Chapter 2 – Picking a Puppy
Let’s start at the beginning.
So you’ve decided you want to get a hunting dog. The first step would be determining what species you intend to hunt with your new canine partner. Knowing what game birds you’ll be hunting will help you determine what breed of dog would be best for you. You may be interested in upland hunting so a pointer might be a good choice for you? I hunt predominantly waterfowl so a Labrador Retriever serves my purposes.
Once you’ve decided on the breed that best suits your needs you’ll need to do your homework!
Determine your budget. Hunting dogs can range anywhere in price from free from a neighbor to thousands of dollars. A common misconception is that the more expensive the dog the better that dog will hunt. That is not necessarily true. I have seen dogs that cost a couple thousand dollars struggle to show interest in chasing a ball. I have also seen dogs that cost the owners virtually nothing show incredible drive and natural instinct.
It’s very hard to argue with heredity and breeding. There are some incredible bloodlines out there that have taken generations to develop. That said I also believe that, like any other sport, great athletes can be made.
And yes…I consider hunting dogs to be athletes.
If you make the decision to purchase your dog from a breeder spend a lot of time researching that individual or kennel. Buying a dog from a reputable breeder is very important. Obviously you don’t want to support a puppy mill nor do you want to purchase a dog from a bloodline with noted health issues. Check references and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions.
A reputable breeder will be able to provide you with some credentials (AKC certification, veterinarians records, the bloodlines health history) for all of their dogs. A good breeder will provide some sort of health guarantee and most hunting dogs breeders will have some sort of training guarantee. Just because a dog has papers doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog will be free of genetic defects, nor does it mean they’ll finish first in field trials, but knowing the bloodline can certainly help to limit surprises.
Don’t be offended if the breeder spends some time researching you as well. After all they are trusting you to raise one of their puppies. A good breeder should ask you questions and try to help pair you with the right puppy. Most likely the breeder has spent a lot of time with puppies and will have a feel for their personality. In some cases, a breeder may ask you to take a personality test to help make the perfect match for their puppy.
Quick recap…you now know you want a hunting dog, you know what breed of dog you’d like, you have an idea how much money you’d like to spend and you’ve found someone that you trust to provide your new hunting companion.
Before we go any further I feel that it is imperative to point out that this puppy is a ten to fifteen-year commitment. If you cannot commit to bringing this puppy into your home for its entire life, please do not purchase a hunting dog! Stop reading this article and step away from the computer now.
If you are still with me let’s talk about what to look for in your new puppy.
As noted I am a Labrador Retriever guy so we will use that as our example. You’ll need to look at the breed and any breed subsets. Within the Labrador Retriever breed you’ll have the option of American vs. British. You’ll also have a color variation (Yellow, Black, Chocolate). Lastly the difference in personalities between the sexes, male vs. female.
On your visit to the breeder have a game plan in place. I’d also strongly encourage you to bring someone else along with you to help watch the reactions of the puppy, its littermates, the mother and even the breeder. I would also empower your assistant to veto your decision should you “jump the rails” and stray from the game plan when surrounded by all those cute little puppies.
Plan to take your time. Do not go to look at puppies if you have dinner reservations or somewhere else to be that may force you to rush into a bad decision. Make sure that you connect with the sire and dam (if they are both onsite). Watch the litter to see how each of the puppies interact with one another.
Don’t be afraid to ask the breeder questions and get their opinion on each dog. As I mentioned before some breeders will ask you to take a personality test before picking out your puppy. The reason for this test is so they can help you identify which puppy may best suit you. Remember the breeder spends almost two months taking care of the puppies.
These are all things you should be doing prior to handling the puppies.
At this point you should be forming your short list. You may now pick up the puppies, but understand that once you pick up a puppy their training and connection to you begins. Limit your handling to only the puppies that you are seriously interested in (Example: you have decided you want a female puppy there is zero reason to pick up a male puppy). When you pick up a puppy and separate it from the litter have your assistant watch the dam to see how she reacts (temperament). Play with the puppy don’t just snuggle it. Throw a small toy and see if the puppy attempts to “retrieve” it. Talk to the puppy…does it look at you or flat out ignore you. Remember you are looking for a connection.
They are all cute, but do not make a snap decision. If you aren’t 100% sure simply walk away. That said if you’ve done your homework and stuck to the game plan by the end of your visit you will have a good idea which puppy you feel connected to.
Good luck picking out your new teammate.
Until next time…”Keep the retrieve alive!”