All About Gun Dog Breeds

Active and affectionate, the dogs in the gun dog group make wonderful companion pets.

Posted: May 27, 2012, 12 p.m. EDT


Dog Bible

These are the quintessential family companions. As a rule, they are loyal, friendly, active and affectionate. Also referred to as sporting dogs, gun dogs were bred to accompany hunters in the field and to work closely with people and other dogs. For this reason, they tend to get along well with everyone, including children.

Gun dogs love the outdoors and being with their families, making them the ultimate hiking and boating companions, with energy and stamina to spare. If you have an interest and love for physical activity, then these superactive dogs are the companions for you.

Generally speaking, the gun dogs tend to be gentle, with soft mouths and an easy going disposition, but a few are sharper and more intense, such as the pointers and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The downside is that many do not calm substantially with age — there are 11-year-old Irish Setters who have the same boundless energy as rambunctious pups. Labs retain puppy like energy well after most dogs have settled into adulthood, and some never calm down. This energy can make them anxious in the home if they don’t get enough exercise. None of the gun dog breeds are sedentary, and few will fit into apartment life. Even the Cocker Spaniel has a strong need for exercise and play.

Be aware as well that some gun dog breeds, such as English Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers, are bred along show lines, while others are bred along field lines. Dogs from field lines tend to be more agile with a stronger drive to hunt and may be smaller or otherwise differ in appearance from show-bred dogs. This is something to discuss with a breeder or to ask the breed club about.

Within the gun dog group are breeds so disparate as Golden and Labrador Retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers. While the retrievers often make affable family pets, are usually gentle, and tend to mellow with age (despite a continued love of long walks and playtime), the various pointers have more energy and tend to be more difficult to train. Many gun dogs are notorious runners; without consistent training, don’t expect them to come happily back to you after fun in the park. Despite their gentleness with people, their strong chase instincts mean the gun dogs can be dangerous with small animals such as cats.

For people who can provide the exercise and training they need, gun dogs can’t be beat as trustworthy companions for active families. Like all dogs, they need early socialization to ensure that they are friendly with everyone. Be picky when choosing a breeder, or work with an accredited rescue or animal shelter. And do your research; you’ll be thankful in the long run.

Many of the Gun Dog breeds are quite well-known in the United States, however, here are some you may not be familiar with:

American Water Spaniel: The American Water Spaniel was developed to hunt waterfowl and small game. It was bred small enough to fit into a small boat but sturdy enough to work in cold water. It is a busy, friendly dog that is an excellent hunter and companion. Its intelligence and eagerness make it highly trainable, and it loves water. Generally fine with children, but may be food possessive. Giving it a job is ideal. It does well in a rural or suburban home with an active, dog-experienced family with time for training and exercise.

Boykin Spaniel: The Boykin was bred to work from a boat and for flushing and retrieving. It is an intelligent and trainable dog that loves to work and enjoys water. Good natured and affectionate, it has great endurance and versatility. It does best with an active family, which includes the dog in outdoor activities, especially hunting trials and boating. The Boykin does best in a rural environment.

Bracco Italiano: This large, tall and muscular dog was developed to be a pinter and retriever. The Bracco Italiano is an easy-going, affectionate dog. It makes a sharp distinction between work and play: intense in the field and docile at home. It is intelligent, but can be stubborn and sensitive.  The Bracco Italiano does best in rural or suburban homes with active, dog-experienced owners, who can provide a job or activity.

Brittany: The Brittany is one of the most popular hunting dogs in the United States. It is a good-natured and lively dog  that is trainable and intelligent, exuberant and active. The Brittany Spaniel is friendly and loves outdoor activities. This dog breed does best with an active owner in a rural or suburban home. A hunter or other outdoorsy person suits it best. It makes a good family dog, but can be too exuberant for small children.

Clumber Spaniel: The Clumber Spaniel is a friendly, laidback dog that is affectionate with friends and family, but somewhat reserved with strangers.  It is quite playful but still dignified. The Clumber Spaniel does best with an active family with time for it. It is best suited to a suburban or rural home.

Field Spaniel: This is a vocal, lively and fun-loving breed. The Field Spaniel has a moderate to high activity level and loves the water. It does best with an active owner in a rural or suburban home.
Portuguese Water Dog: This breed was used to gather fish, retrieve lines and deliver messages from boat to boat in its native Portugal. The Portuguese Water Dog is biddable and intelligent. It is devoted to family and has great endurance. It is spirited and contageous, loves the water and is an excellent swimmer. The Portunguese Water Dog does well with an individual or family in a rural or suburban home.

Spanish Water Dog: Fun-loving and active, the Spanish Water Dog is faithful, obedient and hardworking. It has been used to retrieve from water and to herd sheep. It has a high activity level. This breed does best with an active owner in a rural environment.

Spinone Italiano: Descended from an ancient hunting dog, the Spinone is valued for its great stamina and ability to work any terrain. The Spinone Italiano is enthusiastic and playful with a gentle, calm demeanor. It can also be obstinate and wary with strangers and new situations. Hardworking, this breed tends to be vocal with a moderate activity level. The Spinone Italiano needs an active family in a rural or suburban environment.

Stabyhoun: This all-purpose dog breed is used for hunting, guarding, drafting and as a companion. The Stabyhoun is friendly, lively and affectionate. Very good natured, the Stabyhoun gets along well with children and other pets. The Stabyhoun has a high activity level and does best with an active family in a rural or suburban home.

Vizsla: The Viszla was first imported to the United States in the 1950s and serves as both a hunting dog and companion. Lively and good natured, it makes an excellent hunter but is affectionate and gentle in the home. The Viszla can be senstive and highly active so does best with an active owner in a rural or suburban home.

Welsh Springer Spaniel: The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a medium-size, muscular, rectangular-shaped dog. This dog breed is a jovial, outgoing and amenable dog. It is active, intelligent and highly trainable when motivated. Especially devoted to its family, the Welsh Springer Spaniel gets along with almost everyone, including other dogs. This breed has a high activity level and does best with a family or individual in a rural or suburban home.

Wirehaird Pointing Griffon: This dog breed is intelligent, good-natured and eager to please. However, it can get bored easily and be manipulative. The Wirehaird Pointing Griffin needs firm training, a job or activity and socialization. Because of its high activity level, it does well with an active, dog experience owner in a rural or suburban home.

Other Gun Dogs include: Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Curly Coated Retriever, English Cocker Spaniel, English Pointer, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, German Long Haired Pointer, German Rough Haired Pointer, German Shorthaired PointerGerman Wirehaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Irish Red and White Setter, Irish Setter, Irish Water Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Munsterlander (large), Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Old Danish Pointing Dog, Perdiguero de Burgos, Standard Poodle, Weimaraner, Wirehaired Vizsla.


Excerpt from the book, The Original Dog Bible, edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Press. Purchase The Original Dog Bible here.



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Melissa - 8916   Irvine, CA

6/5/2012 5:42:16 PM

This is a fantastic article. I can't believe there are so many breeds!

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