Are Golden Retrievers Good Hunting Dogs? How to Choose Right!


Golden Retrievers are the perfect family dogs, but they have not always bee family dogs. Goldens were not even meant to be family dogs in the first place. They were meant to be the perfect companions to the elite on their hunting trips.

So, have goldens turned into pets or can they still perform?

Are golden retrievers good hunting dogs? Yes, golden retrievers are great hunting dogs and they are still excellent in retrieving birds due to their amazing sense of smell, and while they can be trained to flush out prey, they are not as good at it. The keys are to get a field-bred golden from a reputable breeder and to train them well.

Getting a good hunting golden retriever today is, unfortunately, not as easy as it was a century ago, but it can still be done. To understand more about what makes golden retrievers such good hunting dogs and what are their drawbacks and shortcomings, keep reading….

Why Are Golden Retrievers Good Hunting Dogs?

Golden Retriever running with a duck in its mouth to show why are golden retrievers good hunting dogs

Let’s take a quick look at the reasons why golden retrievers are good hunting dogs, even today:

  • They were bred for it
  • An incredible sense of smell
  • Easily trainable
  • Very intelligent dogs
  • Impressively energetic

Let’s quickly take a look at each of these reasons and see how they contribute to making golden retrievers such good hunting dogs.

They were bred for it

If you are not familiar with the history of golden retrievers, here is what you need to know; they were originally bred to fill a gap in the hunting dogs world. There was not a dog that could retrieve birds in water as well as they could do on land while also being friendly and gentle with strangers.

So, one lord decided to create this breed by mixing different dogs until we have the golden retrievers that we all know and love today. You can learn the full story of golden retrievers in my post on why are golden retrievers so gentle here.

They were bred to have everything that makes a great hunting dog; a great sense of smell, a double-coated coat that makes them great swimmers, a strong, muscular build that makes them able to run on rough terrain easily and be energetic for hours on end, and an intelligence that allows them to follow the hunter’s commands easily.

An incredible sense of smell

When you think of an incredible sense of smell you probably think of working and police dogs like German Shepherds, but golden retrievers have one of the strongest senses of smell in dogs.

Their noses makes them amazing hunting dogs that can track down birds no matter how far they glide after being shot, and they are able to track them down even in areas where there are lots of smells.

There are many hunters that swear that out of all retrievers, goldens have the strongest sense of smell and their goldens can track down birds that their friends’ dogs often can’t.

Easily Trainable

Goldens are one of the easiest dog breeds to train. Not only are they intelligent enough to pick up on their commands and what you need them to do, but they are also eager to please their owners and very obedient.

In fact, on average, golden retrievers can pick up commands after just three repetitions, which makes it easy to train them even for novices.

But as we’ll learn later, training a golden retriever for hunting and retrieving is quite different from training other dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers.

Very intelligent dogs

Golden Retrievers are amongst the most intelligent dogs, and this intelligence makes them exceptional when hunting and tracking birds.

Not only can they keep track of where a bird is going, but they can take shortcuts and they can figure out ways to reach the bird even in the toughest terrains where other dogs may be stumped.

Goldens are also smart enough to exert the exact right amount of pressure on birds when retrieving them, despite having pretty strong jaws and bites. This is what is called “soft mouthing”.

However, they can’t naturally do that and they need a bit of training, unlike what some people believe, but they are also much more receptive to this training than other dogs.

Impressively Energetic

Do you know how sometimes you feel that your golden retriever never gets tired? While this is not true, and they do get tired, it takes a lot more for them to reach this point.

Golden Retrievers are very energetic dogs, and you can even build up their stamina and they will be able to stay energetic and active for longer hours. This means they can keep running and retrieving all day long with no problems.

The Drawbacks of Golden Retrievers as hunting Dogs

They are too popular

The main problem with today’s golden retrievers as hunting dogs is their popularity. The explosive popularity for golden retrievers meant that their role was changed from primarily hunting dogs to primarily household pets.

With this change, the huge majority of golden retrievers in the world have lost their edge. This edge is what made them such excellent hunting dogs.

Training them is different

Training golden retrievers as hunting dogs is different from training other dogs. They will not respond well to the kind of rigorous training that you can use with other dogs.

Goldens need to be handled in a smarter and gentler way than the old and rough training methods we use with other dogs. You can’t run the same drill hundreds of times with golden retrievers the same way you can with labradors, and neither do you have to.

Goldens can pick up on commands and drills faster, so you will need to spend less time repeating them, but you also need to make it a fun and positive experience.

The key to training a golden retriever to hunt is to make them like it and want to be part of it, not for it to be “work”. Goldens respond to teaching, not pressure.

They have become softer

Today’s golden retrievers are “softer” than they used to. They are more comfortable laying around the house and spending time in dog parks than they are chasing and retrieving game for their hunters.

This makes them perfect family dogs, but not so good as hunting dogs.

This has effected the status of golden retrievers as hunting companions, and many people that still hunt don’t even know how good golden retrievers can be as hunting dogs.

Does this mean that golden retrievers can no longer be good hunting dogs? Absolutely not! Golden retrievers can still be magnificent hunting companions, but you need to put more effort in choosing the right dog and in training them.

Now, let’s discuss how you can choose the right golden retriever for hunting.

How to choose a good golden retriever for hunting?

Here is how to choose a good golden retriever for hunting:

  • Look for reputable breeders
  • Choose a field-bred golden retriever
  • Check their lineage
  • Look deeply into their health

Here is what this means in more details:

Look for reputable breeders

Where you get your golden retriever is the first and most important challenge you face. There are many breeders that will sell you a golden retriever puppy for a hefty price while claiming that it’s “hunting dog” while it may as far from the truth as possible.

You have to find a reputable breeder. The easiest way to do that is to go by word of mouth. Find someone you can trust that has a golden retriever as a hunting dog and go ask them for recommendations.

However, this is often not an option. So instead, you have to go by competitive titles like the Amateur Field Champion (AFC), Master Hunter (MH), hunting Retriever Champion (HRCH), or something that’s recognized as a performance title.

Choose a field-bred golden retriever

Hunting golden retrievers make for amazing pets, but the vice versa is not true. To find a good puppy for hunting and competition, you need to get a dog that’s field-bred.

A field-bred golden has been bred for generations to hunt and they will have a shorter coat. They look just a bit different and they will exhibit the right drive and retrieving desire.

Longer coats are associated with golden retrievers from the show line, and while these long coats look magnificent, they make hunting in different terrains difficult. For example, if you hunt somewhere where there are cockleburs, which can be a problem for long-haired goldens.

You should also know that field-bred golden retrievers can be a bit more expensive, so be prepared to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for a field-bred golden retriever puppy.

Check their lineage

Once you find a trusted breeder, you should trust them and be upfront with them. Tell them that you are looking for a golden retriever that will be the perfect hunting companion. They are going to be able to recommend the right dog for you.

However, you should also take some time to check the dog’s lineage. If there are any issues, even small and insignificant ones such as having wavy hair when they grow up, you will be able to find out about them by checking their parents.

You will also be able to know what they will look and act like when they grow up by checking the parents. Some golden retriever puppies change colors as they grow older, and looking at what color both parents are is your best indicator of what color your golden will be like when they grow up.

You can learn of other ways to know what color your golden retriever puppy will be when they grow up here.

Look deeply into their health

Golden Retrievers are prone to many health problems like hip problems, which is why you must check all the health clearances of your puppy before making a decision.

If you are really serious about getting a stellar hunting dog, you should use a canine ophthalmologist for eye clearances, a canine cardiologist for heart clearances, and conduct DNA tests to check the lineage of the dog and make sure their breeding was proper.

Conclusion

As discussed in the post, Golden Retrievers make for excellent hunting dogs, and they are specialized in retrieving birds. They can be trained to flush out prey as well, but there are many dogs that would be better at it than them.

The problem with getting a golden retriever as a hunting dog is that you have to know what you’re looking for and spend a bit more effort (and probably money, too) to find a proper field-bred golden retriever.

But if you do find a reputable breeder, check the health clearances of the puppy, and are able to properly train them, you will be more than happy with them as companions in your hunting trips.

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Related Questions

Are Golden retrievers used for hunting?

Yes, Golden Retrievers are used for hunting as they make for excellent hunting dogs for hunting birds in particular. Goldens are energetic, smart, and have a very keen sense of smell that make them excellent companions for hunters.

Can golden retrievers be bird dogs?

Yes, Golden Retrievers can be excellent bird dogs. They have been used as hunting dogs to retrieve game – especially birds and ducks – with great success thanks to their love for the water, energy, intelligence, and keen sense of smell. They are also very eager to please their owners.

Can Golden Retrievers Duck Hunt?

Yes, Golden Retrievers can duck hunt. Goldens can be trained to do anything their owner wants them to, and they excel at retrieving birds, ducks, and geese thanks to their energy, keen sense of smell, and eagerness to please their owners.

However, some golden retrievers are better at it than others, and field-bred golden retrievers tend to be better for hunting than other goldens.

Useful Resources

Golden Retriever History: Behind the Breed’s ‘Unfashionable’ Past

The Origins of the Golden Retriever Revisited

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