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Choosing your puppy
You have decided to take the big step and get yourself a gun dog puppy. You have made up your mind about which breed you want and have bought your wife a bunch of roses just in case. You are on the verge of stepping into a new dimension of enjoyment in your sport. Or are you about to get yourself a bundle of expensive disappointment and a catalyst for divorce? Too many prospective gun dog owners fall into this latter category and end up disillusioned and anti-gun dog for the rest of their lives. The reason? They chose the wrong puppy. So how do you choose the best puppy? You don’t. You choose the PARENTS.
Your first step in selecting a puppy is to make sure that both parents are from registered working stock. This is easier said then done. By far the majority of gun dogs are show dogs who for generations have been selected for their conformation rather than working abilities. Just because they are listed as gun dogs does not mean they can hunt. Many a prospective owner has fallen into this trap of buying a so called gun (show) dog, or even worse, they buy a cheap unregistered dog of a ‘gun dog’ breed. In both cases the breeders would have assured you that the parents are top hunting dogs and in both cases, and after a year of hard training, you would discover that the dog has as much hunting ability as your daughter’s teddybear. With unregistered dogs you can also never be sure that you might not end up with an unstable or aggressive pavement special. Therefore, do not buy the first gun dog you stumble across.
The only way to ensure that you get the right puppy is to contact one of the various field trial clubs which specialize in working gun dogs. In most cases the field trial clubs will only recommend those dogs that either have achieved prizes in field trials or have passed a working or natural ability test. Unfortunately, you may have to put your name on a waiting list to get a good gun dog puppy but the wait will be worth it. After all, the puppy will be part of your household and your hunting companion for the next ten to fifteen years. Put your name down on the waiting list now because, generally speaking, the good gun dogs never get advertised.
The next step is to go and see the parents yourself. If possible go hunting with them. Insist that you see the parents’ registration forms and some sort or written proof of the parent’s working ability, usually in the form of a certificate stating the dog’s field trial prize or in the case of versatile gun dogs, a natural ability certificate as the minimum requirement. Do not fall for the wiles of those breeders who say that they have hunting dogs and not field trial dogs. Since field trials are merely a means of testing hunting dogs, such a breeder either does not know much about gun dogs or is simply trying to sell his substandard dogs. Make sure that they are of a good, trainable temperament. In other words, they must not be hard-headed, over-aggressive or over-sensitive. Also, make sure they are not gun-shy.
Only now are you ready to select a puppy. If you have done your homework with the parents, the chances are about 100 per cent that any of the puppies in the litter will have the temperament and working abilities of that breed. It will be unnecessary to use elaborate methods to select a puppy or to let a so-called expert make the selection for you. Just make sure that it the puppy is healthy and full of vitality. You can almost close your eyes and pick any puppy from that litter. Better still, let your wife make the selection, then you can always blame her afterwards if something goes wrong.
After all, choosing a puppy is the easy part. Now the training starts ...
-- By Dr 'Slang' Viljoen