For centuries, man’s best friend has played a much more critical role than companionship. Dogs were once bred to work and perform different tasks. Hunters unlocked that inner drive for an altogether different purpose.
Watching a trained hunting dog remains a sight of beauty. It’s like watching a highly trained athlete push the limits of what we thought we knew about human abilities.
Each breed will hunt, track, retrieve, and react in a very different way. Choosing the right best friend as your hunting companion could unlock endless potential for the seasons to come.
While many hunters believe dogs can be trained to work in a certain manner, most dog owners agree there is a very real natural instinct.
Imagine your family dog, who has never been trained to hunt, begins jumping birds and rabbits from the brush. They quickly pick up how close to stay while off-leash or retrieving, all depending on the breed.
This is known as the breed's instinct, or the ability a breed has to do a job they’ve been bred to do without previous knowledge.
Depending on the breed, this could mean different things.
When searching for the right breed for your hunt, it’s important to look at a dog's attitude, including:
- Prey drive
- Hunting style
The attitude of the breed is essential to understand the hunting habits. What do they want? How do they get it?
Some of these instincts are known to get pups in trouble, with dogs jumping in the water or mud, chasing birds and squirrels, or just typically wanting to run and get rid of some energy.
Prey drive refers to a dog's drive or pull to action towards other animals.
This includes a dog's need to hunt or search for game, such as the need to watch and chase nearby birds or small game.
For some breeds, stalking or sneaking up on game is part of this natural drive. Other breeds are drawn towards the chase or jumping game and birds from brush and keeping them moving.
A breed's natural hunting style could say a lot about how the dog will react or interact with different situations.
Some breeds such as Norwegian Elkhounds and Coonhounds are bred to hunt independently of the hunter, running game for miles ahead. These breeds will likely be more independent in general, willing to explore, and nose around even when out of sight.
Spaniels, Pointers, and other flushing breeds have been bred to hunt just in front of the hunter, remaining great off-leash companions with a high energy and curiosity drive.
Retrievers are likely to stay by your side until it’s time to work, making great companions.
Some breeds will remain high-strung and dedicated to the hunt, but will they respond to commands?
Obedience refers to a breed's ability to turn off the prey drive and listen to what’s being said.
Breeds such as Huskies are known to ignore commands once they are commanded to work, whereas other breeds such as Springer Spaniels maintain a major work drive while still being receptive to being called off. They can be obedient and accomplish a task, simultaneously.
Some breeds are considered more intelligent than others because they are easy to train and have easygoing attitudes.
Breeds that are more intelligence-driven will quickly pick up on new commands and be more likely to make decisions on the fly.
Unfortunately, the average dog owner wanting a house dog may not appreciate this hunting instinct and prey drive and have recently pushed to breed less driven, less intelligent dogs.
This has led to a deterioration of breed standards.
First, most people want dogs to lay around the house and be the companions of their downtime, or in other words, lazy. High-strung and driven dogs such as Terriers or Spaniels are beautiful but very hyper.
Because of this craving for downtime and laziness, most owners are unwilling to meet the exercise or diet requirements. They are and should be treated as athletes.
Price plays a big point in breed deterioration, as a healthy, well-rounded dog is expensive.
Unfortunately, the biggest downfall to many breeds is due to potential owners liking congenital disabilities. This is the reason breeds like the Pug, once a great hunting breed. Now the breed is littered with health conditions as owners wanted scrunchie faces and shorter legs. This can be seen with most common breeds from German Shepherds, to Huskies, to Labrador Retrievers, often referred to as “Americanized” or the American German Shepherd and American Lab.
Purchasing a dog within the top of the breed standard is often key to owning a great hunting dog, while the parents should be closely compared, with a focused diet and heavy training creating potential.
Popular for waterfowl hunting and known as a great companion and home dog, Retrievers are bred to stick by your side calmly, then snap into work mode.
These dogs are a perfect choice for hunting from boats and blinds, as they are initially calm and less likely to be seen by passing flocks. These dogs are great in the fields, open land, and swimming in open water.
Labrador Retrievers are the staple for waterfowl hunting throughout the U.S. and around the world as one of the most versatile working dogs on the market. Bred initially as companions on fishing boats in the 1600s, the breed found its hunting drive throughout the 1800s, which continues today. This breed can be seen in fishing boats, hunting boats, blind, working search and rescue, narcotics, therapy, and so much more.
Golden Retrievers from Scotland and Flat-Coat Retrievers from Newfoundland are known for intelligence and drive similar to the Lab, on a slightly more petite long haired body. These breeds have a medium to long double-layer coat designed to keep them dry and warm. This longer hair could get tangled or matted, pushing hunters towards other breeds.
Other retrievers worth searching for are the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly Hair Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and Standard Poodle may be the perfect dog for you.
Poodle? A hunting dog?
Although known as great show dogs for their large beauty, Poodles were bred as hunting dogs with a thick, water-resistant coat and natural swimming and hunting instinct. This breed is easy to train, which is why they succeed as show dogs and are worth considering for your next hunting trip.
When you look at dog shows, hunting competitions, therapy teams, search and rescue, narcotics, and in households worldwide, you are sure to find a Spaniel close by.
Spaniels started as one primary species in Spain, gaining popularity for their hunting drive and medium size. Over the years, Spaniels would be split by their size. The smaller Spaniels were referred to as Cocker Spaniels due to their success hunting woodcocks or snipe, a small long beak shorebird. The larger Spaniels were known as Springer Spaniels for their long legs and how they would bounce through the tall grass springing birds, and small game out of their hiding. These two sizes were originally called the Land Spaniel (cocker) and the Water Spaniel (springer).
Over time, the Spaniel breed has split into a wide range of breeds for a variety of specific uses.
Cocker Spaniels are a short, hyper spaniel that prefers hunting in packs. A great choice for rabbit, dove, and other small game, these dogs work great together and stay relatively close to the hunter. Easily trained on whistles, you’ll be able to communicate with these short dogs no matter the terrain. This pack mentality pushes Cockers to be a great companion, often used in therapy and as house pets for young children and older folks.
Cocker Spaniels became too popular during the mid-1900s leading to unhealthy breeding and increased health risk.
Relatives of the Cocker Spaniels include the King Charles Spaniel, Norfolk Spaniel, Tibetan Spaniel, and many more.
Springer Spaniels became the powerhouse for field and marshland hunting with their long legs and quick pace. A great choice for hunting on the walk, Springers have found their place hunting rabbits, woodcock, dove, pheasant, squirrel, and various other ground game.
Springers are extremely hyper but also extremely obedient and compassionate. Known for their attitude and back-talking, this breed is likely to cuddle up by your side at the end of the hunt.
Relatives to the Springers include Field Spaniels, Brittany Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniel, French Spaniel, Russian Spaniel, and many more.
Hounds have proven themselves in hunting hogs, raccoons, foxes, deer, bear, and even elk. They are a good dog to consider when you want to flush and run game over a distance.
These dogs are often more independent and willing to move, explore, and hunt further away from the hunter. Hounds can be found in a wide range of styles with very precise tasks, which is how most of them received their names.
Norwegian Elkhounds were the Scandinavian companions to the Vikings, bred and used to chase and hunt Elk.
CoonHounds or the various medium-size scent hounds are used throughout the US to hunt raccoons.
FoxHounds are hounds used in the US, Ireland, England, and France to track and hunt fox.
Irish Wolfhounds were used for hunting and tracking packs of wolves.
Greyhounds are a tall, fast-moving breed using their eyes and fast speed to chase their prey.
- Beagles are a common type of hound. Beagles have become a universal breed for small game, such as raccoon, because of their medium size and reasonable speed.
Many breeds of hounds are recognized by their bellowing howls when tracking or treeing game.
When walking through fields and grasslands, you may not want a rabbit or quail to jump far in front of you. For this task, you need a Pointer.
Pointers use their intense sense of smell to find and pinpoint game, then stop on a dime and wait. Without making a sound or movement, this breed will wait and physically point at the game until given a command to kick them up.
This started as a staple for your upper-class hunters, who preferred the hunt wait for them as they approached.
German Shorthaired Pointers have often been referred to as the universal pointer, with their high energy, long legs, an outstanding sense of smell, and determination to satisfy the handler. German Shorthairs have remained one of the world's most popular dog breeds.
Vizsla are a Hungarian pointer breed known for their versatility and high strung attitude while being known as a household “velcro dog.” These dogs will be great during the hunt and great family dogs when you’re home.
- Weimaraner are often not first thought of as a hunting breed due to their large size. Originally a German breed used for larger breeds, the Weimaraner grew in popularity as an all-around, versatile pointer.
Popular pointer breeds also include Irish Setters, Spinone Italiano, English Setters, and Brittany Spaniels.
Brittany Spaniels originated through the cross-breeding of different Spaniels with various pointers until the cross-breed became its own more stable breed.
Your Future Hunting Buddy
Once you’ve chosen a breed and temperament to fit into your hunting and lifestyle, the enjoyment and value of hunting dog ownership have just begun.
Training is essential to pushing your pup to new limits, starting with obedience and fun. For working dogs, it’s important to stay on top of training and always push them further. A simple sit and stay is just the very beginning.
Depending on how your dog will hunt should determine how you play at a young age. Retrievers will benefit from playing fetch or practicing laying next to you even when excited. Spaniels should chase toys through the brush and grass and encourage them to use their nose. Hounds benefit from running with other dogs and learning to “speak” or bark when playing. Pointers should learn to find a toy, but not grab it, instead point at it until you let them.
While leashes and colors can be purchased in a range of camo and oranges to match your hunting needs, the actual gear may be more limited. A silver water bowl doesn’t quite fit into your hunting blind camo needs too well.
By using GunSkins, you can match your pup’s gear to your hunting gear. GunSkins was designed to easily be installed from home, adding durability and protection to your gear, making this a great option to customize your dog's bowls and gear.
And what’s cooler than your loyal canine companion having matching gear?