Tally Ho: Get to Know the World’s Hunting Dogs

These days, hunting dogs as such are bred and trained for two primary purposes: seasonal sport hunting and to compete as show dogs.

Melvin Pena  |  Jan 10th 2014


In the wild, dogs are natural scavengers, omnivores who eat carrion, plants, clay, and even their own excrement. They are also pack animals who can and do hunt, but hunting dogs as a classification developed through their association with humans and subsequent domestication. During our hunter-gatherer phase, hunting dogs participated in food-gathering activities, protected people, and aided in camp clean up and sanitation. Images of hunting dogs appear in cave paintings that are many thousands of years old.

Hunting dogs were trained and bred to fill specific needs based on the type of prey being hunted — fish, fowl, or larger game. With the rise of agriculture, hunting dogs became less necessary as hunters, while they still provided protection and company. Today, hunting dogs as such are bred and trained for two primary purposes, seasonal sport hunting and as show dogs. Hunting dog breeds are among the most active and engaging dogs, and whether they participate in hunting or are loved as domestic pets, hunting dogs are social and energetic companions.

Skill sets of hunting dogs

Hunting dogs whose skills are utilized in the pursuit of wild game, regardless of their object of pursuit, can be can be grouped into two broad categories, hounds and bird dogs. These groupings are based on the functions and roles that hunting dogs play in the identification, chase, and capture of game. Bird dogs and hound dogs are general categories, since the game that hunters seek ranges from fowl to rodents to larger creatures.

Hound dogs are hunting dogs noted for their skill in tracking and trailing the hunter’s favored quarry. Known for their acute senses of smell or of sight, the practicality and perseverance of hound dogs made them the original hunting dogs employed by humans in quest of meat. Hound dogs not only pursue, but in some cases also capture their prey. Capture can range from chasing game out into the open, to cornering it in a tree, to dispatching their victims.

The bird dog is a category of hunting dogs recognized for the ability to locate and retrieve prey. Their primary function is to indicate to hunters carrying distance or ranged weapons where the targeted animals are hiding. The bird dog then frightens or flushes them into the open for the hunters. If the hunt is successful, bird dogs can perform their final function, retrieving the fallen game from where it lay.

Hunting dog breeds

I can’t remember offhand whether there are in literature or film any zombie-hunting, alien-hunting, or vampire-hunting dogs of any particular repute. I know that Vincent in the television show Lost was a yellow Labrador Retriever, a bird dog by general category, and that he generally led characters toward disturbing visions or polar bears. The point is, hound dog and bird dog are only basic categories, and many contemporary hunting dogs are bred or trained to have a wide variety of skills and talents.

Hounds include such popular and well-known hunting dog breeds as Basset Hounds, Beagles, Dachshunds, Greyhounds, and Whippets. Hound dogs also count among their ilk mix breeds called Lurchers, which are hybrid dogs popular in the United Kingdom and United States. Lurchers are hunting dogs intended to combine the skill sets of pure hound dog breeds with breeds primarily used in domestic farm work, like shepherding. Bird dogs include Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, the aforementioned Labradors, Newfoundlands, Pointers, Poodles, Vizslas, and Weimaraners.

Like Lurchers, other kinds of hunting dogs have been bred to have specific characteristics, to pursue specific sorts of prey, and have resulted in further subdivisions and subcategories. Curs, like the Black Mouth Cur and Mountain Cur, are large hunting dogs who herd prey into trees or herd livestock. These have counterparts in small hunting dogs, commonly referred to as Feists, who pursue small mammals and fast rodents. Finally, there are Terriers, like the Airedale Terrier, and the always-sparky Jack Russell Terrier, who are associated with the hunting of otters, foxes, and other fur-bearers.

Hunting dog names

Hunting dogs bred and trained either for hunting or show tend to be given hunting dog names based on their breeding. Many hunting dogs who participate in seasonal hunting activities or in dog shows are pedigreed and registered. Traditionally, male hunting dogs are named for their sires and grandsires, while female hunting dogs are given names that reflect their maternal lineage.

Simply because it is my own inclination, I would suggest names of legendary or mythical hunters as excellent options for hunting dog names, male and female. For male hunting dogs, one option is Odin, a Norse god linked in a variety of Northern European cultures with hunting and wandering, and who is often depicted with dogs. Nanook is another of the great hunting dog names, being the name of a Native American hunting deity particularly concerned with honorable and respectful hunting. As for female hunting dog names, one might consider Pakhet, an ancient Egyptian war and hunting goddess. Artemis is another brilliant name for female hunting dogs; Artemis is the key figure of hunting in the classical Greek tradition, associated with the moon and commonly accompanied by dogs.

Tell us about your hunting dogs!

We would love to hear about your experiences with hunting dogs. What hunting dog names have you heard? Where did those names come from? Whether your hunting dog accompanies you on seasonal hunting adventures or you’ve adopted one who used to hunt, or if your dog just happens to be one of the traditional hunting dog breeds, share your stories in the comments!

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