Everything is better with a dog, including hunting. If you’re an avid hunter looking for a four-legged companion, certain pups are better suited than others for the job. Here’s what to know about the best dogs for hunting excursions.
Types of Hunting Dogs
There are many different types of hunting dogs, each bred for special skills, to hunt certain types of prey, or to expertly navigate specific terrains. Some of the most popular hunting dogs in the U.S. are bird dogs, hounds, curs, and terriers.
Bird dogs, also known as gun dogs, hunt alongside humans. There are three subcategories of bird dogs: pointers, flushers, and retrievers.
Pointers “point” with their muzzle toward potential game.
Flushers provoke the birds to fly, allowing hunters to target them.
Retrievers fetch the prey and bring it back to the hunter.
Unlike bird dogs that work closely with hunters, hounds do the hunting for their humans. These dogs can be grouped by how they track prey:
Sight hounds possess sharp vision and can unleash short bursts of incredible speed.
Scent hounds are bred to track prey over several hours and long distances.
Curs were the right-hand dog of early U.S. settlers, who often used them to corner raccoons in a tree (a practice called “treeing” prey) for their human companions to target.
The name “terrier” means “of the earth.” It’s a fitting name because dogs in this group were bred to pursue underground prey, such as foxes, rats, and other small game.
20 Best Dogs for Hunting
Once you know what job you want your hunting dog to do, it’s time to pick a specific breed.
1. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are bird dogs with a long history of working in the water. Their thick double coat helps protect them from the cold, and their tail functions like a rudder in the water. As the name suggests, these dogs are pros at retrieving.
2. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dogs in the U.S. thanks to their cheerful dispositions. But they also happen to be excellent at retrieving ducks and other waterfowl. Goldens are one of the best hunting dogs because they are easy to train and highly intelligent.
Sometimes called the English Pointer, this dog was bred to do one thing: hunt birds. Pointers are smart, speedy, and always down for outside time with their humans, whether it be for hunting, hiking, or just a long walk through the neighborhood.
A cross between the Poodle and the Pointer, the Pudelpointer is a German bird dog breed. The first breeders wanted to combine all the positive traits of the parent breeds into a dog that is super smart, loves the water, has a strong retrieving instinct, and is eager to please.
Bloodhounds are excellent scent hounds with a legendary sense of smell—they can track a scent for up to 130 miles! Their endurance, determination, and focus mean that hunters can rely on these dogs to pursue their prey just about anywhere. However, that incredible sniffer can get them into trouble. Always make sure your Bloodhound is in a securely fenced area or on a leash whenever they’re outdoors.
6. English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is named for their skill at “springing” game out of hiding places. While known for their endurance and strength, English Springer Spaniels are eager to please, making positive reinforcement training a breeze.
The floppy-eared Beagle is a popular family dog who can also excel in the hunting field. While they can be happy in any active family, these friendly and social dogs truly thrive when hunting rabbits and birds in a pack.
8. English Setter
Rugged and handsome, the English Setter is a bird dog with exceptional tracking skills. Historically, these dogs were bred to lie down quietly, or “set,” when they found prey nesting in tall grass.
The Brittany, formerly called the Brittany Spaniel, is known for their gorgeous orange-and-white coat, sweet and friendly temperament, and athleticism in the field. Originally bred for hunting in France, Brittany dogs excel in pointing and retrieving game.
10. American Foxhound
Can you guess what the American Foxhound was bred to hunt? Fast and agile, this scent hound is led by their nose. This breed was historically popular among hunters in the southern U.S., but is now one of the rarest dog breeds.
11. Mountain Cur
The Mountain Cur was popular among American pioneers, and there’s even lore that Daniel Boone had a pack of these pups. These tenacious dogs can cover a lot of ground on the hunt and instinctually “tree” their prey.
12. Boykin Spaniel
As the state dog of South Carolina, Boykin Spaniels are especially skilled at hunting in wetlands due to their webbed paws and love for swimming. These dogs are bred to hunt—you guessed it—waterfowl.
13. Plott Hound
Confident and determined, Plott Hounds were historically dogs for hunting big game such as bears and boars. While they may not be tracking mountain lions anymore, Plotts still love to spend as much time outdoors as possible and need regular exercise to be happy.
14. German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) is an athletic bird dog breed. They also make friendly family pups—if you can keep up with their impressive stamina. GSPs require lots of exercise and mental stimulation every day, so they’re best suited to live with an active family that’ll keep them engaged.
15. German Wirehaired Pointer
While the GSP has a short and sleek coat, the German Wirehaired Pointer is a scruffy hunting dog with a handsome, wiry beard. This double coat protects them from water, thorns, and cold weather.
16. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was bred to be the perfect duck hunter for the Chesapeake Bay’s frigid waters. These bird dogs have a thick, oily double coat to protect them from the cold and webbed paws to help them swim.
17. Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels get their name from their favorite prey: woodcocks. These adept bird dogs hunt with their nose, using their keen sense of smell to find and flush out birds. And while they’re one of the best hunting dogs, it’s much more common to see Cockers lounging on laps as house dogs.
18. Black and Tan Coonhound
Calm at home but determined when tracking a scent, Black and Tan Coonhounds trace their history back to the days of U.S. settlers. Their powerful nose means they can be single-minded when they smell something intriguing, so it’s important to teach this hunting dog recall and keep them inside a fenced-in yard.
19. Redbone Coonhound
Like many other coonhounds, the Redbone Coonhound traces their origin to the early days of the U.S. Racoons were their prey of choice, and the dogs were bred to be able to navigate all kinds of terrain alongside their hunting partner.
20. Irish Setter
The sweet Irish Setter is probably best known for their gorgeous red coat, but they are also a skilled hunting dog. Like English Setters, these dogs indicate they’ve found prey by “setting” down on their belly. Outside of the hunting field, Irish Setters require lots of love and time spent with their humans.
Safety Tips for Hunting With Dogs
The best thing hunters can do for their furry companions is to be prepared and make sure their dog stays safe.
Train your dog to be comfortable around gunfire.
Put your dog in a brightly colored vest so they are easily visible.
Make sure your dog is microchipped and wearing ID tags.
Have your dog vaccinated and up to date on flea and tick prevention.
Pack enough food, water, and first aid supplies for your dog.
With the right training and preparation, you and your hunting dog will be ready for a fun day out.
Featured Image: iStock/aluxum