How To Pick A Pup

We are going to try to provide some input that will get you headed in the right direction when looking for a pup or started dog. There are several considerations and variables to evaluate. We have several recommendations to offer. There are all kinds of marketing strategy's kennels and breeders use to try to sell their dogs. Some of them are good , some bad and some ugly. We hope we can help you push through the gauntlet so to speak, the sales pitches, advertising strategies and some times smoke and mirrors used by some kennels to make the sell. Fortunately there are still ethical people out there trying to improve the breed and produce a better dog. They have the animals best interests in mind. You might be surprised to find out who those people are in your search for a dog.

Health Clearances

First of all responsible breeders will always try to breed a better dog. Dogs that bring the best of what the breed has to offer to the table. They will try to produce dogs without health problems and produce pups with the best pedigrees available. They will strive to improve the dogs through selective breeding of superior animals. Unfortunately there are kennels and individuals who's main interest is to generate income. They have little interest in the breed or the potential new dog owners. They have little regard for all the potential ramifications of congenital diseases in a gene pool that may be passed on through generations through their dogs. Good breeders will not breed dogs with known health problems. Their breeding dogs will have health clearances for their dogs hips and eyes. They will guarantee their dogs against hip displaysia and blindness for 26 months or more. In some cases they will test for other potential problems within the specific breed. We recommend not dealing with any breeders selling dogs that do not have a passing OFA hip rating and an eye CERF. We suggest going to the web sites for the OFA and CERF organizations for more information on what they do. There is another process for evaluating hips which is called Penn Hip. We currently use OFA but are considering PENN Hip and know how Penn Hip works. What we like about it is that they take several different views of the hips. OFA takes one view. As with most data collection the more data you have generally the better the conclusion. Go check out the links to these different organizations if you would like to learn more.

Pedigrees

The first step in the process should be looking at pedigrees. We recommend looking closely at the titles throughout the pedigree. There are two registries with pedigrees for the dogs registered. The AKC and the UKC. Both have different pedigrees within their organization. The UKC does not recognize AKC titles on their pedigrees and The AKC does not recognize UKC titles. You wont see an FC/AFC or MH title on a UKC pedigree. You also wont see a HRCH title on a AKC pedigree. To make things even more interesting neither on recognizes the APLA titles. All of these titles are significant achievements especially the upper levels. The UKC runs the retriever events in the HRC ( Hunter Retriever Club )

For a pointing lab what we are primarily looking for are AKC , HRC hunt test titles, Field trial titles as well as APLA titles. Ideally we would like to have both parents of the pups to be APLA GMPR's ( Grand Master Pointing Retrievers ) and AKC FC's/AFC's/MH's or HRC HRCH titles. There are other hunt test organizations like NAHRA as well. We suggest going to the hunt test web sites for more information about their testing criteria and the titles they have to offer qualifying dogs. Titles on dogs provide some valuable information about the dogs. If they are upper level titles it shows that the dog was trainable and was capable of learning advanced concepts. If there are several generations with upper level titles it shows there is a trend in the traits that are being passed on from generation to generation. If you have several generations with titles on both sides of the pedigree it greatly increases the probability that those traits will be present in a puppy you buy from that breeding. For example if you see two or more generations of GMPR's on both sides of a pedigree it is highly likely the pups from that litter will point. The more titles you consistently see in a pedigree the stronger the pedigree is as a general rule. Occasionally you will find a dog with little or no titles in the pedigree that are still very nice dogs that can achieve upper level titles. Empirical data through our experience of training many dogs is this is an exception rather than a rule. As a general rule if you see two dogs with the same titles we recommend taking a closer look at the dog with the better pedigree. Incidentally we feel that breeders that only emphasize the pointing trait in their breeding program and pedigrees are traveling down the wrong road. In our opinion it is a disservice to the breed with the same consequences that have appeared in breeders only breeding for color. We recommend looking much closer at dogs that have advanced ( SH ) or high level retriever hunt test titles( MH ) (HRCH), in their pedigrees besides GMPR.

There are traits expressed in dogs that can be identified by their type of breeding and pedigree. Most noticeably with field trial dogs. Ease of training, co- operation, natural marking abilities, big motor, intense focus, abilities to give a 100% at anything they are working at regardless if it is marks or repetitive drills, ability to do complex tasks, decision making on the fly and more. If you are fortunate enough to be around a lot of dogs in training you will see many of these traits in the field trial bred dogs. In a group of dogs you can see things like better marking abilities, better blinds, running harder/ faster to and from the bird, thinking through diversions including the lay of the land and different structure, more co-operation, diligence on marks, to name a few. There are distinct advantages to having a dog with these abilities as part of their genetic makeup. Advantages in terms of training in general and specifically for hunt tests, field trials and hunting dogs. It is also very common to see several FC/AFC field trial dogs in the pedigrees of Master Hunter or Hunter Retriever Champions level dogs. If you look at enough pedigrees you will see this is the rule as opposed to the exception. There are also traits expressed through pedigreed dogs that are GMPR's. Obviously the pointing trait is one of them. Another is a dog that almost immediately puts their nose to the ground when hunting, birdiness to the point that they see everything in motion around them, working and staying on scent of an upland bird until it is located, diligence on birds that are crippled. There are more most likely but these are some of the obvious ones we see. In our opinion the combination of a field trial dog and a GMPR produces the best of both worlds in a really well bred dog. It is our recommendation that when you look at pedigrees you look for this combination. Virtually all of our dogs have this type of breeding. If you go to the web page labeled Our Dogs you can pull up pedigrees on all of our dogs.

Titles

When you see a title on a dog there are some things to consider. While you may see the end result of the work to achieve a title, unless you have trained the dog or watched them run in all the events they ran in you don't know how many times it took for them to qualify for the title. If all things are equal in terms of training and the number of events entered, a dog with a higher success rate of passing is usually a better dog. There are many variables to consider when making comparisons. Let say for example it takes 5 Master passes for a AKC MH title. Assuming the dogs have had approximately the same amount and quality of training with an equally good handler, a dog that achieves a title with five straight passes compared to a dog that took eight or nine attempts to get five passes is a better dog. These can be important distinctions. Another example could be three attempts at a GMPR rather than one successful attempt. Don't assume that because two dogs have the same title they have the same overall abilities. While two dogs may have passed a GMPR test and achieved a title there can be huge differences in their abilities. Another example could be two dogs running a blind in a GMPR or MH test. One dog does the work without a handle. The next dog requires half a dozen casts to get the there. If all other things are equal the dog that consistently lines the blind is a better dog at that task. All these things are indicators of potentially a better dog if you take closer look at them.

All titles are not necessarily equal. Meaning a retriever title from each of the different organizations are not always equivalent. Testing and qualification can be more difficult in one organization than another. Does this mean that one title is more valuable than another? Depends who you talk to and what your goals are? By far the testing organization with the most tests and entries through out the country is the AKC. In our opinion they are the hunt test standard to meet. We want to see SH and MH titles in dogs in addition to an APLA title of GMPR. We always take a closer look at dogs that have SH, MH and GMPR titles as opposed to those that don't. Other organization like HRC ( UKC ), NARHA also have several level titles. We have seen some really tough tests setup in both HRC and NAHRA. We have sucessfully ran and titled our dogs in all of these organizations. For more information about these organizations, their testing criteria, rules and titles go to their web sites for more information.

Another thing to keep in mind with titles is that not everyone can train their dogs to upper level titles. They also may not be able afford to pay a pro to get them there. An owner that has the time, money and resources to go to many events is much more likely to be able to get titles on their dog as opposed to the average guy with a good dog who doesn't have the resources. There are , without a doubt, many dogs out there that are trainable to the GMPR/MH levels if they were given the training and could run events given the opportunity. In this instance it is even more important to look for a good pedigree. Look for a history of dogs that have proven themselves through several generations. In many instances kennels with the largest marketing budget appear to have the best dogs. That is not always the case if you look closer. They are the ones with the most visibility. They can place ads in web sites, Gundog, Retrievers Journal, The Pointing Dog Journal, APLA newsletters, get vender booths at sportsman's events. They can afford to have their dogs put on a pros truck and have them handle their dogs in tests throughout the country and be seen. Business wise there is nothing wrong with any of this. But , don't assume the kennels or people with the most resources have the best dogs out there today. Achieving a GMPR , 4XGMPR or MH is a significant achievement for anyone. We especially have respect for owners that learn how to train their dogs and put the titles on their dogs themselves.

Another side of the coin are owners that have very nice dogs that don't run events at all. They may have excellent pedigrees, better than the dogs with a lot of advertising, running events or having titles. We are aware of several dogs we have trained that are not seen at hunt tests or marketed at all that could rise to the top and be considered as good as any dog out there running events today. They have the pedigree and abilities to become 4X GMPR's, MH's, AFC's , FC's. Their owners would rather hunt their dogs than run them in events. I once heard somebody say " You feed the dog, do what you want with them ". We agree!

We recommend putting a significant amount of weight in looking for titled dogs with MH and GMPR titles. We also like to see dogs with more than one GMPR title. Ideally a 4X GMPR title. They have run several tests, often in different locations around the country and have proven they can pass them. That said keep in mind how many tests they were entered in and passed or failed. That should also be a consideration.

Run and Gun titles

Some people like to run their dogs in what is referred to as run and guns, shoot to retrieve or tournament hunts. These are competitive hunts where birds are planted, contestants are given a specific number of shells and are given x amount of time to cover the field with their dogs within defined boundaries. The person with the fastest time and the least amount of shots to shoot and retrieve a specified number of birds wins. Sometimes there are cash prizes and or shotguns or dog boxes the winner gets to takes home. An important thing to keep in mind is that dogs are not judged as in a hunt test or field trials. They are scored only on time, the number of birds shot and shells used. All the dogs have to be able to find birds, point them and retrieve them to hand and the handler needs to be able to hit birds to score. Many times the person with the best planted field, meaning the most birds in the field when they run their dog wins. That is assuming of course the dogs do their part and the handler shoots the birds his dog finds. There are many opinions about these events. We have one too. It is our opinion that anytime people are active with working with their dogs it is a good thing. Including these type of events. That said there are some things we don't like about them. The dogs and handler are not judged. The dogs abilities to cover a field , nose, co-operation, trainability, pointing style, steadiness on point, wing and shot and retrieving ability is not judged or given a score. Generally speaking all the dogs can do the work and any dog can win on any given day. It comes down to who has the best planted field. Where things get a little interesting and can be somewhat confusing to the uninformed or casual observer, are when hunt clubs that put these events on start giving titles to the dogs that win the event. That in itself is fine. However when you start putting, for example, the title of Colorado State Pheasant Champion or National Champion on a dog, that has some implications that may be confusing to someone that does not understand the game. Where people get into trouble is when they make the assumption, since the title implies it, is that the dog the hunt club calls a State Champion or Nation Champion is the best pheasant hunting dog in the state or nation. That simply is not the case. It was the dog and handler with the best run in a field on that day or weekend , with the dogs that entered at the event in that hunt club location. Where it can be used as a marketing strategy, and some what deceivingly in our opinion, is when kennels or owners use these titles to sell dogs to customers not knowing what these titles really mean. When someone is looking at getting a PL, maybe their first one, pulls up a web site that has 2008 State Pheasant Champion dog on the front page they are most likely going to make some assumptions. Assumptions by the uninformed that are more than likely not going to be correct. We should say here we are not trying to take away anything from the people that are running these events. We have clients that run them with dogs we train for them. There are some very nice dogs running in many of these events. Some of them with GMPR or MH titles. Were also not saying that everyone that mentions something about their dogs having club titles and running these events are trying to pull the wool over every customers eyes. Really, the only problem we have is when the titles become a marketing scheme for people trying impress to sell their pups or dogs to people who don't have a clue as to what they really mean. When you see these hunt club titles on dogs when your doing research on a breeding be aware of what they are and really mean. We recommend you go to the web site of the club that put on the event. Look at the rules, what it takes to get a title and also the number of contestants that ran in the event. Make your own decision on whether or not the title given reflects what it implies.

The Sire and Dam.

While health clearances should be mandatory and excellent pedigrees should be a priority, the abilities and traits of both parents is very important. We believe the parents abilities and titles they have achieved are more important than successive generations after them. It is just as important if not more so that the parents have titles than their parents or grand parents. When ever possible go and watch both parents train and watch them run in events. The largest influence of traits you will see expressed in a pup is going to be from the first branch in the pedigree, the parents. When it comes to pointing labs and the pointing trait we have empirical data that shows the female has the dominate affect on puppies. Meaning, if the female is very strong pointing the odds are fairly high the litter will produce pointing puppies. We have seen several cases where non pointing stud dogs were used, typically a field trial bred dog, and still produced pointing pups. We have, to a much lesser degree, seen pointing studs produce pointing pups in non pointing female litters. Again this is less common in our experience. When looking at a litter we look first at what the female has to offer. Ideally what we would like to see is FC/AFC /GMPR titles on the dog. To date we do not know of any female that has accomplished this. The next best thing is a MH/4X GMPR, HRCH/4XGMPR titled female. A dog with a pedigree like this will almost always have several FC/AFC dogs in her pedigree. There are very few females today that have these titles. Are the dogs that meet this criteria the only one to consider breeding to. For our own kennel the answer is yes. Because of our goal to try and improve the breed with the best bred proven performance dogs in the country. This is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest. Are there dogs with pedigrees that are not HRCH/MH/GMPR's that are producing nice dogs? In some instances yes. Again it is more common to be the exception than the rule.

Be aware that the stud dogs that are bred the most are not always the best stud dogs out there. It seems that more than a few people become kennel blind. Meaning, all they see and know is what everyone else is doing with the same kennel or breeder. Look for dogs that consistently produce pups that perform. There are some nice stud dogs out there. The problem is that not all stud dogs or females produce good dogs. They may be talented high performance dogs but don't produce pups with their abilities. There are more than one stud dog and female out there today that are this way. We look for stud dogs that not only produce consistently but produce the traits we mentioned in the pedigree and title paragraphs above. Really good females and stud dogs produce pups as good as they are and ideally better than they are. Look for these types of dogs.

Watch both parents work upland birds, do marks on land and water, multiple marks if their at that level and blinds on land and water. This may not always be possible depending where the breeder is located and where the buyer is located. In that case you assume some risk. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Where ever possible minimize your risks by watching the dogs work! Also learn to recognize what good marking and blind work looks like. The best place to see that is where several dogs are working or running in a test. A basic guideline for evaluating good marking in a dog is one that takes the most direct line, covers ground quickly, drives through cover and terrain changes, marks the location of the fall accurately, has very short hunts before finding the bird and does it all with style. They will do equally well regardless if it is a single, double or triple mark. As for running blinds look for dogs that take good initial lines, stay on line through cover and terrain changes, respond well to a sit whistle, make accurate casts when needed, require little or no corrections on their lining to the blind. We also like to see dogs that move out quickly. All of this requires a well bred talented dog with a significant amount of training to do well. Dogs at this level quickly set themselves apart from the rest. You wont find many average dogs with marginal pedigrees doing this kind of work.

Prices for dogs

We look at pricing sometimes wonder why anyone would pay that much money for the dog. Especially one with a marginal pedigree and with a CP or JH title or none at all. As with any other market generally the price people get is the price people will pay. That said there are new dog owners paying more than they should, and what the dogs are worth in our opinion. Customers are not aware that in many instances they can have better bred, better performance animals with high level titles for much less than another overpriced dog. Why do people do it? We believe there are several reasons based on conversations we have with people looking for dogs. in many cases people don't know where or what to start looking for in a good dog. In some cases they have only seen the high visibility advertising of the more commonly known kennels. It might be on the kennels web site or a magazine ad. They assume they are the primary resource or place to go to. In other instances it is a captive market. Meaning they only see or know about one breeders dogs. In some of those cases there are very few PL's in the area to watch work. People see these dogs at a preserve or on a hunt somewhere and from their perspective they are the greatest. Over all good for exposure for PL's for people who have not seen them before but not necessarily an example of a really well bred, well trained dog. It is all relative. If you don't have several dogs with different breeding and at different levels of training to compare with how do you make a comparison? If all you have ever driven is a 1972 Ford Pinto how can you possibly know or understand what it is like to drive a 2009 Turbo Porsche or maybe a Ferrari? You don't have a reference for making a comparison. With dogs the way to make the comparison is to look at pedigrees, titles, watch several different dogs work and watch both parents of the litter your researching work.

We have seen pups with CP and JH titles advertised for $1200 to $1500 in some areas. These dogs have entry level titles and some have marginal pedigrees at best. These are usually what we call the captive market situations. In our case at our kennel we normally wont recommend dogs like these for our clients or consider them for our kennel. We believe it is reasonable to pay $1000 to $1200 for a dog that has a good pedigree loaded with GMPR's/ MH's / FC's and AFC's. From our perspective there are very few PL puppies out there today that are worth more than $1500 with an excellent pedigree and high level titles on both parents. The fact is you don't have to pay more if you do your homework researching. Be aware that the amount of training and time it takes to produce a GMPR , 4X GMPR , HRCH and MH can cost a significant amount of money. Training fees, birds, food, event fees, travel costs, vet bills, training equipment, training grounds all add up. It is not easy to be a responsible breeder. It can be a risky costly business. If done right it is a significant investment on their part and they need to recover those costs and make some profit. Profit is ok, overpriced decent dogs is a different story? The good breeders breed to make a difference for the dogs and the owners of those dogs. These are the ones we suggest you support with your hard earned money.

Referrals

There are several ways to get referrals. Friends, trainers, attending events, joining local retriever clubs. We suggest talking to several different people. Try to find people that have owned several dogs. Good dogs preferably with GMPR and or HRCH ,MH titles. In some cases these people have learned through experience what a really good dog is especially if they have trained and handled them to GMPR,HRCH or MH titles. Keep in mind as a general rule everyone thinks they have a nice dog. In some cases they are right. In other cases they don't have the experience with several dogs to really make an reasonable comparison.

Sometimes trainers can be of help. However, be aware for some they are looking out for the best interest of their clients. Meaning they will try to recommend puppies from their clients litters. In some cases since they have trained the dog they can have some valuable input. Also be a little cautious of trainers that work with a lot of one particular kennels dogs. We have seen more than one instance where they send everyone that contacts them to kennel X because some of those dogs will come back for training and create income. In some cases they are not looking out for the best interest of the new owner knowing they are recommending marginal dogs. There is nothing wrong with trying to generate income to make a living. We all need a place to live and food on our table. What we are pointing out is that you should look closely at the dogs a trainer in this type of situation are recommending. Look at pedigrees, titles and compare them to other dogs. If what they have to offer meets your needs then by all means go for it. Look for the best dog regardless of where it is located.

One of the best ways to evaluate a dog or dogs that are going to have litters is to watch them work. Hunt tests are great places to go watch the dogs work. If the dogs are ready they should do well. One advantage about a hunt test is that in many cases it is not the training area normally used to train the dog. On the other hand dogs that are trained regularly at the location and grounds of the tests are generally going to have an advantage. Their working in an area they know well and work all the time in. Try to watch them in more than one test. Good dogs that are trained right are consistent in their performance. Every once in a while they are off a bit or have a bad day. Keep these things in mind.

These are some guidelines to follow. There will be more information coming.

Ten guidelines for picking a pup or dog.

Don't be in a hurry to pick a dog.
Pick a dog from proven bloodlines. Look at the pedigrees. Look at titles. Ask if the dogs are hunted.
Pick the best bred dog you can find that will meet your needs. Make the paint job or color selection secondary.
Pick a breeding that is going to produce a dog that will most likely meet your needs.
Watch the parents work in the field that includes marking and upland work. If possible go watch them run a hunt test or competitive event.
Only consider dogs that have health guarantees.
Go see the pups in the litter your interested a few times if you can. Males and females develop at different rates so separate them when you look at them. Keep in mind your looking at little pups that have not been around long. What you see now may be signifincatly different in the future.
There are never any guarantees that your going to get wonder dog even when you do your homework.
A good breeder knows all their pups in the litter. Take advantage of their knowledge and ask for input on which pup is showing the traits your looking for or like.
Don't assume that the best dogs come from the largest kennels with the biggest marketing/advertising budgets. Look for breeders that are trying to produce the best dogs possible.
Spend the money for a good dog. All other things are going to be equal for the most part. A really well bred dog is going to cost you pennies more a day in the long run. Do the math. The benefits can be significant and justify spending the money for a good dog.
Questions to ask breeders.

Why did you do this breeding?
What do you like about their pedigree?
What are the traits you like in the Sire and Dam?
Are there things that you would like to see stronger in them?
Do you have both Sire and Dam onsite. Can I see them work?
Do they have titles? What are they?
Do you hunt your dogs? What type of hunting?
Do both parents have OFA's and current CERF's. Any health issues with either parents?
Is this a repeat breeding? If so tell me about the previous litter? What have owners done with the pups? How old are they now? Are any of the dogs titled. Can I see a dog from the previous litter work?
Any health issues with previous litters?
Things to look for in pups.

1) Aware of what is going on around them.

2) Tend to leave the group and go out and explore.

3) Approach obstacles, figure them out and get through them.

4) Like to retrieve.

5) Are not overly aggressive.

6) Like to be around you.