Avoiding Puppy Selection Mistakes

The latest training techniques for retrievers.

"Very few hunters," Luann said, "would make a mistake by choosing a retriever. However, if you hunt upland birds exclusively, especially in a hot and humid climate, you shouldn't get a retriever."

Luann stressed that puppies aren't for everyone. For example, the person who wants to buy a dog one day and hunt with it the next, or even sometime soon, should forget about puppies. Taking an untrained puppy hunting will not only ruin the hunt for everyone involved, but it won't do the puppy any good either.

"If you buy a puppy," she said, "you have to go through all the puppy-raising chores. Then, whether you train the youngster yourself or turn the job over to a pro, you won't have a dog to hunt with for a year or so. If that's a problem, buy a started or trained dog."

But if you don't mind the work and the delay, you'll enjoy watching a puppy grow and develop. You will, that is, if you choose the right breed, the right breeder, the right litter, and the right puppy. To pass through all these hoops unscathed, you need to do your homework before you visit a litter of puppies.

"Regardless of breeding," Luann said, "every puppy is irresistible. And every breeder thinks his litter is the very best you can find. If you visit a litter too soon, you'll buy a puppy, perhaps one that lacks the hunting instincts or trainability you should be seeking."

Luann feels that, once you decide on a retriever, selecting the proper breed is quite simple. Just go with the retriever breed you're drawn to. On the other hand, selecting a breeder, a litter, and a puppy can require a lot of research. However, Luann recommends a shortcut that will help you avoid the many mistakes you might otherwise make.

"As soon as you decide you want a retriever," she said, "contact a reputable professional retriever trainer to guide you through the entire selection process. Such a pro knows who is breeding what all over the country. Besides, a pro has a vested interest in guiding you properly, not only as a service in itself, but also because the pro just might be training that puppy someday, so wants it to be a good one."

Your chosen pro not only knows the various lines within each breed, but also has probably watched the forebears of most well-bred litters work in field trials or hunting tests. Luann feels you should limit your search to litters whose parents and grandparents have titles from field trials or the highest level of hunt tests. Then, too, by getting acquainted with you, your pro will be able to figure out what type of canine personality you'll find most simpatico.

Luann said that a well-bred retriever puppy should cost between $900 and $1,500.

Once you and your pro have selected a breeder and a litter, Luann recommends that you, and if possible your pro, visit the litter, ideally several times, to study the puppies. She advises avoiding the pup that just lies around, the one that runs off by itself, the bully, and the doormat. With those eliminated, take each pup aside individually and toss a toy for it to make sure it likes to retrieve. Then, just choose the puppy you like best.

"Personally," she said, "I like a pup that, when I pick it up, squirms a little, then turns, looks at me, and licks my face."

This tip is from Luann Pleasant of Red Rover Retrievers Kennel, 10712 Eaton Road, Oakdale, CA 95361; (209) 847-8523; website redroverretrievers.com ; e-mail redroverretrievers@hughes.net. Luann has been training retrievers professionally for 18 years. She trains retrievers for field trials, hunt tests, and hunting. She is a regular competitor in retriever field trials. She breeds an occasional litter of Labradors.

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