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One of the oldest meanings for the word sport in English is hunting as an entertainment for members of the nobility and elite classes. To assist in the hunting of birds and small game, various sporting types of dogs were developed, which became the ancestors of today's pointer, retriever, setter, and spaniel purebred dog breeds. Because they were developed as bird dogs with energetic hunting abilities in water and field settings, most sporting dogs require regular exercise. Their naturally active and alert demeanor also makes them likeable and well-rounded companions.
Pointers, such as the English Pointer, shows the dog's instinct to point, by stopping and aiming its muzzle towards game. This demonstrates to the hunter the location of his or her quarry and allows them to move into gun range.
Retrievers, such as the Golden Retriever, were bred primarily to retrieve birds or other prey and return them to the hunter without damage. Although spaniels and some pointing breeds routinely retrieve game, and many retrievers are skilled in finding game, retrievers are distinguished in that non-slip retrieval is their primary function.
Setters, such as the Irish Setter, is a type of gundog used most often for hunting game such as quail, pheasant, and grouse. A setter silently searches for game by scent. When prey is encountered the dog freezes rather than chasing after the game. Setters get their name from their distinctive stance; a sort of crouch or "set" upon finding their quarry.
Spaniels, such as the Cocker Spaniel, were especially bred to flush game out of dense brush. By the late 17th century spaniels had become specialized into water and land breeds.
Water Dogs, such as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, were bred to flush and retrieve game from water, often serving the waterfowl hunter. Strong swimming desire is a characteristic of these dogs. Water dogs have curly, sometimes corded coats.
Several dogs can be considered to fit several groups.
Stamps & Bios
American Water Spaniel
Jobs: flush out and retrieve game especially from water
Color: solid liver, brown, or dark chocolate
Temperament: An excellent sporting and family dog, the American Water Spaniel possesses great energy and eagerness for the hunt yet is controllable in the field. Similarly, he loves his daily exercise, but also enjoys just hanging out with his family. Friendly and eager to please, the AWS responds well to obedience training. His short coat requires regular brushing.
Famous: official dog of Wisconsin
Jobs: turkey dog and waterfowl retriever
Temperament: The Boykin has the stamina to stay by its owner’s side during a full day of work, so it fits in best with an active family. The breed also thrives on companionship, enjoying the company of children and other dogs. Its coat requires only minimal maintenance beyond a weekly brushing and occasional bathing.
Famous: state dog of South Carolina
Other Names: Épangueul Français, Brittany Spaniel
Jobs: hunting and show dog
Color: white and orange or liver in clear or roan patterns
Temperament: The Brittany is strong, quick and agile, requiring exercise and activity to occupy his body and mind. He is a happy and alert dog who possesses willing attitude. Regular brushing is important, but their shorter coats need minimal maintenance.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Jobs: waterfowl retriever
Color: brown, sedge, or deadgrass
Temperament: The Chesapeake is a happy and intelligent breed whose courage, working ability and love of water mesh best with active, outdoor-loving families. His coat is short, but owners must brush and maintain it regularly, as both the outercoat and undercoat contain oils for protection in harsh conditions.
Famous: state dog of Maryland
Jobs: hunting in thick growth
Color: white with possible lemon or orange markings
Temperament: Playful and loving, the Clumber Spaniel fits in well with families and other animals. They enjoy daily walks, but they are not for those who want a jogging partner. Clumbers shed moderately year-round and tend to slobber and drool more than other breeds. An intelligent and independent thinker, the Clumber responds best to positive training.
Famous: given modern name when a large kennel was moved to Clumber Park at the start of the French Revolution to save the dogs
Other Names: American Cocker Spaniel (known as this in countries other than the U.S.)
From: U.S. with spaniel roots much further back in Europe
Color: black, black with tan points, parti-colored, or any solid color
Temperament: Despite their small size, the Cocker Spaniel is still an active Sporting breed that needs daily exercise. Regular brushing and a trim every few months helps keep the coat free of mats. Cockers are intelligent, gentle dogs that thrive as part of a family.
Famous: the first spaniel came to the U.S. in the Mayflower
Jobs: waterfowl retriever and upland game hunter
Color: black or liver
Temperament: An energetic and intelligent dog, the Curly-Coated Retriever is an excellent companion, but requires training and daily exercise or a job to keep him from becoming bored and destructive. One of the more independent retriever breeds, the Curly may appear somewhat aloof, but is always willing to please. Their coat is easy to care for, requiring only occasional bathing.
English Cocker Spaniel
Other Names: Cocker Spaniel (called such in England)
Jobs: flushing and retrieving game especially in thick growth
Color: solid black, liver, red or parti-colored
Temperament: Merry and affectionate, the English Cocker Spaniel is an excellent family companion due to its even disposition and trainability. Whether working in the field or at home lounging on their owner’s bed, their tails rarely stop wagging. The breed can live in any environment provided it receives daily exercise. Their medium-long coat does take some care, including brushing and regular stripping or clipping.
Jobs: find birds and crouch or "set" to allow the hunter to throw a net over birds; now, with guns, the Spaniel assumes a more upright position to be better seen
Color: orange, blue (white with black), tricolor (blue with tan), lemon, and liver
Temperament: This gentle, affectionate family dog loves to be with its people and does not thrive when isolated in a yard or kennel. Athletic and energetic, they also require daily vigorous exercise either on leash or in a fenced area. Their beautiful, feathered coat requires regular maintenance, including brushing and clipping.
English Springer Spaniel
Jobs: find, flush, and retrieve game
Color: black or liver with white, blue, or liver roan, and tricolor
Temperament: Cheerful and affectionate, Springers love their families and like to stick close to their owners. They make excellent house pets, but require daily exercise and need regular brushing and trimming to keep their coats neat and free of mats.
Famous: today often used as sniffer (drug or search and rescue) dogs
Jobs: country dog
Color: black, liver, or golden liver with tan or white markings
Temperament: A docile and fun-loving companion, the Field Spaniel sticks close to his family and wants to participate in any and all family activities. They may be initially reserved when meeting strangers, but quickly warm up to people. They require regular walks, but their medium-length coat (less than other Spaniel breeds) makes grooming fairly easy, requiring only weekly brushing and occasional trimming.
Famous: Once over bred and almost extinct
From: Canada and U.S.
Color: solid black or liver
Temperament: Described by all who meet him as cheerful, optimistic and good-humored, the Flat-Coat excels as a family companion. He requires regular vigorous exercise, however, due to his working heritage. Dog sports such as obedience, agility and hunt tests provide both mental and physical exercise. Among Sporting breeds, the Flat-Coat is easy to maintain, needing only occasional brushing and bathing.
German Shorthaired Pointer
Other Names: Deutscher Kurzaariger Vorstehhund
Jobs: utility dog
Color: solid liver or liver and white
Temperament: The German Shorthaired Pointer thrives as part of an active family. He is an even-tempered, intelligent and loyal family watchdog that has enthusiasm for its work. An athlete, he can adapt to his living situation, but requires consistent exercise. The GSP’s short coat sheds, but grooming is minimal.
German Wirehaired Pointer
Other Names: Deutscher Drahthaariger Vorstehhund
Jobs: points and retrieves on land and water
Color: liver and white
Temperament: Loyal and affectionate, the German Wirehaired Pointer craves human companionship and bonds closely with its "people." A high energy and high drive breed, the Wirehair must receive regular exercise or have a job to do; otherwise their creativity and independence may get them into trouble! Although they shed lightly year-round, Wirehairs with a correct coat require only minimal grooming.
Color: light to dark gold
Temperament: This active and energetic Sporting breed can adapt to many different living situations but requires daily exercise. His water-repellant double-coat sheds seasonally and needs regular brushing. With his friendly temperament and striking golden color, this breed is both beautiful to look at and a joy to own.
Famous: loyal and gentle, Goldens are excellent for a variety of jobs and are in the top 10 most popular family dogs in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.
Jobs: personal bird dog, show dogs
Color: black and tan
Temperament: Alert and confident, the Gordon Setter is devoted to his family. Although they are bright, they are not blindly obedient, so may appear stubborn. Gordons are capable of adapting to a variety of living situations, but need plenty of daily exercise on leash or in a fenced area. Regular grooming is also necessary to prevent matting.
Irish Red and White Setter
Other Names: Rossmore Setter
Color: white with red patches
Temperament: Courageous, spirited and determined, the breed’s energy in the field carries over to the home, so Red and White Setters require regular exercise. Their kind and friendly attitudes make them great family dogs. They need minimal brushing or trimming – owners prize a natural appearance and the breed tends to carry less coat than the Irish Setter.
Famous: a separate breed from the popular Red Setter, the Red and White almost went extinct due to the overwhelming popularity of the other
Other Names: Irish Red Setter or Red Setter
Jobs: find game
Color: solid red
Temperament: A rollicking breed, the Irish Setter is high-energy and requires regular exercise. His outgoing and stable personality make him a favorite with families. Their long, glossy red coat, although beautiful, must be groomed regularly to prevent snarls or mats.
Famous: perhaps the most famous Irish dog
Irish Water Spaniel
Other Names: Field Spaniel
Jobs: hunting upland game and waterfowl
Color: liver with curly double coat
Temperament: The clown of the spaniel family, the Irish Water Spaniel will think of creative ways to accomplish even the slightest of tasks. A typical Sporting dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is an active and energetic companion. He possesses the natural instinct to please, making him relatively easy to train, but regular exercise is important. Suitable for allergy sufferers, their hypoallergenic coats require brushing every few weeks and trimming every two months to neaten and shape the coat.
Famous: distinctive "rat tail"
From: Newfoundland, Canada
Jobs: worked alongside fisherman to catch fish that escaped from nets; today excellent in a variety of tasks
Color: yellow, black, and chocolate
Temperament: An ideal sporting and family dog, the Labrador Retriever thrives as part of an active family or as a trusted hunting companion. A double-coated breed which sheds seasonally, regular grooming keeps his coat at its water-resistant best. Because of his even temperament and trainability millions of Americans own a Labrador Retriever as a pet.
Famous: the most popular breed worldwide; most popular in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.; and the most popular assistance dog; as well as being a police dog and excellent with children
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Other Names: Toller
Jobs: used to toll, lure, and retrieve waterfowl; playing by the shore arouses the curiosity of ducks and brings them into gun range
Color: any shade of red with white markings
Temperament: Highly intelligent, alert and outgoing, the Toller is normally ready for action, desiring a job to do or some kind of activity. He is affectionate and loving with family members and is good with children, showing patience. A natural-looking breed, the Toller does not require much coat maintenance beyond occasional brushing and baths.
Famous: provincial dog of Nova Scotia
Other Names: English Pointer
From: Spain originally, but considered an English breed for two centuries
Jobs: locate and stand, pointing at game
Color: liver, lemon, black, and orange, either with white or solid
Temperament: The Pointer's even temperament and alert good sense make him a congenial companion both in the field and in the home, but he requires both physical and mental exercise. He should be dignified, but should never show timidity toward man or dog. The breed’s short coat is easy to care with minimal effort.
Famous: Foxhound, Greyhound, and Bloodhound appear to be a part of the pointer's lineage
Other Names: Italian Spinone or Italian Pointer
Jobs: all-purpose hunting
Color: solid white, white and orange, orange roan, white with brown, or brown roan
Temperament: An active, energetic breed, the Spinone loves to romp in the field, but is happy as long as it’s with its family. As a naturally cautious dog, owners should socialize the breed and begin training early. The Spinone is the ultimate wash and wear breed and should remain in a natural state, with just occasional brushing and hand-stripping. Owners beware, however – after a drink, their wet and messy beard may leave trail of water wherever they go!
Jobs: field dog, flushing and retrieving game
Color: rich golden liver
Temperament: Despite its somber and serious expression, the Sussex is friendly, with a cheerful and tractable disposition. They enjoy walks with their families and are good with children and other dogs. The Sussex requires weekly brushing, with special attention paid to anything that might have gotten caught in their long, thick ear hair. Owners should also be prepared for a large quantity of drool.
Other Names: Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, Drötzorü Magyar Vizsla
Jobs: upland game, rabbits, and waterfowl
Color: golden rust
Temperament: The Vizsla thrives as part of an active family that provides daily exercise. He is lively and affectionate to his people, and possesses an above-average ability to take training. Although he sheds, his short coat requires low daily maintenance.
Famous: Clifford is a giant version of the Vizsla
Jobs: originally hunted wolves, deer, and bear; now used as a bird dog and personal hunting companion
Color: silver grey
Temperament: Lauded for his ability to work with great speed, fearlessness and endurance when on the hunt, the Weimaraner is also known for being an easily trainable, friendly and obedient member of the family. This is a breed that loves children and enjoys being part of his family’s "pack." Grooming maintenance is low due to his short coat.
Famous: Weimaraners are an awesome and popular dog.
Welsh Springer Spaniel
Color: red and white
Temperament: Active, loyal and possessing an even disposition, the Welsh Springer Spaniel is an excellent companion for families and hunters alike. The breed is a "velcro" dog and prefers to be with its people. Welsh Springers possess a stubborn streak, but respond well to training if it starts early. This athletic dog needs daily exercise and at least weekly brushing to maintain its coat.
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Other Names: Bohemian Wirehaired Pointing Griffon or Czesky Fousek
From: Czech Republic and Slovakia
Jobs: all-terrain hunter; has been called the "4-wheel drive of hunting dogs" as he will enter briars or underbrush without hesitation
Color: variety, mostly steel grey with brown markings
Temperament: The Griffon’s easy trainability, devotion to family, and friendly temperament endear him to all. He thrives on human companionship and prefers to be house dog. The breed’s wiry coat will not develop fully until the dog is about 2-3 years old and is maintained with regular brushing and stripping. This sporting dog needs plenty of exercise to keep it physically and mentally fit.