Steadfast, Eager
Whereas other pointing breeds tend to have short, dense coats or perhaps silky hair, the Wire-haired Pointing Griffon goes for a more rugged appearance. Their coat is harshly wiry, but on the plus side they are low-shedding dogs.
So despite the gruff look, they don’t leave a mess behind them. In fact, they are known as being the supreme gun dog, proving themselves over and over again in the field.
Their desire and dedication to work go almost unmatched among similar working breeds. They approach their work with an honest, hard-working attitude that has won them a well-deserved popularity.
And at home, they are just as fantastic. They are extremely outgoing dogs with a naturally eager demeanor that makes them fit in with households of all sizes.
They might look rough on the outside, but inside they are a very loving dog that is a steadfast companion.
Highlights: Aloof, Elegant, Powerful
The Weimaraner, also affectionally called the “Grey Ghost,” has showed up on a few of our lists already. Their dignified appearance has historically made them a favorite among royalty as companions for hunts.
It’s because of their wicked-sharp wits and astounding stamina that let them prove themselves time and again. Their versatility has also kept them popular through the years, as they can perform various tasks and assist on hunts for a variety of quarries.
Outside of hunting, they are known for being highly energetic and ready for long hours of playing and exercise. However, their urge to hunt is so strong that they tend not to do well living with smaller animals.
Anything from the size of a cat or smaller they will instinctually chase and, most likely, catch. If you want to tame down this side of them, it will take a great deal of patience and effort to make any headway.
However, if you don’t have any other pets, then a Weimaraner is a highly-intelligent and sophisticated companion.
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Highlights: Enthusiastic, Speedy, Good Instincts
The Pudelpointer is far from the most popular of hunting breeds, especially in the United States. But, that’s starting to change as people are realizing all the positive characteristics that the Pudelpointer can offer.
First off, they have great natural instincts for both pointing and retrieving, making them one of the more versatile hunting breeds. Next they tend to come with an inborn enthusiasm for hunts that take them across both land and water.
Their speed and endurance are also top notch. Their nose is extremely good. And, to top it all off, they have a strong instinctual hunting desire. Basically, they love the thrill of the hunt.
Their disposition has also helped with their increase in popularity, as they are easily trained and make for great companions both outdoors and indoors.
So long as their breeding stays steady, we see this breed becoming increasingly popular in the years to come.
14. German Longhaired Pointer
Highlights: Versatile, Family-friendly, Docile
Another skilled bird dog to originate from Germany, the German Longhaired Pointer is like the Continental Europe version of the Setter. They’re a pointer dog breed with a long, dense coat and tail.
These dogs absolutely love being in water. As you can guess, they’re generally great swimmers and regularly participate in waterfowl hunting (ducks, geese, other aquatic birds).
A GLP’s coat color is similar to that of a German Shorthaired Pointer. The main difference is, well, length. Both breeds are similar – they both have the water-resistant undercoat.
It can be difficult to tell with the dense coat, but these dogs are sneaky athletic and muscular. Still, they move, swim and run with elegance and grace.
15. German Wirehaired Pointer
Highlights: Loving, Enthusiastic, Motivated
The German Wirehaired Pointer is truly a multi-purpose bird dog with lots of skills. Though they’re similar to their popular cousin, the German Shorthaired Pointer, they’re a bit different physically.
The GWP is slightly bigger and taller, with more muscles and agility. They were bred to beat through thick bushes in tough terrains all day long. Not only do they do this, but they seemingly don’t get tired!
Thanks to their dense wired coats, they’re protected from the thorns of the bushes and any weather that’s thrown at them. The GWPs are some of the best companions for hunters.
In addition, they’re wicked smart. These dog’s instinctive dog intelligence are off the charts. In other words, they were born to track birds and do it so well.
So let us know in the comments section, which is your favorite pointer dog and why?
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