The Best Retriever Breeds

Duck dog

A good retriever is priceless for duck and goose hunting. Here’s a list of the top 10 retriever breeds in no particular order.

Labrador Retriever

For more than 20 years in a row now, the Labrador retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States. This isn’t a fluke. They are proven waterfowl and upland game hunters, great family dogs, intelligent, strong swimmers, and have an intense drive.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Wealthy owners of duck clubs that lined both shores of the Chesapeake Bay during the 19th century set the basic breed type of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Old-time sportsmen hoping to exploit this duck hunter’s paradise built a retriever well-suited to the bay’s frigid waters. The thick, oily, double coat of the Chessie is both insulating and waterproof; it repels moisture much the way a duck’s feathers do. Chessies are more emotionally complex than the usual gundog. Chessies take to training, but they have a mind of their own and can tenaciously pursue their own path. They are protective of their humans and polite, but not overtly friendly, to strangers.

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is one of the most lovable of the bird dogs. This Scottish beauty is serious in the field, and obedient and fun to be around at home. A perfect family dog for the hunter who likes to hunt waterfowl. The only bad thing about them is that their popularity has diluted the gene pool, so if you’re looking for a good hunter be sure to do your research and find some proven field lines.

American Water Spaniel

The American Water Spaniel is a rare breed that was developed in the United States. They perform well in all endeavors but excel in the field as either a waterfowl retriever or upland flushing dog. The typical American Water Spaniel is happy, energetic, and eager to please. They are a great choice for the waterfowler who hunts from small boats or canoes.

Boykin Spaniel

Boykins were bred to hunt not only waterfowl but also wild turkeys, which is surprising when you consider the breed’s diminutive size.  In addition to their work on water, they are also sometimes used by dove and quail gunners in the southern states.

Curly-Coated Retriever

Irish Water Spaniel

Sometimes called “the best kept secret of the dog world,” it is the largest of the spaniels, bred originally to be a gundog for retrieving fowl both on water and land. They have powerful endurance and bold eagerness enlivened by a clownish sense of humor, making them wonderful with families.

Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-Coats are among the happiest of all breeds. They mature slowly; some owners say that they never grow up and act like puppies into old age. This highly energetic breed requires lots of outdoorsy exercise, making them a great choice for waterfowlers.

Standard Poodle

We realize that many of you may scoff at this one, but poodles have been retrieving wild game long before firearms were even invented. Poodles are great water dogs, and rank second in canine intelligence only behind the border collie. Even that goofy haircut was originally for hunting. The thicker coat around the head and torso worked to keep the dog’s internal organs warm in cold water and the shaved back end was designed so as not to impede the dog’s swimming.

Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever

While the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever functions well as a traditional duck dog, its hunting role has varied historically. Tollers once served waterfowl hunters by running up and down the shoreline with the purpose of attracting curious waterfowl within gunning range. Tollers feature a water-repellent double coat, making them hardy in cold-water environments. This breed takes a special training hand and does not thrive when pressured or forced.

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