THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU
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I have watched double-nosed spanish pointers hunt quail in the arid hills of Guadalajara, and I've seen Old Danish Pointers seek partridge under the wind turbines of Jutland. I've chased ruffed grouse with Point-Audemer Spaniels in Manitoba and hunted sharp-tailed grouse with a small herd of Large Munsterlanders in Saskatchewan. I saw a Weimaraner kill a roe deer with a single bite on the island of Baltrum, and I've seen German Shorthaired Pointers and Brittanies just about everywhere I've been. And what I've seen has led me to one conclusion: a pointer dog's raison detre is to put a smile on its owner's face.
But I have also learned that to be truly happy with any dog, you need to find the right dog for you. No breed of pointing dog can satisfy the needs and wants of everyone. And no breed of pointing dog is guaranteed to produce only top-notch performers. There are good and bad invidividuals in all breeds. So, when you start looking for the right dog - the one that will put a smile on your face - you must assume what Charles Fergus calls the "burden of choice".
It was hardly a casual thing, picking a pup. Here was a creature with whom I would share the next fifth of my life: a house mate, family member, hunting partner, friend. One does not pick children one is given them; but with dogs, one assumes the burden of choice.
Lisa and I know all too well just how easy it is to catch the new puppy bug. If we had more room in our house and a healthier bank account we would have dozens of dogs, probably one or two of each breed! So, I release that there will be people who see a particular breed in this book and feel that they absolutely have to get a pup. But there are entire "how to" books written about finding just the right breed and picking the best pup. And thre are dozens of internet sites dedicated to helping people navigate the in's and out's of making the purchae. So, I will not cover that material here. What I can do, as someone who has traveled a great deal to research every one of the pointing breeds in the wrold, is offer the following advice that will hopefully help put the odds in your favor of finding the right dog for you.
First and foremost, the right dog for you must be from a breed and a line within that breed that is known to work in the way you want it to work. So: What do you hunt? Where do you hunt? What kind of performance do you expect from a dog?
If your pleasure is running with the big boys in top-level trials, get a dog from a breed that is designed for that sort of activity. If you prefer a closer-working dog, or perhaps one that really excels at water work, tracking, retrieving, or whatever activity gets your motor running, then you should get a dog from a breed that has been designed to work the way you want it to work.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Finding the right dog for you is a process, not an event. It might take you weeks, months, perhaps years to find just the right one. Therefore, do yourself, and your family and your hunting buddies a favor: slow down and do your homework. With the amount of information available today, there is no excuse for remaining in the dark about any aspect of any breed. Read all you can get your hands on; surf the net; participate in online forums and discussion groups; and talk to owners, breeders and members of the breed clubs. And, throughout it all, never forget that all gundogs are not created equal. There are differences between breeds, and there are often even bigger differences between lines and individuals within breeds. For hunters, the most important differences are related to a dog's natural hunting abilities. If you find a dog that is naturally gifted to hunt the way you want it to hunt, you will be delighted. If you get stuck with a dog that isn't, you will be miserable.
Since the person responsible for keeping those natural abilities in their dogs is the breeder, in orer to find the right pup, you have to find the right breeder for you. But, just like gundogs, breeders are not created equal. Two breeders with the same breed of dog living next door to each can have radically different approaches to selecting their stock. The key to getting a good dog is finding a breeder that is on the same page as you are. As a hunter, you can narrow the choice of breeders down by asking everyone you contact a simple question: "Do you hunt?" If the answer is "no", look for another breeder. If it is "yes", then you may be on to something - if the breeder has a similar approach to hunting as you do and breeds dogs for the kind of hunting you do. After all, the best breeder for you is one that has similar interests, requirements and tastes in gundogs as you do.
When I first began this project, breeders and breed clubs were just starting to go online. Nowadays, almost all of them use the internet to connect with potential clients all over the world. And there are new technologies that can help us overcome language barriers and bridge cultural divides. Among the most useful are web-based translation programs. Just enter what you want to say in English and the program will automatically translate it into another language. But the programs work best when we write simple sentences, and avoid idiomatic expressions. Write "How are you?" instead of "How's it going?", for example. Personally, I use Google Translate when I need to communicate in languages other than English or French. But I always make sure to let the other party know that what they are reading has been translated by a computer. That way, if it is not grammatically correct in their language, or just seems a bit odd, they will understand why.
DEAL FAIR AND SQUARE
When it comes to gundogs, look for value, not the lowest sticker price. Your goal is to find a hunting companion for the next 12 to 15 years, not save a few bucks in the short term. The purchase price, while important, should never be the primary consideration when you begin your search. The old adage "you get what you pay for" is often the case with gundogs. That said, do not be fooled by overpriced dogs. Breeds can sometimes become wildly popular, or even a fad. When they do, there are always a few breeders willing to charger outrageous prices for pups. Avoid them. Also remember that rare breeds should not automatically be higher priced. I have spoken to breeders of some of the rarest breeds of pointing dogs in the world, and even helped a few hunters get dogs from them. The pups were all reasonably priced, about the same as a pup from more mainstream breeds. So, beware of anyone charging a big premium for a rare breed.
Finally, remember that breeding, when done properly, is hard work and rarely profitable. Dedicated breeders striving to improve their chosen breed have to deal with everything from the financial strain of maintaining a kennel to the emotional roller coaster of caring for a pregnant bitch and whelping its pups. So do them a favor: don't add to the list of challenges they face by being "that guy". Every breeder can tell you horror stories about tire kickers, bargain hunters and flaky people that they had to deal with. By all means, ask the breeder lots of questions but be prepared to answer all of their questions honestly, as well. Again, your goal is to find a hunting companion for the next 12 to 15 years. By dealing fair and square with an honest, dedicated breeder, you have an excellent chance of finding the right dog for you, and you might just make a great new friend in the process.