Decided to take the plunge and get your first hunting dog? Here’s how to find your perfect pooch.
Be patient and do some homework
The best place to find a good hunting dog is a serious breeder with plenty of experience. But while talking to breeders is important, but it shouldn’t be your first step. In my experience, every breeder thinks he has the dog you need. But they can’t all be right, can they?
Start by getting a first-hand look at some dogs in action. If you have some hunting friends, make a point of watching theirs; if you don’t, find a local dog club and ask to attend one of their field sessions. Where possible, take a close look at the dogs in both hunting and at-home situations. If you see one you really like, find out where it came from. If you see one that doesn’t suit your needs, don’t mention this to its owner, but ask where he got it anyway so you know where to avoid.
Learn the difference between field and show dogs. Show dogs are bred to look good, and little else matters. Field dogs are bred to work, and while most of them also look good, it’s not the first priority when breeding them. Don’t consider a dog from someone who breeds only show animals, and doesn’t hunt his dogs or compete them in field trials. It’s also generally best to stick with purebred dogs of proven breeds, and avoid the oddball dogs you’ll occasionally come across.
Talk to breeders
Once you’ve seen a dog you like, talk to its breeder, and ask if he is planning a repeat of the breeding you liked. If he is, ask him when he expects to have a litter available. In the meantime, continue your search by contacting some other breeders who have been recommended to you. And rather than telling them what you want, ask them what they’re trying to produce. Their breeding programs should have specific objectives in qualities like size, temperament, stamina, retrieving ability and range. Ask for some references, but remember that a breeder isn’t going to direct you to an unhappy customer.
Choose a puppy
Once you’ve decided on a breeder, it’s time to look at the litter and choose a puppy. As much fun as this is, you must put your emotions aside and be objective. Beware of the “cuteness quotient” and the almost irresistible attraction of any puppy, and don’t take the first pup that climbs up into your lap and licks your face.
That said, choosing a pup from a litter is pretty much a crapshoot—just don’t choose one that seems lethargic or ill. Bold, confident pups usually retain those qualities as adults and are generally good choices.
Don’t worry too much about the alleged differences between male and female dogs regarding temperament, hunting drive, etc. The most dominant, hard-driving dog I ever had was female, and the gentlest, most submissive was male. If you have a preference, request it, but if what you want isn’t available, take the other sex. The pedigree of the litter is more important.
The cost of a pup will vary with the size and reputation of the breeder. Expect to pay between $400 and $1000. And don’t choose a pup because it is $100 cheaper than one from another breeder. The initial cost is insignificant when amortized over the life of the dog, and when added to the other inevitable costs that accrue throughout its life.
Make sure the breeder provides you with the pup’s pedigree, plus a certificate from the vet confirming that the initial vaccinations have been given, and advising when the next ones are due. Many reputable breeders also provide some type of health guarantee.
Enjoy your dog
Remember that following these guidelines doesn’t guarantee a great dog—it simply improves your chances. By carefully selecting a particular litter from a proven breeder, you reduce the chance of getting a poor dog. This increases the likelihood of finding a dog that’s somewhere between good and great. And we should all be able to live with that. Once you write the cheque and take the little critter home, it’s your dog and will be for the next decade or more, so remember to enjoy it and overlook whatever minor quirks and idiosyncrasies it might have. After all, you’re asking him to do the same for you.