The Puppy Plunge

The dead of winter may not be the most ideal time to pick up a new pup. Training this time of year is a pain in the neck and doesn’t allow the quality time necessary to mold a bundle of fur and teeth into a young, promising bird dog. This is a great time, however, to start researching litters if you’re interested in a four-legged addition to the family this spring. 

Until I bought my current dog, Luna, I had little idea what goes into picking the right puppy. In the past, it had boiled down to deciding on the breed I wanted and then finding a litter bred from two hunting dogs. That was it, and while that can work, it’s not a sure thing. 

To be honest, nothing is a sure thing when choosing a puppy, but there are some ways to tip the odds greatly in your favor. Just how to do this was explained to me by dog trainer Tom Dokken. He walked me through the process with Luna and explained to me some of the myths surrounding picking the right puppy. The most common is the belief that someone can look at a litter and see potential by how a puppy behaves. 

This is bunk, and is no different from looking at a newborn baby and deciding that he or she is going to be an NFL kicker because of a little leg kicking in the crib.  

To ensure that you get a good dog, or at least come as close to a guarantee as you can, it all boils down to breeding. This is something Tom stressed over and over again while researching litters for me. The right pedigree for nearly all hunting dogs involves Field Trial champions and Master Hunters. This goes for folks who plan to compete with their dogs, and folks like me, who never will.

Generations of dogs that win ribbons in various trials and competitions tend to produce puppies that are smart and driven. Those are two attributes you want in a bird dog, and while they help when learning to flush grouse or retrieve ducks, they also help with potty training and basic obedience drills. Of course, we all want an amazing bird dog, but even the hardest-hunting dog in the world spends only a small portion of its time actually hunting. The rest is spent just being a house dog, and training ease and intelligence go a long way toward a good house dog. 

Naturally, a pup that stems from the amorous meeting of two award winners is going to carry a heftier price tag than those that result from lesser breeding. The difference I found during the last go-around was about double what I’d expected to pay for a hunting dog. That ended up being about $400, or about $40 per year over the typical life of a dog, which in my opinion is certainly worth it. 

When faced with this decision, many folks justify not going big for a new pup because they hunt only a few times per year. This is common, and something I discussed with Tom before ever deciding on Luna. His advice was that casual hunters need the best dog they can get because their pups never get the chance to hunt their way into superstar status. That was good enough for me, and given the amount of woodcock, grouse, ducks, and shed antlers I’ve dealt with during the past two falls thanks to Luna, I’m inclined to believe that he was right.

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