Gun dogs, also known as bird dogs, are a category of hunting dogs specially trained to assist hunters in locating and retrieving game. These dogs are skilled in working alongside firearms during hunting activities. While the term “hunting dog” encompasses various breeds and hunting abilities, the designation “gun dogs” is specific to canines that are trained to work harmoniously with loud firearms during hunting and retrieving tasks. These dogs have distinct qualities and characteristics that make them well-suited for hunting scenarios.

Golden Retriever

Gun Dog Traits

Gun dogs, regardless of breed, share certain traits that make them well-suited for hunting and retrieving tasks. These traits include intelligence, sociability, even temperament, and trainability.

Gundog puppies should exhibit qualities such as relaxation, calmness, and obedience, which are beneficial for their training.

Gun dogs are classified into categories like pointers and retrievers, setters and spaniels, and water dogs, each with specialized roles in hunting. These breeds are known for being sociable, active, and outgoing, making them great working partners and companions.

English Springer Spaniel

Gun Dog Types and Groups

Gun dogs are classified into categories like pointers and retrievers, setters and spaniels, and water dogs, each with specialized roles in hunting.


Retrieving dogs, often referred to as retrievers, are a group of gun dog breeds known for their ability to retrieve game for hunters without damaging it. They are classified as retrievers, which is one of the three major classifications of gun dogs, the others being flushing spaniels and pointing breeds.

There are six main retriever breeds, including the popular Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever. These breeds are known for their skills in retrieving and their friendly, adaptable nature. Retrievers have been selectively bred to have a soft mouth, allowing them to retrieve prey gently. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are especially popular and versatile hunting companions, capable of retrieving waterfowl and other game.

Their natural instincts, intelligence, and gentle temperament make them excellent choices for various hunting activities


Pointing dogs, also known as bird dogs, are a group of hunting dog breeds trained to locate game birds by scent and then “point” by holding a specific stance to indicate the bird’s location, allowing hunters to approach. Pointing breeds are active, intelligent, and excel in tracking and nose work sports.

Some well-known pointing breeds include the English Pointer, German Shorthaired Pointer, and English Setter.


Flushing dogs are hunting dogs trained to locate and flush game birds by provoking them into flight. They work closely with hunters, staying within shotgun range to put birds into the air for a shot. Unlike pointing dogs, which hold a point after locating a bird, flushing dogs continue to move after locating the bird. Spaniels and retrievers are common types of flushing dogs. They excel at finding birds in bushes or reeds, making them suitable for hunting in unclear terrain.

Flushing dogs are known for their jolly temperament, resistance to tiredness, and effectiveness in flushing and retrieving game birds like grouse and woodcock. Their role complements that of pointing dogs and retrievers in various hunting scenarios.

Portuguese Water Dog at The White House

History of Gun Dogs

The history of gun dogs dates back to ancient times, with selective breeding leading to the creation of specific breeds suited for hunting with firearms. In the late 1700s, Pointers and Setters emerged as distinct breeds, excelling in locating and pointing at game birds. Retrievers were bred to retrieve game from water and land.

The concept of training dogs for hunting with guns gained traction in the 1700s when English sportsmen imported and bred these specialized dogs. Ancient Egyptian frescoes even depict hunting dogs that could be ancestral to some modern breeds. Over the centuries, breeds like greyhounds, terriers, hounds, and gundogs evolved from these foundations.

Today’s gundogs are a result of centuries of deliberate breeding, producing dogs tailored to different hunting roles and often maintained to high standards.

Bracco Italiano

Gun Dog Breeds