Oh boy. A lot of you are going to disagree with this list.
Have you ever wondered which hunting dog is the smartest? Physical ability, stamina, and a willingness to please may be the most important attributes to look for in your canine hunting companion, but there’s no denying that mental ability is also a big plus. Using data from University of British Columbia professor Stanley Cohen and his book The Intelligence of Dogs, information from the American Kennel Club, and from petbreeds.com, we have compiled a list of the 10 smartest hunting dog breeds.
Of course, this list is not comprehensive and should in no way be considered the last word on how intelligent your dog is. Intelligence in dogs differ wildly from individual to individual, and just because they are one breed does not mean your dog is confined to a certain set of attributes. On the other hand, all breeds have dumb dogs, but that doesn’t make them any less lovable. Unless they chew up your boots and pee on the carpet too many times.
Your experiences in the field may vary.
10. Irish water spaniel
This breed is characterized by its intelligence, playfulness, and hard-working attitude. Born with a naturally water-repellent coat, the Irish water spaniel is an athletic, high-energy breed that is popularly used as a gundog, especially for waterfowling. However, despite being one of the largest and oldest breeds of spaniels, this breed is relatively rare.
9. American cocker spaniel
Originally bred as hunting dogs in the United Kingdom, the name of this breed actually comes from the Eurasian woodcock, which was the breed’s prey of choice. When the cocker spaniel became popular in the United States, it was trained to focus on native American woodcock instead. Cocker spaniels are noted as gentle and happy animals that make for great companions either in the field or at home.
This breed is a rowdy one. A popular dog with both hunters and nonhunters alike, the Brittany is named after the province in France where the breed was derived. Brittanys are noted as being easy to train and more sensitive to correction than other sporting dogs, but also has an inherent fun-loving nature.
7. English cocker spaniel
Sometimes confused with the American cocker spaniel—as both are just refereed to as cocker spaniels outside these countries—the UK variant has a reputation for being energetic and capable of covering ground quickly. This breed is sturdy, compact, and often praised for its superb balance.
6. Flat-coated retriever
This bird dog is a people pleaser. The flat-coated retriever is perhaps most notable for the unique “one piece” shape of its head, small ears, and a level topline that gives it what some would call an elegant appearance. This breed is also quite confidant and quick to defend its owners, although true aggression is rare.
5. German shorthaired pointer
A versatile and popular hunting dog, this breed is often praised for its intelligence and streamlined build. When trained properly, this breed is a natural hunter and can even be hyperactive, running circles around their owners as they seek pheasants, grouse, raccoons, or larger prey.
4. English springer spaniel
A medium-sized and compact dog, the English springer spaniel is obedient and friendly. This breed also has a reputation for being attentive and boasts a large reserve of stamina, making it ideal in the field. It is also one of the fastest of spaniels. Just don’t let it get bored, or this dog may start chewing up all your socks.
Surprised to see this breed on the list? While it is true that bloodhounds are no longer as popular for hunting as they once were, it is undeniable that this breed has hunting in, well, its blood. Originally bred to hunt deer and wild boar, the bloodhound is now often used to track down criminals and other humans on the run. With its keen sense of smell and impressive eyesight, the bloodhound excels at this task as much as it did hunting game animals.
2. Labrador retriever
Is this breed on just about every dog-related list? As America’s most popular dog breed, the Labrador retriever is almost omnipresent. This breed is athletic, playful, and fulfills a multitude of roles, including as a gun dog. It is said that the earliest ancestors of the Labrador retriever were bred by the Earls of Malmesbury, who used the dogs exclusively for duck hunting.
1. Golden retriever
This is widely considered one of the smartest hunting dogs around. Golden retrievers have a love of water, are easy to train, and very intelligent. When away from the field, these dogs are often used as guide dogs, search and rescue animals, and as sniffer dogs. They are friendly, gentle, loyal, and powerful.