Adding the Right Dog to Your Pack This Christmas

Whether you hunt or just like to give belly rubs, do some nose work before flushing out your next four-legged companion!

by posted on December 11, 2023
Rao Dog Waterfowl Lab

Dogs are often described as man’s best friend, but I believe that they are woman’s best friend. Who can resist a puppy! Whether you are an NRA Woman who likes to hunt or are new to hunting, you may have already thought about adding a dog to your human pack. The right dog can increase the enjoyment of your hunts—if you put in the requisite time for its proper training and exercise. And remember, you should never give someone an unexpected gift of a puppy or any live animal. Dog ownership is incredibly rewarding, but it is extremely time consuming (especially at the beginning) and requires considerable patience. Not everyone is ready for such a commitment—even if you are. 

So if you think you are ready, you might already know that there are many categories of dogs. If you hunt, you might be interested in one that can help you when engaged in waterfowl hunting, upland game hunting, or helping you track a deer once it has been shot. If you are not a hunter, a companion dog may be just what you need. Whichever category you fall under, consult the American Kennel Club (AKC), which is the largest and oldest not-for-profit organization of registries of all breeds. The AKC recognizes 200 breeds and ranks them annually on the number registered for each breed, and provides descriptions and characteristics for each. The following rankings are for 2022 in popularity:

Waterfowl Dogs
If you are a waterfowl hunter or thinking about starting to engage in this sport, why not get a waterfowl dog? These breeds not only make waterfowl hunting more enjoyable, but they make great additions to the family. These dogs make up some of the most intelligent and loyal breeds. Waterfowl dogs are usually easy to train so you can do it yourself or send them to a professional trainer.

Labrador retrievers ranked #2. Labrador retrievers were the most popular dog for 31 years until the French bulldog recently dethroned the breed, now coming in at #1. Labradors are almost always associated with waterfowl hunting. This breed is an excellent waterfowl retriever, upland game bird retriever, and all-around great family dog. This dog is known for its intelligence, trainability, friendliness and loving demeanor. Because of these traits, Labrador retrievers are often used as service animals.

Golden retrievers ranked #3. Golden retrievers were the creation of the Scottish Baron, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, aka Lord Tweedmouth. The breed was developed by mixing the sporting breeds, wavy-coated retrievers, tweed water spaniels, setters and bloodhounds. Like the Labrador retriever, the golden retriever makes an excellent sporting dog or a loving family dog.

Poodles ranked #5. Poodles are one of the oldest hunting retrievers still in existence today. This dog was bred for game retrieval long before guns were in existence. Poodles were developed in Germany, and that is where the name is derived from. The poodle was originally called a “Pudle” or “Pudlehund.”  These dogs are extremely intelligent, ranking just behind the border collie in intelligence.

Boykin spaniels ranked #82. The Boykin spaniel is a breed that was developed in South Carolina (now its state dog) to hunt waterfowl and turkey. To develop this breed, the Chesapeake Bay retriever, springer spaniel, American water spaniel, and cocker spaniel were used in the mix. Boykins are on the small size, weighing around 40 lbs.

Chesapeake Bay retrievers ranked #52. Chesapeake Bay retrievers (the state dog of Maryland) were bred specifically for waterfowl retrieval. This breed is made of strong and powerful swimmers, whose wavy, oily coat prevents the freezing water (like that found in the Chesapeake Bay) from reaching the skin. This breed is extremely loyal to its owner but can also be stubborn at times. Unlike other breeds, the “Chessie” does take time to warm up to strangers.

Other retrievers that are great waterfowler breeds include the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retrievers (ranked #81), flat coated retrievers (ranked #103), and curly coated retrievers (ranked #156).

Upland Game Dogs
When you think about upland game dogs, most people get the image of a beautiful dog standing perfectly still, front paw raised, nose pointed towards a clump of grass, and tail extender in perfect alignment straight behind the dog. These types of dogs are called pointers.

Pointers. According to the AKC, there are 14 pointers breeds: Bracco Italiano (ranked #200), Britanny (formally known as Brittany spaniel, ranked #28); English setters (ranked #93); German shorthair pointer (ranked #10); German Wirehaired Pointer (ranked #59); Gordon setter (ranked #99); Irish red and white setter (ranked #168); Irish setter (ranked #71); Pointer (ranked #107); Spinone Italiano (ranked #112); Visla (ranked #33); Weimaraner (ranked #44); Wirehaired pointing griffon (ranked #57), and Wirehaired Visla (ranked #142).

English springer spaniels ranked #26. The English springer spaniel is one of the world’s most popular breeds. This breed is an adept upland game bird dog as well as a very loving member of the family. These dogs are known for their flushing and retrieving abilities.

Beagles ranked #8. If you have never heard beagles on the trail of a rabbit, you are missing one of the prettiest sounds in hunting. Beagles are known for their running abilities. They flush and get on the trail of a rabbit, chasing them to the eager hunter. This breed also makes a great family dog, especially because of their small size. Beagles stand between 13 inches to 15 inches.

Tracking Dogs 
I do not know one deer hunter who has not, at least one time, wished they had a tracking dog. This is usually said after they shoot a deer, and they have a hard time tracking the animal. This is because there is little blood, or the vegetation is so thick it makes tracking difficult. Many states prohibit hunting with dogs but do allow using them for tracking and retrieval only. Always check your local regulations to stay within the laws.

American foxhounds ranked #196. American foxhounds are a medium size dog that is very lean and strong. George Washington helped develop this breed. As such, it is the oldest breed in the United States having originated from Colonial America. The American foxhound is the state dog of Virginia.

Bloodhounds ranked #50. Bloodhounds are large dogs with wrinkly skin that are known for its ability to pick up the scent of humans, animals, or whatever it is trained to track, even if the trail is several days old. This breed has been around since the Middle Ages. These loving animals also make great additions to the family. It is hard to beat the tracking ability of the bloodhound and the sound the dog makes when on the trail of something.

Coonhounds make excellent trailing dogs. Coonhounds are a group of scent tracking dogs in the hound family. There are six breeds that make up the category of coonhounds. These include the black and tan Hounds (ranked #149) registered in 1900, redbone hounds (ranked #158) registered in 1902; American English coonhounds (ranked #182), registered in 1905; Walker hounds (ranked #159) registered in 1945; treeing bluetick hounds (ranked #133), registered in 1946; and the Plott hound (ranked #173), last to be registered, in late 1946. All these hounds are descendants of the foxhound, except for the Plott hound, which is descended from the German boar hunting dogs.

Companion Dogs 
Most dog owners have companion dogs. These are dogs that do not “work” the way hunting or herding breeds do. Companion dogs can be AKC recognized or can be a mixed breed from an animal shelter, and often make the best pets. Even though companion dogs are not trained for a particular type of work, they actually have the most important job: to love their owners.

The AKC identifies many benefits of dog ownership. The No. 1 benefit cited is that dog owners are healthier and live longer lives. Owning dogs increases the physical activity of their owners, which in turn adds to heart health, while at the same time reducing stress levels. There are also mental health benefits because of increased social interactions.

There are many reasons to own a dog. Many hunters seem to want one but they “never get around to it,” or they are concerned about the training aspect. If you invest in the perfect gift for yourself, you will have a dog that you can take to the field, and the result is you will hunt more. This is something we all wish we could do!


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