Hunting with dogs in Great Britain was always a big part of their hunting culture. Many hunting breeds originated on that small island over the centuries.
Even though hunting with dogs in Britain is not as popular as it used to be, the breeds they developed are being used for hunting in many other parts of the world.
English Hunting Dog Breeds
- English Foxhound
- Basset Hound
- Golden Retriever
- Flat-Coated Retriever
- Curly-coated Retriever
- English Setter
- Gordon Setter
- English Pointer
- English Springer Spaniel
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Sussex Spaniel
- Field Spaniel
- Airedale Terrier
The English Foxhound is one of the best-known breeds of hounds that originated in England.
As the name suggests, it was bead for fox hunting.
The breed is medium to large in size (up to 27 inches) and can come in any hound color, mainly tricolor, but also tan, red, or black with a white base.
The English Foxhound is known to have an excellent sense of smell and was used, and in some parts of the world still is, for fox hunting in packs accompanied by mounted hunters.
The breed can be traced back about 200 years, with stud books dating as early as the 18th century, and was a popular exporting breed during the British rule over India.
During that time, many foxhounds were shipped to British India for jackal coursing.
Another one of the scenthounds developed in the UK is the Beagle.
The breed resembles its bigger cousin, the English Foxhound, in coloring and body build, but it’s much smaller, reaching only 16 inches maximum in the withers.
The Beagle was developed to hunt hares and rabbits, but not foxes. Hare hunting with beagles is usually done on foot with a small pack of beagles (usually not more than 10).
The modern breed of Beagle was established around the 1830s from a pack of beagles belonging to Reverend Honeywood from Essex.
Beagles have an excellent smell, and their small size and good temper make them perfect as detection dogs and pets.
The Harrier is a medium-size dog similar to Beagle and English Foxhound.
The breed is smaller than the Foxhound but bigger than Beagle, reaching about 20 inches in height.
As the name suggests, the breed was developed for hare and fox hunting and is the most popular hound in Ireland.
There are many conflicting stories about the Harrier’s origins, from being a Foxhound descendant to Bloodhound, Talbot Hound, and Basset Hound cross.
The breed is not recognized by its country of origin, but it has belonged to the Hound Group in AKC since 1885.
One of the best noses in the hound world belongs to Basset Hound, another UK hound breed.
The Basset Hound is a medium to large dog with very short legs resulting from achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism. It doesn’t reach more than 16 inches in the withers.
The breed was developed for hare hunting, but thanks to their amazing noses, they also excel at finding wounded game.
The breed ancestors from France were introduced in England around the 1870s and crossed with Bloodhounds, giving the start of modern-day English Bassets.
Next to their bigger cousins, Bloodhounds, and Basset Hounds are one of the most recognizable breeds – with their droopy eyes, dewlaps, and one of the longest sets of ears known in the dog world.
Not as well known as other hounds in the UK, the Otterhound is one of the rarest breeds worldwide, with less than 600 dogs.
The breed was first recorded in North-West England at the beginning of the 19th century.
The breed was developed for hunting otters on land and in the water. They possess an amazing set of skills, like being able to find otter trails on the water.
Due to the ban on otter hunting in the UK, the breed declined, and most of the remaining animals were incorporated into the foxhound pack. There are only two pure otterhound packs in existence.
The Otterhound is a large dog with an imposing head, thick limbs and tail, and a rough and oily double coat that comes in a wide variety of colors.
The Greyhound is another well-known hunting dog breed that originated in the UK.
It is believed that the “greyhound” dogs were known as far back as 4000 years, bred in Eastern Europe, and brought to England with soldiers of the Roman Empire, but the modern Greyhound only appeared in records of private studbooks in the 18th century.
Primarily bred for sight hunting hare, fox, and other fast, small game, Greyhounds excel at speed, reaching up to 44 mph.
Although Greyhounds are not as popular as Foxhounds or Beagles in general, in the US, hunters found a new use for Greyhounds – coyote coursing.
Although the Greyhound is not built for strength, its imposing height of 28 – 30 inches is enough to make any coyote think twice.
One of the most popular breeds in the US, the Golden Retriever, originated in Scotland but was widely used in the whole UK.
The Golden Retriever started from a yellow-colored Flat-coated Retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel in the 1860s in the estate of Baron Tweedmouth in Scotland.
There isn’t a dog lover that doesn’t know about this lovable breed. However, the Golden Retriever is not just good looks.
The breed can hunt waterfowl and upland with enough verve, pleasing its owner by retrieving all the downed birds.
The Golden Retriever is not as strong a swimmer as Curly or Chessie due to its long coat. In water, the coat weighs the dog, slowing it down.
The Flat-coated Retriever is an English breed that gave the foundation for the famous Golden Retriever.
The breed’s ancestry isn’t known with certainty. Still, there are speculations of Setter, Collie, and a few North American breeds being involved in creating the Flat-coated Retriever in England in the mid-19th century.
The Flat-coated and Golden Retriever resemble each other in most aspects except the color and the coat length.
While the Golden comes only in variations of yellow or red color, the Flat-coated Retriever comes in yellow, black, and brown, although yellow is usually disqualified in the conformation ring.
The coat is also shorter on the Flat-coated, allowing it for more agility in the water during the hunt.
The Flat-coated Retriever is not as popular as the Golden, but it is a genius hunter that can easily mark fallen birds and find the shortest way to them and back.
The Curly-coated Retriever is the English original. One can easily tell it apart due to the tight-curled waterproof coat in black or brown.
The breed is the tallest of the retrievers, measuring up to 27 inches.
It is believed that Curly came from a cross of two now-extinct breeds, the English Water Spaniel and the Retrieving Setter, in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
Although called a retriever, the Curly is adept at upland hunting and flushing. Some dogs also point, although it’s a short point before the flush.
Similar to other retrievers, the Curly-coated is an excellent family dog, with a predisposition to being a watchdog as they can be aloof with strangers.
The English Setter is a medium-size dog from England, bred especially for upland hunting.
There are two types of breed, the show and the hunting stock, and the difference between them is the build and the amount of feathering – the show stock is sturdier with more coat.
The English Setter is a skilled hunter, and its hunting method is to range out and methodically scent the field for birds, and point them to the hunter.
Some hunters prefer their setters to flush on command, and others like to flush birds themselves. Afterward, the English Setter should retrieve the downed bird.
The first English Setter was known in England over 400 years ago as a well-trained and developed upland game dog.
Although the Gordon Setter was developed in Scotland, the breed was also widely used throughout the UK.
The Gordon Setter is easily distinguished from other setters due to its black and tan coloration.
It is also the biggest of the setter family, measuring 24 – 27 inches.
The breed was originally designed for hunting upland birds in the early 1800s in Gordon Castle by the 4th Duke of Gordon and is always upbeat with a lot of energy, always ready to go hunting.
An interesting thing about the breed is that some Gordon Setters prefer to sit or crouch rather than point.
The English Pointer, also called Pointer, is a large dog, measuring up to 28 inches.
The breed was developed in England for upland hunting but without pressure on retrieving the birds after shooting.
The first mention of Pointers in England was about 1650 and spoke about dogs pointing hares for greyhounds to chase. Bird training didn’t start until the 18th century.
Hunters ofter prefer to hunt with the Pointer because of the ability to cover a lot of ground in one hunt and its prominent point.
The Pointer is very popular with upland game hunters in the US and, due to its adaptable and obedient character, with non-hunting but active families.
English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is one of those dogs that has two stocks: the hunting stock and the show stock.
Out of all the breeds, English Springer hunting and showing stocks differ the most between each other.
The English Springer was designed in England for hunting upland and small game by flushing them out of their hiding spots.
It is a medium-size breed, reaching up to 20 inches at the withers, with the working type being lighter and finer built.
The breed was first mentioned in a work of an English physician in 1576, but a more elaborate explanation was written in 1801, dividing litters into two types: Springing and Cocking Spaniels.
English Cocker Spaniel
Around 100 years ago, the English Cocker and the English Springer used to come from the same litter. The smaller dogs were used for hunting woodcock (the “cockers”), and their bigger siblings were “springing” game in the fields.
The breed’s history is, therefore, the same as the history of the English Springer.
Now, the English Springer is a separate breed, and one can tell it apart from Springers by its smaller size, longer and lower-set ears, shorter muzzle, and more abundant coat.
The English Cocker’s hunting method doesn’t differ from that of a Springer, although they are primarily used in the forest and dense cover settings rather than open fields due to their smaller size.
Another difference between Springers and Cockers would be their coloration. While Springer comes in black and white, liver and white, or tricolor, Cockers come in many different colors and variations, like sable, golden, or orange, among others.
The Sussex Spaniel, as the name suggests, originated in Sussex.
The Sussex Spaniel was known as early as the late 1700s and early 1800s as a sturdy and strong breed that mainly originated from an estate of Rosehill Sussex owned by Augustus Fuller.
It is a low and compact dog, measuring not more than 16 inches, definitely longer than taller.
During the hunt, it takes its time but can turn on the fifth gear when needed. The Sussex Spaniel can work through rough terrain, easily fitting below the dense undergrowth.
What’s interesting about this Spaniel breed is their sound when pursuing quarry. Some dogs can give tongue when on the trail.
The Field Spaniel originated in England as a show dog in the late 19th century.
The breed wasn’t popular amongst hunters due to its then black coat. However, the mix of Basset Hound blood in the Sussex/Cocker spaniel gene pool resulted in an excellent nose and high energy.
The breed is scarce, but the Field Spaniel is a perfect dog for upland hunting. Slower than the Springer, it will search the field and find many birds other dogs could have passed by.
A small posture of just 16 – 19 inches allows the Field Spaniel to fit under many briars and bushes to flush birds.
One of the easiest breeds of flushers to live with – it can switch off after the hunt and play couch potato the rest of the day.
The Airedale Terrier comes from the Aire Valley in the north of England and was developed in the 19th century by local otter hunters.
Originally bred for ducks, otters, and rats, the breed is capable of retrieving and tracking, as well as upland hunting.
Known as a King of Terriers, the Airedale is a multitasking dog, perfectly fitting families with kids, duck or big game hunters, police force, and farm yards.
Its coat is wiry, dense with a distinguished black saddle. It’s also considered hypoallergenic.
Hunting with dogs is a long tradition in England.
British hunters developed many varied breeds for different tasks, and although there are more breeds than what we put in this article, not all of them would be popular or still used for hunting, like Clumber Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Wire, and Smooth Fox Terriers, or Whippet to name a few.