Hunting Dogs: A Quick Guide For Finding Family-Friendly Companions
Some dogs were born to hunt. It's in their blood. It's why they were bred by humans, nurtured and domesticated. It's one of the main reasons why so many American households have canine companions curling up on couches and running around the backyard. Although dogs aren't used by the average American household to help put food on the table, recreational hunters still rely on their hunting dogs to track and capture small game. Whether you're an avid hunter in search of a faithful hunting companion or a new hunter in need of a family-friendly hunting breed, take a look at this quick guide to getting the right canine for your particular home and hunting style.
Top Turkey Trackers
Sometimes that Thanksgiving meal tastes a lot better when you've put some work into hunting it down. There are also arguments for why hunting your own turkey is actually more humane than picking one up from the store. However, contrary to what many people might imagine, the turkey isn't always easy to take down. Good turkey hunting dogs need to be mid-size to large, with a strong nose, fantastic eyesight and a loud bark to break up the wild packs and signal the hunters. Appalachian Turkey Dogs were specifically bred for turkey hunters, but English Setters and Golden Retrievers have been documented as good turkey trackers, and also are known for their friendly dispositions and loyal nature, making them top picks for hunters with children.
Finest Pheasant Finders
Bird dog breeds, also known as gun dogs, are often split into three different specialties: flusher, pointer or retriever. While pointers are excellent when it comes to tracking the birds hunters couldn't find themselves and pointing out locations with precision, they can be a bit difficult to train given the difficult nature of their task. Flushers aren't necessarily less skilled, but their task is admittedly more straightforward, sprinting after birds to force them to scatter into open air. It's not always the case, but most flushers are also fine retrievers and will even do pretty well when forced to retrieve in water. Spaniels such as the English Cocker Spaniel are perfect flusher breeds and almost always have an upbeat personality, while Labrador Retrievers provide solid hunting versatility, can be easily trained and adapt better than almost any breed to home life.
Dedicated Duck Divers
If you're hunting waterfowl like ducks or geese, you're going to need an outstanding retriever who isn't afraid to jump into icy cold water and swim with strength. For what they may lack compared to some of the better flushers or pointers, Labrador Retrievers are second to none when it comes to hunting ducks and geese, which says a lot for their all-around hunting ability. However, if you're wading out into the water yourself with a small vessel like a canoe, having a bigger breed can take up valuable space and really rock the boat when the time comes to dive in after that prized mallard. Smaller breeds like Boykin Spaniels weigh less than most retrievers and are typically descendants of other powerful swimmers like Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
Reliable Rabbit Wranglers
The general argument is that the Beagle is the dog to beat in the rabbit-hunting world. With an excellent nose and a smaller stature, they are quite adept at tracking rabbits, particularly in smaller areas where larger breeds just can't go. Some hunters prefer Basset Hounds to Beagles because they believe the Basset is less prone to getting distracted during a chase, especially when there are multiple rabbits in the vicinity, and can be better companions for slower hunters who aren't always able to keep up with a Beagle's springy speed. There are some dog breeds, like English Whippets, fast enough to catch rabbits on their own, but these dogs may not be right for rabbit hunting. You need a clear shot, and good rabbit hunters like Beagles and Bassets are commonly the best at finding, chasing, trailing and leading rabbits back into range.
It's important to understand that no matter what breed you pick, it's best to get information from a local breeder. While certain breeds are literally born to hunt, natural ability will only get them so far. Hunting dogs need to be trained carefully to bring out their very best qualities, rewarded with love and given a comforting home environment to keep them ready for the next expedition. If you're interested in adding a dog to your family that you also want to take out on hunting trips, make sure you work with ethical breeders, train the dog responsibly, and treat your hunting companion like family.
At The Lakeside Collection, Zach enjoys using his abilities as a storyteller, researcher and content creator to deliver a fresh take on subjects both new and familiar, from easy tips to optimize the space in your home to do-it-yourself building projects for your backyard retreat.