Different dog breeds often excel at different tasks. Some make excellent guard dogs, while others have unparalleled tracking ability. Some are well suited for police work, while others make great guide or therapy dogs.
But one of the most amazing talents some dogs possess is the ability to retrieve items and bring them back to their owner.
While many dogs will fetch a thrown tennis ball or toy, this retrieving instinct is particularly well-developed in a small number of duck hunting dog breeds.
While slightly different physical and personality traits were prized by hunters with varying needs, most of these duck dogs were tasked with relatively similar duties.
Most were trained to site or walk alongside their owner, wait until a duck, or another type of waterfowl was shot, and then bring it back to their owner.
In many cases, the retrieving dogs would need to dive into the water and swim considerable distances to retrieve the bird. Accordingly, many of these waterfowl dog breeds are also gifted swimmers.
Most duck hunting dogs were bred to have “soft mouths,” meaning that they would gently grasp things with their mouth, rather than crunching down and destroying the bird in the process.
The 7 Best Duck Dogs
Below are seven of the best duck retrieving dogs for waterfowl hunting. While each excels at retrieving, they all exhibit unique characteristics and tendencies that distinguish them from each other.
1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever – or lab, as they are often called – is perhaps the best duck hunting dog in the world. Primarily developed as waterfowl hunting dogs, labs are well-known for their gentle, eager-to-please demeanor and impressive intelligence.
They are just as comfortable playing the role of family pet as they are working in the field. In fact, the Labrador is the most popular breed in the world, according to the AKC.
The Labrador Retriever has medium-length hair, which comes in three different colors – black, yellow and chocolate (even silver labs). They generally weigh between 40 and 90 pounds, with males often reaching larger sizes than females; however, occasional individuals reach 100 pounds or more.
2. Flat-Coated Retriever
Close relatives of the Labrador Retriever, the Flat-Coated Retriever is somewhat smaller and more thinly built than labs, and they have a longer, silkier coat.
Unlike the Curly-Haired Retriever (discussed below), the fur of flat-coated retrievers is relaxed and lies flat (although some have slightly wavy hair).
The intelligence of a Flat-Coated Retriever is similar to that of labs, and they are also affectionate, gentle breeds who are usually great for families with young children.
Flat-coated retrievers are likely the most energetic of the lab-type breeds, so they also make great companions for runners and joggers; they are not great companions for owners who spend most of their time on the couch.
3. Curly Coated Retriever
As their name suggests, curly-coated retrievers are covered in dense, curly hair. Aside from this, they are fairly similar to labs and flat-coated retrievers (although it should be noted that the curly-coated breed is actually older than either of these two breeds).
Like these other breeds, the curly-coated retriever is full of energy and requires plenty of exercise to prevent problematic and destructive behaviors.
Big dogs, male Curly Coats routinely reach 100 pounds in weight, while females usually weigh between 70 and 80 pounds.
The Curly-Coated Retriever is not as friendly with strangers as most other lab-type breeds, although they are extremely affectionate with friends and family.
4. Golden Retriever
An energetic and athletic breed, the Golden Retriever was initially bred to accompany hunters in the field, so it should come as no surprise that they are some of the best hunting dogs.
However, given their affectionate and sensitive nature, most modern individuals spend their lives as pets or working in therapy contexts. The Golden Retriever is exceptionally friendly with virtually everyone they meet, and they are particularly tolerant of children.
Because of their moderately long and dense double coat, golden retrievers are pretty heavy shedders. However, many owners are able to limit this problem by brushing their dog outdoors once or twice per week (and the dogs usually love the attention).
A Golden Retriever requires plenty of exercise, but they aren’t picky about how they get it – they love running, taking part in agility work, swimming and, of course, playing fetch.
5. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Thought to have originated from within the Newfoundland breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a big, energetic retriever, who is a little more independent than many of the other top duck dogs.
They do bond closely with their owners, but they often suffer from tunnel vision when pursuing their toy or immersed in an activity. However, this often makes them well suited as a duck dog.
Given their large size (large individuals may weigh 90 pounds) and stubborn personalities, they aren’t well-suited for first-time dog owners.
Chessies, as they are often called, are some of the best swimmers in the world, and they love visiting the pool or local lake.
But you’ll need to ensure a Chesapeake Bay Retriever is properly socialized before bringing one into crowded situations, as they are not as friendly with strangers as many other retrievers.
6. Standard Poodle
Despite their unique look, which differs markedly from most other dogs on our best waterfowl dogs list, standard poodles are remarkably skilled duck hunting dogs, who can give labs and similar breeds a run for their money.
Although they don’t grow as large as many retrievers do, they aren’t exactly small: The biggest poodles may exceed 70 pounds in weight and stand 22 inches tall at the shoulder.
Poodles are very affectionate with their owners and relatively friendly with most strangers they meet.
One of the smartest and most easily trained breeds, poodles make great pets for first-time owners. However, it is important to note that poodles require professional grooming every month or two.
7. Boykin Spaniel
The Boykin Spaniel was created by hunters in South Carolina, who needed smaller dogs that could work in the swamps and small waterways of the region.
While Boykins are skilled retrieving dogs, they are a well-rounded breed that excels in many different hunting applications – some are even used to hunt turkeys!
The Boykin Spaniel is small by retriever standards, and most weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. However, their intensity and high energy level helps them make a big impression on anyone they meet and a great duck dog.
Friendly and affectionate, Boykins are great family dogs, but they do require plenty of exercise to remain healthy and happy.
Are you looking for one of the best dog breeds for duck hunting? If so, are you leaning toward one retrieving breed over another? Which waterfowl hunting dogs did we leave off?
Let us know in the comments below!