Ever since humans domesticated the dog, it was obvious that there was one particular field in which the dog excelled – chasing down and tracking other animals. Long before humanity turned its head to agriculture, men and dogs were out in the open hunting together and it is widely believed that humans and their canine friends evolved side by side.
The American Kennel Club separates modern hunting dogs into two groups – the sporting group and the hound group. There is another way of categorizing hunting breeds and that is by separating them into:
- Gun dogs
- Scent hounds
- Treeing dogs
Gun dogs are primarily used to hunt smaller prey like rabbits and birds and are also called bird dogs. They flush out the hunted animal and retrieve it after the hunter has shot it. Scent hounds, on the other hand, track the prey by relying on their noses and are usually quite loud when in pursuit, so that the hunter can easily follow them even when the dog is out of sight. One type of scent hounds is the treeing dogs that corner their prey onto a tree and wait at the base until the hunter comes along.
Even if some of the best dog breeds for hunting are purebred, that doesn’t mean that a mixed-breed dog cannot be good at the job. In general, there are three major requirements a dog should possess in order to be a good hunting companion – a strong prey drive, a good receptiveness to training, and it also has to have endurance and a certain amount of athleticism.
If you want to learn what it takes to train your dog to hunt, head over to my detailed article on the topic. Now, let’s start with the game that dogs are mostly used for in hunting.
Animals that dogs can hunt
Nowadays, hunting is more of a sport and breeds are being narrowly specialized and bred for a specific game. This is why there are breeds that are far better at hunting and tracking one type of animal instead of another. Hunters use dogs for:
- Hog hunting
- Deer hunting
- Duck and waterfowl hunting
- Pheasant hunting
- Coyote hunting
- Turkey hunting
- Rabbit hunting
- Quail hunting
- Raccoon hunting (“Coon hunting”)
- Squirrel hunting
- Mountain lion hunting
- Bear hunting
Now, let’s dive deeper into each of those animals that people hunt and see which is the breed most suitable for that job…
Hog hunting dog breeds
The alarming increase in hog populations in recent years has pushed hunters to the edge of their creativity. From hunting stands, through baiting with feeders, all the way to night hunting and helicopter hunting, there is no limitation in fighting these intelligent beasts, that cost the US economy more than a billion dollars each year in agricultural damage.
To use dogs for hog hunting, you will need a combination of chase dogs and catch dogs. Chase dogs will follow the boar until it decides to turn on them, while catch dogs will engage with it and pin it down until the hunter arrives.
Hog catch dogs
Catch dogs need to be powerful and large in order to take on most hogs. Pit bulls are good enough for that role, although there is a far more suitable option – the Dogo Argentino. These South American dogs have been specifically designed to hunt big game and when they were imported into the USA it immediately became obvious that hogs had no chance against them.
They are suited for a warmer climate and thick brushed forests which are two of the characteristics of the hog’s habitat in the Southern States. Since they were bred more and more for hunting, rather than fighting other dogs, they are also a suitable companion at home. One of the major aspects of their hunting development is teaching them to hunt in a pack and cooperate with other (chase) dogs.
Other breeds capable of hog hunting are:
- American Bulldog
- Blue Lacy
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Belarusian Gonchak Hound
If you want to get into hog hunting but don’t know where to start, I suggest checking out my article on some of the best tips for beginner hog hunters.
Deer hunting dog breeds
I cannot speak about deer hunting, without mentioning the famous American Foxhound. It is bred on home soil from its English parent and a mix of a few other breeds. It was the hunting dog of choice of none other than George Washington. He is also thought to be the father of that breed.
American Foxhounds are great for running deer and have plenty of energy and stamina to back this up. They also have a great sense of scent and are quite vocal when they are on the go. They also work well with other dogs.
Two other breeds often used for deer hunting are the Beagle and the Pointer. Still, they have a few disadvantages over the American Foxhound, which are the Beagle’s shorter legs, and the thinner coat of the Pointer. The Pointer will share the love of chasing down big game only if it happens in the Southern States. Other than that, he is a perfect bird hunting dog. I will get back to Pointers when going through some of the bird hunting breeds.
Duck and waterfowl hunting dog breeds
Even if there are many breeds that are perfectly suitable for duck and waterfowl hunting, there is one particular dog that is the waterfowl hunting expert – the Labrador. They are fiercely intelligent and have the body dispositions required to hunt down birds in cold waters.
Labradors have a thick double-layered coat that keeps them warm and also repels water. Their muscled body and webbed feet make them proficient swimmers and their thick tail helps with maneuverability while in the water.
Apart from being one of the best hunting companions, they are also great with the kids and mature faster than other dogs which allow you to train them from a younger age.
Another breed perfect for normal and sea duck hunting is the German Pointer (either wire-haired or shorthaired).
Pheasant hunting dog breeds
Good pheasant breeds are again the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, the German Shorthaired Pointer, and the English Cocker Spaniel. These breeds are very obedient and quite easy to train and live with. They are excellent around family members and very playful with kids.
Other breeds that you can use for ringnecks are:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
The Brittany dog is actually one of the finest gun dogs out there and due to its obedient nature and gorgeous looks, it is being introduced more and more to households.
Coyote hunting dog breeds
Coyotes are seen by many people as pests, just like hogs. They would rarely attack a human but they cause a lot of damage and losses to livestock. These animals are highly intelligent and the older they get, the more experienced they get when it comes to hunters and their tactics. Lately, hunters started relying more and more on modern technology and have started hunting coyotes at night.
Hounds are perfect for hunting coyotes. Here are the breeds that I think fit the job the most:
- American Staghound
- Plott Hound
- Mountain View Cur
- Black Mouth Cur
The American Staghound takes the first place because it was exclusively bred for hunting predators like wolves and coyotes. It has great eyesight and endless stamina that help it do its job. It is a mix of a few breeds like the Greyhound, Scottish Deerhound, and others.
These dogs are also great learners and are excellent to have around kids. Still, don’t trust it around other small non-canine pets, as their predator-hunting instinct can kick it at any time.
If you are new to coyote hunting and want to know which are the most common mistakes hunters make, head over to my article on the topic!
Turkey hunting dog breeds
As with the other birds on this list, there are a few breeds that are exceedingly good at hunting down turkeys. Those are the Golden and Labrador retrievers, The English Setter, The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and the Mountain View Cur.
One unofficial breed which also deserves a place here is the Appalachian Turkey Dog. After the English Setter, it is one of the top picks of hunters when it comes to turkey hunting.
Rabbit hunting dog breeds
One of the breeds that have been used for small game hunting for the past two centuries is none other than the Beagle. It is the embodiment of a rabbit hunting dog with its vocal barking and baying when they are onto its prey.
Beagles are also very intelligent and great dogs for the family. One downside is that they are quite the energetic breed and won’t settle for just a small walk. On top of that, they are notorious for their love of food. Nothing is easier than getting a beagle out of shape, so keep good track of the dog biscuit jar.
Beagles are also very good for chasing rabbits in circles which is ideal for giving the hunter a shot at the animal.
The small Münsterländer is a pointing and retrieving dog that is also a companion of choice when it comes to small game hunting. It is fast, energetic, and easy to train.
Some other breeds suitable for rabbit hunting are:
- Basset Hound
- Jack Russel Terrier
Raccoon hunting dog breeds
When hunting raccoons, a good dog by your side is almost as important as having a good rifle. Coon hunting, as it is called, has been a man-dog activity for more than three centuries now. The breeds used in this type of hunt originate from the foxhunting dogs in France, Ireland, and England.
There are two key features a coon hunting dog must have:
- It needs an excellent sense of scent
- Has to be able to tree the raccoons (pin them down on a tree and wait at the base)
There are six breeds of raccoon hunting dogs nowadays all stemming from the same ancestors. They might look different but they are all equally skilled at their craft. Let’s take a look at them now…
This is a dog bred in the USA in the early 20th century in the state of Louisiana. Nowadays, they are among the most common coon hunting dogs.
These dogs grow average in size and are literally tireless. They are characterized by their short hair and speckles all over their bodies. Their chase drive is second to none and they are excellent trackers. They also have a very distinguishable baying which can sound differently based on the occasion. At home, they are amiable but they will require their chasing and running around to keep them at bay.
Black and Tan Coonhound
This breed is perhaps the biggest out of all coon hunting ones. They are also one of the oldest breeds on earth, with the earliest evidence for their existence stemming from the 11th century in England.
They are great hunters and tracers and will never rest before they tree the raccoon. A major flaw of these dogs is that their exceeding determination can turn into a flaw once they stick their mind to something and ignore potential commands.
When not on a hunt, the Black and Tan Coonhound is relaxed and great to have around kids.
Treeing Walker Coonhound
Apart from being excellent coon hunters, the Treeing Walker Coonhounds are also used in cougar hunts, bear hunts, and other small game hunting.
They are one of the smallest coonhounds but also one of the fastest and most agile. One special quality they possess is the ability to concentrate on a newer scent and leave the old one behind. Their treeing instinct is also heavily embedded into them.
Coonhounds at home are great around the family but are quite energetic, so they will require intense exercise and walking to stay in shape and keep their energy bar low.
Other famous Coonhound dogs include the:
- Redbone Coonhound
- American English Coonhound
- American Leopard Hound
Quail hunting dog breeds
Again, at the top of the quail hunting list will be the well-known Labrador Retriever. It is followed by the Golden Retriever, the English Pointers, the Springer and Boykin Spaniels, and the Irish Setter.
The English Pointers and their German Shorthaired relatives are a weapon of choice for many hunters that go after birds. That is thanks to their athleticism and easy-to-control character. Still, if you are going to use them for cross-hunting you will need to keep them well-fed.
Squirrel hunting dog breeds
For a successful squirrel hunt, you will need a great treeing dog. So far we’ve seen a lot of those breeds in other hunting categories. The Bluetick Coonhound is a great example of a dog that is excellent in treeing animals which is good both for raccoons and squirrels. Still, there are other breeds narrowly specialized in tracking down and treeing squirrels. Those are the:
- American Squirrel Dog
- Airedale Terrier
- Cajun Squirrel Dog
- Barger Stock Feist
- Black Norwegian Elkhound
- Black and Tan Coonhound
- Cajun Cur
- Black Mouth Cur
- Camus Cur
Almost any dog can become a squirrel hunting dog, as they all more or less have the instinct for that. Even so, there are dogs that have been doing that exact thing for centuries now and are very specialized in treeing squirrels.
The grand prize for hunting those little animals arguably goes to the American Squirrel Dog, although breeds like the Airedale Terrier give it a run for its money. The American Squirrel dog is a friendly breed and is very active no matter if it’s hunting or not. It is always alert and always on the move. The breed responds well to training and the dog is very loyal and faithful to its owner and pack. Even though they are friendly towards other people, they can sometimes get a little overprotective.
Mountain lion hunting dog breeds
Mountain lions are large predators that are quite formidable. That means that if you want to use a dog in your hunt, you will have to go for a bigger hound breed that can handle the tracking and treeing process.
Most hunters prefer the Blue Tick Coonhound, as they are large and fearless but hunters also opt for breeds like the Mountain Lion Cur, Black and Tan Coonhound, or the Redbone Hound.
The key to a successful mountain lion hunt is to find fresh tracks, otherwise, you will travel for miles in vain. Many hunters go for smaller caliber rifles and a pack of dogs to do the job. Upon finding a fresh trail, they release the best dog from the pack to lock onto the scent. Once it does, they release the others.
GPS collars are getting more and more common, although a good ear will do the trick. Those dogs instinctively howl and bark while on the chase.
Bear hunting dog breeds
The most well-known breed when it comes to bear fighting is perhaps the Caucasian Shepherd Dog. It originates from a lineage of dogs used to fend off predators from attacking the herds in the Caucasian mountains. Wolves, jackals, bears, they were all no match to the ancestors of these massive modern pups.
Still, the bear hunt doesn’t always end up in a clash between the two animals. That is why the dog has to have other qualities besides brute strength, such as endurance, agility, and a sharp sense of scent. The Treeing Walker Coonhound is a breed that checks all these boxes and is often used to track down bears.
When you chase bears in their habitat you will also need a gritty, tough, and smart dog that is capable of finding old scents and tracking them. One of the well-known breeds for that is the Plott Hound. These dogs are very athletic and quite tenacious. They have a really distinguishable short barking sound which allows the hunter to easily follow them when in pursuit.
Plott Hounds easily find old scents and track black bears in their own home on heavily wooded lands. Even if they are more than capable of handling the task alone, I wouldn’t advise doing that. A pack of Plotts will be more than good enough to corner a black bear. They are also excellent hog hunting dogs.
So, now that we went through almost all of the hunting dogs and their hunting purposes, let’s answer a few more important questions…
Do you really need a hunting dog?
Apart from being loyal companions and trustworthy friends, dogs can help a lot during a hunting expedition. They can help you locate your prey, help you track it down, pin it on a tree, or corner it somewhere where you will have a clean shot. Some breeds are even trained to retrieve the shot animal.
There are many situations where not having a dog by your side will make the hunt quite harder and tiresome. A well-trained treeing dog will chase down squirrels and raccoons and pin them on a tree while barking and howling for you to locate them easier. A hog hunting breed will track hogs and pin them down on the spot until you arrive. Waterfowl and bird hunting breeds will get in the water and retrieve the bird you just shot without a problem and some breeds will even tell you exactly where the bird is or flush it from its cover.
If you are one that likes stalking his prey on his own and have a good ghillie suit to blend in with the environment, then you might want to stay away from the loud nature of some hunting dogs. Still, for the actual tracking, nothing beats a canine’s sense of scent.
Why do you actually need more than one hunting dog?
Whether you want to hunt an animal that requires a small pack or just want to be on the safe side of things, a second (or third) dog is never a bad investment. Imagine you are out in the field, hunting for public birds when your dog suddenly starts limping. You take it to the vet and it turns out it had sprained its ankle or worse – broken a small bone. What then? Your whole season goes to waste.
That is one of the major reasons people get and train a second dog. Apart from all that, it will be the best day of your dog’s life when you bring him a friend he can play with. If you really want to stick to one, then the best time to get a second hunting dog is when the first one starts aging a little and shows signs of fatigue.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the smallest dog used for hunting?
One of the smallest breeds used to hunt is miniature dachshunds. They weigh around 10 lbs and are descendants of badger-hunting dogs that were also used to hunt other small animals such as rabbits.
What are the best gun dog breeds?
Some of the best gun dogs are the Pointers, Labrador retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, English Setters, and Brittany. They are easy to teach and are comfortable around gun sounds.
Are pit bulls any good for hunting?
Contrary to common belief, pit bulls are the perfect catch dogs alongside Dogo Argentinos. These dogs are designed for big-game hunting and will chase down the animal until it decides to fight back.
Whether you are after a big or small game, having the best dog breeds for hunting by your side is always going to give you an advantage over your prey. Hunting dogs are obedient, and loyal, and will exponentially grow your success out in the field. Most of the hunting breeds are also great to have around your family and kids and will prove to be worthy companions both in and out of the field.