13 Dog Breeds Fit to Be Your Next Hunting Companion

These are some of the most loyal, determined dogs that were bred to chase, retrieve, and sniff their hearts out. 
By Katie Mills Giorgio
February 08, 2021

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Athletic by nature, hunting dogs employ their keen sense of smell and their top-notch hearing to track down, flush out, and retrieve game alongside their owner on the hunt. Different types of dogs were bred to complete different kinds of tasks in the field (or marsh, forest, or mountain, depending on the type of game they're meant to track). These super-smart dogs were originally designed to do a specific task. For hound dogs that means tracking rabbits or raccoons, while other pups from the sporting group—like "bird dogs"—point out or retrieve waterfowl or pheasants. And there are even a few who have specialized senses meant for tracking deer, boar, and even the occasional mountain lion!

In order to take on such incredible feats, almost all hunting dogs will display a few defining characteristics that set them apart from their puppy pals in other breed groups. They're athletic and agile, and don't tire or deter easily. These are characteristics that are considered strengths during a hunt, but that could be classified as "high energy" or "independent/stubborn" for pups who are stuck at home all day without the opportunity to work their senses. It's important that owners of hunting dog breeds ensure their pups get enough exercise—both for their brains and their bodies!—with engaging activities every day that will help keep them happy and stimulated.

While they may have been bred to help their owners track down game in the fields and forests, hunting dogs are also loyal playmates. "These dogs are often house dogs as well as hunting companions, which means it is increasingly important for these dogs to have a 'good old on/off switch'," said Susanna Love, owner of Ronnie Smith Kennels, in Pawhuska, Okla. Love has worked with hunting dogs for several decades alongside her family. She says a dog's ability to "give it their all in the field and then come home and relax on the couch" is a valuable trait any hunting dog needs to be successful.

Whether they're an upland bird dog or a baying coonhound, Love says that dogs who make the best hunting dogs should be receptive to training, confident, calm around the house or kennel, be able to move easily, and be quick on their feet. Most importantly, they should have heart and drive in the field—meaning they truly enjoy what they're doing.

"Hunting breeds have a passion and a drive to be outdoors hunting," Love says. "They do the best in homes that are like-minded, where they are given the opportunity to be true to themselves and their inherent desires." If hunting wild game isn't in the cards for your or your pup, be sure to engage his natural instincts with activities like hiking, swimming, nosework, and agility courses.

For hunters and outdoor enthusiasts trying to choose the right hunting dog, Love said to decide what traits in the field are important to you. These include whether your dog will need to run long distances, what kind of retrieving skills you'll need, their endurance levels, and their tolerance to the climate you're in.

Blond labrador retriever running through pond
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Popular Hunting Dog: Labrador Retriever

It's no surprise that the most popular of all dog breeds also happens to be a popular hunting dog, too. Known for their intelligence, eagerness to please, and excellent demeanor with kids, Labrador retrievers, or labs as they are most often called, are a fit at home and in the field. They are highly trainable and are hard workers whether on land or in the water. Set them to any flushing or retrieving task, especially when duck hunting, and they aim to please.

Brown and white pointer tilts head to the left in close-up
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Hunting Dog Breed Predestined to Point: German Shorthaired Pointer

The German shorthaired pointer is the epitome of a hunting dog—agile, athletic, intelligent, obedient, and determined. Also known as GSP dogs, these pups are a good fit for avid hunters who spend a lot of time outdoors, whether hunting or hiking. A handsome breed, the German shorthaired pointer's namesake is in his ability to "point" at game birds, and alert hunters of the direction of a good shot. They will also retrieve birds for their owners, and have a proven track record of hunting every upland game bird—under every imaginable condition—all across the country. Novice owners should take note that these active, agile dogs tend to lack an "off button," and need a ton of exercise and engagement to stay healthy and happy.

Portrait of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever outdoors
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Dedicated Duck Hunting Dog: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Their name says it all. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is especially good at duck hunting thanks to its sleek red coat. Sometimes mistaken for a fox, the toller is a natural hunter who lures ducks out of hiding. Once downed by a hunter, well-trained tollers will retrieve the bird as well. While they may not be as well known as other retriever breeds and is the smallest of the group, the toller has a unique scream and are good family pets, too.

Outdoor portrait of Chesapeake Bay retriever, profile view
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Patriotic Waterfowl Hunting Dog: Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is unique in that they were bred entirely in the United States, in, you guessed it, Chesapeake Bay. Naturally, these pups are adept at hunting in the water thanks to their waterproof coat, making them another excellent option when it comes to choosing a duck and waterfowl hunting companion. The Chessie is a tireless pooch, both energetic and enduring, ideal for long hunting days.

Bloodhound laying on grass in front of a lake
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Tenacious Tracking Dog: Bloodhound

A bloodhound's nose, arguably the best at tracking a scent, is the kind of asset any hunter would like to have at his disposal when trailing game through the woods. Couple their keen sense of smell with an unparalleled tracking ability and you've got a Sherlock Holmes-level companion, and one whose senses are routinely put to work finding missing people during search-and-rescue missions. But do keep in mind your partner will take up some space. Bloodhounds are big dogs, weighing anywhere from 80 to 120 pounds, but are known for being easy-going when not at work.

boykin spaniel in grass field
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Boisterous Bird Hunting Dog: Boykin Spaniel

While any spaniel breed is an excellent choice for a hunting companion, the boykin spaniel is particularly well-suited for hunting turkey and duck. They are very easily trained and are excellent at both flushing and retrieving. They have a one-track mind while on the hunt and complete determination. Because they hail from the southern coast—another American bred hunting dog—boykin spaniels do well hunting in heavy brush, in wetlands, and in hotter temperatures. Back at home, they are extremely loving pets with a very regal looking dark liver or chocolate coat. 

Outdoor portrait of adult beagle
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Small Game Hunting Dog: Beagle

Much smaller than most other hunting dog breeds, the beagle is an excellent small game hunter. While these pups will require lots of training—since their nose often guides them more than their owners' commands—beagles are natural hunters of rabbits, foxes, and birds. The most popular of hound dogs, beagles can hunt on their own, but they also do well hunting in packs together. At once playful and curious, a beagle is also determined and tenacious with a seemingly endless supply of energy.

Outdoor portrait of Norwegian Elkhound
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Big Game Hunting Dog:  Norwegian Elkhound

If you have your heart set on hunting big game, a Norwegian elkhound might be the companion for you. This powerful pooch is skilled at assisting hunts for deer, moose, and even bears. They aren't afraid of keeping these larger animals at bay, even though they are not big in stature themselves. With a lineage that traces back to their days hunting alongside the Vikings, Norwegian elkhounds have a thick coat of silver-gray hair, a distinctively curled tail, and pointed ears that seem to capture every sound in the woods.

Profile portrait of adult Catahoula leopard dog
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Most Unique Coat for a Hunting Dog: Catahoula Leopard Dog

The Catahoula leopard dog got its start hunting on the Louisiana bayou. A companion dog that likes to be on-the-go, they are skilled hunters of birds and even wild hogs, and are also used to herd and protect livestock. Their performance in the field is dependable, but their appearance is perhaps the most varied of any hunting dog. They can be black, red, yellow, brindle, or have coats that are merle or "leopard" patterned. Their eyes are striking in color and pattern as well. While they may not be warm with strangers at first, these pups are incredibly loyal to their family with plenty of socialization and positive reinforcement training.

full length shot of adult weimaraner splashing through water
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Unexpected Hunting Dog: Weimaraner

Highly intelligent and easy to train, Weimaraners are not just uniquely beautiful dogs, but also skilled hunting dogs. These pups are made for speed and because of their cool and composed nature, Weimaraners are also very good at remaining calm during the excitement of a hunt. Originally bred to hunt wolves and even bears in Germany, a Weimaraner today is a great partner for hunting pheasant, quail, and other game birds.

portrait of golden retriever in golden sunlight
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Fit for Families and Hunting: Golden Retriever

If you are looking for the ideal family dog that might also occasionally accompany you on a hunting excursion, look no further than the perennially adored golden retriever. Beautiful on the outside, determined on the inside, golden retrievers are hard-workers on the hunt, especially excelling at bird hunting. In fact, they were originally bred in Scotland for the very thing. You may have to comb out some burrs from their luxurious coat after a hunting trip, but rest assured your golden will be very affectionate back at home.

Bluetick Coonhound outdoors
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Hunting Dog Breed With a Trusty Nose: Bluetick Coonhound

The bluetick coonhound is one of the most beloved scenthounds, able to follow their nose after any trail. As the name implies, these dogs are primarily used to hunt raccoons like their cousin, the redbone coonhound. But they also make friendly, loving family pets when not at work.

Out in the field, the bluetick coonhound deploys their unique "singing" skills to bay or howl to let their hunting partner know when they've treed game. These distinctive sounds carry over long distances so hunters can easily locate their pup—and their quarry.

Portrait of Vizla dog standing on a meadow.
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Most Versatile Hunting Dog: Vizsla

One of the oldest known hunting dog breeds, the Vizsla (meaning "pointer" in Hungarian) is a type of gun dog originally bred for both pointing and retrieving. Today, Vizslas make great family pets as well as hunting companions, and are multitalented canines able to adjust to a variety of environments.

A Vizsla's sleek coat makes them great swimmers that can retrieve a variety of waterfowl. But that's not all, these are also some of the fastest dogs on land, making them preferred companions for hunting quail, pheasant, and grouse.

Vizsla dogs have a social temperament and prefer spending lots of quality time with their active family members who are dedicated to providing them with plenty of exercise, mental enrichment, and socialization. Aside from long walks and play sessions in the yard, participation in dog sports like agility trials, tracking, flyball, scent work, and dock diving is a great way to keep your Vizsla active and engaged and strengthen the bond you have with one another.