Choosing the Right Hunting Dogs: Breeds, Training, and Care

Matt Johnson
Matt JohnsonPublished: January 10, 2024
Choosing the Right Hunting Dogs: Breeds, Training, and Care

Hunting dogs, known for their keen senses, agility, and trainability, are not just pets but partners in outdoor adventures. 

While we love all dogs, some dogs make for better hunting breeds. These hunting dog breeds require specific training and care to be the best they can be in the bush.

BreedProsCons
Labrador RetrieverExcellent swimmer, easy to train, good family pet, water-repellent coat.Prone to hip/elbow dysplasia, needs regular exercise, risk of obesity.
German Shorthaired PointerVersatile on land/water, agile with a strong sense of smell, eager to train.High energy, requires intense exercise, potential hereditary health issues.
BeagleGreat for small game, excellent sense of smell, persistent tracker, friendly nature.Limited to small game, can be loud, prone to obesity, needs regular exercise.

Understanding hunting dog breeds.

As we mentioned, not all breeds are created the same when it comes to hunting. Fortunately, there are a few that make better hunting companions than others.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever in Training
  • Origins. Developed in Newfoundland, Canada, Labradors were initially used by fishermen to retrieve nets and loose fish.
  • Physical attributes. They possess a dense, water-repellent coat, which is a significant advantage in waterfowl hunting.
  • Temperament. Known for their intelligence and good temperament, Labs are easy to train and great family pets.
  • Health. Generally healthy, they can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. Their average lifespan is around 10-12 years.

Often topping the list of popular hunting breeds, the Labrador Retriever is known for its friendly demeanor and versatility in the field. 

Originally bred for retrieving game in water, Labs have a natural love for swimming. 

Their keen sense of smell and gentle mouth grip make them excellent for retrieving birds without causing damage.

German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer Chasing a Duck
  • Origins. Originating in Germany in the 19th century, they were bred for hunting both in water and on land.
  • Physical attributes. GSPs have a short, thick coat suitable for different weather conditions and a muscular build for endurance.
  • Temperament. They are active and require regular exercise to satisfy their high energy levels.
  • Health. Typically healthy, with a lifespan of 12-14 years. They may have hereditary health issues like hip dysplasia.

This breed is admired for its endurance and versatility in various hunting scenarios. German Shorthaired Pointers are known for their speed, agility, and an exceptional sense of smell, making them perfect for tracking game over different terrains. 

They are also very intelligent and eager to please, which makes training a rewarding experience.

Beagle

This beagle has a rabbit in his mouth.
  • Origins. Beagles have a long history, with origins tracing back to England. They were bred to hunt small game like rabbits.
  • Physical attributes. Small to medium-sized with a keen sense of smell, second only to the Bloodhound.
  • Temperament. Beagles are known for being friendly and curious. They are also known for their distinctive 'bay' or howl.
  • Health. They are generally healthy, with a lifespan of about 10-15 years. Be aware of obesity as they love to eat.

Beagles, with their compact size and incredible sense of smell, are unparalleled in rabbit hunting. 

Their persistence and stamina make them excellent for tracking small game. Beagles are also known for their melodious bark, which helps hunters locate them and the game during hunts.

Other Notable Hunting Breeds

There are many other hunting dogs breeds that excel in hunting, such as the English Setter, known for its grace and agility, and the Bloodhound, famed for its tracking abilities. 

Each breed brings unique qualities to the hunting experience.

Training your hunting dog to be a pro.

Training a hunting dog requires patience, consistency, and an understanding of the breed's instincts and capabilities. 

Start training early, focusing on basic obedience and gradually introducing them to the environments and scenarios they will encounter while hunting. 

Positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods are highly effective.

  • Socialization. Expose your pup to various environments, sounds, and people to make them well-adjusted and confident.
  • Basic commands. Teach commands like 'sit,' 'stay,' 'come,' and 'heel.' These basics are crucial for safety and control in the field. You can go well beyond these, but if you get these basics down, you can at least start taking your pooch to the field.
  • Hunting skills. Gradually introduce your dog to game scents, tracking exercises, and mock hunting scenarios. Tailor the training to the specific hunting activities you plan to engage in. If possible, let them walk the terrain you plan on hunting during the off-season so they can gain familiarity with their surroundings.

Training a hunting dog might seem like a tall task, maybe one you think you need a professional to teach. However, with the right hunting dog breed and a little bit of effort, you'll be amazed at the instincts of these dogs and how they can help you in the field.

Caring for your hunting dog.

Caring for a hunting dog goes beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter, as you would with any pet. 

These dogs have specific needs due to their active lifestyles.

  • Nutrition Provide a balanced diet rich in protein to support their energy needs. We happen to use Victor dog food with our hunting dogs. Consult with a vet to understand the dietary requirements specific to your dog's breed and activity level.
  • Healthcare. Regular vet check-ups, vaccinations, and preventive care are crucial. Pay attention to their paws and coat, especially after hunting trips. Dogs will often get into stuff when they're out of your sight and could come in contact with something that isn't good for them.
  • Exercise. Hunting dogs require regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Regular walks, play sessions, and training exercises are essential. This is a far stretch from most people's traditional house pets.
  • Rest. Just as you need to take them out and get their heart rate up, dogs of this caliber need some rest as well. Ensure they have a comfortable place to rest and recover after a day of hunting or training.

If you follow those essentials, your dog should be good to go on your next hunting trip. It's a bit more maintenance than most pets, but they're also providing you with a critical skill.

What hunting dog breed is right for you?

Choosing the right hunting dog breed requires understanding the specific traits and needs of each breed. 

Whether you opt for a Labrador Retriever, a German Shorthaired Pointer, a Beagle, or another breed, remember that training, care, and companionship are vital to nurturing a skilled and happy hunting dog. 

Your hunting dog is not just a pet; they are a partner in your outdoor adventures, a companion in your life's journey.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.

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