10 Types of Gun Dog Breeds

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 1, 2022
Image Credit Anna Pozzi - Zoophotos/Shutterstock.com
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There are 32 dog breeds in the American Kennel Club (AKC) Sporting Group. These dogs are athletic, trainable and love the outdoors. Many make excellent gun dogs or as they are commonly called, bird dogs. These dogs are essential helpers for their owners during a hunt by locating, flushing out, and retrieving catches like pheasant, duck, dove, and quail.

Some gun dog breeds are specialized in locating and flushing out birds, chasing them out into the open (spaniels and retrievers) and others are specialized in locating and pointing (pointers and setters), so the hunter can sneak up and take a shot. Other types of gun dog breeds do well at both locating and carefully bringing them back to their owners. Gun dogs can also participate in competitions, like field trials, where their skills are put to the test.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the breeds that make great gun dog companions. 

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1. English Springer Spaniel

Spaniels are sometimes referred to as flushing spaniels. A variety of spaniels have been bred to flush out birds for hunters but one of the most popular breeds is the English springer spaniel. These are medium-sized dogs, weighing around 40-50 pounds. They have long white fur mixed with other colors like black, tan and liver. They also have characteristically long ears that dangle on the side of their heads.

English springer spaniel outside
English springer spaniels mare great gun dogs as well as family pets.

Martin Christopher Parker/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Flushing and retrieving
Best for:Pheasants, grouse, duck
Terrain:Woods, fields, and water
Season/Temperature:All-season, not as adapted to cold as Labs or Goldens due to thinner coat
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes!

2. Boykin Spaniel

Boykins are a newer spaniel breed bred originally in South Carolina in the early 1900s. Hunting along the Wateree River Swamp required hunters to travel in small boats to access the best areas. The dogs like Labrador retrievers they used for hunting were too big for the boats. So, they began the process of breeding a smaller dog that had the same tenacity as retrievers. Boykins weigh between 30-40 pounds and get to be about 18 inches tall. They have longer coats that are a uniform dark brown, ranging from deep chocolate to liver. One unique feature of the Boykin is that it has webbed toes that make it an excellent swimmer. This is why the South Carolinian’s loved using them to hunt for waterfowl.

Boykin Spaniel Happy Face
Boykin spaniels are not as common, but they are an excellent gun dog breed.

Cynthia Davison/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Flushing and retrieving (also have a keen sense of smell for tracking)
Best for:Waterfowl, duck, turkey
Terrain:Woods, fields, and water, but exceptionally good in the water
Season/TemperatureAll-season
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes!

3. Labrador Retriever

As the name suggests, Labrador retrievers are natural retrievers, but they are also excellent trackers and flushers. Members of Pheasants Forever prefer labs the most, but because of the versatility and overall sweet temperament of these dogs, they are also one of the most popular dog breeds in America. They have a short but double-layered coat that comes in three colors: yellow, black and chocolate. A fun fact is that a mother lab can have puppies with a variety of colors in the same litter! Labs are medium to large dogs ranging in size from 55-80 pounds and standing 21.5-24.5 inches tall. They love to swim and are excellent with children and other dogs.

Black Labrador
Black Labs have a long history of being great hunting dogs.

Dan_Manila/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Flushing and retrieving
Best for:Waterfowl and upland birds
Terrain:Woods, fields, and water
Season/Temperature:All-season, especially hardy in winter
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes! Great with children and other dogs

4. Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are similar to Labrador retrievers but have a thicker longer coat that is typically golden. Their lush coats can vary from a light golden to a reddish golden color. Their friendly faces match their carefree gait that says they are ready for anything. Goldens are 55-75 pounds and 21.5-24 inches tall. Like labs, they love to swim, which makes them excellent hunting dogs for waterfowl, but their versatility makes them wonderful upland hunters too. Just like labs they are great with children and other dogs.

Hunters that use their dogs as retrievers want their dogs to gently return the birds without damage. Well, looks like Goldens are one of the best. A video from People Magazine shows Golden retrievers being tested to see if they can hold an egg in their mouth without breaking. The video shows that time and time again, this is no big problem for the gentle Golden! 

Golden Retriever running
Golden Retrievers consistently rank among the top 3 most popular dogs in the U.S.

iStock.com/Tatyana Consaul

Type of hunting:Flushing and retrieving
Best for:Waterfowl and upland birds
Terrain:Woods, fields, and water
Season/Temperature:Hardy in winter, less adapted to hot weather due to heavier coat
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes! Great with children and other dogs

5. English Pointer

Pointers, as the name implies, describes the hunting behavior of these dogs where they track a quarry (or prey). Instead of chasing the quarry to flush it out for the hunters, the dogs freeze and stare in the direction of the animals, “pointing” it out for the hunters. English pointers can cover a large range when hunting and they work well with other dogs. They have great stamina and seem to enjoy training and hunting. Pointers are medium-large dogs weighing 45-75 pounds and growing 23-28 inches tall. They are lean dogs that are athletic with excellent endurance making them good pets for runners. As hunting dogs, they are great upland hunters and work well in warmer climates. This breed dates back to the early 1650s originating in England.

Types of Pointer Dogs
Red and white English Pointer in the field. They are great for tracking small prey and, unlike many other hunting dogs, their responsibility and instinct is to point to the game—not to retrieve.

Anna Pozzi – Zoophotos/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Pointing
Best for:Upland birds
Terrain:Woods, fields
Season/Temperature:Warmer climates
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes! Good companions for runners too!

6. German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer
Bred to be instinctive hunting all-rounders, these multitasking dogs can hunt, point, and retrieve, and have been used to hunt quarry of all kinds, including rabbits, raccoons, game birds, and even deer.

iStock.com/slowmotiongli

In the AKC Gun Dog Championship in 2021, German Shorthaired Pointers took 2nd, 3rd and 4th place in the Pointing field trials! Not bad for a breed as a whole. German Shorthaired Pointers (GSP’s) are a lean muscular dog similar to English Pointers. They are bred to be all-around hunters who can hunt, point, and retrieve. They are also versatile and can be trained to find rabbits, raccoons, and deer as well. These dogs are 45-70 pounds and grow to be 21-25 inches tall. 

Type of hunting:Pointing and retrieving
Best for:Wide variety of quarry like upland birds, rabbits, raccoons, and deer
Terrain:Woods, fields, water
Season/Temperature:All-season, but not as equipped for cold weather
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes! But because of their energy level they are not as good with small children.

7. Vizsla

In the AKC Gun Dog Championship in 2021, Vizslas took 1st place in both the Walking and Non-Walking events! They also placed 3rd and 4th in the Walking event. Pretty impressive! Vizslas were born to hunt and are excellent in the field and water. They are lean dogs that are bit smaller than their English counterparts, weighing 45-60 pounds. They are most recognizable by their short golden-rust colored coat. Because of their stamina they also make good running partners.

regal Vizsla outside in grass
The Vizsla is a type of gun dog breed that originated from Hungary.

iStock.com/Anna Pozzi

Type of hunting:Pointing and retrieving
Best for:Upland birds, waterfowl
Terrain:Woods, fields, water
Season/Temperature:Early-to-mid season, not as equipped for cold weather
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes! Good companions for runners too!

8. English Setter

Setters are a breed of dog that has long been trained to hunt. They were originally trained to “set” or crouch down when they spotted quarry, but now they follow the tradition of pointing. English setters are common gun dogs, but other common setters are the Irish Setter, the Irish Red and White Setter, and the Gordon Setter. English setters are medium-large sized dogs that have a short, speckled coat. They can get to be as big as 80 pounds, but many are closer to 45-75 pounds. English setters are primarily used for upland bird hunting. They have a gentle temperament and get along well with children and other dogs.

Types of Setter dogs - English Setter
The English setter is a type of gun dog breed that is good at retrieving and pointing.

iStock.com/Michel VIARD

Type of hunting:Pointing
Best for:Upland birds
Terrain:Woods, fields
Season/Temperature:All-season
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes!

9. Brittany (Brittany Spaniel)

These dogs were originally called Brittany spaniels but after years of experience their characteristics match that more closely with pointers and setters, so now they are simply called Brittanys. They are excellent upland bird dogs and are smaller, between 30-40 pounds and 17-20 inches. Despite their smaller size they can cover a large range when out on the hunting field. Their coat is long and wavy with white and orangish or liver markings. They are also great family pets!

Brittany dog jumping over a hurdle in an agility competition.
The Brittany shares the same hyperactive personality that the cocker spaniel has.

Skumer/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Pointing and retrieving
Best for:Upland birds
Terrain:Woods, fields
Season/Temperature:All-season
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes!

10. Weimaraner

The Weimaraner Club of America hosts its own National Walking Championship specifically for their breed. The past two years it has been held as part of the AKC Championships. Weimaraners are a skilled all-around gun dog, being excellent at pointing and retrieving. They were originally bred to hunt larger prey like boar, deer, and even bear, but are now valuable upland hunters. Weimaraners are lean, agile dogs that have a sleek gray coat that almost looks hairless. They are 55-90 pounds and can get to be 27 inches tall. They make excellent family pets as well, are eager learners, and get along well with children.

A Weimaraner dog standing in the woods.
The Weimaraner is sometimes referred to as the “gray ghost” of the dog world, originating from its ghostly coat and eye color along with its stealthy hunting style.

DragoNika/Shutterstock.com

Type of hunting:Pointing and retrieving
Best for:Upland birds, variety of larger prey as well
Terrain:Woods, fields, water
Season/Temperature:Warmer climates
Endurance:High level of stamina
Good family pet:Yes!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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