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Author: Mark Mazour
Spring is a time that many hunters are checking out litters in search of the "one" that will be their companion for years to come. This decision is not to be taken lightly since the dog you choose will be your companion in the field and home for many seasons.
Spring is a time that many hunters are checking out litters in search of the "one" that will be their companion for years to come. Maybe they are replacing a hero that has been retired to the sofa or making their first venture into the world of working dogs. However, this decision is not to be taken lightly since the dog you choose will be your companion in the field and home for many seasons.
Puppies are the joy of spring. Nothing can match the pure innocence and wonder of a soft, cuddly litter of puppies. If you have never done it before, you owe it to yourself to lay down on the ground and let a litter of pups attack and investigate you with their wet noses and warm tongues. Just close your eyes, enjoy their soft fur, take in the smells of innocence, and listen to their pleading whimpers. It is a feeling like no other. If that doesn't win you over, nothing will.
Picking a Breeder and Litter
In beginning your puppy buying decisions, it is best first to pick a breeder and the parents of your new pup. When speaking with professional trainers and breeders, I find that they always believe in sticking to proven lines. While this does not guarantee success in a new pup, it will tip the scales in your favor. It is uncommon, but not impossible, for a great dog to come from chance breeding or a "backyard" endeavor.
While visiting the breeder, make sure to check out the parents of the litter. It is not unheard of to ask for training or hunting demonstrations from the sire or dam so you can witness their traits and skills. Looking at a 7-week old ball of fur, it is hard to tell the champions from the couch potatoes. The parents are the keys for you to be able to see into the future of what this ball of fur will look and act like by hunting season. Just like people, puppies can turn out with different traits and abilities from their parents, but in this guessing game, I would always put my money on the parents. The bottom line is if you are unsure of the parent's traits, features, or abilities, don't take a chance on the pups. This is the time to be picky. There are no shortages of puppy litters on the market, and you need to be sure that the one you pick is right for you in traits, build, attitude, and ability.
Picking the Pup
After the selection of a breeder or litter comes the biggest dice role of them all. It is now time to reach into that squirming pile of 7-week old pups and pick the next champion. Many methods exist for picking that one special dog. I even know one hunter that trusts fate by closing his eyes and reaching in the dog box for the best one he can grab. He has since had several quality dogs to his credit, and this again shows that picking a quality litter results in quality pups.
The more classic methods involve letting the entire litter out to play and observing their actions. It is also a good idea to have a bird wing along. You can use this to gauge, to an extent, which pups have more desire and bird scenting abilities. You can also have a small stick along to throw for retrieving dogs. If a dog does not respond as well as his brothers and sisters to the wing or stick, does that mean that this pup is destined to be a wash out? The simple answer is no. It all depends on what you are looking for in a dog.
Picking Intensity and Desire
Many hunters and trainers are looking for strong desire in a dog. This desire makes the difference when you need your dog to go through a tough tangle of briars or if that crippled goose is out at 70 yards and swimming away. You need a dog that will perform under any circumstances. If you are looking for strong desire in a dog, you should look for one of the proud members of the litter. They will usually try to get to you first, possibly even at the expense of pushing their siblings out of the way. When a professional trainer went to pick up my Labrador, Buck, he had planned on throwing a small stick for the litter and seeing how they would respond. Before he could do that, little Buck grabbed a stick off the ground and ran to him, pushing his brothers out of the way.
Another clue to look for resides in their eyes. If you carefully examine the pups, certain ones will show a certain shine that comes from within. These are usually the ones that will have that extra spunk and fire that might get you an additional bird. You can also look at the way the dogs carry themselves. Certain ones will be tall and proud, almost "showoffs" when compared to the rest of the litter.
When looking for a pup full of desire, it is important to remember that this can come at the expense of trainability. Many times, these spirited dogs will be so high strung and ready to go about hunting duties that it is more difficult to settle them down and learn the task at hand. These dogs, while excellent in the field, can also be a problem if you intend to keep them indoors with the family. A good case in point is my own Labrador Retriever. He has an intense desire that is unmatched by most dogs. But, he can go absolutely nuts, just at the sight of training dummies. You have to put them out of sight to complete other yard training, or he will only focus on the dummies. While bird hunting, he refuses to stop and take breaks. Even if it has been a several-hour hunt, he immediately begins to whine and strain as soon as he is brought to a stop. With waterfowl, he begins to vibrate and whimper at the sight of birds in the distance. While this intensity has resulted in his getting some birds that he otherwise may not have gotten, I often wish I could dial this down by about 10% to gain a little more control in training situations.
Don't get pick of the litter?
The first pick of the litter has always been held in the highest regard. Theoretically, this will result in the best quality pup since you get to examine the entire lot before picking the puppy that is right for you. This picking position is usually given to the owner of the stud dog, a special friend of the breeders, or the highest paying client. Therefore, when you go looking for a pup, it may be that several of the puppies are already gone or spoken for; maybe even only a few are left. Does this mean that you should give up and look elsewhere? By all means, NO!
If the litter is from quality breeding, most of the time all the dogs will have more ability than you can harness. It may be that the pups left appeared meek when their littermates were chosen. But, just like human babies, dogs are sometimes on different development schedules. The pups that are left with the breeder are given additional time to develop and grow, resulting in a more quality dog. Don't be afraid to pick up a 10-week old dog. While much has been written about the magic development of the 49th day, a dog that remains at the trainer or breeder usually learns more. They are constantly around other dogs, and very often the trainers will even introduce them to birds and begin formal training. Also, many of these dogs that appeared reserved at seven weeks of age will now be attentive, bright, and alert. They are also very eager to please, and, at times, much easier to train than their bruiser brothers selected weeks before.
It's okay to say NO
You should always remember that it is okay to say no. If you are just looking; do just that. The best advice I have ever received was that when looking for a puppy, leave your wallet at home. Once you get that ball of fur in your arms, it can be very hard to say no, even though this dog may not possess all the traits you wish to have in your hunting champion. Remember, you are not just picking a dog; you are picking a worker, friend, and companion to share your precious time afield.
Bringing Puppy Home
Many people go ahead and pick out that puppy, bring it home, and then realize they are unprepared. The puppy's first night at home can be a rough one, as they do miss their mothers. One trick that I have heard of is to wrap an old alarm clock in a sock and place with the puppy. Very often, the ticking sound will calm them, much like their mother's heart used to.
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