Buyer Beware - When Buying a Hunting Dog by George Hickox
The old adage "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear" certainly rings true when it comes to purchasing a dog. If the genes that determine drive for birds, pointing or retrieving instincts and canine athleticism are lost in the mix, the resulting dog may turn out to be an inferior hunter. Far too often, by the time the owner has realized that Fido will never make a great hunting partner, the dog has become a member of the family. Parting may not be sweet sorrow. In fact it may be impossible. Now what? Your better half votes an emphatic "No!" on a second dog, and the kids have fallen in love with the new addition. This is a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.
The first thing a new owner needs to do is recognize that there are no guarantees when it comes to dogs. Sure, there are breeders and trainers who stand behind their dogs-and some individuals will replace the dog or refund money if the dog develops a hereditary crippling disease. What even the most reputable, conscientious and ethical breeders are incapable of knowing is whether a pup will develop hip dysplasia, a heart murmur or a multitude of other disabling disasters. Crystal balls don't exist in the world of animal breeding, and the most conscientious breeders can do is stack the odds in your favor by playing a game of least- risk statistical roulette. There are simply too many ingredients in Mother Nature's reproductive soup to guarantee results.
One thing you can be certain of is that there are some extremely fine people involved in canine breeding-individuals who love their dogs, are knowledgeable about genetics and who do everything in their power to improve their breeds. These kennels keep up-to-date medical records, X-ray breeding stock, check eyes and follow the development of prodigy in order to make educated decisions about future pairings. The operations are typically immaculate environments free from parasitic, bacterial and viral onslaughts. Nevertheless, all dog people are "kennel blind" at times. We each have our ideas of what the perfect dog should be. It's important to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that one person's ideal dog may exhibit entirely different qualities than another's.
I would be less than forthright; however, if I did not admit that the fraternity of dog breeders/trainers, similar to any group of professionals, has its share of scoundrels, scam artists, opportunists and just plain ignorant individuals. Unfortunately for the buyer, there is no certification, genetic education or ethics exam required for anyone looking to hang out their shingle as a seller of dogs.
John Not- To-Be-Named brought his puppy to the vet when it came up lame after a romp in the fields. The doctor gave him the bad news that the dog was severely dysplastic. A heartbroken John called the breeder with the news, only to be accused of having dropped or stepped on the dog. No warranty! No refund! Nada! True story!
I know of another incident in which a dog was diagnosed dysplastic by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the recognized certifying organization for rating canine hips. When the owner reported this finding, the breeder accused the OFA of being unfamiliar with the structural characteristics of his particular line and insisted the dog was fine. Unbelievable!
A final, less-than-shining example, involves a friend who was thinking of purchasing an 18-month-old setter. He cashed an IOU and asked me to evaluate the dog, which I agreed to but advised that he have it X-rayed first. The examining vet concluded the dog was severely dysplastic and said it would become crippled after a short time in the field. My friend returned the dog to the owner, passing on the results of the X- rays. Within the year there was an advertisement in the local paper for puppies from the dysplastic bitch. What the breeder was selling was a high propensity for broken hearts to any buyers.
OK, so there are a few rotten apples in the bunch. Buying a dog is not the only purchasing decision we should approach with a buyer-beware attitude. There are, however, many steps you can take to stack the odds in your favor.