Choosing a dog is one of the most important decisions a hunter can make. Your hunting dog is also your hunting partner, and your partner needs to be someone you can rely on. Someone who makes your task easier, not harder. Someone who, possibly most importantly, is great to hang out with for long days or weekends in the field.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to choosing your four-legged hunting partner. So many things factor into this rather personal decision. Personality of both dog and hunter. Range of prey. Exertion levels. Hunting methods. Terrain. Weather. The details run the gamut of possibility, and so do the hunting dog options. There are dozens of breeds (and mixed breeds) of hunting dogs, and every breed is exactly right for someone, somewhere. Only you know what you’re looking for in a hunting partner.
So while blanket recommendations for hunting dogs don’t often hit the mark, there are a few breeds that continually rise to the top, either because they’re talented enough in a wide range of hunting scenarios, widely popular among hunters (and non-hunters) or just extremely good at what they do. This is our not-at-all comprehensive look at four breeds that you might consider when searching for your next hunting companion.
GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER: AN ALL-PURPOSE PARTNER
The German shorthaired pointer (GSP) is as all-purpose as a four-legged hunting partner can be. Though “pointer” is in the name, the GSP is equally adept at most tasks required of a hunting dog. These extremely smart dogs appeal to hunters because they can point and retrieve at a very young age; they’ll excel at both at as young as eight weeks old. They just seem to know what to do. GSPs will retrieve pheasant, chase rabbits and even track down deer.
They’re generally not stubborn, take instruction well and are eager to please. These people-friendly dogs are the perfect field companion, as long as you don’t mind an extended “puppy” stage. GSPs aren’t considered to be mentally “adult” until they’re two years old, but they are known for acting young at heart even when they are well beyond two. They remain energetic, playful and very active well into their senior stage in many cases.
With lots of attention, exercise and regular training to keep their minds occupied, German shorthaired pointers can be ideal pets and hunting partners. They’re perfectly suited to partner with avid hunters.
Our full breakdown of German shorthaired pointers as hunting dogs
ENGLISH SPRINGER SPANIEL: UNRIVALED UPLAND BIRD HUNTER
Because English springer spaniels are great family pets, they’re sometimes overlooked for the top-notch upland bird hunters they truly are. In truth, the attributes that make springers great family companions also make them unrivaled in the field.
The springer combines multiple jobs into one. They’ll flush prey, point and retrieve prey on land or even swim for it in case of a water landing. Their scent ability is the best in the biz, and even though their long, fluffy coat seems like it would be a magnet for burrs and sticks, the opposite is true. Springers glide through the bush with minimal effort, and their superb endurance and trainability makes them perfect for long trips in search of prey.
If you’re in the market for a smart, even-tempered dog who will spend all day running down prey and all night hunting for love, the English springer spaniel is your dog.
Our full breakdown of English springer spaniels as hunting dogs
LABRADOR RETRIEVERS: AMERICA’S DOG
There is a reason that the Labrador retriever is the most popular dog in America every single year. This incredibly friendly and adaptable breed can fit into almost any situation, provided you have the ability to burn off its copious amounts of energy. They’re great family pets and wonderful solo companions, and they get along famously with people and other pets alike. Labs of every color are so well-rounded, gentle, smart and hardworking that they’re not only great family pets; they’re widely used for any number of working-dog jobs, from police K9 units to seeing-eye dogs to cancer-detection aids and therapy dogs.
But where the Lab’s talents really stand out is as a multipurpose hunting partner. With “retriever” in the name, it’s obvious that these sturdy dogs are great at coming back with downed birds, but their intelligence and trainability mean that they can also point and flush as well as dogs bred to do those specific tasks. Their enthusiasm for the hunt and seemingly endless energy make them perfect for a long day in the field.
Our full breakdown of Labrador retrievers as hunting dogs
TREEING WALKER COONHOUND: INCREDIBLY SMART, AND THEY’LL LET YOU KNOW
Outdoor Life has declared the treeing Walker coonhound “perhaps the best all-around hound” due to the dogs’ drive, speed, voice and versatility. Walkers have been known to successfully chase everything from raccoons and squirrels to deer and even bears. And no matter how far away their trek takes them, you will hear them once the prey is cornered.
But it’s when hunting raccoons that the Walkers truly shine. While any coonhound worth its vest will tree a raccoon, and wait at the bottom for the hunter to find them, Walkers will sometimes get impatient and physically climb the tree. If the tree is at virtually any angle but straight up, a Walker can run it. A useful talent to have!
Walkers require patience when training and need plenty of room to run, but they’re friendly and loyal, and when they have the scent, there is no better hunting partner in the field.
Our full breakdown of treeing Walker coonhounds as hunting dogs
NUTRITION AND EXERCISE MATTER FOR HUNTING DOGS
Whatever breed you choose to be your hunting partner, chances are he or she will be energetic and/or athletic, so you’ll need to make sure that their nutrition and exercise level remain on-point, even in the off-season. We’ve created a handy roundup of articles that can help you make sure your dog is getting what they need to live long, happy and healthy lives.
How to assess your working dog’s body condition
Does your dog need a performance food?
Fueling your athletic dog’s performance
The difference in sporting dog nutrition
Is my dog drinking enough water?
How much exercise does your dog need?
Feeding a puppy what they need