“What kind of dog should I get?”
“What’s the best gun dog for a single guy in his thirties?”
We have all seen these open-ended questions littering our Facebook groups dedicated to bird dogs. The comments predictably ensue with whatever breed the individual offering advice owns himself:
“GSP all day.”
The truth is — there is a whole lot to consider when choosing the right breed of gun dog for you. Few of these factors, if any, will be considered in objective advice from “SHORTHAIRMAN007” on Instagram. That being said, here’s a few things to think about when starting your search for your next pup.
One obvious place to start your search for your next hunting dog is considering what you will be expecting in the field. What type of terrain are you hunting in? What type of climate? What type of coat will serve this climate best? Do you need a big ranging dog to find coveys, or will a tight worker be more effective? How often do you hunt in a given season? The answers to these questions, as with all of the questions posed in this article, require honesty. Are you really breaking ice for late season mallards? Do you enjoy the satisfying punishment of chukar hunting or did you just get off a YouTube binge and thought you might try some cardio today? As hunters, we are often broadening our horizons, but be realistic with yourself and what the core of your hunting looks like. Careful analysis of one’s own hunting pursuits will start to shrink the list of breeds to consider when you properly research and understand their unique individual attributes, characteristics and limitations.
The Other Nine Months
It is easy to get caught up in the idea of owning a particular breed, but nothing hits harder than the reality of an under-stimulated and under-worked gun dog ripping up your new couch. You will have to live with your dog every day and getting a breed that fits into your life the other nine months out of the year that you aren’t hunting is essential.
Many people also use the off-season to train with their dog. What type of time are you willing to commit to training? What is your work schedule? Some breeds need more training than others, but they all need it in some capacity. What are your expectations for your dog? Picture the final product in mind, then talk to others who have gotten their dog to that point and ask plenty of specific questions. Then, decide whether you are willing to commit to that—challenges and all—or pay a trainer who will.
Many of us also have families. Will the dog be in a kennel, in the house, or a combination of both? How big is your yard? Picking a dog with the right temperament, disposition and energy level for your family will make everyone’s life easier and much, much happier.
Know the Breed
Often overlooked, some of the most important things to consider when searching for your next gun dog breed are highly individualistic and subjective in value. These are the finer details that will ensure you get a comprehensive “feel” for a particular breed and in the process — find the right fit. These are the questions that require the most thought, time and research and are best to be mulled over when you have a short list of breeds you are considering.
Each breed has their own nuances that make them unique. To fully understand breed’s “personalities” you have to talk to several people who have owned them — and even better — spend significant time around the breed you are considering. Ask highly specific questions based on your needs and desires. Then, look for consistencies and patterns. Of course, every dog is an individual—but all we can do is play our odds and give ourselves the highest likelihood of getting what we want. You also will want to research and fully understand that breed’s utility as a working dog and what types of traits can be a side effect to that breeding purpose. Then, decide if those traits mesh with you as an individual.
Coming from someone who once thought about owning a Karelian Bear Dog — my best advice is to not get caught up in the romance of a breed when going through the selection process. The fact is, the idea of owning a particular breed is much different than the reality. This doesn’t make a particular breed any less worthy of respect or praise — it just makes it a breed that isn’t necessarily for you.
Spend time hunting and training with people who own good examples of a considered breed. Find out about the breed’s availability, potential health issues and the quality of their breeding. A little bit of thought, honest consideration and homework up front can make a world of a difference for many years to come.