Deciding to adopt or buy a dog is a big decision. Life expectancies vary by breed, but bringing a new canine companion into your home may mean 15 years or even more of devotion and attention. But your new addition can do far more than just fetch your slippers and bark at the mailman. For tens of thousands of years humans and dogs have hunted side-by-side, from the hot plains of Africa to the boreal forests of North America. Taking your dog to the field is a wonderful experience—you’ll work together in pursuit of game, and your dog will get the exercise it needs doing the work that it loves. If you’re in the market for a new pooch, check out these four family-friendly breeds.
1. Labrador Retriever: Drive through any suburban neighborhood in America and you’re bound to see at least one lab. In fact, it’s the most popular breed in America, and with good reason—labs are highly intelligent, easy to train and gentle family companions. But labs were meant to be in the field, and they benefit from a work regimen. They excel at retrieving waterfowl, the task they were bred to perform, but they will also hunt and retrieve upland birds and excel at finding shed antlers. Labs are popular and there are many, many breeders, so be careful in your selection. Or, if you are willing to adopt, there are usually a few labs at the local shelter, a product of the breed’s popularity and boundless energy. Sometimes a job in the field is just what these dogs need to transform them into the perfect family companion.
2. Gordon Setter: Though not as well-known as the English and Irish setters, the Gordon is equally as bird-savvy and the breed tends to be more sedate than its more popular cousins. Over the last century, the Gordon breed has been split between show dogs, which tend to be heavier built with long ears and heavy coats, and more svelte field-bred dogs that are born to hunt. If you’re looking for a guard dog the Gordon probably isn’t what you want—they tend to be quiet and rather standoffish with strangers, but they aren’t as high-strung as many popular bird dog breeds. They make excellent upland hunting companions and their beautiful black-and-tan markings make them one of the most striking of all breeds.
3. Mountain Cur: The mountain cur was never bred for the show ring. Instead, it was developed by American pioneers by crossing the best stock of hounds, terriers and other breeds to create a dog that was adept at guarding the family farm, running down raccoons and squirrels, and even baying wild boar. The modern mountain cur is a highly intelligent and thoroughly capable breed. Generally weighing between 30 and 60 pounds, mountain curs are not bred for apartment living. But if you have a place where these dogs can run, they are highly adaptable hunters and excellent companions. They make exceptional squirrel dogs, and one autumn bushytail hunt behind a good cur will make you a fan of this breed for life.
4. Beagle: The ubiquitous beagle is known for its lovable personality, braying voice and its proclivity to roam. That may not endear it to neighbors in a crowded subdivision, but you can’t really appreciate this breed until you’ve seen a pack of howling hounds barreling through briars in search of a cottontail rabbit. There are a number of hunting beagle breeders who produce pups with a knack for using their nose, and with a little training you’ll have a hard-core hunting companion that’s willing to take a nap at your feet after a long day of chasing rabbits. Beagles tend to be hearty, healthy dogs, and sometimes your next hunting companion is waiting for you down at the local shelter.
Photos: Labrador retriever by author; Gordon setter by Benjamin Gettinger/Tallgrass Gordon Setters; Mountain cur by Franklin's Mountain Curs; Beagle by Olinger Beagle Kennel