BIRD dogs Definition as Gun dogs / Sporting Dogs/ Hunting dogs

two bird dogs cocker and golden retriever

This website is devoted to hunting dogs, and a main part of that will be categorizing the place of each of the breeds within the hunting dog types.

Some people equate bird dogs with gun dogs hunting dogs and sporting dogs, and there-in lies the confusion, so let’s get this straight for you.

On the home page of this site you will see that I break the hunting dogs into the following categories:

1            HOUNDS = Sight Hounds. Scent hounds, lurchers

2            GUN DOGS = Retrievers, Setters, flushing spaniels, Pointers, ‘water dogs’

3            TERRIERS (single category, many breeds)

4            DACHSHUND (single breed, various sizes, coats)

5            FEISTS (single category)

6            CURS (single category)

As you can see under GUN DOGS (OR Sporting dogs) these hunting dogs are further classified into the following 4 GROUPS.

  • Flushing Spaniels (Find and flush game, can be trained to retrieve)
  • Pointers (Find and silently point game )
  • Retrievers (bring back downed game from land or water – hence not all are water dogs)
  • Setters (find, point, and can be trained to flush)

A separate unlisted category is: ‘Water dogs’ (not a recognised group by all authorities)

 Water dogs are not a recognized category, nor are flushing spaniels (just spaniels) in some Kennel breeder clubs.

Likewise you will NOTICE that there are NO Bird dogs in these list, but just like the water dogs, the bird dogs encompass many of the dogs from these different GUN OR SPORTING DOG groups. But bird dogs do exist !

So what is a bird dog and what is not a bird dog?

This almost sounds like a trick question, or something that is obvious, but not so fast. While you won’t find and AKC certification for bird dogs, BUT hunters who take their hunting seriously, know what makes a great bird dog for them and their quarry and the environment they are going to hunt in. Ask a hunter who uses bird dogs what the best ones are, and he will usually have a fairly strong opinion.

Similarly a water dog is one of the gun dog breeds (which is a sub-category of sporting dog and gun dogs) breeds of dogs, that hunts usually fallen birds that are shot by a hunter OVER and IN WATER. They can be flushing spaniels or retrievers usually, but they differ from the rest of the dogs in the gun dog group, by being water specialists. that means usually in the type of coat they have, webbing on their feet, and general heightened swimming ability and love of birds as their specific prey.

These water dog breeds are bred and trained and refined in breed over many centuries to be the perfect water dog hunting dog.

LIKEWISE a bird dog is one that almost exclusively hunts (either points, flushes or retrieves) birds shot by hunter owners. Obviously MOST water dogs are bird dogs, but bird dogs are not necessarily water dogs. Many bird dogs, like pointers prefer land based pointing and sometimes retrieval.

You might consider that almost any hunting dog can be trained for hunting birds, but not to the extent, skill level and patience required by the best bird dogs. Bird dogs are trained NOT to scare the prey before the hunter locates and shoots them, the dogs have to wait patiently for sometimes hours besides their human hunter in cold water conditions. Just like there are dog that specialise in hunting racoon (coon dogs) or rabbits (many terriers) or bears (some fiest dogs etc) bird dogs have an almost frenzied excitement (controlled until asked to retrieve) and diligence when helping a hunter to hunt/ retrieve birds. Even in the retrieval stage these excited dogs are asked to remain calm and not be distracted by other dogs, hunters, or birds (other than that in its mouth).

If a bird dog is to be a retriever bird dog, they have to have a very soft mouth to ensure the game is not ruined by teeth marks.


It is true that almost every dog in the water dog category (see previous article) can probably be classed as part of the bird dog group, however some of those breeds also regularly hunt other animals besides birds, so they are not SPECIFICALLY a bird dog.

It is also true that the breeds below listed as bird dogs can also moon light and hunt for other animals, but birds are by far and away their favorite game.

Note this is a very NON Exhaustive list of bird dogs. For instance flat coat retrievers, curly coat retrievers and many other forms of retriever can be classed in the bird dog group. Almost all pointers are bird dogs.

The table below shows some of the MAIN or common known bird dogs, and also what other OFFICAL classifications they fall into. Not surprisingly most Bird dogs fall into the retriever category because they are so excited by the birds, that they were originally allowed (or expected) to retrieve them and then became so good at it, that they often became fully fledged bird dog retrievers.

BIRD DOG BREED Spaniel Retriever Pointer Setter
Brittany Spaniel X X
Chesapeaske Bay Retriever X
English Springer Spaniel X X
English Cocker Spaniel X
English Pointer X
English Setter X X
German Shorthaired Pointer X
German Wirehaired Pointer X
Golden Retriever X
Gordon Setter X
Labrador Retriever: X
Nova Scotia Duck Toller X
Poodle X
Vizsla X