Gotta’ Love Those Sportin’ Dogs

Although dog breeds in the American Kennel Club’s sporting group were originally bred for hunting, most of them spend their lives as. Some of the most perennially popular breeds in the United States — such the Labrador retriever, the golden retriever and the cocker spaniel — belong to this group.

Even though dogs in the sporting group make excellent pets and are usually good with children, they are generally high-energy canines. Take their exercise needs into consideration when deciding whether to have one of these beautiful dogs join your family. Obedience training is a good idea for any dog, but it’s a necessity with the sporting breeds.


Pointing breeds are supposed to literally “point out” game birds. They do this by becoming completely still when coming upon birds in the bush, holding up a front leg and “freezing.” This alerts the hunter to the presence of the birds. Since a dog’s natural instinct is to chase birds, developing a good pointing dog takes a lot of training. The winner of the 2016 Westminster Kennel Club’s best in show award is a German shorthaired pointer. 

Pointers are smart, high energy dogs, and usually larger and shorthaired. They are easily trained and make loyal companions. Besides the brown and white German shorthaired pointer and the German wirehaired pointer — a similar but separate breed — other well-known pointer breeds include the: 

  • Pointer – Also known as the American pointer, this fun-loving breed excels not only in the field but in the home. He loves kids and is a first-rate watchdog. 
  • Vizsla – The golden vizsla and its relative, the wirehaired vizsla, hail from Hungary. They are loyal, affectionate and relatively calm canines who make good house pets.
  • Weimaraner – This breed looks like a pointer but was developed as an all-purpose gun dog in his native Germany. Known as the “gray ghost” for his gray or silvery coloring, this green-eyed canine has a strong prey drive and will go after cats.


Retrievers were bred to retrieve game and bring it back to the hunter. They are natural water dogs. For over a decade, the Labrador retriever has been the most popular breed in America based on the number of AKC registrations. Not too far behind is the golden retriever. Both of these intelligent, loyal, easily trained breeds make good therapy, guide and search-and-rescue dogs, in addition to their skills as hunting dogs and family companions. Although they are the most common, they are far from the only retriever breeds. Others include the: 

  • Chesapeake Bay retriever – The state dog of Maryland, this large, athletic breed requires lots of exercise. Although smart and good with kids, “Chessies” may prove a bit stubborn and need consistent training. 
  • Flat-coated retriever – This dog appears in solid black or liver shades. The breed is athletic and good-natured, loves his family and has a desire to please.
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever – This medium-sized dog has all the good retriever qualities in a lesser size. While not a small dog, he is the smallest of the retriever breeds.


Setters were developed to hunt birds via scent, and they crouch, or “set,” when the birds are discovered. Setters are exceptionally attractive dogs and make loyal companions. They include the: 

  • English setter – Smaller than most setters, this breed is white with lots of speckles. He is a great dog for the active family.
  • Gordon setter – This black and tan setter is a confident, alert but late-maturing dog — not reaching full physical maturity until age of three.
  • Irish setter – This beautiful red-coated dog is outgoing, affectionate and playful.


Puppy dogSpaniels were bred to hunt and flush game out of brush. Most spaniels are smaller than other sporting dogs and make wonderful pets. Two of the best-known spaniels, the cocker and the English springer, were once the same breed, with the larger springer not separated from the cocker by the American Spaniel Club until the 1880s. Other spaniel breeds include the:

  • Clumber spaniel – Set low to the ground but fairly large, this dignified, gentle dog is white with orange or lemon markings.
  • Field spaniel – Known as a “combination of beauty and utility,” this is a sweet, fun-loving breed that makes a fine family pet.
  • Welsh springer spaniel – This red and white dog is active, even-tempered and people-oriented.

Lesser-known breeds

Although the sporting group contains some of the best-known dog breeds, there are several that aren’t well-known to the average dog lover. These include the:

  • Lagotto Romagnolo – Recognized by the AKC in 2016, this curly-haired canine appears in various brown tones, with or without white. He’s a good companion and watchdog.
  • Spinone Italiano – Also known as the “Italian coarse-haired pointer,” this shaggy, patient but tough canine is actually a retriever.
  • Wirehaired pointing griffon – This pointing and retrieving breed is friendly, devoted and easy to train.

-Jane Meggitt

Jane Meggitt graduated from New York University and worked as a staff writer for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work on pets, equines and health have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Daily Puppy, The Nest Pets, Horse News, Hoof Beats and Horseback magazines.



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