Dogs have accompanied hunters as their trusted partners and companions for thousands of years. No matter what kind of game you hunt today, you can find a breed of dog that is perfectly suited to the task. Traditional hunting breeds can also make great family dogs, because they tend to be intelligent, sociable, and loyal. But they were not bred to be couch potatoes, so make sure these dogs get plenty of exercise!
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Hunting dogs generally fall into these categories, although their jobs are not necessarily mutually exclusive (some flushers are also excellent retrievers, for example):
Retrievers include Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. Their job is to find shot game and bring it back to the hunter without damage. They love to swim, so they are especially useful for hunting duck and other waterfowl. Their friendly, easygoing personalities make retrievers some of the most popular family pets in America. Be prepared for vacuuming, though: these are large dogs who tend to shed heavily.
Pointers and Setters
Pointers and setters direct hunters to game by sitting or standing nearby. These breeds usually have “pointer” or “setter” in their name (e.g., German shorthair pointer, Irish setter), although the group also includes Weimaraners and Vizslas. They are especially useful for hunting grouse and quail.Pointers and setters were originally taught to indicate the location of birds in different ways. Before firearms were invented, setters would “set” or lay down so that hunters could capture the game with a net. Today, setters typically freeze or crouch in front of game. Pointers “point” to game by bending one foreleg. Pointers and setters are often grouped together, but can be easily distinguished by their coats: setters have long coats, while pointers have short coats. Both can make wonderful, athletic family pets.
Flushers include English Springer spaniels and the Brittany, which was previously known as the Brittany spaniel. Their job is to find game and drive it from its hiding place (often in dense brush). They are especially useful for hunting pheasant. These friendly, medium-sized dogs make good pets for families with limited space, provided the dogs get enough exercise. Field spaniels can look quite different from those bred to show, and often have shorter, lower-maintenance coats.
Scenthounds include beagles, foxhounds, coonhounds, and bloodhounds. Their job is to track game with their noses, often for many miles. As their names suggest, they are especially useful for hunting foxes and raccoons as well as rabbits, deer, and even mountain lions! Scenthounds are very sociable short-haired dogs, and they make popular pets. However, their loud baying or howling can make them less than ideal family pets in densely populated areas.
Of course, a dog is much more than the sum of its DNA. As anyone with a non-retrieving “retriever” knows, dogs are individuals with their own personalities and talents, just like people. Even dogs who seem born to hunt need lots of training to develop their skills appropriately.