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Picking A Puppy

Having your new puppy thoroughly examined by a veterinarian is an essential part of getting off to a good start.

Pick A Well Socialized Pup
A socialized puppy is one that has been regularly handled by people, helping the young dog to become accustomed to the human touch and comfortable with human beings. "If a gun dog litter has had little or no contact on these levels, then the pups may be fearful and anxious around prospective buyers," notes Tom Roettger, an English cocker breeder from North Branch, Minnesota.

"Spooky puppies afraid of people are difficult to evaluate and hard to sell. So most responsible gun dog breeders make a specific point of spending time with any litter," Roettger finds. "The idea is to develop pups that are friendly, happy and at ease around anyone who wants to hold them, play with them or just watch them.

"With my puppies, my family and friends handle them a little every day from the birth of the litter, then play with them a lot starting when the pups are five weeks old. By seven weeks, our pups love to be handled by everyone, which means they can better be tested for temperament and other factors," Roettger says.

 

Conformation In A Puppy
"By the time most gun dog pups are seven weeks old, you can make some accurate predictions about their future physical conformity," says Chuck Wilson, a Llewellin setter breeder from Waco, Texas. "Main physical features such as head shape, body type and tail set are usually evident when most breeds of puppies are seven weeks of age and become more apparent each week after that," Wilson feels.

"Most experienced breeders of any kind of gun dog should be able to look at eight to 10 pups in a litter and tell with 75 percent success which ones will grow into small, medium or big dogs," Wilson believes. "And, even if the rough estimates aren't absolutely on target, the educated guesses should be close enough to be useful in picking a puppy."

Bird Finding And Fetching Ability
"Testing seven-week puppies for hunting potential may seem like a real stretch. But in our experience, there are some fairly consistent behaviors that can be identified to predict a young dog's hunting future," says Jean Rodriguez of R Place Kennel in Hartford, South Dakota.

Rodriguez and her husband Joe have tested dozens of litters of all breeds of gun dogs. In the process, they have developed a system that is relatively simple and effective and can be administered by anyone.

"We evaluate a litter of gun dog puppies in several categories of responses to physical stimulation as in other kinds of tests for canine temperament and learning aptitude," Rodriguez says. "What is different about our system is that there is more emphasis and focus on prospective hunting qualities. For example, each pup is exposed to a bird wing flipped on a string and a tethered live pigeon to see if there is a perceptible prey drive, self-confidence in a new experience and a willingness to pursue a moving object," says Rodriguez.

"No, we don't say this testing system is totally complete, but we have a pretty good history of predicting the hunting behavior of pups when they become adult dogs," Rodriguez claims. "Our evaluation program is not the only one available but it is the only one we know of with an emphasis on determining hunting potential in a wide range of gun dog breeds."

Conclusion
Picking a puppy is hard to do--if you do it right. Research into breeds and lines, quizzing breeders about their litters, evaluating a pup's parents and choosing one pup according to some practical standards--all of this takes time and effort and a great amount of personal involvement. But as gun dog owners everywhere know, picking a good puppy is worth the effort.


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