Let me begin by saying I'm pretty skeptical of the "magical" theories being thrown around nowadays for choosing a puppy. For example, believing how a pup reacts when you hold it upside down or sideways at a very young age is a clear indication of its potential.
This may give you some loose feel for the pup's temperament, but so much depends on the pup's maturity, the time of day, recent exercise, its previous handling/socialization, etc., that I say don't hang your hat on it.
And, oh boy, the folks who really get me are those who claim they have the ability to perfectly match a pup's personality with that of the potential buyer. They're likely better at matching a price with the buyer's billfold.
My feeling is this: Standing at the right whelping box when you choose your pup offers the greatest chance of increasing your odds in selecting a good puppy, and the right puppy for you and your family. In other words, do your research and choose your pup from a litter resulting from the selective breeding of parents with proven ability of the breed and type that fits your needs, your family and your style of hunting.
This requires some soul searching, so think it through and be honest with yourself. What do you primarily hunt? Do you want a longhaired or shorthaired dog? Do you want a big dog or a small dog, and will the dog live in the house? If so, which breed(s) will fit in best with your family's lifestyle? Remember, you are making at least a 9- to 12-year commitment when you take that pup home, so take your time and be sure you're zeroing in on the right type of dog, the correct breed and even the family group within that breed to fit your type of hunting.
This project isn't as simple as reading about German shorthaired pointers and deciding that's the breed for you. As with all breeds, there are distinct types of shorthairs, those bred for foot hunting, those for walking trials and hunt tests and those bred for horseback field trials. Even within these groups there are certain families or lines with specific characteristics you may or may not like.
That's why I say you should think long and hard about where you live, what your primary type of hunting is, whether you're interested in hunt tests or field trials, how and where you're going to house the dog, etc.
So, with those questions in mind, where do you begin? Well, if you're going in cold, I'd say registry websites are a good starting point. Seek out breed clubs for general info and articles in Gun Dog or NAVHDA's Versatile Hunting Dog. These and others are a great source of information and will also provide you with contact info for breeders.
On the flip side of the coin, I realize many of you long time hunters know exactly what you're looking for and maybe even have friends planning litters from dogs you've hunted with or that you know from their success in field trials or hunt tests. And that is the key — you know and like the parents and grandparents and you understand that planned puppies from such lines have a strong chance of carrying those same abilities and characteristics. As we said earlier, this means you have a better chance of choosing the right pup.
Did I just say you might select from field trial or hunt test stock? You bet! I know the majority of you reading this are primarily hunters and may not be interested in sporting dog contests, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look there for a puppy. Please don't get hung up on the claim that every "run-off son-of-a-gun" can be attributed to "field trial stock", because it simply isn't true. In fact, those same "run-off, self-serving bums" have no place in trials or hunt tests, either, so let's talk a little about that subject.
Sporting dog contests, whether field trials or hunt tests, are structured to provide dogs with a setting in which they can demonstrate their inborn abilities along with how well they accept and advance in training as team players with their handlers in various simulated hunting scenarios. Granted, a high-end, all-age bird dog must show independence and confidence in hunting forward, but not completely on his own.
In walking trials and hunt tests, key aspects for evaluation are handling, cooperation and obedience. The greedy, self-serving, uncooperative or disobedient dog doesn't finish regularly in any field trial or hunt test. So please don't be afraid to consider a dog from walking trial or hunt test lines; in fact, I recommend the serious hunter go to these lines to improve his chances.
Choosing from these ranks come with benefits. Because of the standards set by most sanctioning bodies, you're likely to find parents and grandparents with hip and other health evaluations, DNA certified, along with records of success, titles, access to scoring of key attributes, which includes evidence of bird finding ability, endurance, etc. All of this information increases your odds of selecting the right litter from which to choose your new puppy.
Now let's fast forward to the point where you're satisfied you've found the correct litter. Your next choice is deciding male or female. Forget about the macho stuff; females hunt every bit as hard as males. Your only concern is dealing with the female's cycles if you don't have her spayed.
Hopefully you can visit the litter once or twice before making your final selection. You might rule out the biggest and smallest of the sex you decided on, then take the remaining pups out one at a time to play with them and get a feel for the one or two you seem to connect with. At that point, listen to your gut, grab a pup and never look back, remembering that the odds are in your favor because you did your research, selected a breed and type you like and feel you'll enjoy working with.
You've worked hard to find the right puppy, so please don't forget how crucial proper socialization and the basics of training are to help your new pup reach his or her inherited potential. Have fun!