Sporting dogs were originally bred as hunting companions, but they make amazing pets too.
They are intelligent, co-operative and friendly.
With a good general health and keen active nature.
Sporting dogs are also known as gun dogs or gundogs.
Gun dogs are not just valued as great hunting companions, the dogs from the sporting dog breed group also include some of the world’s favorite pets.
Pedigree dogs are divided into several different groups.
The members of each group have certain characteristics in common.
Often to do with their original purpose.
Dogs that are traditionally trained as hunting companions or gun dogs are allocated to the Sporting Dog Group.
Hunting dogs including the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and English Cocker Spaniel are popular working companions.
But they are also very common pets.
There are a number of reasons that hunting dogs are in such demand.
And why some of our best sporting dogs are also our best pet dogs too.
One of the main reasons is that hunting dogs tend to have a very trainable temperament.
Much of this goes back to their historical role and purpose as hunting companions.
A role that requires physical fitness, intelligence and most importantly, a willingness to cooperate with people
Sporting Dog Breeds
Humans have used dogs as hunting companions for centuries.
The development of our modern sporting dog breeds has evolved along with transition from hunting with bows and spear, to hunting with guns.
AMERICAN WATER SPANIEL
FLAT COATED RETRIEVER
IRISH WATER SPANIEL
WIRE HAIRED POINTING GRIFFON
The sporting dog group is divided into several subgroups.
Allocation to each sub-group is dependent on the role played by the dog in the shooting field.
Here are the four sub-groups
- Setters and pointers
Setters and Pointers
Also known as ‘bird dogs’ this group comprises the tall and elegant pointing dogs.
Those that grace european grouse moors and open heathland during the shooting season.
In America, bird dogs are often worked from horseback.
These sporting dogs are not pets for the faint hearted.
They are some of our most independent gun dog breeds.
Bred to range out and work at great distances, they require a good deal of exercise.
The spaniel group is not only made up of Spaniel breeds.
These dogs include any of the hunting retrievers. Dogs that were bred for flushing game at close quarters.
Many separate and distinctive breeds have evolved in the last hundred years.
American Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel
Several individuals have been trained to hunt and retrieve game.
And although they are often pets, these instincts are still in there.
Training a great recall from a young age is important if you have one of these breeds as a pet.
It is no coincidence that the retriever sub-group, the group working closest with their handlers, are the most popular sporting dog pets.
They have been bred for generations to be cooperative, intelligent and friendly.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Flat Coated Retriever
As their name suggests, retrievers are specifically intended to retrieve shot game for the hunter or dog handler.
This is a very important job and requires a high level of communication between the dog and handler.
As the dog may have to be given directions at considerable distances.
They are often trained as sporting dogs to respond to whistles for directions and as well as recall, sit and stay.
The fourth group is an interesting one.
These are the Hunt Point Retrievers, also known as Versatile gun dogs. And they are indeed versatile.
German Wirehaired Pointer
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Able to perform all the different roles carried out by the other sub-groups, the HPRs are mostly quite large dogs with short or wiry coats and good, equable temperaments.
Sporting Dog Instincts
When you buy a sporting dog puppy, you are buying into the promise of a loyal and devoted companion.
And one that won’t try your patience too much during the early stages of the training process.
All this has to be countered against some of the instincts that we have bred into these dogs.
Especially working lines that have been developed with competitions in mind.
Most working bred sporting dogs come with powerful hunting instincts pre-installed.
They can be troublesome for the unwary new owner, if not thoroughly trained and well supervised in the countryside.
But with a little management and a commitment to regular training this should not pose a problem for a responsible handler.
English and American - Working and Show Sporting Dog Breeds
Many sporting dogs have become divided into two separate strains.
Those bred for fieldwork and competition on the one hand.
And those bred for the show ring on the other.
Surplus puppies from both show and field lines are usually sold as pets.
And with some exceptions, many dogs from both these types do make excellent companions.
However, if you are looking for a sporting dog for a working/hunting companion, it is important that you choose your dog from working stock.
This is because some of our show bred dogs have lost much of their hunting/working instinct.
And may be more difficult to train to a high standard.
If your dog is intended purely as a fireside and walking companion, you still need to be a little careful.
Most of our working retrievers and HPRs do make great companions.
But some of our working spaniel breeds have such powerful hunting instincts that they can be difficult to control if not given the right kind of supervision.
Show vs Working Sporting Dogs
Sporting dogs are tested in the field using competitions called Field Trials.
The dogs that succeed in these competitions form a solid breeding base for working sporting dog lines.
As Field Trials favour fast and stylish dogs those criteria influence the gene pool.
And you may find working lines of your favourite breed much racier in appearance, and often a little smaller too.
Show dogs have in some cases become rather ponderous and heavy coated.
And may be more ‘laid back’ in temperament than their working cousins.
Working line dogs are often quite sensitive, keen to please, and less interested in playing with other dogs than their show counterparts.
This can make them easier to train.
One of the benefits of show lines is that in many cases show breeders have embraced health testing much more enthusiastically than their working counterparts.
It can be quite difficult, for example, to find thoroughly health tested working strain spaniels.
Sporting Dogs Health
Whatever type of dog you choose, they are on the whole a fairly robust and healthy group of dogs.
Not very much prone to conformational defects – with the exception of saggy lower eyelids in some show spaniels.
Some of our sporting dog breeds are however quite prone to developing cancer at an early age.
Especially the Flat-coated Retriever and the Golden Retriever.
So this is something to take into consideration.
There are a number of inherited diseases to which pedigree gun dogs are susceptible.
Diseases differ from breed to breed, so you need to do your homework before making your choice of puppy.
Care must be taken to purchase gun dog puppies with the relevant health clearances.
These vary from breed to breed, but many sporting breeds will need at minimum hip and eye tests.
Activities and Training for Sporting Dogs
Sporting dogs make great companions and team mates in a number of different sports and activities.
Their talents are not restricted to the shooting field.
If you enjoy running, or hiking, then a retriever or an HPR may be a great companion for you.
If you live on or close to moorland, or if you regularly exercise your dog from horseback, you may be able to offer a suitable home to a setter or pointer.
If agility or flyball appeals to you, then a working strain spaniel may be just the dog for you.
And all sporting dog breeds can be successfully trained for obedience and working trial competitions, or heel work to music.
The important factor to bear in mind is that sporting dogs need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
The working strains, especially of our spaniels breeds, need a good deal of supervision outdoors, and will benefit greatly from gun dog style training.
Even if you don’t intend to participate in shooting sports.
Our favorite sporting dog breeds to keep as pets are probably the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and English Cocker Spaniel. What are yours? Let us know in the comments section below!
Ann Winstanley says
I live in Bursledon, near Southhampton, Hampshire. I have a Labrador Retriever and would enjoy doing some activities with him.
As yet haven’t found a close club or organisation with any surgesstions.
Any chance you can help me.
Thanks Ann Winstanley.