Meet the Sporting Dog Breeds: Athleticism & Art

Sporting dog breeds are like four-legged athletes, born with coats and abilities tailor-made for the jobs they were originally bred to do.

Updated January 30, 2024

Sporting group dogs have been specially bred over many years to be great at hunting and other outdoor activities. They tend to do particularly well at finding, flushing out, and retrieving game.

Even though these dogs all do similar jobs, there's a wide variety in the group, with each breed offering their own special qualities. If you're looking for a dog that's both intelligent and full of energy, one of these diverse and skilled dogs might be the perfect companion for you.

Sporting Dog Breeds At-a-Glance: Printable Chart

If you're thinking of adding a sporting dog to your household, make sure you take the time to research any breeds you're interested in. You can also print off the summary of dog breeds and take notes as you review each of the breeds you're considering. 

American Water Spaniel

The American water spaniel is a sturdy, medium-sized breed, typically weighing between 25 and 45 pounds. This breed has a dense, waterproof coat that naturally comes in wavy or curly textures. These coats aren't just for show; they're perfectly designed for diving into water adventures.

These spaniels aren't just fans of a good splash — they're absolute aqua aficionados! But don't let their love for leisurely swims fool you; they're also top-notch hunters with a keen nose and an eye for game, making them the perfect buddy for outdoor enthusiasts.

In terms of personality, the American water spaniel is the epitome of friendliness, sporting a tail-wagging, happy-go-lucky attitude that's sure to win hearts. They may play a bit coy with strangers, showing a dash of shyness, but give them a moment, and they'll warm up, revealing their true, affable nature. 

Related: Meet More Water-Loving Dog Breeds

American Cocker Spaniel

The American cocker spaniel is a smaller sporting breed, weighing between 20 and 30 pounds. These beautiful pups flaunt long, silky coats that range from multi-colored, completely solid, or patchy. Their feathery ears are the perfect accessory to go along with their glamorous fur. Originally bred for hunting, they have now become a beloved family pet.

Known for their extreme loyalty, they're like your furry little shadow, always by your side and ready to follow you wherever you go. They're fast learners and natural athletes, which means not only are they easy to train, but they're also good at canine sports like agility.

Boykin Spaniel

The boykin spaniel, a breed that typically weighs between 25 and 40 pounds, is known for their distinctive physical characteristics and friendly personality. They have long, feathery ears that complement their silky, solid brown coats. One of their unique features is their webbed paws, which are specifically designed for efficient movement in aquatic environments. 

With a cheerful and outgoing personality, boykin spaniels are known for their willingness to please and their enthusiasm for work, traits that make them highly trainable. These dogs aren't just about good looks and charming personalities; they're also top-notch bird dogs. Give them a lake or a wetland, and watch them work their magic, fetching and frolicking like they were born to do.

Need to Know

Boykin spaniels, with their affectionate nature, make excellent family pets.

Brittany Spaniel

The brittany spaniel, a breed that typically weighs between 30 and 40 pounds, stands out with their long legs, giving them a less compact and muscular appearance compared to other sporting dogs of similar size. With brains to match their brawn, brittanys are whip-smart and bursting with energy.

They're like furry bundles of enthusiasm, always ready for a new adventure or a challenging puzzle. These dogs are born to move and need plenty of space to stretch their legs and lots of activities to keep their minds busy. They're not just about fun and games, though. Brittanys excel in hunting, flaunting their versatility in the field with flair.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a sizable breed, with males generally larger than females and an average weight ranging from 55 to 85 pounds. Sporting a unique oily and waterproof coat, they're practically born to splash around in chilly waters. Their fur comes in shades of earthy brown, vibrant sedge-red, or sun-kissed deadgrass-tan, with amber-colored eyes. 

These pups are four-legged bundles of energy, which means they are happiest in a house where they can get plenty of exercise and training. After you're done with physical and mental exercises, they will gladly cuddle up to you to binge-watch your favorite TV show. But if a friend they don't know stops by, don't be surprised if they become shy and reserved. They're a bit wary of strangers.

Clumber Spaniel

The clumber spaniel, commonly found in the United Kingdom, is a medium-to-large dog weighing between 55 and 85 pounds. They’re the largest flushing breed and have a mellow, gentle personality, making them great family dogs. Unlike other spaniels, they have quite a stocky body. They have a luxurious, long coat that tends to shed, so you might find a bit of Clumber glitter (AKA: fur) around your home. And oh, let's not forget their drool — it's just part of their charm!

Their coats are white with splashes of orange or lemon, especially on their face and ears, adding to their unique look. Friendly and outgoing, the clumber spaniel might play a little hard to get with strangers, but they warm up pretty quickly.  

Need to Know

Unlike other sporting breeds, the clumber is often relaxed and requires only moderate exercise.

Curly-Coated Retriever

The curly-coated retriever gets their name from their tightly curled, thick waterproof coat. This is a large dog breed, tipping the scales between 60 and 95 pounds. These curly wonders have coats that are either black or liver and are low-maintenance in the grooming department, needing just the occasional bath to keep their skin and fur healthy. 

They're versatile hunting dogs known for their intelligence, making them super trainable and ready for action. If there's water nearby, watch out. They're going to make a splash. Swimming is one of their favorite activities. They will keep a distance from any stranger they see, whether at home or out and about, but once they get to know someone, they will gladly wander up to them for a good love sesh. 

Need to Know

Known for their loving temperaments and youthful charm, these dogs have earned the title of one of the dog world's 'forever puppies.'

English Cocker Spaniel

The English cocker spaniel weighs between 26 and 34 pounds. Their coat is long and silky, with beautiful feathering on the ears, legs, and belly. They do need a bit of pampering, though, with daily grooming to keep that fur looking tip-top.

They're actually a bit bigger than the American cocker spaniels, and you can tell them apart because they have longer snouts and ears. Personality-wise, they're just as friendly and cheerful as their American cousins. They're skilled at hunting, but they're also great at being part of the family. 

Need to Know

These English charmers pack a more intense prey drive than their American counterparts — they're natural-born hunters at heart!

English Setter

English setters are medium- to large-sized dogs, usually weighing in at about 45–80 pounds. They have a unique 'belton' coat, which is basically white with cool speckled patterns in lemon, blue dapple, orange, or liver. Their coat is short over the body, but it’s long and super silky on their ears, tail, chest, and belly. 

While they love their exercise like all sporting group dogs, they're a bit more laid-back compared to some of the others. English setters are known for their gentle, sensitive nature, and they're really sweet companions. But here's a heads-up: owners often say they can be a bit tricky to housetrain, and they have a knack for digging and even jumping fences.

Need to Know

The English setter does need a good bit of grooming and brushing to stay looking top-notch.

English Springer Spaniel

The English springer spaniel is a medium-sized, super-friendly breed, usually weighing about 40–50 pounds. They're pretty muscular and athletic, especially when it comes to hunting. Their coat is double-layered and comes in liver and white, black and white, or even blue roan. There are two types of English springer spaniels–the field and the show versions.

The field springers are leaner and have shorter coats, perfect for romping around outdoors. Both types are awesome as both hunters and family pets. They're super easy to train, too, which is always a plus. These dogs are incredibly friendly, but they really love their humans, so sometimes they get a bit anxious when left alone (in other words, they're prone to separation anxiety). 

Quick Tip

If you're looking for a more relaxed springer, go with the show version that has been bred more for companionship than hunting.

Field Spaniel

The field spaniel is kind of a hidden gem in the sporting group and looks pretty similar to cocker spaniels. They're not too big, not too small, weighing in between 35 and 50 pounds. Their coats come in a variety of colors, including black, liver, or even a mix of black and liver.

They're actually amazing as family dogs, and they get along really well with other animals too. They've got this calm, quiet vibe about them that's just so chill. When it comes to new people, they might be a bit shy at first, but once they get to know you, they're all about loyalty and love for their family.

Flat-Coated Retriever

The flat-coated retriever is known to be one of the athletes of the dog world, weighing a solid 55–70 pounds. They've got this gorgeous long, flat, and feathered coat that's either a sleek liver color or a classic black. Their feathering is beautiful, with fancy fringes on their bellies, tails, legs, chest, and ears.

Their head is a bit longer compared to other retrievers, with a lean, agile body. Their agile body has high energy needs, both mentally and physically. Since they always want something to do, training tends to be a breeze with this breed. But keep in mind that this breed is another one of those 'forever puppies' so that lively spirit they have as pups will last well into their senior years. 

German Shorthaired Pointer

The German shorthaired pointer typically weighs between 45 and 70 pounds, with the guys typically being a little heftier than the gals. Their coat is short and comes in pretty colors, like solid liver, a liver with a white ticked pattern, or liver roan.

Due to their energetic nature, these pups will need a significant amount of exercise and do best in a home that stays busy. The American Kennel Club calls this breed the 'perfect pointer,' because they are so versatile and have the smarts, affection, and skills combined all into one breed. 

Need to Know

GSPs are great with kids and make great family dogs, as long as you can give them the exercise they need.

German Wirehaired Pointer

The German wirehaired pointer guys are right in the middle, weight-wise, ranging from 45 to 70 pounds. They have a wiry, thick coat that's like a built-in jacket for cold, wet weather. Their coat does need a bit of upkeep, though — it requires stripping a couple of times a year, but the good news is they don't need much grooming on a daily or weekly basis.

Like their cousins, German shorthaired pointers, these pups have energy to burn and need plenty of exercise. They're super smart and really get into their training and working sessions. And when it comes to their human families, they're all about love and affection. Just a heads-up, though — they're not the best at being home alone for too long.

Quick Tip

They might not be the best match for homes with other small pets. 

Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are medium- to large dogs, weighing between 55 and 75 pounds. They have beautiful medium-length coats that need regular brushing and grooming. And like some other sporting breeds, there's a field version and a show version. The field-bred goldens are smaller with a reddish hue, while the show-bred ones are more of a classic golden color with a thicker, longer coat.

They're super popular in America as family dogs, and it's easy to see why. They're really smart and love to learn new things. They're stars at dog sports, they work as service dogs, and they're even heroes in search and rescue. They're as friendly and gentle as they come, and they're fantastic with kids and other pets. The downside is, due to their popularity, unscrupulous breeders have over-bred these dogs to the point of increasing cancer in the breed. 

Need to Know

This breed requires moderate amounts of exercise to stay happy and healthy.  

Gordon Setter

Gordon setters are relatively uncommon dogs that weigh between 45 and 80 pounds, with the boys usually being a bit bigger than the girls. They're actually the biggest of the setter breeds. Their coat is a stunning long black and tan color that definitely needs some regular brush time — about once a week should do it.

While they're pretty amazing as hunting dogs, there's a whole other side to them. They're super affectionate and just full of love. It's like having a big, furry, loveable shadow following you around. But they do need exercise — a good run or a long walk — to keep them happy and healthy.

Need to Know

They're a bit on the shy side with strangers, but once they get to know you, they're all heart. 

Irish Red and White Setter

The Irish red and white setter is a medium-sized setter, right in the sweet spot weight-wise, between 35 and 60 pounds. But here's the thing: they're a bit more on the stocky and muscular side compared to other setters. Their coat is a gorgeous combo of white and red, hence their name, but it does need a bit of TLC with regular trims and brushes to keep it looking sharp.

Personality-wise, these dogs are the life of the party — super outgoing and bursting with enthusiasm. But, heads up, their high energy levels can make training a bit of a workout. They need a lot of exercise every day, and if they don't get it, they might find their own ways to stay busy, and it's not always the kind you'd appreciate.

Irish Setter

The Irish setter is a real showstopper with their gorgeous long red coats, but to keep it looking dapper, it does need to be brushed a few times each week. These beauties are on the larger side of the sporting breed group, weighing in between 60 and 70 pounds.

As far as their personalities go, these dogs are just as sweet as they look. They're fantastic family members, and they enjoy all the cuddles you have to offer. Their energy needs are pretty high, so if you stay on-the-go, don't worry; they'll keep up. 

Need to Know

The Irish setter is super popular as a birding dog for hunters. 

Irish Water Spaniel

Irish water spaniels are the towering giants of the spaniel family, standing a proud 21–24 inches tall. They have a weight range of about 45–68 pounds, so they're pretty solidly built. Their coat is this amazing, waterproof, tightly curled wonder, and it's always a striking, solid liver color.

These guys absolutely love the water. They're naturals when it comes to swimming and are perfectly designed for water work. Training them? Piece of cake! They're super smart and excel in hunting and all sorts of dog sports.

Need to Know

Personality-wise, this breed is a bundle of joy — playful and affectionate — and they really enjoy hanging out with people.

Labrador Retriever

Labs are medium- to large-sized dogs, with a weight range of about 55 to 80 pounds. They have a strong, athletic look and a short, dense coat that's pretty much made for water — it's water-repellent! You can find them in yellow, black, or chocolate colors, and let me tell you, they're all equally adorable.

They've been voted the number one dog in the United States time and again. It's no wonder, really, because they make fantastic family pets. Labs aren't just friendly; they're super smart and trainable too. They're rock stars in roles like service dogs, therapy dogs, and search-and-rescue work. 

Lagotto Romagnolo

These medium-sized pups weigh in at 24-35 pounds when they're all grown up. Their coat looks kind of like a sheep with a trendy haircut — thick, curly, and totally wool-like — but feels more like hair. They come in all these cool colors, like brown, brown and white, orange, even orange and white, and brown roan. 

Lagotto romagnolo dogs are pretty active, but they don't need you to run a marathon with them like some other sporting breeds. Training them is a breeze, and they're pretty versatile — they rock at dog sports, they're amazing as service dogs, and even in search and rescue work. Originally, they were bred in Italy to sniff out truffles in the ground — yeah, those fancy mushrooms! So their sense of smell is top-notch.

Need to Know

Their coat is waterproof, and they're not the type to leave a fur trail everywhere; they don't shed much.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

These adorable little dogs, tipping the scales at a petite 20–30 pounds, have a medium-length, silky coat that's snowy white with these charming reddish patches. And their ears — they're feathery with cute black tips, and their tails are like fancy white plumes.

These pups are just the right amount of athletic and active without being over the top. They have sweet, loving personalities and are pretty quick when it comes to learning new tricks. Originally, they were bred for duck hunting in the Netherlands. 

Need to Know

Their name means ‘decoy dog’ in Dutch due to their hunting background.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

This breed is on the medium side as far as dogs go, weighing about 35–50 pounds. They sport a gorgeous solid red coat, and some of them have cute white patches on their faces and bodies.

They do shed, so you'll need to give them a good brush every week to keep their coat looking nice. These pups are full of energy and absolutely love swimming — they're like little furry athletes! They're the perfect buddies for anyone who's into hiking, camping, or just being outdoors.

But just a heads up, they do need plenty of exercise. They're happiest in an active home where they can burn off all that energy.

Fast Fact

They're actually the tiniest of all the retriever breeds!


Pointers are strong, athletic dogs, weighing in at around 45–75 pounds. They have a short and dense coat, which is super easy to take care of, and they come in some pretty cool colors like black, lemon, liver, orange, or even a mix of those with white.

They have an intense need for exercise, so they do best with an active owner. They're friendly, easy-going, and easy to train. They excel at hunting, dog sports, therapy, and service dog work.

Spinone Italiano

The spinone Italiano is a unique dog with a dense coat that requires regular stripping to stay in good shape. Their beautiful coat comes in a variety of colors, including white, white and orange, brown roan, and orange roan. Despite being part of the sporting group, they're still on the chill side compared to other breeds in their group.

They still need exercise each day, but they don't have super-high energy levels. They're total people dogs and make great family pets. Just a heads-up, though — they can be a bit tricky when it comes to housetraining. And, if they get bored, watch out for some fence-jumping and digging escapades.

Need to Know

Their name, derived from the Italian 'spino' meaning 'thorn,' aptly reflects their coat's purpose: protecting them from thorns and rough brush during hunting.

Sussex Spaniel

Sussex spaniels are adorable, medium-sized dogs weighing in between 35 and 45 pounds. They have a distinctive look with low, deep-chested bodies that are pretty muscular, and they come in a lovely liver color. And their personality? They're the epitome of friendliness, coupled with a super-calm temperament. Just the kind of pooch you'd love to hang out with on a lazy afternoon!

When it comes to exercise, it's a bit different with the sussex spaniel. They need low-impact activities as pups, which is really important considering they're the late bloomers of the dog world. They grow slowly and don't fully mature until they're about 18 months old. 

Quick Tip

If you're into leisurely walks and gentle playtime and looking for a chilled-out, cuddly companion, the Sussex spaniel might be what you're looking for.


Vizslas are super smart and eager-to-please, which makes training a breeze, whether it's general obedience, dog sports, or hunting training. They pick things up quickly. They do have a sensitive side, though, and they aren't huge fans of being left alone. They really thrive on companionship and interaction. 

They weigh in at around 44–60 pounds. And they have sleek, athletic bodies that just scream agility. And their coat? It's gorgeous solid red, short, and low-maintenance, which is great if you're not into spending hours on grooming.

Quick Tip

Vizslas need plenty of exercise every day to stay happy — think long walks, playtime, and lots of running around.


Weimaraners are quite the standouts, weighing in at about 55–90 pounds. They are lovingly nicknamed the 'gray ghost,' thanks to their unique, glossy short grey coat. The shades of their coat are pretty varied, ranging from dark grey to silver and sometimes even a dark blue, though that last one isn't exactly standard for the breed. 

Weims are super intelligent and trainable. They're amazing in all sorts of dog sports and are really versatile when it comes to hunting. But they do need a lot of exercise every day, so they're perfect for families with active older kids or adults. They're great family dogs, really affectionate and protective of their humans, but don't worry — they're not known to be aggressive. 

Need to Know

Most weims are short-haired, but there's a long-haired version too!

Welsh Springer Spaniel

The Welsh springer spaniel, a real charmer in the spaniel family, tips the scales at a cozy 35–55 pounds. What really catches your eye is their medium-length, silky coat that's not just pretty but waterproof, too, sporting a lovely white and red combo. And their heads are a bit unique compared to other spaniels. They have a straighter muzzle and a kind of domed forehead area that gives them a really distinctive look.

These dogs are super loving with their families, though they might play it a bit cool around new folks. They have energy to burn and need lots of exercise to stay happy and healthy. They're all about training (and anything else that helps them spend more time with their human) and really shine in both hunting and dog sports. 

Wirehaired Pointing Griffin

Wirehaired pointing griffons are pretty unique, weighing anywhere between 35 and 70 pounds. What really sets them apart is their rough coat, which usually comes in shades of gray with brown or chestnut markings. They're a low-shedding breed, although they do need regular brushing and the occasional stripping to keep their coat in tip-top shape.

These dogs absolutely love human attention and really don't like being left alone or cooped up in a crate too much. They need lots of physical activities and mental challenges to keep them content and happy. And when it comes to hunting, they're pretty versatile and super easy to train, making them stand out in various dog sports. 

Wirehaired Vizsla

The wirehaired vizsla weighs between 45 and 65 pounds and has a sleek and athletic look about them. Their coat, though, is a bit different than their vizsla cousins. It's wiry and dense and always comes in a striking, solid shade of red. 

They're perfect for families or individuals who lead an active lifestyle because, let me tell you, they need their fair share of exercise. On top of being super athletic, they're really smart and absolutely love training sessions. They form incredibly strong bonds with their humans, which does make them prone to separation anxiety, but it can be managed with the right steps. 

Common Characteristics of Sporting Dog Breeds

Many of the dogs in the sporting group bear some resemblance to each other, while others look quite distinct. They all share some basic characteristics that help them do the job they were bred to do, and this is what defines them as a group.

Sporting Breeds are Energetic

Sporting dog breeds naturally need enough energy and stamina to spend an entire day working in the field. While their high energy level is perfect for this purpose, these dogs need a great deal of exercise if they are kept strictly as pets. Otherwise, they tend to become hyperactive and somewhat destructive.

Sporting Breeds are People-Oriented

These breeds have been developed to be very responsive to people, since they were intended to work so closely with them. As a result, they also make fantastic companions and family pets, as long as they have plenty of activity that provides exercise as well as mental stimulation.

Sporting Breeds Are Easier to Train

These are intelligent dogs, and their game skills have been bred into them for centuries. Training usually just involves building on their natural instincts.

And they Have a Sturdy Build

Fragile dogs could easily become injured in the field. These dogs were developed for strength and stamina, no matter what size they are.

Sporting Dog Breeds Have Protective Coats

Sporting dogs work in all kinds of weather, and they work on land as well as in the water. Their coats are designed to insulate them from the temperature as well as repel water to keep them dry. Their natural defenses against wet and cold also means these dogs tend to love swimming.

Types of Sporting Dogs

Dogs in the sporting group can be divided into four basic types according to the job each breed was bred to perform. These types include the following:


These dogs were bred to work a field, find game by scent, and freeze in a down (called a "set") to indicate to the hunter where the birds are located. The AKC setters are the English setter, Gordon setter, Irish red and white setter, and Irish setter.


Like setters, these dogs find game by scent, but instead of laying down, they freeze in a standing position and "point" to the game. The pointers in the AKC sporting group are the German shorthaired pointer, the German wirehaired pointer, and the pointer.


These dogs bring game back to the hunter, which may include diving into water. The retrievers recognized by AKC are the Chesapeake Bay retriever, curly-coated retriever, flat-coated retriever, golden retriever, labrador retriever, and the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.


These dogs primarily help flush out game from the brush. The spaniels recognized by AKC are the American water spaniel, boykin spaniel, brittany spaniel, clumber spaniel, cocker spaniel (American), English cocker spaniel, English springer spaniel, field spaniel, Irish water spaniel, sussex spaniel, and the Welsh springer spaniel.

Other Breeds

There are a few other breeds that don't fit neatly within these types but excel at hunting activities. These AKC sporting dog breeds are the lagotto romagnolo, bederlandse kooikerhondje, spinone Italiano, vizsla, wirehaired vizsla, weimaraner, and the wirehaired pointing griffon.

Show vs. Field Dogs

In some sporting dog breeds, show dogs look different from working-field dogs. Both types can make excellent companions, as long as their exercise and training needs are met, although you may find field-bred dogs a bit more energetic.

The Irish Setter

For example, the beautiful, flowing red coat of a show-bred Irish setter would be ruined by a day out in a burr-filled bird field. An Irish setter from field bloodlines is likely to have a less luxurious coat.

The Labrador Retriever

This field/show difference is also seen in Labrador retrievers. Show labs are often shorter and heavier-built than their leggier, field-bred counterparts.

English Springer Spaniels

English springer spaniels bred for show are also much more glamorous-looking than their field counter parts.

Golden Retrievers

Show-bred golden retrievers are larger and stockier with beautiful blonde coats, while field-bred dogs are smaller and tend to have coats with a reddish shade.

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Meet the Sporting Dog Breeds: Athleticism & Art