Selecting a future hunting buddy can be a confusing process if you’re not sure of what to look for. In this online exclusive running in conjunction with the PRO TIPS column appearing in the March/April/May 2011 issue of GUN DOG titled Which One, sixteen different breeders give insight on how they handle the puppy selection process for the breeds they specialize in.
Below you’ll find the name of each breeder, along with the dog breeds of their expertise.
- Janice & Dennis Anderson of British Labradors Kennels — British Labradors
- John & Choral Greer of Tiger Mountain Pointing Labradors — Labradors
- Mark Hairfield of Southaven Kennels — English springer spaniels and Labrador retrievers
- Tom Ness of Oahe Kennels — English cocker spaniels, English springer spaniels, British Labradors.
- Bill & Cheryl Kennedy of Smoke Creek Wirehairs — German wirehaired pointers.
- R.L. and Pat Dalrymple of Rolling Red Prairie Kennel — Epagneul Breton (French Brittany)
- Curt & Romy Shreve of Snowy Oaks Kennels — Large Münsterlanders
- Michael Book & Barbara Biewer of Sunfire Golden Retrievers — Golden retrievers
- Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels, Inc. — British and Irish Labradors
- Jess Green of Great Plains Boykin Spaniels — Boykin spaniels
- Paul & Karla Fischenich of Minnesota French Spaniels — French spaniels
- Ed Orn of Flying O Ranch Gun Dog Kennel — Brittanys and pointers
- Debbi Koeberlein of Wind River’s Kennel/ Koeberlein Hunting Preserve — German shorthaired pointers
- Shawn & Kelly Trzeciak of French Creek Labradors — British and American Labrador retrievers
- Ben Martin of Royal Kennels — English springer spaniels
- Don & Julie Pawlak of Rush Lake Kennels — Labradors
The Andersons have bred British Labrador retrievers for 23 years.
“People who pick their puppies up at the kennel do so at seven weeks,” Janice said. “We ship puppies to distant buyers at eight weeks.”
They allow litter visitations starting at four weeks. However, they ask people not to visit other kennels or veterinarians and not to handle other dogs before coming to see the puppies. If the buyer has a dog, they insist on seeing that dog’s health certificate.
The Andersons do extensive puppy temperament testing starting when the pups are 25 days old and continuing until selection day. At six weeks they use the Volhard tests to determine which puppies are dominant, which are submissive and which fall somewhere in between. Through these tests and their day-to-day interaction with the litter, the Andersons become familiar with each puppy.
They have a long list of reservations for their puppies, which gives them time to become acquainted with each buyer well before selection day. During this period, they gather an idea of the buyer’s lifestyle, hunting habits and family to determine which puppy will best suit him in terms of athleticism, style, boldness in the field and calmness in the home. They also learn about the buyer’s secondary considerations, such as size, color and general conformation.
Then, on selection day, the Andersons choose which puppy goes to each buyer.
“If the buyer were to do his own selecting,” Janice said, “he would be very apt to pick a puppy not well suited to him–especially if he were to bring the entire family along. His wife would like this cute little fellow, his son would like that rough-and-tumble rascal and his daughter would probably want to take the entire litter home.”
The Andersons’ advice: Find a reputable breeder who does the selecting for you and rely on his experience, not on your family’s emotions.
The Greers have bred Labradors for 30 years.
“We place our puppies at seven weeks,” John said, “but only after we have completed our weeklong puppy evaluation program in the field with birds.”
John said they welcome scheduled visits before selection day for buyers who want to see their older dogs work, their training program and their farm. But they don’t let visitors enter the whelping barn, where their current litter is.
John and Choral know each puppy well, especially after the week in the field on birds. They become familiar with each buyer through questions and conversations with him.
“We inquire about his family life, hunting habits, goals for the puppy, and field trial and hunt test experience and plans,” John said.
With that knowledge, they place each puppy with the buyer for whom that puppy makes the best match.
“Rapport will grow as the two get better acquainted and bond with one another,” he noted.
The Greers recommend selecting a breeder whose program you have confidence in. A conscientious breeder will be there to help you through your puppy’s rearing and training process.
Mark has bred English springer spaniels and Labrador retrievers for 30 years.
“Here, puppies go to new homes at seven weeks,” Mark said.
He said he believes buyers should not visit the litter before the pups are five weeks old, when they have established their pecking order. Before then, the pups change so much every day that the buyer gains little by visiting them, he added.
“A responsible breeder socializes each puppy properly from birth until the litter goes to their new homes,” he continued. “Rapport with the new owner begins when he picks up his puppy. What he does with the youngster during the following six months determines what sort of personality the pup will have.”
Mark doesn’t believe in temperament or personality tests for puppies. He’s found that in time, the dog’s personality will reflect that of the owner with amazing accuracy. If the owner is strongly overbearing, even the most outgoing pup can succumb and become cowed.
Mark lets buyers select their own puppies. However, he offers suggestions if asked, as he feels the breeder can be the buyer’s best asset in the puppy selection process, especially if the breeder is also a professional trainer.
“If the buyer is a field trialer,” he said, “I recommend one of the more dominant and aggressive pups. If he’s a hunter, I recommend one from the middle of the pecking order. If he wants only a household pet, I suggest one on the lower end of the pecking order.”
Without such guidance from the breeder, the buyer should rely on “good breeding, good breeding, good breeding,” Mark said. Then, from such a litter, he should select the puppy he simply likes best.
“Buying a puppy is a long-term commitment, so choose from a quality litter, not from a ‘bargain’ litter,” he added.
Tom has bred English cocker spaniels for 20 years. He also occasionally breeds English springer spaniels and British Labradors.
“The late Talbot Radcliffe of the famous Saighton Kennels in England told me that if the litter is allowed to grow up together with their dam, the social order within the litter won’t change much,” Tom said. “The early-on boldest would remain the boldest, and the early-on wallflowers would remain wallflowers. However, if the litter is broken up at around eight weeks or so, each pup gets a new start and must change to fit into a new ‘pack’–a human one.”
Not surprisingly, Tom allows buyers who come to his kennel on selection day to pick up their puppies at seven weeks. However, he keeps pups he has to airfreight to distant buyers until nine weeks. Their added maturity makes the flight less traumatic.
He allows buyers to visit the litter at any time before selection day, though he said he doubts anyone can form a true bond with a puppy after one or two short visits. Tom suggests that when selecting from a well-bred and raised litter, play with each puppy and then choose the one you just plain like best.
Personally, Tom said he likes a puppy that runs to him and climbs into his lap. He also prefers a pup that retrieves early, at least by six or seven weeks.
“I tease the pup with a little dummy, and when he’s really excited, I toss it a few feet away for him to retrieve,” Tom explained. “Normally, the pup that loves to chase and retrieve a dummy on selection day will become a good working spaniel.”
If asked, Tom helps guides those who come to the kennel on selection day, and he communicates with distant buyers by phone.
The Kennedys have bred German wirehaired pointers for 32 years.
“We keep puppies here until they are eight weeks old,” Bill said. “The 49th day thing doesn’t work for wirehairs.”
To match distant buyers with appropriate puppies, the Kennedys use a questionnaire that inquires about their hunting habits and their preferences in gender, size and color. As the litter develops, the Kennedys get to know each puppy, which facilitates matching puppies to buyers. They also send puppy pictures to distant buyers as the litter grows.
Before selection day, they encourage buyers to visit the kennel as often as possible, especially after the litter is five weeks old. The Kennedys socialize the pups from birth so they’re used to having people around.
For buyers who visit the kennel on selection day, the Kennedys let the puppies select their future owners.
“We have a play area where we encourage the buyer to get down on the ground and play with the puppies,” Bill said. “Eventually, one or two puppies will come to the buyer more often than the others. Then it’s up to the buyer to choose which of those he likes best.”
The Kennedys feel that no one can accurately evaluate the field potential of an eight-week-old puppy. For this, you should look at the breeding history. If the parents, grandparents and other generations are or were good hunters, then with proper training the puppy should work out well.
“A puppy should be a lifetime commitment for the buyer,” Bill said. “To succeed, he must commit the time and resources necessary to care for and train the youngster properly.”
The Dalrymples have bred the Epagneul Breton (French Brittany) for 24 years.
“We prefer to keep our puppies in the litter until they’re eight weeks or older,” R.L. said. “On occasion, for some special reason, we’ve let one go at six or seven weeks, but we prefer to hold them at least until eight weeks.”
For a distant buyer who can’t visit the kennel to pick his own pups, R.L. chats at length with him to understand his wishes and thereby choose an appropriate puppy for him.R.L. welcomes those who can visit the litter before selection day, but
he doesn’t feel it’s necessary, as it also can set a person up for a disappointment. If the buyer has, say, choice No. 3 and falls in love with a puppy beforehand, that puppy may be instead taken by a buyer with choice No. 1 or 2.
Buyers who come to the kennel on selection day choose their own puppies, and in a variety of ways. Some are quite casual, while others take all day. Some bring their wives and kids, making the choice a family matter. R.L. answers any questions they might have but lets them do the choosing.
“A good puppy has only three essentials,” he said. “First, excellent genetics; second, excellent genetics; and third, excellent genetics. If the pups have these, the buyer can’t make a bad choice.”
R.L. puts no stock in the various tests intended to determine the level of rapport between a buyer and a puppy. His experience shows that most puppies bond with any buyer who pays enough attention to them on selection day.
He has also noticed that buyers who bring the wife and kids along end up in last place in the pecking order: The pups warms up first to the kids, then to the wife, and only then to the husband. But once in his new home, the pup bonds quickly with each family member.
The Shreves have bred large Münsterlanders for 25 years.
“Our puppies go to their new homes at eight weeks,” Romy said. “We do all the selecting, whether for remote or local buyers. We’ve been doing this for 20 years now and have found it works very well.”
Well before selection day, they discuss with each buyer topics that help them place their puppies correctly: the home and family situation, whether they want a house dog or kennel dog, their hunting habits, their experiences with other dogs and whether a pro will train the pup.
They also allow potential buyers to visit the litter when the pups are five or six weeks old, which helps the Shreves become better acquainted with the buyers and their families early on.
The Shreves also get to know each puppy in a litter quite well from their day-to-day contact with them in the kennel, “puppy walks” in the woods and fields, interaction with visitors, and play with toys and wings. All this cumulative knowledge of both buyers and puppies results in successful matching.
However, they don’t feel that selection day chemistry has any significance. “Love and bonding” will happen with any puppy after they take it home, the Shreves attest.
To foretell field potential in puppies so young, the buyer can only rely on the breeder and the breeding.
“We’ve tried many tests,” Mike said, “but we’ve never found one that predicts the relative field potentials of pups in an eight-week old litter.”
Mike and Barb have bred golden retrievers for 40 years.
“When our puppies are eight weeks old, they go to their new homes,” Barbara said.
Whether or not a buyer visits the kennel on selection day, Michael and Barbara learn as much as they can about the buyer’s needs well ahead of that day. Has he ever had a dog before? Has he ever had a golden? What sort of hunting does he do? Will he compete in field trials or hunting tests? What’s the family make-up?
Then, when the litter is six to eight weeks old, they evaluate each puppy in various ways: with pigeons (dead and alive), in wading water and with the Volhard tests. These methods help them come to know both the buyers and the puppies well enough to match them up.
They ship appropriate puppies to distant buyers who can’t visit the kennel, but those who live close enough are welcome to visit the puppies before selection day. If such a visitor indicates an early preference for one particular pup, Barbara takes note.
Before the day of purchase, Michael and Barbara pre-select two or three puppies for each buyer who plans to visit the kennel, then the buyer picks from there.
“They make their choices in various ways,” Michael said. “For example, some bring a duck or pheasant wing and take the pup that reacts best to it.”
“Others just play with each puppy individually and pick the one that interacts best with them,” Barbara added.
The right kind of pedigree has lots of field trial and hunting test titles, especially on the left-hand side of the page–parents and grandparents. If field ability isn’t evident in the bloodlines, training won’t put it in the puppy, Michael said.
“For field trial potential,” Barbara said, “we look for the pup with a ‘one-track’ mind–a pup that focuses so tightly on the first bird he encounters that nothing else seems to matter, like he’s just found his life’s work.”
Mike has bred British and Irish Labradors for 11 years.
“At our kennel, our puppies go to their new homes at seven weeks, but only after the buyers have gone through a three-hour on-site puppy program here at our kennel,” Mike said.
Before selection day, visitors are welcome, but only by appointment. Visitors may visit the sires and dams as well as the “puppy super learning center,” but some areas are restricted for health reasons. Consequently, visitors may not handle puppies before five weeks.
Mike prefers not to ship puppies, but will do so when absolutely necessary. On selection day at the kennel, starting at 9 a.m., buyers first take a tour of the kennel and grounds. Next, the Wildrose staff takes them through an educational program that prepares them to properly raise, care for and train their puppies. Finally, in order of deposit, they select their puppies based on preferences of gender and color.
“The event is both festive and educational,” Mike said. “At selection time, kennel men, trainers and puppy caregivers are on hand to assist buyers in their decisions.”
He observed that many puppies appear to choose their ne
w owners, which seems to work as well as any other method.
“The buyer and his family need rapport with the breeder and with the litter’s sire and dam, as well as a natural attraction for the individual puppy,” he added.
In Mike’s experience, the best way to assess field potential is by selecting a litter from a breeder who regularly produces good working stock. Such a breeder not only raises consistently talented sires and dams, but also begins properly imprinting the puppies’ budding psyches very early.
“The imprinting process may start as early as one week and continue to selection day,” Mike noted.
Jess has bred Boykin spaniels for five years.
“We keep the puppies until they are eight weeks old,” Jess said. “We encourage prospective buyers to visit us frequently before that time so they can watch the puppies grow and develop, and study the parents.”With buyers who can’t come to Omaha on selection day, Jess discusses preferences via telephone and e-mail, and also sends them pictures of the puppies.
Buyers who come to his place on selection day choose their own puppies, but Jess helps those who request his assistance by telling them which puppies are more active, outgoing or laidback.
He feels that puppies have such short attention spans that it’s not possible to detect a real relationship between a buyer and any individual puppy on selection day. Jess said he has found no rapport tests that he considers reliable.
“If after taking the puppy home, the buyer provides a good environment–and dedicates the time and effort necessary to making the pup a good hunting dog–rapport will develop over time,” Jess said.
Predict the field potential of a puppy by learning about the field ability of the parents, he recommended. However, some first-time puppy buyers become frustrated in the training process because their youngsters don’t always advance according to their arbitrary mental training timeline.
“If you let your puppy be a puppy,” Jess said, “then with a little patience and a lot of hard work, he’ll become a great hunting companion.”
The Fischeniches have bred French spaniels for 15 years.
“At seven or eight weeks, our puppies go to their new owners,” Paul said. “But we help them make their selections earlier, mostly by e-mailing bi-weekly videos as the puppies mature.”
Buyers who cannot come to the kennel on selection day choose puppies based on those videos, plus telephone and e-mail correspondence.
In addition to studying the videos, the Fischeniches encourage buyers to visit the kennel and litter frequently before selection day. Puppies change so much from day to day and week to week that these outings, along with the videos, gives the buyer a more balanced view of each puppy. Then, too, these visits help the Fischeniches become better acquainted with the needs and expectations of the buyers. With their intimate knowledge of the individual puppies in each litter, they can make sound recommendations to each buyer. However, they leave the final decision up to the buyers.
The Fischeniches feel that the buyer should select a puppy with which he has strong rapport on selection day. Thus, they encourage each buyer to take as long as he needs to select his puppy.
“Choosing a puppy begins about a 12-year commitment, so you should take your time and get one you really click with,” Paul said. “We normally schedule three or four hours with the litter for each buyer, and many of them use all or at least most of that time.”
Paul said that the best indicator for field potential is the field performance of the litter’s parents.
“Beyond that, it’s a crap-shoot,” Paul said. “But with a well-bred and well-socialized litter, you can’t make a bad choice.”
Ed has bred Brittanys and pointers for 16 years.
“Our pups go to their new owners at six weeks,” Ed said. “For buyers who cannot come to the kennel, we e-mail pictures and discuss their needs by e-mail and phone.”
Ed has noticed how much emphasis many buyers put on color and markings. They like a certain pup because it’s marked like their old dog, or because some colors are easier to see in cover.
“Occasionally,” he chuckled, “someone picks a particular pup because its colors match their furniture! That’s OK, I guess, because in a well-bred litter, every pup has field potential.”
Ed feels that those who can should come kennel on selection day. When a buyer arrives, Ed brings out all available puppies for him to see and evaluate. He also shows him the sire and dam, and he answers any questions the buyer may have.
People pick puppies in different ways, but Ed feels that the most successful way is to play with all the puppies together in a small area and let the puppy pick you. One puppy will likely come repeatedly to a visitor, and that’s the one Ed feels would be the best fit.
“I sometimes use a bird on a string to show each pup’s birdiness and pointing instinct,”he added.
Once, when a buyer was having trouble deciding between two pups, Ed put each puppy, one at a time, in a 40-foot by 60-foot pen with a sausage hidden under a can in the middle. The buyer chose the pup that found the sausage quicker than the other puppy, figuring it had a better nose.
But Ed feels the surest guide to field potential in a litter of pups is the working talents of the litter’s parents. If a buyer is choosing from a litter whose parents are both good workers, each puppy has good potential–with proper training, of course.
Debbi has bred German shorthaired pointers for 17 years.
“We let our puppies go to their new homes at seven weeks,” Debbi said. “Occasionally, when necessary, we let them go a few days early, and again, occasionally we have kept a puppy until it was 12 to 16 weeks, mostly for buyers who must be away from home all day and need a puppy with a more mature bladder. Whenever the transition to a new home happens, it should be quiet and positive for the puppy.”
In addition to socializing her puppies daily, Debbie introduces them to birds at two to three weeks. Before they go to their new homes, she familiarizes them with a strap collar, a lead and a crate.To match a puppy to a buyer who cannot visit the kennel, Debbi says she “spends a lot of telephone time” determining the buyer’s desires in a puppy: gender, color, mature size, energy level, dominance or submissiveness. She also learns about the buyer’s family, home and lifestyle. With her day-to-day experience caring for and socializing the litter, she has been successful in matching puppies to distant buyers.
However, she much prefers that buyers come to the kennel on selection day, and as often before that as possible, to become well acquainted with them. On selection day, she does some rather formal puppy testing, which she likes puppy buyers to watch before choosing. She recommends an appropriate puppy for each buyer, but lets the buyers make their own decisions.
“Rapport on selection day really matters,” she said. “If a buyer cannot find a puppy he really likes, I recommend that he wait for another litter rather than take a puppy that he may have trouble bonding with.”
She stressed that the litter’s field potential comes from the parents. She encourages buyers to watch the dam work in the field. If the sire is local, she also shows them his work.
Shawn & Kelly Trzeciak of French Creek Labradors: 20731 US Highways 6 & 19, Saegertown, PA 16433; (814) 763-6821; (814) 573-4715; Web site: www.frenchcreeklabradors.com; e-mail: email@example.com.
The Trzeciakes have bred British and American Labradors for 12 years.
“To comply with Pennsylvania law,” Kelly said, “we don’t let our puppies go to their new homes until they are eight weeks old. We would prefer letting them go at six or seven weeks, but we don’t have that option.”
She pointed out that Shawn and she have trained the parents and grandparents of most of their breeding stock, so they are able to breed pairs that will produce highly trainable litters. They also do an ongoing evaluation program with each litter in their daily care and socialization processes. By selection day, they have graded each puppy on a scale of 1 to 10, mostly on a submissiveness/dominance continuum, with 1 being most submissive and 10 being most dominant. Most of their puppies fall in the 5 to 7 range, which is best suited for novice trainers.
The Trzeciakes select the puppy for each buyer, whether or not he can visit the kennel on selection day.
“When you need a new house, you hire a contractor rather than trying to do the job yourself,” Shawn said. “We know our puppies quite well, and we get to know each buyer quite well. So we can match puppies with buyers better than the buyers themselves could.”
Shawn feels that rapport is too universal to worry about. He said he has never seen an 8-week old Lab and a buyer that didn’t have immediate chemistry.
He said that no test can predict a puppy’s field potential. For that, you must rely on the field ability of the parents and grandparents.
“Ask to see the immediate ancestors work in the field,” he said, “and you’ll know all you need to know about field potential.”
Ben has bred field-bred English Springer Spaniels for over 40 years.
“We prefer that buyers take their puppies at six weeks,” Ben said. “That helps them begin bonding early on. The nature of a flushing dog’s work makes strong bonding with its owner absolutely necessary. We like to get that started as early as possible.”
To select a puppy for a buyer who cannot visit the kennel on selection day, Ben uses e-mail and telephone to learn as much as he can about the buyer’s lifestyle, preferences and needs. He also e-mails him pictures of puppies. In general, he tries to select bold, out-going puppies.
“Buyers who visit the kennel on selection day usually don’t need much help in selecting their puppies,” Ben said. “Of course, if the dog is to live in the house, we try to steer people away from high-energy, super-active puppies, the ones we call ‘little terrorists.’”
Ben said they discourage buyers from visiting the kennel before selection day, primarily because of health reasons. Then, too, since buyers take turns choosing puppies based on when they made their reservations, disappointment can happen on selection day. If Buyer No. 2 visits the litter before selection day, he may develop a fondness for the puppy that Buyer No. 1 picks.
He said he feels that selection day rapport means nothing, as spaniels are “people dogs” and will bond with anyone who regularly spends time with them. Nor does he feel that any of the popular puppy tests prove anything.
The only way to gauge field potential is the puppy’s pedigree and the work of its parents, he said.
“Given good parents,” Ben said, “the puppy will work out well for anyone who will spend the time it takes to raise and train it.”
The Pawlaks have bred Labradors for three years.
“We keep our puppies until they are seven weeks old,” Julie said. “Those early weeks with mom and sibs contribute so much to each puppy’s development. Of course, we socialize our puppies all through their time here.”
To select puppies for buyers who can’t visit the kennel, the Pawlaks discuss–via phone and e-mail–each individual buyer’s des
ires and home situation: size of family, age of children, hunting habits, house or kennel dog, preferred gender, color and size. In gathering this information, they also get a feel for the personality of the buyer. All of this helps them match puppies to buyers.
“We encourage those who can to visit the litter as often as possible before selection day,” Julie said.
They tell the buyers to figure out ahead of time exactly what sort of puppy they want. Then, on selection day, they point out different traits of each puppy. But each buyer makes his own choice.
“Rapport on selection day is very important,” Don said. “If the buyer feels an immediate bond with his puppy, the relationship is off to a good start.”
For the greatest rapport, the Pawlaks recommend that each buyer choose a puppy similar to himself in temperament. A laidback buyer should select a laidback puppy; a high-energy buyer should select a high-energy puppy.
They feel that the best indication of a puppy’s field potential lies in the field performances of the sire and dam. The relative potential of the puppies in a litter, though, is a mystery.
“Trying to choose the next national champion from a litter of pups is like trying to pick the next major-league MVP by watching a kids’ tee-ball game,” Don said.