If you plan on hunting with a canine companion, you certainly want the best hunting dog to get the job done.
However, the traits you want to look for in a hunting dog will vary depending on your prey of choice. For instance, if you enjoy bird hunting best, you want a dog with what is known as a "soft jaw;" labrador retrievers are famous for it. But if, for example, you are more interested in taking down big game, you might want a hunting dog that is more or less fearless, such as a foxhound.
Some dogs can most definitely be universal, like the coonhound. But regardless of the prey in mind, these are the traits to keep an eye on:
Temperament is a given. Regardless of what you need your canine companion for, you want a good temperament. A lot of times you want your hunting dog to double as a good family dog, in which case temperament is exceedingly important. While temperament varies from dog to dog, some dogs are just naturally calm and submissive.
You cannot afford for your canine hunting partner to be fearful. In the woods, the brush is thick, it can be dark, all kinds of noises and animals lurk from behind. Just as you must be quietly alert, your hunting dog can learn this calm approach from you. However, an inherently fearless dog gives you a full range of hunting prey - coons, foxes, rabbits, deer, elk, buffalo, etc.
Prey animals can be sneaky and fast. You want your dog to be able to pick up speed the moment the need arrives. Not all hunting dog breeds are gifted in this arena, so keep in mind the kind of game you're looking to hunt.
This goes hand-in-hand with stamina, but might be a little more prized for hunts that involve a little more duration than others. This is also a special quality as some dogs burn out easily and are not equipped for the long haul.
5. Jaw strength
As I mentioned earlier, a "soft jaw" is a highly sought after trait in the realm of bird hunting. If you're into big game hunting though, you don't have much use for a "soft jaw." A stronger jaw is more favorable on a hunting dog that will obey on command.
6. Unparalleled sense of smell
We want trackers; think bloodhound. Although in some cases we want our canine's to flush the prey, and in others we simply want them to point or mark, they need to be able to smell the prey without delay in order to do either.
You want a dog you can train, and train well. It may appear as though hunting dogs need less direction from their owners because they are traditionally known for their hunting capabilities, but they still need to know who is boss; it's you.
I realize this might seem a bit trivial, but some coats are simply too long, too fluffy, and would get caught on bushes and other noisy vegetation. Certainly, coats can be trimmed, but you may not want to take away a dog's natural ability to camouflage.
9. Sound sensitivity
Gun shyness is a deal-breaker. Although eliminating sound sensitivity can be accomplished through training, some dogs are less shy than others and are more willing to work with firearms.