Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
A man hunting with a dog

Dogs evolved to be man’s best friend — but the truth is that many of today’s most lovable, popular, and loyal breeds began as working dogs. They were bred to work the fields, guard families, and even hunt.

In fact, when you think of hunting dog breeds, you probably imagine large hounds bounding through thickets and fields in pursuit of pheasant, foxes, grouse, and ducks. And that’s pretty close to what they were bred to do.  Over the years, different breeds arose as hunters bred for qualities that best matched the types of game they were pursuing.  Smaller animals required smaller breeds so that their mouths would not damage the game – like many spaniel breeds .  Cold weather and cold water resulted in breeds like Labrador retrievers and Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

While hunting is one of their specialties, most hunting dog breeds are extremely versatile. They tend to respond brilliantly to training and even make great emotional support animals.

In this article, we’ll explore the best hunting dog breeds that could be right for your family.

American foxhound puppy on a step

American foxhound

Brief history of the breed: In 1650, a man called Robert Brooke brought a pack of sundry hounds with him to America from England. These hounds formed the basis for the bloodline of American breeds, including the American foxhound. The American foxhound itself was derived from Maryland and Virginia in the 1700s.

Fun fact: American foxhounds were probably bred by George Washington, so they may be the first truly American dog breed.

Size: Around 70 pounds, standing at approximately 25 inches

Lifespan: 11–13 years

Trainability: American foxhounds display a keen hunting drive that needs to be managed, so they might not be the best choice for a novice owner.

Role in the field: Hunting down prey and scent work

Exercise requirements: High – they can easily become depressed and destructive if they don’t get ample exercise per day.

Suitability as a family pet: American foxhounds that have gone through obedience training make excellent family pets, as they’re loyal, amiable, and docile. They can also be a bit stubborn, which can make obedience training highly recommended.

Kid-friendliness: Typically great with kids

A tricolor beagle on the grass


Brief history of the breed: Beagles probably descended from Talbot Hounds, which were scent hounds brought over to England by William I (William the Conqueror) in 1066.

Fun fact: The beagle’s white tail acts like a positioning indicator flag so that the dog can be located even when it has its nose to the ground.

Size: Two sizes of this breed – Under 13 inches and under 20 pounds, or 13–15 inches tall and between 20 and 30 pounds.

Lifespan: 10 to 15 years

Trainability: While beagles are easy to train, puppy training and obedience classes are always recommended. They’re such well-behaved scent dogs that they’re often used as sniffer dogs at airports.

Role in the field: Pack scent work; The beagle is extremely vocal and uses a distinct bark called a “bay” while hunting.

Exercise requirements: High – need at least an hour of exercise per day and thrive while having a job (scent work, hunt races, etc)

Suitability as a family pet: Beagles’ sociability makes them great family pets.

Kid-friendliness: Typically great with kids

Chesapeake Bay retriever in the water

Chesapeake Bay retriever

Brief history of the breed: The Chesapeake Bay retriever was introduced in the early 1800s when two young Newfoundland dogs (a breed that’s adept at swimming) were rescued from a sinking British ship off the coast of Maryland. They were eventually crossed with other breeds, and the Chesapeake Bay retriever was born.

Fun fact: The Chesapeake Bay retriever derives much of its attributes from being bred in the Chesapeake Bay area. This breed is ideal for chasing down ducks on the Chesapeake, and its thick, oily, double coat and webbed feet make it ideal for navigating the bay’s cold, shallow waters.

Size: 23–26 inches tall and between 65–80 pounds

Lifespan: 10–13 years

Trainability: Chesapeake Bay retrievers enjoy being trained and are at their happiest when they have a job to do. They’re often employed as therapy or agility dogs.

Role in the field: Duck dog, scent work; There are stories about them retrieving more than 200 ducks in a single day on the Chesapeake.

Exercise requirements: High – the Chesapeake Bay retriever needs lots of exercise and a job to do to keep it happy. It loves hiking and swimming.

Suitability as a family pet: Chesapeake Bay retrievers make good family pets.

Kid-friendliness: Good with children, although their boundless energy may make them not as ideal as other breeds.

An English pointer in action

English pointer

Brief history of the breed: The English pointer, which came about in the mid-1600s, was bred for “pointing” toward hares for Greyhounds, known for their speed and strong prey drive, to hunt down.

Fun fact: The English pointer is believed to have originally been a cross between a greyhound, a foxhound, a bloodhound, and a bull terrier. It was also one of the first breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Size: 25 and 28 inches tall, weighing 55–75 pounds

Lifespan: 12 and 17 years

Trainability: English pointers are easy to train and extremely versatile. They excel as jogging companions and can be trained to do therapy, agility, and service dog work.

Role in the field: Fieldwork, bird hunting;

Exercise requirements: High – like most hunting breeds, English pointers typically need lots of exercise to keep them happy. A secure backyard is a benefit for this breed.

Suitability as a family pet: English pointers make good family members.

Kid-friendliness: Reliable, well-behaved, and loving with kids.

A happy golden retriever outside

Golden retriever

Brief history of the breed: The golden retriever was bred within the Scottish borders by Lord Tweedmouth in 1868 by crossing another retriever breed with a water spaniel.

Fun fact: Former US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford both had golden retrievers.

Size: 23–24 inches tall and 65–75 pounds

Lifespan: 10–12 years

Trainability: The golden retriever is easy to train; however, early socialization and obedience classes are recommended for this wonderful Scottish gun dog to reach its full potential.

Role in the field: Gun dog, agility, fieldwork;

Exercise requirements: High – needs lots of exercise and can get bored and destructive if not kept occupied.

Suitability as a family pet: Golden retrievers typically make perfect family pets.

Kid-friendliness: Excellent with children, one of the best family dog breeds

A black lab sitting on the grass

Labrador retriever

Brief history of the breed: The Labrador retriever is one of the world’s most popular dog breeds due to its affectionate nature and versatility. It was developed in Great Britain from fishing dogs imported from Newfoundland considering how well suited they were for cold water. Labrador retrievers are often used as service dogs.

Fun fact: In 2002, a service Labrador earned a bravery medal for putting its unconscious owner into the recovery position, covering him with a blanket, picking up his mobile phone in its mouth, and running to get help.

Size: 22–25 inches tall, weighing 65–80 pounds

Lifespan: 10–13 years

Trainability: Labrador retrievers should be socialized and obedience-trained to maximize their potential. They’re naturally obedient, quick to learn, and versatile.

Role in the field: Gun dogs, bird dogs

Exercise requirements: Mid-high – they thrive off of having a useful job to do

Suitability as a family pet: Labrador retrievers make excellent family pets, and they fulfill that role all over North America and the UK.

Kid-friendliness: Great family dogs and well-suited for children

A springer spaniel on the grass

Springer spaniel

Brief history of the breed: The springer spaniel, first recognized as separate from other spaniel breeds in 1902, was bred in Great Britain to “put up” or “spring” game from the undergrowth.

Fun fact: The springer spaniel’s excellent nose makes them a perfect sniffer dog. As such, like the beagle, this breed can often be seen at airports sniffing baggage for narcotics and other contraband.

Size: 19–20 inches tall and 40–50 pounds

Lifespan: 12 and 14 years

Trainability: Springer spaniels are livewires, though highly intelligent. They benefit from ongoing socialization and training. They enjoy being with their families and may get bored or destructive if left alone for too long.

Role in the field: Gun dog, bird dog; their main role is to flush out or “spring” birds and other game

Exercise requirements: High – Springers are very excitable and need lots of exercise

Suitability as a family pet: Springers, both loyal and affectionate, make brilliant family pets in addition to being excellent hunting dogs.

Kid-friendliness: Very good with children – their high energy level may make them prone to knocking over smaller children accidentally, however.

Other breeds to consider

While the seven breeds mentioned above can all make for excellent hunting dogs, there are many other breeds to consider.  When choosing the right breed to join you on your next hunting trip, consider the environment and the skills and expectations of your hunting partner.  Will you be pursuing small game?  Do you need a strong swimmer prepared for water work?  Do you need a flushing dog?  Narrowing down your answers to these questions will help find the perfect choice for you.


Most hunting dog breeds make obedient and well-orientated family pets – as long as they’ve been socialized and gone through obedience training.

Hunting breeds also need a good deal of exercise and human company to remain mentally healthy and avoid becoming depressed or destructive out of frustration. There are breeds well-suited for a multitude of environments.

Want to know more? The experts at betterpet are here to help you with everything you need to know about dog ownership, including breed-specific personalities, care, training, and feeding.