Long before Netflix (but not before chilling), dogs were a man’s best friend. It is speculated that 20,000 years ago, canines and humans were already living and hunting together. How this unique and rare relationship came about is something of a mystery, and it’s still being studied and debated today. The leading hypothesis is that at some point in time, a small pack of Canis lupus – wolves – or world-like creatures from around Asia (or Europe) was domesticated by Mankind. It was a lengthy process, and the offspring are known as dogs, or Canis familiaris.

Dogs are said to be the first species – and the only carnivorous animal – to be fully domesticated by humans. It is interesting to note that of all animals, ancient humans chose wolves to hang out with. And they did this continuously, even though wolves are large carnivores who could turn around and kill them at the drop of a hat.

Man and hunting dog
Man and His Best Friend

In many ways, good hunting dogs are very much like ordinary dogs. Lots of them can easily double as fun family pets, who will tire out the kids and put a smile on your face. Throughout history, with the help of selective breeding, certain kinds of dogs were singled out for being particularly useful at a task. Different types of hunting dogs are often associated with specific prey, but this is not a constant.

The hunting instinct is still strong with the domesticated dog, and many breeds engage in spontaneous hunting without any kind of special training. That said, hunting dogs do require training beyond basic obedience, primarily due to the more complex nature of modern-day hunting methods and techniques.

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx

Hunting Dog Breeds

Archeologists have discovered cave paintings from about 8,000 or 9,000 years ago, depicting dogs hunting alongside humans. Humans observed that certain types of dogs exhibit different traits and behaviors than others. At that point, they began using dogs for more specific purposes, carefully selecting those who were bred.

Cave Painting showing hunting dog
Image of Dog from Ancient Cave Painting

Breeding was kicked into higher gear 6,000 or so years ago, and this yielded many of the breeds and crosses we see today. Consequently, the number of dogs which walked the earth, with humans and without them, began to grow exponentially. Some breeds are much more recent, being several hundred years old. 

To break it down easily, the two main categories of hunting dogs are gun dogs and scent dogs. These two can be further broken down into subcategories: trackers, tree dogs, flushers, pointers, and more.

The more popular breeds are retrievers and shepherds of all sorts, hounds, setters, terriers, spaniels, and beagles. These are fit for all manner of hunting and trapping, though some are more active in the water or up a tree than others. I still get a real kick out of watching my friend’s terrier burrow and nudge her way through the earth, in search of prey.

Doberman hunting dog
I Wouldn’t Want to Mess with Either of Them

How to Train a Hunting Dog 

As I said before, due to the nature of modern-day hunting, it is necessary to provide specialty training for your pup beyond basic obedience training. Depending on the type of dog, prey, and hunting methods which are involved, the training will vary. One thing you can bet on: the transformation will not happen overnight. It is a gradual process, and it takes time.

Hunting dog training begins with conventional training (sit, stay, come, heel, down, etc.). Once that is carried out successfully, you can use methods such as e-collars and positive reinforcement to hone your dog’s instincts and skills. Some employ different “dog whispering” techniques to assert themselves as the dominant in the pack, and then the dog submits to their will more naturally. This may also be a question of the dog’s temperament (and yours!).

Military Dog Training facility
Military Dog Training

With an e-collar, because of the demanding nature of the process, it is best to let a qualified dog trainer administer the shocks or stimulation. These are said to be akin to mild static electricity shocks. They are not designed to hurt or harm your pooch, but to get their attention.

If you plan on hunting in a boat, additional land/water training may be necessary. If you plan on using decoys and other toys, this too requires more practice. If you need to get your doggo used to heavy shotgun blasts and follow-up shots, this will also take some time to implement and ingrain. Patience is key, because the dog learns gradually, day by day.

Perhaps the most important rule of any kind of dog training is: consistency. Be consistent with your training, or else you might end up messing with your dog’s mental health. This is not some idle claim – it’s real, and it happens way too often. People begin training their dog, but they go about it the wrong way.

Whatever method of training you decide to use, get the information you need before subjecting your dog to the process. You could have the best and most advanced training equipment in the world, but if you are not using it correctly, all you’re doing is potentially harming your four-legged buddy. 

The hunting dog lifespan can be pretty long, depending on its breed and history. Normally, these dogs get plenty of exercise, love, and training, all of which make them physically healthier. Also, from a psychological point of view, I’d wager that a dog or bitch are in their element when they’re hunting. Consequently, they are very much alive, and their quality of life is higher for it. But this is just conjecture, since I am no veterinarian or animal psychologist.

Dog hunting training
Hunting Dog Training

Hunting Dog Names

What makes a good name for a hunting dog? Obviously, this is highly subjective and pretty personal. There are many reasons behind naming a dog, ranging from serious ones to silly and ironic ones. Also, there are female hunting dogs names and male hunting dog names to consider, though some are quite neutral and unisex.

The Bard already covered this question long ago, with his famous quote in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by another name would smell as sweet.” Which is precisely right: a name is just a name. On the other hand, a name bespeaks a kind of essence or quintessential characteristic, potentially anyway. Plus, let’s not forget you will be saying that name a lot, so choose one which has the staying power.

Guard Dog
This is Definitely Not a Daisy or a Pumpkin

Unless you specifically want to go for the silly names, you could name a dog after the kind of prey which they traditionally favor. Alternatively, you could name the dog after their unique hunting methods. You could also name the dog after its unique colors or any other external feature.

A few examples of classic hunter dog names are:

  • Hunt: Chase, Scout, Hawkeye
  • Gods: Hercules, Thor, Neptune
  • Military: Tank, Major, Marshal

Rat Hunting Dogs

Rats are varmints (aka vermin), and as such they are not the most welcomed guests on your property. They can carry diseases, destroy crops and gardens, and basically deal out some damage to you and your environment. I have no problem with rats out in nature, but when it comes to the home I’d rather steer clear.

Although cats have their claim to fame when it comes to catching rats and mice, dogs are also able to handle this important task. Some of the more popular rat-hunting dogs are terriers of all kinds, dachshunds, and pinschers. Rat-hunting dogs are often called ratters.

Dachshunds fetching
Dachshunds Can Hunt Too

Bird Hunting Dogs

Bird dogs are a perfect companion for hunting game birds. They have the skills, the energy, and the character that precisely fit this sometimes-tedious job. Some of these (often) small hunting dogs may not seem like much to get excited about, but get them out in the field and watch them shine.

Take this into consideration: the best duck hunting dogs are not necessarily the best quail- or pheasant-hunting dogs. Again, different dogs – different skills. Training also plays a large role here, so you want to stay focused. Some breeds have more of an affinity for water than others, and so on. A dog may be great in the water and in a boat, and be considered a good duck hunt dog without the exceptional nose or eyesight of others.

Dog carrying a duck
Duck Hunting Dog

Squirrel Hunting Dogs

Even though many dogs can become excellent squirrel hunters, there are a few breeds which are known for their natural instincts in that department. Terriers and curs are often singled out, with breeds like the coonhound or the American gascon hound also being used.

In the last few hundred years, more pest-combating breeds have been bred and used in farms around the world. This is, in part, what brought on so many crosses and mixes involving like-minded dogs with a knack for hunting small animals. Same thing goes for rabbits.

Squirrel hunting dog
Black Mouth Cur Hunting Dog

Rabbit Hunting Dogs

Although beagles are known for their rabbit-hunting abilities, and although some might consider them to be the go-to bunny breed – there are other doggies who are fit, agile, and definitely up to the task. Terriers, curs, and smaller hounds are (once again) a popular choice. 

Rabbits are great hiders, but these canines are up for the challenge! Hunting by sight or scent, rabbit hunting dogs are usually quick on their feet. They possess that wonderful “dig, dig, dig!” burrowing instinct, and have been bred precisely for that reason. Rabbits, moles, gophers, and other underground creatures – look out!

Rabbit hunting dog
Beagle on the Prowl

Fox Hunting Dogs

A fox hunt usually involves scent dogs, which can track their prey and lead the hunting party to the prize. There is a collection of breeds which have been carefully selected precisely for this purpose: foxhounds. The two main kinds of foxhounds are American and English, but others also exist. 

Other hounds, as well as terriers, can also be used during the hunt. A fox has the ability to move quickly and easily through the grounds. It can also go underground, and then – depending on the dog’s breed and the nature of the hunt – the chase could either continue or be over. A breed like the German dachshund is another classic example of a natural-born fox hunter.

Fox hunting dog
English Fox Hound

Coyote Hunting Dogs

Curs (and breeds mixed with cur breeds) are often seen as the ultimate coyote-hunting partner. But they are not the end all be all of coyote hunting. Because coyotes are notoriously clever, especially in their natural wild habitats, tracking them and bringing them down is not the easiest thing to do.

Certain hounds – like the greyhound or plott hound – can be a popular addition to any coyote-hunting expedition. These dogs are fierce and loyal, and their hunting instincts are usually up for the challenge. After all, there is a reason why these types of dogs are used in these situations. Sometimes, one dog will be used as a tracker, and another will be used to go for the kill.

Coyote hunting dog
Majestic Greyhound

Deer Hunting with Dogs

Currently, less than 10 states in the US will allow a deer hunter to be joined by dogs. The dogs track the scent and follow the trail, and they are particularly useful for driving deer and bringing them running within range of the shotguns or hunting rifles. Deer were hunted with hounds for thousands of years, and the more popular breeds were coonhounds, beagles, and bloodhounds.

There is a question of ethics and morality when it comes to harvesting deer with dogs, and this is why so many states will consider it unlawful and therefore prohibit it. The states that do allow deer hunting with dogs have many regulations in place. The main reason why you’d want to use dogs is because it increases your chances significantly.

Two of the biggest questions this whole thing raises are:
A) Is it a fair game? and B) Is it a safe game?

Treeing Walker coonhound
Coonhound for Deer Hunting

Hog Hunting with Dogs

Boar-hunting dogs are generally split into two categories: bay dogs and catch dogs. The bay dogs are tasked with engaging the prey and pursuing it. The catch dogs are charged with ending the chase bringing it down. Being on the more invasive side, the wild hog population is more closely maintained, which is why hog hunting is allowed throughout the year.

Two of the more popular bay dog breeds are hounds and curs, but others are used around the world. Terriers and bulldogs are famously used as catch dogs, but other breeds will also get the job done.

In general terms, with bay dogs you want them to be quick and alert. With catch dogs, you need them to be strong and muscular. Wild boars are considered extremely dangerous, and your dog will need to be well-trained and fearless.

Wild Boar hunting
Deceptively Dangerous Wild Boar

Bear Hunting Dog

Before anything, you could ask the obligatory question: should you hunt a bear with a dog, or even a pack of dogs? Not every dog is up for this challenge, and it is a challenge.

There is one particular breed – the Karelian Bear Dog – which is known for its affinity for hunting large game, including bears. Bear-hunting dog breeds have to be quick and sharp-eyed. Depending on the method used, they may also need to be pretty aggressive. Another popular breed used for hunting bears is the Caucasian Shepherd, which – to me – is reminiscent of Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The dogs used to hunt bears don’t necessarily have to fight it and bring it down. Many times, their job is to pick up the scent, track the bear, chase it down if needed, keep it at bay, and alert the human hunter to its presence. Bloodhounds, setters, pointers, and bulldogs of different sorts are also used.

Karelian Bear Dog
The Famous Bear Hunting Karelian Dog

Hunting Dog Supplies

Some items are considered vital and downright essential for a successful hunt, and when dogs are involved there is even more to think of. This is a partial list of things to consider taking along when going on a hunt with your furry friend.

It’s important to note that the items list will vary a great deal, depending on the type of hunting you’re doing, the terrain, etc. Going for large game or small? Is it dawn or dusk? Are you on land or in the water? The details matter. It’s best to have a personalized checklist, based on your own methods and experiences. And on your dog, of course.

You may want to take:

  • adequate supply of dog food
  • outdoor food bowl and water bowl
  • dog call/whistle
  • dog vest
  • first aid kit
  • outdoor kennel & cover

Hunting dog boots are something of a controversial item. There is no doubt that they can be helpful with navigating uneven surfaces and rough terrains. They serve a great purpose outdoors. They keep the paws in good health, and they protect that sensitive area in general. However, not all dogs are fans, and there’s a learning curve.

Ultra Paws dog hunting boots
Popular Dog Boot Courtesy of Ultra Paws

Dog Hunting Vest Explained

When you’re outside with your dog – especially at night and/or in the winter months – you want to give your pooch some protection and warmth. A normal “doggy coat” will not do in the outdoors scenario, because while they may be useful for a 20-minute walk in the neighborhood when it’s raining, they are not fit for a day spent out in the woods. This is especially true when water sources are involved.

A run-of-the-mill coat or sweater will not do, since it will usually just soak up the water and not do much else. A dog’s hunting vest should provide some measure of protection, some warmth, and ideally some buoyancy when engaged in swimming. Some vests are built specifically with those parameters and conditions in mind, simply because that is the nature of the outdoors. Sometimes, an ordinary orange hunting vest for dogs will be all you require.

Hunting Dog Vest
Browning Dog Hunting Vest

Depending on the type of activity you’re going for, concealment may be a factor that’s on your mind. There are many different vests which offer protection, but some are safety vests and others are hunting vests. The difference is crucial. If concealment is a contributing factor to the success of the hunt, a vest in a loud orange color may not be the best idea. If concealment is a factor, make sure to purchase a vest with a proper pattern.

That said – do not compromise your dog’s safety for the sake of bagging game. Keep in mind that safety comes first, and this remains true whether your dog is wearing a camo hunting vest or an orange vest. While a vest is not the only item involved in keeping a dog safe outdoors, it is one of the more popular ones.

Hunting Dog Collars Overview

Despite their strong natural inclinations and carnivorous instincts, dogs are not born 100% ready to go. They still need to be trained in the art of the hunt, especially in regards to the human aspect – and this is where you come in. You are the teacher, the leader, the master, and you may want to collar your dog. The purpose of a hunting dog collar is to serve both in training and during an active hunt.

As collars go, you may not find the perfect one. It all depends on your wants and needs. Some collars are more durable than others, and this is necessary outdoors. Some are waterproof, some have a reflective surface to prevent accidents, and some are equipped with GPS. There are also collars which have a leash built into them, for the sake of convenience, or which have the ability to administer a minor shock, tone, or vibration.

Electronic Dog Collar
SportDog Brand Sporthunter 825x E-Collar

E-collars are the go-to item for hunters, and with good reason. There used to be a kind of stigma or myth associated with them, but that’s in the past. With today’s e-collars, there is no question that they can be quite harmless. After all, the purpose of an e-collar is not to harm your dog or instill fear in it, but merely to get its attention and re-focus it.

A few of the more popular e-collar brands are Dogtra, SportDog, and Garmin. They cost more, but they’re worth it. The cheaper options are often not as durable, not as powerful (battery-wise), and not as resistant to water and the elements. And unless you foresee the collar getting lost immediately, those are things that you do not want to skimp on (if you can).

Again – know what you’re doing. Too many individuals e-collar their dog, but then go about the wrong way training them. In those cases, the e-collar is definitely not harmless. You don’t want to confuse or potentially harm your hunting buddy. 

Hunting Dog Kennels 

There is a bond between dogs and humans, and with hunters and their companions the bond is (arguably) even greater. It grows and strengthens when we take them hunting, hiking, backpacking, fishing, etc. In many cases, hunting dogs are not only a part of the family, but are also active participants in putting supper on the table!

Dog owners love their pets, and they care a great deal about their health and wellbeing. A dedicated hunting-dog owner will provide the animal with plenty of attention and exercise, as well as adequate training. There are stretches of time when silence and patience are needed, and some dogs prefer a familiar place to rest their paws. This is where outdoor kennels can be seriously useful.

Hunting dog kennel

A hunting dog crate or kennel is a highly practical apparatus. This becomes even truer when you have more than a dog or two. A kennel or crate which the dog is used to, can provide it with a sense of shelter and security, and do so in a way which the relatively-unknown terrain cannot.

You’ll want to look for something robust and solid, a well-constructed item which can be taken along for the journey. It’s interesting that while dogs don’t count as classic den animals, they do prefer a comfortable and safe environment.

Conclusion: Best Hunting Dogs

Personally, I am not in favor of buying animals. I don’t like the idea of selling and buying them as if they were a commodity. I feel that they should be real companions, and not seen as products or possessions. When you go hunting with your dog, you have the ability to see your doggo in its element.

There are those who say that humans should not have messed with the natural order, and should have just let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. But what’s done is done, and we have many, many different breeds of dogs about the planet. With that being the case, I can understand why hunters would be interested in having a hound or setter along with them.   

The dogs I outlined here are all well and good, and they are known for their keen senses and loyalty. Eventually, you need to go with what you feel is optimal and most beneficial. It could very well be that you discover that your dog does not enjoy retrieving or treeing, in spite of what its lineage or breed is. There is no single breed which is the best all around hunting dog – But if there was one, the golden retriever would probably be it.

Overall, dogs are great hunting companions. When it works out well, it’s one of the greatest connections a human and canine can share. And during the off season and in-between expeditions, many of them make for excellent members of the household.

Sam M

Sam is an avid firearms enthusiast who loves sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow gunivores.

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  1. Well written. I enjoyed the article. Thank you

  2. Dog names: a Boxer named Berdan; for our reloader brethren.

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