Gundog Breeds - All you need to know.

January 26, 2022
Gundog Breeds - All you need to know.

Introduction to Working Gundogs

Gundog breeds, Labrador Retrievers and Spaniels are some of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They make good working dogs because they are easy to train but they also have the most fitting personalities which make them loyal, working comrades.

People have used dogs as hunting companions for a long time because they learned that they could train dogs to find, chase, and collect prey. A long-lasting relationship between man and dog has developed over the years and as well as being the nations favorite domesticated animal, it is clear that this relationship is here to stay.

Today, gundogs, hounds, terriers, and other hunting dog breeds are descendants of these early canine friends and have developed into strong, faithful dogs over the years.

History of Gundogs

The term gundog refers to any breed or type of dog that traditionally has ‘worked alongside the gun’. These dogs were, and still are in some cases, essential working companions who support humans hunting for food. With more people adapting to live a stable, settled life rather than that of a nomadic society, the need to hunt for food developed competitive characteristics rather than a necessity for survival.

With diverse landscapes and a huge variety of animals available to hunt, this led to the need for different types of dogs which in turn, led to the creation of breeds that could adapt well to this sport. For example, hunting in wetlands requires waterproof coats and a lot of stamina to stay in the water for a long time. It was important that dogs helping to hunt for deer were fast and had a lot of stamina. Patience and obedience were also two characteristics that were vital in building this working relationship.

The dogs that would hunt foxes and take part in game shooting, would be kept in kennels on large estates in the United Kingdom. Owners would have looked after their well-bred dogs with caution, ensuring that they breed with other high caliber dogs to avoid health concerns that may be passed down genetically. This would ensure that the next generation of gundogs would be even stronger and have more physical stability than their predecessors. Owners of these canines would also be responsible for looking after the health and wellbeing of their dogs in order to produce the best hunting outcome.

English pointer old oil painting
English Pointer

Does a gundog make a good pet?

People who only use their gundog a few times each year might regards them pets instead of working dogs. All gundogs, irrespective of breed are intelligent, sociable animals and are perfectly suited to being family pets as well as working dogs. A well trained and cared for dog can be a family pet as well as a working companion and their ability in both situations will not suffer as long as some basic rules are followed.

It can be argued that working dogs may perform best if they are kept in kennels. However, owning a gundog as a family pet, especially with children in the home, creates an atmosphere of stimulation and learning. In turn, making the dogs characteristics well-rounded and adaptable. Love and affection are also given to family dogs which enables them to create emotional and loyal bonds with their masters and family alike.

Often, the lines are blurred as the owner of the gundog may take part in activities such as walking, playing, and spoiling gundogs but also utilize their physical capabilities when hunting. It is fair to say that some issues can arise when keeping working dogs as family pets. Lack of training, discipline or confusion relating to verbal instruction can hinder the pet’s ability to cooperate in the home and could potentially become destructive or disobedient. To avoid this, it’s important to keep a working dog as a pet happy and active with regular walks and sufficient training.

While the working gundog is still commonplace, their roles and lifestyles have changed. Kenneling would have been the traditional housing for gundogs, and while many dogs do still reside in a kennel at least part of the time, lots of gundogs now live in the family home. Many gundogs are active family friends most of the time and will work as gundogs maybe only once or twice a week during the season which is the time when their work is needed the most. Other gundogs will never hear, let alone see, a gun but are yearned for by owners because of their inherent nature.

Types of gundogs and their jobs


Because of their tremendous activity and intelligence, cocker spaniels and springer spaniels have been developed specifically for hunting and flushing games, and over the years, they have been adequately trained to be a dedicated hunting companion.  

Springer Spaniel working with ducks
Springer Spaniel

Setters and Pointing Dogs

These are dogs bred to hunt out the difficult-to-find game and are able to freeze in place which indicates the position of the game. By eight months, these breeds can hunt with serious intent. Control and focus are by-products of well-trained setters and pointers which make them a premium breed for hunting.

pointer dog collecting a pheasant


The retrieving gundog is bred primarily to retrieve and bring an element of control and patience when assisting with a hunt. Lovers of water, retrievers are great swimmers but can also work an upland field with ease. Retrievers are a versatile hunting companion with high energy and a great addition to the hunting sport.

Golden Retriever
Golden Retriever

Hunt, point, and retrieve (HPR Breeds)

These are dog breeds that are bred for adaptability. Because they are multi-tasking dogs, they are becoming increasingly popular with game shooters and hunters looking for all-around canines that can be trained in various disciplines. They are bright, intelligent, and driven dogs who are very easy to please.

These include German Shorthaired Pointer, German Longhaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Hungarian Vizsla, Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, Brittany, Large Munsterlander,Italian Spinone, Bracco Italiano, Korthals Griffon and Slovakian Rough Haired Pointer.

Hungarian Vizsla collecting a pheasant
Hungarian Vizsla

Gundogs' behavior and personality

Gundogs can become raucous and unmanageable if not given enough physical and mental stimulation, however, dogs that work for their masters are accustomed to command and can be extremely obedient. However, this behavior is managed through constant stimulus and encouragement.

Working dogs spend a large proportion of their lives following commands and working alongside their masters. Lack of this high-energy and attention can lead to them becoming withdrawn or un-cooperative. A proportion of people purchase gundogs to train for their traditional purpose of helping to hunt and retrieve game on the shooting field.

However, the majority of owners also want a pet dog for company at home or to enjoy long country walks. Many owners need to understand that these high-energy dogs need the right balance of activity and training in order to fulfill both roles.

Discovering activities that work both body and mind can be vital to supporting these active gundog breeds. For this reason, lots of non-working gundogs excel in activities such as agility, working trials, heelwork to music, obedience, flyball, rally, and scent work as well as more traditional gundog work and activities.

Extremely pleasant and friendly

Gundogs are renowned for their friendly mannerisms and fun-loving nature. Even though gundogs can sometimes become possessive over toys or food (a perk of the hunting job!), the pros most definitely outweigh the cons.

These animals are bred to be obedient and submissive but can also be the best breeds to be an emotional support companion. High-energy and active dogs can light up a family home and are always praised for being their obedience. With the right training and guidance, gundogs can use their work as an outlet for energy and spend time relaxing at home with the family at the end of a long day.

The best dog for a family

Gundogs are often considered great pets because they love people, kids, other dogs, and even the cat! Busy households are and ideal setting as they will be able to burn off any excess energy during downtime (when not working) by playing with the children or accompanying their owners on long walks.

Gundogs are disciplined to work, so having a hard-working pet around the house can come in handy when asking them fetch or bring you something and there is never a worry about accidents. An obedient and hard-working dog (when working) is more likely to follow commands in the family home. Gundogs need to work with their owners in a very controlled way when many other things are going on around them.

Of course, there is always the possibility that obedient gundogs may struggle to give up their treasures or may chew on something for a little longer than usual, however this can be solved with some reward-based training methods.

Easy to control

As a result of the strictness of field etiquette, gundogs are expected to remain relatively self-contained when waiting about, but they must also be ready to burst into action when called upon to do so. Gundogs are not the most sensitive of animals as their profession entail assisting people in the food search or hunt. They are tough canines, both physically and emotionally.

One vital job that the working gundog has is ‘picking up’ which is hunting for, finding, and the retrieving of any shot game. You can train great retrieves by making bringing back and releasing the retrieve a rewarding game. Too often we try to grab an item from our dogs’ mouths when they are young. This can make them reluctant to either bring it back to us, or to release it.

Being physically active, using their nose, finding, and retrieving items are all rewarding behaviors for many gundogs. It is important to incorporate these activities into rewarding games because by knowing what is rewarding for the dog will lead to effective training.

List of Gundog breeds

If you have established a certain breed and it meets the needs of your sport, go with your gut. There are two types of dogs that are easier to train: one that you like and one that you were told to get. For example, flat coats are great shooting dogs, but they also do well in the show ring and English setters are fantastic, high-energy family dogs with hunting instincts.

British dog breeds are also very popular and people from all over the world want to own dogs from the working strains of many of these breeds.

Gundog breeds recognized by the Kennel Club:-

  • Barbet
  • Bracco Italiano
  • Braque D’Auvergne
  • Brittany
  • English Setter
  • German Longhaired Pointer
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • German Wirehaired Pointer
  • Gordon Setter
  • Hungarian Vizsla
  • Hungarian Wire Haired Vizsla
  • Irish Red & White Setter
  • Irish Setter
  • Italian Spinone
  • Korthals Griffon
  • Lagotto Romagnolo
  • Large Munsterlander
  • Pointer
  • Portuguese Pointer
  • Retriever (Chesapeake Bay)
  • Retriever (Curly Coated)
  • Retriever (Flat Coated)
  • Retriever (Golden Retriever)
  • Retriever (Labrador)
  • Retriever (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling)
  • Slovakian Rough Haired Pointer
  • Small Munsterlander
  • Spaniel (American Cocker Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (American Water Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Clumber Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Cocker Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (English Springer Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Field Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Irish Water Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Sussex Spaniel)
  • Spaniel (Welsh Springer Spaniel)
  • Spanish Water Dog
  • Weimaraner

UK gundog breeding

"The stockyard of the world" is a term used to describe the UK's ability to raise purebred animals of all varieties. The skills used to raise animals in fields and stockyards ultimately bled over into working dog breeding. To discover the game, flush it, and perhaps return with it, the early keepers would bring their natural but primitive grasp of breeding and selection to the dogs they cared for. Even the first spaniels, imported from Spain over 500 years ago, were probably chosen and refined through generations. The English Springer and its relative, the red-coated Welsh Springer sprang from this initial bedrock of aggressive flushing dogs.

The way the great sporting estates handled and bred their gundogs was undeniably important. Dogs had to be useful, and there had to be a lot of them. The UK's love of gundogs and inherent talent for breeding and selection meant that new breeds were inevitable. Rosehill Park in Hastings created breeds like the short-legged, liver-coated Sussex spaniel and there was even an early Sussex-cocker cross. Today, there are many ways in which the UK dominates the breeding market. With technological advances such as DNA testing, breeders are able to identify potential recessive disorders which allows them to reduce effected lines of dogs.

gundogs out on a duck driven day


Gundogs are incredible creatures that have distinct, innate characteristics that have been passed down over the years. All gun dog breeds are innately working dogs that were developed to accompany the sporting owner and they are faithful companions that respond well to retrieving and working. Gundogs are dedicated to their owners and are the image we see when we think of hunting and shooting in the countryside.  


Q.1: Are Labradors suitable as gun dogs?

When properly taught, the labrador is an excellent choice for motivated shooting, consistency at the peg, and a tireless worker on the picking up crew. It's also great for wildfowling and stalking pointers on grouse moors.

Q.2: When do gun dogs come to the end of their working lives?

According to a new Kennel Club health survey, dogs have an average life expectancy of 11 years. Golden retrievers had the longest life expectancy, at 12 years, with golden retrievers topping the pack. However, the number of years a dog lives and the number of years he can work efficiently varies from individual to individual and from breed to breed.

Q.3: What is the purpose of a gun dog?

All gundogs are working toward a shared goal. One of their other essential responsibilities is to guarantee that they can produce high-quality wild meat for human consumption without the inconvenience and extensive infrastructure necessary to produce farmed meat. Gundogs are also essential in ensuring that wild animals that have been shot are treated once they have been killed.


To welcome a brilliant animal into your home, you must consider her wishes and requirements. Long walks, careful training, and an active lifestyle are required for a gundog breed retained as a family pet in today's society. A dog that understands her role in the family and is psychologically and physically comfortable signifies a happy household that has been left in good condition!

Dog Breeds

Labrador Retrievers 

Labrador Retrievers are among the most popular gundogs around. They are known to be highly intelligent, very loyal, and eager to please. 


In fact they're so eager that they're often referred to as a "house broken dog" and are easy to train. You can have a Labrador Retriever guide your bird hunting and at the same time provide you with great companionship wherever you go. 


They're also known for being great family dogs and are one of the most popular dog breeds in the UK due to their intelligence and kind nature. 


German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointers are fairly easy to train and are known for being highly intelligent. They tend to have long attention spans, making them great bird hunters. 


German Shorthaired Pointers don't always get along with other dogs, however, so you'll need to watch them carefully if they're going to interact with other pets. 


They can also be a bit stubborn at times but when trained properly and socialised from a young age, German Shorthaired Pointers can make great pets that will become the best friend you ever had.


English Springer Spaniels

This dog breed has a lot of positive traits which are ideal for those who want to take to the hunting field.


English Springer Spaniels are excellent gun dogs because they're patient and have a steady temperament. They're easily trained and display all the traits you'd expect from a good bird dog. 


They are people-oriented dogs and do best when socialised at an early age. This is important if they will interact with children or other pets at home.


Golden Retriever 

Golden Retrievers are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and strong desire to please. They also do well in the hunting field due to their high energy and athletic abilities. 


They're very fast and agile, so you can take them out for a walk or jog around the block. Like most gundogs they do need plenty of exercise or they'll become bored and develop bad habits like chewing things up at home. 


They are great with kids and are a very popular family and working dog.


Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are intelligent, loyal, playful, and they do really well in water and can be trained to retrieve a variety of birds and are often trained to hunt pheasant and other upland game. 


They have an excellent nose for retrieving game from water and land. When not shooting, you can take them out on a walk or jog with you and it will keep those furry ears perked up and keen to listen. They're also very sociable and love being around people. 


They can be stubborn at times, however, so they're not always the easiest to train. But they're still considered one of the best family dogs because of their loyal nature and patient disposition.



One trait that makes the Vizsla dog breed stand out from the rest is its intelligence. This sporting breed has an exceptional working ability that can be traced back to their intelligent ancestors. The Vizsla dog breed is one of the most popular sporting dogs in Europe, and is known to have a great energy level that allows them to work for hours.


You'll often hear this sporting breed described as "an athlete with a brain" because of their high level of cleverness and quick thinking. When it comes to hunting, their brilliant sense of smell is fantastic for sniffing out birds on land or in the water.


But what really set their dogs apart from other dogs are the beautiful amber eyes of these Hungarian dogs. Even though Vizslas may all look alike, each one has their own unique eye coloring.


Curly Coat Retriever 

Originally bred in England for upland bird and waterfowl hunting, Curly Coated Retrievers are easily distinguished by their distinctive upright carriage and tall conformation which gives them a proud look. They are a great all-rounder dog that can be trained to serve in nearly any role, including hunting, field work, and retrieving. 


Curly Coated Retrievers have equally balanced size and structure which makes them very easy to train. They're naturally playful, athletic, and energetic which makes them a good fit for people who want active companionship. 


Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a very popular bird hunting dog, more so than most breeds. They are naturally gentle, loving, and good with children.


The Toller dog breed is a rare breed that comes from the province of Nova Scotia in Canada. The breed was introduced on Prince Edward Island by some of the first European settlers there. 


Although these dogs are rare, they are very popular with hunters because of their affection for fetching and retrieval. In fact, this was how they earned their distinctive name.


They are also one of the most energetic breeds of dogs out there, which is what makes them such a good choice for waterfowl hunting. 


Clumber Spaniel 

This breed is often chosen for hunting because of their strong and sturdily built bodies. They have an upright carriage and are the perfect size to carry weight. The Clumber Spaniel is also very agile, making them perfect for retrieving birds such as woodcock and snipe from ponds or marshes. 


They can also be trained to be excellent bird dogs because of their natural inclination towards hunting birds.


Cocker Spaniel 

This breed is known for being very athletic and energetic, which makes them great for hunting. When it comes to out in the field or on the hunt, Cocker Spaniels are agile and quick. 


They are also a good choice for hunting waterfowl because of their strong body structure and head shape which allows them to get a good shot at their game.


The Cocker Spaniel is a very intelligent breed that is also very easy to train. Plus they're playful and lively and are great with kids that are raised around them. 



The Weimaraner was originally bred to be a fierce and bold guard dogs, but they've become extremely popular for their ability to work as a gun dog and are quite easy to train. 


They have an athletic frame with strong muscles that gives them an impressive strength and power when it comes to hunting. They're also very agile which makes them perfect for hunting upland game like pheasants, grouse, quail and woodcock.


Irish Setter

Irish Setters are natural hunters that can be worked easily to hunt upland game birds, and are especially known for their ability to hunt pheasant. They're a very popular breed of dog because of their highly athletic physique and lean muscular frame. They're also great with kids and are an especially good choice for family dogs or as a companion to the working person.


With their striking glossy red coat colouring and even markings between ears and tail, they are a beautiful breed. They are also active, lively, and agile which makes them a great choice for hunting in the field.

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