AKC Breed Groups: Sporting Dogs

The American Kennel Club categorizes their 190 breeds into 8 different groups. As part of our ongoing breed series (Getting to Know Your…), we wanted to take a global look at these classifications and what characteristics separate the dogs into these different groups.

The AKC breed groups are:
  • Herding Group
  • Sporting Group
  • Toy Group
  • Working Group
  • Hound Group
  • Non-Working Group
  • Terrier Group
  • Miscellaneous Group

Today, we look at the Sporting group.

The Sporting Group is comprised of 31 different breeds and many of America’s favorites such as the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever. But the group also includes lesser known sporting dogs such as the Vizsla or the Spinone Italiano.

Sporting dogs, or “gun dogs” were developed to do exactly as their name implies, participate in “sporting” events, specifically hunting. The Sporting dog performs several different functions during a hunt which are designed to coordinate with the specific needs of the environment in which the game is found.  

There are three different environments: field, water, and rough terrain. Each of these require special “skills”, or functions. The different functions include pointers, setters, retrievers and flushers (spaniels). Sporting dogs used for hunting are highly trained in the finer points of their specific role in the hunt.

A pointer is used to traverse the hunting field until it detects a bird. It then freezes and points to the game for the hunter, who will flush the game and shoot them.

The function of a setter is similar, but instead of the freeze and point of a pointer, their freeze is accompanied with a crouch or “set”.

A flusher, or spaniel is used to flush birds that may run rather than fly away from danger. They will chase the game until they take flight and the hunter can take aim.

A retriever is trained to sit quietly while the hunter shoots the game and then they are sent to retrieve the game.

Each breed has a specialty in their work and they must work closely with their owners throughout the course of the hunt. That bond and communication that develops between the hunter and their dog is strong and essential to a successful hunt.

Most of the sporting dogs are very intelligent, energetic, hardy and patient – they must be to run around a huge field looking for birds they can’t eat or sit quietly in a marsh until called upon to swim in the icy water to grab a duck.

They are typically friendly, outgoing and make great family pets even for non-hunters. Because of their intelligence and energy, it’s essential for sporting dogs to have proper outlets. You will see many of them in agility, dock diving and other sporting activities.

Several of the sporting breeds are highly desirable and well suited to be a guide dog or a therapy Dog as well as for  rescue work. The Labrador and Golden Retrievers are synonymous with Guide Dogs for the Blind. That’s due to some of their sporting dog traits – their placid nature, intelligence and patience.

Spaniels and Setters are known for their long beautiful coats, which while surely beautiful, will require more maintenance than the short-haired Weimaraner or Vizsla.

In addition to dog shows designed to identify the best dog based on a breed looks and conformation, the Sporting Dog Group also conducts field trials designed to test a dog’s skill at their hunting specialty. Many sporting dog owners participate in these trials even if they don’t hunt. It’s a great way to exercise your dog by allowing their natural instincts to flourish.

All in all, sporting dogs make great pets and many of them have found their way into the AKC Top Ten most popular dogs.

Complete list of Sporting Dog Group:

American Water Spaniel
Boykin Spaniel
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Clumber Spaniel
Cocker Spaniel
Curly-Coated Retriever
English Cocker Spaniel
English Setter
English Springer Spaniel
Field Spaniel
Flat-Coated Retriever
German Shorthaired Pointer
German Wirehaired Pointer
Golden Retriever
Gordon Setter
Irish Red and White Setter
Irish Setter
Irish Water Spaniel
Labrador Retriever
Lagotto Romagnolo
Nederlandse Kooikerhondje
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Spinone Italiano
Sussex Spaniel
Welsh Springer Spaniel
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Wirehaired Vizsla





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