Best Hunting Dog Breeds: Retrievers, Flushers, and Pointers

If you are a hunting enthusiast, chances are you’ve considered investing in gundog training for man’s best friend. Even though many dog breeds have a hunting ancestor or two somewhere in their family tree, the reality is- not all dogs make a good hunter. Look for not only loyalty, but a willingness to follow direction and a high prey drive.

When searching for a top hunting dog, it’s important to understand a few basics about the breed of dog you are considering, and what job you need them for. If you are looking for the best hunting dog out there, we have the info you need. 

A Brief History of Hunting Dogs

Handsome man squatting in bushes with a dog and gun at hunt

With over 30 officially recognized hunting dog breeds, one can’t help but wonder when man first took advantage of the enhanced senses a dog offers when on a hunt. To answer that question, one needs to go back approximately 20,000 years when dogs were first domesticated. As an apex predator, their natural hunting skills obviously did not go unnoticed- especially since they were hunting the same prey humans were. 

As a companion, they served as guard dogs, pack animals, and hunting companions. Selective breeding for tasks such as herding began around 9,000 years ago, and naturally- specialized hunting traits also began to take shape around the same time. Today we have a large range of dog breeds that are bred to track and hunt animals or wounded game, scent and flush game, and even retrieve downed prey from both land and water. 

Advantages of Hunting with Man’s Best Friend

There are many benefits to owning a hunting dog that specializes in a specific prey or task, as well as putting a good all around breed to work. Obviously any good dog can have natural instincts, but the best hunting dogs generally have very specific training applied to their upbringing.  Training your dog doesn’t have to be expensive if you plan on being a part of the process, but it does need to be very consistent, and if you are unsure of your own training abilities you may want to invest in a good trainer.  

Pointing and Retrieving

Dogs trained to help indicate prey, flush prey, and retrieve prey make your job that much easier- as well as aiding in a successful hunt! Often humans are unable to get close enough to where small game and birds lay before flushing them, often ruining the chances of a good shot. Dogs can get closer and allow you the time to get ready for a good shot.

Traverse Rough or Large Areas of Terrain

If prey falls into rough terrain, or you know prey is out there but the lay of the land is much larger than what you can cover on your own, dogs can give you an invaluable ‘hand’ in helping to locate game and get it back to you if it falls into an area that isn’t conducive to your own foot traffic. 


Even though most dogs have a keen sense of smell, some breeds are specifically bred for following a scent. This is extremely helpful in finding and tracking large games. Mountain lion dog breeds and bear hunting dogs fall into this category, and even deer hunters can take advantage of a dog if tracking a wounded animal (just never use a dog for deer hunting as it is illegal). 


Hunter with favorite pointer during a grouse hunt in northern Minnesota.

Maybe best of all is the companionship a gun dog brings into your life. Hunting dog breeds are extremely smart, learn quickly, and are very loyal to their households. They are generally excellent with children and are well behaved due to their training. 

Gun Dogs Categories

Gun dogs fall into specific method of work categories. Although some dogs are great for all around use, most hunters prefer a dog that specializes in the skills they need for their choice of game. 

Scent Hounds

Scent hounds are bred specifically to track game. They are often used as pointers or flushers, but may be used specifically for following a scent or tacking large game to tree for hunting purposes. 

Pointers and Setters

Pointers and setters are bred and trained to cover large areas of land to detect and ‘point’ or indicate to their handler where small game and fowl are hiding. They will either crouch, or point with their bodies where the game lies. These dogs are also often taught to flush and retrieve once the hunter gets within shooting range.

Flushing Dogs

Even though pointers and setters may flush, there are some types of fowl that need an aggressive flush to make them take wing. Flushing dogs don’t generally point, but rather stay close to their handler and forcefully ‘flush’ the game as they come upon it. 


Unlike the retrieving pointers and flushers may take on, retriever breeds are typically used for waterfowl hunting or rough terrain. Retrievers stay with their handlers until told to retrieve, watching (or marking) where a bird falls after being shot. 

How to Pick You Next Hunting Puppy

Hunting dogs aren’t just trained, they are born- and responsible breeders take great pride in the time and care they put into their animals to provide you with a quality hunting option. These pups are generally raised with families and are well adapted to quite a bit long before you bring them home. Take these steps to work towards finding the best match for your hunting and family needs. 


Focused millennial african american student in glasses making notes writing down information from book

Don’t just answer the first ad you see for puppies, or walk into a pet store. Rather, your search for what you want should start before the litter is even born. Look into the breeder’s credentials; the dogs they are breeding; the trials, shows or awards the dogs have been involved with; and what the pups from previous litters have gone on to do. Even if the breeders are smaller and don’t professionally show, they generally will be more than happy to show off what their dogs are capable of.  

Choose a Litter Before They Are Born

Once you have narrowed down your breeder choices, look into the dogs they are breeding and choose from the upcoming litters that will have the traits you are looking for. Many breeders will specifically ask for a deposit to hold a pup for an uncomping litter. These deposits can almost always be used for another litter if the pups born do not fit your needs. 

Communicate with the Breeder

Above all, always communicate with the breeder. Ask questions, ask them for advice, discuss with them what you are looking for and why they recommend their dogs. Breeders who take pride in their pups are not looking for a quick sale and want to spend the time getting to know a potential buyer to see if their dogs will be going to a good home. If conversation is difficult, maybe that breeder isn’t the one for you. 

Visit the Breeding Facility

Visiting the breeding facility, if you can, is a good way to meet the parents, breeders, and check out the way pups will be raised for the first 6 to 8 weeks of their lives. You can determine friendliness, abilities, and other traits as well the overall feel of the place.

Check Temperament Before Choosing a Pup

If you have been given a pick of the litter, no matter what order, you may want to spend some time with the pups as they grow. Even if you are some distance from the breeder, they should be willing to video the litter and communicate with you which pups will fit your needs. 

Most Popular Hunting Dog Breeds

These are some of the most popular hunting and gun dog breeds, but it is not wholly exclusive of all the breeds you might consider. Crossed breeds are also popular to help highlight the features hunters want. For example, poodles today are not as popular to use for hunting despite being bred for the task. However, they are incredibly popular to cross with other hunting breeds for temperament, non-shedding qualities, and brains.   

1. Goldendoodle

Portrait picture of a Goldendoodle outdoors

Affectionate, intelligent, and loyal, Goldendoodles are popular as family pets as well as for use as a hunting dog. A hybrid, designer breed, the Goldendoodle is a cross between a Golden Retriever and Poodle that brings out the best of both breed traits. Gentle and easy to train, the Goldendoodle hunting dog has a  protective coat that is perfect for working through brush to help flush game and bring it back. 

Average Size: 17 – 21 + inches
Average Weight: 50-90 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10-15 years
Physical Characteristics: Multi-colored; medium, curly hair; hypoallergenic; large
Specialty: Flushing and retrieving

2. Labrador Retriever

A labrador sits obediently with a mallard duck.

The Labrador Retriever is another popular family and hunting dog that is considered the perfect companion. Bred for retrieving, Labradors love water and are popular for waterfowl. They are highly intelligent and love to play, which means they need quite a bit of attention as they grow or they will find something to do (and can be quite destructive as puppies). 

Average Size: 21 – 25 inches
Average Weight: 60 – 100+ lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 12 years
Physical Characteristics: Short to medium smooth coat, muscular, various colors, large
Specialty: Retrieving

3. Golden Retriever

The golden retriever on the grass

The Golden Retriever is another family dog that is loyal and intelligent. Bred for retrieving, these dogs also love water and are excellent companion dogs when out hunting. Easy to train and fiercely loyal, many young families choose Golden Retrievers due to how well they get on with children. 

Average Size: 21 – 24 inches
Average Weight: 55 – 75 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 12 years
Physical Characteristics: Medium to long straight hair, cream to gold colored coat, large
Specialty: Retrieving

4. Beagle

A tri colored beagle hunting in a forest.

Beagles are incredibly friendly, fun-loving, and playful dogs that make great family pets. Their energy level is very high, and they do require regular exercise or can become destructive in their chewing and play. Bred for their incredible sense of smell, they are great tracking dogs and are used for both small and large game alike. With patience in training, they make excellent pointers and flushers as well. Because of this, they are used by law enforcement also as drug and bomb sniffing dogs. 

Average Size: 13 – 15 inches
Average Weight: 20 – 30 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10-15 years
Physical Characteristics: Short; tan, white, and black tricolor colorations with trademark white tipped ‘flag’ tail
Specialty: Tracking, pointing and flushing

5. American Foxhound

American Foxhound

With an excellent work ethic, American Foxhounds Is a cousin of the English Foxhound and were bred to help flush foxes, and other game during hunts on horseback. Known for their endurance and energy, they are friendly animals that love to run and work well for tracking as well as pointing and flushing. 

Average Size: 21 – 25 inches
Average Weight: 45 – 75 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 12 years
Physical Characteristics: Tan, white, and black colorations with trademark white tipped ‘flag’ tail, tricolor
Specialty: Tracking, pointing and flushing

6. English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel

Affectionate and excitable, spaniel breeds were bred for pointing, flushing, and retrieving. Smaller than similar breeds, they are excellent family dogs and are generally very loyal and protective. They do have a high energy level and require regular exercise. 

Average Size: 18 – 22 inches
Average Weight: 40 – 55 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years
Physical Characteristics: Various colored with white, medium to long hair; short; docked tail
Specialty: Flushing and retrieving

7. Pointer

The brown hunting dog freezed in the pose smelling the wildfowl in the green grass. German Shorthaired Pointer.

Pointers, or English pointers, are excellent companion dogs for all sorts of outdoor activities, but were bred specifically to point. Popular for bird hunting, their keen sense of smell leads them to birds and small game where their innate ability to ‘point’ before commanded to flush makes them desirable in the field. 

Average Size: 23- 28 inches
Average Weight: 40 – 75 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 17 years
Physical Characteristics: Brown and white, spotted or ticked; all brown head; short haired; long tailed
Specialty: Pointer and setter, flushing

8. Chesapeake Bay Retriever

A Chesapeake Bay Retriever bringing back a downed mallard.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the only retriever breed to originate in the United States and has been hailed as a great all-around hunting and family companion. Highly intelligent, these dogs are bred to retrieve and are popular for waterfowl hunting. They also can be easily trained to flush and work well in field trials. 

Average Size: 21 – 26 inches
Average Weight: 55 – 80 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 15 years
Physical Characteristics: Medium, wiry hair; muscular; long tailed; large breed
Specialty: Flushing and Retrieving

9. Bluetick Coonhound

A Bluetick Coonhound dog standing outdoors with a happy expression

Quick and full of energy, coonhound breeds were bred specifically for tracking and sighting game. Popular for medium to large games that can be treed, their characteristic ‘bay’ lets you know where they are and if they have a game on standby. They also are very affectionate and loyal, but have an irresistible prey drive and need to be well exercised and have good training. 

Average Size: 22 – 25 inches
Average Weight: 45 – 80 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 -12 years
Physical Characteristics: Tan and black coloration, ticking on coat for distinctive ‘blue’ look, long ears and tail
Specialty: Tracking, flushing

10. English Setter

English setter hunting in the fields in winter

The English Setter is a widely popular, affectionate, and intelligent dog that is fiercely loyal and is one of the best field trial dogs in the world. Bred for pointing and setting, they follow commands exceptionally well. Easy going and well-behaved, they are excellent family dogs also. 

Average Size: 23 – 27 inches
Average Weight: 45- 80 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 15 years
Physical Characteristics: Various colors, speckled, medium hair, medium to large dog with feathered ears and tail
Specialty: Pointing and setting, flushing

11. Irish Setter

irish setter dog and weimaraner puppy running

The Irish (or Red) Setters are incredibly well-tempered and gentle- making them an ideal dog for families in neighborhoods and even apartments. Although they love to stay busy, they are easy to exercise and are incredibly intelligent. Bred for pointing and setting, they can make excellent retrieving dogs as well with the right training. 

Average Size: 22 – 26 inches
Average Weight: 50 – 17 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 15 years
Physical Characteristics: Long, red, feathered, coat; long ears and feathered legs
Specialty: Pointing and setting

12. Appalachian Turkey Dogs

Appalachian Turkey Dog in the woods
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Relatively new as a recognized breed, the Appalachian, or Byrne Turkey Dog was bred from a careful selection of pointer, setter, and plott hound bloodlines. Although any of these dogs are a good turkey pointer with the right trainer, this specialized breeding has resulted in a dependable dog for turkey season. Loyal and friendly, they are excellent companions. 

Average Size: 20 to 25 inches
Average Weight: 40 to 75 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years
Physical Characteristics: Black or brown and white solid, spotted or speckled coats, short to medium haired, long tail with
Specialty: Spotting and pointing

13. Dogo Argentino

Dogo Argentino forest portrait

Bred for their protective nature, the Dogo Argentino is primarily used for tracking and holding. Good for bear, pig, and cat, these dogs are dominant with other animals and require a good working environment to burn off energy. They are very loyal and do make a good family dog and will protect their territory with their lives. 

Average Size: 24 to 27 inches
Average Weight: 80 to 100 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 15 years
Physical Characteristics: Stout, strong, muscular; short, sleek hair; white with block spots or mottling
Specialty: Tracking and Holding

14. Treeing Walker Coonhound

Treeing Walker Coonhound
Image Source:

The Treeing Walker Coonhound has a strong prey drive and is bred to track and tree various medium sized game. Like other coonhound breeds, their distinctive bay helps a hunter know when game is being held and where it is. Very obedient, they are easy to train and are very affectionate towards their handlers. They also make excellent family dogs. 

Average Size: 20 – 27 inches
Average Weight: 50 – 70 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 12 years
Physical Characteristics: Various tri-coloration, short haired, white tipped ‘flag’ tail
Specialty: Tracking

15. Plott Hound

Plott Hound Dog Close-up

Plott hounds were bred for tracking and holding large game and are regularly used for bear, cat, and pig (Here’s The Best ammo for hogs for a more efficient hunting). Quick and intelligent, they have a keen sense of smell. They also are fiercely loyal and protective of their family and property. Their high prey drive requires regular exercise and they prefer to have a job to do to stay busy. 

Average Size: 20 to 25 inches
Average Weight: 40 to 60 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years
Physical Characteristics: Multi colored, solids, brindles, tricolord; short, sleek hair
Specialty: Tracking and holding

16. Mountain Cur

A young dog stretches her legs on a sidewalk

Curs were bred for tracking game and the Mountain Cur is no exception. Highly intelligent and full of energy, these are not always the best dogs for first time owners simply due to their incredible prey drive that requires them to stay busy. They are very friendly, however, and make a great companion for outdoor enthusiasts that can keep them busy hunting, swimming, running, and hiking. They can be trained to do more than track as well. 

Average Weight: 30 – 60 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 13 years
Physical Characteristics: Short haired; multi-colored with white markings; lifted, floppy ears
Specialty: Tracking

17. German Shorthair Pointer   

german shorthair pointer sitting in the woods

The German Shorthaired is an incredible dog that is a wonderful, playful family pet and amazing bird dog. Bred for pointing and flushing, these dogs make great companions. Their high energy does require you to keep them busy, but regular walks and runs will do the trick. They also can be taught to retrieve.

Average Size: 16- 24 inches
Average Size: 21 to 25 inches
Average Weight: 45 to 70 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years
Physical Characteristics: brown or liver hues with spots and ticking with mottled white. Short, sleek coat
Specialty: Pointing and setting, flushing

18. American Staffordshire Terrier

cute american staffordshire terrier on a bridge

The American Staffordshire Terrier is bred to hunt rodents and other small game. Their high prey drive makes them incredibly focused on what they perceive to be fair game, and they need to be trained and worked with regularly from a young age to keep them focused and socialized. Despite this, they are very friendly and are incredibly playful and are the perfect agility trial dog. They are part of the breed that makes up the ‘pit bull’ breed of dogs that have been bred from various bull and terrier breeds. 

Average Size: 17 to 19 inches
Average Weight: 60 to 80 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 15 years
Physical Characteristics: Various colors with white, solid, brindled; short, sleek hair, short ears, muscular
Specialty: Tracking and holding, rodent hunting

19. Bloodhound

Thoroughbred Bloodhound dog has fun outdoors at summer day

These oversized, long-eared hounds are not only known for their amazing sense of smell, they are considered a docile dog that makes a great family pet. Generally easy going, once they are on a scent they are relentless in their tracking of it. Used for police work, they are great for tracking large games as well. They can be incredibly stubborn and require training from a young age. 

Average Size: 23 to 27 inches
Average Weight: 80 to 110 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years
Physical Characteristics: Red and brown hues, fawn coat; short, sleek hair; long, droopy ears; long tail
Specialty: Tracking

20. Boykin Spaniel

Boykin Spaniel wanting you to play on the snow

Another fairly recently recognized breed, the Boykin Spaniel is a retriever type that is highly energetic and loves the water. Bred for water and swamp hunting, these are loyal, easy to train dogs that make excellent companions. Very obedient, they are a favorite in competition, and make great family dogs. 

Average Size: 14 – 18 inches
Average Weight: 25 to 40 lbs
Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years
Physical Characteristics: solid, brown hued coat; medium, curly hair; feathered ears and docked tail
Specialty: Retrieving

21. Brittany Spaniel

French Brittany Spaniel Hunting Dog with a Chukar partridge

Popular as a gundog, these pups specialize in bird hunting trials and are a popular choice for competition. Loyal, eager to please, and easy to train, they are a great companion dog and make a great family dog as well. They do have a lot of energy and need their people to keep up. Regular walks, runs, hiking, and swimming helps keep them busy. 

Average Size: 17 – 21 inches
Average Weight: 30 – 40 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years
Physical Characteristics: Brown and white hued, speckled or ticked coats; medium to long haired; smooth ears with leg feathering
Specialty: Pointing and setting, flushing

22. Jack Russel Terrier

Jack russel Terrier in the woods

The Jack Russel Terrier makes an excellent companion dog, but does have a lot of energy. Luckily, their compact size makes them easy to work with, especially since they are incredibly intelligent and easy to train. Bred for tracking and varmint hunting, they are good for fox hunting as well as digging out rodents. Friendly and playful, they are great for families, but can be nuisance barkers when bored. 

Average Size: 10 – 12 inches
Average Weight: 9 – 15 lbs
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years
Physical Characteristics: Short, muscular, and strong; short or wire haired; black, white, and brown colored with trivoloring or tuxedo
Specialty: Tracking

23. Weimaraner   

Ike the Weimaraner Hunting Dog looking regal

As a hunting dog, these truly are a good all-around hunting option. They are incredibly intelligent and track large game wonderfully, but have gained attention as an amazing bird dog as well. Eager to please, they need regimented, gentle and firm training and have a lot of energy- so they need to be worked with regularly. However, they are incredibly loyal and friendly and will stick to you, literally, wherever you go. They also make great family pets and enjoy children. 

Average Size: 23 – 27 inches
Average Weight: 55 – 90 lbs
Life Expectancy: 10 – 13 years
Physical Characteristics: Sleek, smooth silver-grey coat; floppy ears; sturdy and strong
Specialty: Pointing and spotting, flushing, tracking

General FAQ

If you still have some general question needing a quick answer, take a look at our frequently asked questions:

What breed is the best hunting dog?

There is no one true ‘best’ hunting breed. Depending on what trait you need when hunting as well as when you are not will help you determine which breed is best for you and your family. 

What dogs are used for fox hunting?

Foxhounds are bred exclusively for hunting, but other scent hounds that track well are also popular to use. 

Are poodles good hunting dogs?

Cute red Toy Poodle puppy sitting outdoors on a green grass

Poodles were bred specifically for hunting and to this day make excellent hunting companions. 

What is the smartest hunting dog?

All hunting dogs are highly intelligent with the ability to take on complicated commands and tasks while in the field. 

Can a hunting dog be a family pet?

Most hunting dog breeds are excellent family companions as well as working dogs. They are generally very affectionate and friendly, and are loyal to their families. 

What is the best gun dog?

All hunting dog breeds have the ability to be the best gun dog depending on what you need them for. 

What Dog Breeds Should I Avoid for Hunting?

In general, you want a dog breed with a high prey drive for hunting. Dogs that innately do not have this may not make the best hunting companion. Breeds bred for other disciplines, such as shepherds may not be the best for hunting: German shepherds, collies, and sheepdogs fall into this category. Smaller breed dogs, such as maltese and Chihuahuas also are not often used- although they can make excellent ratters.


If you have been considering investing in the gun dog for hunting, these all make excellent choices. Be sure to choose a breed that is specific to your needs, as well as family. Remember, these are incredibly intelligent animals that require training and a way to burn off energy, but they will repay your attention with loyalty and obedience. 

We’d love to hear which breed strikes you as your favorite from those we’ve listed above, or even list your own and share why you prefer a specific option for hunting! Share this article as well to help spread the word!