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Tips For Acquiring a Trained Gun Dog

Three different breeders chime in with insight and tips on acquiring a trained gun dog.

Tips For Acquiring a Trained Gun Dog

"First," Carl said, "let's define two key terms: 'started dog' and 'finished dog.' Different people define these terms differently, so let me explain what they mean to me."

He said for him, a started dog must point birds and be thoroughly gun-proofed, but may or may not retrieve. Such a dog is a good prospect, but needs more training before he can be hunted successfully.

Carl described a finished dog as one fully trained and ready to hunt. This dog must handle kindly, point staunchly, hold point until you arrive, be steady to wing and shot, retrieve to hand, honor another dog's point and stop to wild flushes.

Who should consider buying a started dog? According to Carl, any person who, for whatever reason, wants to avoid the risks associated with puppies, but who either plans to finish the training himself or have a pro do it. Every puppy is a gamble, and washouts waste both money and time. A started dog has proven potential and, with proper training, can become a competent hunter.

Who should consider a finished dog? A person who wants a hunting dog now. Typically, he lacks the time, knowledge or desire to train a started dog. And he doesn't want to wait while a pro trains one for him.

Carl said that many people use the Internet to find started and finished dogs. If you do this, he recommends doing a lot of homework before buying. You should check pedigrees, looking for prospects from Field Champion lines.

He stressed that you should also ask lots of questions. Do both sire and dam hunt? Does this dog have a wide, medium or close range? May I see the dog work before I buy? Is there any guarantee and, if so, is it in writing? Do you have any references I can check?

"The only dumb question," he said, "is the one you don't ask."

For an excellent source for both started and finished dogs, Carl recommends a nearby and reputable pro trainer. He can help you define exactly what sort of dog you should seek, based on your goals, hunting style, home situation and so forth to help you focus your search.

Also, this pro just might have precisely what you need. But even if he doesn't, he almost certainly knows someone else who does. When he recommends a dog, he puts his reputation on the line, so he won't recommend a dog unsuitable for your purposes. He can also help you check a recommended dog out before you buy to determine whether the animal's temperament and personality mesh with yours, which is important.

After you buy a started or finished dog, the pro can help you learn to handle him effectively in the field. The seller should explain all the commands the dog has learned, but the pro can teach you when to use each--and when not to.

"Above all, do your homework," Carl said. "Research pedigrees; learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different lines; ask lots of questions; talk to several pros. Know what you need and know what you're buying."

How much do started and finished dogs cost?

"Prices vary from region to region," Carl said, "but here in California, started pointing dogs sell for $1,000 to $1,500, finished pointing dogs from $3,500 to $5,000."


"The term 'trained retriever'," Barbara said, "means many things to many people. However, the two generally accepted categories are 'started' and 'finished' retrievers."

She described a started retriever as one that is basically huntable but far from fully trained. He obeys basic obedience commands (heel, come, sit, stay). He is steady in the duck blind and in the dove field. He works through decoys and delivers to hand. He does single and double marked retrieves. He "hunts dead." And he can work from a boat.

She described a finished retriever as one that does &quo

t;all of the above," plus much more. He does advanced multiple marks (at least triples) and handles well on blind retrieves. He quarters in the uplands, sits to flush and remains steady until sent to retrieve.

Barbara recommends that if you don't want to raise and train a puppy, you should consider buying a trained retriever. Whether you should opt for a started or finished retriever depends on your goals and bank account.

With either a started or finished retriever, both you and your new dog need time to adjust to one another and learn how to work as a team, she said. You will also need guidance, either from the seller or from a pro, to learn proper handling techniques.

"Retrievers are not machines," she said. "Every retriever needs to be handled and treated properly. The new owner needs time and guidance to learn how to do all this requires. The dog also needs time to adjust to its new owner and his lifestyle."

Barbara recommends that as you start your search for a dog, you should contact a pro to help select a suitable retriever. If the pro doesn't have such a dog, he can locate one or more candidates through his network of pros and owners. He can also help you evaluate each potential dog, both for his working ability and for the compatibility of his temperament and personality with yours.

"Most hunters don't need hard-charging, gung-ho retrievers," she noted. "They need dogs with stable temperaments that are quiet and easy to live with around home, yet work effectively in the field when hunting."

Barbara said that whatever source you use to find a trained retriever, you should never buy one without first seeing it work. Ask a lot of questions. Why is the dog for sale? After the sale, will the seller help you with any problems that might come up?

Ideally, you should have a pro help you evaluate prospects. Trained retrievers usually change hands for significant sums of money. If you pinch pennies in the selection process, you may well end up blowing big bucks by purchasing a poor prospect.

"Prices vary widely," she said, "and anything I say will be wrong somewhere in this country and anywhere with this or that individual dog. But, with that caveat, I've found that started retrievers typically cost from $2,800 on up, finished retrievers $5,000 to $6,000, and on up."

As a final thought, Barbara added this: "Your retriever should become part of the daily life of your family. He'll make a much better hunter that way. Then, too, he needs regular exercise and training during the off-season. You can't leave him out in a kennel all year and then expect him to perform miracles in the fall.

"Perhaps I sound like a broken record, but I must repeat again that retrievers are not machines."

Check out tips for acquiring a trained spaniel on page three


"A trained spaniel," Ed said, "can be many things. But in general, such an animal will fall into one of two widely recognized classifications: started and finished. Unfortunately, spaniel folks have significant disagreements on what each of these terms means. Here I will give my definitions, realizing that some, perhaps many, will disagree with me."

Ed defines a started spaniel as a dog that has the following training knowledge: basic obedience (heel, hup, come; stay); hup (sit) to voice or whistle; is e-collar conditioned; can be force-fetched for delivery to hand; has good manners both in and out of the field; does basic bird work, with birds shot over the dog; and is gun-proofed. Such a spaniel can hunt effectively, but lacks finish and polish.

As for a finished spaniel, Ed considers this a dog with all of the above plus the following additional training: the dog quarters within range; hups to flush and is steady to shot; trails cripples on land and in water; handles to blind retrieves. A hunter's dream dog, this spaniel can do it all.

Ed identified three types of hunter who should seek trained spaniels: the person who lacks the time, knowledge or resources (birds, suitable land and water) to train a spaniel from puppyhood; the (perhaps impatient) person who doesn't want to spend the many months it takes to turn a puppy into a hunting dog; and the person who wants to avoid the risk of having to wash out several puppies before getting one that turns out well.

He said the prospective buyer can find trained spaniels for sale on the Internet, in magazines and newspapers, and by word of mouth.

"But you must be careful," he said, "or you might get stung. Buying a trained spaniel is like buying a used car. You h

ave to do your homework. Learn about the breeds--bloodlines, hunting traits, health issues, temperament and personality traits."

Before starting your search, Ed recommends making two lists: a prioritized list of traits you want your dog to have, and a list of traits you do not want. Then check out at least three prospects before deciding to buy. These preliminary steps will keep you from impulse-buying the first spaniel you see work.

Additionally, seek the guidance and assistance of a pro trainer, especially if this is your first spaniel, he said. A pro has many contacts, so can help you locate suitable prospects. He also has the grounds, birds and other facilities needed to properly test each prospect.

"You should never buy a dog without testing its working ability thoroughly," he stressed.

But a pro can do more than just test the dog. He has clear insight into canine temperaments and personalities. He will also get to know you quite well, which helps him guide you toward selecting a dog with which you will have real rapport. Without rapport between dog and owner, hunting can become anything from tedious to downright miserable.

He said that while prices vary substantially, a started spaniel should cost somewhere between $1,500 and $3,500; finished spaniels anything from $3,000 on up. Prices reflect not only the individual dog's training but also its potential.

"When testing a prospect, use pheasants, not pigeons," Ed advised. "You don't plan on hunting pigeons, do you? Don't use release traps, for these prevent you from testing the dog's flush.

"Plant pheasants by hand. Hobble the first bird with a ribbon so it can't run, but must flush. This will help you test the dog's nose and flush. Plant the next one unhobbled, so it can run and give the dog a longer hunt before the flush."

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