Having a hunting dog is a distinct partnership. Families with dogs and dog lovers, as much as they love, adore, and care for their canines, have little understanding of this value and lifelong relationship between a hunter and their dog.
The reality is, there are only a few dogs out of all the canine species that are truly good at hunting, and some are better at certain game than others. Some hunting dogs stand out from the rest when it comes to duck hunting or any kind of waterfowl hunting, for that matter.
To be a good duck retriever/hunter, a dog has to have certain attributes, including high-energy, a lot of stamina, and a thick coat. In other words, the best duck-hunting dogs are a breed apart.
11 Best Duck Hunting Dogs
1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever will top the waterfowl hunting dog lists until the day the species no longer exists. Hopefully, that day will never come. Lab retrievers are incredible duck-hunting dogs, bred for the role. They have high energy, discipline, and stamina for the job.
Their coats are perfect for headlong dives into icy cold water, both repelling the water and holding their body heat in. They’re fiercely intelligent, which is always a huge plus when training them to duck hunt for the first time. They also have a fairly muscular frame for powering through obstacles.
2. Boykin Spaniel
This is one of the relatively newer canine additions to the waterfowl hunting crowd but make no mistake, they have the instinct for it. Part of the retriever family, it’s already in their blood. Their high intelligence, high energy, and great stamina will keep them moving in and out of the water all day.
Though small, with males averaging around 40lbs, Boykins makes up for it with a powerful chest and a curly coat to keep them warm during their frequent water forays. Incidentally, waterfowl is not the only bird on this dog’s list, as they can tackle turkey, dove, and quail as well.
3. Irish Water Spaniel
What could make a better duck hunter and retriever than a dog with “water” in its name? The Irish Water Spaniel are one of the top breeds for waterfowl hunting and stands atop the other canines in the Field Dog Stud Book, which is quite the achievement for their breed.
It took quite a few breeds to end up with Irish Water Spaniels, all good hunting dogs in their own right, including Poodles, Irish Setters, Spanish Pointers, And Portuguese Water Dogs. Their long legs and powerful forward movement make them perfect for swamp and low-water areas.
4. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds in America, and they also happen to be phenomenal partners for duck hunting. They are extremely loyal animals and possess a fearsome level of energy.
Since they have very soft mouths, Golden Retrievers are prized canines in waterfowl hunting circles because they can retrieve without mangling the duck. They’re quiet, have plenty of muscle, and have enough staying power to last the day. Their thicker coats are reliable against cold water conditions as well.
5. English Cocker Spaniel
Everything about an English Cocker Spaniel just screams “hunter” or “farm animal.” They have the look of dogs ready to go out and retrieve waterfowl, and they happen to be quite popular with duck hunters in particular. They have a lot of affection to go along with their energy, which makes them a good companion to take along for the ride.
They are great at every angle of the hunt, including swimming, hunting, flushing, retrieving, and distracting. They’re an all-around jack of all trades. They also possess a fantastic level of energy, which is a necessity for duck hunting. Plus, their coats are thick enough for cold water retrieval as well.
6. Poodle (Standard)
Non-hunters see Poodles as the kind of dog fashionable men and women own—dogs for the upper class of American society. The truth is the exact opposite. Poodles are ready and willing to get dirty. They’re excellent swimmers and love the act of retrieval without shredding the kill.
They have long terms stamina in cold water and plenty of energy to last the day. They easily double as a great family pet, and their high level of intelligence makes them perfectly suited to train for the task of duck hunting.
7. English Springer Spaniel
Not to be confused with the English Cocker Spaniel, the English Springer Spaniel has quite a different look and is also a little bigger. Their thick double coat makes them perfectly suited for retrieval in cold water, and their high intelligence makes them easy to train.
If there is a drawback with English Springers, it’s their need for an immense amount of attention and affection. If you can’t devote that kind of time outside of duck hunting, this dog probably isn’t well suited for you.
8. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
That’s quite a name for a dog that’s so well known for duck hunting that it’s a part of their breed’s name. Though small, they play the David versus Goliath role with relish. They have unmatched energy and are great companion dogs on the road and out in the field.
Their coats are just thick enough to tackle the cold waters, and they’re lightning-quick when they need to be. They’re also strong swimmers and have boundless will and determination.
9. Curly Coated Retriever
The Curly Coated Retriever looks like a labrador that was given the skin of a Poodle. However, it seems to work for this born hunter, and that’s all that matters. Their coats are plenty thick and they can stand the cold waters necessary for retrieving ducks.
They do require a bit of grooming, but these dogs are affectionate enough to sit idly by while you do it.
10. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has all of the qualities of Golden Retrievers with the added ability to be an excellent guard dog. However, since they have a natural mistrust for strangers, it’s up to you to properly socialize them.
With that being said, this retriever is an excellent partner for waterfowl hunting, with all of the instincts necessary for a good retriever. Their coats can handle the cold, wet weather and water, they’re strong swimmers and they’re fiercely loyal to their owners.
11. Flat-Coated Retriever
Look twice, and you still might see a Golden Retriever, spray-painted black. The Flat-Coated Retriever bears a striking resemblance to its cousin. They require a ton of mental stimulation, and the best way to focus it is to take them duck hunting where they are more than willing to put in the work.
Their coats are plenty thick for the task as well. They’re tall, strong swimmers, and love to stay busy. The only problem is, you have to keep them busy.
There you have it, eleven of the best duck-hunting breeds out there today. All of these animals are high-energy dogs that appreciate a heavy workload. That also means trouble at home if you mean to have a lazy few days.
On the bright side, all eleven are highly intelligent and highly trainable. Starting with simple commands, like “sit” you will have them retrieving and flushing ducks in no time at all. These are all good family dogs as well, so if you have a family, they will have plenty of attention and distraction at home as well as in the field.
The best part is that all of these dogs are very reliable, loving, and loyal breeds. When they reach the point where they’re too old for the pursuit any longer, they’ll only appreciate their extra family time even more.
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