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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.