Updated: Jan 10, 2019
Who doesn’t want a puppy? I mean really, that cute little ball of fur, puppy smell, cuddling for hours with your new best friend. Sounds like the perfect scene, straight out of a movie, right?
This is a common misconception, or illusion, associated with adding a fur child to your family. Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful thing, but there is so much more to selecting a new best friend than simply buying matching doggie supplies.
Puppies are a lot of work. Period. They have many needs, the main one being time. And social dogs, like retrievers, tend to require more time than others. Think balancing your job, family time, kids/social events, etc., with a puppy that needs (at minimum) several hours of interaction each day. Do not buy a puppy thinking that you will just leave it in the kennel for 12 hours out of the day and maybe take it for a 30-minute walk – you’re just asking for all kinds of social & training issues.
The second big need is money. Dogs are expensive. Shall I say it again – dogs are expensive! Proper food, veterinary care, supplies, training, etc., costs money, especially in the retriever world. Please don’t buy/rescue a dog with the intention of it surviving on Old Roy and the occasional Ivermectin dose.
If you have read this far and have decided that you have the time and money to devote to a dog, then we move on to selecting the pup. Numerous factors that go into selecting a retriever puppy and there are hundreds of breedings that take place each year, primarily in the fall and spring. You will find everything from backyard pet breeders to world-class field trial competitors offering puppies for sale, and with that comes a wide range of price tags (think $800 - $2,500 for well-bred dogs).
Puppies have three basic needs: Time, Training, Care. All of these cost money.
The first factor is what will the dog’s purpose be? No sane person buys a $2,500 field trial prospect with the idea that it will be their child’s pet and no additional training will occur. On the flip side, no sane breeder would sell a puppy of that caliber for that reason.
Enter “To Competitive Homes Only” postings. There is a reason that breeders make this stipulation – for your sake, and for the dog’s sake. Most dogs of this caliber are well bred, “hot-blooded” (excuse my horse-world verbiage), high-drive dogs. That’s what they are supposed to do. Field Trial (and Hunt Test) breeders have spent decades perfecting lineage and bloodlines to obtain the best possible competitive dogs. In order to save Bob and his seven kids from having a disastrous experience with a high-strung, 20 pound, Fluffy in a two-bedroom apartment, breeders choose homes selectively. Those homes include people who are prepared (mentally, physically, and financially) for years of training and competing.
Disclaimer – there are rare occasions where less-than-desirably-bred dogs make it to the top. That’s great! Don’t expect this with every labradoodle you find at the pound.
Back to the purpose… Most owners that we encounter are looking for a hunting dog. -that’s wonderful! These dogs will have a very specific purpose that includes hunting 3-4 months out of the year, training, and hanging with the family the rest of the time. Heck, you may even want to run your dog in a few hunt tests here and there.
These are middle-of-the-road dogs. Middle of price range, middle of the temperament scale, middle of the training timeline. You can get a very nicely bred puppy with the purpose of having it trained as a hunting dog for a great price. These dogs will typically still require 8 months – 2 years of training, depending on how far you want to take them, but they won’t require the constant expense of ongoing competition, travel, etc.
The last “purpose” that you may be searching for is a pet. If you’re looking for a puppy as a pet, it is still important to look for a healthy dog (i.e. health clearances, if possible). Rescue dogs can make wonderful pets, as can full-blooded pups – just make sure they are healthy! Take your time, do your research, ASK A PROFESSIONAL.
Again, don’t buy a top-of-the-line bred dog to make it into a living rug on your floor. Buy a dog that matches the purpose you have for it.
The second factor in selecting your next pup, is price. For many, this is the biggest hurdle. Again, well-bred puppies can range from $800 to $2,500+. Once you have determined your purpose, then consider pricing.
Much like buying a car, you won’t get a Maserati on a Chevrolet budget. You also won’t need a Maserati if you are looking to tow things.
If color is a concern for you, determine what color of dog you want, and research those breedings.
Look for dogs with titles, but don’t ignore well-bred dogs that have other jobs, like professional guiding. Professional guide dogs (assuming they are with a legit guide, not Fred down the road who takes his buddies dove hunting twice a year) will see and pick up more birds than most competitive dogs ever will.
I’ll say it again – ASK A PROFESSIONAL. Professional dog trainers see and train hundreds of dogs. They watch other dogs at tests, they encounter different training/performing attitudes in dogs that come through their kennels, they know how their buddy’s duck dog behaves in the blind, so on and so forth. These factors make them an excellent resource for finding a good breeding. Plus, they typically know of more breedings than you’re ever going to find searching random Facebook groups.
Once your trainer knows what you are looking for, they can usually find a perfect fit within your budget. This minimizes the work for you and maximizes what you will get out of your new companion.
The third factor in this whole deal is training. What are your training goals and who is going to do the training?
If you have a professional trainer picked out, that’s perfect. Make sure that you and your trainer have discussed what your goals are and realistic expectations for reaching those goals.
If you are going to do the training yourself (which is possible, but not recommended), be realistic in your abilities and the goals you have set. If your goal is to train the next FC-AFC dog from your backyard with zero experience and zero guidance, just give up now. If your goal is to work through obedience with the guidance of a mentor and professional resources (i.e. training videos, books, etc.), that is more realistic. Just remember to not get discouraged and not be afraid to ask for help if you are stuck on where to go next with your dog. Skipping over segments of training because they are too difficult or you don’t know how to teach them only creates gaps in your dog’s abilities that will come up later – GUARANTEED.
Example – not being able to teach your kid to tie their shoes. Eventually that’s going to be a problem when they’re an adult wearing Velcro tennis shoes to job interviews.
Expect problems. Like people, every dog has its quirks. For some that is terrible kennel habits, others are very vocal, some are chewers of all things, others ingest everything, edible or not. There will be issues, there will be training hurdles, that just comes with teaching anything to anything. Issues will arise throughout training, whether you do it yourself (tends to have more issues) or send your dog to a professional.
Overall, these are the three biggest factors in the first step of dog ownership. Knowing what you are in for, what to expect, and what process(es) to follow will save you (and the dog, your wife, kids) a huge headache down the road.
Be smart – choose the best puppy for your situation and enjoy it!