Like the hunters who use them, different bird dog breeds have unique strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right breed can be the difference between a rewarding partnership and disappointment for dog and hunter alike. Use this list to choose the right dog for you and your hunting style. Whatever breed you choose, make sure your dog comes from a line of proven hunters.
Labrador RetrieverPros: Labs excel at water retrieval and are the perfect companion in a waterfowl blind. They make great partners in the pheasant field, flushing and retrieving birds and are loyal and loveable family pets.
Cons: Labs are big and energetic. They require lots of exercise and training. The breed has a higher than normal chance of developing hip dysplasia, leading your hunting partner to early retirement.
English SetterPros: Watching a well trained English Setter work a covert before locking into point over a huddling game bird is poetry in motion. These dogs are excellent quail, grouse, and pheasant finders and are perfect for a traditionalist hunter.
Cons: These dogs are hairy and require frequent brushing. The breed has the reputation of being strong-willed and mischievous.
Chesapeake Bay RetrieverPros: As their name suggests, “Chessies” originated near the Chesapeake Bay. They are big, hardy and perfect for winter waterfowling and making retrieves in rough icy water. They are also serviceable flushers of upland game.
Cons: These dogs have a mind of their own and are sometimes bull-headed. Consistent training and socialization is necessary to keep these independent urges in check.
Brittany SpanielPros: Don’t let the spaniel label fool you, these dogs point with the best of them. Their medium size and friendly nature make them as welcome around the house as they are in the field.
Cons: The high energy of this breed is more than some hunters can handle. Without exercise, Brittanys will release their energy in unwanted ways.
German Shorthair PointerPros: These dogs are all around hunters. Their exceptional scenting, pointing, and retrieving skills on land and water make them perfect for the hunter who hits the field whenever he can. With proper exercise and training, they also make wonderful family companions.
Cons: German Shorthairs require at least one hour of exercise per day. They do not like to be cooped up for extended periods.
Gordon SetterPros: The Gordon Setter has many of the same qualities as its cousin the English Setter, but with a striking black and tan coat. Strong, intelligent, and loyal, Gordons make great partners for a hunters pursuing grouse, quail, or pheasants.
Cons: Gordons require frequent grooming to keep their long hair from matting. Their large size and boisterous nature may deter hunters with small children at home.
Golden RetrieverPros: These dogs love the water and are naturally good retrievers, making them perfect for waterfowl hunters. Their friendly nature and attractive appearance have also made them popular with non-hunters.
Cons: Goldens shed A LOT. The hunting instincts of many lines have been diluted due to overbreeding.
Deutsch DrahthaarPros: Drahthaars are versatile hunting dogs. Hunters looking for a dog to hunt upland game, waterfowl, and furred game should look no further. This breed can do it all.
Cons: Extensive training is required to get the most out of your Drahthaar. These dogs can become dominant and pushy without proper socialization.
English Springer SpanielPros: These medium sized dogs are perfect for the hunter with limited space. They are excellent flushers of upland game and retrieve well on land or in water. They are affectionate with children and make great family pets.
Cons: Springers are ill-suited for goose hunters due to their small size. They are people-oriented and should not be left alone for long periods of time.
Boykin SpanielPros: These small dogs were originally bred for hunting wild turkeys and ducks in the swamps of South Carolina. They are equally effective as flushers and retrievers of upland game. Boykins are friendly and sociable and perfect for the family man/hunter.
Cons: Like the Springer Spaniel, Boykins’ small size makes them inefficient goose dogs. This breed needs frequent grooming to stay free of thorns and other vegetation.