Here’s the smart way to find and pick your hunting dog puppy
Adding a new puppy to your home is a big commitment. It is a commitment in time, money, and emotion (I mean who doesn’t love puppies!). That is why it is especially important that you spend some time upfront preparing for this journey. Sure, you could just pick a puppy up from your neighbors’ basement or find one on an online marketplace. But if you are serious about hunting and want an exceptional retriever to become your hunting partner for the next 10-15 years, I recommend you put a little more effort into it. If you are not sure where to start, this post will show you how to find and pick a hunting puppy from a litter.
Finding the perfect pup
Finding the perfect hunting dog puppy starts way before you find yourself staring into the eyes of a precious little retriever puppy. In fact, I would recommend you stay away from puppies until you have located an acceptable litter.
When we purchase puppies for clients, we start our search on the computer. We buy all our puppies based on the litter, on the genetic and proven performance of the mom and dad. If you find a great litter, you have already stacked the odds so much in your favor that any puppy from that litter is probably going to serve you well.
What should I look for in a gundog puppy?
Start by researching litters. You want to find a litter that is worth your time, money and energy. You want to stack the odds in your favor, and you do that by finding a great litter of puppies. Remember, you should not focus on one individual puppy at this point. Instead, dig deep into possible litters that would meet your criteria for a great hunting dog.
You will need to determine your own list of criteria, but here are a few things we look for when purchasing a puppy.
Focus on proven performance
The first thing we look for is a pedigree that shows proven performance. We want to see that the mother and/ or father (preferably both) have competed in either Hunt Tests or Field Trials. This can be seen by titles on the pedigree. Here is a listing of retriever titles that would signify the parents have titled in Hunt Tests or Field Trials and proven their ability as a working dog.
Some of the titles you do not want to see on a pedigree, if you are looking for a hunting dog are CCH or other show dog titles. Show dogs are breed for looks, not for hunting or competition ability. These dogs generally are not going to be great hunting dogs.
Also, it is true that a dog does not have to compete in tests to be a great hunting dog. But I would be careful about buying a pup based solely on a breeder’s word that the dog is a great hunting dog. I would want some confirmation to back up any claims.
Mom and dad are most important
Often you will see a pedigree where the mom or dad do not have any performance titles, but the grandparents or great grandparents do. When you read a pedigree, it is important to understand that 50% of the dogs’ genes come from mom and 50% from dad. As you go back further, those numbers dwindle quickly. So, if possible, you want mom and dad to be proven.
Want to learn more about how to read a pedigree? Watch for our future post.
Don’t buy your hunting dog based solely on looks
Some people get very caught up in how a dog looks. If looks are important to you, you will need to decide what is more important, how the dog looks or how the dog hunts or competes. You may be able to find a puppy that looks just like you want and that puppy may also turn out to be an incredible hunter, but realize that looks and hunting ability do not always go together.
For instance, if you like the large, blocky looks of a British bred lab, but want to hunt upland birds, these two things may not be compatible. The dog may simply not have the endurance needed to do hours of hunting necessary for upland hunting. If you like a small sized lab but hunt a lot of geese, no matter how great the dog’s drive is, he/she may struggle to carry back a goose. You should consider your wants and needs before committing to a litter of puppies.
Where to look for the litters
If you are looking for a hunting retriever puppy, you will want to focus your research. You are not looking for a litter of Labradors that happened by accident. And you don’t want a mixed puppy. Mixed breeds are fine for family pets, but if your goals for your hunting dog are high, a mixed breed may or may not have the genes for retrieving and/or the desire or birdiness to hunt.
Instead focus your search to sites like retrievertraining.net or kennels that breed working dogs. These will not be cheap puppies. But if you spend the money on the front end, by purchasing a great pup from a litter of proven parents, you will rarely find yourself with a dog that will not hunt. Again, you should be trying to stack the odds in your favor.
Find a reputable breeder
Once you find some litters that have proven parents, then turn your research to the breeder. Not all breeders are equal. Trust me! Some do a wonderful job with the puppies, have clean, hygiene spaces for the dogs and socialize the pups from day one. And some don’t.
It may not seem important. I mean, the puppies are only with the breeder for 7-8 weeks, so what difference does it make?
In our experience, a lot. Clean puppy beds and areas help teach your puppy to be clean. This can make a huge difference when you get your puppy home and are trying to housebreak him/her.
And socialization is key! Learn more about socialization in this post.
What does the breeder do to socialize the pups?
Pups start learning about the world on day one. They need to be exposed to noises and new situations daily. This can go a long way toward teaching the pup to handle new situations, something particularly important in hunting dogs.
Take some time to learn about the breeders. Ask them why they breed, what are their goals for their puppies and what they do to prepare the puppies for their new homes. We talk about this more in How to find a good Labrador puppy.
Check the parents’ health history and health guarantee
Another piece of the puzzle that we like to research before we even go look at the puppies is the health history and guarantee.
First, look at the parents’ health. Has there been any genetic issues that could be passed down to the puppies? Ask lots of questions. Find out as much as you can about the parents. What tests have been done to ensure the parents are healthy? Have their hips, eyes and elbows been checked? Has DNA testing been done to confirm that things like Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) is not an issue.
Next, ask for a copy of the breeder’s health guarantee. Most reputable breeders offer a 24 – 30-month health guarantee on the puppy. This is important to protect you in case there is a genetic condition that becomes clear during that time.
How do you pick a puppy from a hunting litter?
Once you have found a litter that meets all your criteria and seems to be a good match for your needs, then and only then do you put a deposit down on a puppy. As you can tell, picking the right litter is the most important part of this entire process. Once you have done that, you have stacked the odds in your favor of getting a great pup. Even if you have last pick, you are still miles ahead of people that buy a puppy on a whim or put no research into it.
Never go look at a litter of puppies that do not meet your criteria discussed above. Puppies are too cute, and it is hard to resist not bringing one home. So never put yourself in that position.
Picking the perfect puppy for you
Once you have the litter locked in and your deposit sent, you simply must wait until the pups are old enough to come home. At around 7-8 weeks, you will go to the breeder and view the puppies to make your pick, if you have that option.
Some breeders will send you videos of the litter each week so you can see the puppies grow and learn. This is a nice service that helps keep you connected to the litter and your puppy.
What should I look for when picking a puppy from a litter?
If you have a pick from one or more puppies, here are some things you can do to help you decide which puppy will be the best one for you.
Spend some time watching the pups
When you arrive to pick your puppy, don’t be in a hurry. Take some time to observe the puppies in the litter. Watch for how active or sleepy the pups are. This may not mean much. Keep in mind that you do not know if the puppy that is sleeping was very active a few minutes ago. But watch each pup’s behavior. Is one easily spooked or seem shy? Is one bold and curious? Do any of them seem to prefer people to the other pups or vice versa?
We personally look for a puppy that likes people and is bold and curious. We generally do not want pups that are easily spooked or are only interested in playing with the other puppies. But that is just our preference.
We also look at size. We prefer a middle of the road size, not the largest and not the smallest. We also want a pup that will give us good eye contact.
If the breeder you chose is doing a good job, your pups will already be started on the path to being well-socialized. This is important and the next few weeks with you will be even more important. Learn more in this post.
Some breeders will have a pigeon wing available so that you can see what your pup’s reaction to that is. While this is nice to see, it isn’t all that important. If you have picked a good litter with proven performance from a good breeder, you already have stacked the odds greatly in your favor and the pup will most-likely have good prey drive and desire passed on from his/her parents.
Ask your breeder for help picking
If you are having problems deciding, consider asking the breeder to help you pick. Most breeders have a good sense of the puppies and which ones will make a good hunting or competition dogs.
Final thoughts on How to pick a hunting dog from a litter
While it might seem daunting to pick a puppy from a litter, if you have done research and found a litter with a proven mom and dad, there is little to fear. By the time you go pick your puppy, you have already made all the hard decisions and stacked the odds in your favor. So, just relax. Watch the puppies and pick one that you feel good about.
If you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.