When you talk about the hunt or the field there are many dog breeds that may instantaneously spring to mind. The Springer Spaniel. The Labrador Retriever. Even the Beagle. But what about our beloved Doodles, how do they fare in the hunting world? In this article we aim to discover if there is more to the Goldendoodle and Labradoodle than meets the eye; whether this ever-popular and intelligent canine can successfully transition from family pet to an effective retriever and hunter.
Whilst hunting is not the origins of the Goldendoodle and Labradoodle they can both be as efficient as your typical hunting breed. They have a robust working lineage, and their prey drive can be strong. With the correct training, these Doodles can effectively accompany their masters in the field.
Keep reading to discover what roles Doodles can play in the field, in the hunt, and indeed in any other working environment. We have a short interview with the master of a working Labradoodle who tells us how it works for him. We aim to confirm to the world what we already know – that these beautiful creatures who are so often tarred with the ‘designer mutt’ label really do have so much more to offer than a pretty face.
Table of Contents
What is a Hunting Dog?
A hunting dog is typically a dog who accompanies his master in the hunt and retrieval of various prey. All manner of breeds have been used in all manner of roles over the years from the tiny Dachshund to the elegant Irish Setter.
There are various categories, and subcategories, of hunting dogs. Each type of dog will play a different job based on its own breed attributes.
Hounds were the original hunting dog. Some have an extremely heightened sense of smell; some are as fast as the wind and some are both. Hounds are separated into three subcategories based on the key sense used to detect prey:
As you would imagine sighthounds use their vision to keep their quarry in sight. They are usually tall, lean, and speedy. Their target will be sighted from a distance and chased before being caught. This method of hunting, using sight and speed, is known as coursing and has been practiced historically by both the nobility and commoners.
In the US the most common animals coursed include hare, deer, jackals, coyotes, and foxes. In the UK it is illegal to use a dog to hunt any type of mammal with the exception of rabbits and rats (dogs are allowed to flush the pray out providing no more than two dogs are used).
Examples of sighthounds are:
- Italian Greyhound
- Irish Wolfhound
- Afghan Hound
Scenthounds generally hunt in packs and lead the hunter to the prey using their remarkable sense of smell. This is often accompanied by a resounding bark as they follow the scent trail of their quarry. This enables the huntsmen accompanying the dogs to follow them even if they are out of sight.
They typically have larger nostrils and long, droopy ears. It is thought that the shape of the ear traps the scent between the ground and the dog’s sensitive nose. Scenthounds would usually be used in pursuit of foxes and raccoons.
Examples of scenthounds are:
- Basset Hound
- American Foxhound
Lurchers are mixed breeds. They are sighthounds that are crossed with another working dog, usually a terrier or herding type dog. The intent of the cross is to add intelligence to the capabilities of a sighthound. Combining speed and brainpower produces a dog suitable for hunting game, rabbits, and hares.
Historically bred and used by poachers, the old English translation of the word lurcher is ‘prowler, swindler or petty thief’. In times gone by, in England, only the nobility was legally allowed to own sighthounds. Commoners owning such a dog was punishable by death. This necessitated the development of the Lurcher as a hunting companion for the lower classes.
There are no examples of Lurchers as they are mixed breeds. As such, like the Doodle, they do not qualify for registrations with any of the main kennel clubs. They do make terrific family pets and are also often used in dog racing at which they excel.
Terrier is a French word meaning ‘to burrow’. Hunting vermin in order to protect both livestock and the land from disease or destruction was their main objective. Sizes vary and whilst many terriers are small some breeds can reach over 30lbs.
Spirited and bold, feisty, and energetic this group of hunting dog worked by pinpointing their quarry’s habitat before moving into either capture or kill. Sometimes, paying tribute to their name they will burrow underground to either kill or drive out their target.
Some examples of terriers:
- Airedale Terrier – Originating in England, the Airedale is the largest of the terrier breed. They will weigh in, on average between 35lb and 50lbs and can reach up to 24” in height. They are often referred to as the ‘King of the Terrier’.
In the US the Airedale has been used to hunt big game, waterfowl and other upland birds.
- American Staffordshire Terrier – The AmStaff certainly has a checkered history. His origins are in the UK and they aren’t pretty. Bred from Bulldogs (for the stature) and Terriers (for the tenacity) they were expected to fight to the death or join forces to tear apart prey such as bears and bulls. All in order to entertain a blood-thirsty crowd who would place bets on the gruesome conclusion.
Thankfully human nature has evolved along with the Staffordshire Terrier and the practice is committed to history. Arriving in the US in the mid 19th century the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was developed to be larger than his British cousin. The AKC eventually recognized the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier as two independent breeds.
The American Staffordshire Terrier of today is a confident and well natured pooch. They are a medium sized dog and stand between 17” and 19” tall. Their stocky and muscular build gives them an average weight of between 40lbs and 70lbs.
- Yorkshire Terrier – The Yorkshire Terrier is one of the smallest terrier breeds. However, don’t let their size fool you, they are feisty and tenacious. It was this tenacity that made them more than just a ratter. They were skillful at hunting down den dwelling prey such as foxes and badgers. Showing no fear when their quarry sought to defend themselves.
Their hunting days weren’t to last though. In the late 19th century, they made their way across the Atlantic from their home in Yorkshire, England, and were officially registered by the AKC in 1878. Today you are most likely to find the Yorkshire Terrier either in the show ring or on their master’s lap.
Gun dogs are used by hunters with shotguns and are split into three main categories. The key objectives are to find, retrieve and flush game:
Pointers will search for the game, utilizing the edges of the fields where they know the birds can be found. Once identified they will point (or crouch) motionless indicating to the hunter the direction in which they have spotted their target. Quail and grouse are both examples of birds that would be hunted with pointers. The Old Spanish Pointer is thought to be the first pointer in history. They are now extinct.
Examples of pointers are:
- English Pointer
- Irish Setter
Some other breeds are considered to be pointers with retrieving qualities:
- Hungarian Vizsla
- German Wirehaired Pointer
Flushing dogs will cover less distance than the pointer and effectively chase the bird into the air so that the hunter can take his / her shot. They also stay closer than the pointer, keeping within distance of the shotgun.
Pheasants are one example of the type of bird flushing dogs are used to hunt. Once the dog has flushed the bird, they will watch for their handler to make their move. If the shot is successful, then the dog will watch where the bird falls in order to then complete a successful retrieve.
Spaniels are the original flushing breed. In fact, they were specifically bred to flush game long before the shotgun was used to fell the quarry. They are still used today to perform this task.
The name speaks for itself. The job of a retriever is to bring back the quarry to their master. Whilst they are used to retrieve upland birds, such as the pheasant we have already spoken about they are primarily used for waterfowl.
A well-trained retriever will watch and follow the gun in order to establish where the bird falls. This is known as the mark. Multiple marks can fall before the dog, on the handler’s command begins the retrieve. Commands can be visual by using the hand or audible using either the voice or a whistle.
Sometimes the dog may miss the fall of the bird and will need direction from their handler in order to complete their task. Again, this will be done using a hand or whistle command and is known as a blind retrieve.
Examples of Retrievers:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Standard Poodle
- Curly Coated Retriever
- Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever
What is a Labradoodle?
A Labradoodle is a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle. Sometimes they can be bred smaller through the generations by using the smaller of the dogs and the Miniature Poodle.
They are a medium to large breed dog and average a height of between 21” and 24” and a weight of 50lbs – 65lbs.
The Labradoodle is where the Doodle craze started when a blind lady in Australia pondered a solution for her allergy-suffering husband. The popular guide dog was crossed with the low shedding Poodle in order to achieve this. Whilst there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog and many Labradoodles will shed and trigger allergies there are many that won’t.
The cross was partially successful, and the cross is now often used to limit the risk of allergies both in the working breed and the family pet. Combining the natures of two wonderful breeds the Labradoodle is intelligent, friendly, and full of affection.
You can read much more about the Labradoodle in our breed overview.
What is a Goldendoodle?
A Goldendoodle is a cross between a Golden Retriever and either the Standard or Miniature Poodle. Weighing on average between 30lbs and 40lbs and standing 24” to 26” they are usually lighter yet taller than their Labradoodle cousins.
They are one of the most common mixes in the Doodle population and are known for their calm, quiet and intelligent manner. Eager to please, they are easy to train and learn new commands and instructions with pride and gusto.
Like the Labradoodle, their heritage is that of the gun dog, specifically the retriever with both the Golden Retriever and Poodle having a strong working background. Your Goldendoodle will be happy by your side with a job to do.
There are many pros and cons of owning a Goldendoodle and you can read all about them in our ultimate guide.
Do Doodles make Good Hunting Dogs?
What have we learned so far about hunting dogs? There is quite the variety and an eclectic range of jobs that they can do. Many of the dogs that we have looked at are used in the Poodle cross to produce a Doodle. Couple that with the history of the Poodle and there should be no reason why an efficient and effective hunter cannot be the result from a well-bred Doodle.
Good hunting dogs come from good blood and good training. With an F1 (first generation) Doodle both parents will be purebred. Good breeders will have documented evidence of their purebred’s lineage so you will have evidence of their working line.
Poodles are not used as frequently as working dogs as they once were. However, many will still possess the inherent prey drive, love for the water, and instinctive retrieving qualities that were bred into them initially.
So, if you are a huntsman, or woman, looking for a Doodle worker providing that you choose the right parents, train early, consistently, and effectively there is no reason why you won’t have a successful gundog by your side in any field.
It’s not just the Goldendoodle and Labradoodle who make good hunting dogs. If you refer back to our hunting breeds you will see that many of those listed are crossed with the Poodle to create many different Doodles.
The Sproodle for instance is a cross between the Poodle and the Springer Spaniel who is the ideal gun dog. It has been known for the Sproodle to be used in the beating line in place of the traditional Springer Spaniel.
Beating is more popular in the UK and is similar to the work of a flushing dog. When beating, the human and the dog work together to flush the birds, usually grouse or pheasant, from the ground into the path of the guns.
Interview with a Labradoodle Hunting Dog Owner
We Spoke to Mike from South Dakota who rescued his white Labradoodle from a Puppy Mill when he was 6 months old. He is now 2 and regularly accompanies Mike in the field.
KYD: Did you rescue him with the intention of training him to retrieve?
Mike: No. He was bought as a family dog, and he is great with the kids. He is playful and very energetic. I knew he had the potential as a gundog when I learned his personality.
KYD: What type of hunting do you use him for?
MIKE: He is used for upland hunting so pheasant and grouse.
KYD: Has he been easy to train?
Mike: I have high hopes for him, we just need time. After the first few times, he improved immensely. He’s not shy but presently he would rather play than drop his quarry. He’s not hard-mouthed so the birds don’t get damaged when he retrieves.
KYD: Does he enjoy it?
Mike: He loves to flush but is less keen to retrieve. He does love to retrieve his toys though.
KYD: Do you see many Doodles in the field?
Mike: They’re not very common but they’re not rare either.
KYD: What do other hunters think of you using a Labradoodle?
Mike: Other hunters often laugh at us for using a Poodle!
KYD: Are there any downsides?
Mike: He has soft fur, so he attracts a lot of cockleburs. We need to be more careful than with Labradors. My wife bought a bodysuit to try and prevent them, but the poor thing could hardly walk, and he looked ridiculous!
What Other Jobs do Doodles Do?
Of course, it’s not just hunting that Doodles can excel at. All dogs were bred for a reason, many to work alongside, or for their masters. With the Poodle giving their rich working genes to the Doodle it makes sense that with the right background from the secondary parent and the correct training they all have the potential to ‘work’.
Doodle Guide Dogs
We mustn’t forget that the rise of the Doodle began with the creation of the Labradoodle in order to produce a guide dog who didn’t shed or trigger allergies. Whilst we know that not all Doods will follow this rule many will, and many have become the perfect companion and aide to the visually impaired.
Doodle Therapy Dogs
Doodles also make great therapy dogs. From the large Bernedoodle to the medium Goldendoodle to the tiny Yorkiepoo. Their calm, intelligent and intuitive nature makes them great candidates as care home visitors and companions to those who suffer from autism, anxiety, or other chronic conditions.
Read about Coby, a therapy Goldendoodle who has given his owner a whole new lease of life.
We can conclude that yes, whilst it’s not the most common site both the Goldendoodle, the Labradoodle, and even other Doodle breeds can make great hunting dogs. There is an inherent desire to point, hunt, and retrieve in many breeds. If this is recognized and embraced with the correct training, then the Doodle has its very own place in the hunting world.