They have been bred for generations to work closely with humans and seem to have an uncanny ability to understand just what their owner is expecting of them. The sporting breeds include the spaniels, retrievers, pointers and setters, and are often called bird dogs or gun dogs. Many people mistakenly believe that tracking breeds and breeds used for chasing game are also included in this category. The sporting dogs are only dogs that are used to hunt fowl and game birds, no other types of game, mammals or animals.
When working with sporting breeds it is important to remember that they are not naturally guard or watchdogs and generally are not territorial or possessive of items. They have, in fact, be bred to be willing to turn over game birds to their owners without even damaging the carcass of the bird. They tend to be very gentle and sedate dogs most of the time. If they have been used for hunting they immediately become excited when guns are handled or it looks like they are going to a hunt or an event.
Sporting breeds as a whole need more exercise than the average mid to larger sized dog. They enjoy being outdoors, exploring, and walking in new and unfamiliar territory. They can easily be trained to work off leash and naturally will respond well to verbal, hand signal and even whistle commands. A sporting dog generally has a lot of patience and will sit for long periods of time without moving, only to take off in a split second when commanded to do so.
Most of the sporting breeds including spaniels, retrievers and many of the setters absolutely love to be in the water. When on a walk or even just getting out of the car for a break they are likely to head straight for a pond or ditch if there is water present. Even the pointers may be inclined to go for a good swim even though generally pointers and setters are not used in hunting waterfowl.
Training a sporting dog to hunt is something that is entirely up to the owner. Most dogs of the breed will naturally use some aspects of their behavior in everyday activities. Pointers and setters may naturally point or indicate birds or even farmyard chickens or ducks even without any formal training. Spaniels and retrievers tend to excel at games such as fetch or even Frisbee even though they may have had little training.
If you are considering training your sporting dog for competitions consider joining a sporting dog group or organization (HRC, AKC, Master National, NAVHDA, GSPCA) and attend field trials or events to learn about this sport. These dogs require positive training and do not do well with harsh or punishment based methods. They love to please their owners and with clear direction and consistent commands and training they will soon understand exactly what you want.
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