Within the American Kennel Club, often shortened to the simpler AKC, the hunting dogs are all found within the sporting group, although some breeders may use both terms, hunting and sporting, when describing their breed. As a group these dogs are alert, active and energetic, but typically not hyperactive or overly rambunctious if properly trained and exercised. Although all used in hunting types of activities, there are different divisions within the group. In general these dogs are either used to retrieve or identify game birds, however there are also some dogs in the group that are excellent scenting and tracking dogs. Some dogs are also considered dual purpose, typically meaning they will either identify game by pointing or setting, plus they also retrieve.
Generally within the group there are four distinct categories of dogs, retrievers, spaniels, pointers and setters. As mentioned above some dogs are equally proficient at more than one task, however most have a predominant pattern of behavior. As each is slightly different with regards to temperament, training and potential challenges, it is important to consider each breed within its subgroup, rather than as only a part of the whole group.
One of the most unique dogs in the group that is not considered primarily a pointer, retriever, setter or spaniel is the Weimaraner. This short coated, athletic and highly intelligent dog is a natural scent type dog. It is moderately large is size and is always of a gray color, often with amber or blue gray eyes. They were historically bred to hunt large game in Germany, but have evolved into an excellent game bird dog as well. The Weimaraner has a lot of energy and loves to run and jump, requiring lots of interaction with humans to feel content and satisfied. They can be dog aggressive and will have a high prey drive if not properly socialized and obedience trained from an early age. Typically the Weimaraner is not a good companion dog for non-canine pets but if raised with cats can do well within the family. They are excellent with children as are most of the dogs in sporting group.
Spaniels as a group are some of the best known and most popular pets of the sporting group, particularly the American Cocker Spaniel. Another popular pet and hunting breed is the English Cocker and the English Springer Spaniel. Less well known are the American Water Spaniel, Field Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel and the relatively uncommon Welsh Springer Spaniel. The long and low to the ground spaniel breeds in the group include the Sussex and the Clumber, which are ideal dogs for almost any type of living space. As a type of dog the spaniels tend to have a gentle yet energetic personality, be highly willing to work with their human owners and are considered relatively easy to train. Most spaniels are very east to train and most typically do well with initially repetitive types of training until they have mastered the commands. Spaniels are usually good dogs for first time dog owners since they tend to be naturally non-aggressive and very easy to socialize. Spaniels also have lovely, longer coats and lots of fringe and feathering, making them a very attractive breed. Field lines tend to be more excitable and high energy than the pet or show lines, but both can adjust to a wide variety of living conditions.
Retrievers include the Labrador, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling, Chesapeake Bay, Golden, Curly-coated and Flat-coated. Overall these tend to be the larger framed and heavier of the sporting group and are also some of the most high energy and active. Generally once trained these dogs do well in smaller yards and even apartments but without frequent, regular exercise they can become rambunctious and a handful to deal with. As a general rule these dogs are very sensitive to changes in the owner's voice and demeanor and are very responsive to training. They are also not typically aggressive dogs and they may or may not be effective watchdogs. Many in this group are simply to easy going and friendly to do much more than bark a greeting and give strangers a wag of the tail. Bred to go into water to bring back waterfowl, these dogs love to swim and will naturally make a beeline for any water they see. Their coats tend to be short and naturally somewhat oily to make them water resistant. They are average shedders year round.
The pointer and setter group of breeds recognized by AKC are sometimes considered the "thinking" type of dogs in this group. They have been trained to alert hunters to the presence of game by stopping and holding a unique pose to signal to the hunter. These dogs have to be highly obedient and have extreme self-control to avoid bursting out of the stance in pursuit of the birds or game. Some of the specific breeds in the pointer and setter group include the popular Irish Setter and the less well known Irish Red and White Setter, also included are the Pointer, Vizsla, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and the Gordon Setter. These dogs range from the very short haired Vizsla to the long, flowing coat of the Gordon and Irish Setters. Pointers included in the group include the German Short Haired and German Wirehaired as well as the Spinone Italiano or Italian Pointer. Most pointers, with the exception of the Spinone Italiano, tend to have the sleek short hair and the lighter frame associated with these very active field type hunting dogs.
As a whole the pointers and setters are active dogs that love to be outdoors, but prefer to spend the evenings in the house with the family. They have strong natural pack behaviors and tend to be non-aggressive type dogs and good companion pets. Most pointers are moderate to high energy levels but are also great with kids, making them a perfect match for an active family. Pointers and setters will typically naturally point or set, but they do benefit from additional training if they are going to be used as hunting dogs.
Any and all of the sporting dogs are very versatile and can make terrific obedience and agility dogs. They also tend to do very well in multi-dog or pet households, provided they are raised with other non-canine pets from an early age. People considering a sporting breed will need to ensure they have made the commitment to work with, socialize and exercise these dogs in order to keep the dogs happy and content.