For centuries, dogs have been bred, trained and molded to hunt wild birds and animals. In fact, history revealed that dogs were descendants of wolves and were later domesticated by humans to help them hunt. However, the debate is still out on whether they became the best hunters through their own merit or through the assistance of their human masters.
In this ultimate guide, we share the 20 best bird dogs for hunting, while answering some of the most common questions in this sport.
What are Hunting Dogs?
While there are many cross breeds in the world of bird hunting, they all tend to fall under two main categories: Upland bird dogs and wetland bird dogs.
- Upland bird dogs hunt around the shrubs and tall grasses that grow around forests and fields such as pheasants and quails.
- Wetland bird dogs help hunters catch water birds such as geese, duck, and waterfowl.
While they all serve the same purpose, the roles they carry out can vary significantly depending on the type of hunt they’re called for. As such, bird dog breeds that excel as an upland hunter may not be a good match for hunting water birds and vice versa. Dogs that hunt upland birds help their owners by stalking and finding their prey and will often be used by hunters to point out where the birds are.
They will then wait for the command to flush birds out by scaring them and forcing them to fly, where the hunter will be ready to take a shot. On the other hand, wetland bird dogs work by the water, retrieving a downed bird from lakes, rivers, and swamps to give to their owner, who will be waiting by the shore or a boat. While they may not be able to scare birds from land, they are strong swimmers and can quickly fetch birds from a distance.
Below is a list of the most popular choices when it comes to the best hunting dog breeds. Both upland hunting dogs and wetland bird hunters are included in this list, where some will excel in one aspect better than the other. Before you pick a pup, be sure to check out which breed will best serve your needs.
1. Labrador Retriever
Because it’s such an excellent hunting dog for all kinds of waterfowl, Labrador Retrievers are one of the most beloved canines for hunters all over the world. What makes them so desirable are their physical attributes and abilities, which make them perfect for hunting game birds, including:
- A double coat for swimming in cold water
- A strong and muscular body
- Thick tail that offers balance for maneuvering
Apart from all these features, another reason why these are such a popular choice for hunting is their intelligence. They can listen to commands, do well with obedience training, and take up all kinds of training very well. Labrador Retrievers also mature much faster compared to other kinds of dog breeds and puppies can be trained easily, which is why they’re also used as therapy, working, and service dogs.
2. English Setter
The English Setter is a great alternative for those who may not consider the Irish Setter to be great hunting companions. These dogs are considered to be talented hunting gun dogs and are highly popular among bird hunters. They are highly skilled when it comes to pointing and retrieving smaller animals —- if you see a bird hunt with dogs, chances are that it will be an English Setter.
While the Brittany Dog is often praised to have superior hunting prowess by professional hunters compared to the English Setter, this amazing breed always delivers on every hunt. The English Setter comes in three types; the shorthaired pointer, the longhaired, and the wirehaired, all of which are acknowledged by the American Kennel Club.
3. English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel, sometimes simply referred to as the Springer Spaniel, was originally trained and developed to hunt upland game birds. As a flushing bird, its job is to flush or spring (hence their name) game birds from their hiding spots and send them flying so that hunters can shoot them down. However, these dogs only have a singular coat, so they may not be able to hunt during colder seasons.
For the past few decades, the Springer Spaniel has been classified into two types: show dogs and field dogs. Those who work on the field continue to be bred for their intelligence and hunting expertise, while show dogs are bred for their appearance. Weighing an average 35 to 40 pounds, don’t underestimate their small size, as they can be made into great family dogs or excellent hunting companions.
4. German Shorthaired Pointer
Another famous canine that is often seen in the industry is the German Shorthair Pointer, which has the stamina and nose to hunt even the most elusive game in the wild. The biggest problem hunters face when catching small game is to keep up with the pace, but this great hunting dog can do just that. Their high intelligence allows them to outwit their prey, while their stamina lets them keep up with birds for as long as necessary.
This breed is a good choice for climbing rugged and steep hillsides while chasing through the roughest terrains. Created from a combination of hounds and pointers, this excellent companion was developed in Germany many decades ago. First-time owners looking for the best hunting breeds will never go wrong with this option.
5. Boykin Spaniel
A mixture of Pointers, Retrievers, and American Water Spaniels, the Boykin Spaniel is a breed that originated in South Carolina at the start of the 20th century. Many serious hunters seek these rare hunting dogs for their high energy levels. They’ve gathered great rankings on hunting dog charts throughout various online channels.
The Boykin Spaniel is an exceptionally hard working dog and can hunt through both upland and wetland terrain. They are the go-to option when hunting for grouses, pheasants, and quail. Occasionally, they will also hunt for geese and ducks, but this isn’t their specialty.
6. Irish Setter
Like most Setters, the Irish Setter was bred for bird pointing, setting, and retrieving in Ireland during the 1700s. They are the result of mixing Pointers, Spaniels, and other Setters. They are known as one of the best hunting dogs because they work fast and are highly talented at bird pointing and retrieving.
This energetic breed will work hard and are often used to hunt small game, as well as turkeys on occasion. When up against the Brittany Spaniel or English Setter, these dogs may not be a hunter’s first choice, since the former are better hunters. Even so, Irish Setters are great hunting dogs but will also be great companions and a wonderful addition to the family.
7. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has one of the most fascinating origin stories. According to history, a shipwrecked brig from England was rescued during the 19th century. Onboard the ship were two Newfoundland puppies; one was red and the other one was black.
These dogs would later prove to be athletic and great water retrievers and became so popular that many would bring their dogs to breed with them. The resulting pups would go on to develop advanced water retrieving abilities — today, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is one of the best retrieving dogs. Compared to a Labrador Retriever, the Chesapeake has a more muscular build and is more suitable for water hunting; they aren’t afraid of dirt, water, or rough terrain.
8. English Pointer
Some people believe the English Pointer to be the most popular dog, but this could be because there are a wide variety of breeds. The genes of Pointers include some of the best hunting breeds such as Setters, Foxhounds, Greyhounds, and Bloodhounds. Even so, the originator of this breed is the English Pointer, which originated in England sometime during the 1600s.
This hard-working breed is especially good at catching animals with feathers. The English Pointer can also handle different types of climate, and will be able to maintain their stamina while searching for prey in tall grass. Apart from their expertise as hunters, these dogs will make great family pets and loyal companions.
9. American Foxhound
There’s no dog more iconic or has a history as rich as the American Foxhound. As George Washington’s favorite dog, this breed originated in the United States by mixing an English Foxhound with other similar breeds. As their name suggests, the original purpose of these dogs was to hunt foxes, but now they’re mainly used for deer hunts and occasionally, birds.
These scent hounds have a high amount of energy, a good amount of stamina, and are stubborn, making them great for a wide variety of hunts. They have powerful noses that allow them to track prey over long distances, and are great pack hunters. While they prefer chasing to tracking prey, they have all the right tools to get the bird you’re after.
10. German Wirehaired Pointer
Also known as Deutsch Drahthaar, the German Wirehaired Pointer is another all-around hunting dog that loves working with human hunters. They are versatile hunting dogs that are ideal for most kinds of animal prey. These large or medium-sized dogs have thick coats and a calm temperament, and have been one of the leading gun dog breeds in Germany since the 20th century.
Many professional hunters recognize this breed as one of the best all-rounders because of their ability to hunt for any game on any kind of terrain. This dog has excellent tracking skills, a beautiful coat, and a strong nose, making them the perfect hunter on both land and water. A lot of the time, these dogs will work with other hunters, and will excel in groups and on their own.
11. Curly-Coated Retriever
This highly skilled wetland Retriever has established a reputation for its incomparable ability to retrieve ducks and other big water birds. The Curly-Coated Retriever is a medium to large dog that looks like a regular Labrador Retriever, except it’s covered in a thick, curly coat. However, they are entirely different from the Lab, and are known for their gentle and friendly disposition.
At the same time, they are also known for their shyness and are often nervous around new people. Even so, they are exceptional swimmers who are always eager and ready to please their owners. Diving into water and retrieving downed birds is their favorite way to show this.
12. Brittany Spaniel
The Brittany Spaniel originated in France around the 1800s, and was developed across a wide variety of English Setters and Spaniels. These dogs were bred for retrieving and pointing — a curious and quick breed, they need a lot of daily exercise. Without it, they can become destructive around the home, so be sure to give them some form of exercise each day.
Apart from being a cute, friendly, and adorable addition to your family, the Brittany Spaniel differs from other pointers in the sense that it stays closer to the ground. This helps it outmaneuver most other dog breeds by swiftly running through trees and bushes. Because of these characteristics, the Brittany Spaniel is known as an all-around hunting breed.
13. American Water Spaniel
This dog breed is a close cousin of the Boykin Spaniel, and was originally developed in the United States during the late 1800s. They were bred specifically for bird retrieving and flushing purposes and have established a firm reputation for being one of the best in the game. In fact, the American Water Spaniel is rated higher by dog hunting professionals compared to the Boykins.
Much like the Boykin Spaniel, the AWS are highly adept at hunting and retrieving small game around tall grass, and will not stop until they’ve found their target. Because they have such a high energy level, they are perfect for multi-day hunts and can go on for hours without getting exhausted. Another advantage to these dogs is that they don’t require too much exercise and will settle for daily long walks.
14. Bluetick Coonhound
Made popular by the cartoon dog Huckleberry Hound, the Bluetick Coonhound is one of the best hunting dogs anyone could wish for. This breed is also famous for being able to stand toe to toe with dangerous animals such as mountain lions. This dog has the power, sense of smell, and stamina to fight off big enemies of that level.
As such, they can fight off large predators who would try to steal birds you’ve hunted. Originally, this breed was developed to create a slower, but stockier version of Foxhounds, but the Bluetick has since evolved to include athleticism in its repertoire. The Coonhound is also known for its ability to pick up any trail and follow it until the prey is found, making it more valuable among the bird hunting community.
15. English Cocker Spaniel
Another famous and popular hunting dog breed is the Cocker Spaniel, which was first developed around the late 19th century or early 20th century in the United Kingdom. The name “Cocker” comes from its background of being used for flushing and retrieving Woodcocks. Eventually, the Cocker Spaniel was brought to America, where the breed was improved upon even more, and their hunting abilities were expanded.
While this gun dog is mostly used in hunts today for retrieving small birds, Cocker Spaniels are also cute and popular home dogs. However, their gorgeous coats demand extra attention from their owners in order to keep them in good condition. Additionally, you may need to trim them regularly to keep it more manageable.
16. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
This wetland duck hunting dog was first created in Nova Scotia by sportsmen during the early 19th century, hence its name. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a small and energetic breed, and is known as the “Decoy Dog” after its uncanny ability to lure birds out of hiding. Before settling for its name, it was also known as the “Little River Duck Dog” and the “Yarmouth Toller.”
Today, these eager dogs show their eagerness in hunts by being a multifaceted hunter who will dive headfirst into any kind of situation. Their energy also extends to being a terrific family pet, whether they’re curling up with their owners on the couch, or playing fetch with young children. This breed also holds the record for the longest name registered in the AKC when they gained approval in 2003.
17. American Cocker Spaniel
The American Cocker Spaniel is the offspring of the English Cocker Spaniel, inheriting all of the great traits and characteristics it has to offer, while improving upon the already successful breed. As such, it’s known for its prowess in flushing out Woodcock and grouse while small waterfowls and pheasants are also within their wheelhouse.
Because of their small size, Cocker Spaniels are used for hunting upland game, where they have the advantage of getting into the thicket and dense covers. This breed also has the ability to mark their prey’s fall over huge distances. It will run with great pride and enthusiasm to claim their prey and return to their owners with its catch.
18. Irish Water Spaniel
Any hunting Spaniel has the ability to cover the field for their master and stay within the firing range, but the Irish Water Spaniel takes things one step further. Even if heavy cover is protecting and covering an upland bird from the hunter, this dog breed can bust in and force the bird into the air, leaving it vulnerable. This dog is also willing and skilled at retrieving game from the water, making it a wonderful all-purpose hunting companion.
While most Spaniels will come with high energy, only the Irish Water Spaniel comes with the ability to work well with its handler, stay calm during boat rides, and enjoy cold water swimming. It’s these characteristics that make it highly sought after when developing many of the retriever breeds seen today.
19. Dogo Argentino
If you think that Pitbulls are scary, this large game hunting dog is a muscular dog that may have an odd-sounding name, but don’t let that fool you. This breed has many physical attributes that make it much more suitable for hunting compared to the Pitbull. The Dogo Argentino is a catch dog that will quickly subdue its prey, whether it’s a bird, cougar, or bear.
Compared to many other bird dogs, this South American dog breed is larger, stronger, and more athletic, making it one of the most prized hunting dogs around. While they’re usually the best choice for hunting wild pigs and pumas, these big dogs are also suitable for retrieving pheasants and other birds. It won’t take you long before you realize that they are among the top of their game and are one of the best hunting dogs to work with.
20. Wire Fox Terrier
Small, lively, and energetic, the Wire Fox Terrier is one of the most celebrated hunting dogs which is what they were bred for back in England during the 17th century. These hunting dogs are on the smaller size, and can only grow up to 20 lbs — as such, they rarely make an appearance in the field these days. However, their strong frame and quick feet make them a suitable chaser for birds and foxes.
In the past, these dogs would chase after foxes into their burrows and out into the open where their masters would finish the job. The Wire Fox Terrier comes in both wirehaired and smooth versions, where their small bodies can get birds and foxes out of their hiding spots. This breed is also great with kids; they can be a good dog to add to your family where their loyalty will serve you well.
Bird Hunting Dog FAQs
If you’re looking to find out more about these fascinating dogs, below are some of the most asked questions about bird hunting dogs.
Which is the Best Hunting Dog for All-Around Purposes?
There is no one specific dog breed that can provide an answer to this question. It’s good to remember that most hunting dogs are most suitable for a particular kind of game. Some dogs will be better for wetland birds, while others will be better at hunting upland birds.
Some of the best dog breeds for all-around hunting include the following:
- Labrador Retrievers
- German Shorthaired Pointers
- Brittany Spaniels
- Boykin Spaniels
- English Springer Spaniels
How Do I Pick the Best Hunting Dog?
Whether you’re hunting pheasant, woodcock, geese, or ducks, there is a particular process to choosing the right dog for your needs. Once you’ve decided on your preferred kind of game, be sure to do some research into the best dog breeds that will be a good match. Next, get your dog from a reputable breeder and look for a pup that will have the right parentage and credentials.
Be sure to start training your puppy while it’s young to instill the skills and temperament you want that will help them become sufficient hunters.
Is Bird Hunting Still Popular?
While hunting side by side with dogs isn’t as popular in many states across the country as it once was, the practice is legal and is still a favorite sport for many. As such, hunters are always on the lookout for the best hunting dogs, and will often wait for the evaluation of professional hunters when it comes to gun dog capabilities. This will often help to assess the dog breed that’s most suitable for a particular type of hunt.
What are the Best Bird Dogs for Hunting?
When you’re looking for only the top hunting dogs, the decision can be hard to make because all dogs are unique and all have different advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to specific tasks, one dog will be better than the other, and will also depend on the type of bird you’re hunting. In the end, there’s no one dog that’s best for hunting, but the list above covers many of the top breeds for this sport.