Written By Matt Heden
Best Duck Hunting Dogs: Which Breed Is The Best Fit For You
If you’re a duck hunter, you assuredly love those early morning sunrises in the blind waiting for ducks to soar right into the man-made hole you’ve created with your decoys. There’s really only one thing that’s better than being out there – it’s being out there with your best friend and hunting companion: Your duck dog.
Not everyone will have the pleasure of hunting with their furry companion that will on que, go out to find and also retrieve your downed birds – but we sure wish everyone could experience it.
Truth be told, when it comes to duck hunting dogs, not all dog breeds fare the same.
It’s true, you may be able to teach a dog to retrieve and to do it well, but there are some dog breeds that take up the tradition of duck hunting quicker and easier than others.
Today, we’re going to explore the best duck hunting dogs, rank them from best to good (it’s hard to say worst, when it comes to dogs), and we’ll provide the reasoning for the ranking to help you choose the perfect hunting companion.
Whether it’s Drake, Bear, Benelli, Titus or whatever else you can think of – start gathering some great names for a duck dog. You’re definitely going to want to experience the hunt with one of these breeds that we call – man’s best friend.
Selecting the Right Duck Hunting Dog
Before we dive into specific breeds, let’s take a look at why choosing the right duck hunting dog matters. A well-suited hunting dog can significantly enhance the quality of your hunt. Here are some key factors to consider:
A duck hunting dog should excel in retrieving game from the water (land as well, but it is “waterfowl” we’re after specifically). They should be strong swimmers with a natural instinct to retrieve. This natural instinct makes training and even hunting, significantly more fun and easier in the long run.
Obedience is paramount in hunting dogs. They should respond promptly to your commands, especially in the midst of a hunt. We know all dogs are different, but truth is – some dogs have a higher inclination to obey. If you’ve ever been around a Chessie – obedience doesn’t always come natural for dogs.
The ideal duck hunting dog should be alert, trainable, and eager to work. They should also be well-mannered and social. There’s a major part of this that comes from genetics, but also from training and socialization.
Duck hunting can be physically demanding, so your dog should have the stamina to keep up with long days in the field. No offense to my wife, but her French Bulldog just wouldn’t cut it on a full day in the duck blind – I mean… maybe if there was a silk lined bed, personal heater and snacks that were spoon fed between naps, her dog might make it for a couple hours.
Best Duck Hunting Dogs (Ranked)
1. Labrador Retriever
No surprise here – if you’ve done any research on dogs that are great duck hunters, you’re sure to find the Labrador at the top – and for good reason. Labradors are the top choice for duck hunters due to their exceptional retrieving skills, they are strong swimmers with an innate ability to retrieve game from water. Their obedience, friendly disposition, and endurance make them the perfect all-around hunting companion AND they are great house dogs during the off-season.
– Retrieval Skills: Labradors are exceptional retrievers, known for their strong swimming abilities and natural instinct to retrieve.
– Obedience: They are highly trainable and known for their obedience and eagerness to please.
– Temperament: Labradors are friendly, outgoing, and well-mannered, making them great family dogs.
– Endurance: They have good endurance and can handle long days of hunting.
– Standard Height: Males: 22.5-24.5 inches; Females: 21.5-23.5 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 65-80 pounds; Females: 55-70 pounds
– Colors: Labradors come in three primary colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. (Silver is not a recognized color of the Labrador Retriever)
2. Boykin Spaniel
The Boykin Spaniel, a compact and adept waterfowl retriever, is celebrated for its impressive swimming and retrieving skills, thanks to its water-resistant coat and webbed feet. Originating from South Carolina, this small, chocolate-colored spaniel is not only a skilled and nimble hunting companion in both water and field but also a loving family pet during the off-season. With its keen nose and inherent love for the hunt, the Boykin seamlessly merges its roles as a proficient hunting ally and a cherished household member.
– Retrieval Skills: Boykin Spaniels are known for their exceptional retrieval skills, especially in
– Obedience: They are obedient and have a friendly disposition.
– Temperament: Boykin Spaniels are friendly and make great family pets.
– Endurance: They have good endurance and can handle moderate hunting conditions.
– Standard Height: Males: 15.5-18 inches; Females: 14-16.5 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 30-40 pounds; Females: 25-35 pounds
– Colors: Solid liver or brown.
– Description: Boykin Spaniels are exceptional retrievers, especially in swampy terrains. Their friendly disposition and good endurance make them well-suited for hunting and family life.
3. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are known for their toughness and excellent retrieval skills, particularly in harsh conditions. Their loyalty and protective nature make them ideal for hunters facing challenging environments. It should be noted, Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s have a tenacity like no other, with that tenacity often times comes a hard-headedness though. It’s been my experience that if you ask a Chessie owner about their dog, they’ll be sure to tell you 1. How awesome their dog is and 2. How stubborn their dog can be at times.
– Retrieval Skills: Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are tough and have excellent retrieval skills, especially in harsh conditions.
– Obedience: They are obedient but need a strong leader – they also have a strong work ethic.
– Temperament: They are loyal and protective, making them ideal for both hunting and companionship.
– Endurance: Their endurance is remarkable, allowing them to withstand challenging hunting environments including the cold and even rough waters.
– Standard Height: Males: 23-26 inches; Females: 21-24 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 65-80 pounds; Females: 55-70 pounds
– Colors: Their coat can be any shade of brown, sedge, or deadgrass.
4. German Wirehaired Pointer
The German Wirehaired Pointer’s history as a duck hunting dog dates back to 19th-century Germany. They were developed by dedicated breeders who aimed to create a versatile hunting dog capable of excelling in various terrains, including waterfowl marshes. Their wiry coat protected them from harsh weather and underbrush, while their strong swimming abilities and retrieving instinct made them indispensable to hunters. Today, German Wirehaired Pointers continue to be highly regarded for their intelligence, trainability, loyalty, and adaptability in the field. With exceptional endurance, they can perform well in long and demanding hunts, making them an ideal choice for duck hunters.
– Retrieval Skills: German Wirehaired Pointers are skilled retrievers, especially in waterfowl hunting scenarios. Their strong swimming abilities and keen retrieving instinct make them valuable assets in the field.
– Obedience: They are intelligent and highly trainable, known for their responsiveness to commands.
– Temperament: German Wirehaired Pointers are versatile and adaptable, making them excellent hunting companions. They are also known for their loyalty and friendly disposition.
– Endurance: They possess exceptional endurance, allowing them to excel in long and demanding hunts.
– Standard Height: Males: 24-26 inches; Females: 22-24 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 60-70 pounds; Females: 50-60 pounds
– Colors: Liver and white, liver roan, or liver and ticked.
5. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are skilled retrievers usually with a gentle mouth, which is great for bird hunters. Truthfully, they should be significantly higher on the list – but due to their popularity of being a great family dog – there just aren’t that many breeders that breed for the hunting heritage anymore. Goldens are almost always friendly, they have a very obedient and submissive to authority disposition. They have good endurance for moderate hunting conditions, but if you’re looking for a true blue duck hunting dog – make sure you connect with a breeder that looks to enhance the qualities we need for hunting, not just being a family dog.
– Retrieval Skills: Golden Retrievers are great retrievers with a gentle mouth.
– Obedience: They are obedient, friendly, smart and highly trainable.
– Temperament: Golden Retrievers are known for their friendly disposition, making them excellent family pets.
– Endurance: They have good endurance and can handle moderate hunting conditions.
– Standard Height: Males: 23-24 inches; Females: 21.5-22.5 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 65-75 pounds; Females: 55-65 pounds
– Colors: Various shades of gold.
6. American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniels usually excel in waterfowl hunting and are quick learners. They have a smaller size than their larger retriever counterparts, which can make for some challenges with larger birds – but it’s great for smaller spaces. Lack of size does not mean lack of heart with this breed, that is for sure. Their affectionate and adaptable nature, along with decent endurance, suits them for moderate hunting conditions.
– Retrieval Skills: American Water Spaniels excel in waterfowl hunting and are quick learners.
– Obedience: They are obedient and quick learners.
– Temperament: They are affectionate, adaptable, and eager to please.
– Endurance: They have decent endurance, suitable for moderate hunting conditions.
– Standard Height: Males: 15-18 inches; Females: 15-18 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 30-45 pounds; Females: 25-40 pounds
– Colors: Solid liver, brown, or dark chocolate.
7. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are gaining popularity amongst hunters in the US. These Tolling Retrievers are often referred to as “Tollers” and they have a history steeped in Canadian duck hunting traditions. Tollers were bred for their unique retrieving technique in which they would play along a shoreline, luring ducks within range of hunters who were anxiously waiting. Their intelligence and friendly nature make them great hunting companions, especially in various hunting conditions.
– Retrieval Skills: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are highly agile.
– Obedience: They are intelligent and trainable.
– Temperament: They are friendly, outgoing, and make great family pets.
– Endurance: They have good endurance for hunting in various conditions.
– Standard Height: Males: 18-21 inches; Females: 17-20 inches
– Standard Weight: Males: 45-51 pounds; Females: 37-43 pounds
– Colors: Various shades of red and orange with white markings.
It’s important to note that geographic considerations can play a significant role in selecting the right duck hunting dog. Some dog breeds may excel in specific regions or hunting conditions. For example, Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers perform well in cold-water hunting scenarios, making them suitable for northern regions. On the other hand, breeds like the American Water Spaniel and Boykin Spaniel may thrive in milder southern climates.
Most of the dogs listed above can adapt pretty well to their hunting conditions, as an owner – it’s your job to understand and prepare when limitations can be expected. Keeping your dog up and out of the water is a crucial element when it comes to any area you choose to hunt but it especially becomes important for the dogs that don’t have as much of the cold-water adaptations.
Training Your Duck Hunting Dog
Everyone loves a well trained duck dog. Likewise, everyone (except the owner) hates a poorly trained duck dog. Having a dog that won’t break until they are supposed to, takes the right lines when called, sits and stays – all the great qualities we look for, that dog is a welcome site to any hunter. The opposite can be said about the dog that is trampling through the decoys, getting into people’s line of site, barking or chewing up birds.
Training is a crucial aspect of preparing your dog for duck hunting. Here are some training tips:
Begin training your dog as a puppy to instill good habits and obedience from a young age. When it comes to training, we think there is none better than Freddy King’s The Retriever Trainer. Take a look, Freddy walks you through all ages of the dogs life and he also does it with many different dogs so you can see how it works with different temperaments and personalities.
Expose your dog to various environments, people, and other animals to ensure they remain well-behaved in different situations. This is a given, if you want your dog to be around people or potentially other dogs while hunting – you have to socialize them often and well.
Regular retrieval exercises in water and simulated hunting scenarios help your dog hone their skills. They key here is – hunting scenarios. You can’t expect to throw a bumper on the grass a few times a day and then think your pup will go retrieve an injured honker that landed in a bunch of brush. Take your dog out and put them in situations where they have to make blind retrieves, when they have to adjust and adapt.
Dog Health and Care
Duck Dogs do some extraordinary things, they do have some special considerations when comes to caring for them and keeping them healthy, here are some essential considerations:
– Regular exercise is key to keeping your hunting dog in top shape. Ensure they get enough physical activity. Dogs that are bred for hunting usually have a good amount of energy, that energy needs to be pushed into positive production. Pent up energy with no way to use it can cause some breeds to use that energy in negative ways – chewing on or tearing things up especially.
– Grooming: Brush your dog’s coat to prevent mats and check for ticks and burrs after each hunt. Taking your dog into the field means that you need an extra level of cleaning for their well-being. Don’t let ticks or burrs stay on your dog for extended periods of time, and don’t let dogs that have been in the marsh keep water and muck in their ears – regular grooming is necessary for these special breeds.
– Veterinary care: Regular check-ups and vaccinations are vital to ensure your dog’s health. There are certain diseases/illnesses that are common for dogs that hunt in dirty areas – keeping up with vaccinations and vet visits is vital for ensuring your dog’s health and wellness.
Choosing the right dog breed for your duck hunting addiction passion is important. This dog will accompany you through some of the greatest sunrises and sunsets that you will ever see in your lifetime. Each breed listed has some great qualities, skills, and things to consider. Make sure you consider their temperament, geographical considerations, and compatibility with your hunting style and needs when you make your choice. Just know, with the right training and care – your duck dog will be a best friend to you in the blind and a helpful tool as well.
Happy Hunting ya Hunt Bums!