Meet the Hunters, Competitors and Companions of the Sporting Group

You don't have to hunt to own a Sporting dog, but he will probably appreciate it if you do. The dogs of the Sporting Group were bred to help hunters flush, retrieve and find or point birds and other prey either by land, by water or both. Of course, Sporting dogs' abilities aren't limited to the field; they can also be great family companions. After all, the most popular dog breed in the United States is a member of the Sporting Group: the Labrador Retriever.

Remember, these breeds are Sporting dogs, so they usually require a family who can match their activity and energy levels. So, if you enjoy running, hiking, swimming or hunting (of course), then check out our photo gallery below to meet all the spaniels, retrievers, pointers and setters in the Sporting Group. Of course, every dog is an individual, so just because he's a member of the Sporting Group, doesn't mean he's going to retrieve balls or chase after birds.

The Talented Dogs of the Sporting Group

American Water Spaniel dog breed walking on dunes

Tara Gregg, Animal Photography

American Water Spaniel

Nicknamed the little brown dog, the American Water Spaniel is the state dog of Wisconsin, where he was developed in the mid-19th century. Normally weighing between 25 to 45 pounds, this big dog in a small package is typically highly energetic and can be a tough hunter. And although he’s called a spaniel, the AWS is primarily a water retriever.

Boykin Spaniel

Robin Burkett, Animal Photography

Boykin Spaniel

The Boykin Spaniel is the state dog of his native South Carolina. Known as the little dog that doesn’t rock the boat, he was specifically developed to hunt aboard small boats. He is one of the smallest of the retrievers and generally hunts waterfowl, wild turkeys and upland game birds, such as pheasants. If you’re not a hunter, the Boykin could still be a great companion for you; he usually has a friendly personality and tends to love anything that involves getting wet.

Brittany Dog Breed

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Brittany

The Brittany hails from France, where she was developed to point and retrieve in different types of terrain. Hunting isn't this breed's only forte. Health permitting, she can also excel at agility, flyball, obedience, running, hiking and playing fetch. Just don't let this breed become bored, or she'll likely find a way to entertain herself (at your expense). 

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Developed in Maryland to withstand the cold, rough waters of the Eastern Seaboard, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is born for hunting waterfowl. This doesn’t mean he can’t be a jogging buddy or family companion, just that hunting is usually his first love, as the drive to do so can be deeply instilled within him.

Clumber Spaniel

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Clumber Spaniel

Known as the retired gentleman’s spaniel, the Clumber Spaniel appears to be laid-back and lumbering, but looks, as well as nicknames, can be deceiving. The typically intelligent breed tends to have a mischievous side and a propensity for getting into trouble. You'll want to keep trash cans, pantries and fridges locked tight to deter this food-loving breed. 

Cocker Spaniel

Olivia Hemingway, Animal Photography

Cocker Spaniel

The typical Cocker Spaniel will happily go hunting for birds or hang around the house with her humans. If you don't fall in love with her soft, wavy coat, long ears and expressive eyes, then she'll win you over with her generally affectionate personality and people-pleasing nature.

Four Curly Coated Retriever dogs

Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Curly-Coated Retriever

The Curly-Coated Retriever dates back to the 18th century and is considered the oldest of the retrieving breeds. He may be uncommon, but the Curly generally has a lot going for him: personality, trainability and an unusual, but easy-care coat. He's usually gentle and charming with his family, but can be more protective than some retrievers, especially around strangers.

English Cocker Spaniel

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel is larger (usually 26 to 34 pounds) and has a less abundant coat than the American Cocker. The two breeds used to be one, but they became so varied in appearance that in 1946, the English Cocker was given status as a distinct breed. She is generally devoted, affectionate and a quick learner.

English Setter

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

English Setter

Thanks to his exceptional nose and good memory, the English Setter can often excel at his job in the field: to find and point game birds. As a family dog, he can be sweet and calm when given adequate exercise. His gorgeous, flecked and feathered coat sheds moderately and needs regular brushing to remove tangles.

English Springer Spaniel dog breed

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniels are generally bred either as hunting dogs or show dogs — never as both. In fact, there hasn’t been an English Springer that has excelled both in the show ring and on hunting grounds in more than 50 years. English Springers from hunting lines tend to have a coat of moderate length and lots of brown ticking worked into their white fur. English Springers from show lines typically have solid patches of color next to solid white fur with long, flowing coats and heavier bodies.

Field Spaniel

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Field Spaniel

Typically lighthearted, sensitive and affectionate, the Field Spaniel can be an exceptional hunter and an excellent family companion. He's closely related to the Cocker Spaniel and the English Springer Spaniel, and the three breeds were originally separated primarily by size. The Field Spaniel is larger than the Cocker but smaller than the Springer.

Flat-Coated Retriever dog breed

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-Coated Retrievers are known for their lifelong puppyish nature, earning them a reputation as the Peter Pan of the dog world. The Flat-Coat is generally cheerful and eager to please; he is also keen to retrieve just about anything, especially in water. He is inclined to love almost everyone, but that love often results in jumping. Obedience training is a must for this large and rambunctious breed.

German Shorthaired Pointer dog breed

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

German Shorthaired Pointer

The German Shorthaired Pointer is a multipurpose hunting dog who can be a great family companion, as long as that family is active enough to give him the physical and mental stimulation he needs. As a hunting dog, the German Shorthair is capable of pointing birds, hunting rabbits and raccoons, trailing deer, and he can retrieve on land or in water. As a family dog, he can be a great watchdog and loyal companion.

German Wirehaired Pointer dog

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

German Wirehaired Pointer

The German Wirehaired Pointer is quite a versatile hunting dog. Not only can he point birds and other prey, he can retrieve them on land or in water. Plus, his harsh, wiry double coat is weather-resistant and water-repellent. He can be a great family dog too, as long as you meet his daily exercise needs.

Golden Retriever

Karin Newstrom, Animal Photography

Golden Retriever

Like many Sporting breeds, the Golden Retriever has diverged into two different types: The fluffy, teddy-bear Goldens of the show ring and the leaner, darker, smaller and less-coated Goldens used for hunting and dog sports. This popular breed tends to love everyone he meets — especially if they have treats.

Gordon Setter Dog Breed Hunting

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

Gordon Setter

Developed in the 17th century by the Scottish Dukes of Gordon, the Gordon Setter was originally known as the Gordon Castle Setter. With his black-and-tan coat, the Gordon is the heaviest and most muscular of the three Setter breeds, boasting a weight range of 45 to 80 pounds. In the field, his job is to find and point game birds. He is appreciated for his intelligence and scenting ability, but his good qualities aren’t limited to hunting. The Gordon can also be a loving and mild-mannered companion dog, if you can give him the daily exercise he needs.

Irish Red and White Setter dogs in a field

Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Irish Red and White Setter

Overshadowed by the popularity of his relative, the Irish Setter, the Irish Red and White Setter was almost lost to extinction. Luckily, hunters recognized his abilities and brought him back from the abyss. The Irish Red and White can be just as friendly and affectionate as the Irish Setter, but has the same potential for stubbornness.

Irish Setter

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Irish Setter

The Irish Setter is a charming redhead known for his carefree personality and abundant energy. Two words frequently used to describe him are tireless and enthusiastic. The Irish Setter typically loves to run, but when given plenty of exercise, he's a calm, fun-loving companion. The 1962 Disney movie Big Red gave the breed a boost in popularity, as did President Richard Nixon’s Irish Setter King Timahoe.

Portrait of Irish Water Spaniel dog

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Irish Water Spaniel

Although he’s called a spaniel, the Irish Water Spaniel is primarily a water retriever with excellent hunting skills. His coat is naturally oily, thus it repels water and helps keep his skin dry. If given plenty of exercise and training, he can also be an ideal family companion.

Two Kooikerhondje Dogs on Leash

Peter Smith, Animal Photography

Kooikerhondje

A Dutch breed bred to lure ducks into traps, the Kooikerhondje (pronounced COY-ker-HUND-che) is up for almost anything you want to do. The Kooiker’s name comes from the Dutch, kooi (duck trap) and hond (dog). The hunter, or decoy person, is the kooiker. The letters je on the end of the name is a suffix meaning small. So, if you put it all together, his name means: small dog belonging to a duck trapper.

Labrador Retriever

Leesia Teh, Animal Photography

Labrador Retriever

For more than 10 years, the Labrador Retriever has consistently ranked as the most popular purebred dog in the United States, according to the AKC. And considering that many Labs are never registered at all or are registered with another organization (such as the United Kennel Club), the popularity of this typically smart, fun-loving, family-oriented breed is truly astounding. Labs come in three colors — black, yellow and chocolate — and characteristically weigh between 55 and 80 pounds.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is a small redhead (typically weighing 35 to 50 pounds) who usually has plenty of energy. The Toller was developed in Nova Scotia by hunters wanting a dog who would attract birds as well as retrieve them. That’s where tolling comes in — the word refers to her habit of dancing on the shoreline, luring curious ducks in for a closer look. Yes, we’re serious!

Pointer dog breed in a field

Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Pointer

You may recognize the Pointer as the emblem of the Westminster Kennel Club. This generally intelligent and dignified breed earned his reputation as a hardworking hunter and field-trial competitor and is often described as a bird-finding machine. The Pointer normally weighs between 45 and 75 pounds and his coat comes in liver, lemon, black or orange and can be solid or combined with white.

Small Munsterlander Dog Breed

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Small Munsterlander

New to the United States, the Small Munsterlander has been a favorite in Europe for decades. The breed typically has a strong natural hunting instinct and high endurance, even in rough terrain and wet or cold conditions. He's usually happiest when he’s in the field tracking, pointing and retrieving, so if you don't plan on hunting with him, he may not be the best breed for your family.

Three Spanish Water Dogs

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

Spanish Water Dog

The Spanish Water Dog was developed primarily as a herding dog in Spain, where he worked livestock. In coastal areas, he was oftentimes part of the crew on fishing boats and probably helped retrieve nets and guard the catch. Surprisingly, his curly coat can be easy to maintain and comes in black, brown, beige, white or parti-color.

Spinone Italiano

Sam Clark, Animal Photography

Spinone Italiano

A versatile pointing breed that tends to have stamina and patience, the Spinone Italiano can excel at hunting on any terrain. Don’t fret if you aren’t a hunter though; if given enough exercise, he can be perfectly happy as a companion dog. He is a large dog, weighing 60 to 85 pounds, but he doesn’t necessarily need to live on a lot of land to be content.

Sussex Spaniel Dog

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Sussex Spaniel

He may look serious, but the Sussex Spaniel is typically a cheerful and friendly dog. The Sussex walks at a slow pace and generally doesn’t require the intense level of exercise needed by some of the other Sporting breeds. But, he’s not a couch potato — he usually enjoys moderate to long strolls or hikes.

Portrait of a Vizsla

Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography

Vizsla

The Vizsla (pronounced VEEZH-la or VEESH-la) is an energetic, copper-colored Hungarian breed who can be talented at hunting, agility and search-and-rescue work. Vizslas typically weigh between 40 and 55 pounds, making them a good choice for families who want a dog that’s big, but not too big.

Portrait of Weimaraner dog breed

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Weimaraner

Nicknamed the Gray Ghost for his habit of shadowing his owner, the Weimaraner is an energetic breed whose ancestors were bred to hone in on deer, wolves and bears. Nowadays, he's more famous for his looks — you've probably seen the breed dressed up as humans in one of photographer William Wegman's books.

Welsh Springer Spaniel in a field

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Welsh Springer Spaniel

The Welsh Springer Spaniel can be recognized by her flowing, red and white coat and her webbed feet, the latter of which give her an advantage when it comes to retrieving waterfowl. She has a somewhat more laid-back personality than her cousin, the English Springer Spaniel, and she is slightly smaller, weighing from 35 to 55 pounds. When she's not fetching feathered game (or tennis balls), the affectionate Welshie tends to stick to her family like Velcro.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon lying in the woods

Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is a hunter capable of pointing and retrieving both on land and in water. He's a boisterous, medium-size dog (normally 45 to 70 pounds) and is happiest with a family that challenges him, both mentally and physically.

Wirehaired Vizsla Head in Grass and Hay

Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Wirehaired Vizsla

Recently recognized by the AKC, the Wirehaired Vizsla can be a gifted hunting dog with tracking-and-retrieving abilities. He is a little larger and heavier-boned than his cousin the Vizsla, weighing between 45 and 65 pounds. He can also be a fine family companion, as long as his family gives him the training, exercise and attention he craves.

More on Vetstreet:

Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!