There are several types of gundogs, each type consisting of multiple breeds.
A retriever is a type of gun dog that retrieves game for a hunter. Retrievers were bred primarily to retrieve birds or other prey and return them to the hunter without damage. Although spaniels and some pointing breeds routinely retrieve game, and many retrievers are skilled in finding game, retrievers are distinguished in that non-slip retrieval is their primary function. As a result, retriever breeds are bred for soft mouths and a great willingness to please, learn, and obey. A soft mouth refers to the willingness of the dog to carry game in its mouth without biting into it. “Hard mouth” is a serious fault in a hunting dog and is one that is very difficult to correct. A hard-mouthed dog renders game unpresentable or at worst inedible.
The retriever’s willingness to please and trainability have made retrievers such as the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever popular as assistance dogs.
A pointing breed is a type of gundog typically used in finding game. The name pointer comes from the dog’s instinct to point, by stopping and aiming its muzzle towards game, while often lifting one front leg in the process. This shows the hunter the location of the quarry and allows them to move into gun range.
Most continental European pointing breeds are classified as versatile gun dog breeds or sometimes HPR breeds (for hunt, point and retrieve). The distinction is made because versatile breeds were developed to find and point game as all pointing breeds, but were bred to perform other hunting tasks as well. This distinction likely arose because while the British developed breeds which specialised in tasks such as pointing, flushing and retrieving from land or water, in Continental Europe, the same dog was trained to be able to perform each of these tasks (albeit less effectively). The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association defines versatility as “the dog that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water.” As an example, German Shorthair Pointers are often used to retrieve birds, whereas, calling upon a Pointer to do the same would be less common. Unlike the pure pointing and setting breeds, many versatile dogs were bred for working in dense cover, and traditionally have docked tails.
Pointing breeds come in all varieties of coats, from short-haired dogs, to wire-haired dogs, to silky-coated Setters. Pointers are very high energy dogs and constantly think about hunting and tracking. They are also extremely sweet, love to cuddle, play with other pets, and enjoy the company of other humans. They are a very independent, loyal, and responsive breed–they respond well to scolding and are extremely intelligent.