GENERAL BREED INFO

Bird Hunting Dog Breeds: Your Best Help During Hunting Season

Bird Hunting Dog Breeds
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Deciding to adopt a dog is an easy decision for most of us, because to even consider it, you already have to be an animal lover. The hard part is deciding what type you are going to bring home. You have to take into account the size of your home, the number of people and animals already in your family, and the time that you will have to spend with your newest addition. Then there is the fact that Rover will have to fit into your lifestyle.

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If you are the outdoor sort of person, you should consider bird dog breeds. Don’t worry, you don’t have to own a gun or get a hunting license to enjoy them.

Bird hunter

In this article, we will discuss some common information about them, and then highlight a few that you may be familiar with, like the Golden Retriever, and a few that are not so well known, such as the Vizsla.

General description

Bird hunting dog breeds are essentially a subclass of hunting, or gundogs. They have been bred for thousands of years to help hunters find birds in all sorts of outdoor environments, and then retrieve the kill. This group is further divided by the jobs that they designed to perform; although all members can handle every task while out on the hunt, some are better equipped than others to complete certain tasks.

Pointers and Setters

These guys are a wonder to watch work. The hunter takes them to the field and then lets them go to assist in the hunt locating the prey. They range in wide circles until they catch a scent, and then slowly begin to circle as they attempt to locate where the target is hiding. Once they have “hit” upon a particular stand of brush or hidden nest, pointers will adopt a stiff standing position. Their entire body becomes rigid, their heads will “point” toward the location and their tails will extend straight backward.

Field training for Pointers and Setters

Some even lift one of their front legs, as if ready to pounce. What happens next, is based on the individual dog’s training. Setters, on the other hand, begin in the same fashion, but instead of “pointing,” they take on a crouching position, commonly known as “setting.”

Flushers

The main purpose for these guys is to flush game from their hiding places. Long before guns were invented, they would approach ground nests and such, rush in, and then attempt to keep the birds close so that their human companion could capture them in nets. This job still remains true now that shotguns are involved, although they are trained to stay put and not chase after the bird so that the hunter does not accidently shoot them. They instinctively watch the flightpath of the bird so, if called into action, they can find the kill and return it.

Retrievers

While they function well as flusher, this category consistently prove themselves as the masters of retrieving waterfowl, which means they are excellent swimmers as well. They have the ability to sit calmly in boats in winter-like conditions, simply waiting for the opportunity to act.

Retriever on the hunt

What makes them remarkable is how they can “mark off the gun.” They do this by watching the movements of the hunter’s gun during the shooting, recognizing when and where a bird falls, but they will not move until the hunter stops shooting or gives the command to recover the kill. They even have the ability to find kills they did not see.

A small selection

There are dozens of dogs that can be a great choice for both hunters and families. Much of it depends on your lifestyle and what you want from your dog, but before you make a decision, you must understand that these pooches are energetic and require more personal attention than other breed classifications. The following is a short list of some of the outstanding members to suit just about anyone’s tastes or needs.

Brittany

Named for the area of France in which they were first bred, the Brittany is built for speed and maneuverability. They have a seemingly unstoppable level of high energy, and they have an equally high level of intelligence. Their curious nature and need for independence plays a huge role in their ability to track and flush out birds as well as keep them focused on the task. These guys are easily trained and respond well to gentle correction. When not hunting, Brittanys attempt to maintain a very active social life; therefore, they require plenty of people time.

Brittany dog

An hour of exercise each day is a must, and they will expect their owners to engage them in play whenever they are out. A good way to offer this is to involve them in a dog sport like hunting tests, or simply tossing around a Frisbee. If they aren’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation, they will easily become restless and bored. Boredom and an energetic dog is never a good combination.

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The Brittany stands approximately 18-21 inches and weighs between 30 and 40 pounds. This makes them closer to the ground than the average pointer; however, their speed, agility, and muscle mass more than makes up for their stature. If you are into hunting, you will be pleased with how well your four-legged partner points out game as well as his willingness to retrieve a kill whether in the brush or in the water.

They are loyal, obedient, and great with children. They shouldn’t be exposed to small children unless under close supervision because they are so eager to play that they will often bowl the child over or cause other unintended harm. If you are often away for hours, make sure that your guy is crate trained, because if you don’t put him in one, he will quickly get bored once you are gone and most likely get into a heap of trouble.

German Wirehaired Pointer

This breed’s most distinctive characteristic has carried over to its name. They have a thick, wiry, double layer coat that is suited to protect them against the weather, underbrush, and dives into water to retrieve the kill.

Other significant features include the long tufts of hair over the eyes, the muzzle, and under the chin. Like most hunters, Wires have plenty of energy and have a need to put that energy to work in the form of play or regular task around the house. Jobs that include fetching objects around the house will give them the sense of purpose they crave as loving and loyal sporting dogs. These guys have sharp minds, which serve them well when out in the field.

German Wirehaired Pointer

As pointers, they have mastered the art of tracking long ago. They also handle the task of flushing as well as any breed in the class. They will pounce right into the brush without fear and drive out the game. If given the opportunity to retrieve, they will gladly do so for their masters. Their all-around versatility even extends as far as tracking wounded game, for as far as they are concerned, it is all for their master’s benefit.

Wires usually grow as tall as 26 inches and weigh as much as 70 pounds. Their size allows them to stand tall in the fields, but it doesn’t diminish their ability to make great pets for families that do little or no hunting. They will need some room to move around, and a backyard to play in, but as long as you take him out for regular walks and trips to the park, he will be as happy chasing down tennis balls as he would be stalking pheasant or grouse. They are great with children of any age, and will show the entire family love.

However, they often save most of their affection for one member of the household. This could have much to do with the bond that they naturally develop with their master as a hunter.

Golden Retriever

As one of the most popular breeds, Goldens are more known for being family companions than they are for their abilities in the wild. They have long been used for hunting waterfowl and other game, but due to their intelligence and adaptability, they have been put to work as guide dogs, service animals, and sent out on search-and-rescue missions.

They are a powerful lot, with long, water-repellent coats that ranges through all shades of gold. They are extremely friendly and will go to great lengths to show their appreciation to their owners, which may be the main reason they are such favorites. This zest for companionship does have its drawbacks.

Golden Retriever hunting

They are great with children, but can sometimes be overly playful, and to some owners, they may seem to be needy when it comes to attention they receive. If not given plenty of exercise or regular jobs to complete, they can become restless and act out similar in ways that other dogs do. If you are willing to put up with the occasional outburst of enthusiasm, they will make one of the best choices for a family dog.

Weighing in at an average of 70 pounds and standing around 23 inches, Golden Retrievers are solidly built for crashing through the woods and diving into lakes after a hunter’s successful shot. They do so with exuberance and a deep desire to please their human companion. Their dedication to their jobs and their owners transfers over to their trainability. They can learn to complete tasks and perform tricks as well as any breed, and when trained with the right amount of firmness and correction, they rarely question authority.

Living an average of 11 years, they do have a common medical issue called hemangiosarcoma, which is a cancer that affects the blood vessels in just about any part of the body. Veterinarians recommend that you take older Goldens in for screenings if you notice growths on the skin.

Weimaraner

Originally bred specifically for the nobility to take along on their boar and fox hunts, the Weimarner has become one of the premier dogs for bird hunters of all classes. They are tall, slim, and agile trackers with a keen sense of smell that helps them to home in their target. Other popular traits include their speed and their willingness to charge after prey. They love to swim, and their webbed paws help to propel them through the water.

Weimaraner hunting

Their coat is typically short, with a coloring that has given them the nickname, “gray ghost,” and many hunters will tell you that they move like one through the woods. Like the other dogs on this list, they tend to form strong bonds with their owners and their families. Children will find them fun to play with, but your Weimaraner will need a lot more exercise than that. You may find that he will keep going long after you are done and you can’t expect him to keep control of his energy unless you ensure that he is properly trained, and at an early age.

Weimarners are a sleek breed. They usually stand at around 26 inches, though only weigh around 75 pounds. This, and the stiffness in which they point at their quarry, gives them a distinctive appearance that many have described as “aristocratic.” But they are by no means aloof as the term may suggest. They are friendly and get along with other pets, but they do require lots of attention. If they don’t get enough, they may act out.

If left alone for too long, they have a reputation for developing a crippling separation anxiety, which can involve attempts to escape, damage to the house, and even injury to themselves as they try to deal with the fact that their closest companion is not around. Proper training can help to alleviate they stress, but people who usually spend large portions of every day away from home probably won’t make a good match for a Weimaraner.

Vizsla

Primarily a pointer with retriever characteristics, the Vizsla is an ancient breed that first appeared around the 10th Century. They were hunting companions for the Magyars, who invaded and then settled in the area which is now known as Hungary. There they were put to work alongside noblemen in the once popular sport of falconry, and pretty much remained in that station until the 20th Century. In fact, their bloodlines were closely guarded, almost to secrecy, in order to maintain their uncanny ability to catch a scent and lock on to a target. The World Wars had a devastating impact on their population, and by the end of WWII, only a dozen or so Vizslas remained.

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Due to their reputation as skilled hunters, the breed was revived, and is now a favorite for both sport and show. When brought into the family setting, they quickly become part of it, displaying loyalty and affection to all. As is common among all breeds in the category, they take to training early and are rarely a discipline problem as long as they have plenty of regular exercise and given lots of attention.

Vizsla infogrpahic

Vizslas grow to approximately 22 to 24 inches and weigh up to 50 pounds. Their coat is unvaryingly a rusty golden color, with short hair and no undercoat. Even though they excel in the field, they should never be kept outdoors. They are not designed to handle the cold and other elements. Grooming, however, is easy because their coat is self-cleaning and therefore, rarely require bathing.

They are adventurous, though may require some encouragement to first jump in the water; once they get in, they usually take to it quite well. Though they only live an average of nine-and-a-half years, as long as they come from a reputable breeder, these guys typically live healthy lives. The only complaint that owners have with Vizslas is their penchant for whining and barking if left alone or ignored for any amount of time. Some even refer to them as “Velcro dogs.” Proper training and reinforcement can control this problem.

In conclusion

Choosing a dog for one person or a larger family is rarely an easy decision. You have to find one that fits your lifestyle, and in turn, your lifestyle should fit the purpose the dog was bred for. If you are in to hunting, or you like the outdoors, these guys are a safe bet. They will serve you with loyalty and stand by you with love. But even if you are only physically active, a pointer, setter, flusher, or retriever could be the one for you because their skills can be adapted for games and other sports. As long as you provide them with the proper stimulation, you can’t choose wrong.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Emily Pearson

    Vizlas aren’t very well known in our area but we’ve found a lot of reputable breeders who have exactly what we are looking for: personality and success in the field. We’re set on a Vizla but are not solid with capably dealing with a ‘velcro dog’ as the reputation suggests. While great training can supplement a bird dog’s innate qualities, any suggestion/help would be appreciated!

    • Vizslas are great dogs, and they require considerable amount of socialization and obedience training whenever available. They are very devoted, and they dearly love their owners. A great choice within the category of bird dog breeds.

  • Andrew Miller

    I would never have thought that retrievers are good hunters, usually, they are used as herding dogs. Another thing is that pointers, they at all times appreciated as reliable companions for hunting all sorts of birds. It is very fast and clever dog.

    • Retrievers have been bred for this specific task. It just so happened that they became more popularized as gentle companion dogs, especially in suburban and city areas. But true enough, as you’ve mentioned, they are clever and fast dogs should they be given a chance to hunt.

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