Some hunters cannot imagine going on a hunt without a dog. There are plenty of great breeds to choose from.
Unfortunately, some of us want a hunting companion but don’t have enough space to accommodate one of the large breeds.
Not to worry, there are few small bird dogs. They take up a small amount of space but have big hearts for hunting and do their job with twice as much enthusiasm.
1. Cocker spaniel
2. Sussex spaniel
3. Boykin spaniel
4. American water spaniel
5. Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
6. Appalachian turkey dog
7. Small munsterlander
8. German hunting terrier
Originally bred in England, cocker spaniels are divided into American and English cocker spaniels. In their respective countries, they are called simply cocker spaniels. It is believed that the earliest dogs arrived from Spain, being mentioned as “spaynels” in the 14th-century texts.
The breed was very popular in the early 19th century, being used for hunting woodcock.
In the beginning, to discern cocker spaniel from various other spaniel breeds, hunters mostly relayed on the dog’s weight. Cocker spaniel needed to weigh below 25 lbs.
Nowadays, both English and American cocker spaniels are two separate breeds with their respective distinctive features.
English cocker is the bigger of the two, weighing between 28 – 32 lbs and having 38 – 41 inches in withers. The American cocker is 13.5 – 15.5 inches tall and weighs 24 – 30 lbs.
Both cocker spaniels have long ears and thick furs and come in a variety of colors, like black, silver, red, and tan. The English cocker comes in few additional colors, like orange, blue, ash, sable, and golden. The American cocker can be seen wearing a tri-colored coat.
In both cases, though, there are differences between the show and working strains. The working dogs usually have shorter ears and hair, less feathering. They tend to be more energetic.
The biggest difference from a hunting point of view between both cocker breeds is that English cockers tend to have a bigger prey drive.
That is not to say the American cocker spaniel won’t be any good for hunting. The cocker spaniel breed is still a very popular flusher and retrieves any bird up to the size of a duck or common pheasant.
The cocker spaniel, English and American alike, are generally very easy to train. They love their family and are eager to please. The only problem would be the amount of energy. Even though they are a small breed, they require a lot of exercise.
As the name suggests, the Sussex spaniel originated in Sussex, England. It is an old and noble breed. Low and compact, it is a relatively slow-paced hunter but can surprise with bursts of energy when needed.
The breed nearly went extinct during WWII. Though still relatively rare, it’s more popular in the US and UK than any other country.
The Sussex spaniel doesn’t grow taller than 15 – 16 inches and usually weighs between 45 – 50 lbs. It is longer than taller, more rectangular than square in shape.
The silky coat of the Sussex spaniel is long and weather-resistant, with distinctive feathering on the chest, legs, tail, and ears. Hair can be wavy or straight. The accepted color is golden-liver, although the breed used to wear black, white, or tan coats in the past.
The Sussex spaniel is well able to work rough terrain, covering upland with dense undergrowth, easily fitting everywhere due to its small size. Unlike most spaniels, the Sussex spaniel inherited the ability to give tongue when on the trail of its quarry.
Thanks to their low profile at home, they are a perfect match for apartment life. They can be your fluffy couch potato indoors, but don’t be fooled. The Sussex spaniel will do its job to the T during the hunt.
Despite its even-temper, Sussex spaniel needs an experienced trainer. It can get stubborn sometimes but won’t respond well to a rigid training hand.
An American native, Boykin spaniel is a state dog of South Carolina.
The breed started with a stray, spaniel-type dog found on the street. It showed retrieving predispositions and later crossbred with other hunting breeds by “Whit” Boykin in the early 1900s.
The Boykin spaniel is 14 – 17 inches tall and 25 – 40 lbs heavy. It is small and compact enough to fit in the canoe. The coat is usually slightly curly, but straight hair is also acceptable. The Boykin spaniel, like other spaniels, has feathering on its legs, chest, ears, and tail, although not as long as some of the other spaniel breeds.
The color of the Boykin spaniel’s coat varies between brilliant gold and dark amber. The ears and feathers on the chest and tail can have slightly brighter coloration. White spots on the chest and legs are also acceptable.
Boykin spaniel is a relentless hunter. It’s versatile and can work as a flusher and retriever, but thanks to pointer mix in early breed development, it can also track wounded game and point to a certain degree.
Boykin is easily trained and makes for a great family pet. It is eager to work and puts its great endurance to the test. Although it needs daily exercise, it needs to be monitored while outside playing or hunting. Due to inattentive breeding, some Boykin spaniels can experience Exercise Induced Collapse, which can be fatal to the dog.
It is a DNA trait that can be tested in young pups, so make sure you check it out if you decide to get yourself one of those little hunters.
American Water Spaniel
Another American native, the American water spaniel, is the top dog for waterfowl retrieving. Its small size allows the hunter to take it on the boat and the incredible strength and stamina of AWS enable it to jump into the water from the boat and bring birds the size of goose to the hunter.
This little spaniel, developed in Wisconsin, is now its state dog and enjoyed by many hunters in the Great Lakes region and many other parts of the country.
American water spaniel is 15 – 18 inches tall at the withers and weighs between 25 – 45 lbs. The coat is either curly or wavy (called marcel pattern), in different shades of brown. The coat of the American water spaniel is waterproof thanks to the coarse outer layer and fluffy and dense undercoat.
The upland hunting method of the American water spaniel is slightly different than other spaniels. It is known to hesitate before flushing to better locate the bird with smell or by sight. This method of flushing is called soft flush, and by AKC field test standards, the hesitation should be no longer than 5 seconds.
The waterfowl hunting from the boat is one of the specialties of American water spaniel. Due to its small size, jumping for water retrieve is not a problem. The American water spaniel won’t even rock the boat.
Like many hunting breeds, this little spaniel needs physical and mental stimulation. Otherwise, there will be troubles. The American water spaniel, as the name suggests, loves water.
They are also great family dogs that enjoy being in the center of attention. They usually bond with one person more than others and can get vocal if left by themselves for a longer period.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
The smallest of the retrievers, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, or toller for short, is bred and raised Canadian, straight from Yarmouth County in Nova Scotia, where it is now an official dog of the province.
The toller is a mix of retrievers, spaniels, and setters. It is often mistaken for a small golden retriever but is more physically and mentally active.
The average height of a toller is 18 – 20 inches, and it weighs between 37 – 50 lbs. The general appearance is that of a fox, with a wedge-shaped head and medium-length double coat in various shades of red.
There can also be white markings on the face, feet, chest, and tail.
The hunting method of a toller is very interesting and unlike any other retriever.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is not required to sit still beside the hunter in the blind. The hunter sends the dog to play in the reeds, snooping around and making some noise, generally imitating a fox in search of food.
Curious birds, like ducks or geese, will gather closer to see the commotion. At that point, the hunter calls the dog in, gets up, spooks the birds, and shoots. The dog is then retrieving any shot quarry.
Tollers are great family dogs and can quickly adapt to life in the apartment, as long as they have enough outdoor activity throughout the day.
They are excellent watchdogs but not reliable guard dogs. While they are good with older children, they can accidentally bump younger ones while playing, so supervision is required.
Appalachian Turkey Dog
John H. Byrne, Jr. created Appalachian turkey dog in Virginia around 40 years ago by mixing setters, pointers, and Plott hounds.
All the breeds contributed traits necessary to make an efficient turkey dog.
No established dog registry recognizes Appalachian turkey dogs. The inventor of the breed never bothered to make and register a show dog. His interest was purely in the phenomenal turkey hunting breed.
Because of the lack of breed specification, it is hard to know the exact size of the Appalachian turkey dog. There are not many dogs in the US. They are mostly bred by hunters and gun dog breeders invested in the turkey hunt.
The Appalachian turkey dog is a small to medium-sized dog with a rather short, smooth coat. The color is usually black and white, appearing in many different patterns.
The main purpose of the Appalachian turkey dog is turkey hunting, and they do this based on pure instincts. The work of the turkey dog is to track a flock of turkeys and barge in between them, barking loudly. The birds scatter around, and the dog comes back to the hunter. After that, when the turkeys try to regroup, the hunter calls them under the gun with his dog on his side.
Appalachian turkey dog at home is eager to please but can be strong-headed and needs a firm hand and constant training. If given enough outdoor exercise, it could become a couch potato indoors.
Small Munsterlander, or SM for shorters, is a German breed of pointing dog. The breed is considered to be around 500 years old. At the beginning only available to German nobility.
The SM was bred to work mainly with falcons. After the staunch point, the prey was flushed for the falcon to catch it. The SM would then point the falcon with the prey while waiting for the hunter to collect the quarry.
Small Munsterlander is one of the breeds developed in the Munster region of Germany, alongside the Large Munsterlander. The two are separate breeds from different breeding stock.
The SM stands 19.75 – 22 inches tall in withers and weighs between 38 – 58 lbs. The hair is of medium length and can be either straight or wavy but should not be curly. There is slight feathering on the front and hind legs and tail. The color of the coat is usually solid or ticket white with big brown patches.
The breed is still relatively rare in the US, although picking up the speed with increasing interest from hunters and people looking for a great family dog.
The SM are now versatile hunters, well able to retrieve from water and land and track wounded prey like deer, but their specialty is still hunting upland birds. They work close to the hunter, at a maximum distance of 100 – 150 yards in the light cover and much closer in the thick bush.
The Small Munsterlander can be intense and will surprise you more than once with its perseverance and stubbornness, but in general, it is a very cooperative dog aiming to please its owner. It gets very attached to its family.
German Hunting Terrier
The German hunting terrier, also called Jagdterrier, originated in Germany. Although like many other terriers, Jadgterrier is a perfect match for hunting burrowing animals, his extraordinary powers lie in the ability to adapt the hunting style to what the hunter needs.
When young, they are often mistaken for rottweiler puppies due to their compact and well-proportioned build.
German hunting terrier is 13 – 16 inches tall and weighs 17 – 22 lbs. Even though breeders preferred rough-coated dogs at the early stages of development, nowadays, you can still spot few dogs with smooth hair. The color is usually black and tan, but accepted variants are dark brown and grayish-black with cream.
The Jadgterrier is quite versatile, but his go-to style is definitely flushing: burrowing game or upland birds. If trained properly, it can also retrieve small birds from land and water. Many hunters successfully use Jagdterriers for boar, deer, and mountain lion hunting.
This little German hunter is always on the move. As most small terrier breeds, this one bursts with energy. It will adapt to living in the apartment only if it gets a lot of exercise during the day.
The Jagdterrier is very people-friendly but not dog-oriented and may be aggressive to strange dogs. Because of its strong prey drive, it should not be trusted with small, furry pets. If very determined, it can climb a tree chasing after the cat!