Dogs: How to Pick the Right Hunting Companion

Dogs: How to Pick the Right Hunting CompanionWhen choosing a dog to accompany you on hunting trips, it’s important to consider the type of hunting you will do and what style of hunting you prefer. If your style is keeping your hunting dog close, you will not want to choose a dog that is bred to range (you will over-control this dog and this will damage its hunting abilities). The four main types of hunting dogs are Flushers, Retrievers, Pointers, and Setters. Each has its own set of skills and can aid you in different ways. Consider your hunting needs when choosing the right hunting companion, but remember that your dog will be around the house living with you in your daily life far more often than it will be out hunting with you, so choose a dog that has an excellent pet personality as well as hunting skills.

When choosing a future-hunting puppy, make sure you feel confident in the breeder. They should be able to tell you about the personality traits and conditions of the mother and father as well as any behaviors they have noticed with the puppy so far. When you visit the site, you should be looking for a puppy that appears healthy with a shiny coat, good teeth, and clean eyes and ears. A good hunter puppy should be curious (but not try to bite you) and full of energy when it is awake. Bring a ball or feather to see how the puppy reacts. They should take interest and sniff the ball or feather and then try to follow it, bite at it, or play with it as it moves across the floor. Watch for how the puppy reacts to the others. It should be social, playful, and generally nonaggressive.

You also want to make sure you can devote enough time to training the dog for your specific needs. It doesn’t matter what type of breed you have chosen if you cannot train it, and a dog that is difficult to control is extremely dangerous when you’re hunting. If you do not have enough time to train your dog, or are not confident in your training abilities, hiring a professional trainer is an excellent option and can produce some great results. Once your dog is trained, you should easily be able to call him when you need to. If you are constantly whistling or calling your dog to do something other than what it is doing, you may be over controlling and this can hurt its hunting instincts.


Pointers such as the English Setter, the English Pointer, the Hungarian Vizsla, the German Wirehaired Pointer, or the Brittany Spaniel are the traditional hunting dog for birds. These dogs must understand gun range and have good manners around other dogs. Pointers are excellent flushers as well, but they are susceptible to cold and therefore not idea for hunting waterfowl, and nearly useless at retrieving. Pointers are ideal for hunting in the uplands, but often have more aloof personality, so they may not be the best family dog.


Retrievers such as the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever, the standard Poodle, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever are meant to retrieve game after the hunter has shot it. These dogs must be excellent at finding and bringing back game whether it’s over a long distance field or in the water. Labrador Retrievers are a favorite among hunters for their calm nature, trainability, and versatility.


A pack of hounds such as the Blackmouth Cur, the Beagle, the Redbone Coonhound, and the Bluetick Coonhound will help you sniff out and track game. These dogs are excellent for hunting rabbits.


The Boykin Spaniel, the Springer Spaniel, the American Water Spaniel, and the Cocker Spaniel are excellent flushers for wild turkeys and pheasants, but if you’re going for waterfowl, a retriever will be better. These dogs are meant to find the upland game and nudge them out of the bushes so they fly into the open where the hunter is waiting and aiming.


The Pudelpointer, German Shorthair, and German Wirehair or Drahtaar are excellent dogs if you need them to perform a variety of pointing, retrieving, or scent-trailing, but the aren’t necessarily the best at any one skill.

For more information on picking the right hunting dog for you, click here.

What breed of dog accompanies you on your hunts? Leave a comment below and let us know why you chose the breed you did!

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  1. rich says:

    Hi good info on what dog is required or need for homeowners or hunting


  2. john venturini says:

    I had weimaraners, they are smart and easy to train snd have a great nose.


  3. Sandy says:

    I have a British Lab. She is a little smaller than the average lab and very smart (sometimes too smart)! She hunts upland birds with us and we are in the process of training to hunt sheds! Great with the family!


    jim Reply:

    Antlers from deer, moose etc that have been ‘shed’ or dropped off. People collect them for fun, (trying to find the pairs) and making things out of them. Lamps, coat hangars, knife handles.


  4. Jeanie says:

    So happy you included the standard poodle in the retrievers. I’m always discouraged how few people know of their hunting background. I think thanks to the AKC for not including them in their Sporting group.


  5. Ted says:

    A blackmouth cur ISN’T a HOUND! It is it’s own breed…the cur breeds are for people who want double duty dogs..they can hunt AND herd. Same thing with catahoulas is what I have. Both the catahoula and blackmouth cur aren’t good in packs…they do not have the pack mentality that hounds have and they can and will fight each other. Best hounds for rabbit hunting are the beagles and bassett hounds. That’s what they were bred for! The other hounds that you mention are for coons and from time to time, mountain lions, bears, and feral hogs. Not rabbits…they would rip a rabbit to shreds if they caught them…they’re way too speedy. Beagles and bassett houunds aren’t speedy.


    Doug Reply:

    That a boy Ted, it’s amazing how little some people know. It says right there COON hounds why would any one want a COON hound to hunt rabbits? These people act like there is nothing else to hunt except birds and rabbits. I,m glad some one much better at speaking than me said something.


  6. M/W says:

    I hunt birds (chukar, huns, quail, pheasant) in Idaho and eastern Washington. I don’t think the German Shorthair can be beat (wirehairs which are very similar are right up there too). Unlike what the post says, a good pointer will not flush. Shorthairs are natural retrievers and can serve as a water dog if you keep them warm in the blind. They have webbed feet and are excellent swimmers. They are intelligent with great personalities (dogalities?)and are unsurpassed companions with one caveat. They must be exercised daily at least once and twice is better. If you are unwilling or unable to do this, consider another breed.


    sonia Reply:

    M/W – You are correct. When hunting quail in South Carolina, we use a terrific (and lovable) German Shorthair to point along with a Boykin Spaniel to flush. Although the two dogs have separate owners, they work very well together.


  7. Sonia says:

    I was a tad disappointed that the Boykin Spaniel (South Carolina’s state dog – originally breed in Boykin, SC) was not mentioned as a sporting dog.
    If you’re looking for a retrieving dog that is quick to learn, eager to please, an excellent swimmer, a natural retriever, makes a perfect house pet, has lots of stamina and are small enough to fit in a boat for duck hunting, the Boykin Spaniel the most excellent choice. At ten months old my Boykin dove into a pond on his first hunt to retrieve a dove and spotted and retrieved one in the field I never would have found without him. Others do this at six months and less. The Boykin Spaniel Society keeps tight control on breeding.
    I picked Spring Lake’s Beauregard when he was three weeks old by sitting with and handling all the pups in the litter the then getting up and walking away. Beau followed me and I knew he would be my dog when old enough to wean. I could not have made a better choice. He is my friend and hunting partner.
    Boykin Spaniels range in size from 20 to 50 lbs, (Beau is 40 lbs), coats can be short hair, wavy, curly or very curly, eyes are always amber, there can be a small patch of white on the chest but not larger than 1″x1″ and they come in three colors – brown, brown or brown which is why they are called LBDs – Little Brown Dogs.


  8. Kimberly says:

    I actually have an austrailian cattle dog/Pitbull that I use for old fashioned hog hunting. Pair him up with some curs and we drop 2-3 in a day.


  9. Lee says:

    Hello what about the Weimaraner?


  10. Melinda says:

    The standard poodle can be an excellent hunting dog for waterfowl or upland game! In addition to being versatile in the field, they are excellent companion/house dogs and are a delight to train.

    The AKC had nothing to do with what group the poodle is shown in. That decision, along with the required haircut, is entirely the responsibility of the Poodle Club of America.

    I recommend getting your hunting poodle from someone who has been producing hunting poodles unless you find an extremely birdy poodle from a hobby or show breeder


  11. JoshH says:

    I have a german shepherd, husky mix… she is by far the best hunting dog I have ever worked with. Both breads are known as work breads and boy does she ever. I hunt a lot of pheasant and duck. She is great in the water, has a thick coat and stays warm. She is an awesome tracker, that shepherd nose can find me anything. And she has no problems retrieving anything for me. She has an awesome personality and is very loyal, playful, and plays well with others. I didnt set out to find a hunting dog, I honestly was just looking for a good family dog that will protect my kids while im away or at night when everyone is sleeping, she sleeps in my bed by the way, loves to cuddle, and I just happened to get an awesome hunting dog in the process. Deep in the mountains of Utah.


  12. DOUG says:

    my pembroke welsh corgie is an excelent squiril dog.dont laugh it trees and retrives well


  13. Terri says:

    Interesting article. I have Springer Spaniels, however I don’t hunt with mine. Friends do and they do well as a water retriever also. A very well rounded bird dog. I love mine as house dogs, although the field Springers are a little more active.
    BTW, the Brittany is no longer called a Brittany Spaniel. They are just a Brittany as they are not spaniels.


  14. Patsy says:

    I am taken back at the comments on Brittanys. First, in 1984, almost 30 years ago, “Spaniel” was dropped from the breed name because of their hunting style which was like Pointers rather than Spaniel breeds.
    Second, they are a warm, friendly breed. Britts love families and children. We have had several and they are great cuddlers. Nothing our Britts have wanted more than to be with us in the middle of things. They have also gotten along well with our cats and other dogs.
    Aloof? You gotta be kidding. I’m not alone in this assessment. Talk to the folks at American Brittany Rescue.


  15. del says:

    I have a 4yr Airedale terrier. She is trained on feathers however has high drive on fur. 26 inches tall 75 lbs. Too smart. Order a box of patience with the dog if you get one.


  16. Georgia B says:

    Thanks for the tips on what to look for when you visit the breeder! My husband and I are going to pick out our very first bird dog soon, and we had no idea what kind of traits to look for or how to recognize if the dog is going to be a good hunting companion. I love the idea of seeing how the puppy reacts to a toy! We’ll definitely have to bring a toy along when we go.


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