15 Bird Dog Breeds That Make Top-Notch Hunters (and Pets!)
While some families prefer to have a lap-sized dog, others want a companion that's along for any adventure. If you're in the latter group, you may love adopting one of these bird dog breeds. As their name hints, these are historically hunting dogs who could sniff out birds to help their owners score dinner. However, with time, these floofs have grown to become beloved pets for many types of parents, even if they aren't hunters. Strong, sturdy, fast, and with a killer sense of smell, here's a guide to some of the best bird dog breeds, from spaniels to pointers and more.
As a medium-sized sporting dog, you'll love the Brittany spaniel's white and orange to reddish-brown coat that's shiny and soft. Their name comes from the French province they originated from, where they were primarily used as bird hunters, according to Laura Robinson, DVM, medical advisor to Pawp. As pets, she says they are sweet-natured, playful, and great with children. However, they are also bursting with energy, so you may find them restless at times. Because of this, a Brittany will be their happiest in a lively household where they can get plenty of daily exercise.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
We gotta say, we love the cute nickname of this bird dog breed: Chessie! This medium-sized dog originated in the United States in the early 1800s. As legend has it, two Newfoundland puppies were rescued from a shipwreck off the Maryland coast. Then, as Robinson explains, they were raised in different parts of the Bay area before being bred with sport and hunting dogs, thus creating the Chesapeake Bay retriever. "Chessies are skilled hunting and retrieving dogs and have thick, water-resistant double coats suitable for cold weather conditions," Robinson says. "They typically enjoy outdoor adventures and activities including swimming."
With a sweet and calm temperament, they are not only ideal for families with young children, but they are also great service dogs.
If you're from the state of South Carolina, you may be familiar with Boykin spaniels since they are the official state pup! This bird dog breed is medium-sized with a beautiful brown coat, known for their super-affectionate personality and skilled hunting abilities. "Their wavy luscious double coats do require some grooming (keep a sturdy brush handy), but trainable personalities make it all worthwhile," she adds. Pet owners need to keep their Boykin active, so make sure you're up for a ton of fun activities together to keep them happy and healthy.
German Shorthaired Pointer
Unsurprisingly the German shorthaired pointer was first bred in Germany in the 1800s. Robinson describes this pointing dog as intelligent and versatile in both land and streams with a short, sleek, and water-repellent coat. "They are adventurous dogs and love exploring and the outdoors," she continues. "They are also playful, friendly, and loyal pets and would do well in a home with a yard where they can get daily exercise to burn off their energy." Plus, they won't require as much grooming as other bird dog breeds with their short hair.
To know a golden retriever is to love one. Bubbly, energetic, happy, cuddly, and super-smart, golden retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in America. It may be hard to imagine a golden as a hunting dog, but that's where their history begins in Scotland. Many are still utilized as hunters today and search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, and compete in agility, mainly because they take any job they have seriously, according to Nelson. But most of all, they are absolute lovers and companions to individuals and families alike.
"Their luscious golden coats do require grooming, but their trainability and willingness to please make up for the trouble," Nelson says. It is important to note they are prone to specific health issues like arthritis and hip dysplasia and show an increased risk for certain cancers. "Good breeding can help to screen for some of that, as well as regular veterinary visits," she adds.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Also known as the Toller, this medium-sized pup originated in the 19th century in—you guessed it—Nova Scotia, Canada! Robinson says while they're one of the smaller bird dog breeds, they have a unique hunting style, giving them the nickname "Decoy Dog." Typically, this pup will lure offshore birds within their owner's gun range by playing near the shoreline, intriguing birds to come closer. "Tollers have water repellent double coats which come in hues of red and webbed feet that help them swim," she continues. "The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever has a high-pitched bark or scream, as some may call it."
One thing to keep in mind before adopting: these dogs are known to chase other animals, so they will be safest and happiest in a home with limited other animals or one where they can be easily socialized as a puppy, Robinson says.
Nelson calls the Labrador retriever America's sweetheart—and we agree. While they were first bred to be fishing dogs in Canada, this super-friendly pup has evolved into more of a family companion. "They are intelligent, trainable, and kind, but they also love to eat, and that frequently gets them into trouble when left up to their own devices to burn off their energy," Nelson warns.
While many pet parents adore the fun personality and nature, be prepared for frequent shedding that requires near-daily brushing and plan daily activities to engage both their bodies and minds. "These athletic dogs require large amounts of exercise like running, swimming, or hunting to keep them mentally and physically fit," Nelson says. With this in mind, a Lab thrives best in a household that's always on the go and perhaps, has a large backyard with a tennis ball shooter, too.
English Springer Spaniel
The English springer spaniel originated in the late 1800s in England ready to spring into action (get it?). As Robinson explains, they were trained as hunting companions to detect game birds, flush them from their cover (aka, causing them to 'spring'), and then point and retrieve the downed bird.
As family pets, they are sweet and loving, but they do require a plenty of attention and maintenance. They have an overcoat and an undercoat, all of which come in three different color combinations and need regular brushing. Robinson says they make ideal family pets, but don't like to be left alone for long periods of time.
This dog the smallest pup of the sporting breed group—but he may have the cutest ears of all! Initially descending from the English cocker spaniel, the American cocker spaniel debuted in the late 1800s. Robinson says this bird dog breed was bred for bird hunting, and the name "cocker" comes from woodcock, a game bird that this breed flushed out for hunters.
Today, they're one of the most beloved pups in America, known mainly for their silky coat and long, floofy ears. "While they are still considered an amazing hunting and sporting breed, they have gained popularity as wonderful family pets and are typically great with children," Robinson says.
Fun fact: English setters are one of Nelson's favorite breeds as a veterinarian. How come? As she describes, they are large, beautiful, sweet, intelligent, trainable, and very gentle with their people. They are also active and lively with playtime, always ready to pounce, hunt, and retrieve. "This double-coated breed has a unique color pattern called 'belton,' comes in a variety of shades, and requires regular grooming," she continues. "Keeping these big pups busy and well-exercised is the best way to keep them happy and healthy lifelong."
This pup is a descendant of Hungarian pointers and was brought to the United States in the 1950s. The name itself means 'searcher' or 'tracker' in Hungarian. Since Vizslas are the epitome of athletes in the hunting dog world, they are not for the faint of heart, Nelson says. With a rust-colored coat and a moderate size, you can spot this bird dog breed from a mile away … mostly because they are always on the move. Due to their super-active nature, Nelson says they need to work side-by-side with their people and are better suited for an experienced dog owner. "I can't stress enough that unless you are planning to work with this breed frequently, they're probably not the breed for you," she warns.
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
With a few nicknames, including the Griff and the Gray Ghost, this doggo is a great pup for many owners, but especially bird hunting enthusiasts. According to Robinson, the wirehaired pointing griffon is renowned for a stealthy hunting style.
This bird dog breed is the best of both worlds: an excellent hunting dog in the field and a lover of a pup at home. "These smart, funny, and silly family dogs come with a gorgeous scruffy face and a low-shedding wiry coat," Nelson shares. "If you're looking for an athletic, highly trainable, adaptable, and easy-to-care-for breed, the Griff is the pup for you."
If you're a fan of American artist and author William Wegman's anthropomorphic paintings and books, you've likely seen a Weimaraner. However, as Nelson says, they were actually created in Germany as hunting dogs, revered for their trainability and stunning gray coats. Today, they're family pups that are both low-maintenance and high-maintenance. They don't require much grooming with short hair, but they are attention seekers who need cuddles and plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
Possibly one of the most beautiful dog breeds out there, the Irish setter is known for their grace, gorgeous red coats, floppy ears, and constant smile, Nelson raves. "They love their people and are known for being wonderful snuggling companions and bubbly playmates," she adds.
You can best describe this pup as long and lanky and an ideal match for a family who is ready to train their dog from puppy days to adulthood. They have been hunters for centuries, and with this nature, they quickly pick up tricks and cues. "Their gorgeous red coats require regular brushing and grooming, but that silky glow makes it all worth it," she adds.
German Wirehaired Pointer
According to Robinson, the German wirehaired pointer originated in Germany in the late 1800s and was developed by hunters in continental Europe looking for a versatile, all-purpose bird hunting dog. What they got was a pup that can point and track game, retrieve waterfowl from land or water, and confront vermin. "True to their name, the German wirehaired pointer has a coarse, wiry outer coat with a bushy beard and eyebrows. They are an active, energetic breed and typically crave activity and exercise," she says. "German wirehaired pointers are affectionate and friendly and love human companionship."