by Carey Killion
New beginnings. Crisp fall mornings spent in the company of a puppy, watching them learn the wonders of the woods and the quarry it holds. While those thoughts can be intoxicating and may have you ready to bring home a pup from the first litter you hear of, buying a puppy isn’t a decision to take lightly. Do your research and take your time, and you’ll have years of hunting ahead of you with your new companion.
Choosing a Breed
While many of us are already entrenched in a specific breed, this may not always be the case. Be open to different breeds, and choose the one that will be the right fit for you. Ask to hunt over a friend’s dog, spend some time with the neighbor’s dog or watch the preserve dog at your favorite game farm. Find a local NAVHDA chapter and visit during a training day. You’ll have the opportunity to see a wide variety of dogs there, including some that aren’t usually on the tip of your tongue when thinking of upland hunting dogs. Curious about the Bracco Italiano, Picardy spaniel or small Munsterlander? You might see any one of them, along with 27 other breeds of versatile hunting dogs currently recognized by NAVHDA. While each differs somewhat concerning their physical characteristics and hunting styles, they all possess the ability to locate, point and retrieve upland game. Waterfowl, too!
Research the breeds themselves, and work to find the best fit for you, your hunting style and your home life. Think about what you want in a hunting partner, and make sure the breed you choose checks all those boxes. Ask questions of owners and breeders that you meet; not only do we love hunting with our dogs, we love talking about them, too. It’s also important to remember that hunting season only happens a few months out of the year; you’ll want a breed that you can live with all year long.
Now you need a healthy dose of patience. Be willing to wait for the right dog from the right breeder – some have waiting lists for years. In the end, you won’t regret it.
Pick the Right Breeder
If you don’t already have a kennel or two in mind, NAVHDA is a great place to start researching breeders. The search for a great one is like hunting – put your time in scouting, put your boots on the ground and ask questions. If you’re lucky, you’ll have twelve (and hopefully more) years with your dog, so the relationship you have with your breeder is paramount. They should be there to support you every step of the way, even when that once rambunctious bitey puppy now spends more time resting their achy joints by the fire after a hunt, and their muzzles have begun to turn gray.
Pedigree and titles can tell you a lot about a future puppy, but they can’t tell you everything. Ask to see a breeder’s dogs work. Both sire and dam of a potential litter may not be on-site, and in most cases, they aren’t, but the breeder should be willing to show you dogs of the same lineage. Ask to see them training, hunting and around the home. These days, being located far away from your breeder isn’t as much of an issue because technology allows us to overcome that challenge with Facetime, videos on social media platforms and other applications.
The breeder should perform at least the minimum health tests required for the breed in question, and be able to tell you about genetic conditions found in the breed. Ask about the longevity of their dogs and what they’re looking for in their dogs and future puppies. Know that temperament is genetic. The overall goal should be to improve the breed, one puppy at a time.
Be Prepared for Your Interview
Breeders put their blood, sweat and tears into their dogs. They take their first breath in our hands. We spend sleepless nights worrying and watching. We spend more hours than we’re probably willing to tally researching pedigrees and making breeding plans. We train, test, hunt and prove our dogs in hopes of producing the best litters possible.
Many breeders will require you to sign a contract that protects you and them. There should be some form of a health guarantee, and most importantly, there should be a clause stating the breeder will take the dog back at any point, for any reason. Of course, no one plans on having to give their dog back, but life happens, and a breeder who supports their families and their dogs will always feel an obligation to every puppy they’ve produced.
Meet and Greet
Once you’ve selected a breeder and are approved for a puppy, your breeder will likely request a deposit to hold your pup until it’s time for you to bring him or her home. During these eight to 10 weeks, make arrangements with the breeder to meet the pups. It will allow you to ask more questions, and get a little puppy therapy!
Bringing Your Puppy Home
When the day to bring your puppy home finally comes, you can relax and enjoy the moment. You’ve done the work to find a well-bred puppy from a reputable breeder and have set yourself up for success. Your breeder will likely prepare a packet of information and instructions for you with essential details regarding vaccines, veterinary care and other important topics. Read this information carefully, follow the instructions and reach out with any questions.
Now, it’s all up to you! Socialize your new pup. Expose him or her to different types of cover. As you prepare for your first hunting season together, focus on bird exposure and proper gun acclimation. Don’t forget to send your breeder updates. We love hearing from you! Note: NAVHDA members use many different methods in their dog training. The information and advice in this article don’t represent an official training method standardized by NAVHDA International.