The Best Hunting Dogs in the Sporting Group

Reading Time: 5 minutes

hunter crouching in tall grass with hunting puppy

Some of the best-hunting dogs in the sporting group also make for great family pets. Since the beginning of canine domestication, man and dog have been hunting side-by-side. Over time, these hounds have been bred for specific strengths and skills.

For those who enjoy hunting or for those who simply want a fun-loving, energetic companion, you cannot go wrong with a dog from this group of dog breeds.

What are Hunting Dogs aka Sporting Dogs?

The hunting dogs, or sporting dogs group, is a group of different dog breeds that were initially bred to help hunters find and retrieve their quarry. This group includes dogs such as the spaniels, retrievers, pointers, and setters.

The Different Dog Groups According to the American Kennel Club (AKC)

Since the beginning of time, man has been breeding dogs to perform specific tasks. Jobs such as hunting, guarding and herding were among the first responsibilities allotted to early canines. As humans evolved so did their canine counterparts. Dogs became physically and intellectually more and more suited to the specific task that they were bred for.

So, what makes a breed, a breed? The simplest definition: “It always breeds true.” This means that if you were to breed a German Shepherd with another German Shepherd, the resultant puppies will be recognizably German Shepherds.

The AKC groups the different dog breeds together according to their purpose/s as follows:

Sporting Group

This group of dog breeds was developed to work closely with their humans when out hunting. Different breeds within this group have different responsibilities and skill sets within the hunt.

Some are good at finding or flushing the prey, while others are good at retrieving it. A notable aspect of this group is that almost all make for great companion dogs.

Labrador and Golden Retrievers are two of America’s favorite breeds. Other dogs in this group: the spaniels and the setters. Sporting dogs are biddable, intelligent, loyal and affectionate.

hunter standing next to a labrador retriever one of the best hunting dogs

Working Group

The working group comprises breeds such as the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Anatolian Shepherd. These dogs are very intelligent and quick learners. They are strong and alert, making for great watchdogs and protectors.

They are generally, very loyal and good companions. Because of their strength and protective instinct, they need to be well trained and socialized from an early age.

Toy Group

What they lack in size, they make up for in personality! These are affectionate, sociable pooches that make great companion dogs.

Examples of some of the favorite toy breeds are the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Italian Greyhound, the Pug, and the Pomeranian.

Herding Group

The common denominator among these breeds is their instinctual ability to control the movement of other animals.

Herding, or shepherd, dog breeds were developed to round up and protect livestock. Breeds within this group include the Belgian Malinois, the German Shepherd, the Border Collie, and the Australian Cattle Dog.

These are intelligent dogs who are rewarding to train. They are loyal companions.

Foundation Stock Service

This is a group of dog breeds that are still in their developmental phase. In other words, they are not official AKC registered breeds. Yet, the AKC provides this platform to ensure a secure and reliable way of maintaining breed records.

The American Leopard Hound, the Bolognese, Caucasian Shepherd Dog, and Czechoslovakian Vlcak fall into this group.

Hound Group

This is one of the most diverse group of dog breeds. Hounds are most commonly used for hunting. They are defined by their ability to either scent or run down their quarry.

Some hounds possess a characteristic howl for when they have spotted their prey. This, “baying” is something to be experienced first-hand before deciding to take one of these pooches into your life!

The Afghan Hound, Basset Hound, Beagle, and Dachshund all fall into this category.

Terrier Group

These spirited doggos were originally bred to hunt and kill vermin and guard their families’ property. They make for wonderful pets, but they can be stubborn and have high energy levels.

Terriers come in many different shapes and sizes, from the smaller Cairn Terrier to the larger Airedale Terrier. Other breeds in this group include the Russell Terrier, Scottish Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Non-Sporting Group

The non-sporting group encompasses a wide variety of dog breeds. There are few similarities in appearance or personality. However, most of these dogs are protective of both their family and their property.

This diverse category includes breeds such as the Shar-Pei, Bichon Frise, Bulldog, Dalmatian, and Poodle.

Miscellaneous Class

There are several hundred purebred dog breeds in the world. Not all are recognized by the AKC.

Breeds under development or not yet recognized as AKC registered breeds can fall into this class. For example, the Belgian Laekenois, Peruvian Incha Orchid, and Dutch Shepherd.

The Important Part Hunting Dog Breeds Played in Our Past

The partnership of man and hound dates back thousands of years. Our histories are so entwined that it is tricky to distinguish exactly who was responsible for whose evolution!

Studies show that the sensory superiority of dogs allowed Stone Age man to develop more intellectually. The decreased need for sensory distinguishing gave more room for intellectual growth.

german pointer with pheasant in its mouth

Understanding the Four Types of Sporting Dogs and What They Do

The group of sporting dogs can be further divided into four groups of dogs according to their particular skills set. The Retrievers were tasked with fetching shot fowl from where it dropped. The Spaniels were used to ‘flush’ birds from their hiding places. The Pointers and Setters located the birds and either pointed in their direction or pinned them down until they could be captured in a net.

Retriever Breeds

Retriever breeds include the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Flat-coated Retriever, and several others. These hounds specialize in fetching the prey once it has been shot down.

A notable Retriever trait is their ‘soft mouth’. This is so that they can retrieve waterfowl without damaging the bird in any way. They have a keen sense of smell and thrive on having a job to do.

These high energy hounds need regular exercise as well as intellectual stimulation. They mature slowly, retaining a playful, puppy-like personality late into life. They get along well with just about anyone and everyone, making for great family pets.

Setter Breeds

Setter breeds include the English Setter, Irish Setter, and Gordon Setter. The English Setter is the quintessential hunting dog. It is the breed featured most prolifically in writings and artwork about hunting with dogs.

Setters were given their name from the patient method in which they hunt. After following the scent of the game, they simply crouch (or set) near the prey and keep it trapped for the hunter.

These sporting dogs are slightly more mellow than their retrieving counterparts. They too make for good family pets as they are biddable and get along well with everyone.

Pointer Breeds

Pointers do as their name says. They point out the quarry to the hunter once locating it. Using their superior sense of smell, they go ahead of the hunting party to track the game. Once located, they will position themselves in a manner of pointing toward the prey.

These are high energy dogs that make ideal companions for people who enjoy an active lifestyle. Loyal fans of a pointer say that when it comes to pointing and retrieving game, these dogs have no equal!

Spaniel Representative Species

Of the four sporting dog groups, this is the biggest and most divergent group of dogs. Spaniels range in size from the medium-sized Cocker Spaniel to the large Irish Water Spaniel.

Different Spaniels have different skills in the hunting party. Depending on whether they were set to flush land or water fowl, spaniels fall into two groups, namely land spaniels and water spaniels.

Spaniels, too, make for wonderful family pets. They are affectionate, loyal, intelligent and biddable.

A Bored Hunting Dog is Not a Happy Hunting Dog: These Doggos Need to Be Kept Busy!

Not only do hunting dogs need to keep physically busy, but they also need to be mentally stimulated too. These are breeds that were bred for a day out working in the field, sometimes for hours on end. They will not do well kept in a yard with nothing to do. The resultant boredom and frustration will lead to property destruction and disobedience.

Over and above regular exercise, it will be a good idea to invest in some dog toys such as food puzzles to keep your hound busy while you are away.

Training for a particular discipline is a great way to channel the endless energy and wonderful intellect of hunting dogs. Sporting dog breeds will excel at a variety of disciplines such as agility, obedience, and search and rescue.

spaniel stalking prey in shallow water

They Need Exercise, Training, and Socialization!

These dogs are built for activity and stamina, sometimes spending up to 8 hours out working in the field. It is recommended that your sporting dog have daily walks of up to an hour.

Despite being such amiable dogs, it is important to train and socialize these dogs from an early age.

They Need a Sport Dog Food Diet

As with any dog, the type and quality of their food is of paramount importance. A high-quality, veterinarian-approved diet that includes the right nutrients in the correct ratio helps to keep your hunting hound fit as a fiddle.

Feed your sporting dog a diet rich in lean protein so that they have plenty of slow-release energy to sustain them through a day’s activity.

They Need Attention!

Hunting dogs will not be happy left out alone in the yard for extended periods of time. They want to be by your side not only out in the field but at home too. Sporting dogs are sociable and in need of companionship in all its shapes and sizes.

Are Sporting Dogs Still Active in the Field Today?

Yes! Although hunting as a sport and as a means of procuring food has declined in the last century or two. There are still many people who organize hunts and related activities as a sport or form of entertainment.

To make the most of their natural abilities, hunting dogs can be trained to take part in field trials and simulated hunts.

golden retriever carrying dummy during gun dog training

Common Questions about Hunting Dogs

What is a gun dog?

What is the difference between a pointer and a setter?

Do hunting dogs or sporting dogs make good pets?

All product and Company names are Trademarks™ or Registered® trademarks of their respective holders.

Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase may earn a commission. Keep in mind that we link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission we receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.