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best hunting dogs

The essentials

  • You need to pick your breed based on prey — Hunting dogs are not a “one size fits all” tool when it comes to the sport of hunting.
  • The safety of your dog is paramount — There are risks that can’t be avoided with hunting. Use personal protective equipment like reflective harnesses, hunting vests, and flotation devices to help keep your dog safe.
  • Temperament, size, and living place are important considerations — Not every hunting dog is suitable to live in the house with the rest of the family or smaller pets. Make sure you have the appropriate living quarters prepared so that your new hunting dog is taken care of.

Dogs have been employed for thousands of years to help humans with hunting for food and survival. Domesticated from wolves and bred to fill different roles, these hunting dogs have truly come into their own as man’s best friend out in the field.

Whether it’s small, fast prey or dangerous, aggressive animals, these breeds desire to perform and hunt, and they will gladly follow you if you guide them to the proper sport. Let’s explore some of the best hunting dogs for you and your family to adopt.

5 types of hunting dogs and their prey

Terrier. Bred to hunt and kill small prey animals such as rabbits, rats, and foxes, terriers are known for their tenacity and willingness to give chase to prey. They do not typically retrieve their kill, but they are excellent at ridding a barn or other enclosed place of pests.

Ranging from the small Cairn terrier to the larger American Staffordshire terrier, this group has a strong prey drive that fits perfectly to hunt small game.

Retriever. When you need a combination of intelligence and athleticism, look no further than these gun dogs. Retrievers excel at tracking, allowing them to find multiple birds that are shot down over an extended amount of time. These skills are combined with incredible patience that will let them wait for hours at your side without spooking your prey and ruining the hunt.

Pointer. Whether you are looking for a target with your rifle or sending out hounds to chase and kill your prey, the pointer will fill the role you need. They are excellent at spotting prey and, as their name suggests, pointing the way. Pointers can be used to target larger animals such as deer, hogs, and bears, or show where a large flock of quail is roosting.

Quiet and patient, pointers work well alongside retrievers and can even be known to retrieve fowl alongside them, though without the efficiency of their retriever counterparts.

Sighthounds. While retrievers and pointers work alongside their human hunters to facilitate the hunting process, sighthounds have been bred to track and kill the prey themselves. Using their lean, long, and powerful builds, they will wait for the opportune time and then chase prey and land the killing blow.

Much like predators in the wild, sighthounds have an incredible prey drive with an independent nature and high energy. This can make them difficult to keep as family dogs. However, with patience and persistence, they will learn what is expected of them in the household.

Scent hounds. Much like the sighthound, the scent hound category is capable of completing all the necessary functions of the hunt. However, rather than using height and vision like the sighthound, scent hound will use their incredible sense of smell to track.

Lacking the speed to outrun their prey, scent hounds possess superior endurance that allows them to follow their prey until it’s treed, cornered, or exhausted. A single scent hound is ideal for small prey, such as raccoons, badgers, and foxes. These hounds can operate as packs to take down prey that are much larger than they are, such as hogs, cougars, and bears

Bedlington terrier

Despite their beautiful appearance, the Bedlington terrier was bred to be a rat hunter in the coal mines of the United Kingdom. Known for their effectiveness at killing their prey within the confines of the tunnels, these terriers have a strong prey drive and a sense of bravery.

Bedlington terrier

David Owsiany

Key features of Bedlington terrier

Physical characteristics: 15-18 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing 17-23 pounds, Bedlington terriers have a runner’s physique that allows them to easily navigate mine shafts.

Grooming needs: Frequent

Exercise needs: High

Average cost: $1,500

Afghan hound

A nimble sighthound capable of reaching 40 miles per hour, the Afghan hound is a purebred dog built for the chase. One of the oldest dog breeds in the world, they have been used in the mountainous regions of Asia to hunt hares, gazelle, and other large game.

Afghan hound close up

Key Features of breed

Physical characteristics: 24-28 inches tall and weighing 50-60 pounds, Afghan hounds have a lean build that lends to their speed and power.

Grooming needs: Frequent

Exercise needs: Intense

Average cost: $2,000-$2,500


Bred as a duck hunter in Germany, the poodle’s superior intelligence and swimming abilities help it to be a great waterfowl retriever. Its coat, cut to cover the chest and joints, will also help it to complete this job in cold waters.

Poodle on the beach

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: Standing over 15 inches tall and 40-70 pounds, poodles have an athletic physique that lends well to hunting and retrieving waterfowl.

Grooming needs: Frequent

Exercise needs: Intense

Average cost: $600-$2,000


Originating in Germany, the dachshund is a scent hound that is bred to track down and kill badgers in their burrows due to its small size. A dangerous job like this requires a strong-willed, fearless dog. These great hunting dogs filled this role to such success that they were later bred to make a smaller variant for hunting rabbits and weasels.

Dachshund laying on a chair

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: Measuring 8-9 inches tall and 16-32 pounds, the standard dachshund has a long, powerful build meant for burrowing and chasing.

Grooming needs: Short-haired dachshunds require only weekly brushing, though long-haired and wire-haired variants require daily brushing.

Exercise needs: Average

Average cost: $400-$1,100

German shorthaired pointer

The German shorthaired pointer is an efficient successful hunting dog and could be seen as one of the best hunting dog breeds. A very capable pointer, they are also well-known for being great trackers and retrievers, both on land and in water. They are popular choices for hunting wild turkeys, game birds, and other small prey.

German shorthaired pointer playing in water

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: 21-25 inches at the shoulder and 45-70 pounds, the GSP is an athletic, medium-sized dog.

Grooming needs: Average

Exercise needs: Intense

Average cost: $600-$1,500

Bluetick coonhound

Known for being able to track a trail that has gone cold, bluetick coonhounds have superior endurance and are incredibly meticulous. A scent hound that can stay on the trail for hours at a time, the bluetick is brave and willing to chase anything it is commanded to.

They have also been known to be used in the task of tracking missing people and drugs in police work. Working as a pack with other coonhounds, they have been known to take on dangerous quarries such as bears, boars, and mountain lions. This excellent hunting dog from the United States has gone well past its origin of hunting raccoons.

Bluetick coonhound

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: 21-27 inches and 45-80 pounds, the bluetick has a build suitable for tracking and chasing down their prey.

Grooming needs: Easy

Exercise needs: Average

Average cost: $600

Bull terrier

Originally bred for cruel bloodsports like bull-baiting and dogfights, the bull terrier’s stocky build and fierce attitude make it a good fit for hunting bigger, more dangerous game. Wild boars, bears, and cougars are all animals that the bull terrier can hunt down in a pack with scent hounds to help locate them.

Bull terriers

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: 21-22 inches tall and 50-70 pounds, the bull terrier has a stocky, powerful build.

Grooming needs: Easy

Exercise needs: Intense

Average cost: $1,200-$2,000

Irish wolfhound

A sighthound of large proportions, the Irish wolfhound is well known for being a giant amongst dog breeds. Powerful and fierce, the breed was created to hunt big game animals. Starting with the large Irish elk and eventually moving to wolves and other large animals, the Irish wolfhound was so successful that it hunted these animals to extinction in Ireland.

Today, Irish wolfhounds chase down deer to make sure the hunter’s shot was efficient.

An Irish wolfhound standing outside next to a small dog.

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: With a minimum height of 30 inches and weighing in around 105-120 pounds, the Irish wolfhound has a powerful, large build.

Grooming needs: Average

Exercise needs: Average

Average cost: $2,500

Chesapeake Bay retriever

This breed was developed to handle the harshness of the Chesapeake Bay area: freezing waters for months on end and cold, whipping winds. They also needed to be capable of meeting the demands of their hunting partners who could easily shoot hundreds of ducks and geese daily. Determined, loyal, and powerful, these bird dogs are one of the best hunting dogs for waterfowl.

Chesapeake Bay retriever with bird

Key features of breed

Physical characteristics: Standing at 21-26 inches tall and weighing 55-80 pounds, the Chesapeake Bay retriever has a solid, powerful build for swimming in strong currents.

Grooming needs: Easy

Exercise needs: Intense

Average cost: $800-$1,500

Breeds to avoid

As much as you might hope your dog of choice will be able to enjoy hunting with you, some breeds just aren’t a good fit. Some dog breeds that are tough and good guard dogs would not be able to keep up with the demands of chasing down dangerous foes. Some breeds would appear capable of tracking down prey, but they don’t have the endurance to keep up with the requirements.

  • German shepherd. You might think that the German shepherd‘s history as a police dog would make the breed a good hunting dog. Unfortunately, they were herding dogs and do not possess the endurance or hunting instincts to make for good hunters.
  • Border collie. Incredibly intelligent, border collies can be trained to do a lot. Hunting and prey drive, though, cannot be trained. Collies are herding dogs and do not have the instincts needed for hunting.
  • Siberian husky. While they have incredible endurance and energy, the Siberian husky does not have the personality, temperament, or prey drive, to be a good hunting dog.

Selecting the right puppy for hunting


Not every puppy will grow to be the next best hunting dog, but there are some signs that you can look for. When selecting a puppy, it is important to look to the parents. If both the mother and the father do well as hunting dogs, then there is a good chance that your puppy will enjoy that same success.

In addition to the parents’ hunting practices, it will be important to look into how they behave around their own families. Unless a family dog isn’t a high priority, it will do you no good to select a puppy from hunting all-stars if they do not have any good traits for being around family members.

Hunting instincts

As for the puppy itself, there are field trials and exercises that you can use to evaluate prey drive and hunting instincts from a young age.

Health concerns

Finally, when it comes to selecting a puppy from the breeders, it is your responsibility to ask about the health concerns of the parents. It’s important that you know what risks to look out for in addition to the risks of the job itself. Looking into pet insurance or planning a budget for possible surgeries will also help to prepare for the future.

There’s a lot to consider when evaluating a puppy; it’s important to not rush into picking your hunting dog. It is important to do your research into the breeders and the breed itself to prepare for bringing them home. There is an influx of hunting dogs in shelters, so you might be able to find them there rather than looking for a dedicated breeder.

Frequently asked questions

What is the most versatile hunting dog?

German shorthaired pointers are largely viewed as the hunting dog that is most capable of filling several roles, including pointer, retriever, and scent hound.

What are the best family hunting dogs?

If you are looking for a great companion and retriever, the poodle is your best bet. Easily able to fill the role of most family dogs, they are also excellent waterfowl retrievers.

What is the best deer-hunting dog?

Irish wolfhounds are very successful deer hunting dogs, having been known to drive the Irish elk population into extinction with how well they performed.

Can hunting dogs be good family dogs?

With the proper training, patience, and persistence, most hunting dogs can be very loving and loyal family dogs. However, if the dog has too strong of a prey drive, it is not advised to have some hunting dogs in a home with smaller animals.

What dogs are good for hunting boars?

Strong breeds such as Dogo Argentino, cane corso, and other mastiff breeds are well-equipped for hunting and taking down boars. They are best used in conjunction with scent hounds that can track down the boar and alert the stronger dogs to where the quarry is.