I found my first gun dog; she was a 12-week old Labrador Retriever puppy abandoned in the desert. It was one of the luckiest days in my life in more ways than one. I was lucky because finding and training her changed the direction of my life. But I also was lucky that she turned out to be a fantastic gun dog. Not every dog has as much natural aptitude for gun-dogging as Alie did. I was exceptionally fortunate, and maybe you will be too. But if you are not willing to leave everything to chance (or fate), here are few things you should consider before acquiring or training a dog for hunting. Making the wrong decision can be costly, both to your morale and your wallet.
When it comes to bad habits, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to avoid undesirable behaviors is to never let them develop. Running out of control in large open spaces, gnawing on the wrong kinds of items, playing keep-away, chasing rabbits, and being overly interested in rowdy play with other dogs are not conducive to gun dog training. However, if you acquire an older dog, particularly if it has been a shelter dog or a house pet, you likely will have to reverse many of these types of behaviors. Getting past bad habits usually can be done, but not without a significant toll on your time and finances
You may imagine a lot of gratification could be had by taking an unruly shelter dog and turning her into a working dog — even if she will never be a hunt test or field trial champion — and you probably would be correct. But how much time are you willing to put into a dog’s training? Are you able to fix bad habits yourself, or will you need to pay a professional trainer? These are all important things to consider. If you are looking for the straightest path to gun dog ownership, training a raw puppy or purchasing a started gun dog are your best bets — at least statistically.
Like me, you may stumble upon a dog with serious talent; it happens. However, backyard breeders and puppy mills have diminished the natural abilities of many sporting breeds. On the pet-dog-training side of my work, I often encounter retrieving and pointing breeds with no inclination to work. Many of these dogs are good pets, but they certainly would not be my first choice for a hunting dog. It is possible that there is a spark of hunt left in such dogs — and that you can light the fire with some extra time and money; or maybe not. If you want to optimize your chances of landing a great hunting dog, pups with aptitude always are going to be more prevalent in litters of puppies bred by working dog breeders. But, then again, sometimes fate happens. When it does, run with it.
If you decide to purchase from a breeder, make sure their focus is on health and hunting ability. Here are the main things to discuss with the breeder.
- Hip Health. It is not possible to categorically rule out hip dysplasia in a pup before it is two years of age. Your best bet is asking the breeder for the hip certifications for the pup’s parents. This will not guarantee your pup will never get hip dysplasia, but it certainly reduces the odds.
- Eye Health. Congenital eye defects are a common problem with many hunting breeds. Again, the breeder should provide you with proof that your dog, and its parents, have current eye health certifications.
- Hunting Ability. Have a look at the pup’s pedigree. You should see (particularly on the mother’s side, but preferably on both sides) field trial or hunt test titles. Here is a list of possible titles an their explanations. The more accomplished the ancestors, the better your chance of getting a great hunting dog out of the litter.
Now, get out there and find yourself a dog, and lets get started!