Do Labs Hunt & Kill Birds? (All You Should Know)

By Benjamin Tash

Curious about whether Labrador retrievers have a knack for hunting and killing birds?

Wondering if your Lab’s instincts lean towards feathered prey? Or perhaps you’re specifically interested in their hunting abilities for bird hunting pursuits.

Look no further because we’ve got the answers you’re seeking!

Here’s Whether Or Not Labs Will Generally Hunt and Kill Birds As A Breed:

While Labradors, particularly those from hunting lines, inherently have traits beneficial for bird hunting, their primary role isn’t to kill but to locate and retrieve game. Their keen sense of smell, agility, endurance and natural swimming abilities, coupled with a moderate prey drive make them effective at tracking and flushing out birds. 

However, the ‘soft mouth’ characteristic of the breed ensures gentle retrieval and not killing. A well-trained Lab can efficiently pursue various birds like ducks, pheasants, or quail. 

Also, the capacity for hunting largely depends on their training, individual temperament, and lineage. Puppy mill Labs may lack these honed instincts. So, while Labradors can hunt birds, their role is typically that of a retriever, not a killer — eventhough they are capable of it. 

In this article, we’ll go over the 5 main factors that determine whether or not individual Labradors are able to effectively hunt and kill birds.

We’ll also touch on the techniques you could use to teach your Lab the effective bird hunting methods. 

Working labrador retriever hunting bird

5 Main Factors On Whether Or Not Labradors Will Hunt & Kill Birds

I. Breed Instincts and Individual Temperament 

Labradors make good bird hunting dogs, but they are less likely to kill them, here’s why:

1) Retrieving History

Originally bred as a waterfowl retriever, Labradors were expected to bring back the hunted game unharmed, which is quite different from killing.

This strong historical trait means that Labs have an instinctual predisposition towards chasing and retrieving, rather than attacking or killing birds. 

This retrieving history has been a key factor in shaping the temperament and behavior of Labs — making them obedient, patient and intelligent.

For instance, stories abound of Labs bringing back game birds to their owners without causing any damage to the bird which is a testament to their inherent retrieving instinct. 

However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of a Lab instinctively pursuing a bird if seen due to this deeply ingrained retrieving behavior. It’s crucial to remember that pursuing doesn’t equate to killing.

2) Soft Mouth

The term ‘soft mouth’ is often used in the dog world to refer to a dog’s ability to carry items in its mouth without damaging them.

Labradors have been prized for this trait, as they could carry game, including birds, without bruising or damaging it with their teeth. Labradors with a softer mouth are less likely to harm a bird they’ve caught.

Consider, for example, a Labrador who’s able to gently carries a fragile egg without breaking it — highlighting their ability to control the pressure they apply.

Their soft mouth trait allows them to carry even delicate creatures like birds without hurting them — meaning that even if they were to catch a bird, they would likely not kill it.

We’ve also written an article on how a Labrador’s soft mouth feature makes them exceptional upland bird hunters here: Can Labs Hunt Upland Birds? (8 Facts You Must Know)

3) High Energy Levels

Labradors, with their high energy levels, are a breed that loves to run and play. They often engage in chasing games which could be misinterpreted as hunting behavior.

If a bird were to flutter past a Lab, the dog might give chase purely because it’s moving — not with a predatory intent to kill.

Their need for exercise and stimulation might manifest in chasing behaviors but, once again, the ‘game’ typically ends at the capture for Labs.

In fact, there are numerous accounts of Labs who have chased birds, squirrels or other small animals only to be puzzled about what to do next once they’ve caught them.

As a caveat, the individual dog’s temperament, experiences, and training will ultimately dictate their behavior in whether or not they will hunt and kill a bird.

Some Labradors may have a higher prey drive and might be more inclined to chase birds, while others may be more passive.

Regardless, without specific training to kill, it’s highly unlikely that a Labrador would harm a bird, let alone kill it.

It’s crucial to remember that the behaviors are also significantly influenced by training, socialization, and the dog’s environment which will be discussed in later paragraphs. 

Read Also: Do Labradors Kill Snakes? (All You Should Know)

II. Training Experiences 

Training experiences can significantly enhance a Labrador’s capacity to hunt birds effectively and efficiently.

Here’s 3 ways how training might impact a Labrador’s aptitude for bird hunting:

1) Specialized Hunting Training

Hunting training imparts specific skills that improve a Labrador’s ability to track, locate, and retrieve birds. Techniques such as ‘soft-mouth’ training allow them to carry a bird without harming it. 

Dogs that have undergone this type of training are better equipped to retrieve birds without causing harm. This is a skill that isn’t innate, and untrained Labs might handle the bird roughly, often killing it unintentionally. 

Hunting line-bred Labradors also have a distinct advantage here as their lineage has been selectively bred for their hunting prowess.

They inherently have a good mouth – soft yet firm, reducing the possibility of bird damage. 

This is a trait that puppy mill Labs lack, as they are often bred without considering such specific traits. In addition, hunting line-bred Labs often start their training at an early age, enhancing the effectiveness of specialized hunting training. 

They display better adaptability to hunting gear such as decoys, bird launchers, and gunshot sounds, making them more proficient in the field.

Check Also: Can Labs Hunt Rabbits? (9 Ways Of How They Can)

2) Obedience and Command Training

Trained Labs follow commands better, which can be crucial in hunting scenarios. Commands such as ‘fetch,’ ‘stay,’ or ‘release’ could significantly impact the hunting experience. 

Untrained Labs may act impulsively, which can scare away birds or result in unsuccessful hunts.

Hunting line-bred Labs also usually excel in this area because they’ve been bred for generations to work alongside humans in hunting scenarios.

Their ability to understand and react to commands often surpasses that of Labs from puppy mills, as the latter are typically bred with less regard for their obedience or working abilities. 

The line-bred Labs, with their greater focus and eagerness to please, often respond quicker and more accurately to commands, providing a distinct advantage in hunting scenarios.

3) Tracking and Scent Training

Labradors, like many hunting dogs, have an exceptional sense of smell, which can be honed through specific training exercises.

Trained Labs learn to use this sense to locate and track birds, even in challenging conditions such as in dense vegetation or over large distances.

This is a critical hunting skill that untrained Labs, while still having a powerful sense of smell, may not utilize effectively due to lack of practice and training.

Again, hunting line-bred Labs often outperform their puppy mill counterparts in this regard.

Their lineage, selected over generations for their tracking and hunting abilities, provides them with an innate aptitude for scent work.

This genetic predisposition, combined with targeted scent training, allows them to excel in tracking birds.

Puppy mill Labs, which may not have the same heritage of hunting skills, might lack this specific aptitude or require more training to reach the same level of competency.

Check also: Can A Lab Take Down & Kill A Coyote? (All You Need To Know)

III. Prey Drive 

While the prey drive in Labradors is typically less pronounced than in more predatory breeds, it can still play a significant role in their capacity to hunt and potentially kill birds — especially amongst hunting line-bred Labs.

Here’s how and why:

1) Prey Drive Instincts Rooted in History

The ancestral lineage of the Labrador Retriever traces back to Newfoundland, where they were originally bred to assist fishermen and later for hunting waterfowl.

Their purpose was to silently swim to the downed bird, retrieve it, and return it to the hunter.

This job required a strong but controlled prey drive — too much, and they’d harm and kill the bird; too little, and they wouldn’t retrieve it at all. 

Hunting line-bred Labs are bred with this historical context in mind, ensuring a balance of this prey drive which makes them a more apt hunter of birds.

On the other hand — Puppy mill Labs, bred with less regard for maintaining these traits might not exhibit the same level of control or drive.

2) Combination of Prey Drive, Tracking & Retrieval Skills

Labradors have an excellent sense of smell, second only to the Bloodhound. This keen sense of smell combined with their prey drive enables them to track the scent of birds effectively.

 Their soft mouths – a trait perfected over generations of selective breeding – allows them to retrieve the bird without damaging it.

Hunting line-bred Labs, in particular, showcase these traits significantly more than their puppy mill counterparts. 

These Labs are chosen for breeding based on their keen tracking skills and gentle retrieval — making them considerably more efficient in this regard.

Check Also on how a Labrador’s superior eyesight helps them in this regard: Do Labradors Have Good Eyesight? (A Detailed Explanation)

3) Stimulation & Engagement

The presence of birds can be particularly mentally & physically stimulating for a Labrador.

Their movements, whether it’s the fluttering of wings or their quick, unpredictable patterns of flight, can spark interest and excite their prey drive.

This is again even more pronounced in hunting line-bred Labs, as they have been selectively bred for generations to react and engage with such stimuli in a hunting context. 

On the other hand, puppy mill Labradors, who lack this careful selective breeding, might not have the same heightened response or the honed ability to act upon this stimulation effectively.

Read also: Can Labradors Kill A Fox? (A Detailed Analysis)

IV. Agility and Endurance 

The Labradors’ physical attributes like speed, agility, and endurance, along with characteristic traits like webbed paws and otter-like tails, not only facilitate but also enhance their capacity to hunt birds.

These factors combined make them efficient hunters that are able to pursue and potentially kill birds.

Here’s why and how:

1) Speed & Stamina

Labradors have been bred for field work, which includes tasks like flushing game and retrieving shot birds. This work requires speed and endurance, both attributes that are naturally ingrained in this breed.

Not only that, these dogs can clock speeds up to 20 miles per hour thanks to their muscular build providing power to their stride. 

When it comes to bird hunting, the Labrador’s ability to sprint towards the spot where the bird falls can be the difference between a successful catch and a missed opportunity.

Additionally, their stamina allows them to continue this high-energy work for hours. Unlike some dogs who can sprint but lack endurance – Labradors are able to maintain a consistent pace over time.

This persistence in the field means they can keep up with birds which often fly short distances before resting.

Related Article: Why Are Labradors So Strong? (6 Reasons You Should Know + Tips To Maintain Strength)

2) Agile & Flexible Bodies

The Labrador’s agility goes hand-in-hand with their athleticism. A bird can often fly in unpredictable patterns while making sudden changes in direction.

And the ability of a Labrador to quickly adjust its course of action, to twist and turn and even leap, plays a critical role in hunting birds. 

If the dog is too slow or unable to maneuver rapidly, the bird will easily escape. 

The Labs’ flexibility isn’t just about their movement, but also their adaptability to different environments. Birds often dwell in diverse habitats – from marshes and riversides to dense forests.

A Labrador’s agility helps them in navigating through these differing terrains with ease — all while maintaining their pace and focus while tracking a bird.

So, all these factors combined make Labradors efficient hunters that are able to pursue and potentially kill birds.

You might also be interested in Can A Labrador Kill A Wolf? (A Detailed and Complete Analysis)

What Type of Birds Are Best Suited For A Labrador To Hunt and Potentially Kill?

1) Ducks

Ducks are indeed an iconic bird for retriever breeds, particularly because of their habitat. They tend to be in marshy or aquatic environments which are places a Labrador naturally thrives.

Ducks usually take off from the water surface once they sense danger, and due to a Labrador’s acute sense of hearing and sight, they are able to mark and remember the spot where the duck falls, retrieve it quickly, and importantly, bring it back undamaged due to their ‘soft mouth’.

This makes Labradors invaluable during duck hunting.

Read More: Do Labradors Have Good Hearing? (A Comprehensive Explanation)

2) Pheasants

Pheasants, being ground-dwelling birds, tend to take cover in tall grasses or bushes. Their earthy colors blend in with the surroundings, making them difficult to spot.

But a Labrador, with its persistent tracking ability, keen sense of smell, and ability to manoeuvre in such environments can prove highly successful in pheasant hunting.

Their swift, explosive take-off flight does not deter a focused Lab either.

3) Quail

Small and swift quails are a challenge for any hunting dog. They prefer to stay hidden in tall grasses and their sudden short flights when disturbed can surprise a dog.

But Labradors are known for their patience, persistence, and intelligence – coupled with the fact they are capable of following scent trails.

And because of that, Labs will methodically search for these birds until they locate them.

4) Woodcock

Woodcocks present an interesting challenge for Labradors. They inhabit densely wooded areas and are known for their swift, zigzagging flight pattern.

However, a well-trained Labrador, with its agility, perseverance and quick reaction time can successfully track and retrieve these birds.  

5) Geese

The size and weight of geese can be intimidating for some dogs. However, Labradors are sturdy, strong dogs that are more than capable of handling these larger birds.

Their strength, coupled with their gentle mouth, ensures that they can retrieve the bird without causing further harm

6) Dove

Despite their smaller size, doves can be tricky due to their fast and direct flight. But a Labrador with a keen sight and speed can mark down doves efficiently and retrieve them swiftly.

7) Grouse

Grouse can startle inexperienced dogs with their sudden, fast-paced flight when spooked.

However, Labradors with their level-headedness and focus can handle such surprises effectively.

8) Snipe

These small, elusive wading birds can be found in wetlands and marshes. They’re well known for their erratic flight pattern when flushed which can be difficult for some dogs to follow.

Despite that, Labradors with their inherent love for water and a knack for tracking are well-equipped for this challenge. 

The Labrador’s sharp vision allows it to mark the flight path and landing zone of the snipe accurately, despite its irregular flight.

Once the snipe is down, the Labrador’s excellent swimming skills and soft mouth come into play, retrieving the bird with care.

9) Teal

Teals are small ducks and are quite popular in hunting due to their speedy and unpredictable flight patterns.

These characteristics would pose a challenge for most dogs but Labradors with their agile nature and quick reflexes can effectively track and mark where the teal lands. 

Not to forget, Labradors are remarkable swimmers, allowing them to retrieve the downed teal from water bodies swiftly and efficiently.

Even on land, their agility and endurance come to the forefront — enabling them to be efficient retrievers.

10) Partridges

Partridges are ground-dwelling birds which often seek refuge in long grass to avoid predators. This hiding strategy could make them difficult to locate for some dog breeds. 

However, the Labrador’s exceptional sense of smell is a game-changer. They can pick up on the scent of the Partridge, track it, and flush it out of its hiding spot.

Even if the Partridge decides to take flight, the Labrador can keep its eye on the bird by tracking its path and retrieving it effectively once downed.

Read More: Will A Labrador Kill A Cat? (All You Need To Know)

How To Effectively Train Your Lab For Bird Hunting For Beginners

Training a Labrador to hunt and potentially kill birds can be an involved process.

It requires not only the physical conditioning of the dog but also the development of its innate skills and instincts.

Here are 7 tips of a beginner bird hunting training program for a Labrador:

1. Start Young

The ideal age for introducing a Lab to bird hunting is when they’re still a puppy. Their inquisitive nature and flexibility at this age make them more receptive to learning.

Building familiarity with scents, textures, and basic commands such as sit, stay, and come can create a solid base for later advanced training.

2. Strong Foundation

 It’s paramount that your Lab listens to your commands and trusts you implicitly. Obedience training forms the cornerstone of hunting training.

It ensures the dog’s safety, keeps it focused during the hunt, and builds a communication channel between the handler and the dog.

Regularly practicing these commands in varying environments ensures the Lab responds consistently.

3. Introduction to Birds

Initially, the pup’s curiosity can be piqued using feathers or bird-scented dummies(Amazon) Once comfortable, this can be gradually escalated to bird wings or whole birds, dead or alive.

This exposure serves to familiarize the Lab with birds and invokes its instinctual tracking and retrieving behavior.

4. Retrieving Training

The Labrador’s innate retrieving instinct can be nurtured using fetch games, initially with balls or dummies, and then moving onto bird dummies.

It’s essential that they learn to hold the bird gently without damaging it and only releasing when commanded. A soft mouth is a must-have trait for any bird hunting dog.

5. Water Training

Labradors are renowned swimmers. It’s imperative to harness this ability for waterfowl hunting. Start with shallow water bodies and gradually move to deeper waters, ensuring the Lab is confident and comfortable.

They should be able to retrieve a bird from the water and swim back efficiently.

6. Field Training

Training in different terrains is vital for a bird hunting Labrador. It helps them adapt to various environments, understand the scent dynamics in different conditions and boosts their tracking abilities.

They should also be able to navigate through woodlands, marshes and open fields while keeping track of the handler and the prey.

7. Gun Conditioning

Labradors should associate the sound of gunfire with a positive experience, ideally, the opportunity to retrieve. Start with soft noises, gradually increasing the volume over time.

Care should be taken to ensure the dog doesn’t develop gun-shyness. 

A well-trained Labrador can be an indispensable asset during a bird hunt as they are able to locate, flush and retrieve birds effectively. 

However, it’s crucial to remember that Labradors are typically used to retrieve game rather than kill it. They can locate and fetch wounded or dead birds but they’re generally not trained or encouraged to kill. 

This is especially true for Labradors from hunting lines, as their retrieving instincts have been meticulously honed over generations. 

The training approach might vary for Labradors from non-hunting lines or puppy mills but patience, consistency and understanding are always key to successful training.


Project Upland: Hunting Dogs — Labradors

AKC: Excellent Bird Hunter Breeds

DogForum: Dog Killed a Bird