Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
I concluded last month’s column with a promise to advise readers how to disregard all my training advice and still have a top-notch gun dog. I will no longer keep you in suspense; buy a finished dog. If you’re too busy to train, too busy to buy a pup and place it with a professional trainer or simply want to bypass the entire puppy and training stages, then buying a finished dog is for you.
That advice may sound simple but how does one go about doing this? This is an important question. A few years ago I met a bird hunter who paid top-price for what was advertised as a “finished dog”. It was a very handsome two-year-old English setter. The dog’s natural abilities were well developed. It had a decent search pattern, not a bad nose and a good-looking point. The good news ended there. It would also occasionally break point and bust the bird and it always broke on the flush. In addition, it had no retrieving skills. This meant the dog was allowed to develop its natural and instinctive abilities; however, very little attention had been paid to its trained abilities such as steady to wing and shot, backing and a solid retrieve. This dog was a “started” dog; not a “finished” dog, as advertised. The buyer of this dog had to spend several hundred dollars more with a local trainer to finish the job.
So, you don’t have the time for training but you still want a dog your bird hunting buddies will envy. The first consideration, of course, is economics. If you want a finished dog, be ready to pay from $3500 to $5000…or even more. If you’re on-board to write a big check, then decide what type of upland hunting you’ll be doing most of the time. If you’re a New England grouse and woodcock hunter, don’t buy a dog that has solely been trained in big prairie country. You want a closer working dog; not a big runner. Having said that, if you plan some year to jump in the truck with your dog and take the bird hunter’s dream trip, which begins in Saskatchewan and then travels to North Dakota, South Dakota and finishing in Kansas or Texas, your dog will adjust with a little extra training. Don’t worry…enjoy the trip.
Next, start your “finished” dog search. This first step is as simple as a quick trip to Google and typing in Finished Gun Dog. You’ll have more leads then you can investigate in a day. Call the sellers and ask for an honest description of the dog’s natural abilities and trained abilities. If you think you’ve found what you want, go see the dog work. If it’s impossible to visit the trainer, then simply ask for a video of the dog working. If you’re paying for a truly finished dog, then you want to see that dog in the field.
Yet there is still another method of locating a finished dog. Attend a bird dog event. Through the Internet, locate an AKC or North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) hunt test or major event. The NAVHDA Invitational is in Ohio this year…it would make a nice fall trip. When you attend one of these events, you’ll be amongst many excellent trainers. Let people know that you’re in the market for a “finished” gun dog. Many of these trainers want their dogs to get the ultimate recognition such as a Master certificate from AKC or a Versatile Champion title from NAVHDA. Occasionally, they may have a dog that isn’t quite going to make the grade. However, the animal would make an outstanding gun dog: a dog you would be very proud to own and hunt. You might leave the event with the dog of your dreams.
The final step in this process is for you, the owner, to understand how to handle a finished gun dog. You don’t want to ruin a well-trained dog. If you don’t know how to handle a gun dog, take lessons! If you buy a dog at a bird dog event, tell the seller that handler training must be included in the price. If you buy a dog from a trainer a few thousand miles away and have the dog shipped, locate a local trainer for lessons. Both you and your dog will be much happier hunters.