Dogs have been hunting with man since dogs were first bred from wolves and this mutually beneficial partnership goes back around 20,000 years. While dogs have since been bred to serve all kinds of purposes ranging from companionship to protection, the sporting group continues to be used for hunting. While some hunting dogs are best for hunting mammals on dry land, these 10 breeds, including the Labrador retriever and American water spaniels, are largely considered the best waterfowl dogs around.
1. Most popular: Labrador retrievers
It's not totally fair to say that Labrador retrievers are the best of all the duck hunting dog breeds, because it comes down to personal opinion and a hunter's specific style. That being said, they might be the most popular. In fact, Labs were the most popular breed for 25 consecutive years and when Ducks Unlimited questioned members about their pets, they found that three out of four of them owned a Lab. While popularity isn't everything, those numbers certainly say something about the Labrador's effectiveness at hunting and their overall likability.
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Labs are known for being loyal, intelligent, and friendly, which are all great qualities in a hunting companion. When it comes to waterfowl, they are particularly suited to the task given that they have a water-resistant coat, webbed toes, and a strong, muscular, rudder-like tail, all of which make them excellent swimmers. As if that weren't good enough, they mature and learn quickly and have a good life span, meaning they can easily serve as a hunting companion for their masters for over a decade.
While chocolate, black, and yellow Labs all have slightly different personalities and life spans, no matter what color you get, you're sure to end up with a faithful, reliable companion if you adopt a Labrador retriever.
2. Golden retrievers for duck hunting
The golden retriever offers many of the same qualities as the Labrador retriever, only their long, beautiful coat is certainly a lot harder to dry than the short coat of the Lab. That being said, the long double coat of a golden retriever is still water-resistant, and most golden retrievers certainly don't mind being wet. If you can stand a little wet dog smell here and there, the beauty, strength, agility, and brains of a golden retriever can make them one of the best waterfowl dogs around.
Goldies have a great sense of smell, are affectionate, have a sound temperament, and are always eager to please their master, making them great partners. Perhaps best of all, they have soft mouths, meaning a golden retriever retrieving ducks is unlikely to damage your prize. Plus, their nearly unlimited energy will ensure they'll be up to retrieving anything you shoot down throughout the whole day.
They're also great companions at home and are known for being great for families with children, which explains why they are fairly close to the Labrador when it comes to overall breed popularity in America. If you want a dog that you'll love equally on the blind and in your living room, the golden retriever is a great choice.
3. Chesapeake Bay retrievers
There's a reason there are so many retrievers on this list, and that is because they were bred for this type of work. The beautiful brown fur of the Chesapeake Bay retriever is also water-resistant like his Labrador and golden cousins. He is also similarly intelligent and easy to train. Chesapeakes are known for their protectiveness, devotion, loyalty, and eager-to-please attitudes, making them a perfect companion on the blind.
Like the lab, the Chessie has webbed toes, and like the golden retriever, he has an exceptional nose and high energy level, meaning he will make a great swimmer who can track down your prey and swim it back to you without running out of juice. Their big, hearty builds ensure they can maintain their energy throughout the day, even in cold weather.
Chessies have an independent nature and require a lot of structure and discipline, or they may be aggressive, but with proper training, they will be both protective and loyal, making them perfect duck dogs.
4. German shorthaired pointers
An effective hunting dog for both land and water, the German shorthaired pointer has a lot of energy, a great sense of smell, impressive stamina, and a high prey drive. Originally bred in the late 1800s for a variety of hunting purposes, including pointing, retrieving, and trailing game, these dogs are skilled hunters ideal for all types of terrain and prey. German shorthaired pointers are smart and eager to please, and as a result, they require minimal training for their natural retrieving, pointing, and tracking instincts, making these pups a great choice for those new to training duck hunters.
While these friendly dogs are more popular with upland birds like pheasant, quail, and grouse, they do quite well in wetlands as well. Their high energy, intelligence, and stamina are a good match for duck hunting, but their thin coat will leave them susceptible to chills if they swim in cold water for too long. That being said, they do love the water, and because they need a lot of exercise to satisfy their high energy levels, duck hunting is a great way to keep them happy and healthy.
5. South Carolina's Boykin spaniel
The Boykin spaniel was originally bred by South Carolina hunters who wanted to hunt wild turkeys in the Wateree River swamp in the early 1900s. In that time, they have become so beloved in the area that they are now the state dog of South Carolina. The pups have an energetic spirit and are perfectly suited to hunting in all types of terrain and all conditions.
The Boykin is known for being well-balanced in that it can easily switch from serving as an efficient, forceful hunter on the field to a loving, devoted companion in nearly an instant. This is handy when you want a pup who will keep you company on your boat while still being ready to jump into action at any time.
6. Poodles for the brave
Yes, other hunters may giggle if you show up on a duck hunting expedition with a poodle in your boat, but these refined pooches were trained to retrieve waterfowl long before the more popular Labrador was even first bred. In fact, poodles were originally bred to be retrievers, and while they may be known for looking fancy and chic, they actually love getting dirty. More than that, they're incredibly smart, loyal, alert, and brave, making them a beloved companion in households across the globe.
Skip giving your pup a fancy haircut, and she might just blow away your hunting companions with her impressive tracking skills. It's worth noting that only standard (full-size) poodles make good hunters, and smaller breeds aren't made for hunting. If you aren't quite comfortable getting a full-blooded poodle for a hunting companion, a crossbreed with another hunting dog, such as a goldendoodle (golden retriever/poodle) or labradoodle (Labrador retriever/poodle), can give you the best of both worlds.
7. Brittany: France's hunting spaniel
Originally bred in the Brittany province of France from which the name is derived, the Brittany is a versatile breed equally comfortable on the agility circuit or on a hunting expedition. These intelligent, athletic, energetic, and speedy pups are excellent hunters and have gained quite a lot of popularity among American hunters since they were introduced to the states in the 1940s. They are excellent swimmers, great listeners, and quick learners. In fact, they can easily learn the drill after going on only a few hunts and being shown what to do a few times.
8. American water spaniels
If you're brimming with American pride, you might be interested in the American water spaniel. Similar to the Brittany, the dog was originally bred to hunt in the 19th century and is well known for being great on land and in water. This curly, dark-haired dog is now often considered one of the top duck dog breeds in the country, known for being less high-strung than English springer spaniels and having a knack for retrieving that can easily match a Labrador.
9. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers
With a name like hers, you'd better hope that a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever makes a good hunting companion. These affectionate, outgoing, and intelligent dogs were bred in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century and are highly praised for their ability to lure ducks while hunting. They do this by playing and fluttering their tails to draw ducks to the shoreline.
The duck tolling retriever isn't just great as a duck decoy. She can also make an excellent retriever. Her nearly inexhaustible energy level means she can last through the longest hunting trips, and her natural hunting instinct means she requires minimal training, even as a puppy. Bring one on your next expedition, and you won't be left disappointed (or without entertainment).
10. Classic cocker spaniels
There's a reason so many classic portraits of duck hunters show a cocker spaniel at their side. These pups were bred as hunters from the very beginning, and their keen eyes and nose, quick speed, and incredible agility make them ideal for fetching fallen fowl. Their long history with hunting and strong instincts mean that they need less training than many other breeds and they can quickly figure out your routine after a few dry runs.