A gun dog is not a specific breed; rather it’s a category of hunting dogs that have been specially bred to assist hunters in several aspects of hunting. Usually gun dogs are used for hunting birds, either waterfowl, like ducks and geese, or upland game birds such as pheasants, doves or partridge. Often, gun dogs are also called bird dogs simply because they are often used in bird hunting.
There are three major types of gun dogs: they include pointers, flushing breeds and retrievers. Most of the pointers and flushers will also retrieve the upland birds, but a true retriever will also bring back birds shot over water, which is truly amazing to watch.
The characteristics of gun dogs include patience, ability to stay still and silent beside the hunter for long periods of time, and the ability to control their actions even when they are in close proximity to the game birds. Retrievers must also learn to bring back the birds without scarring the carcass with their teeth or causing any damage at all to the bird. If you consider a dog’s natural instinct to hunt, this is a remarkable amount of self-control on the part of the dog.
All gun dogs are very visual and have generally good ability to scent birds. They are all excited with the prospect of the hunt and will often become visibly excited when they see the owner begin to get guns and supplies ready for an outing.
Retrievers are mostly sight and scent dogs that are used to bring back the fallen birds. It’s amazing to watch a retriever or “water dog” swim out to find a small duck on the surface of a huge body of water. Retrievers have soft mouths that allow them to gently hold the bird without breaking the skin or even dislodging feathers. Retrievers are very strong and athletic dogs and love to be in water. Labradors, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels and Standard Poodles make excellent retrievers.
Gun dogs require constant training and practice to maintain their level of skills and to advance through the various levels of competition