Picking A Puppy

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.

February 2009

Keeping in mind that selecting a breeder (and then a puppy) is a decision that will affect your life for many years. It’s a decision that must be taken very seriously and should include all family members.

For our bird dog training discussion, last month we talked about whether your life style was suitable for owning and training a bird dog. I also offered my opinion on different pointing breeds and a few breeders you might want to contact. Now it’s time to visit a breeder.

Keeping in mind that selecting a breeder (and then a puppy) is a decision that will affect your life for many years. It’s a decision that must be taken very seriously and should include all family members. Picking a puppy is a roll-of-the-dice; however, you can increase the odds in your favor dramatically by selecting a breeder who is reputable within the bird dog community. The breeder names I offered last month have that reputation.

When interviewing the breeder, ask if the parents have been tested either by AKC or the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). What level of testing have they completed? For example, Casey Matthews of NH has a German Shorthaired Pointer female who has just earned a Versatile Championship title at the NAVHDA Invitational in Minnesota. The dog’s name is Merrymeeting’s Birdin Bailey. That means she comes from the well-respected Meerymeeting Kennel, owned by Blaine and Patti Carter, in Maine. Here you have a female from an outstanding kennel and a dog that has accomplished the ultimate in pointing dog training. Match this female with an equally strong male and you’ve greatly increased your chances for top-of-the-line puppies. I don’t have a telephone or email for Mr. Casey, however, I’m sure Blaine or Patti would know if his female would be bred soon. You can contact Blaine or Patti at mmkennels@verizon.net or call at 207/725-8229. No matter what breeder/kennel you select, don’t be bashful about asking to see at least one of the parents work and possibly even both. You’ll be able to see with your own eyes the make-up of the dam and sire.

Many experts will tell you to be sure to pick from parents who have hunted over the same terrain and birds that you’ll be experiencing. In other words, if you’re a New England woodcock hunter, don’t buy a pup from big running parents trained in the mid-west prairie lands. Maybe. I think if the parents have a strong desire to hunt, you’ll be okay switching terrain and the birds. In an earlier column, I’ve mentioned my good friend and pointing dog trainer, Cal Robinson. Cal trains in Maine and guides for woodcock and grouse in Maine. After the woodcock season closes, he leaves for his quail hunting operation in Kansas. In a matter of days, his dogs switch from close working woodcock and grouse dogs to big running prairie dogs. Sure, Cal is an outstanding trainer, however, after a short transition period, good dogs understand the change and adapt.

Once you’ve decided on the breed and the breeder, it’s time to actually pick a pup from the litter. If you’re really convinced you’ve chosen the correct breeder and he has a pregnant female, then give him a deposit and ask for an early choice. One of the all-time greatest trainers, Delmar Smith, said that it didn’t matter if you picked first or last, if you’re choosing from good stock, they all should be able to learn equally well. My reason for picking early is simply the opportunity to pick the markings on the pup and a pup that is semi-strong willed. I don’t want a pup that will run for the hills over the first loud noise it encounters. I’m not talking about firing a gun; we’ll discuss introducing the pup to guns in a later column. I am talking about a timid pup. I would rather have a tough high-spirited dog (which I can tone down) than trying to build confidence in a timid pup.

There is one exercise I like when picking a puppy. There’s an old story amongst trainers that the best way to pick a pup is to throw a piece of steak and a bird on the ground in front of the litter. Pick from the pups that went for the bird and eliminate the pups that went for the steak. I’ve never seen this actually done, however, it might be fun to try. The exercise I do like is to put a grouse or pheasant wing on a string and attach to a fishing rod. Throw the wing in front of the litter and see which pups chase after the wing. You may really be surprised and find a couple of pups that actually give you a quick flash point before chasing. Just prior to the pups getting to the wing, flip it about six feet away and see which pups have the desire to chase again. Pick from the pups that show the strongest desire and interest in the wing.

Next month I’ll tell you how to throw out the window all my advice and still have a great pointing dog for hunting. This is insider information so don’t miss it.