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Sporting Dog Breeds

Many of the Sporting Dog Breeds are considered to be ideal family dogs, and the most popular dog breed in the world falls into this category, the Labrador Retriever. 

So, just who are these sportsmen (and ladies) of the dog world.  Think spaniels, pointers, retrievers, and setters.

These dogs are some of the earliest breeds to be registered with the American Kennel Club and were classified by their personal style of hunting. 

A black Labrador sitting down looking at the camera, against a white backgroundLabrador Retriever
A Golden Retriever dog sitting on a grass bank beside a lakeGolden Retriever

What are the Sporting Dog Breeds?

Some of them found their game and then pointed to their location. (The Pointers)

Some race to find their game, usually birds, and then retrieve it. (The Retrievers)

Some were initially trained to find the birds, then pin them down on the ground until hunters could use nets to capture them (The Setters)

The oldest group was thought to have originated in Spain and were used to flush birds from their hiding places. These were the Spaniels, the word meaning Spanish dog.

This type of dog is also referred to as a Gun Dog in many parts of the world.

Sporting Dog Breeds in the 21st Century

They are still a favorite of hunters in the 21st century, but are mostly found as household pets. Many have been recruited to be used as service dogs for the disabled or as a bomb or drug sniffers for law enforcement agencies.

Today, many of these breeds are bred exclusively as field dogs to work and help hunters and participate in organized field trials. Some of these same dogs are also bred for the show ring, which means that the breeder concentrates on the look of the dog, rather than those hunting skills. 

If one of these dogs are on your radar, it is nice to know whether the dog you are getting was bred as a show dog or a field dog. 

Most of the dogs purchased for household pets come from show lines rather than from the field, and this is important. If for example, you are looking for a Labrador retriever to be your child’s best friend and not a hunting buddy, their hunting instincts may not be quite as intense.

Why do People Love the Sporting Dog Breeds?

Well for starters, they are very friendly, easy to train and do exceptionally well with children. 

They are athletic, with energy to spare, so they are quite capable of keeping up with even the most energetic kids.  They make great walking or jogging companions and ideal mates if you are camping or hiking enthusiast. 

While most are outgoing and friendly even to strangers, there are some that are a little more reserved.  They are intelligent, loyal, and devoted to their family.

Sporting Dog Breeds vary widely in the amount of grooming needed. Some of the short haired breeds are very easy to groom, whereas others with longer hair, require plenty of brushing to keep hair from flying everywhere and landing on every surface of your home.

Most are easy to housebreak and do well with basic commands, but puppies can be quite a handful with their boundless energy and exuberance for life itself.

If your interests involve swimming, boating or other water sports, a member of the Sporting Dog group may be ideal.  Many love to swim and quite a few of them are skilled swimmers.

Any Downside?

On the downside, sporting dog breeds do need plenty of social interactions. These are not dogs to be kept outdoors with little human interaction. Some don't do well if left alone for long periods of time. Some are prone to doggie odor, and others are heavy shedders.

Some can be quite vocal, so if barking is not your thing, ask your breeder about the parents and how much vocalization to expect.

The most popular dogs in the world fall into this category, but some are so rare that you may never see one in a lifetime. If one of these rare breeds appeal to you, expect to wait a long time to get that perfect little puppy. 

If you want one of the more popular breeds such as the Labrador or Golden Retriever, be sure to find a reputable breeder. Popular breeds are often readily available in pet stores and from commercial breeders who know little or nothing about the breed.

Sporting Dog Breeds - what do they need?

Plenty of Exercise

EXERCISE ! (sorry, don’t mean to shout.) These dogs do require lots of exercise and the best owner will have time to take their dog on a long daily walk.

Plenty of Human Interaction

Human interaction:  These dogs may be very active outdoors, but settle down indoors and enjoy keeping your company whether you’re reading or watching TV.  They want to be near their human.


A high-quality diet that includes the right nutrients in the right amounts, especially for fast growing puppies. Take a look at our page on the best foods for dogs.

Regular Training and Socialization

Regular training and socialization:  Without a good program to train and socialize, puppies, especially can get out of control quickly. 

Their activity is high, and their energy level is unsurpassed, so getting and keeping the upper-hand is crucial.


Grooming:  Many are heavy shedders with long thick coats (Golden Retriever) that need regular coat attention. 

Sporting Dog Breeds

American Cocker Spaniel

Closely related to the English Cocker spaniel, the two breeds are now distinct, owing to different breed standards in the U.S. and the U.K. in the last 70 years or so. Their head has a different shape to the English Cocker spaniel, and they are easily recognized.

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American Water Spaniel

This breed was developed in the USA, originally in the state of Wisconsin. They are strong swimmers who are adept at retrieving fish and game. A medium size dog, which frequently forms a strong bond with one member of the family.

American Water Spaniel is a rare breed, and the National breed association reports only around 3000 dogs registered, mostly centered on the Great Lakes region.

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A medium-to-large breed from France, used to flush out and retrieve game from water. They are very strong swimmers, with webbed feet. This is the only water dog that also 'points' at game, to show the hunter where the birds are before flushing them out.

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Boykin Spaniel

The head of a Boykin Spaniel in close upBoykin Spaniel

This is a medium-size spaniel, originating from South Carolina. They were used in hunting waterfowl and wild turkey, but more recently have become mellow family dogs, albeit with an energetic nature, needing plenty of exercise.

Brittany Spaniel

The Brittany spaniel was originally bred in the Brittany area of north-western France. It excelled at detecting, pointing,flushing and retrieving any kind of game bird or waterfowl. With a happy nature, they have boundless energy, but tend to be a little shy. They make wonderful family pets and companions.

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Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a large, powerful dog that was bred to retrieve birds, help pull fishing nets and even rescue fishermen in difficulties. They have a waterproof double coat with wavy hair that is oily and can smell a bit "doggy".

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Sporting Dog Breeds

Clumber Spaniel

These spaniels are named after their original breeding ground, Clumber Park in the English county of Nottinghamshire. They are the largest of the spaniels, and were developed as gun dogs, to be strong enough to push through thick scrub and bushland to retrieve the game birds.

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Curly Coated Retriever

A Curly Coated Retriever standing outdoors on a grass field, facing to the leftCurly Coated Retriever

Originally developed in England, the Curly Coated is named for the mass of tight curls covering its body. This dog is taller than other retrievers, and can work in thick bushes as well as cold lake water.

They are superb family dogs, but need a lot of exercise. They can be aloof with strangers at first, which makes them better guard dogs than Labradors and Golden Retrievers.

English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker spaniel has the same roots as the American Cocker spaniel, although the breeds started to diverge around 1900 due to differing breed standards in the U.S. and U.K. over those years. These dogs are happy, excitable and make great family pets.

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Sporting Dog Breeds

English Working Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel can fall into one of 2 groups - the Working Cocker spaniel or the Show Cocker spaniel. At first glance they look quite similar, but they are now 2 distinct breeds. The Working Cocker has shorter ears, a shorter coat and a flatter head when compared to the Show Cocker.

English Setter

A medium-size dog, the English Setter is a handsome, graceful breed that loves to be part of a family. While easy to train, they have an independent streak and tend to not do brilliantly in obedience competitions.

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English Springer Spaniel

The English Springer spaniel is another breed of gun dog used to flush out and retrieve game. The name comes from the dogs being bred to flush or "spring" game birds, which were originally caught with nets or falcons before the advent of the shotgun. The breed got it's name officially in 1900. The are cheerful and energetic, and need a fair amount of exercise.

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Field Spaniel

A brown and white Field Spaniel viewed from above, standing on a brown pathField Spaniel

The Field spaniel is now quite a rare breed. They are larger than a Cocker spaniel, but smaller than a Springer spaniel, at about 18 inches high. They have always been working dogs, although efforts were made to breed a pure black Field spaniel to catch the judge's eye in the show ring.

Sporting Dog Breeds

Flat Coated Retriever

A black Flat Coated Retriever standing on grass sideways to the camera, looking up to the leftFlat Coated Retriever

A gun dog originating in the U.K., the Flat Coated retriever is famously energetic and enthusiastic, with energy to burn. Standing about 24 inches tall, they were first recognized by the AKC in 1915. They make good family pets, but like all sporting dogs need a fair amount of exercise to be happy and healthy.

German Shorthaired Pointer

A medium to large dog breed, the German Shorthaired pointer was bred in the 19th century in Germany as an all-purpose hunting dog for use on land and in water. They have speed and agility, but also endurance to last a full day in the field.

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German Wirehaired Pointer

A German Wirehaired Pointer sitting down looking up to the right, against a white backgroundGerman Wirehaired Pointer

The German Wirehaired Pointer is a muscular medium-size dog originally bred in Germany. The wire coat is weather-resistant and water-resistant. They are affectionate and intelligent, and like to have a job to do. They can be aloof with strangers, and some do not do well in kennels. A good all-round gun dog for tracking, pointing and retrieving.

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is one of the best-known and most popular dogs in the world, particularly in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. They are extremely friendly and trusting, and good with children.

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Gordon Setter

The Gordon Setter is the largest of the Setter breeds, developed in Scotland and named after the 4th Duke of Gordon. Like all setters, they had to detect the game birds, and then lie down or "set" so that the hunters could cast a net over the birds.

After the introduction of the shotgun, dogs were bred to set standing up, so that they were more visible to the hunters, who may be some distance away.

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Sporting Dog Breeds

Irish Red and White Setter

An Irish Red and White Setter standing in a woodIrish Red and White Setter

The Irish Red and White Setter breed has been around since the 1600's, before the standard Irish Setter. As the name implies, they are mostly white with large islands of red in their coat. This made them quite visible to the hunters. Not as big as the Gordon Setter, they are nevertheless muscular medium-size dogs that need plenty of exercise.

Irish Setter

A red Irish Setter standing in an autumn field with brown vegetation in the backgroundIrish Setter

The Irish Setter originated in Ireland, and is an enthusiastic and energetic breed, perhaps the most energetic of all the setters. Famous for its gorgeous glossy aubern/mahogany colored coat, this dog needs plenty of exercise. They are fun-loving, enthusiatic and love discovering new things, especially if it's to do with birds.

Irish Water Spaniel

This is the biggest spaniel and the heaviest spaniel. A sturdy breed with a dense coat that does not shed much. They are an active breed, with webbed feet that help in swimming. Standing up to 24 inches tall and weighing up to 55lbs, they are substantial dogs! Bred to work as part of a team, they do well in family situations, but do not always tolerate other dogs.

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Labrador Retriever

Like the Golden, the Labrador Retriever is an extremely popular breed due to it's soft nature, endless good humor and sturdy build. The Labrador is simply a big ball of fun looking to please its owners, and they do very well with children. But they are also working dogs, and were bred to retrieve game birds from land and water.

Strong swimmers, they look for any excuse to get wet. Due to their intelligence and ease of training, they are used in many service dog roles, such as guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and as sniffer dogs.

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Lagotto Romagnolo

A Lagotto Romagnolo dog against a black backgroundLagotto Romagnolo

The Lagotto Romagnolo comes from Italy, and is a cute-looking fluffy dog standing around 20 inches tall and weighing under 35lbs. Originally bred as waterfowl retrievers, their extremely sensitive nose has led them to be used as truffle hunters. This breed is now regarded as the world's best at finding truffles.

Sporting Dog Breeds

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

A Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever sitting down facing the camera, against a white backgroundNova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

What a great name for a dog breed! The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred as a hunting dog, and is the smallest of the retrievers, sometimes mistaken for a Golden retriever. The dog is taught to run up and down the banks of a lake where there are ducks, and the ducks mistake the dog for a fox. This seems to lure them towards the dog, where they come into range of the hunter's gun. The dog then swims out to retrieve the duck and bring it back to shore.

The breed gets it's name from the act of "tolling" or luring the ducks into range. It was recognized by the AKC in 2003, and has the longest name on its books!

English Pointer

The Pointer is a large dog, standing 28 inches at the shoulder and weighing up to 75lbs. They were bred to detect birds hidden in bushes and on the ground, when they would suddenly stand stock-still and "point" with their muzzle to the location of the game, often with their tail out straight and one front paw up off the ground.

This is a hardy breed, capable of working all day in the field. They need plenty of exercise to stay healthy, and do well in field sports and competitions such as obedience, tracking, agility and also running in Canicross events.

Spinone Italiano

A Spinone Italiano dog sitting down, looking up to the left, against a white backgroundSpinone Italiano (Italian Spinone)

The Spinone Italiano is an old Italian breed with a dense coat used for all-weather and multi-use hunting roles.  They are strong, bred more for endurance than speed. This means they are not as energetic as some sporting dog breeds, and they do well in a family situation, living indoors.

Sussex Spaniel

The Sussex Spaniel comes from the county of Sussex in England. It was bred to have short, powerful legs and a sturdy chest so that it could cover ground across thick clay soils and penetrate dense undergrowth. They are cheerful dogs with an even temper.

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The Hungarian Vizsla belongs to the Pointer group of sporting dog breeds, bred to work in fields, forests, and in water. They are of medium size, but lightly built, sometimes confused with Rhodesian Ridgebacks, which are a similar color but bigger.

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The Weimaraner dog is nicknamed the Silver Ghost, due to it's silver-grey coat color. Originally bred as a large hunting dog in the 19th century, for hunting deer, wild boar and also deer. They are energetic and have good endurance, and need plenty of exercise each day.

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Welsh Springer Spaniel

The Welsh Springer Spaniel is the oldest spaniel breed, descended from the original dogs in Spain. How they came to reach Wales in Great Britain is uncertain. They are unique amongst spaniels for 2 features - a tapering head, and a bold red-and-white coat. This coat is weatherproof and waterproof, and allows these dogs to work in harsh welsh conditions.

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Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

A Wirehaired Pointing Griffon dog sitting down on brown autumn leaves in a woodland settingWirehaired Pointing Griffon

This dog breed is from Germany and France, where it was bred to be a land pointer and also a water retriever. They are medium-size dogs, standing at 24 inches at the shoulder. It has a shaggy but low-shedding coat.

Wirehaired Vizsla

A Wiredhaired Vizsla sitting down in a field with a game bird in its mouthWirehaired Vizsla

The Wirehaired Vizsla is actually a completely separate dog breed from the Hungarian Vizsla. It was developed by breeding a standard Vizsla with a German Wirehaired Pointer, producing a dog that is excellent at pointing as well as retrieving. Male dogs can be up to 25 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 65lbs.

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