Hunting Dog Breeds: Popular Canines For Tracking, Smelling & Retrieving

The term ‘hunting-dog-breeds’ in the URL structure suggests the inquiry: “What are some types of hunting dog breeds?”

Hunting dogs are classified into different types based on their hunting skills. Some popular breeds include the Labrador Retriever, known for its retrieving abilities in water and land.

The Beagle is another breed, famous for its sharp sense of smell and tracking abilities. Spaniels like the English Springer Spaniel or the Cocker Spaniel are also known for their flushing and retrieving skills.

Pointers and Setters, such as the English Setter and the German Shorthaired Pointer, are loved for their silent tracking and pointing towards game. Hounds such as the Coonhound or the Foxhound are preferred for their endurance and baying, suitable for large game hunting.

Last Updated on September 20, 2023

. Recent discoveries have shown that our ancestors weren’t just scavengers who relied on scraps from leopards and lions. They were actively selecting hunting down individuals in their herd based upon the animal’s age.

Older animals were easier prey. Early hominids (Great Apes) used game as a source of nutrient-rich food, but it was difficult to catch elderly animals. Wild dogs, leopards and lions were predators of animals. They had speed and strength.

*Humans relied on their ever-developing intellects to survive. They met when early man formed a bond that would endure until the day when man domesticated wild dogs. Find out about the hunting and history of some of the most beloved breeds.

Hunting Dog

History Of Hunting Dogs

Although it is still a matter of debate, the time period in which humans began to domesticate the wolf population with whom they competed for food resources was between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago. These first wolves may have been fed extra lean protein by early humans. To survive in the ice age years, humans needed other nutrients. The wolf pups that were captured and domesticated were most likely to be kept as pets. The bond between species was strengthened by sharing resources, which allowed them to coexist in mutual benefit.

Archaeologists and researchers have found evidence suggesting that humans used dogs as hunters around 9,000 to 12,000 years ago. These artifacts, fossils, and other evidence require interpretation. it shows that early civilizations used dogs to hunt. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest written story, and it’s over 4,000 years old in its earliest form. It makes mention of the seven hunting dogs of goddess Ishtar.

Categories of Hunting Dogs

Hunting dogs are generally classified by the American Kennel Club into three categories: Terriers and Sporting Dogs. Hunting journals generally categorize hunting dogs by purpose. There are four types of categories: retrievers, blood tracking dogs, pointers, terriers and hounds. This last category has some overlap. Let’s take a look at some types that use the hunting vernacular.

  • Retrievers, including breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
  • Hounds, including both sighthounds such as the Greyhound, Whippet, and Borzoi, and scent hounds including the Bloodhound, Fox Hound, and Beagle.
  • Pointers and Setters include representatives from the Setter group like the Irish Setter and English Setter and then the Pointer breed itself. The dogs have acted essentially the same in recent years.
  • Flushing dogs, like the Springer Spaniel and Cocker Spaniel, force birds out from their hiding place.
  • Terriers are bred to hunt and kill vermin (like rats) or pull a fox from its lair.

Many of these breeds are loved family pets but were bred by hunters to survive.


Many of the dogs on the American Kennel Club’s 2021 list of most popular breeds are members of the Retriever Group. They are ideal family pets because they have the same qualities that make them useful to fowl hunters. They were bred to retrieve the game for the hunter with no damage . They have a soft mouth, which means that they can keep something between their teeth without tearing their skin while they are moving through water and brush. They have the endurance and strength to travel long distances on difficult terrain, but they also possess the desire to please the hunter and follow his orders.

These gentle souls are beloved family members and can also be used as therapy and service dogs. These dogs are well-represented by Labradors as well as Golden Retrievers.

Labrador Retriever

Topping the AKC list of most popular breeds nearly every year is the beloved Labrador Retriever. Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed on the AKC list. He began breeding them and gave them the name Labrador Retriever.

Labradors are popular household pets due to their cheerful dispositions. The breed has seen a lot of popularity, and dogs are now selected more for their personality than for their performance. Modern Labradors are not all natural hunters. A reputable breeder that specializes in hunting linesages will be able to identify a pup with the potential to excel as a hunter. You must teach your pup how to hunt, even if they have a genetic predisposition. Count on training your pup daily not only to obey basic obedience commands but to retrieve reliably. A dog that has been bred for hunting will be loyal and reliable companion on the field.

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever has been among the top-five canines on the AKC’s top dog breed list for many years. He is loved for his friendly spirit and willingness to please wherever he goes. Lord Tweedmouth, a Scotsman, was the first to create this breed. He did so on Guisachan Estate in the Victorian Era. The American Kennel Club first recognized the Golden Retriever in 1932.

The Golden is synonymous with a family member. Although they can be trained to hunt, their natural instinct to chase should be controlled by an understanding of the task at hand. Begin obedience training with your Golden. Then, train your dog to find the scent trail and retrieve a decoy. This is why spray scents were created. His readiness will be tested when he begins to work in the field. Both of you will be able to flush and retrieve birds and return to your home at night.


The handsome Weimaraner hails from Germany and comes in among the top 50 dog breeds. was originally bred to hunt large game and was used by the Weimar nobility for that purpose. However, the introduction of pointer blood made the breed a bird dog. The dogs were already being used to hunt small game when they arrived in America in the early 20th century.

*) The Weimaraner’s natural talents must be developed through training as with all retriever breeds. Their identity is not limited to their ability to “point”, or stop and keep the body still while focusing on the hunter’s prey. Pointers tend to hold their legs straight up, with one knee bent. This signals that they are ready to spring at the hunter.

Portuguese Water Dog

Also ranked in the top 50, the Portuguese Water Dog has an unusual history considering his current status as a low-shedding family pet. This breed has been around for many hundred years. These dogs were bred to swim in water and “herd” fish to nets for fishermen. As other retrievers bring in birds, the PWD may be asked to transport messages from boat to shore.

Although he was not originally bred to retrieve, the Portuguese Water Dog’s swimming abilities and retrieving instinct suggest that he could be trained to become a gun dog. A Labrador or spaniel would be the best choice if you are looking to hunt. The PWD may be the right choice if you are looking for a family companion who can swim all day with your family and also serve as a hunting companion.


Scenthounds have, as their name implies, extremely acute olfactory perceptions. They follow the scent trails left behind by game. They might need to travel long distances and may not have instantaneous speed. Sight Hounds see and chase their prey immediately. Sighthound breeds are able to produce amazing bursts in speed, but they don’t have enough stamina for long runs.


The friendly Beagle, a member of the hound group, commonly falls among the top ten most popular breeds. Hunters used dogs resembling the modern Beagle to track game as early as the 1400s. A scent hound, the Beagle tracks his hunter’s prey with his extraordinary nose and gives voice as he exuberantly chases his quarry, a trait that can potentially carry him too far from home. The Beagle, which is smaller than other hounds, thrives on affection and attention. He’s as happy running through the woods with his family as he is with his dog.

Beagles hunt small game such as hares in packs or pairs. They are extremely agile and can chase for hours. When training a hunting Beagle, remember that your dog needs to see you as “home.” Condition your dog to know where you are at all times by talking to him, so he knows where you are as he tracks his quarry. Your pup will be more successful in hunting if he runs with other dogs who are experienced and he will learn to trust you.

Basset Hound

Originally bred by French aristocrats to hunt small game, the Basset Hound is a scent hound that truly lives up to the title. With more than 220 million scent receptors in his keen nose (second only to the Bloodhound), the Basset’s low to the ground stature and distinct build enhance his ability to catch and keep a scent.

Basset Hounds will be more comfortable on the sofa with their families than actively hunting rabbits. There are still groups that preserve the hunting abilities of this breed. Hunting competitions for Bassets focus on performing either a 4 to 6 dog group or a brace (pair) of dogs, depending on the organization holding the event. These modern competitions do not kill rabbits. They assess the Basset’s ability to detect and hold the scent of the rabbit.


Coming in the middle of the top 100 is the Bloodhound at number 50. The sense of smell that the Bloodhound has is the best in the canine world. His talented nose has more than 300 million scent receptors, the most of any dog. This breed was developed by monks from pre-Reformation European monasteries using bloodlines that had been around for more than a thousand years. The Bloodhound’s name, “blood”, refers to his royal breeding and not his preference for bloody scents.

Their exceptional smell makes the Bloodhound a less useful hunting dog. They can follow but they may find a trail that is too old. They can easily out-hike their human companions but they are slower than other scent hounds. Their ability to locate people earns them a place in the search and rescue dog ranks. Bloodhounds have been known to track down law-abiding fugitives, as we’ve seen in movies over the years. They can track their quarry but they won’t harm them.


Without a representative of the sighthound group, any mention of hunting dogs would be incomplete. At number 57 on 2021’s top breed list, the Whippet is the most famous member of this subgroup. Whippets were developed in as a sport dog for common people . They are great family pets and will happily cuddle on the sofa as long as they get enough exercise and time to run. They are not as strong as hunting dogs, but they can sprint well.

Sighthounds are different from scent hounds in the way they track and hunt. Sighthounds track and hunt faster than scent hounds. They can follow the scent of an animal for long periods of time with stamina, but sighthounds move quickly. They can see their quarry even in open country because of their excellent eyesight. Whippets sprint their prey down at rates of up to 35 miles per hour. They keep their prey in motion until the hunter comes along to take it. Due to their explosive speed and high prey drive, Whippets should be kept in a secure area.

Pointers and Setters

The difference between setters and pointers is in the way they hunt prey. Setters have long, feathered coats with feathers along their legs, tail, chest and shoulders. Pointers have smoother coats. Healthy dogs have both types of coats. Setters used to “set”, or lie down, when they saw prey. This allowed the hunter or catcher to easily net or shoot the bird. Pointers are able to stand straight up and point in the direction they want. Nowadays, breeds of both types point towards their quarry.

German Shorthaired Pointer

The German Shorthaired Pointer (or GSP), is a new addition to the list of top ten most loved dogs in America. In the 1600s, German hunters crossed the German Bird Dog with English and Spanish Pointers, adding in the olfactory prowess of the Bloodhound to create a breed able to hunt both day and night and bring joy as a family pet. The GSP is a result of these early breeders’ efforts to create the ideal hunting dog.

The GSP is an versatile hunting can .. He can hunt, point and retrieve small mammals, birds, deer, and other game. Basic obedience training is important for the German Shorthaired Pointer. He has great stamina and strong prey drive. If you’re going on a walk together, make sure you keep him leashed so he doesn’t get spooked and go on an adventure.

German Wirehaired Pointer

Like his GSP cousin, the German Wirehaired Pointer is a high-energy hunting dog. The GWP is slightly larger than his shorter-haired cousin and has a heavier build. His coat is what makes the difference. His stiff, thick coat protects him against the elements and brambles while he tracks his prey. He may find hot weather more difficult to bear because of his dense coat. These tough dogs work at a moderate pace and range.

Strong and versatile in the field , German Wirehaired pointers are easy to train and will forgive inexperienced trainers’ mistakes. They can retrieve both on land as well as in the water. GWPs display both an early ability to point out their quarry and respond well to training.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Although the name used for the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon varies by country, the dog himself is a gundog with a strong instinct for retrieving on land and in water, as well as an excellent ability to track wounded game. In the late 1800’s, Eduard Karel Korthals (the griff is called the Korthals griffon in the UK), developed the breed. He crossed dogs from different hunting breeds to create a wire-haired pointing puppy. Today’s Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is the result of his efforts.

*Korthals developed a formal testing program for this breed of dog, and his griffons were extremely successful. This breed is a strong bird dog that hunts on all terrains and excels in water. Ggriffs are energetic and fun and thrive on a training program that recognizes their eagerness and friendly nature. Train this breed , calmly and consistently and you’ll be a trusted partner in the field as well as a protective companion at home.

Irish Setter

The beautiful Irish Setter is a gun dog who could cover the wide-open countryside of Ireland with his sweeping stride. In the 19th century, the expected coloration changed from red and white to the red we now associate with the breed. Breeding for show instead of performance, coupled with the surge in the breed’s popularity after Disney’s 1962 movie, Big Red, nearly ruined the breed. Unscrupulous breeders created puppies to sell, without regard for the quality or temperament of the dogs. During the 1970s and 80s, the breed had a reputation for being flighty and unreliable. Responsible breeders shifted the emphasis to the field after the puppy market crashed. Now, we see champions of the breed in both the ring as well as the field.

The Irish Setter points his game in the field and readily adapts to changing terrain and conditions. Irish Setters are family companions and working dogs, “best suited to hunters looking for a companion in the house and field.” If you’re considering an Irish Setter as your hunting dog, be sure any pups in the running have individuals in the pedigree that possess the traits you seek. A puppy with no conformation championships may not be able to perform well in his job.

Flushing Dogs

A flushing dog is a bird dog who, by instinct and training, locates and forces game birds to flight, allowing the hunter to shoot them. Although technically flushing dogs are Retrievers, they also deliver the game intact to the hunter. There are many other dogs in this group with different specialties. Many of them are smaller breeds than the Spaniels.

English Springer Spaniel

On the AKC’s most popular breed list, the English Springer Spaniel enjoys the 26th position. The name spaniel refers to their Spanish heritage . Irish law mentions a water spaniel over 2,000 years ago, so this breed has served humankind for millennia. These spaniels were around before the invention of the firearm. However, the first spaniels could flush game for the hunter. The Boughey family produced the first stable bloodline of Springer Spaniels in Shropshire in 1812.

The English Springer Spaniel has diverged into two strains over the past century, field and bench. Enthusiasts refer to dogs that were bred specifically to win conformation classes bench, and to be flushing game “field dogs.” English Springer Spaniels are dedicated flushers who will work all the field while staying within range of guns. They possess an amazing sense of smell and are the first choice for hunting pheasant .

American Cocker Spaniel

The ebullient American Cocker Spaniel is above the English Springer Spaniel in popularity. The American Cocker Spaniel’s original name is Woodcock hunters were looking for a dog that could work in thick cover to flush the bird and retrieve it. Breeders chose American Woodcock-like pups when the dogs arrived in America. This was the birth of the American Cocker Spaniel. The breed experienced the ups, downs, and fame. Health was the first to be affected. Temperament problems began to develop after health problems developed. Although the American Cocker was popular as a family pet, it is not considered a hunter.

Fortunately, some breeders were able to resist the current trends and continue producing dogs that are true to the breed’s working traits. Hunters still look for these working linesages. The Dungarvan line is mainly known for its hunting lineage, and the working American Cocker is well suited to working the thick cover in which they can find game birds like woodcock, grouse, and duck.

English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel may be less popular than its American counterpart but it was actually developed with the English. The first spaniels were divided by their type, land, or field. They were then further sub-divided according to their size. Breeders classified the larger spaniels as springing or field spaniels, and the smaller ones as “cocking”. This unusual name refers the woodcock that they helped man capture before the advent the hunting rifle.

Like other hunting breeds, English Cocker Spaniels come in two types: a show and a field. Field-type dogs tend to have a shorter coat and a stronger bone structure than their show counterparts. Thin brush is not enough to deter most dogs and doesn’t stop their enthusiasm.


Terriers can vary in size but share a common spirit. These feisty dogs were originally trained to hunt, kill and guard the stable .. Training them can be difficult due to their stubbornness and willingness to fight an opponent twice their size. Their “lot of dog in a small package” personality appeals to many, and two size extremes represent the group on the AKC’s list of the most popular dogs of 2021.

Airedale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier is the largest breed in the terrier class. This breed was born in the harsh working-class environment of Northern England’s Aire Valley. embodies the bravery of the terrier class. Their versatility allowed them to serve as both working police dogs and soldiers in wartime. The Airedale is a solid family guard dog. Its strong prey drive is still a hallmark of this breed.

Although we often think of Terriers as vermin hunters, the Airedale was created to be a multi-purpose dog. He is able to locate birds and retrieve them. The thick coat of the Airedale protects him from the water. Some hunters believe that his courage makes him quicker to the bird than other bird dog breeds. The the Airedale is intelligent and stubborn.

Russell Terrier

Although the Russell Terrier and the Parson Terriers are distinct breeds according to the AKC, Parson John Russell’s Fox hunting terrier is the parent of both. The Russell Terrier is number 72 on the AKC’s 2021 most popular breeds list. Russells were able to assist the hounds in traditional horse-hound fox hunt. The Foxhounds chased the foxhounds until he fell to his burrow or went to the ground. The JRT dived in to pull the fox out. Old fox hunters used to say the original Jack Russell‘s tail was docked at the right length to serve as a handle to pull both terrier and fox from the hole.

The cruel tradition of foxhunting has long been forgotten and the Russell’s hunting duties have become more practical. The Russell is a good companion and rat catcher for many barns and stables. Although his original purpose has been lost, Russell is still a strong and determined animal.

Final Thoughts

Without dogs to hunt, our diet might have been very different over the centuries. Our species are interconnected. The original wolf-type dog has been adapted by man into many forms. One of the most close bonds that we have shared is the one between hunter dogs. Although many of the breeds on this list no longer hunt, dedicated preservationists preserve their natural instincts. In the 21st Century, our bond has come full circle to mirror that between early man and the first wolves tamed as pets. They are our companions. They are more than just a hunter of game.

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