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The Best Dog Breeds for Outdoorsy Families: Sporting dogs

By J. E. Davidson

Choosing a dog that fits your lifestyle is an important part of successfully companion dog ownership. The breed is often chosen on impulse, because of its appearance, reputation, or as the current fad, and not for the particular characteristics that will make it a good pet that fits the family’s lifestyle and activity level.

Families or individuals who are outdoorsy and active should consider choosing a dog from the sporting group. Also known as gun dogs, or bird dogs, these dogs were originally bred for their natural hunting abilities but many of the breeds are becoming popular family pets because of their general good nature, energy and endurance. Sporting dog breeds tend to be happy, friendly dogs who thrive on outdoor activity with their families. They will enjoy hiking, camping, swimming and jogging, or a rowdy and vigorous game of fetch! Sporting breeds also excel at obedience, field and agility trials with proper training.

Sporting dogs are energetic, love to run in open spaces and do not do well when they are confined. They are not suited for apartment life! A large fenced-in yard is ideal since they may not get enough physical activity even with two or three walks a day. Sporting breeds are happiest when they are working or playing, become bored easily, and may become overly rambunctious or destructive inside the home when they don’t get enough exercise.

Most sporting dogs enjoy swimming if they are gently introduced to bodies of water as puppies. Never throw the puppy in since this may teach him to fear water, but find a shallow spot for him to play in. Allow him to enjoy himself and get used to the water at his own pace. It won’t take long! Another dog who is swimming may tempt him to take the plunge.

Labrador Retrievers have become one of the most popular family dogs in the sporting group. They are happiest when they are with their people, and are too friendly to be good guard dogs! Labs are gentle with children and get along with other family dogs although they may tend to be a bit jealous. Especially exuberant as puppies, they need lots of physical activity to keep them from becoming bored and destructive.

Golden Retrievers are also extremely popular. A well-mannered, charming breed that loves people and other animals, Golden Retrievers are wonderful family dogs that are gentle and patient with children. They have little guarding instinct but make good watchdogs that will loudly let you know when a stranger approaches! Golden Retrievers love to please and excel at obedience trials.

English Springer Spaniels are intelligent, cheerful, and playful dogs who love everyone. They have high energy levels which make them a great pet for families with active children. English Springers can cover rough terrain with speed, agility and endurance. They are not as active indoors as some of the other sporting breeds and will adapt to city life if they have a medium-size yard in which to run.

Weimaraners are proud and aristocratic dogs. Fearless but not overly aggressive, they are protective of their families. Intelligent and eager to please, Weimaraners need lots of attention and respond well to obedience training. They do well with children when raised around them but may be too rambunctious for families with very young children. This breed has strong prey instincts and may be a threat to other pets in the household, or try to dominate other dogs.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are the ideal pets for families who love winter sports. Bred to hunt fowl on the icy New England coast, their thick waterproof coats allow them to tolerate adverse weather conditions. Brave, powerful and assertive, they are excellent watchdogs. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are good with children when they are raised with them. They can be stubborn and strong-willed and do best with owners who have some experience with dogs.

Irish Setters are outgoing dogs with even temperaments. They are great with children and like to play with other dogs. Sweet-natured and playful, Irish Setters love plenty of attention and affection. They are not “stupider” than other breeds as some people believe, but they are stubborn and easily distracted and need an owner with the patience and commitment to train them properly.

German Shorthair Pointers are intelligent and eager to please but can be stubborn and willful. They are loyal and affectionate with their families but often standoffish to strangers. This breed is a large, energetic dog that does best in a family with active, older children.

Cocker Spaniels have been popular family pets for decades. Their small size and sweet, cheerful dispositions make them wonderful companions for children. Cocker Spaniels need moderate exercise to keep them trim. They are sensitive dogs that need disciplined gently.

Many other sporting breeds are quickly gaining popularity as family pets. When choosing a sporting breed be sure you can fulfill the dog’s need for the great deal of physical exercise and attention that they need to be happy. Too many sporting dogs end up in shelters because their owners did not realize the amount of physical energy the breed contains and considered them “hyper” and uncontrollable. Obedience training will be necessary to keep their exuberance and independence in check at appropriate times.

Buy a puppy from a reputable breeder who knows good specimens of the breed they produce. Puppies from pet store “puppy mills” or backyard breeders may not have the gentle, friendly nature that is so characteristic of a well-bred sporting dog.

Sporting dogs are not for everybody, but you don’t need to be a hunter to own one!

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