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Picking a Puppy

Waterfowl Magazine August/September 1991

Debra Folsom

A knowledgeable breeder should be able to answer all your questions and supply the information you request. If they can't, keep looking. We wouldn't consider selecting a pup without first studying the pedigree. We wouldn't even consider breeding two dogs together without looking at their pedigrees.

In the 20 years we have been professionally training retrievers, one of the most common problems we encounter is poorly selected and started pups. People assume that any dog called a retriever will invariably perform the job. This is not always so. You wouldn't buy the first vehicle you looked at. A hunting dog, like a vehicle, is an investment of time and dollars that will last many years. Why not go about purchasing a pup using the same step by step, logical process you would use selecting the family car? 

First decide which breed of retriever you want. Labrador Retrievers come in black, yellow, and chocolate. We like to put birdiness, training ability and natural ability at the top of our list of requirements. Color should be secondary. 

The more you narrow down your requirements as to size, color, and sex, the longer it will take to fill the bill. There are numerous black Labrador field champions and therefore a very large gene pool to draw from to produce good field dogs. There are less yellow field champions and very few chocolates. As breeders we often must compromise on field ability to get a particular color. If color is your first priority, it may take a little longer and be more difficult to locate a litter with good field ability. 


Look for a breeder that hunts the parent dogs or competes them in field trials or hunting tests. The chances of a pup from such a litter becoming a successful bird dog are much greater. The costs of rearing a good dog are the same as for a poor one. Beware of unusually cheap puppies or good deals. Bargains are rare in quality field bred retrievers.


Hunting and sporting dog magazines, the internet, and recommendations from friends, are good sources to help you begin your search for a reputable breeder. You may be able to attend a dog club event such as a retriever hunt test or field trial to meet owners and breeders. 



Contact the breeders you have located and ask them to send you information such as pedigree, guarantee, and whelping dates of upcoming litters. Ask about conformation, temperament, field abilities, and accomplishments of the parent dogs. Both parents of the litter should be verified by O.F.A. to be free of hip dysplasia and cleared by C.E.R.F  for hereditary eye disease. Most breeders will guarantee their puppies to be free of these and other hereditary disorders and to be healthy at the time of delivery for a short time after. Discuss the terms of the guarantee. Many breeders will not refund your money. Instead they will replace the puppy at another time with a pup from a different litter. 

American Kennel Club pedigrees show the names of the dogs with the field titles they have earned, ie. FCH-AFCH (Field Champion - Amateur Field Champion) before the name. MH, SH, or JH, (Master Hunter, Senior Hunter, or Junior Hunter) are after the dog's name. The closer the field titled dog occurs on the pedigree to the prospective pup, ie. immediate parents or grandparents, the better. The breeder should be able to explain the entire pedigree to you. After all, he or she must have had a good reason for selecting these two particular dogs to breed together. 


We would only consider a pup from a litter where both parents are fully trained, working, bird dogs with strong field pedigrees. One thing to consider is that a dog may have a wonderful pedigree but be a poor example of the breed, difficult to train, and/or lacks the retrieving desire. It is therefore important that the parents of the litter have both a strong field pedigree, and good abilities in the field.


When you have located a prospective litter that meets your criteria, try to visit the kennel and meet the breeder. You may be able to see the parent dogs and the litter, if it is born. The kennel facilities should be clean and the dogs healthy and well conditioned. 

It is customary to put down a deposit to reserve a pup until it is ready to pick up. This can be done by phone or mail if the kennel is a long distance away. The breeder can ship the pup to you via air freight, when it is ready.

Picking an individual pup from the litter is the least important part of the whole purchase process. There has been much written on extensive, complicated testing procedures to determine the "pick of the litter". We haven't found a puppy's reactions and behavior at seven or eight weeks of age to be of much significance in predicting future behavior. 


We have even had people ask us to teach them how to pick the best pup out of a litter. The truth is, we haven't figured out a reliable way to do it and probably never will. We get many letters telling us how well the last pick puppy turned out and have taken many last pick puppies ourselves. 


Do your research and don't get in a rush. A dog is a long term investment. A quality pup from a litter selected for good conformation, temperament, and field ability, is worth waiting for. Impulse buying and hastily made decisions may be costly and frustrating in the long run. Find a breeder that is knowledgeable, reputable, and has been in business for awhile. Put down a deposit and the rest is up to a little luck and plenty of training! 




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