Our attention, training, opportunities, and environments all factor into a puppy’s development. They should all be considered before we decide on exactly what litter our next pick comes from. (Photo By: Mark Atwater)
Puppy shopping can be a daunting process. Even when you’ve narrowed down your chosen breed, you’re still likely to have dozens of choices to sit through. In the case of popular dogs like Labrador retrievers, you might have hundreds of breeders to consider.
Or, you could just go with the breeder who produced your last dog.
This is a common move, and oftentimes, a good one. If your life situation hasn’t changed much since your last pup, and your hunting situation is similar, then going with a familiar bloodline is probably a solid choice. Of course, this hinges on whether the breeder is producing the same kind of dogs, which isn’t always the case and does require some research.
The reality for most of us is that in the span between puppies, a lot usually changes. You might be talking a few years, seven or eight like I tend to wait, or even a decade or more. That’s a lot of laps around the sun, and might take you from needing a certain kind of puppy to needing (or wanting) something vastly different, which means the puppy shopping process isn’t going to be as easy as calling up an old reliable breeder and plunking down a deposit.
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When we consider our current dogs, which is the basis for going with a repeat breeding, it’s easy to focus on the highlights. After all, we love our dogs so much that we often only acknowledge the things they do right. Being honest about the things we don’t like about them isn’t nearly as easy.
But it is important. This might involve something as simple as size. A decade ago, you might have wanted a good-sized dog to handle pheasant duties, but also maybe fetch up a late-season honker. Big retrievers aren’t inherently bad or good, but they do often come with joint issues later in life. That size is also not really necessary provided you can find a pup with drive to spare.
This point is no small one, either. While I tend to lean toward bloodlines with plenty of horsepower, I’m also a professional trainer. I can wrangle that drive in, or direct it in ways I want, which allows me to develop dogs that are burners in the field but pleasant in the house. This takes time, and while I always encourage people to consider buying as much drive as they can afford, it can be an issue for some folks.
Ask yourself, how much drive do you need? How much can you handle? If you’ve got loads of free time, you should be able to mold a high-drive dog into something really special. Maybe you did that with your last dog when you were 25 and didn’t have any kids. What about now? Or on the flip side, what if you are just retired and are facing entire pheasant seasons without having to work 40 hours a week? That’s a different scenario, and definitely worth filtering your puppy choice through.
Another consideration is, where do you live? When you got your last puppy, did you have a big yard and access to a bunch of different parks in which to train? Or, do you have that now, when you lived in an apartment during your last puppy experience?
The thing we often when we’re in the for a new recruit is focus on the market on what we want out of the dog. Since we love our current dogs so much, it’s easy to default to familiar breeding. But the options are many for quality bloodlines, and the considerations on dog drive, temperament, etc. are important—just as it’s important to consider what we bring to the table.
Our attention, willingness to play the long training game, and opportunities to mold a dog in a wide variety of environments all factor into a puppy’s development. They should all be considered before we decide on exactly what litter our next pick comes from.
For those of us who have been chasing wild birds for more than a few decades, it’s pretty evident that hunting opportunities come and go. The amount of CRP across the land greatly affects wild pheasant numbers. Weather and predator issues can take a once great bobwhite region and wipe most coveys off the map.
Upland opportunities come and go, and that means you should take stock in what you have available to hunt. Or, what you’re most interested in hunting these days. Maybe eight or 10 years ago you couldn’t get enough of putting a half-marathon on your boots while chasing sharpies or prairie chickens, but now you set the alarm for flights of greenheads. Maybe the ruffs you use to chase in the big woods aren’t as appealing as late-season roosters in the snow. Whatever you love to hunt now, and anticipate you’ll love for the next decade, should factor into what kind of dog you plan to buy.
For example, if you do mix in some late-season waterfowling when you’re not pounding the grass for upland birds, you’ll probably want a retriever that can handle big, cold water. Dogs that are an asset in that hunting reality tend to be the ones with drive to spare. The same goes for the dog that will be asked to pound through frozen cattails for eight hours a day in search of public-land ringnecks. Again, these hunting demands require a lot of drive. The kind of drive that can make a six-month old in the house seem like more of a challenge than it’s worth. There is a give and take to all of this, and it pays to be aware of what you really need out of a pup, and what that means to the entirety of your life.
The other end of the spectrum might mean you’ve gone from a place with abundant wild birds, to none. Are you hunting mostly preserves and planted birds now? What kind of dog do you need for that? Maybe drive isn’t the number one factor for you, and temperament in the house really is. That might not have been the case the last time you were on the hunt for a four-legged friend.
Repeat breeding or new bloodlines? That’s up to you, of course. And it’s a situation that should not be taken lightly. Factor in your life as it is, and as you anticipate it to be. Not only as far as hunting goes, but kids, your job, your living situation. While none of us can predict the future, we can factor in everything that is currently relevant to our lives as dog owners, and use that to make an informed choice.
That might lead us to call a breeder we know well to double down on their program, or branch out in a new direction in light of new circumstances. In either case, do your research and be honest about the process. If you do, you should end up with a dog that fits into your life in every way.