Sporting Dog Breeds: Overview & Popular Types

Sporting dogs are dog breeds that are known and have been bred for their energy and athletic ability. These dogs are usually of a sturdier build, compared to other breeds, and are considerably easier to handle and train. The are also commonly called gun dogs, bird dogs, and hunting dogs.

Sporting dogs were originally bred as hunting dogs, but through selective breeding and training, these dogs have continuously evolved into the many different breeds that are now recognized.

Common examples of sporting dogs include the golden retriever, the Irish setter, and the Labrador retriever.

Sporting dog breeds are one of the seven dog types recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Sporting Dog Overview

Sporting dog breeds

There are 32 types of sporting dog breeds that are recognized by the AKC. These breeds can vary significantly in size, appearance, and behavior.

Sporting dog breeds are typically divided into four categories:

  • Spaniels: spaniels are a type of hunting dog that was bred to flush game or prey out of dense brush and foliage. These dogs are athletic and can move through thick brush and forest quickly.
  • Pointers: pointing dogs are those that are typically used for finding game or prey. These dogs will freeze in place upon encountering prey, alerting their own to its presence.
  • Retrievers: retrievers are another type of gun dog that is adept at and were bred to retrieve game for hunters. They are even-tempered and obedient. These dogs also have a ‘soft mouth’, meaning they will retrieve game and prey without damaging it.
  • Setters: similar to pointers, setters are dogs that are used for finding game or prey. Historically, setters would lie down in front of the prey, allowing the hunter to throw a net over them, while pointers would physically point to the animal. Today, differences are largely based on appearance, with setters typically having longer coats.

The breed sizes range from 15–27 inches in height and 24–75 pounds.

The sporting dog’s thick fur coat protects these breeds from extreme environmental conditions, such as severe cold weather, and helps the dogs to easily adapt to both land and water environments.

Sporting dogs have a sturdier build than other breeds which enables these dogs to engage in more strenuous activities.

Large Sporting Dog Breeds

Sporting dog breeds are mostly medium sized-dogs, with the exception of English, Irish, and Gordon setters, which are considered large-sized dogs. Large sporting dogs weigh 45–75 pounds.

Golden Retriever

Sporting dog breed: Golden retriever

Golden retrievers are large sporting dogs that measure around 24 inches in height. Males weigh 65–75 pounds, while females weigh 55–65 pounds.

Golden retriever coats, as their name implies, are a golden brown color and are made up of two layers. The outer layer is made up of long, smooth hair and the inner layer, known as the undercoat, is fuzzy.

This breed has an incredibly pleasant temperament and is easy to train. Golden Retrievers are active dogs that need at least two hours of exercise per day along with regular walks.

Irish Setter

Sporting dog breed: Irish setters

Irish setters are large sporting dogs that measure up to 27 inches in height and weigh around 70 pounds. These dogs have silky coats that are either mahogany or deep, chestnut red.

Irish setters are known for their playful personality, which makes them an easy favorite for many hunters. Irish setters are also easy to handle and train.

This breed has high energy levels and needs at least two hours of exercise per day.

Gordon Setter

Sporting dog breed: Gordon setter

Gordon setters are the largest breed among the setters. They reach up to 27 inches in height and weigh up to 80 pounds.

This breed has a glossy black coat that is mixed with tan markings. Although frail-looking, these dogs can conquer even the toughest terrains.

Gordon setters can be loyal and playful. These dogs are also active, so owners will need to spend at least two hours exercising their dogs each day.

Labrador Retriever

Sporting dog breed: Labrador retriever

Labrador retrievers can grow as tall as 24 inches and weigh up to 79 pounds.

These dogs have double coats — a wiry topcoat and a softer undercoat. The wiry topcoat serves as a good water repellant, especially since labs love to play in the water. Retriever coats come in three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate.

Labrador retrievers are extremely smart and active. The breed’s playful nature makes it easy to have as pets, especially in households with children.

As sporting dogs, labrador retrievers need at least two hours of exercise each day to keep them healthy and satisfied.

Medium Sporting Dog Breeds

Medium-sized sporting dog breeds are less than 27 inches in height and weigh 20 to 60 pounds.

Some examples of medium-sized sporting dog breeds are the German shorthaired pointer, the Irish red and white setter, and the Irish water spaniel.

American Water Spaniel

Sporting dog breed: American water spaniel

The American water spaniel is a medium-sized sporting dog that originated in the state of Wisconsin.

This breed typically grows to 14–18 inches tall. Males are heavier, weighing 30–44 pounds, while females weigh 24–39 pounds. American water spaniels have a wavy, brownish coat, and a solid build.

American water spaniels are highly energetic dogs that also tend to be incredibly wary of strangers, which makes them excellent guard dogs. These spaniels have a stubborn nature that makes them difficult to train.

This breed should have at least two hours of playtime each day along with walks.

German Wirehaired Pointer

Sporting dog breed: German wirehaired pointer

German wirehaired pointers are medium-sized sporting dogs that measure 24–25 inches in height. The males are slightly heavier, at 70 pounds, while females are lighter and around 60 pounds.

This breed has a hard coat with short, straight, flat fur and its coat is white with a mix of liver coloring.

These dogs are loyal and have an even temperament. German wirehaired pointers are also protective and make for good watchdogs. Although intelligent, this breed has a stubborn nature, so it’s best to have them trained by an experienced dog trainer.

German wirehaired pointers are very energetic and should have two hours, or more, of exercise each day, so these dogs would do well working with their owners.


Sporting dog breed: Barbet

The barbet is a breed that originated in France. These dogs grow up to 36 inches tall and weigh up to 65 pounds.

The breed coats are made of long, curly hair and come in five colors: black, brown, fawn, gray, and white.

Barbet dogs have a friendly and gentle demeanor which makes them ideal pets in households with young children. Children can also provide great exercise opportunities for this breed, as these dogs should have an hour of playtime each day.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Sporting dog breed: Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

The Nederlandse kooikerhondje has a distinct white and red, straight-haired, medium-length outer coat. These sporting dogs can grow up to 27 inches tall, and weigh up to 30 pounds.

They are very friendly, alert, and easy to train. Kooikerhondje need plenty of attention and one hour of exercise per day.

Small Sporting Dog Breeds

Small sporting dog breeds usually include any sporting breed that measures less than 27 inches in height and weighs around 35 pounds.

Some examples of small sporting dog breeds include the Lagotto Romagnolo and the cocker spaniel.

Cocker Spaniel

Sporting dog breed: Cocker Spaniel

Cocker spaniels are small sporting dogs that measure 15–16 inches in height and weigh 29–32 pounds.

This spaniel breed is long-haired and comes with tan and white tickings, or markings, over colors like black, sable, golden, or liver. Cocker spaniels need lots of grooming because they have long fur coats.

The cocker spaniel needs plenty of attention from its owners, along with an hour of exercise each day, because this breed is playful and energetic. These dogs are sensitive, loving, intelligent, and easy to train, though the breed does scare easily.

Lagotto Romagnolo

Sporting dog breed: Lagotto Romagnolo

Lagotto Romagnolos grow to an average height of 16 inches and weigh between 24–28 pounds. The Lagotto Romagnolo has short, curly hair — similar in texture to wool — with a soft, warm undercoat.

These dogs are highly energetic and playful, just like all other sporting dogs, and Romagnolos need more than two hours of exercise per day to be satisfied.

The breed is easily trained, and training can be done at a very early age.

Sporting Dog Breed Mixes

Sporting dog mixes are bred by mating two different breeds of sporting dogs. Because they are cross-bred, sporting dog mixes may exhibit physical characteristics taken from both parents.

Due to the fact that they can acquire any kind of physical trait, sporting dog mixes may have features similar to other sporting dogs, but these features will not be as clearly defined as those from pure breeds.

In terms of temperament, sporting dog mixes will likely have the same temperaments as their parents, as long as both parents come from a sporting dog line.

Should You Get a Sporting Dog Breed?

Sporting dog breeds are highly sociable and loyal which makes them ideal family pets, especially in homes with young children.

They require lots of attention and should be exercised frequently to stay healthy. This can be time-consuming.

Sporting dogs tend to be clingy and are, in general, in need of constant attention. If you have a busy lifestyle, then these dogs may not be the best match for you.

About Thomas Woods 224 Articles
Thomas has been a dog lover since he was 6 years old when his parents got him a rescue Labrador. Since then his love for dogs has lead him to study Animal Behavior & Welfare. He now keeps a six year old English Bullmastiff and educates pet parents through his online publication Perfect Dog Breeds.

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