36 Breeds You May Or May Not Have Known Were Bird Dogs


There are more than 350 dog breeds recognized worldwide and just under 200 recognized in the U.S. All of these dogs were bred for a purpose – be they for companionship, herding, guarding, hunting and beyond. Hunting breeds have a lot of variety, from hounds that track based on scent or sight to terriers that hunt rodents to sporting dogs that locate and retrieve birds. We’re focusing on the latter with these 36 breeds you may or may not have known were bird dogs.

The Two Main Types Of Bird Dogs

There are two main types of bird dogs: flushers and pointers. Flushers locate birds and then entice them into the air quickly for hunters, while pointers locate birds and hold point for the hunter to flush. Flushers also tend to work in closer range, while pointers can work over greater distances. Both have keen senses of smell and can retrieve, though not all pointers have natural a retrieving instinct.

1. American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniel dog

The American Water Spaniel is a rare breed originating from the Midwest of the United States. They were bred to help hunt and retrieve waterfowl in the icy waters and marshy banks of the Great Lakes. Though their exact origins are unknown, the breed possibly descended from Irish Water Spaniels, Curly-Coated Retrievers and the now extinct English Water Spaniel. The American Water Spaniel is a small muscular dog with a water-repellant coat that protects them from cold temperatures. They also have padded, webbed feet that help them swim to waterfowl with ease.

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“American water spaniels are steady, close-working flushers and excellent retrievers that stay within shotgun range at a moderate pace. Their dense, curly coats and strong retrieving instinct also makes them excellent waterfowl dogs. Like many of the small flushers, American water spaniels are versatile dogs that take to flushing naturally. They have keen noses, a naturally strong desire to retrieve, and are as at home hunting over water as in upland areas; as such they make excellent dual-purpose dogs.”

2. Boykin Spaniel

Boykin Spaniel dog

The Boykin Spaniel was bred by hunters in South Carolina during the 1900s to be a sportsman’s companion. They were developed to hunt duck, turkey and waterfowl in swamps and lakes. The breed was named for the small South Carolina town and its founding resident, Lemuel Whitaker “Whit” Boykin. Its origin begins in this town where a sportsman found a brown spaniel and brought it hunting. Seeing the spaniel’s natural hunting instincts and eagerness in the field, he sent the dog to train with his hunting partner, Boykin. Enthralled with its flushing and retrieving skills, Boykin crossed it with various Spaniels (Cocker, English Spring and American Water) as well as Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

At first, the Boykin Spaniel was only in this South Carolina region until it eventually became popular across the entire country, particularly the East Coast. The Boykin was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2009 and is the state dog of South Carolina.

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Boykin spaniels generally quarter within shotgun range at a moderate, steady pace. This gives them the ability to hunt for long stretches of time. Boykins track birds both by scent and sight. Known for “hesitation flushes” – they don’t flush birds with wild abandon, instead taking their time before making an aggressive flush – Boykin spaniels are versatile dogs that don’t need to be commanded to flush birds. They have keen noses, a naturally strong desire to retrieve, and are as at home hunting over water as in upland areas; as such they make excellent dual-purpose dogs for uplanders who also like to chase a few ducks too.”

3. Bracco Italiano

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Although this personality-filled creature may be a challenging dog to train for newer hunters and dog owners, the Bracco Italiano is an excellent worker with plenty of stamina and energy. Their alert and responsive temperament makes them great workers in the field, in addition to possessing natural pointing and retrieving skills. Owners of the Bracco admire their ability to learn something one hunting season, apply it the next hunting season, and get gradually better and better at hunting as they get older.”

4. Braque D’Auvergne (Auvergne Pointer)

Braque D

The Braque d’Auvergne is a hunting dog originating from the mountainous Cantal in the Auvergne province, mid-south of France. It’s believed to be one of the oldest pointing breeds, developed centuries ago. The word “braque” comes from the French verb “to aim or point” and is translated as “pointer” in noun form. Stories indicate that the Knights of Malta brought dogs when they relocated to the Auvergne region after Napoleon captured Malta. As hunters, they continued their sport in the new region but needed strong and tireless hunting companions. Thus, they developed the Braque d’Auvergne from ancient hunting dogs of the region. After World War II, the breed faced extinction until a breeder found 20 dogs and rebuilt the breed.

The Braque d’Auvergne is a natural, versatile gun dog with an excellent sense of smell and persistent work ethic. They are medium in size but strong in build, allowing them to work all day and endure long distances even in rugged environments. It’s said that the Braque d’Auvergne works closely with its hunting partner, checking in often. Its eagerness to please its partner also allows them to be quite trainable.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Braques d’Auvergne is a part of the large family of French pointing dogs. Eager to please like many of its cousins, it is a great gundog that is perfect in a family setting as well. These dogs are natural hunters, will check in often, and are extremely easy to train. It is notable that they are very comfortable getting to know other dogs.”

5. Braque du Bourbonnais

Braque du Bourbonnais dog

The Braque du Bourbonnais is another ancient breed, also considered one of the oldest pointers. It was developed in France and found in French literature in the late 1500s, where the breed was known even then for its hunting. It’s believed that The Braque du Bourbonnais, like many other French pointers, originated from the Braque Francais or French Pointer (next on this list). Each type of French pointer is named after the region in which it developed, with the Braque du Bourbonnais originating from the province of Bourbon in central France.

In 1925, breed enthusiasts founded the first club but numbers declined after World War II. It was around this time that breeders selected dogs based on coat color and tail length, rather than hunting abilities. This made the breed less desirable for hunting and led to its near extinction. The breed was rebuilt in the 1970s with hunting abilities becoming one of the most important focuses in breeding. It was around this time that Braque du Bourbonnais dogs also began to thrive in field trials. The breed was was imported to the U.S. shortly after and became so popular that it has the second largest number registered, only trailing France. Today, breeding Braque du Bourbonnais requires that dogs be adept pointers, retrievers and trackers.

The Braque du Bourbonnais is known for its versatility in hunting, intense pointing and strong retrieving instinct. It is compact but muscular, which allows this medium-sized dog to have strength, power and swiftness. All of this makes it an ideal and excellent companion for the foot hunter.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

““Versatile” is almost an understatement with this continental breed: The Braques du Bourbonnais can catch a scent, track, point, swim and retrieve. The Braques is skilled at working at medium distances and a smooth pace, and comes back often to check in. They are beautiful dogs, solidly built.”

6. Braque Francais

Braque Francais French pointer dog

The Braque Français is another ancient pointing hunter that has been around since the 15th century. They are versatile hunting dogs that point, retrieve, flush and trail game in a range of terrain. It is believed to descend from the Old Spanish Pointer and now-extinct Southern Hound, both of which pointed to locate game birds.

Over time, the Braque Français was crossed with other breeds as it expanded to other countries. But a desire for the original breed grew toward the end of the 19th century. It was then that two varieties were discovered: the Gascony from southwest France (heavier, larger and more classic of a gun dog) and the Pyrenean from the Central Pyrenees (leaner, quicker and less conventional to hunt in the rugged Pyrenees Mountain range). Both varieties were supported by the first Braque Français club, formed in the early 20th century, with separate standards for each. Today, however, the Pyrenean Type is more popular.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“There are two types of Braque Francais: The Pyrenean and the Gascogne types. The Pyrenean was originally bred to hunt the rugged Pyrenees Mountains on the border of France and Spain, and is smaller than the Gascogne type. Braque Francais are especially adept at adjusting their hunting style and cruising distance at hand and the wishes of their masters. They are extremely versatile, with excellent noses and staunch points. Braques are thought to be the most natural retrievers of all the pointing breeds. As a bonus, most Braques love water and eagerly jump in to fetch an upland bird or duck.”

7. Brittany

Brittany dog

Unsurprisingly, the Brittany dog originated from Brittany, the westernmost region of France where the English Channel lies north and the Bay of Biscay lies south. It arose several hundred years ago, as the first records of Brittanies are from 17th century art. Originally, the Brittany was a companion to medieval peasants and poachers, who needed an all-purpose working dog that could live in small quarters and poach local Lord’s game. This versatility that was bred into Brittanies still exists, as it’s one of the most multifaceted bird dogs. They are small and quick-footed but durable with high stamina, a tireless work ethic and a keen nose for birds. The also have heavy eyebrows to protect them from brush while hunting.

In 1931, the Brittany was introduced to the U.S. and became one of the most popular and accomplished field dogs. In 1934, the first AKC registered of the breed was known as the Brittany Spaniel. In fact, the breed is still known as the Brittany Spaniel (or Epagneul Breton) in France. The American and French types split during the 20th century and the breed name was shortened to Brittany in 1982, as they have more in common with pointers (like Setters) than spaniels in hunting style and DNA.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Brittany is a close-working pointing dog with natural hunting and retrieving ability. The Brittany originated in the Brittany region of northwestern France, and was depicted in paintings as early as the 17th century. While not large in stature, Brittanys have the speed and agility to cover a lot of ground. They are a tough and durable breed with skin and coat built to resist punctures and tears in thick cover.”

Pro Tip: The Epagneul Breton or French Brittany is the original Brittany and the smallest of the pointing breeds. They are also pointing bird dogs who can go all day, work in more open prairies and are natural and willing retrievers.

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8. Český Fousek

Český Fousek dog

The Český Fousek is a Czech hunting dog with great versatility, part of the griffon hunting family. It is adaptable with a natural ability to track, point and retrieve game. They can work a wide variety of terrain and types of hunting, from pointing and retrieving upland game or waterfowl to tracking and downing larger game. They are muscular with broad chests and strong shoulders, which provide power and endurance when working the field. They are known to be tireless and determined trackers with strong drive and plenty of patience. Their eagerness to please their owners makes them quite trainable and ideal as hunting companions.

The breed is considered both ancient and newer. This is because records of similar dogs date back several hundred years, but the first written standards only arose in the 19th century. Furthermore, the breed was not formally recognized until the 1960s by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), an international kennel club spanning over 80 countries. But it’s believed that ancestors of the Český Fousek existed during the medieval and early modern monarchy in Central Europe, known as the Kingdom of Bohemia or Czech Kingdom (the predecessor of the modern Czech Republic). During the Middle Ages, a wire-haired breed known as the Bohemian Water Dog was developed. As the only wire-haired hunting breed in Europe, it’s considered the logical ancestor of wirehairs like the Český Fousek.

The breed was finally given the name “Český Ohar” in writing in 1883 by a hunter in his hunting handbook. “Ohar” was later replaced with “Fousek” (meaning “facial hair” or “whiskers,” referencing its distinctive beard and mustache) by hunters who formed a breed club. The Český Fousek became the most popular wire-haired pointing dog in the region until World War I, when the breed nearly disappeared. The breed was rebuilt beginning in 1924 with a breeding program and specific standards established by 1939. The breed faced extinction once again with World War II but was able to survive and remains popular within the region, as well as Western Europe and New Zealand.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Germans made their own efficient wire-haired dog. Why not the Czechs? Meet the Cesky Fousek, a fine and very versatile hunting dog originating in Czechoslovakia, in particular Bohemia. Due in large part to the devastating effect the First World War on Eastern Europe, the Cesky Fousek was nearly extinct by 1918. Efforts to revive the breed were stalled by World War II, and once again the numbers of Cesky Fousek dwindled. Careful breeding, and apparently some early crossbreeding with German shorthairs and wirehairs during the late 1940s, helped to develop the modern Cesky Fousek.”

9. Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay Retriever dog

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (or Chessie) originated in the United States, unsurprisingly in Virginia and Maryland around the Chesapeake Bay. This 200-mile-long and shallow estuary, which gets very cold beginning in early winter, is part of the waterfowl flight path during their seasonal migration. The breed was developed in the 19th century to retrieve game from water, pull fishing nets and perform water rescues. The origin story begins when two Newfoundlands from English survived a shipwreck off the Maryland shores. These dogs were bred with local retrieving and hunting dogs like the Flat-Coated Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel and Coonhound. The result was a dog with a thick, waterproof coat that allowed for hunting in the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The breed was one of the first nine register in the U.S. in 1878, with formal recognition occurring in 1884.

The Chessie has an oily, thick, wavy, waterproof double-coat to help keep them dry and insulated in cold water. Their broad, powerful chest helped break ice while their webbed feet and strong hindquarters helped them swim. Their muscular build also helped them withstand the Bay’s strong winds and allow for prolonged hunting. In fact, it’s said that Chassies have retrieved up to 300 ducks from the bay in just a day.

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Chesapeake Bay retrievers are rugged, tough dogs that are in many ways synonymous with harsh hunting conditions. Their coats and skin are designed to resist low temperatures and icy water – as their name suggests, they’re built to make long retrieves in the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay – but they make good upland partners as well. Athletic dogs with stamina in abundance, Chesapeake Bay retrievers have strong hunting drive, a natural retrieving ability, and they generally stay within gun range. They’re also great for tracking wounded or running birds because they just won’t give up.”

10. Clumber Spaniel

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“If you are looking for a slow-working flushing dog that is easy to keep up with and is not going to leave any cattail unturned or thicket un-snuffled during its search for pheasants or quail, then you have found your dog. Clumbers have an interesting plowing-cruising gate, quartering well and working cover thoroughly. For older hunters, or hunters who move slowly or find walking challenging, Clumbers are easy to keep up with, and their gait puts pheasants (used to fast-working dogs) off guard.”

11. Cocker Spaniel

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“English cocker spaniels are adept at quartering across the field within gun range in front of their hunters, but they are also eager and fully willing to dive into the heaviest cover around if the reward is a flushed bird. Indeed, their stature is small but their heart and drive are big. These little spaniels have no qualms about entering thick, dense cover. Field-bred cockers are excited hunters – a blur of motion when they’re afield – that have the word “work” bred into their genes. They make superb all-around upland dogs, and their approach is effective on pheasants in particular.”

12. Curly-Coated Retriever

Curly-Coated Retriever dog

Originating in England and dating back to the 1800s, the Curly-Coated Retriever is one of the oldest retrieving breeds. In fact, it is believed to likely be the first breed used seriously for retrieving work in England. They were bred to be multi-purpose and versatile hunting companions and retrievers, particular of upland birds and waterfowl. It is believed that Curly-Coated Retrievers descended from several now extinct breeds – like the English Water Spaniel, Retrieving Setter and St. John’s Dog – with Irish Water Spaniel mixed in as well.

In the early 1880s, Poodle DNA was introduced to their bloodline to tighten their distinctive curled coat. This coat is waterproof and helps insulate so dogs can maintain body temperature for hunting in icy waters. The coat also helps protect them from thorns and thick brush. Curly-Coated Retrievers are quick, agile, eager and persistent hunters who will work for hours, only quitting when their people do. Their tirelessness, though, means they require plenty of activity as boredom does not mix well with them.

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Curly-coated retrievers are among the most versatile and oldest of the retriever breeds. Records indicate curly-coats have been used for retrieving work in England since at least the early 1800s. These dogs are agile and quick, perform well on land and in water, but require plenty of exercise to stay in shape and stave off boredom. They naturally perform well in upland situations, staying within gun range and effectively flushing birds from cover.”

13. English Setter

English Setter dog

The English Setter is one of the oldest setting breeds, dating back to the 14th century. It was bred to use endurance and athleticism for retrieving game on both land and water – particularly in the terrains of England, Ireland and Scotland. Their exact origin is not known but there are beliefs that the English Setter’s ancestors include Spanish Pointer, Springer Spaniel, French Pointer and large water spaniels. In 1825, a breeder began developing the breed standard, which laid the foundation for today’s English Setter. In the 19th century, there was a divergence of Setter breeds based on their location and its terrain. In the late 1800s, the English Setter made its way to the U.S. and was recognized by the AKC in 1878.

When locating game, English Setters lay down quietly or “set.” This method was ideal for net-hunting, where hunters cast a net over birds and sometimes even the dog. Once guns replaced nets, hunters turned to Setters selectively bred for upright pointing and thus English Setters adapted to gun hunting. These dogs have beautiful longer fur (called feathering) around the ears, neck, chest, back of the front legs, stomach, back legs and tail that is likely for insulation.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The English Setter (aka Setter) is a quick and efficient worker with an excellent nose and ground speed that was bred specifically for upland bird hunting. They are graceful hunters that combine agility with stamina to cover a lot of ground. They are energetic dogs from a long, rich history of finding and pointing upland birds.”

14. English Springer Spaniel

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Named for their propensity to flush – or “spring” – birds, English springer spaniels quarter well and bust into any cover they encounter. They are capable retrievers, too, whether it’s pheasants in the field, grouse in the woods, or ducks in smaller waters. English springer spaniels are animated hunters and at times their exuberance can make them range too far in front of the gun. Proper training and gentle reminding is a necessity. Springers plow cover like troopers, and make great all-season pheasant dogs.”

15. Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-Coated Retriever dog

The Flat-Coated Retriever was one of the more recent retrieving breeds, first bred in the mid-1800s as a dual-purpose retriever of game both on land and in water. It is believed that the Flat-Coated Retriever is a mix of the Newfoundland, Wavy-Coated Retriever, now-extinct St. John’s Dog as well as various setters, sheepdogs and water spaniels. The breeding program was established in 1864, when shooting birds in flight (rather than on the ground or perch) became popular and the need arose for a dog to retrieve downed birds in water. The breed, recognized by the AKC in 1915, was the most popular retriever before Labs and Goldens.

Flat-Coated Retrievers will mark where game has fallen, swim a straight path to it, grip it gently in their mouth and swim a straight path back. The breed is characterized by its beautiful straight, long coat that protects it from cold and icy water, thorns, harsh brush, and unforgiving weather. They are believed to be one of the happiest breeds, but are also hard-working and tireless.

Type of bird dog: Flusher

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Originating in the 1800’s, the flat-coated retriever became very popular as a gamekeeper’s dog in England. Flatcoats are versatile hunting retrievers that score high in trainability. In the uplands, flatcoats are flushing dogs. The breed works close and hunts smart. If there’s bird scent in the area, you can be confident your flatcoat is on something and let the fun begin! Like most retrieving breeds, the flatcoat will quarter in front of the hunter to flush upland birds within comfortable gun range. They are extremely good at finding and retrieving downed birds.”

16. German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer dog

The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) was developed in Germany during the 19th century. They were bred to hunt, point and retrieve game both on land and in water. Hunters wanted a versatile and quick but powerful hunter with a strong nose, so they first crossed tracking hounds with pointing dogs. But the resulting dogs tended to bay, so they added in English Pointer. It took generations of crossing to develop the ideal, versatile, medium-sized dog that is the GSP. The breed was registered by the German Kennel in 1872, arrived to the U.S. in the 1920s and recognized by the AKC in 1930.

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The resulting GSP was able to successfully hunt all kinds of game, from birds to rodents and even deer. In fact, the breed was so effective that it became one of the winningest breeds in competitive hunting events and is still consistently doing so today. Their webbed feet, muscular build and water-repellant coat allow them to excel at swimming and hunting in water. GSPs – known for their power, agility, speed and endurance – are able to work long days. If not hunting, they tend to need quite a bit of exercise to satiate their high energy needs.

Pro Tip: Most GSPs love water but not in lower temperatures, as they easily become cold thanks to their short fur. It’s often recommended that GSPs wear warm clothing in winter.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) should range and hunt within a comfortable distance from the hunter. They work well with other dogs in the field and should honor instinctively. They are a versatile and popular hunting choice due to their ability to hunt enthusiastically on both land and water.”

Pro Tip: Some believe the GSP is the same as the Deutsch Kurzhaar, while others believe they are separate breeds. The main difference seems to be that GSPs cannot be part of the Deutsch Kurzhaar Verband program, so the lineages of the dogs continue to be separate.

17. German Longhaired Pointer

German Longhaired Pointer dog

The German Longhaired Pointer (GLP) is a versatile hunting dog originating from Germany in 1879. Hunters crossed bird, hawk and water dogs with scent hounds to make them one of the most versatile hunting companions. The first kennel clubs were founded in the 1870s and the first breed standard was written in 1897, becoming the foundation for the current breeding program.

German Longhaired Pointers are hardworking, intelligent and determined when hunting. They are able to adapt to working in the field, water or woods and can search, track, point and retrieve. Resembling setters more in appearance, the breed has a long coat with dense fur and a moderate undercoat to protect and insulate.

Pro Tip: Some believe the German Longhaired Pointer is the same as the Deutsch Langhaar (DL), while others believe they are separate breeds. Owners of DLs generally believe they are different, while owners of GLPs generally refer to them as the same. But because GLPs cannot be bred in the Deutsch Langhaar Verband program, the lineages of the dogs continue to be separate.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to Project Upland Magazine:

“Both the DL and GLP are strong gun dogs, with excellent skills before and after the shot. Staunch pointers with flowing lines, they work at a moderate range and speed. Noted for a stable temperament, DLs and GLPs are known for a strong physical presence yet calm demeanor and stable temperament. Those bred under the German breeding and testing system vocalize on track more than their American counterparts and may be more protective.”

18. German Wirehaired Pointer

German Wirehaired Pointer dog

The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) is a close relative of the GSP but was bred to be more rugged. Breeders developed the GWP to be as versatile, tireless and successful hunters as GSPs but taller, heavier and with a thicker, water-resistant coat. The coat also helps protect against thorns, harsh brush and unforgiving weather, while their long beard and eyebrows help protect the GWP’s eyes and face. Like the GSP, this breed has webbed feet and a muscular body for swimming, but their aforementioned coat allows more comfort retrieving in water.

In the early 1800s, breeding wire-coated pointing dogs was extremely popular by German hunters and sportsmen. By the mid to late 1800s, wire-coated gun dogs were officially established as separate breeds thanks to insistent European breeders. GWPs became popular among North American sportsmen in the 1920s, where they were increasingly imported and eventually officially recognized by the AKC in 1959.

Pro Tip: The name German Wirehaired Pointer is the English translation of the German breed name, Deutsch-Drahthaar. But Deutsch-Drahthaar enthusiasts insist that the breeds are separate.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The German Wirehaired Pointer is an all-around gun dog that is able to hunt many types of game on almost any terrain. As a versatile hunter that will track, point and retrieve on both land and water, they are a top pick for hunters wanting a pointing dog that can double as a skilled duck retriever. They are sturdy dogs that are well muscled and determined hunters, these dogs are also known to be very cooperative with their handler.”

Pro Tip: Some believe the GWP is the same as the Deutsch Drahthaar, while others believe they are separate breeds. In fact, many GWP breeders say Deutsch drahthaars will be in a GWP’s pedigree if you go back far enough. The main difference seems to be that GWPs cannot be part of the Deutsch Drahthaar Verband program, so the lineages of the dogs continue to be separate.

19. Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever dog

The Golden Retriever originated in in Scotland in the mid-1800s when the need arose for dogs that were more effective at retrieving game, especially from water. It is believed that Goldens were developed by crossing a yellow colored retriever with the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. The resulting litter was then crossed with Irish Setter, light-colored Bloodhound, Newfoundland and Wavy-Coated Retriever. The result was an ideal gun dog that could endure hours of hunting in rugged terrain and rainy weather.

Though often described as happy and playful, Goldens are hard-workers when tasked with a job – be it hunting, guiding, searching and rescuing, competing and beyond. Their activity level, along with body makeup, allow them to excel in water retrieving. They have long, powerful legs (particularly hind legs) with webbed feet to swim efficiently and over long distances, maneuver through waves and stay afloat. Their topcoat is water-resistant and protects against debris, while their undercoat is wooly to keep them warm. Because their retrieving instincts are so strong, they often love carrying things and games of fetch with their favorite toy or ball.

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Golden retrievers are versatile retrievers that love to work and live to please. They are excellent at retrieving waterfowl in and around water, and fully capable of solid work in the field as well. They take to both styles of hunting with enthusiasm, and will quarter in front of hunters to flush birds. While their beautiful coat keeps them warm and dry even in cold conditions, it also makes them warm on hot days, so hunters who bring them afield must ensure they don’t overheat. In general, golden retrievers are tough and durable, and the way they perform in the field reflects that.”

20. Gordon Setter

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Gordon Setter should range and hunt independently some distance from the hunter. They are not generally fast but are patient and have very good stamina. They exhibit natural abilities to point and retrieve and are well suited to hunt in adverse weather conditions.”

21. Irish Setter

Irish Setter dog

The Irish Setter was bred by Irish hunters in the 1800s to help hunt and retrieve waterfowl using their sense of smell. Hunters wanted an agile hunting companion who could move quickly and cover more ground in the expansive and flat Irish countryside. It is believed that Irish Setters are a mix of English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish Terrier, Irish Water Spaniel, Pointer as well as Old Spanish Pointer, setting spaniels, and early Scottish setters. Like other setters, the Irish was bred to lay down after locating game so hunters could cast their nets. They, too, adapted to new methods once firearms were introduced into the hunting world. In the early 19th century, the breed arrived in the U.S. and the AKC recognized it in 1878. The Irish Setter briefly became one of the most popular breeds across the U.S. in the 1970s. Today, they are beloved by owners and hunters alike.

Interestingly, Irish Setters originally had white and red coats, they were bred to just have their distinctive red coat in the early 1800s. In fact, the breed’s name in Gaelic is “Madra Rua,” which translates to “red dog.” Their flat, glossy coat is one of the most admired parts of the Irish Setter, but it also served a purpose – to repel water and insulate the body. Beyond their beautiful coat, they have long, strong legs for endurance and agility. But don’t let their beautiful coat, slim build, long legs and friendly personality fool you – they are rugged, bold, energetic and efficient hunting companions. They are versatile, able to track scent, point and retrieve as well as work in any weather and environment (but especially in wetlands).

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Red Setter is an upland bird dog with a high prey drive, work ethic and stamina. While registered as Irish Setters, they are referred to as Red Setters to acknowledge their distinct differences. Red Setters are a product of an extensive restoration initiated in the 1950s. They have a racy ground pattern, can cover extensive range, and are known for their high intelligence. They are at home in pheasant fields, grouse woods, and on the prairies, and tend to break out easily and at a young age. They are an excellent choice for the hunter who has a variety of upland hunting destinations. Most specimens are natural backers and retrievers.”

22. Irish Red & White Setter

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Irish Red & White Setter is a cousin to the Irish Setter. The Red & White is much more commonly used as a gundog than its cousin and has been revived for this use in recent years. They are known for a keen nose and can hunt a wide variety of terrain in any climate. The Irish Red & White Setter has the stamina and intensity to hunt all day, with the natural ability to adjust to different terrain conditions.”

23. Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel dog

The Irish Water Spaniel was developed by a sportsman from Dublin in the early 1830s. It comes from the two water spaniels of the time, the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel, though more closely resembles the South Country type. The breed’s popularity rose in England and Ireland because of its ability to hunt and retrieve waterfowl in cold waters, such as the North Sea. Their waterproof, tightly curled double coat served to keep them warm in cold waters during their tasks while their webbed feet and endurance allowed them to excel at swimming.

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In the 1870s, the breed spread to America and, by 1875, become the country’s third most popular sporting breed and hunting companion. The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest of the AKC’s spaniels, standing 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weighing 55 to 65 pounds. It’s size and hard-working nature gives the Irish Water Spaniel endurance to work a full day in the field.

Pro Tip: This once-popular breed is now considered rare, thanks to the rise of the Labrador Retriever. The Lab’s lower maintenance coat is mainly what led to the swap. The Irish Water Spaniel’s coat grows continuously, requiring regular grooming and clipping, otherwise it will tangle and mat. It would also easily snag on thorns and harsh brush. And although the coat was waterproof, wet snow and ice would bond to it and form clumps (which was not a problem in Ireland, where the breed originated).

Hunting style, according to Gun Dog Magazine:

“Versatility is the main virtue of an Irish water spaniel. They retrieve waterfowl on big water and in heavy marshes, flush and retrieve upland game and then curl up with the kids at night…Unlike a lot of jacks-of-all-trades, the IWS can actually master a few. They have great noses and prey drive. They can be great markers and persist on birds. If they detect a bird in heavy cover, they will stay on it until they make contact. If the bird is not quick to take off, they’re happy to trap it and deliver a wild bird.” [Russ Dodd]

“The IWS has traditionally worked as both a retriever and a spaniel. Because of their retrieving ability, keen noses and bird desire, they can work as a retriever and do upland work like a spaniel, which means the hunter has the best of both worlds. They are bigger than other spaniels, which means that instead of going under the cover, they go through it and naturally work close when quartering, so they stay in run range. They are highly trainable and thrive in an environment where they are challenged to work.” [Susan Sarracino-Deihl]

24. Labrador Retriever

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The most popular dog breed in America – and among Pheasants Forever members – Labrador retrievers are active and outgoing dogs that are as comfortable in a family setting as they are cruising the wide-open prairie in October or November, or crashing through cattail swamps in the dead of winter. Blessed with good agility and speed, Labrador retrievers also have stamina in abundance and a desire to retrieve for hours on end. They have a sturdy build and are plenty durable, able to perform well in a variety of upland- and water-based hunting scenarios. While hunting in the field, they quarter in front of the hunter and are wonderful flushers.”

25. Large Münsterländer

Large Münsterländer dog

The Large Münsterlander is a newer hunting breed, originating from the Münster region of Germany in the early 1900s. It was actually considered the black-and-white variation of the German Longhaired Pointer until the German Longhaired Pointer Club stopped recognizing it in 1919. It was around this time that the Large Münsterlander began to be considered a unique breed, but wasn’t officially in the UKC until 1971. In 1966, the breed was introduced to the U.S., though the breed remains rare in the country. Numbers have, however, gradually increased around the world though, thanks to the devotion of enthusiasts and breeders.

The Large Münsterlander is strong, muscular, intelligent, energetic, active and trainable. They are versatile hunting companions, able to excel in many aspects of hunting – from searching to tracking to pointing to retrieving to swimming and beyond. They tend to work closely, cooperate with and respond well to their handler. Their coat is long and dense to protect them from thorns, thick cover and cold weather while in the field (though it is susceptible to catching burrs).

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Large Munsterlander is a versatile hunter and a reliable companion both in the field and at home. They are generally good at adapting their search pattern to accommodate variations in cover, and they have a natural inclination for retrieving. Most will back other dogs with little training.”

26. Novia Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller)

Novia Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Toller dog

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever or Toller was developed in Nova Scotia, Canada during the 19th century. Hunters wanted a dog to draw game into gun range and retrieve in water, rather than waiting for birds to fall. Thus, the Toller has a unique hunting style that is unlike other traditional retrievers. It will make itself known while the hunter stays hidden, often retrieving a ball or stick. The dog’s play and motion intrigues waterfowl into gun range and then the hunter stands, causing the birds to fly. Once downed, the Toller can gently retrieve it on land or in water.

A Toller’s look and build are by design to imitate foxes – from its red color and feathery tail to its movements and size (they are the smallest of the AKC’s retrievers within the sporting group) imitate foxes. Despite their small size, these retrievers are strong and athletic. They are tireless, hard-working and focused hunters that need exercise when not working the field. They also have webbed feet and a double coat to help swim.

The exact origins of the breed are unknown but believed to be some combination of Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever and Irish Setter. In the 1960s, Tollers spread across the world to the U.S., Europe and Australia. The breed was formally recognized by the AKC in 2003, becoming the dog with the longest name. In fact, Tollers were originally called Little River Duck Dogs but renamed as “tolling” comes from the Middle English word “tollen,” meaning “to summon or entice.”

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, also known as “tollers,” are tireless retrievers that are well-adapted to cold hunting conditions. They are equally as adept in the uplands as they are the water, though they were bred specifically to hunt by frolicking and splashing along the bank to lure – or toll – curious waterfowl. When the birds are in range, the dog heads back to the blind so hunters can make their shots. Tollers retrieve the ducks from the water. Tollers are compact dogs with a sturdy build, sufficiently agile to flush birds in the uplands and blessed with sufficient energy to hunt all day long.”

27. Picardy Spaniel

Picardy Spaniel dog

The Picardy Spaniel is a highly skilled hunting and retrieving dog from France, thought to be one of the oldest spaniel breeds of the region. It is believed to have descended from the German Spaniel (or Chien d’ Oysel), as recorded in writings from the 1300s. Hunting was a favorite activity in France during this time, especially with nobles, so a hunting spaniel was desired. The Picardy Spaniel rose in popularity following the French Revolution, when hunting was allowed by more than just nobility. The breed was especially suited for northwest France, where its weather resistant coat allowed it to more easily hunt in woods and swamps.

During the 19th century, British sportsmen began hunting in France with their own dogs. Those dogs then became more desirable to the French hunters, leading to the Picardy Spaniel’s decline. Breeders ended up crossing the English Setter with Picardy Spaniels to create its cousin, the Blue Picardy Spaniel. Though rare, the original Picardy Spaniel is recognized by the UKC, the FCI, the North American Kennel Club and the American Rare Breed Association, among others.

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Picardy spaniel is one of the oldest continental spaniel breeds, and was tremendously popular in France, its country of origin, before and after the French Revolution. Picardys were originally developed for hunting in heavily wooded areas and swamps, excelling in hunting marshes, and thus make a particularly good choice as a pheasant dog. Picardys also do double duty as waterfowl dogs.”

28. Pointer

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The pointer is a very hard driving hunter known to be a tireless worker with great work ethics. They are independent and enthusiastic hunters with great range, and they work well in the field with other dogs. They generally exhibit natural hunting instincts at a very young age and have the abilities to cover larger areas of ground. Pointers are generally bred for upland hunting in warmer climates with a need to cover larger areas.”

29. Poodle (Standard)

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Standard poodles may not typically be classified in the sporting category , but don’t be fooled: They originated as water dogs and are fully capable of flushing birds on land and retrieving them in water. It’s true that many of today’s poodles aren’t hunting dogs, but the breed itself has many qualities that are attractive to hunters. Active and intelligent, poodles are rather easy to train and can make excellent hunting companions.”

30. Pudelpointer

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“Pudelpointers are calm, versatile hunting dogs with natural pointing and retrieving instincts. Happy to retrieve on land or in water, pudelpointers don’t exhibit game or gun shyness. Pudelpointers are a cross of pudels (poodles) and pointers, with a good nose, excellent endurance and a strong desire to hunt. Of note is their focus in the field, which benefits them with whatever species they’re pursuing.”

31. Small Münsterlander

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Small Münsterlander is a very versatile hunter that will flush, point and retrieve on land and water. Their numbers are small in the United States but they are much sought after by hunters that perceive them to be one of the most versatile and easily trained gundog breeds.”

32. Spinone Italiano (Italian Spinone)

Type of bird dog: Pointer

Hunting style, according to upland habitat conservation organization Pheasants Forever:

“The Italian Spinone (aka Spinone Italiano) is a large, rugged gun dog with a thick, wiry coat that is well suited for protection in dense upland grasses or cold water. They are sturdy and determined hunters with a close-working, deliberate style. That makes Spinones excellent pheasant and ruffed grouse dogs. While not fast or flashy, the breed will naturally point and retrieve, and is gaining popularity due to its wonderfully unique appearance and extreme reliability in the field. The Spinone is a calm dog, typically hunting at a more relaxed pace than many pointing breeds.”

33. Vizsla

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>