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The history of humans and dogs hunting together stretches into the shadows of time. Researchers believe that the first domesticated dogs originated about 30,000 years ago, while evidence of humans using dogs for hunting dates back more than 8,000 years. With time, dogs have been selectively bred to enhance natural traits and instincts, such as a heightened sense of smell, superior eyesight, and the stamina to chase down prey over long distances.
Hunters today continue to use dogs to gain an advantage in the field. Dogs are helpful for flushing prey animals from thickets and cover, retrieving downed birds, and cornering animals until the hunter arrives. Hunting dogs can also make excellent companion animals that may become like family members. Choosing the right dog for hunting depends a lot on the type of game animals and the type of hunting being done. This article will examine the best hunting dogs for different types of hunting to help choose what type of dog to get a more straightforward process.
When many people think of hunting dogs, they tend to imagine retrievers and labradors that are trained to recover waterfowl after a hunter has shot the bird. This is one of the more popular reasons many people raise and train hunting dogs, but it is also far from the only example of how dogs are used for hunting.
Though the practice is less common today and has been banned in some states, dogs are also helpful for hunting bears and other large animals. Most often, hunters will use a pack of dogs for hunting these animals, with the dogs trained to find and tree the animal. Foxes, racoons, and other fur-bearing or meat-providing animals are also hunted similarly.
Dogs are commonly used for spotting and finding prey animals. These dogs are trained to identify an animal's location and alert the hunter through body language. Many dogs use their excellent sense of smell and eyesight to help hunters find animals that might otherwise be nearly impossible to spot.
Whether it is a lone dog you want for your next hunt or you are considering starting a pack, choosing the right type of dog for the type of hunting you plan to do is essential.
Dogs trained to bring back animals during a hunt are so popular that an entire group of dogs has been bred for the job. Some of the most popular and familiar breeds of dogs in the U.S. also fall into this category of retrieving dogs. Let’s take a look at some of the common breeds and what makes them good at their job.
Probably one of the most recognizable breeds of the planet, the golden retriever originated in Scotland as a hunting dog. Golden retrievers are medium-sized dogs, typically weighing about 60 pounds. The breed has dense, golden fur, powerful shoulders, and hips, and is naturally drawn to retrieving and outdoor activities. Golden retrievers make ideal hunting dogs for hunting waterfowl and small game animals, where the dog is eager to find and retrieve downed animals on command. Golden retrievers are intelligent, easily trained, and make excellent companion animals.
Another immensely popular family dog in the U.S., the labrador retriever was bred to retrieve waterfowl from the icy waters of Eastern Canada and the United States. This breed has dense, coarse fur that helps keep it warm and large webbed feet that give it the ability to swim with power and purpose, even when retrieving large game birds like geese. Labradors are medium-sized dogs that weigh around 70 pounds. They are energetic and make excellent companion animals for the entire family.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are a strong and athletic breed with a natural affinity for the water, and they are known for their excellent retrieving ability. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are also known for their determination and high energy, which makes them well-suited for the physically demanding sport of hunting. However, they may not be as well-suited for upland hunting as some other breeds, as they are bred specifically for retrieving in the water.
The best dog breeds for upland hunting typically have strong hunting instincts, a good sense of smell, excellent stamina, and the ability to work well with their handler. Some popular breeds include:
German Shorthaired Pointers (GSPs) are often considered excellent dogs for upland hunting. They have a strong hunting instinct, a good nose, and are known for their versatility and ability to work in different types of terrain.
GSPs are also known for their high energy and enthusiasm, which makes them well-suited for the physically demanding sport of upland hunting. However, as with any breed, individual dogs may have different temperaments and abilities, so it's important to choose a pup that has the right personality and hunting style for you.
English Setters are known as really good dogs for upland hunting. They are a highly energetic breed with a strong hunting instinct and a good sense of smell. English Setters are known for their stamina and ability to cover a lot of ground in search of game, and they are generally good at working with their handler.
They are also known for their gentle and friendly temperament, which can make them enjoyable companions in the field. However, as with any breed, individual dogs may have different temperaments and abilities, so it's important to choose a pup that has the right personality and hunting style for you.
Brittanys are well known in the upland hunting community. They are an energetic and athletic breed with a strong hunting instinct and a good sense of smell. Brittanys are known for their versatility and ability to work in different types of terrain, and they are generally good at working with their handler. They are also known for their friendly and eager-to-please temperament, which can make them enjoyable companions in the field.
Many of the most popular pet breeds in the U.S. originated as flushing dogs. These breeds use their smaller size and powerful nature to flush birds and other game animals from brush and can be trained to retrieve downed animals. When not on the job, many of these breeds love to snuggle.
The poodle is not the dog most people think of when considering a hunting dog, but this breed has an ancient pedigree for flushing or “springing” game from dense thickets and brush. The poodle has powerful jaws and above-average sight and scent abilities that make it an ideal upland game companion. The curly coat allows the poodle to go through dense brush without getting tangled and helps the dog dry quickly in wet conditions. Poodles can be trained to flush and to retrieve. In his downtime, the standard poodle is also an excellent companion animal and a fantastic defender of the home.
The springer spaniel is a popular hunting dog that traces its lineage back to ancient Spain. Accounts of these dogs being used for hunting in Briton date to the Roman period with the earliest known mention of the breed in 300 AD. Springer spaniels are bred for their ability to find and flush game from thickets and brush, pointing the location of game, and retrieving downed game. With a weight averaging around 50 lbs and a sweet and gentle demeanor, springer spaniels are ideal hunting dogs that also make wonderful family pets.
The field spaniel is a cousin of the springer and more-popular cocker spaniel. Field spaniels were bred in England for game bird hunting where they make excellent gun dogs for flushing pheasant, grouse, and dove. The field spaniel has a less-fussy coat than some spaniels and has a powerful hunting instinct. Field spaniels readily learn to retrieve and make wonderful companion pets when they aren’t working. Field spaniels are slightly smaller than springer spaniels with an average weight around 40 lbs.
Trailing a wounded deer or elk can be a simpler task when a hunter has a dog trained to follow big game. Some big game dogs are capable of taking down prey on their own, while others use their senses of sight, hearing, and smell to pursue game. Once an animal is down, these dogs will howl or bark loudly to alert the hunter to the location.
The bloodhound is popularly used by search and rescue teams to help find people, but it was originally bred to hunt game ranging from fox to deer. The name does not have anything to do with the dogs blood-scenting abilities, but rather comes from an old English name that meant “blooded,” indicating the dogs were reserved for the aristocracy. The bloodhound can be trained to scent just about any type of prey and will relentlessly trail after the animal. At around 100 lbs, the bloodhound is large enough to handle big animals, though it is more adept at treeing and cornering prey.
The Plott Hound is the state dog of North Carolina where it originated in the late 1700s. The Plott Hound was bred to hunt black bear and wild boar in the mountainous terrain of North Carolina. The dog has a keen sense of smell and can trail game for miles without tiring or losing the scent. Plott Hounds come in a wide variety of colors but tend toward a brindle pattern that can give them the appearance of a tiger. Adult Plott Hounds typically weigh around 50 lbs. On the hunt, they will trail and tree animals.
This is a breed that is less familiar in the U.S., but was bred for hunting hogs and puma in Argentina. The Dogo Argentino is a medium-large dog that has the power and strength to grab and hold hogs in place until the hunter arrives. The Dogo Argentino weighs around 90 lbs. This dog has a short, powerful muscle, large, sturdy chest, and powerful legs. They are also known as excellent companion dogs and guard dogs in their downtime. These dogs are most often employed in pairs on the hunt as the two animals will work together.
Some of the most popular hunting in the U.S. is for small game like rabbit, squirrel, and fox. A wide variety of dog breeds excel at hunting small game. Most of these dogs are smaller in stature but are filled with vigor.
Literally “badger dog” in German, the dachshund is a superior hunter for small game. His short stature and lanky body allow the dachshund to crawl into burrows, while his tenacity gives him confidence to subdue much larger prey. The dachshund is an excellent small game dog when hunting hares and rabbits both as a flushing dog and as a catch dog. Popularly called a “weiner dog,” the dachshund is a great companion dog.
The Jack Russell was bred for hunting small, burrowing animals like fox, squirrel, and rabbit. These dogs are small and energetic with an attitude suited for a much larger animal. With a weight of less than 15 lbs, the Jack Russell is a compact hunting companion that tirelessly chases prey. Jack Russells have even been known to send a bear to tree. Around the home, the Jack Russell needs lots of attention and exercise, but makes for a great companion dog. On the hunt, the Jack Russell will typically flush prey, but can also catch and subdue animals larger than it.
he greyhound is one of the oldest dog breeds to still exist. They were bred in ancient Egypt for the Pharaohs and were used for hunting swift prey. The breed is more common at racetracks than in the field, but they make an ideal rabbit or pest dog. Greyhounds can even run down and kill coyote. They are a medium-size dog weighing around 65 lbs with long, lanky legs and a distinct tucked waist that gives the dog unmatched speed and agility. Greyhounds are known to be excellent, loyal companion dogs when not on the hunt.
There are many types of dogs that make excellent breeds for hunting. Hunters should educate themselves about the way dogs are legally used to hunt the types of animals they hope to pursue before deciding on a particular breed. More important than the dogs innate instincts are the steps the hunter takes to properly train the dog. Training a dog to hunt is a life-long commitment that entails lots of hard work. A well-trained hunting dog is more than just an efficient way to hunt, they also become members of the family.
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