Although almost any dog is capable of being trained as a hunting dog, there are 30 dog breeds in particular that The American Kennel Club officially recognizes as breeds specifically used for sporting purposes. Ranging from hounds to terriers, there is a wide variety of dogs to choose from. However, the selection of hunting dog breeds are typically broken down into three different categories: Hounds, Gun Dogs, and Terriers. (There are several breeds that fall under their own category, such as Dachshunds, Feists, and some Curs). However, we are going to focus on the three main categories.
When it comes to hunting dogs, hounds tend to be the stereotype that usually comes to mind, and for good reasons. They have historically been one of the most popular types of dogs used for hunting companions, dating far back in history. Hounds are hunting dogs typically used for larger game, such as raccoons or coyotes. The two primary types of hounds are Sighthounds and Scent hounds.
Sighthounds, as the name suggests, are used for their excellent visual abilities. They are many times used to bring game down independently. They use a method called “coursing” where they visually identify their prey and then use their speed, agility, and intelligence to work quickly and silently in bringing down their prey. Their strongly independent personalities become an asset for them as hunting dogs, allowing them to have minimal instruction needed in order to pursue their prey.
Scent Hounds primarily focus on following their nose, as they have some of the highest numbers of scent receptors out of all the dog breeds. They typically are used for hunting in packs more so than as independent hunters, like the sighthounds. They typically follow a scent trail which, because of their highly accurate and sensitive noses, many times leads them directly to the animal in question. If they don’t directly kill their prey, they tend to find a way to trap it until the hunters arrive at the location.
Gun Dogs cover a wider variety of dog breeds, including Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels, and Pointers. Hunters will typically use gun dogs for hunting small game, especially waterfowl. Although their training as hunting dogs covers a broad spectrum of abilities and skills, they tend to be trained to individually locate and flush out smaller animals and ducks. Once the game has been shot down, they are used to retrieve it on command. They can be trained to follow verbal and hand signals, as well as whistles.
Although there is a large assortment of terrier breeds, they have been successfully trained to be used as hunting dogs, particularly the larger terrier breeds. Terriers are skilled at locating ground mammals and chasing them down to either kill or simply corner them until the hunter arrives. They can be particularly skilled at driving prey out of dens or burrows in the ground. Terriers are the hunting dog of choice for people who want to utilize a strong and aggressive means for apprehending their prey.