What is the best hunting-dog group and why?

Run, rabbit, run!
Run, rabbit, run!
Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images

Anyone who has ­a Fido or a Buddy roaming his or her backyard knows that dogs are natural hunters. Hence Butch's tugging as he lunges for a squirrel on your regular morning walk. Or perhaps your little ball of fur prefers to exercise his instincts by chasing the vacuum cleaner or ripping the stuffing out of his squeaky toys. Whatever the case, there's no denying a dog's inherent tendency to bound after moving objects.

But just because a dog shows interest in bringing down the floor mop doesn't necessarily mean it's cut out for the real thing. Many gun-toting individuals vouch that their personal hunting dog is the best of the bunch, but an unbiased opinion on what breed makes the best hunting dog is nearly impossible to come by.

­The reason for this is simple. Historically, dog breeds were created to help humans perform very specific tasks. Some pull sleds, some guard the farm and some round up cattle. In the case of game hunting, pointers point, hounds hound and retrievers retrieve. So if you're a duck hunter, you get a golden. If it's raccoons you're after, you bring along your hound.

Since declaring a specific breed as the best hunting dog is so difficult, singling out a specific group of dogs as the best hunters is much more doable. Read on to learn more about the group of dogs that we think makes the best hunters.

The Sporting Group

Gamekeeper Andrew Drummond crosses a stream with his springer spaniel on Drumochter Moore on the Milton Estate in Scotland.
Gamekeeper Andrew Drummond crosses a stream with his springer spaniel on Drumochter Moore on the Milton Estate in Scotland.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

If the Am­erican Kennel Club (AKC) sporting group classification referred to a particular sport, there's no doubt that sport would be hunting. Sometimes known as modern hunting dogs since they usually work alongside people with guns, these dogs assist the hunter by finding, flushing or retrieving game.

While they were initially trained to go after birds like quail or pheasant, most dogs in this group won't shy away from terrestrial targets such as rabbits, squirrels or something even larger, such as deer. Dogs in the sporting group -- which include retrievers, pointers, setters and spaniels -- are traditionally quick learners and eager to please. So, if you trained them to track down the mailman and retrieve your mail every day, they'd do that too (although the post office might have a few complaints).

­These dogs are also energy powerhouses with strong limbs that endlessly bound after prey until your truck is full and your gun is out of bullets.

For the beagle lover or Rhodesian ridgeback owner who might be wondering why this article isn't about the "original hunting dogs," the hound group, know that the contest was a close one [source: Animal Planet]. Hounds are indeed excellent hunters, with top-notch noses and powerful stamina. But in terms of versatility and overall well-roundedness, the sporting group comes out ahead. Perhaps the next page will convince you as to why.

Good Sports: Top Hunting Dogs

An Irish setter can get the job done.
An Irish setter can get the job done.
Chris Warbey/Stone/Getty Images

Whether you're a hard-core hunter of waterfo­wl, pheasants or rabbits and deer, the sporting group has a dog for you -- the range of talent found in this group of dogs runs the gamut.

If you want a dog that stays close to its owner, sneaks up and flushes out birds in hiding, making it easier for you to bring them down, you can take your pick from one of the spaniels, like the English springer spaniel. These top hunting dogs can also be trained to retrieve downed birds out of a pond, and their mouths won't damage the prey.

If you'd prefer a dog that doesn't flush game but instead runs far ahead of you to scout the wild animals out and then quietly holds position until you arrive, the sporting group is also home to the aptly named pointers and setters, like the English pointer and Irish setter. As their name implies, when pointers happen upon their target, they do like Madonna and strike a pose, pointing in the direction of the bounty. Setters accomplish the same goal by crouching down in a squat.

Still not satisfied? Opt for one of the well-rounded retrievers like the Labrador or the Chesapeake. These dogs are perfect for hunting waterfowl due to their water-resilient coats, strong legs and natural instinct to retrieve. They can also be taught to track and point. Like the other dogs in this group, their friendly dispositions also make them good companions in the home.

There's no doubt that the sporting group has variety, but some people want a dog that can do it all. They don't want to be restricted to just one type of hunting during the year, and they can't afford to purchase a dog for every hunting season. If that's the case, the sporting group still has the bases covered with what are known as the versatile breeds.

These dogs, including German shorthaired pointers, drahthaars (a European breed), griffons and pudelpointers, aren't necessarily the best at any one task, but they can easily be taught to perform just about all of the hunting jobs without too much hassle. The versatile breeds not only point and retrieve upland birds and waterfowl, but they'll also go after rabbits and deer. They can be trained to stay close or run far out in front of you.

The members of the sporting group are bound to satisfy almost any hunter. All-around hunting dogs, these sporty breeds will do just about everything for you except pull the trigger and skin the hide.

For more articles on hunting, from the best hunting-dog breeds to how to set up a tree stand, see the links on the next page. 

Related HowS­tuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • "All About Dog Breeds." Animal Planet. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://animal.discovery.com/guides/dogs/choosing-a-dog/choosing.html
  • "Breeds." American Kennel Club. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://www.akc.org/breeds/index.cfm?nav_area=breeds
  • "Breeds of Dogs With Lots Of Versatility." The Hunting Dog. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://www.the-hunting-dog.com/breeds-of-dogs.html
  • Carty, Dave. "Fact or Fiction." Petersen's Hunting. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://www.huntingmag.com/small_game/huntdog_032907/index.html
  • Gribb, John. "The Greatest Upland Hunting Dog of All?" Game & Fish. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://www.gameandfishmag.com/hunting/hunting-dogs/RA_0605_03/index.html
  • Hawkins, Kirsten. "Choosing A Good Hunting Dog." Bird Dogs Of America. (Nov. 12, 2008)http://www.swampdogg.com/Choosing_Hunting_Dog.asp
  • "The Versatile Hunting Dog Breeds." North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.(Nov. 18, 2008)http://www.navhda.org/breeds.html