Dog in the foreground with a hunter behind it.

Best dog breeds for hunting

Written by:
February 26, 2020

Best dog breeds for hunting

While most of us think of our dogs as beloved companions before anything else, many dog breeds have roles that go beyond family life, with specific characteristics, temperaments, and instincts that make them best suited for certain activities or jobs. Some breeds like to herd, some were created to hunt, and others were bred for no other reason than to keep their humans company.

The American Kennel Club, or AKC, founded in 1884, has grouped all of the breeds it registers into seven categories, roughly based on their shared traits of form and function, or a common heritage. These groupings include Herding, Sporting, Toy, Working, Hound, Non-Sporting and Terrier (plus Miscellaneous).

Dogs in the Sporting category include spaniels, pointers, retrievers, and setters. As they were bred to work and hunt, most sporting dogs are very intelligent, high-energy, and have defined prey drives. First developed to work with hunters to locate and/or retrieve game, they tend to be likable and well-rounded, with excellent instincts in both water and field work. Many have water-repellent coats and webbed feet for strong swimming, while others have endless endurance and sensitive noses for sniffing out game. Because of Sporting breeds' energy, they require regular and sometimes intense exercise, and while they can make great family dogs, activity and training should be an inherent part of owning dogs in this group.

Using data from the American Kennel Club to rank dog breeds in the Sporting Group, Stacker has compiled a list of the best dog breeds suited for hunting. Each of the 32 dog breeds in this group is ranked by its AKC 2018 popularity rank, which was released in March 2019.

Whether you're looking for a dog who will be by your side during duck season, or just enjoy an energetic breed that gets you outside, check out our list of some of the best dog breeds that are built to hunt.

#32. Barbet

- AKC popularity rank: Not available because breed was recognized by AKC on Jan. 1, 2020
- Height: 19-24.5 inches
- Weight: 35-65 pounds
- Temperament: friendly, bright, sweet-natured
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

Hailing from France, the Barbet is a recent addition to the American Kennel Club, earning full recognition as of January 2020. This playful water dog has a strong prey drive and loves to retrieve waterfowl from lakes and ponds. Its long, curly coat helps protect it from cold marsh water, and its energetic, active nature makes it not only good for hunting, but also a great addition to an active family.

#31. Sussex spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #180 of 195
- Height: 13-15 inches
- Weight: 35-45 pounds
- Temperament: friendly, merry, even-tempered
- Life expectancy: 13-15 years

The Sussex spaniel was originally bred in England to help hunters by "flushing" birds (causing them to take flight). Long and low to the ground, they are rarely taller than about 15 inches and average about 35 pounds. Their long coat helps protect them from inclement weather, and their boisterous baying voice makes them good watchdogs, in addition to being hunting companions. Sussex spaniels are also known for being gentle, calm and good with children.

#30. Wirehaired vizsla

- AKC popularity rank: #167 of 195
- Height: 23-25 inches (male), 21.5-23 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-65 pounds (male), 45-55 pounds (female)
- Temperament: gentle, loyal, trainable
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

Created from a cross between German wirehaired pointers and the original smooth-coated vizsla, the wirehaired vizsla has a heavy, dense coat and a solid frame, making it the perfect dog for hunting in harsh terrain and cold climates. They are generally quiet dogs, but their high energy levels mean they need plenty of exercise and room to run.

#29. American water spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #166 of 195
- Height: 15-18 inches
- Weight: 30-45 pounds (male), 25-40 pounds (female)
- Temperament: eager, happy, charming
- Life expectancy: 10-14 years

Originating in the U.S., the American water spaniel was, as the name indicates, primarily bred to be a water retriever. Their curly coat protects them from icy waters, and their feet are thickly padded, with webbed toes for stronger swimming. As a breed accustomed to working, these dogs need to stay active, and can be destructive if confined to apartment living.

#28. Curly-coated retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #162 of 195
- Height: 25-27 inches (male), 23-25 inches (female)
- Weight: 60-95 pounds
- Temperament: confident, proud, wickedly smart
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

This good-sized hunter weighs in at 60 to 95 pounds and between 23 and 27 inches tall. Their tight, curly coats are water-resistant, and they are known for their strength and agility. Curly-coated retrievers originated in England in the 1800s and are thought to be descended from the English water spaniel and retrieving setter. They are thought to be the oldest of retrievers.

#27. Irish water spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #159 of 195
- Height: 22-24 inches (male), 21-23 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-68 pounds (male), 45-58 pounds (female)
- Temperament: playful, hardworking, brave
- Life expectancy: 12-13 years

With their playful attitude, friendly nature and strong retrieval skills, the Irish water spaniel combines the best in companion and hunting dogs. Bred in Ireland as waterfowl retrievers, they are the largest of the spaniel group and have dense, waterproof coats and webbed feet. They are highly intelligent, but can also be stubborn and head-strong—which means less-experienced dog owners may find them challenging.

#26. Nederlandse kooikerhondje

- AKC popularity rank: #150 of 195
- Height: 15-17 inches (male), 14-16 inches (female)
- Weight: 20-30 pounds
- Temperament: friendly, alert, quick
- Life expectancy: 12-15 years

Despite the big, tough-to-pronounce name, the kooikerhondje is actually one of the smaller AKC Sporting breeds. Weighing at 20 to 30 pounds, their diminutive stature belies their physical power and strong hunting skills. Originally used for duck hunting, they have a strong prey drive and are eager to please, making them highly trainable.

#25. Field spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #149 of 195
- Height: 18 inches (male), 17 inches (female)
- Weight: 35-50 pounds
- Temperament: sweet, fun-loving, sensitive
- Life expectancy: 12-13 years

The Field spaniel, which comes from a cross of English springer, cocker and Sussex spaniels, were originally bred to flush birds, and evolved into field and show dogs. They have a softer temperament than some of their counterparts, and a gentle nature that makes them an especially good family dog.

#24. Irish red and white setter

- AKC popularity rank: #146 of 195
- Height: 24.5-26 inches (male), 22.5-24 inches (female)
- Weight: 42-60 pounds (male), 35-50 pounds (female)
- Temperament: courageous, spirited, determined
- Life expectancy: 11-15 years

While not as well-known as its red-headed cousin, the Irish setter, the Irish red and white setter is an incredible field dog with natural pointing skills and an ability to work in many different terrains and environments. They are strong and have great endurance, and their unique coloring of white on red helps hunters see them from a distance. This breed is a true Sporting dog who loves and needs plenty of exercise.

#23. Clumber spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #143 of 195
- Height: 18-20 inches (male), 17-19 inches (female)
- Weight: 70-85 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
- Temperament: mellow, amusing, gentlemanly
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

Once a popular breed with the British aristocracy, Clumber spaniels were among the first charter breeds for the AKC when it was founded in the 1800s. These are stocky, heavy dogs, with males weighing upwards of 95 pounds, making them well-built for pushing their way through grass and brush. They have remarkable noses and are hard to dissuade once they're on scent, and while not bred for water, they are also strong swimmers.

#22. Welsh springer spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #128 of 195
- Height: 18-19 inches (male), 17-18 inches (female)
- Weight: 40-55 pounds (male), 35-50 pounds (female)
- Temperament: happy, reserved, upbeat
- Life expectancy: 12-15 years

One of Britain's oldest Sporting breeds, the Welsh springer spaniel is depicted in art and literature as far back as 250 B.C. Their red-and-white coat isn't just beautiful; it is also naturally waterproof and resistant to all kinds of weather, giving them a distinct advantage when it comes to hunting down birds and small game. They love people, and with proper exercise and training, make good family dogs.

#21. Gordon setter

- AKC popularity rank: #115 of 195
- Height: 24-27 inches (male), 23-26 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-80 pounds (male), 45-70 pounds (female)
- Temperament: affectionate, confident, bold
- Life expectancy: 12-13 years

The largest of the setter group, Gordon setters can be as tall as 27 inches and often weigh upwards of 80 pounds. Scottish nobleman Alexander Gordon, for whom the breed is named, started breeding "black and tan" setters in the 1800s, and those dogs evolved into the Gordon setter we know today. Their heavier bone structure and sturdy frame makes navigating harsh terrain easy, and they are highly intelligent with a keen hunting sense.

#20. Pointer

- AKC popularity rank: #114 of 195
- Height: 25-28 inches (male), 23-26 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-75 pounds (male), 45-65 pounds (female)
- Temperament: loyal, hardworking, even-tempered
- Life expectancy: 12-17 years

Pointers were bred to point at birds and other small game, flushing them for hunters. They were also often used for hunting hares alongside the hounds. The breed is known for being fast and agile, with a high level of endurance. In addition to being bird and gun dogs, they do well in field and agility trials. They make good family dogs but need daily exercise and training.

#19. Spinone Italiano

- AKC popularity rank: #109 of 195
- Height: 23-27 inches (male), 22-25 inches (female)
- Weight: Not available
- Temperament: sociable, patient, docile
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

Known for their great nose as well as their strength and stamina, the Spinone Italiano were originally bred in Italy as hunting companions in the mountain regions. Their coat is wiry and thick, a natural protector against weather or dense brush. They are also a great companion dog, but like most Sporting breeds, need an outlet for their energy.

#18. Boykin spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #100 of 195
- Height: 15.5-18 inches (male), 14-16.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 30-40 pounds (male), 25-35 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, eager, lovable
- Life expectancy: 10-15 years

The Boykin spaniel got its start in South Carolina in the 1900s and was bred to flush and retrieve wild turkey and waterfowl. With its thick, luscious coat and webbed feet, the Boykin is a natural swimmer and has a strong prey drive. South Carolina is so proud of this hometown hunter, it dubbed the Boykin the official state dog and made Sept. 1 "Boykin Spaniel Day."

#17. Lagotto romagnolo

- AKC popularity rank: #99 of 195
- Height: 17-19 inches (male), 16-18 inches (female)
- Weight: 28.5-35 pounds (male), 24-31 pounds (female)
- Temperament: affectionate, keen, undemanding
- Life expectancy: 15-17 years

Otherwise known as Italian water dogs, the lagotto Romagnolo was originally bred to retrieve birds in the marshlands of Romagna, Italy. But it's the breed's amazing nose that has made them popular, and they are now most often used to hunt truffles. Their thick coat makes it easy for them to avoid scratches when running through underbrush, and they have a natural tendency to dig, making them the perfect choice for truffle hunting.

#16. English setter

- AKC popularity rank: #94 of 195
- Height: 25-27 inches (male), 23-25 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 45-55 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, mellow, merry
- Life expectancy: 12 years

With a history spanning more than 400 years, the English setter is thought to have been produced from crossing the Spanish pointer and the Springer spaniel. They were originally bred to "set" for birds, in which the dogs would lie down when they located wild game, and hunters would cast a net to capture the birds. While hunting methods have evolved, the English setter remains a popular hunting companion, as its endurance, agility and sensitive nose make it an excellent choice in bird dogs.

#15. Flat-coated retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #91 of 195
- Height: 23-24.5 inches (male), 22-23.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 60-70 pounds
- Temperament: cheerful, optimistic, good-humored
- Life expectancy: 8-10 years

Fun-loving and energetic, the flat-coated retriever has a personality to match its hunting abilities. Bred for both land and water retrieval, their long, straight coat deflects water as well as protecting them in heavy underbrush. Because they tend to mature slowly and retain much of their puppyish demeanor well into adulthood, they are known as the "Peter Pan" of the retriever category.

#14. Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #83 of 195
- Height: 18-21 inches (male), 17-20 inches (female)
- Weight: 35-50 pounds
- Temperament: affectionate, intelligent, outgoing
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

These medium-sized, agile dogs are one of the smallest AKC retrievers in stature, but one of the biggest in energy and endurance. Bred to resemble foxes, whose presence tends to draw ducks in, the dogs actually serve as a live decoy. Their webbed feet allow them to swim easily, and their soft mouths give them the ability to retrieve downed game without damaging it.

#13. Irish setter

- AKC popularity rank: #77 of 195
- Height: 27 inches (male), 25 inches (female)
- Weight: 70 pounds (male), 60 pounds (female)
- Temperament: active, outgoing, sweet-natured
- Life expectancy: 12-15 years

Irish setters were bred in Ireland as gun dogs, and they are known for their high intelligence and enthusiastic nature. The breed actually has two types: show dogs and field dogs. While both types are considered acceptable by AKC standards, dogs bred for the show ring tend to be larger and heavier than field dogs. While still often used for hunting, they've also become quite popular as therapy dogs, as well as for performing in agility and obedience trials.

#12. Wirehaired pointing griffon

- AKC popularity rank: #65 of 195
- Height: 22-24 inches (male), 20-22 inches (female)
- Weight: 50-70 pounds (male), 35-50 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, devoted, trainable
- Life expectancy: 12-15 years

Bred to work as both a land retriever and water dog, wirehaired pointing griffons have a dense, coarse coat that repels water while also keeping them warm, as well as webbed feet. A mid-size breed, they are strong and energetic, with the ability to cover a lot of varied terrain during the hunt. Their coarse coat sheds very little, making them a good choice for people with allergies.

#11. German wirehaired pointer

- AKC popularity rank: #63 of 195
- Height: 24-26 inches (male), minimum 22 inches (female)
- Weight: 50-70 pounds
- Temperament: affectionate, eager, enthusiastic
- Life expectancy: 14-16 years

The German wirehaired pointer was originally bred in Germany as a gun dog. It was admitted to the AKC in 1959 and continues to be popular as both a hunter and family companion. This is a muscular, hardy breed that can go all day, with a wiry, weather-resistant coat. That all-day ability means they need daily exercise and room to run.

#10. English cocker spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #52 of 195
- Height: 16-17 inches (male), 15-16 inches (female)
- Weight: 28-34 pounds (male), 26-32 pounds (female)
- Temperament: energetic, merry, responsive
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

The name cocker spaniel comes from this breed's original job of flushing woodcock for hunters. A smaller dog, they are compact with long, lush ears and a medium-length coat. The English cocker is slightly larger than the American cocker, which was bred primarily as a companion dog as opposed to a field dog. They are high-energy with a lot of stamina, making it easy for them to work or play all day.

#9. Chesapeake Bay retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #45 of 195
- Height: 23-26 inches (male), 21-24 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
- Temperament: affectionate, bright, sensitive
- Life expectancy: 10-13 years

Chesapeake Bay retrievers, thought to have originated from a mix of Newfoundland, Irish water spaniels and hounds, were developed as gun dogs. Bred in the Chesapeake Bay area—where the water is cold for much of the year—their heavy coats and sturdy frame give them power and protection when swimming in icy waters. The breed tends to be somewhat reserved and is known for being headstrong when it comes to training.

#8. Weimaraner

- AKC popularity rank: #36 of 195
- Height: 25-27 inches (male), 23-25 inches (female)
- Weight: 70-90 pounds (male), 55-75 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, fearless, obedient
- Life expectancy: 10-13 years

With its soft gray coat and light eyes, the Weimaraner's nickname of "Gray Ghost" is an apt one. Bred as big-game hunting companions for German nobility back in the 1800s, they gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1920s and remain a top choice as a field and family dog. Weimaraners are known for their speed and agility, which serves them well as hunters.

#7. Vizsla

- AKC popularity rank: #31 of 195
- Height: 22-24 inches (male), 21-23 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-60 pounds (male), 44-55 pounds (female)
- Temperament: affectionate, gentle, energetic
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

These high-energy dogs were bred to run alongside horses during the hunt. Originating in Hungary, the vizsla didn't come to America until the 1950s. Smaller in frame with lean muscles, they have high endurance and equally high energy. They do well in the field or as a family pet.

#6. Cocker spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #30 of 195
- Height: 14.5-15.5 inches (male), 13.5-14.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 25-30 pounds (male), 20-25 pounds (female)
- Temperament: gentle, smart, happy
- Life expectancy: 10-14 years

Slightly smaller than its U.K. counterpart, the English cocker, the American cocker spaniel is popular as a show and family dog. Cockers were originally bred as bird dogs. Their coat has two layers, an undercoat and longer top coat, which protects them from the cold and deflects water. They are an alert breed and usually like people, so much so that they can be destructive if left alone too often.

#5. English springer spaniel

- AKC popularity rank: #27 of 195
- Height: 20 inches (male), 19 inches (female)
- Weight: 50 pounds (male), 40 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, playful, obedient
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

English springer spaniels have a muscular build and double coat, making them excellent bird dogs. Bred in England to flush or "spring" game birds, they are known for their endurance and in the field, as well as being loyal companions and family dogs. The breed also has a powerful nose, which has made them a good choice for K-9 detection work.

#4. Brittany

- AKC popularity rank: #26 of 195
- Height: 17.5-20.5 inches
- Weight: 30-40 pounds
- Temperament: bright, fun-loving, upbeat
- Life expectancy: 12-14 years

The Brittany, sometimes referred to as a Brittany spaniel outside of the U.S., originated in the Brittany region of France. They were developed to work as bird dogs, quickly becoming popular when they displayed talent in hunting a wide range of birds. They are medium-sized, compact dogs with strong noses and endless energy.

#3. German shorthaired pointer

- AKC popularity rank: #9 of 195
- Height: 23-25 inches (male), 21-23 inches (female)
- Weight: 55-70 pounds (male), 45-60 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, smart, willing to please
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

Sometimes confused with their cousins, the wirehaired pointer, German shorthaired pointers are actually their own distinct breed. Developed in Germany in the 1800s, they are considered a dog who can "do it all," with a flair for tracking, pointing and retrieving. Their short coats are easy to maintain, and their sharp noses make them adept at flushing out game. They have a strong hunting instinct and are very driven—so if not being used in the field, they do need consistent exercise.

#2. Golden retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #3 of 195
- Height: 23-24 inches (male), 21.5-22.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-75 pounds (male), 55-65 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, intelligent, devoted
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

Golden retrievers got their start in the Scottish Highlands in the 1800s, bred to hunt and retrieve. They've since evolved into the perfect family dog, as well as working as service dogs and in search and rescue operations. They have a thick, double coat and soft mouth, both of which are useful when retrieving game. They are known for being eager to please and fast learners.

#1. Labrador retriever

- AKC popularity rank: #1 of 195
- Height: 22.5-24.5 inches (male), 21.5-23.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
- Temperament: friendly, active, outgoing
- Life expectancy: 10-12 years

America's most popular dog is the labrador retriever, who hails from Newfoundland and was bred to retrieve birds and work on fishing boats. Their large otter-like tail serves as a natural rudder for swimming, and their heavy coats protect them from the cold and repel water. While they definitely need a lot of exercise and can be stubborn, their friendly nature and love of people has kept them in the #1 spot for almost 20 years.

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