Mixed Breed Dogs Can Make Great Hunting Dogs Too


A lot has been said about how effective purebred hunting dogs can be on game. But you rarely hear about mixed-breed hunting dogs. Can mixed breed dogs make great hunting dogs?

Mixed breed dogs can make great hunting dogs.  But not every mixed breed dog will be a good hunter.  Mixed breed dogs that are the result of breeding two hunting parents of different hunting breeds will produce the most predictably good hunting dogs.  Dogs of undetermined origin might have some natural hunting ability, but it is far from a sure thing. 

If you are getting a hunting dog, you’re about to invest a good amount of time and money in the dog.  For the best chance at getting a good hunting dog, choose a puppy from proven hunting lines with proven hunting parents.  If you have a mixed breed dog already, take the dog hunting, you might discover your dog has natural ability and will make a great hunting companion.

Mixed breed hunting dogs can be a contentious subject.  Those with mixed breed hunting dogs are excluded from most hunting dog competitions and hunting dog organizations which are often only open to purebred dogs.  On the other hand, mixed breed owners often sing the praises of their hunting companions and it is not uncommon to hear stories of a mixed breed dog that could out hunt any top purebred hunting dog, so let’s unpack this subject a bit more.

What is a mixed breed hunting dog?  A mixed breed is any dog whose parents are not from the same breed.  For example, if an English Pointer and a Springer Spaniel got together and had a litter the resulting puppies would be a mixed breed.  Furthermore, a mixed breed does not have to be the result of just two purebred dogs of different breeds.  A mixed breed dog could be one that is part golden retriever, part poodle, part spaniel, part Pitbull or any other untold number of breed combinations.

What is a purebred hunting dog?  A purebred hunting dog is any dog whose parents are both from the same breed.  For example, if an English Pointer and another English Pointer got together and had a litter the resulting puppies would be purebred.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mixed Breed Hunting Dogs

Advantages

Cost: If you know what you are looking for, you could get the hunting dog of a lifetime for a fraction of the cost of a purebred hunting dog.  Let’s say a champion English Setter snuck into the pen of a world class Britney and the result was a litter of Setter/Britney puppies.  These would be mixed breed puppies.  While purebred offspring of either dog would sell for $1000 or more.  The pups that are a result of this accidental breeding would most likely be given away or sold very cheaply.  These puppies would most likely some of the best hunting dogs anyone would hope to own. 

Less Genetic Disease:  Mixed breed dogs will have more genetic diversity than their purebred cousins.  Because of this mixed, breed dogs are less likely to suffer from genetic diseases that plague certain breeds or diseases that result from the higher degree of inbreeding that can be prevalent in purebred dog.  The higher amount of genetic diversity in mixed breed dogs, for these reasons, lead to a better chance at a healthy dog by not having the genetic deck stacked against them as some purebred breeds do.

Purebred dogs especially those coming from rarer breeds can have higher occurrences of genetic diseases and diseases that result from their limited genetic diversity.  With a small pool of purebred dogs available to breed, inbreeding can become common.  Breeders seek to strengthen desirable traits by introducing dogs with these traits often into their line.  Sometimes this can mean introducing the same genetics into the line in multiple spots.  This may have the desired effect of creating puppies with off the chart’s abilities, but it may also create unwanted consequences of health issues due to lack of genetic diversity. Breeders in rarer breeds will closely monitor inbreeding co-efficient, a number generated and assigned to a breeding that represents how inbred the resulting puppies will be.  The goal is to keep the co-efficient low and which signifies genetic diversity but also acknowledges some amount of line breeding (breeding dogs with the same or similar grandparents or great grandparents) to strengthen particular traits.

Disadvantages

Less Community: Mixed breed hunting dogs do not have the communities established around them that purebred hunting dogs do.  There are fewer trails, competitions and training clubs dedicated to mixed breeds.  Also, many trails and hunting dog competitions are closed to mixed breeds.  This is because many of these trials and competitions were established by breeders who wanted to test the effectiveness of their breeding programs.  They want to know if they are creating better dogs with each successive generation.  Because of this, over the years they have devised testing systems to gauge their breeding techniques.  Because testing of mixed breeds does not fit the goals of establishing these tests and trials, mixed breeds are often excluded from participating.  Because mixed breeds cannot participate in many of the trials and competitions, they also miss out on may of the organizations and clubs that have been established to build communities around training for these tests and trails. 

Unpredictability: It is harder to predict if a mixed breed dog will be a good hunter.  While two proven hunting dogs of different breeds mated together will likely produce predictably good hunting dogs.  The mixed breed category also includes parings of proven hunting dogs with unproven dogs or even two unproven dogs.  Because of this, it is much harder to say if mixed breed dogs will categorically be good hunters.  However, if you buy a dog from proven hunting lines and proven hunting parents you will likely get a great hunting dog even if its parents are from different breeds.  

Crossing Hunting Styles:  There are multiple categories of hunting dog.  These categories of hunting dog are a result of dogs being bred to strengthen certain traits in the dog.  Generation after generation these traits are strengthened until the breed is very distinct in the style of hunting it is used for.   Hunting styles include flushing dogs, pointing dogs, retrievers, sent tracking dogs, and catch dogs to name a few.  Crosses between dogs of different styles will dilute the trait each breed is known for which may impact the style of hunting that dog can be used for.  For example, a breeding between a pointing breed and a flushing breed may result in puppies that don’t point (stop when they sent a bird and hold still until the hunter arrives).   A hunter who enjoys the pointing dog style of hunting won’t be happy with a pup that doesn’t point.  And a mixed breed pointing/flushing dog will be less likely to point then to pointing dogs of the same or different breeds.

What Mixed Breed Hunting Dog Combinations are Best?

The best mixed breed combinations will be breeding of established hunting dog breeds, bred for the same style of hunting, from proven hunting parents.  A good example would be an English Pointer breed to a German Shorthaired Pointer.  Both breeds are hunting dog breeds, both breeds are pointing dogs in the style of hunting they are bred for.  Then lastly, if both the male and female breeding pair were good hunting dogs this would be a good breed combination to look for.   Similar breeding in the flushing dog, scent hound, retriever, or any other style of hunting dog that you are interested in hunting should yield the same great results.

What are the Traits of a Good Hunting Dog?

Evaluation of a good hunting dog comes in many forms with many opinions, but here are some basics to judge a good hunting dog.  Find a hunting dog with these qualities and you will have a great hunting dog regardless of whether it is a mixed breed or purebred or if both of the dog’s parents have these attributes chances are they will pass them on to their puppies.

  • The dog must have a good nose.  This means a good sense of smell and ability to use it.  Hunting dogs rely on their sense of smell to locate game both alive (to flush or point for the hunter), or dead (to retrieve or recover game that has been shot by the hunter to ensure it does not go to waste).  A dog will show a good noise by finding game where others miss it.
  • The dog must show desire.  Desire is the willingness to work.  Dogs with high amounts of desire will not quit easily and will continue hunting hard.  This is important to be able to find and locate game (prey drive) but is especially important for recovery of game.  Having a dog that is willing to chase down or search hard for dead or wounded game and aid in its recovery is of the highest importance.  A dog without desire to hunt and recover game leads to a loss of game which is a cardinal sin among any hunter worthy of the title of hunter.  Word of caution: it is up to the hunter to rein in a dog with huge amounts of desire so they don’t hurt themselves by overexerting. 
  • The dog must show cooperation.  A hunting dog and the hunter are a team.  A dog that only hunts for themselves makes a poor dog.  A dog that shows cooperation takes direction easily from the hunter.  An example of this would be a dog that watches the hunter and hunts the direction the hunter is going instead of hunting on and assuming the hunter will follow.  You are likely to hear stories of great hunting dogs that seemed to know what the hunter wanted without the hunter having to give a command, these stories are about hunting dogs with great cooperation.
  • The dog must show intelligence.  A good hunting dog is a smart one.  Hunting a smart hunting dog will result in more game harvested and a better hunting experience.  An intelligent hunting dog will learn from the hunter quickly but will also learn from the game quickly.  An example of this is would be a dog hunting running pheasants where the dog learns to swing wind of a running pheasant to get ahead of it and pin it between itself and the hunter giving it no choice but to fly and present the hunter with a shot.  

What Mixed Breed Hunting Dogs Should You Avoid?

  • Designer dogs – labradoodles, cockapoos, etc.  While technically these are dogs resulting from breeding two hunting dog breeds (standard poodles were originally bred for hunting and some lines still are incredible hunting dogs), these dogs are bred for pet owners, not for their hunting ability. Meaning they can lack in nose, desire (prey drive), cooperation and/or intelligence.  Not saying there aren’t good hunting labradoodles out there in the world.  I’m just pointing out that your odds of getting a great hunting dog from these types of breeding is lower than if you follow my advice of looking for hunting dogs from proven hunting dog lines, with proven hunting parents.  To top it off these designer dogs are often expensive.  For the best chances at a good hunting dog, look in a different direction then designer dogs.
  • Breeders trying to make a buck peddling an angle.  There are often breeders on the fridges that are selling something unique at a higher dollar.  Chances are these breeders are good salesmen, but their goods don’t measure up.  Be honest in your evaluation.  If it sounds too good to be true it likely is.  In my opinion, an example of this is Pointing Labs.  Breeders who claim to have bred Labradors a traditional flushing style dog, to point like an English Pointer or English Setter.   It took generations and hundreds if not thousands of dogs on a very large scale to breed the pointing instinct into pointing dog breeds.  It seems suspect to me that a single or handful or breeders were able to do the same thing into particular Labradors in relatively short order.
  • Crosses between two different styles of hunting dog.  Retriever with pointer, pointer with spaniel, etc.  As mentioned before these pairings might result in dogs with all the traits of a  great hunting dog, great noses, great desire, great cooperation, great intelligence, but their utility will suffer because they may not hunt in the style you are hoping for, and likely the dog will already be an established member of the family before you figure that out.

Can You Rescue a Purebred Hunting Dog?

Yes, absolutely you can rescue purebred hunting dogs.  Each breed has established rescue programs.  This can be an excellent way to get an amazing hunting dog that is a proven hunter without gambling on a puppy’s natural ability.  Often these dogs will have had some amount of hunting training.  It is important to evaluate the dog as a hunter if that is what you are looking for.  Ask to take the rescue dog out on a hunt before you become its forever home to gauge if the dog will work for you, your family and your hunting style.  Hunting dogs are given up for a variety of reasons.  Some hunters get in over their head owning a hunting dog that requires lots of exercise and attention.  That same dog might be the perfect fit for a different home.  So be honest with what you are looking for and properly evaluate the dog.  Getting involved in training groups and trailing or testing groups can also be a good way to a chance at rescuing a top-notch dog.  You are more likely to hear of a dog needing a home and get a help with a proper evaluation of the dog form these types of groups then general breed rescue websites.  

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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