The Best Bang for Your Buck

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The Best Bang for Your Buck

by George Hickox

The decision has been made. The household executive board has met, and the motion has passed to allocate money to a priority capital investment; a new gun dog. However, before you rush out to spend your dollars for a new hunting partner, take time to consider the pros and cons of buying a puppy versus an older dog.

Based on the level of training and performance of a particular dog, I place it into one of four categories: puppy, introduced, started or finished. It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of dog before deciding which is right for you.

The first step in coming to a conclusion is to consider a few questions: Do you have access to good training grounds? Do you have a reliable source of training birds, such as pigeons, quail, chukar or pheasants? (Remember, no birds means no bird dog.) Do you have the time necessary to train a gundog? Do you have the knowledge to train or will you need help? Keep these variables in mind while evaluating your dog options.

The Puppy
A new puppy brings joy to a household. The kids jump up and down with unbridled enthusiasm and your face is fixed with a Cheshire Cat grin as the pup dedicates itself to fraying your shoelaces. Everyone loves a puppy, most of the time. The down side may be that your better half quickly tires of puppysitting while you're at the office showing photos of your new hunting buddy to your old hunting buddies.

Also know that training a puppy is time-consuming. If you want a quality upland dog, it's mandatory that your pup be exposed to birds early on. For retrievers, the retrieving instinct must be ignited early, too. If you wait till the pup's a year old before you begin training, it will never reach its full potential. Training requires time, time and more time... on a consistent basis.

All puppies are not created equal. One pup in a litter could be the best for you, another could be the worst for you, or maybe none would be a good choice. I've never found a way to recognize the best pup at seven or eight weeks of age. I can tell much more about a seven-month-old prospect than I can about a seven-week-old hopeful. So can you.

No matter how strong the pedigrees of the parents are, not every pup has the correct mix of genes to be an ideal hunting companion. A solid pedigree means the probability for success is greater, but not every pup is a winner. Ultimately, it's still a gamble.

Likewise, it's difficult to foresee health problems in a puppy, particularly that insidious crippler hip dysplasia. It's unethical for any breeder to sell pups from parents that can't be certified as either "good" or "excellent"; however, even reputable breeders who certify the hips of their breeding stock can have pups that suffer from dysplasia. Because several genes are involved in coding for this disorder, it can skip generations. Consequently, unaffected parents are not a sure safety sign. And although some breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia than others, make no mistake: All breeds of dogs carry the disorder. A breeder can take every possible precaution and still end up with a pup that becomes dysplastic. A reputable breeder will replace a pup or a dog, for that matter - with any serious hereditary or congenital problems, but make sure there are no strings attached to your breeder's warranty, such as that a puppy must be given vitamin C or Doctor's Magic Elixir No.8. Although in most cases you can have your pup replaced, this will likely be an unsatisfactory solution; not only will you and your family already have fallen in love with the pup, but you'll have lost time and money.

There's no question the initial expense of a puppy will leave more money in your pocket than the cost of purchasing a finished dog, but a puppy is much more expensive than its price tag indicates. You pay for birds, dog food and trips to the veterinarian's office. With introduced, started and finished dogs, these costs are included in the price along with the trainer's time.

Other than the rib tickling pleasure a healthy puppy delivers, people often buy young dogs so they can "bond" with them. At the risk of getting hate mail and having poster carrying activists picket my front yard, I must tell you that "bonding" is the wrong word in dog talk. Bonding is a '90s word, and it carries with it anthropomorphic connotations. In other words, it inaccurately projects human emotions on a dog. The correct word is "socialization."

A pup must be properly socialized in order to develop into a gundog. Many professional trainers have campaigned clients' dogs to National High Point or National Championship status. These professionals generally took their charges well after the dog's six-month birthday. If bonding was the key to success, these dogs would never have risen to such levels of excellence. Think in terms of socialization and proper exposure, not bonding.
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