Some of the most popular canine companions are members of the sporting dog breeds, a category recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Nearly 30 breeds comprise this group, and are known for their hunting abilities, energy and devotion to their owners.
The sporting dog breeds are active and alert and possess a delightful demeanor. They are often energetic – their hunting heritage includes seeking out and bringing back water and upland game birds. Because of their high desire to seek and find, these dogs need regular exercise as well as plenty of attention from their owners.
Types of Sporting dogs
The sporting group is made up of pointers, retrievers, setters, and spaniels. Each segment may have a more specialized focus, but many of these dogs perform their hunting duties both in the water and in the woods.
The breed known as the pointer is a graceful-looking dog with a muscular body and a noble carriage. This dog originated in England around the middle 1600s; its lineage includes foxhound, greyhound, and bloodhound mixed with spaniel. The dog’s short coat makes grooming a breeze and comes in a number of colors and markings, including liver, liver and white, black, and black and white. The pointer’s loyal, even temperament bodes well as a family pet in addition to a serving as a hunting companion. Prior to becoming a bird dog, the pointer was used to hunt hare. This breed has a strong association with the AKC, being recognized back in 1884.
The wirehaired pointing griffon has a long history with many different breeds contributing to the what has become an amazing hunting dog. A Dutchman named Eduard K. Korthals set out to develop a versatile hunting companion with great endurance. Before 1900, he accomplished his mission, naming the breed and creating its standard, which the AKC recognized back in 1887. This dog is considered easy to train, devoted, and friendly, making it not only a great bird hunter, but also a wonderful family pet. Because it’s a very active breed, the wirehaired pointing griffon needs regular exercise.
Another wirehaired sporting dog breed is the German wirehaired pointer. It is also a versatile, multipurpose dog. The breed’s lineage includes the pointer, foxhound, and poodle. Like many of the sporting dogs, this breed is workable on land or in the water. It’s considered very affectionate and loyal, bonding closely with its people. However, the German wirehaired pointer is also very driven and therefore, if not given lots of exercise, it can become quite destructive.
The German shorthaired pointer also requires plenty of activity. This athletic, intelligent, and loyal canine can be a great watch dog. Its short, sleek, often spotted coat requires minimal grooming and comes in liver, rust, and black coloration. The breed’s ancestry includes English foxhounds and German tracking hounds, which helps it excel in trailing as well as pointing and retrieving.
The Spinone Italiano, also known as the Italian pointer, is a retrieving dog. Its wiry, dense coat and thick skin allow it to navigate brush many other dog breeds cannot. A bit slow-moving, it’s still considered an active dog that is loyal to its owner. Although likely found in Europe for centuries, the breed was not recognized by the AKC until 2000.
Other pointing dogs include the German weimaraner and Hungarian vizsla, both sleek, solid-coated breeds that were originally used to hunt other types of game, such as bear and wolves.
Golden retrievers originated in the Scottish highlands; their lineage includes a yellow retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct) as well as Irish Setter and Bloodhound. Goldens are known for their rich-colored silky coats and friendly temperament. Although originally used as a hunting dog, their adaptability and happy disposition serve well for roles as guide dogs for the blind, assistance dogs for the disabled, and therapy dogs for the hospital and hospice-bound.
Labrador retrievers originated in Newfoundland. Their water-resistant coats come in chocolate, black, or yellow. Prior to becoming the duck and goose hunters’ beloved companion, these dogs were used by fisherman to gather nets from the water. In addition to their hunting duties, Labs today make fine family pets because of their friendly, loyal demeanor. In fact, for more than 10 years, Labs have ranked as the most popular dog breed in the United States. They are also used as service and search and rescue dogs. They are active, outgoing, and stocky, weighing 55 to 75 pounds (25 to 34 kg); they need plenty of activity to keep them healthy and happy.
The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is a fairly new breed to the AKC, recognized by the organization in 2003. Not a lot is known about this breed’s origin, but it’s thought to have been brought to Nova Scotia from Europe. Lineage probably includes spaniels, setters, and other retrievers. Its function is to lure ducks with a playful action. A medium-sized, patient dog, this breed is considered affectionate, intelligent, and a great family pet.
Other retrievers in this group include the Chesapeake Bay, the curly-coated, and the flat-coated, all of which are considered exceptional hunting dogs both in the water and for upland game birds as well as excellent family pets; however, the curly-coated retriever can be somewhat more independent and aloof.
Four dogs comprise this section of the sporting dog breed category, two of which come from Ireland.
The Irish setter is noted for its long, mahogany-colored coat, although it was originally bred to be red and white. A fairly large breed, the Irish setter stands 25 to 27 inches (63.5 to 68.5 cm) tall and weighs between 60 and 70 pounds (27 to 32 kg). Developed during the 1800s, its ancestry includes many Irish and English breeds, including Irish water spaniel and Irish terrier as well as English setter, spaniel and pointer. Considered a friendly and energetic dog, the Irish Setter is a devoted companion that requires lots of exercise.
The Irish red and white setter is not simply a different colored version of the Irish Setter; it is a distinct breed. Recognized by the AKC in 2009, the Irish red and white became a very rare breed even in its homeland but was revived during the 1940s. Considered courageous and spirited, this sporting dog breed requires regular activity, and its devoted, friendly demeanor makes it an excellent family pet.
The Gordon setter hails from Scotland, with lineage dating back to the early 1600s. More muscular and the largest of the setter breeds, the Gordon stands 23 to 27 inches (58 to 68.5 cm) tall and can weigh up to 80 pounds (36 kg). Its lush black and tan coat requires regular grooming. Intelligent, these dogs can also be stubborn so regular training as well as regular exercise is required.
As its name implies, the English setter originates in England and is among the oldest of the gun dog breeds, in existence for more than 400 years. Prior to the use of firearms, this “setting spaniel” would locate the game birds and then crouch down on its front legs (“set”), allowing the hunter to throw a net over the game. In addition to hunting and field trials, this elegant and graceful dog performs well at obedience and agility trials as well as in the show ring. Its long, white coat with markings of orange, tan, or black, requires regular grooming and the dog needs frequent exercise. The breed is considered affectionate, gentle, and loyal, making it a fine family companion.
This group makes up the largest number of dogs in the sporting dog category, with 11 breeds. From the short 13-inch (33 cm) Sussex and small 15-inch (38 cm) cocker spaniel to the tall Irish water spaniel, which can be up to 24 inches (61 cm) at the shoulder, this segment of sporting dog breeds is a popular household pet as well as a hunting dog. Although many, such as the English springer, the Welsh springer, and the field spaniel, originated in England, some breeds hail from other countries: the Brittany from France and the boykin from the United States, for example. Most spaniels are considered affectionate and energetic, although some are more aloof and a few, like the clumber spaniel, lumber in their gait. All need attention from their people and regular exercise. For more information on specific spaniel breeds, see our other article on spaniels.
Are Sporting Dogs the Right Breed for You?
Most sporting dog breeds live to be 10 to 12 years of age, are relatively healthy, and require regular, active exercise. This group is made up of dogs that are friendly, affectionate, loyal, and easy to train; therefore, in addition to their hunting heritage, they make wonderful household pets. Many can also serve as therapy or search and rescue dogs and others do well in agility and obedience trails.
If you and your family are active people and enjoy the companionship of dogs, one of these 28 different sporting dog breeds might be the right type of dog for you!