Hunting Lifestyle

What Does a Bird Dog Hunt?

A hunter shows a close-up of a duck wing, bird dog hunting concept.

Hunting with your canine best friend beside you is one of life's great pleasures; it's also an ancient strategy used for centuries to help hunters increase their yield when hunting birds. 

These specialist hunting dogs have the capacity, work ethic, energy, and temperament to be formidable hunting partners and trusted and much-loved family members. 

Let's take a closer look at the role of a bird dog in hunting, the types of species a bird dog can help you target, some leading breeds, and more. 

Ducks in flight across the water, what is a bird dog concept.

Bird Dogs and Their Role in Hunting

Bird dogs come from working dogs, meaning they're highly athletic, focused, intuitive, and intelligent. They're specially bred and trained to hunt birds, primarily used in three key hunting strategies. 

1. Locating Game

When it comes to locating game, a bird dog's finely-tuned sense of smell and endurance are unparalleled. They can detect prey from significant distances with remarkable precision, and once they've caught the scent, they're relentless in their pursuit. 

2. Flushing 

Field dogs assist hunters by disrupting upland bird game, such as pheasants or quail, from their nestings and cover, opening up a shot. 

Springer spaniels and pointers make excellent flushing dogs. 

3. Retrieving 

Hunting dogs are most commonly used for hunting waterfowl (ducks, geese). They can retrieve downed birds, which are sometimes difficult to spot in dense areas. 

Breeds like labrador retrievers are highly prized for their retrieving capabilities. 

A hunter with a boat full of ducks after a hunt, hunting with a bird dog concept.

Five Popular Breeds for Your Consideration

Finding the right breed requires an analysis of your hunting needs, target species, and temperament requirements. 

Let's take a look at five popular breeds below.

1. German Shorthaired Pointers 

Deeply loyal and highly intelligent, German shorthaired pointers are energetic dogs that excel at retrieval and pointing. They require daily exercise, so ensure you have the space and time to keep them busy when they're out in the field. 

2. Labrador Retrievers 

Friendly and incredibly versatile, labs are known for their strong retrieving ability and sweet dispositions, making them formidable hunting partners and much-loved family members. 

A lab is one of the best all-around dogs to add to your hunting strategies and your family. 

3. English Setters 

Adaptable with a highly attuned sense of smell, English setters are excellent for locating game and flushing birds. Their gentle nature means they play well with human and canine friends. 

4. Brittany Spaniel

The Brittany spaniel, known more commonly as a "Brittany," is a medium-sized, pointing and retrieving gun dog most at home in upland hunting environments. 

Their high energy means they may be prone to hyperactivity if not exercised sufficiently. So, when it's not hunting season, make sure your dog has plenty of opportunity to work off some energy every day. 

5. Weimaraner 

This German breed earned the nickname "gray ghost" due to its stealthy hunting style and stunning blue-green eye color. 

Revered for their sense of smell and tracking capabilities, they make excellent flushing dogs and, due to their evolved endurance, are equally capable of long-distance hunts. 

Close-up of a grouse, what does a bird dog hunt concept.

Types of Birds Your Bird Dog Can Hunt

By narrowing down your target species and proposed hunting environment, you'll better understand the type of dog and the specialized training required. A bird-hunting dog can help you hunt birds from two broad categories. 

1. Upland Game Birds

These include species such as pheasants, grouses, and pigeons, and they can inhabit environments such as deep undergrowth forested habitats, open grassland and agricultural fields, mountainous regions, and more. 

Due to their highly developed sense of smell, pointers can help hunters locate birds in these often dense and well-camouflaged areas. 

2. Waterfowl

Waterfowl include ducks, geese, and swans. This broad classification includes migratory species that travel long distances. 

Retrieving dogs are the recommended breed due to their nature, trainability, and enthusiasm for retrieving downed birds, especially in hard-to-spot environments such as water and dense vegetation. 

The Training Process for an Excellent Bird Dog

Hunting dog training is an incremental process. While you can train your dog yourself, professional training is always an option, especially as you begin advanced training techniques. 

Start With the Basics

A foundation in basic obedience is required. The sit, stay, and come commands will establish a strong basis for a hunting and general dog ownership relationship. 

Building Skills

Retrieval skills can be built with positive reinforcement and tools such as feathers and dummies. Additionally, dead and live game can assist in preparing your dog for the task ahead and build familiarity with birds. 

The sounds of gunshots and decoys will help your dog become comfortable with the sounds and sights of a bird hunting trip. 

Environmental Exposure

Once you've determined the area you plan on hunting, you can gradually introduce your gun dog to the scents, scenery, and environment in which you intend to hunt. 

Take your dog with you to scout land or simply to take walks on land you plan to hunt. Make sure you have permission to be on the land during the off-season and that it's okay to have your dog with you. 

Forming a Harmonious Relationship

Building a relationship with your field dog requires patience as you come to understand their temperament and personality. Engage in play to develop instinct and use praise, treats, and affection to encourage positive behaviors. 

Clear and consistent communication can help set expectations and build confidence, especially during training. As a final point, remember that exercise, nutrition, and grooming play a critical role in your dog's ability to hunt, stamina, and longevity. 

A bird dog brings a downed bird to his hunter.

Apply Hunter Education When Hunting With Your Bird Dog 

Bird hunting with a dog is an exhilarating pursuit that rewards those willing to take the time and effort to care for and train their canine companion. 

To ensure you and your best bud are as safe as can be out in the field, it's essential to apply the highest safety practices and be up to date with the latest hunter education. Consider a course with Hunter-Ed to improve your hunting knowledge and gain safety insights, including how best to work with hunting dogs to keep them safe. Our online, state-approved courses cover how to keep everyone safe in the field, including our furry, four-legged companions. 

Before taking your bird dog hunting this season, find the course for your state and start learning!